Hitting shelves this month is a new omnibus edition of Princess Knight, a classic manga from the legendary Osamu Tezuka. Set in a medieval fairy-tale backdrop, it 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.
One of the earliest entries in the shojo manga genre, Princess Knight’s influence on comics aimed at women cannot be overstated enough. It was also very ahead of it’s time when it comes to themes of feminism and gender identity. Though it is a bit topsy-turvy with these themes and some of the ideas are rather outdated, at its core – it is a story of child rebellion and going against the path set by the older generation. It was also an early example of Tezuka’s versatility as a creator. With Astro Boy and Kimba The White Lion, he had already established himself as a pioneer in shonen manga. With Princess Knight, he told a completely different style of story aimed at a radically different audience.
Sapphire is a brilliant protagonist in both design and character. You can easily see how she became an archetype for future shojo protagonists to come. Her two hearts that give her both a kind nature and serious skill with a sword make her a force to be reckoned with. Tezuka puts her through her paces though as the perilous situations she finds herself in as a result of her disguise will require her to rely on both the best parts of her male heart and female heart. As whacky as it sounds, it is an engaging piece of storytelling, and she is a heroine that readers will naturally root for.
The series is also an example of Tezuka’s mastery as an artist. Though his style might seem outdated for some younger readers, it is packed with charm and it’s clear to see why it made such an impact upon release. He was always strong when it comes to expressing movement and action though he gets to show it in a different way this time round. He wears his Disney influence on his sleeve and the characters reflect that. Despite his extensive experience in action comics at this point in his career, he is able to soften his art up for the more delicate style that the series conveys.
The influence that Princess Knight had on the shojo genre in both art and storytelling is undeniable. All shojo fans owe it to themselves to give this series a read. Tezuka fans should also take the chance to revisit a very important series in his development as a cartoonist.
Princess Knight: New Omnibus Edition is out now from Vertical (9781647291211, p/b, £26.99)
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