Image source: TVアニメ『プリンセス・プリンシパル』 on Twitter

Princess Principal’s “Cases” aren’t aired in chronological order. But, there’s a method to the madness.

Princess Principal is set in a steampunk reimagining of Victorian England where the country has been split in two. On one side is the monarchy. On the other is a burgeoning commonwealth. London itself is likewise separated via a giant wall much like post-World War II Berlin—and much like that city in the Cold War, the London of Princess Principal is rife with spies and intrigue.

Image source: TVアニメ『プリンセス・プリンシパル』 on Twitter

The anime itself follows the adventures of a small, five-person group of spies acting on behalf of the commonwealth. What’s interesting, however, is that each of these largely independent stories is not told in chronological order. Instead, they jump back and forth, seemingly at random. However, there is a point to this structure.

Princess Principal is a character-driven narrative rather than a plot-driven one. What this means is that, instead of the over-arching plot being the main focus of the story, it is the characters themselves—their past and their development—that drive viewer interest in the anime. The plot is still important, of course, but it’s how the characters change and interact in that story that is the most important aspect.

Image source: TVアニメ『プリンセス・プリンシパル』 on Twitter

The first episode of Princess Principal is actually “Case 13” for our group of spies. Through the episode, we are introduced to the basics: the Cold War, the steampunk technology, and most importantly, the girls themselves. We see how they work as a team and how they interact with others outside the group. The episode basically sets up the status quo for all that is to come.

Image source: TVアニメ『プリンセス・プリンシパル』 on Twitter

From there, episode 2 goes back to the beginning to show us “Case 1.” Through this episode, we see the creation of the team: how republic spies Dorothy and Ange first encounter the royal princess and her maid Beatrice, and eventually recruite them as spies. The point of the episode is to show us just how far the characters have evolved between their first meeting and Case 13.

Image source: TVアニメ『プリンセス・プリンシパル』 on Twitter

The third episode, “Case 2,” shows the group’s first mission as an actual unit. This episode serves to reveal Ange’s true loyalties—to show the goal she will do anything to achieve—and in turn allow us needed insight into every decision we see her make in the anime both previously and in the future. It likewise does the same for Beatrice in addition to showing how she comes to trust that Ange, at least, will protect Princess, even at the cost of her own life.

Image source: TVアニメ『プリンセス・プリンシパル』 on Twitter

Episode 4, which is actually “Case 9,” shows that the well-oiled team we saw in episode 1 is far from it. Instead there is distrust between the different factions backing the group, forcing the girls to spy on each other even as they struggle to trust each other. Now that we’ve seen the status quo and the beginnings of the team in the previous three episodes, this episode allows us to explore the hidden complexities behind the team. While all act like they’re on the same side, all have their own goals—and these goals are not always aligned.

Image source: TVアニメ『プリンセス・プリンシパル』 on Twitter

The fifth episode, “Case 7,” shows how Japanese ninja girl Chise joined the team of English spies. Connecting directly with some tantalizing hints from the previous episode, the episode explains why the Japanese have become torn between allying with the crown or the republic—while at the same time showing how Chise and Ange became allies. It likewise gives us insight into Chise’s core: that loyalty to Japan’s government is the primary factor in all the decisions she makes in both the previous episodes and all episodes to come.

Image source: TVアニメ『プリンセス・プリンシパル』 on Twitter

“Case 18,” the sixth episode, shows the story of Dorothy meeting up with her own estranged father. While the previous episode focused on Ange and Chise’s relationship, this episode delves into the growing friendship between Dorothy and Beatrice. It also gives us insight into Dorothy’s childhood and past. With this information we can finally understand why she acts the way she does and why she holds such loyalty for the Republic.

Image source: TVアニメ『プリンセス・プリンシパル』 on Twitter

In all, the goal of the first six episodes is to lay out the the main the characters’ motivations through a series of world-building, one-off adventures. Dorothy is a loyal agent of the Republic. Chise is a loyal agent of Japan. Princess wishes to take the English throne for herself and reunite the split country. Beatrice is loyal only to Princess and wants to protect her. And Ange? She will do anything for a world where she and Princess can openly be together—anything except let Princess die.

So even as their friendship grows and the girls become closer, there is a boiling tension behind the scenes. While on the same side, their alliance is clearly a temporary thing. Their ideals and goals are destined to clash at some point—and then it will be a struggle between their personal relationships and the loyalty to their respective causes.

Image source: Bandai Visual on YouTube

In a plot-driven, chronologically told narrative, it would have taken 18 episodes—not 6—for us to fully understand the depth of the character drama happening in each scene. However, told out of order, the interpersonal drama of the show thrives throughout the one-off adventures, tying them together into a story that is as much about star-crossed friends as it is spy-action.

Princess Principal can be viewed with English subtitles on Amazon Anime Strike (US), HIDIVE (International Territories), and AnimeLab (AU/NZ).

Comments (2)
  1. […] has up its sleeve; Its scripting and order actually has more value than you may initially think: Why the Stories in Princess Principal Are Told Out of Order PLENTY OF INSIGHT INTO MADE IN ABYSS Week after week Made in Abyss just continues to prove to be […]

  2. […] locking the final two episodes into an arc that will carry Cases 23 and 24 into a season finale. An Anime Now! article about the series has posited that the episodes are being delivered out of order to provide the most effective […]

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