Set in a medieval fairy-tale backdrop, Princess Knight is the tale of a young princess named Sapphire who must pretend to be a male prince so she can inherit the throne. Women have long been prevented from taking the throne, but Sapphire is not discouraged and instead she fully accepts the role, becoming a dashing hero(ine) that the populace is proud of.
Princess Knight is another landmark title by the “God of Manga”, Osamu Tezuka. While not the first manga written for girls, it is the one that established many of the themes and styles seen in later shojo manga, and inspired a generation of women to create manga as well. While I had heard of Princess Knight before, I hadn’t had a chance to read it until the one chapter special that appeared in Shojo Beat back in 2007. What I read intrigued me, so I was happy when Vertical announced it had licensed it. And I wasn’t disappointed in the least when I finally got to read it.
Princess Knight tells the tale of Sapphire, a child who was meant to be born a girl, but thanks to the meddling of the angel Tink, is born with both a boy and girl heart. In her kingdom of Silverland, only men can inherit the throne. In order to keep the evil Duke Duralumin from putting his idiot son on the throne, Sapphire must pretend to be boy. But she still has girlish feelings and desires.
The first volume of this series shows Sapphire’s struggles as she must deny her true self again and again in order to protect herself and her people. Every time she is confronted by someone, such as Tink or Captain Blood, she ardently denys her feminine side. But in private moments, she still wants to indulge her girlish side, wear beautiful dresses and dance with Prince Charming. However, being a girl is seen as a weakness, and Sapphire loses all of her strength and willpower whenever her girl heart is in control. So she must continue the charade, even after her deception is revealed. To protect her mother and the people of Silverland from Duralumin, she must continue to rely on her boy heart to fight. But it seems the more she denies her true self and relies on her boy heart, the more trouble she has to deal with.
It’s after she loses her boy heart and can be her true self that things start to turn for Sapphire. The women of the castle protect her from Duralumin and Nylon. Plastic, Duralumin’s son and now king, becomes a champion not only for women to inherit the throne, but is willing to abdicate in favor of Sapphire. Prince Franz finally realizes that Sapphire is his true love, and is willing to do anything for her, even give her up to save her. That’s not to say that she doesn’t continue to have trials to overcome. Madame Hell and Venus the Goddess of love still have other ideas for her, but these are trials that will lead her to the inevitable happily ever after all fairy tales must have.
I have to say, that I was completely enchanted by this series from the beginning to end. Tezuka is able to invoke a fairy tale atmosphere with his charming characters and vaguely Medieval-Europe setting. The Disney-esque art completes the picture, giving the story a timeless air and keeps it from feeling dated. What I enjoyed most about it though, was all the action and adventure. Sapphire isn’t the type of princess to sit about and wait for her prince to come. She is fighting off Duralumin’s men and protecting the people of Silverland. When her mother is exiled to a distant island, Sapphire is in a boat, off to save her, and not demons nor pirates will get in her way. While the adventures Sapphire sets off to might seem a little out there, I thought it was perfect for the fairy tale setting. It’s a fantasy, so why can’t Sapphire be dancing at a festival in one story and be off with pirates in another?
Princess Knight is a fairy tale for modern times. The women aren’t timid or meek. Hecate, Madame Hell’s daughter, doesn’t just go along with her mother’s plans. She actively works against her. She doesn’t want to be changed the way her mother want her to. Friebe isn’t going to wait for a man to find her. She just doesn’t watch the tournament to find a suitable husband, she participates and is just as good, if not better than the competitors. It’s like Tezuka is telling girls it’s alright to have their cake and eat it too. It’s alright to dream of wearing pretty dresses and being swept up by a prince and live and work in a man’s world. It’s not one or the other.
If I had a complaint about Princess Knight, it would that I think Tezuka kept the gender-bending with Sapphire going a little too long. There doesn’t seem to be a good reason for her to keep her sex a secret from Friebe until they are about to be married. That whole part of the story felt forced and wasn’t as good as the preceding chapters. Still, I would happily recommend this title to parents and think elementary libraries and collections should include it in their collections. If there was only one fairy tale I could tell my girls when they were going up, it would be this one.