Home > Episode Reviews, First Impressions, Princess Jellyfish > Princess Jellyfish Episodes 1 and 2 – Lipstick on a Jellyfish

Princess Jellyfish Episodes 1 and 2 – Lipstick on a Jellyfish

One of themes of this season has been the tendency of anime to feature characters and situations that are similar (if idealized) to the show’s viewers. There have been plenty of shows aimed at male otaku that do this, but none that cover the (much less likely to watch anime) female nerd population in Japan.

Even Ore no Imouto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai, with its female otaku cast, focuses mostly on the anime and dating game aspects of nerd culture: the things, in other words, that anime-watching males care most about.

Princess Jellyfish, the latest show from animation studio Brain’s Base (who you might remember from their brilliant adaptation of Durarara!!), aims to change that. Not only is it a novel concept (or at least a novel twist on a familiar concept), but the show is far more likeable and entertaining than just about anything aimed at male otaku. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop it from falling prey to the same self-indulgent fantasies that plague male equivalents.

The opening credits are chock full of references to Western movies with jellyfish theming. This is just the most recognizable one (you should see the jellyfish Death Star)

As a little girl, Tsukimi Kurashita promised her dying mother she’d become a princess when she grew up (whatever that means). Instead, Tsukimi finds that she’s become a bit of a geek, shy and afraid of boys, and obsessed with the jellyfish she first saw on her mother’s last day out of the hospital.

She lives in a boarding house in Tokyo with four other girl geeks, each with their own specialty and horrible social flaws. Chieko, the manager, collects and makes clothes for tiny Japanese dolls. Banba is an obsessive-compulsive train geek; Mayaya is more hyperactive and gung ho than usual when Romance of the Three Kingdoms is mentioned, and Jiji is a pervert who’s into Boys Love and butler cafes.

The rest of the ladies of the Sisterhood

Together the girls form a club of sort devoted to the pursuit of their hobbies and the glorification of their social phobias. Afraid of boys or unable to attract their attention, incapable of functioning in normal society, they exclude from their sanctuary anything masculine or anyone normal enough to get along in the outside world.

Her life gets a little weirder when she sees a jellyfish in a pet store window sharing a tank with another jellyfish that’s sure to eat it. Panicked by her shyness, she tries to persuade the apathetic bro working the counter to take it out of the tank, but only succeeds in pissing him off.

Suddenly, a dazzling beauty appears to rescue the jellyfish. She seduces the pet shop boy into selling Tsukimi the jellyfish even though it’s after hours, and follows Tsukimi home, spending the night on the floor in her room.

Tsukimi's efforts to save the jellyfish fail mainly due to her being terrified of anything masculine

The next morning, Tsukimi awakes to find out that what she thought to be a girl is actually a guy. Kuranosuke Koibuchi likes dressing up in girls’ clothing, apparently to annoy his father, a wealthy man and Diet member.

What follows are a series of events where Tsukimi frantically tries to hide Kuranosuke’s true sex from her housemates, her housemates decide they don’t much care for an outgoing, glamorous girl anyway, and some kind of budding relationship between Tsukimi and Kuranosuke forms as they both skirt the boundaries of what is acceptable in their particular social circles.

Kuranosuke is shining and glamorous as a girl

Before I point out all the ways in which it’s really no better than its nudity-laden, male-oriented counterparts, I should probably explain that Kuragehime is a charming, well-made show. Its characters have a stylized, exaggerated look to them while still packing enough visual detail to be able to tell at a glance exactly what kind of a character you’re looking at.

My favorite bit of detail is Tsukimi’s wild, unkempt eyebrows, that take an otherwise typical example of the “frumpy, glasses-wearing nerdy girl who’s actually kind of cute because this is anime, after all, and everybody is cute” and make it something more interesting.

Those...eyebrows

Her housemates are even more interesting, because they don’t have to be the mildly attractive point of view character: they can just look weird. More to the point, they look like nerds I’ve met. Well, maybe not kimono-clad Chieko, but Jiji’s sweater vests are perfect, and Mayaya’s sweat pants and T-shirt are exactly what you’d expect a martial-arts obsessed girl to wear.

The characters are well-written, too. The sense of humor is over the top and cartoonish, but still grounded in the grim reality of the characters’ fear of the outside world, and past torments that go unexplained.

It’s just an endearing show, in general. It’s light on its feet, cute in its art and jokes, and generally better produced than any other show like it. It likes its fan service, but it’s not as crassly exploitative as most shows aimed at convincing lonely male otaku that they’ve actually got it great.

Kuranosuke is still pretty attractive as a dude, though, maybe? Tsukimi thinks so

But the problem is, Princess Jellyfish ultimately isn’t too far from those shows. Kuranosuke might not be some kind of fetishized cliché (actually, maybe he is, I don’t know), but he’s still drawn to be attractive, and it’s something that gets played up when he’s in Tsukimi’s room wearing only boxers.

Plus, as someone who wears girl’s clothing or, at the very least, dresses and acts very feminine, he’s about as non-threatening and effeminate as you can get, something desirable to a character and audience likely shy around boys. Add to that the fact that he’s adventurous, outgoing, popular and from a wealthy, politically-connected family, and he’s basically fangirl catnip.

A moe version of Clara, Tsukimi's pet jellyfish, is also the show's fourth wall-breaking narrator, cutely skewering the nerds she has to live with

His only real flaw is the fact that he keeps his crossdressing a secret from his father, who would presumably be very embarrassed if such a story were to ever come out in the press. But exactly why he likes to wear girl’s clothing is still a mystery. He has to self-assured in his masculine identity enough to be desirable to the audience, after all, so any exploration of gender identity is right out (not like that’s a subject anime explores for reasons other than comic relief).

The thing is, I really don’t mind. Maybe because the fantasies it’s trying to appeal to don’t appeal to me at all. Maybe it’s because it’s not as crass about it as other shows. Maybe it’s garbage, and it’s just me that’s getting used to it.

But I don’t think so. I think that the show is just a light and charming piece of entertainment, made with loving care by some of the best people in the business, targeted at an audience that usually doesn’t get TV anime. And that’s enough to keep me watching.

You can watch every episode of the show on Hulu.

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