It’s time for another First Episode, First Impressions, where I look at the pilot episode for a series to judge how well it stands on its own and how well it draws people in to watch the rest of the show. This week, I’ll be looking at a series my friend recently showed to me, a 2010 anime show called Princess Jellyfish that centers on the tenants of an unusual apartment complex in Tokyo… where all the tenants are dorky, obsessive, and absolutely nutty female otaku.
Wait, a bunch of women all banding together and dorking out about their geeky obsessions? Where do I sign up for this place?
Episode summary (warning, spoilers!): Tsukimi Kurashita is a shy, easily flustered illustrator with an obsession for jellyfish, thanks to a childhood visit to an aquarium with her mother. Terrified of social interaction and “stylish” people, she finds comfort in Amamizukan, an apartment complex inhabited by a crew of wacky female otaku just as obsessed with their own hobbies. One evening, a chance event in front of Tsukimi’s pet store results in her meeting a beautiful and stylish party girl who helps Tsukimi out in a jam… then proceeds to crash on Tsukimi’s floor after walking her home. Tsukimi is shocked and confused, but even more so when, the next morning, she discovers that her visitor isn’t actually a girl at all…
First impressions: One thing to clarify going into this is that in Japan, “otaku” has a rather different connotation than here. While in the West, it refers specifically to people obsessed with anime, manga, and other forms of Japanese culture, in Japan it just refers to anyone hyper-obsessed with a single topic, be it trains, birdwatching, or blow-up dolls. It’s this latter kind of otaku that populate the halls of Amamizukan, without a lot of the more traditionally “geeky” passions we would normally think of. Not to say there isn’t a lot of geeking out going on…
I’ve seen anime with the “kooky crazy cast all live together in one space” kind of theme before (see: Love Hina), and they tend to live and die by the appeal of the supporting cast of tenants. Luckily, Princess Jellyfish delivers that right away in spades. As likeable and genuine as the main character is, the thing that sold me on the series was her absolutely ludicrous and hilarious set of fellow tenants and otaku. The moment you even see their character designs, you know you’re in for a treat, and the art really does convey their character in a very compelling way… important when you’re trying to make the characters emotionally appealing within the very first episode.
My favorite is probably Mayaya, the tall track-suited fan of Romance of the Three Kingdoms who TALKS! LIKE! THIS! and waves her arms around like she’s directing air traffic; close second would be Jiji who is the ultimate wallflower (down to the trembling, barely-there voice) who has a fixation on old men. Not only do the girls have a diverse range of interests, but they also all express their obsessions and deal with socialization in different ways, from the incredibly off the wall antics of Mayaya to the relatively sensible, mature behavior of Chieko the kimono-obsessed manager. It’s also touching to see how well the social misfits bond, creating a community to the point where they jokingly refer to themselves as an actual sisterhood of nuns.
Tsukimi herself fits well into this posse and works well as a main character, partly because a lot of her quirks and struggles will feel very familiar to a lot of shy geeks. Despite having one of the weirdest obsessions, the episode skillfully avoids making her look like some sort of freak, setting up a strong case for why jellyfish made such a strong impression on her and why she feels so lost and confused by the attractive people around her.
And then there’s Tsukimi’s savior, the stylish crossdresser whose real name (not stated in the episode) is Kuranosuke. He plays with gender in interesting ways, claiming he just crossdresses as a hobby and behaving the same way in and out of his fancy Shibuya dress. He’s one of those effortlessly stylish people with confidence and lazy charm to contrast Tsukimi’s extreme embarrassment and confusion. We don’t get too much time with him, but I’m looking forward to seeing how their relationship plays out.
One last note: I watched the Funimation dub, which was pretty much high-quality and hilarious, but I did have one minor criticism of Kuranosuke’s actor; despite some efforts to emulate a “girly” voice, it was so obviously a guy that the giant reveal at the end wasn’t much of a reveal at all. The implication in the show is that he is indistinguishable from a woman when in dress, but the voice and performance doesn’t really bear that out, and he played it a bit like a camp drag queen (despite the character explicitly not identifying as such). It’s certainly not a deal-breaker, and it’s only an issue in the first episode, but it does make Tsukimi seem even more obtuse than she should be when she doesn’t even notice.
Compared to the rest of the series? I haven’t seen any of the rest of Princess Jellyfish, so I have to glean what I can about the series from this first episode, i.e. what sort of show does this seem like, and is it good? Well, to be honest, there’s more than a little suggestion of formulaic plot in here – kooky people live together in apartment! Another kooky person added to mix! – but the characters are likable enough that I’d be willing to swallow generic plots with these people doing it. The first episode ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, but it serves well as a standalone as well as a pretty good hint of what to expect going forward; I don’t see this turning into a deeply angsty story any time soon. Of course, I may be wrong; perhaps there will be more angst for Kuranosuke and Tsukimi down the line. But taken as just the first impression of the series, it seems to be familiar with a few unusual touches, a great sense of humor, and a lot to offer, particularly to female otaku like me.
Worth plowing on? I think so, though not necessarily a Must Watch. It’s a gentle, fun show that looks pretty easy to get into, with an interesting genderqueer character and a heroine suffering from genuine awkwardness vs. Bella-style awkwardness. If you hate this genre of kooky apartment dwellers and created family, you probably won’t like it, but otherwise, check out the first episode and judge for yourself! It’s available for free on YouTube, in sub and dub varieties.
What’s your take on Princess Jellyfish? If you’ve seen the rest of the series, weigh in on your thoughts! If not, any personal favorite “kooky apartment dweller” series you’d recommend?