Saturday, May 26, 2012

Princess Knight Part 1 by Osamu Tezuka

Osamu Tezuka's somewhat ground breaking work; Princess Knight, was a bit of an excursion down memory lane for me.

My original introduction to the concept was as a cartoon. I don't remember it being in black and white, but considering that I watched it as a very young kid (I can't have been over 5 or 6) and we didn't have colour TV until I was at least 7 I must have watched it in B&W whether it was actually colourised or not. Judging by the dates it was made and going on a lot of other Japanese cartoons of the time such as Gigantor it probably wasn't coloured.

I always liked the show, it was loud and bright and silly and loads of fun. I could only vaguely remember it, but the concept was basically; a pretty and spirited young princess pretends to be a boy and has adventures, she also had an odd little assistant, who tended to hinder her as much as he helped, and was intended as comedy relief.

I wasn't even aware that they'd ever published as a manga until I saw the first volume in a bookstore a few months ago. I don't read a lot of manga. My main problem with it is that it's generally in black and white, and I like my comics to be coloured, unless they're things like Cerebus. It sounds like a really silly bias, but it's not the only reason. A lot of manga is really full on with the action, it's written and drawn very cinematically. I find there's too much going on and it makes my eyes spin and my head hurt.

The idea behind Princess Knight is, for it's time, quite revolutionary. Before Princess Sapphire of Goldland is born a mischievous angel by the name of Tink gives a scheduled to be born baby a blue heart which makes it a boy, before his mischief can be uncovered God gives the baby a red heart, which makes her a girl.

The duality isn't really that bad a thing for the kingdom of Goldland. Their laws say that the kingship can only pass to a male heir. If the King and Queen of Goldland can't produce a male heir, then the throne will pass to the completely unsuitable son of the evil Duke Duralumin. So that although Sapphire is born a girl, her blue heart means that they can quite successfully pass her off as a boy until they can find a way around their ridiculous law. As punishment for his part in the mess Tink is sent to Earth to watch over Sapphire.

Most of the action takes place after Sapphire turns 15. She's spent her life being raised and behaving as a boy, while knowing she's a girl. Duke Duralumin and his henchman Sir Nylon have spent most of that 15 years trying to prove that Sapphire is female, not male, and put Duralumin's useless son Plastic on the throne.

Things really get interesting for Sapphire when the handsome Prince of Silverland comes to Goldland for a tournament and falls for Sapphire in her guise of a 'flaxen haired maiden', and competes with her boy persona for superiority of arms. The King dies by accident, Sapphire is unmasked and along with her mother and Tink becomes a wanted fugitive.

From this point on Sapphire's life is a whirlwind. An evil sorceress wants her girl heart, the Prince of Silverland is pursuing the 'flaxen haired maiden', while continuing to fight with Prince Sapphire, and then the pirates led by the dashing Blood get involved.

It's confusing and funny, it has moments of high tragedy and low farce. Osamu Tezuka writes the whole thing with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek. It's actually a delight from start to finish. It's great because there's a second part that immediately follows this.

Will Sapphire choose Blood or the Prince of Silverland? Will she kill the sorceress and break the spell that has turned her mother to stone? Will Tink ever get back to Heaven. Will Sapphire keep both or hearts or give one of them up?

I'm really looking forward to reading Part 2. Be great to see the animated series to make a come back in the modern era either as a series or even a full length feature. The world may not have been ready for it in the 60's, it is now.

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