It's a great time to be a manga reader in the US. Even though recent years have seen the demise of both CMX and Tokyopop, and now even Bandai is pulling out of the DVD anime business, other publishers such as Vertical and Yen Press have really stepped up to bring us a variety of manga that has never been available before on Western shores. Vertical especially, with both the Osamu Tezuka classics as well as current gems like The Drops of Gods and Twin Spica, has added tremendously to the depth and spectrum of the genre.
There's also been a resurgence in the shojo genre on store shelves. The most prominent series would, of course, be the Kodansha re-release of Sailor Moon in the original, unflipped format and with the Japanese names intact. Beyond that, both Magical Knight Rayearth and Cardcaptor Sakura have received the omnibus edition treatment. Tezuka, as is often the case, wrote one of the earliest entries in the genre with the 1950's Princess Knight series. Serialized in Shojo Club, it is where many of the common themes of shojo manga first appear. Vertical, in its recent trend of releasing Tezuka's manga in the US, has split the series into two volumes
In Princess Knight Volume 1 we learn about the terrible predicament poor Princess Sapphire has found herself in. Before her spirit was sent down to be born, a mischievous angel-in-training named Tink causes the poor princess-to-be to receive both the wild heart of a boy and the refined heart of a girl. So Tink is sent to follow the Princess to Earth and retrieve the misassigned boy heart.
To make things worse, Princess Sapphire was mistakenly announced to her kingdom as PRINCE Sapphire With a throne that can only be inherited by a male heir, and an evil uncle waiting in the wings to steal the throne for his son, the King and Queen make the heartbreaking decision to keep up the charade, keeping Sapphire's public presence strictly princely.
But Sapphire has a girl's heart as well, so along with the fencing lessons and horseback riding, Sapphire's mother makes sure that she has plenty of time to follow the more gentle, womanly pursuits of reading poetry beneath the trees and dancing lessons.
Eventually, though, her uncle becomes determined to steal the throne for his son, and he and his cronies work to show 'Prince' Sapphire for the young woman that she is.
There's all sorts of stories tied together in Princess Knight. There's the Cinderella effect of Princess Sapphire going to a ball in a dress and falling for a handsome prince from the next kingdom over. There's an evil witch who wants to steal Sapphire's girl heart for her own daughter. There's the fact that Sapphire and her parents are truly worried about what would happen to their kingdom if their nephew comes into power. And there's poor Tink, the angel-in-training who caused this whole problem in the first place.
At its heart, Princess Knight is just like its titular character. It has a sweet, romantic side, as well as an action-packed, royal intrigue side. It helped work out the formula used even today in countless shojo and shonen manga, from Ranma 1/2 to The Story of Saiunkoku, balancing the romance with action. While not perfect by any means, Princess Knight Volume 1 is worthy of shelf space next to so many of Tezuka's books that formed the manga that we enjoy today.
Highs: Tink is such a sweet little sidekick to Princess Sapphire, and even as you want Sapphire to keep both of her hearts, you still want Tink to earn his place back in Heaven.
Lows: It's a little bit insulting how all of Sapphire's bravery and strength is tied to that boy heart of hers. And why does no one notice that a certain swan has human legs?
Verdict: Besides the boys' role vs girls' role mess that a book like this is almost certain to provoke, Princess Knight Volume 1 is a fun read, especially if the reader keeps an eye out for all the standard manga themes of today.