Matt Kamen on the Lady Nerd's Bible
Welcome to Amamizu-kan – unless you’re a boy. This ‘exclusive’ Tokyo apartment building is not merely a girls-only domicile but one inhabited by a group of hardcore female otaku. Mayaya is sporty and obsessed with Chinese novel The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Banba is a trainspotter, Chieko’s fascination lies in traditional Japanese clothing, and Jiji adores mature men – but only from afar. The youngest housemate, Tsukimi, has harboured a fondness for jellyfish since childhood, one fostered by her late mother. Now, at the tender age of 18, she’s moved to the big city with even bigger dreams of becoming a professional illustrator – except she finds it all too much.
Tsukimi’s only confidante is Clara, a spotted jelly in the window of a local pet shop. Disaster strikes one night when she notices Clara has been tanked with a rival species that will kill her. Struggling to explain the problem to the “Stylish” working the counter, the situation is defused thanks to the timely intervention of Kurako – a six-foot sex bomb in killer heels and attitude to spare. After saving the day, she walks Tsukimi home, Clara now in tow, then promptly falls asleep after a long night of partying. Tsukimi’s distress at having snuck a “Stylish” into Amamizu-kan is doubled the next morning when she learns ‘Kurako’ is really Kuranosuke Koibuchi – the cross-dressing son of a powerful political family. Even worse, the pair strike up a genuine friendship – can Tsukimi hide Kurako’s real gender from her housemates, or is her quiet life about to get a lot more chaotic? And why does Kuranosuke dress like a woman in the first place – is he just a drag queen, or is there more to it?
Born 1975 in Miyazaki prefecture in the south of Japan, manga creator Akiko Higashimura debuted in 2001 with fashion-cum-cosplay comedy series Kisekae Yuka-chan, published in Shueisha’s Cookie magazine. Since then, she went on to pen several other series – 2006’s Himawari: Kenichi Legend being one of the most successful – before launching Princess Jellyfish in 2008. Throughout her career, Higashimura has blended comedy into her otherwise dramatic works, though perhaps nowhere are the jokes as fourth wall-breaking or referential to pop culture as they are here. Taking full advantage of a cast full of nerds, there are nods to classic anime such as Heidi (still famous in Japan as an early work by the future Ghibli team) and even western giants such as Star Wars.
The offbeat tone and unusual subject matter made the series a perfect candidate for Fuji TV’s ‘noitaminA’ slot, which aims to showcase unique and innovative series that push the boundaries of animation. Director Takahiro Omori’s CV is suitably eclectic, with horror series such as Hell Girl or quirky stories like Baccano! each showing very different creative strengths. The 11 episodes of Princess Jellyfish explore some unusual themes for contemporary anime – gender identity, the expectations of feminine beauty, and the growth in number of social recluses (or hikkikomori) in Japan – as well as charting the relationship that blossoms between Tsukimi and Kuranosuke.
Bold and progressive, and prone to tickle the funny bone as often as it plucks the heart strings, Princess Jellyfish is quite unlike anything else you’ll see this year.
Princess Jellyfish is out on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.