Vertical continues is commitment to publish the entire Tezuka library with the release of Princess Knight vol. 1. Once again proving the limitless breadth of the manga master’s skills, Princess Knight is simultaneously comfortable and familiar while being entirely surprising and unpredictable.
Taking place in a medieval fairy-tale setting, Princess Knight is the story of Princess Sapphire who must pretend to be a male prince so she can inherit the throne of Silverland. This deception begins as soon as she is born, as the lisping announcement of her birth is misunderstood, causing her to be announced as a prince instead of a princess. The reason for the continued deception is that Duke Duralumon (the King’s brother), is an evil man who would like to place his own son on the throne (to serve as his puppet).
Princess Sapphire has a cherubic sidekick named Choppy, a young angel-in-training out to earn his wings, who is actually somewhat responsible for some of the trials and tribulations facing Sapphire. When she was born, Choppy accidentally gave Sapphire the blue heart of a boy as well as the pink heart of a girl. God sends Choppy to Earth to sort out the mess and retrieve Sapphire’s extra heart (the boy one). Sapphire won’t let Choppy remove her blue boy’s heart, however. As a result, Choppy is pretty much stuck with Sapphire.
This is where the story is most inspired and troubling. On the one hand, the dual nature of Sapphire (having both traits and responsibilities of a boy as well as the traits and societal expectations of a girl) make Sapphire and her situation complex and compelling. Sapphire is equally adept at all things “boy” (such a fencing, riding horses, and being cunning, clever, and decisive) and “girl” (such as dancing, dress wearing, and being courteous, and loving). I can think of many boys and girls in real life who exhibit traits that are both “masculine” and “feminine” but very few characters in comics who do the same (especially without some comment about their sexuality or being played for comedic relief).
But this is where I also have problems with the story. The stereotypes are so strong in the story that it makes it difficult for me to enjoy it at times. When Prince(ss) Sapphire is dueling with an opponent, the male heart is removed. The moment it is removed, Sapphire becomes weak and immediately begins to lose. It is only when the boy heart is returned that her strength (and apparently her skill as well!) is returned. The father of the Black-Belt daughter in me wanted to scream and throw the book. How dare strength and skill be a “boy” thing?
Do I forgive Tezuka his transgression as the story is a product of a different time (originally published in 1956) as well as a different social environment? Or do I damn the book for its terrible gender stereotypes?
In the end, Like Sapphire, I am stuck between the two. The story is too good and the character too rich to discard. There is truly nothing else like Princess Knight on the stands today and it is deserving of attention. But, with that attention there must be the caveat that it deals in stereotypes that atre simply not acceptable.
(For the record, I let my Black-Belt daughter read Princess Knight. She loved the book, but also thought it was pretty lame that when the boy heart was removed, Sapphire became a “wuss”. DJ wondered why it was that Sapphire immediately lost her skills. ”How does that have anything to do with your heart or being a boy?” Good question).
The plot details are too complex to describe here. Suffice it to say that more happens in this one volume than happens in the combined pages of every other comic published in any given month. Twists, turns, and surprises are par for the course in this book where anything can (and frequently does) happen! I can’t wait to read the second volume because I have NO IDEA how it is all going to end!
Both volumes are available now from Vertical.