10 Apr / Princess Knight (vols. 1-2) by Osamu Tezuka, translated by Maya Rosewood
With all that swashbuckling fun, Princess Knight – recently available in full, in English translation, in two volumes – is seemingly one of the godfather of manga’s more goofy stories. Up in heaven, God’s in the process of deciding gender for each about-to-be-born baby, assigning a girl heart or a boy heart just before sending them down to earth. Mischievous angel Tink (a nominal nod to Tinkerbell?) decides one such baby “look[s] like you’d be a boy anyways!” and stuffs a blue heart in its mouth … but seconds later, God decides she’s going to be a girl, and suddenly she’s both. Uh-oh. So God orders Tink earthbound with the gender-bender baby to retrieve the boy heart if she turns out to the girl God foretold.
Down in earthly Silverland, the queen is about to give birth. She needs to bear a son to carry on the royal line, or else the throne will be stolen by an evil relative. Princess Sapphire enters the world, but in a stuttering mistranslation, a prince is announced to the assembled kingdom. The young royal grows up as Prince Sapphire (at least to the public) – even though she bears an uncanny resemblance to Disney’s animated Snow White. She’s the epitome of princely power, but give her a flouncy gown and a hefty wig, and she morphs into the most graceful and elegant stranger who (of course) captures the heart of Prince Franz Charming from the nearby kingdom of (what else?) Goldland.
But all is not well in the fair lands. Duke Duralumin is determined to install his less-than-competent son (named Plastic!) on the throne. Duralumin’s henchman Lord Nylon will do anything to get rid of Sapphire. Meanwhile, Madame Hell wants Prince Franz for her own daughter, the goddess Venus decides the hapless prince should actually be hers, and a handsome young pirate falls in love with Sapphire and vows to do her bidding. Through it all, Tink must try to keep Sapphire safe, long enough to return that errant heart to heaven.
Beneath the adventurous, fast-paced, often comical façade, Tezuka adds more than a few heavy-duty layers: gender politics, equality and equity, class issues, questions of identity, definitions of morality, and more. Most interestingly, Tezuka takes on Christianity, perhaps more overtly than in any other of his works (certainly that I’ve read thus far). From gender identification as God-ordained and the possibility of ‘holy’ mistakes in the first chapter (daring!), to the mix-and-matching of a Christian God with ancient Greek deities, to crucifix-fearing evil characters (including Satan), to surprising representations of heaven and hell, Tezuka pushes one button after another … just to see what might happen. The result is a delightful, thoughtful challenge – visually, intellectually … and even spiritually.
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Readers: Young Adult, Adult
Published: 2011 (United States)