Anime / Princess Principal

http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/86768l.jpg
From front to back: Ange, Dorothy, Beatrice, Chise, and Princess Charlotte

Princess Principal is an original anime series produced by Studio 3Hz and Actas, released as part of the Summer 2017 anime season. Its musical score is composed by Yuki Kajiura of Sword Art Online and Puella Magi Madoka Magica fame, who this time integrates elements of Swing and Jazz into her signature epic rock-opera style.

In an alternate universe set in the 19th century, the mighty Kingdom of Albion, the greatest power in the world, has been split in two. West lies the Commonwealth of Albion; east, the old Kingdom. The two nations are separated by a great wall that runs just west of the royal capital of London. In this shady world of espionage, violence and intrigue, a team of five teenage Commonwealth spies operate together, embedded undercover in the prestigious Queen's Mayfair Academy. One of them is none other than a royal princess.

On August 10, 2017, a mobile puzzle game for Android and iPhone launched in Japan: Princess Principal: Game of Mission.

Episodes order for anyone interested: note .

Princess Principal contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Abusive Parents: Ange, Dorothy, Beatrice, and Chise all had abusive fathers.
  • Added Alliterative Appeal: "Princess" and "Principal" share the same first five letters. Episode titles might get in on this as well, such as in the case of episode 3, "Vice Voice".
  • Alternate History: The series takes in an alternate 19th century England where the country was divided into two kingdoms (Commonwealth of Albion and the Kingdom where the lower-class citizens overthrew the British royal family and with the capital city of London divided with The Great Wall akin). A mineral called Cavorite was discovered during the time period which allowed the Commonwealth of Albion to establish themselves a world superpower with high-powered airships. The political climate between the Albion and the Kingdom is very similar to the Cold War where both sides resort to spying, sabotage, and espionage and gain an upper hand and war could break out in any moment that would destabilize England.
  • Anachronic Order: The episodes jump around the timeline, with the only obvious indicator of the proper chronological order being the case numbers in each episode name. note 
  • And the Adventure Continues: The Duke of Normandy and Gazelle find Princess's hat in the debris from the firefight between Ange, Chise, and Zelda, giving them evidence that she was involved. Meanwhile, as Team White Pigeon recuperates in Casa Blanca, they are given their next mission.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: Cavorite, a green-glowing mineral with Anti Gravity properties. Albion's Cavorite monopoly, and the fleet of airships built using the stuff, allowed the Kingdom to establish itself as the dominant world power.
  • Artificial Gravity: The principal property of Cavorite technology, seen most prominently in the airships it levitates. Ange herself uses a C-ball, a Cavorite-based handheld spherical device that lets her effectively realign her own personal gravity. A C-ball user can fall "up" or walk on walls, and even extend that same field to people or objects around them.
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety: Episode 3 is a particularly blatant example. Not only do Ange and Dorothy keep loaded firearms stored in their clubroom, but they let Princess, an untrained bystander, pick up and fiddle with an armed and loaded gun disguised as a pen. Unsurprisingly, the gun goes off, narrowly missing Ange and Dorothy. Not only do Ange and Dorothy shrug the incident off, they let Beatrice, another untrained bystander, keep the gun pen without giving her any instruction on how to use it properly. Perhaps it only had the one shot.
  • Black and Gray Morality: L warns Dorothy that this is how the world works, and nobody is ever truly "white." Even if somebody like Princess proves that she is loyal and can be trusted, they will always be a potential threat in the future.
  • Book Safe: Episode 4 (case9) features two: a library book titled "BIRDS" has a hollow for holding the Principal team's mission files, and a book used by another Commonwealth spy has a camera hidden in it.
  • Call-Forward: In Episode 8, when Ange recalls how she and Charlotte met, the latter, the original Ange, asks if they can be friends, because they are "complete opposites." In Episode 2, after meeting her again for the first time in ten years, they repeat the exchange almost word for word to confirm their identities to each other.
  • Crapsack World: Britain is divided and locked in a cold war which threatens to explode into a world war at any moment. Meanwhile, London is depicted as showing elements of the Victorian Age and Industrial Revolution, especially the dark sides such as rampant pollution, widespread poverty, and child labor.
  • Code Name:
    • While Control is actively overseeing the Principal team's missions, they refer to the girls (sans Princess Charlotte) with only the first letter of their names. A few members of Control themselves have codenames, such as L and 7.
    • Discussed. The subject of a team name is brought up at some point, and when Dorothy enters the conversation, she also brings up individual codenames and starts giving everyone liquor-based codenames on the spot.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The day Ange and Charlotte pull their Prince and Pauper switch is not only also the day Dorothy ran away from her father but also, in both Ange's and Dorothy's words, the day the revolution broke out.
  • Dartboard of Hate: The ashtray in L's office sports the coat of arms of the Kingdom of Albion, upon which the smoker can smother his or her cigar in contempt.
  • Defector from Decadence:
    • The first episode focuses on Eric, a researcher whom the Principal Team is helping defect to the Commonwealth. He isn't defecting for moral reasons, though; he just wants to be able to pay for his sister's treatment. In fact, he's a Fake Defector, set up by the Duke of Normandy to lure the Principal Team out of hiding.
    • Similarly, Morgan is only defecting to the Kingdom so that he can spend his last days with his wife, who is living in the Kingdom.
    • The Princess herself, leading a spy ring for the Commonwealth.
  • "Do It Yourself" Theme Tune: The closing credits song is sung by Team White Pigeon. What makes this notable is that the song is entirely in Surprisingly Good English, including (or even especially) the vocal performance.
  • Dramatic Irony: After seeing Ange disguised as Princess Charlotte, Dorothy says she can believe that Operation Changeling would have worked. This is due in part to the fact that Ange is the real Princess Charlotte, who switched with the original Ange prior to the series.
  • Dystopia: All the trappings of Dickensian London, with a divided nation and steampunk super science on top of it.
  • Entertainingly Wrong: When the team is assigned to try and locate a killer that's using poison gas, they decide their best option is to infiltrate the laundry mill that washes the uniforms of the soldiers their suspect is among, and test the uniforms for traces of the gas. A solid idea, since women wouldn't be able to infiltrate the barracks directly and the men don't handle their own laundry. What they don't realize is the man does, in fact, do his own laundry so they would never have seen his uniform if the other soldiers hadn't sent to my be washed without telling him first.
  • Fair-Play Whodunnit: A bit of a variation, but each episode has clues that let the viewers guess the Twist Ending.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: As episode 2 draws to a close, the Princess reveals that Ange slipped her a note that told her she and Dorothy were spies. When we see the scene Once More, with Clarity!, the note is from CHARLOTTE to ANGE, rather than the other way around. Less than a minute later, it is revealed that Ange and Charlotte switched places years ago.
  • First-Episode Spoiler: The first episode is the 13th case chronologically, establishing the protagonist team's style of operation, their personalities on the job, and the grittiness of their work. The second episode is the first chronological case, and contains the reveals that the two leads made a Prince and Pauper switch ten years ago, the Pauper-turned-Prince(ss) in the scenario is only in the team so they can help her go from fourth-in-line to rightful Queen, and since they're the only ones in the know about their identity-switch secret, pretty much all of their loyalties gain a few extra layers.
  • Foreign Queasine: Chise's reaction to an English breakfast of a fried egg, black pudding and toast with what appeared to be something similar to marmite on it. It was probably the marmite that did it. In the same episode Beatrice returns the favour to traditional Japanese foods that Chise keeps bringing into the dorm, mostly because they tend to be strong smelling fermented foods like natto.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Dorothy, despite being a high school student, is seen openly smoking and drinking, which is generally avoided or heavily censored in Japan due to underage smoking and drinking being illegal. However, Dorothy is in fact a 20 year old woman masquerading as a high school student, and therefore is not subject to censorship regulation.
  • The Great Wall: The London Wall was erected ten years prior to the beginning of the story, separating the Kingdom of Albion with the Commonwealth following the revolutions due to the Kingdom's cavorite monopoly granting it a global rise in power. Becoming a spy was the only way for Ange (who was previously Princess Charlotte, allied with the Kingdom) to cross the wall to the Commonwealth, and the wall itself is representative of everything that prevents her and the Princess from peacefully being together in any way.
  • Green Rocks: Downplayed in regards to cavorite. Its main characteristics, which we see the most and drive the plot, are its green glow and antigravity effects, but it's also shown to be poisonous, and Ange's cavorite ball can be used to react with and detect cavorite in its surroundings even down to remnant traces in the air.
  • Grey and Gray Morality: Despite the protagonists working for the Commonwealth, it's not clear if either the Commonwealth or the Kingdom are the "good" faction. Episode 2 shows that the Commonwealth in fact possesses secret airship blueprints that violate international treaties, and tasks the Principal Team with preventing the existence of said blueprints from going public.
  • Hope Spot: In episode 6, when Dorothy hears her father singing, it at first gives the suggestion that Danny survived his encounter with Gazelle. However, it's quickly revealed that it's only Beatrice manipulating her voice in an effort to raise Dorothy's spirits.
  • Icy Blue Eyes: Ange, the most stoic and efficient of the team, and the Princess, whose motives and true loyalty are cryptic, have pale blue eyes nearly identical in hue, which is important if you're planning on having them switch identities. The enemy spymaster, the Duke of Normandy, has the same pale blue irises since he's the Princess's uncle.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: In the finale, Ange, Dorothy, and Beatrice manage to dodge a rain of bullets firing directly at them during a car chase. When the car breaks and they hide behind it, the men still keep missing but Dorothy wonders aloud if they're out of options...until Chise arrives.
  • Industrial Ghetto: London is one. The sky is permanently hazy and smoggy, glowing orange at night; homeless litter the streets, and the city itself is a vast sprawl. Children as young as 6 are out working in factories.
  • In Medias Res: Episode 1 shows case 13, introducing us to the characters through the eyes of someone new to the group in the middle of the season-long arc. Episode 2 is instead case 1, bringing us to the chronological beginning of the story.
  • Kill and Replace: This is what "Operation: Changeling" is supposed to be — Control has the Princess assassinated, and Ange replaces her so the Commonwealth can gain a foothold in Kingdom politics. What they don't know is that Ange is actually the real Princess, and she's got goals beyond that.
  • Mundane Utility: Ange's C-ball is intended for gravity manipulation. However, the green glow its internal mechanism gives off makes it perfectly suitable for visually relaying messages in Morse code.
  • No Historical Figures Were Harmed: Although she's never named, Albion's queen is clearly modeled after Queen Victoria in her later years.
  • No OSHA Compliance: The laundry mill the girls infiltrate is practically a death trap due to all of the poorly maintained and haphazardly placed equipment. Industrial irons will spontaneously combust after extended use, washer units constantly jam, and leaky water hoses are left lying on the ground to potentially trip people walking over them. Unfortunately, such safety hazards were a common occurrence in Industrial Age London.
  • Off-Model: Kicks in hard with episode eight, where basically any face that isn't in a basic angle becomes a blurred mess of dots.
  • Pet the Dog: A somewhat twisted version of the trope is used at the end of the first episode. Ange executes Eric for being a Fake Defector. Before she shoots him, however, she has him sign a life insurance form, thus ensuring that he'll be able to pay for his sister's cure in death.
  • Prince and Pauper: At the end of episode 2, it's revealed that several years ago, Ange and Princess Charlotte switched places, each imitating the other. This may be part of Princess's motivation to be a spy for the Commonwealth.
  • Public Domain Artifact: Cavorite. First described as an anti-gravity material in H. G. Wells' The First Men in the Moon.
  • Rare Guns: Ange's weapon of choice is a Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver.
  • Reality Ensues:
    • The show makes quite clear that teenage spies who have to lie and kill on a regular basis would be more than a little emotionally messed up. The girls don't even entirely trust each other.
    • Beatrice is an untrained civilian who gets pulled into the story by way of association with Princess Charlotte. Though she is shown learning several skills and eventually learns to read lips, she is initially a bit of The Load.
    • Take a close look at the sword fight scene between Jubei and Chise. Katanas Are Just Better is subverted in a set of blink-and-you'll-miss-it shots. As a result of their fight, both their swords are heavily chipped.
    • When Dorothy and Ange decide to have a talk with their old classmate, they jump to the train and leave their Cool Car to Beatrice, who outright says that she can't drive. She promptly crashes into a snowdrift.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Dorothy forges some documents in one of the Academy halls, in plain sight of her fellow students. When two classmates ask her what she's doing, she replies that she's writing an essay and invites them to join her, knowing they'll refuse.
  • Revolving Door Revolution: Discussed. Princess Charlotte is against the idea of a revolution, as it will only invite further revolts. She prefers changing the system from the inside.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Princess Charlotte. Whichever way you look at it.
  • Sequel Hook: The end of season 1 throws out about a metric ton of them.
  • Shout-Out: Several exist.
    • Cavorite is a nod to H.G. Wells.
    • The "Black Lizard Planet" that Ange mentions regularly might be a nod to the aliens of The War of the Worlds
    • The Pen-gun that Princess finds and Beatrice holds on to is a nod to the Q-department of the James Bond movies. (plus there were real versions of such devices in the Cold War).
    • Chise's mission is to determine which Britain. Kingdom or Commonwealth, is worthy of alliance to Japan, a nod to the the Real Life alliance between Britain and Japan in 1902.
    • The Commonwealth's training facility for its spies is referred to as "the Farm", a nod to the CIA's own training grounds.
    • Ange shares a surname with spy fiction author John le Carré.
    • In another shout out to the origins of Cavorite, the Moon People, the Selenites, are mentioned in episode 5.
    • Chise saying that Jubei Todo killed her father is similar to what Obi-Wan told Luke about Darth Vader in Star Wars, except with Chise in the role of both Obi-Wan and Luke.
  • Space Cold War: Steampunk Cold War, to be precise, with London serving as a clear analogue to Berlin.
  • Spy Cam: One of the Commonwealth's other spies makes use of a camera hidden in a book.
  • Spy Fiction: Of the Dirty Martini variety. The Principal Team's adventures are outwardly glamorous, with car chases, fancy gadgets and a very stylish wardrobe. On the other hand, they're teenage killers who will Shoot the Dog if the mission requires it, and there are quite a few hints at the psychological issues their life brings with it. Beatrice adds some Bathtub Gin to the mix, being an amateur.
  • Spy School: The Commonwealth has one in the forest called "The Farm," named after the CIA training grounds.
  • Spy Speak: The narrative uses it in such a way that just revealing what section of dialogue and what it means is a spoiler. Ange and the Princess, upon meeting again for the first time in ten years, have a conversation to let the Princess confirm that the "Ange" in front of her is really "Charlotte".
  • Steampunk: Filled with this aesthetic.
  • Surprisingly Good English: All the written notes are in excellent English. The lyrics of the opening and closing songs are also well-written, with good grammar.
  • Teen Superspy: The series stars a team of five girls who are spies in Steampunk London, who are incredibly badass (especially Ange), and teenagers (except Dorothy, who is 20, but undercover as a high school student). Episode 11 shows that this is the norm; they've got an entire facility where young girls are trained to be spies.
  • The Thing That Goes "Doink!": Discussed in Episode 11. Chise builds a shishi-odoshi out of metal (because she can't find bamboo), but when Princess asks what its for, she doesn't know the answer.
  • This Banana is Armed: The Princess picks up the only pen in a Wall of Weapons, twists the end around a bit, and fires a bullet into a stone bust a short distance to her right.
  • Toxic Phlebotinum: Victims of Cavorite poisoning are left bedridden with their eyes glowing a sickly green. They may or may not also gain some powers of clairvoyance.
  • Traintop Battle: This happens in Episode 5 between the team and some assassins.
  • True Companions: Defied. When Dorothy jokingly suggests sharing secrets between them, Chise replies that it would probably destroy their friendship.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses:
    • The show expects this with regard to cavorite. It doesn't explain it, you're just expected to know its an anti-gravity material from early sci-fi.
    • In the Episode 1 there is a brief view of Eric's sister's feet, which are bony, callused and deformed. It's easy to dismiss is just as another symptom of cavorite poisoning, unless you just know how the ballerina's feet look in Real Life, and in the same episode there's a blink-and-you-miss-it shot of a Royal Ballet acceptance letter, which lets you guess the Eric's Fake Defector's scheme long before the episode's finale. Note that Ange uses these clues herself.
    • Episode 2 requires sharp eyed viewers to catch the writing of the note that Ange passes to Princess Charlotte, which shows that the note is addressed TO Ange FROM Charlotte, pretty much giving away that the two girls had switched identities at some point.
    • Episode 3 suggests without saying it outright that Ange's cavorite items causes bullets to miss by the way it messes with gravity.
    • The show does not go out of its way to let viewers know that the episodes are being aired in Anachronic Order. Viewers instead have to figure out the chronology either by observing the events of the episode or simply correlating chronology with the case number in each episode name.
  • Vocal Dissonance: Beatrice's voice box enables get to impersonate any kind of voice. Extremely useful in infiltration, though Ange remarks it's unsettling to hear an adult male voice coming from Beatrice while trying to work out a cute team name.
  • Wall of Weapons: The "club room" that Dorothy sets up for them has a revolving board that holds their spy equipment. Most of them are guns, but there are also some classic Shoe Phones: a walking stick, some wristwatches, and a pen.
  • Wham Episode: Episode 11. With the changes in leadership, Dorothy and Chise are pulled from the team and Ange is placed under heavy watch. She escapes with Princess, attempting to run away to Casa Blanca again, but Princess argues with her and locks her in the storage compartment of a departing airship. She takes Ange's place, and discovers that Control has allied with a group of soldiers who plan to revolt and make her queen.
  • Wham Line:
    • Episode 1: Eric: "Are you going to kill me?" Ange: "No." BLAM! "No." BLAM! "No." BLAM! "No." BLAM!
    • Episode 2: At the end of Episode 2, the Princess refers to Ange as "Charlotte"—which is the Princess's name.
    • Episode 10: General: "Assassinate the Princess."
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