Welcome, weebs, to Animated Observations
“No, but like, what did I just watch?”
“‘Princess Jellyfish,’ dumbass.”
Even after writing this 12 hours removed from finishing the series, I still am not entirely sure how to feel about it. There were so many twists and turns that happened that at first felt like they were only tentatively related, but upon reflection make a lot more sense. There are also a ton of political, economic, and gender elements that further complicate the series. So, with that being said, let us take it one at a time.
What is Gender, Anyway?
I want to start this segment by saying that I am nowhere close to an academic. In fact, I’m not even a sociology major, I am in my third year studying English. So, in no way am I an expert on gender issues. That said, I still think it is worth trying to understand how these concepts affect the story of “Princess Jellyfish,” because they are indeed a major part of the show’s progression.
Tsukimi is an 18-year old biological woman who moves into a sisterhood of sorts to try and make it as an illustrator. Only a few months into having moved there, one night, she sees a Jellyfish in a storefront that is likely to die, and tries to get the attention of the store clerk. After failing to convince him to take care of the Jellyfish, a mysterious woman appears to help, and convinces the clerk to give Tsukimi the sea creature. The two head back to her apartment, with Tsukimi feeling severely uncomfortable with just how stylish this woman is. After the two fall asleep in her room, Tsukimi learns that this woman is Kuranosuke Koibuchi, a biological male and the child of a prominent politician. The latter part of that we will get to later, but, for now, gender.
One of the most prominent ideas in the series is this concept of the more otaku lifestyle of the Amamizukan residents versus the “Stylish.” In other words, there is an opposition between women who fit a more traditional definition of feminine beauty and those who do not. However, it is not just the Tsukimi and the others who are opposed to this idea within the story. Kuranosuke, for as much as his outward appearance reflects this feminine beauty, is still a dude, even if the other women in the apartment are clueless.
Kuranosuke, in this way, is an amazing foil to Tsukimi, because while they may be different in personality, habit, and lifestyle, they are incredibly similar in how gender plays a role in shaping their lives. Both perceive themselves, to one degree or another, as not being adequately feminine for the reasons previously explained. Sure, Kuranosuke does not show it as outwardly, but their feelings for Tsukimi and concept of self still affect their decisions.
Additionally, both of these characters are influenced significantly by the presence and absence of their mothers. For Tsukimi, it was more a general sense of encouragement and home that her mother gave her which made the two close. Whereas, for Kuranosuke, that connection came because of fashion and the absence of their father due to work. After their mothers make an exit, both characters find themselves questioning who they are what it is they want out of the life they have.
Another element of gender which underlies this entire conversation is perception. Even much more so than empirical and objective reality, perception, as well as self-perception, drives how people understand and act in the world. Gender, as social construct, is understood in much the same way. It is a product of perception, behaviors, and associations of those behaviors with a particular biological group. Tsukimi feels inadequately feminine because feminine beauty is associated with wearing lots of makeup and wigs. Kuranosuke feels the same because the other part of this feminine ideal is being a biological women, which he is not. Their relationship serves to validate their experiences by combining each other’s personality in the series’ climax.
Life’s Hard, But Being Rich Helps
Ha! I bet you thought we were done with the university lecture. Gottem!
Gender is without a doubt an important element in “Princess Jellyfish,” but what is equally as interesting is class and the ways in which these two elements intersect. Even before potentially getting evicted from their homes became a major issue, the story sets up this difference between the women in the apartment and the Koibuchi family. All the women come from pretty modest means, including Chieko, whose mom owns the building they live in. Even the famous mangaka of the group, whose works make a lot of money, is portrayed as always being in her room working on new material.
The second episode sets this up as well. After Kuranosuke leaves, the women go shopping for cheap pot luck ingredients. The episode goes so far as to set up the recurring joke that Banba has the superhuman ability to locate the cheapest food at a grocery store. So, yeah, needless to say the group is not exactly living it up. This serves in direct contrast to Kuranosuke and his family, who are incredibly wealthy due to both their uncle and father being prominent politicians. Because of this, Kuranosuke is able to afford whatever they want whereas Tsukimi is used to dawning normal looking tops and skirts as well as the always comfortable track suit.
In much the same way that gender influences our perceptions and vice-versa, class plays a large part in the human experience. Things that might seem trivial to Kuranosuke, like how much money one spends on food, is much more important to Tsukimi and everyone at the apartment. Thus, they are oblivious to a lot of Tsukimi’s feelings and everyday problems. It also becomes an issue when Kuranosuke suggests buying the apartment building so that Chieko’s mother cannot sell it to the redevelopers. Of course, everyone at Amamizukan laughs at him, but then he continues to bring it up, to the point of being pretty annoying about it.
A great example of this is when Kuranosuke suggests selling Chieko’s doll collection in order to help make money for the effort. They then begin filling bags with the dolls while Chieko panics. It is only after Banba grabs their shoulder that Kuranosuke stops. After that, they have the idea of selling all of Chieko’s parents’ old stuff, which everyone hesitantly goes along with. In both cases, Kuranosuke assumes what is best for the women without really asking how they feel about it, and only sees the situation through the lens of money.
A lot of Tsukimi’s negativity comes from the self-perception that she is not worthy of this ideal of beauty, even despite the fact that she dreams of wearing a white-laced wedding dress which looks like a jellyfish. While it is never said explicitly in the show, it would not feel like a stretch to say that part of this self-perception is also derived from her class status, and that, simultaneously, Kuranosuke’s confidence comes from the fact that they can afford these amazing dresses, wigs, and makeup.
But That Writing, Though?!
Outside of its focus on social issues, “Princess Jellyfish’s” writing is incredibly well done. The series starts out simply enough, and someone who only watched the first episode might find it pretty tame, even for the standard of slice of life. In fact, I had the very same opinion after I finished its first episode. However, where the show shines through in this regard is how, rather than having particular character arcs, it keeps its focus on the relationship between Kuranosuke and Tsukimi, layering their opposition with new problems and focuses.
(For the record, I did read a little bit about the manga, and I am aware the other characters get development, so this comment is solely in regard to what is shown in the anime.)
In this way, the pacing is fantastic. In almost every episode the stakes are raised in some way, whether it be an increased chance that the others find out Kuranosuke is a guy, or the new information that is revealed about each other’s past. Even the relationship between Tsukimi and Shuu, as non-existent as it is, becomes a big plot point. If there were ever a series whose manga I would read in order to find out the rest of what happens, it would be this one.
Small Things I Enjoyed
I feel like this should be a regular segment in my reviews, because oftentimes there will be things I want to talk about that do not fit into a specific category, which makes me feel like including it would make the review read a bit more like rambling…anyway,
While Clara the Jellyfish does not appear incredibly often, I do love that she was used as part of the commercial break intro and outro. Going from the rising announcement of her name to a group of deep-voiced men saying the word “tequila,” presumably because it was a funny sounding rhyme, in the middle of each episode is legitimately charming. Her narration of the Amamizukan residents’ interactions with the real world not only makes for a good laugh, but it also helps to build her up as the show’s mascot, giving that little extra bit of memorability.
Also, Idk what it is, but between this series and others like “Lovely Complex,” I think I just really vibe with the late 2000’s/early 2010’s shoujo aesthetic. The use of bright pinks, yellows, and oranges is just phenomenal, despite the fact that I am not a particularly big fan of those colors. Actually, now that I am thinking about it, that also explains why I liked the color palate in “Golden Time” a lot as well. I guess what I mean is me small brained and easily impressed. 🙂
Putting the thoughtfulness of this series into words has been hard, and while It is hard to evaluate where exactly this will land among my favorites, it feels likely to end up there. Still, this also ended up being on my longest written reviews. So much of “Princess Jellyfish” speaks to a sense of self-inadequacy that has been with me for a long time. There is a truly validating feeling while watching this show, in the much the same way that “March Comes in Like a Lion” continues to validate me. Honestly, I do not know if I could recommend this enough, but do expect me to return to this series at some point.
How do you all feel about Princess Jellyfish? Let me know in the comments.
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