Princess Knight vol. 1

November 5, 2011

This is shojo manga of the oldest school.  Both in the sense that it was originally published in 1953, and created by a man -- none other than Osamu Tezuka himself.  Its concept is bizzare enough to loop back around to being kind of groundbreaking for its time.  A mix-up in heaven causes a girl to be born into the world with both male and female hearts.  This girl happens to the the princess of the land, with the name of Sapphire, and after another mix-up in the court causes her birth to be announced as a prince, she winds up being raised as both.  The end result is that you have a female protagonist who is girly enough to want to look good in a dress and fall in love with the prince of the neighboring kingdom, but with enough manly guts to wield a sword with the best of them and to forge her own path without the help of a man.  Nowadays this isn’t anything new, but at the time it was mold-shattering.

What is surprising about this first volume is how readable it still is.  Granted, this is clearly aimed at younger readers, but kids of all ages will get a kick out of seeing Tezuka’s art at its most Disney-esque and the high adventure of the story itself.  While I was familiar with its premise, I thought that it was a more episodic series akin to “Astro Boy” or “Black Jack.”  That’s not the case at all as it’s a continuous narrative which barrels along gleefully throwing in every plot twist the mangaka can think up.  The princess loses her kingdom!  She becomes a masked vigilante!  An evil witch plots to steal her girl heart!  Sapphire turns into a swan!  She hooks up with a dashing pirate!  Any one of these concepts could’ve (and have) sustained an entire series, but they’re cycled through at such a high rate that they never have the chance to get old.

It’s also worth nothing that while shojo manga was revolutionized by the Year 24 Group, the genre’s standard of one girl having to choose between two guys was originally laid down here by Tezuka with Prince Franz Charming and the pirate, Captain Blood, competing for Sapphire’s affections.  The fact that he created such an enduring trope is just one more reason why he’s called “The God of Manga.”  Some may say that this is too old-fashioned and simple, but it’s still incredibly fun.  If you’re a fan of Tezuka, you probably already own this; but, kids of all ages -- and you know who you are -- will still get a kick out of this.

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