I have seen many things in my days but I don't believe that a cross-dressing anime is one of them. Sure I've seen cross-cosplay at anime conventions (the man-Yuna at this year's Anime Boston was particularly frightening) but a show that revolved around the concept? Not so much.
Princess Princess is a twelve episode animation that was originally a manga and aired in 2006. Created by Mikiyo Tsuda the show features a trio of guys who attend an all-boys school where the student body has a longstanding, and odd, tradition. It would seem that due to the lack of females the prettiest boys are picked to become princesses. Basically they are dressed up like dolls and paid to trot around school looking nice and making the boys fall in love.
With a dose of yaoi thrown into the mix it's safe to say that Princess Princess isn't for everyone. Watching boys make googly eyes at the princesses will make some people uncomfortable though really this is a show about fantasy. Deep down the boys just want a girl and considering there aren't any on campus they have to make due with what they've got. The meaning of "being a man" is brought up quite a bit and each of the characters struggles with the fact that they are dressing up like a girl.
In the first volume we were introduced to the princesses. In particular the show centered on newly enrolled student Toru Kouno who has been inducted into the ranks of the princesses thanks to his unnatural good looks. The volume followed his reserved exploits as he learned what it meant to be a princess and what roll he would have to play. At first he has problems with it but as the volume progressed and he found acceptance he began to appreciate what he was going through more and more. The other princesses, Yujiro and Mikoto, were also introduced and as the volume explored their personalities we learned more about what happens to a boy when he dressed like a girl.
With the second installment the bizarre series known as Princess Princess really begins to take shape. In the first episode here it's summer time and the princesses are hard at work cheering for their school and trying to raise the morale on campus. Sure there aren't many classes going on but the students still care all the same. In between it all Toru gets the nagging sensation that they are being stalked and his women's intuition turns out to be right. There is a scout from a modeling agency hot on their trail and naturally things are not very predictable when this character appears.
The green-haired Akira invites some of the princesses to his home in the next episode as we learn more about his character. This student president has been something of an enigma but considering his family has ties to the way the princess society works he has an important role to play. There are some fun bits in this episode but again, you really have to buy into the princess mentality of this cross-dressing anime in order to appreciate it. After that episode there was another throw-away storyline featuring a competition that the princesses have to participate in.
The only major revelation in this volume comes from the introduction of a new director who has no previous knowledge of the princess program. Naturally he is entirely opposed to the idea and goes out of his way to put the princesses out of a job. Predictably he is rather unsuccessful.
Princess Princess is a weird show. It's off-beat theme, yaoi elements, and sense of humor and style are constantly at war with each other. In nearly every episode I was charmed, repulsed, and confused all at the same time. I suppose you really just have to have an affinity or appreciation for the subject matter because there certainly isn't a lot of mainstream appeal here. There is a lot to like about Princess Princess thanks to the self-abusing sense of humor and quirks of the main characters as they deal with the cross-dressing aspect. If you're in the mood for something different I suggest that you give this one a rental; you might be surprised!
Presented with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer Princess Princess looks pretty smooth on DVD. The show features attractive character designs coupled with fluid animation and is really a nice looking show in the end. The DVD offers some fine image quality as well with very little grain, no compression, and only a few moments where aliasing was noticeable. Overall things here are crisp, clean, and vibrant with little to complain about.
Like many Media Blasters releases lately Princess Princess does not receive an English dubbing. That means you can only watch the show with the original Japanese language with English subtitles. This isn't necessarily a bad thing though without the English dub it does feel like we're missing something. In terms of quality the stereo presentation is put out like you'd expect that it would be with a limited presence on the soundstage and virtually no directionality. Technically speaking there were no flaws so distortion and drop-out are nowhere to be found.
Nothing is included on this release for extra features.
It is one of the weirdest, funniest, and off-putting shows to come along in quite some time. Princess Princess isn't your typical anime and it wears that fact like a badge of honor (or a tiara of honor, as it were). If you're in the mood for something different there may be just enough charm and humor to endear this program to you. However if you prefer anime that is more traditional chances are good that you won't get into the show. Either way there is enough quality here to warrant a rental in order to see if it tickles your fancy.