Princess Knight Manga, Volume 1 (English)

January 12th, 2012

In 1954, Tezuka Osamu began the first serialization of a series called Ribon no Kishi, Knight of the Ribbon. In the subsequent four serializations, the story was altered slightly and even had a sequel. But, throughout these iterations, the main story held true – in a country in which the position of ruler was entailed, so that only a boy could become King, a daughter is born. To hide her true nature, she is brought up as a boy, Prince Sapphire.

Sapphire is endowed with two hearts, that of a boy and that of a girl. The boy’s heart makes her athletic, honorable and strong. The girl’s heart makes her emotional and weak. Yes, yes, I know, it’s exhausting. Think of Tezuka like your grand (or great-grandfather if you’re young) who never did figure out what the 60s and 70s were about and didn’t understand why feminists didn’t like having the door opened for them.

Sapphire is, in any case, stuck in a bad situation. Although she’d like to be a “normal” girl, instead she’s forced to be a beautiful prince. She and her family are well aware of the consequences of being found out, so she does her best, manning up as much as she can. This is complicated by the schemes of Duke Duralamin, who is just positive that Sapphire is a girl, and wants his own son to rule the Kingdom in her place.

Now, at last, brought to us in English by Vertical Publishing, we have Princess Knight. These volumes are a translation of the 1977 Complete Works Edition of Ribon no Kishi. (Interestingly, the very same version I happen to own in Japanese.)

I won’t beat around the bush – this story is frustrating as hell. When she has her boy heart, Sapphire is commanding and decisive, but without it, she’s a mess. There’s no way we can forgive that, can we? But let’s look, not at the story itself, but what it spawned. Because, for Yuri fans, Sapphire is most important for her heirs….which is a really bizarre irony, when I say that out loud.

Lady Oscar of Rose of Versailles –  born a girl, raised as a boy, but never for one second less aware of her existence as a woman, with conflicting, simultaneous roles as a leader of the military, a noble, a servant of a spoiled queen and a person who believed deeply in the rights of her fellow humans.

Princess Ereminia of Paros no Ken, who struggles as a female warrior with the heart of a man, forced to marry in order to put her kingdom under the protection of a man, who ultimately chooses to abandon her country to be with the woman she loves.

Tenoh Haruka, Sailor Uranus of Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, who, we are explicitly told, has the hearts of a man and a woman and, when asked what gender she is replies, “Does it matter?”

Also topically once more,

Tenjou Utena of Revolutionary Girl Utena, who wears the boy’s school uniform and wants to be the Prince Sapphire wishes she weren’t.

All of these – and many other favorite Yuri characters – owe their existence to Sapphire. Although she might not have been able to find the strength in her girl’s heart, one look at this list, and we can be comforted that her successors most certainly found their’s.

Vertical’s translation/reproduction is swell, but I do have to take issue with their extremely ugly covers. I have no idea what the thinking behind the cover design was. The pink, i.e. “Girl” cover  (ARGH!!!!) is a pale, washed out pink. Sapphire herself is all-but-colorless. Compared to, say, this:

it looks pretty blecch. Volume 2 isn’t really all that much better, with an equally bland blue “Boy” cover. (Not the super-saturated blue in the Amazon listing, a sort of pearly, light, greyish-blue.)

Princess Knight, Volume 1 is not as satisfying a read as you might expect, but don’t look at it that way. Sapphire *is* Snow White on a horse, with a sword and, as such, she’s actually pretty darn cool. And for those who came after, we all must bow in her general direction and honor her as the great ancestor she is.


Art – 8 Tezuka is an acquired taste, like fine wine
Story – 8 Not without problems, but overall, kind of fun, what with the pirates and witches and giant birds and other pop culture elements from literature of the ages.
Characters – 7 Both bad and good guys are stereotypes, but they aren’t entirely unlikable
Yuri – 0
Service – 1, on principle only

Overall – 8

Thanks Vertical for bringing this here and letting us all see the origin of our Girl Prince!

Note: Let me just put two afternotes here:

In some Native American traditions, mixed gender people are known as Two Hearts or Two-Spirits. I have no idea if Tezuka knew that or not.

Also, it’s well-known that Tezuka gew up in the town of Takarazuka, home of the Takarazuka Review, which strongly influenced Princess Knight.

This way you don’t have to feel obliged to write in and tell me these things. ^_^

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13 Responses

  1. Jackie says:

    I pre-ordered both volumes of “Princess Knight” because I was curious to see the series that helped pave the way for Utena, Haruka, etc. I would absolutely make the same choice over again to buy them and support and US manga licensor bringing over series like this, but for the most part I did find the story frustrating as hell. Some of the bright spots for me were the bits involving the characters Hecate and Friebe. They struck me as strong, intelligent, self-secure female characters (unlike Sapphire). I was just curious – what is your opinion of these characters?

  2. Atarun says:

    I took the same umbrage at Houkago Hokenshitsu: the main character is literally half male and half female and wants to be a guy. Why does she want to be a guy? Because she wants to be strong and cool…

    Here’s the thing: if you’re a girl and you want to be strong and cool, it doesn’t mean you are actually a man… it means girls can be strong and cool too. I’m sick of people reasoning in reverse by trying to change reality to fit bad definitions.

    I didn’t remember that issue in Princess Knight, but then I didn’t remember much from it… I’ll probably stick with Sapphire’s heirs, personally.

  3. @Jackie – I thought so too, but they were in the wrong story, where smart, scheming women are, by default, evil.

    In another story, Hecate would have the hero and taken over the Kingdom, Sapphire and her daughter would fall in love and rule. Oh well, then, her daughter was an ass too. Sapphire would have fallen in love with anyone else and ruled happily.

  4. @Atarun – Again, judging a 65 year old book by our standards only leads to madness. ^_^

    Yes, when girl=weak and boy=strong nowadays, it’s damn irksome.

  5. Felix says:

    Nice review Erica. I wonder why the two hearts element was added in 1977. Did Tezuka decide around that time a girl couldn’t be brave and needed a boy’s “heart” to do so? Is it a case of editorial interference? A somewhat ham handed in hindsight attempt to explain her nature that wasn’t in the previous iterations?

  6. @Fwlix – That element wasn’t added in 1977, it was in all the iterations. It’s just that this particular adaptation used the 1977 iteration of the story.

  7. James Moar says:

    Though this is a translation of the 1977 Complete Works edition, I thought it was basically the 1963-6 version (probably with the minor revisions Tezuka was so fond of, but still fundamentally the same thing).

  8. @James Moar – It is. My wording is unintentionally misleading. I’ll change it.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I’m a big fan of this series, although I’m a lot fonder of the anime for the reason that Sapphire is more tomboyish there, and that was not treated as a bad thing in the episodes I watched. Granted, I didn’t watch that many. But in a world where the tomboy-heroines of anime and manga had to be secretly wanting to be girlier, it was really refreshing to see a show where, even if for only one episode, a girl was allowed to like a prince and be one as well.(Not that she wouldn’t have been very cute with Hecate, though..)

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