Shamanic Princess - Reviews

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ThePatches's avatar
Sep 3, 2010

Story

Nearly everyone who watched anime in the era when you had to buy it from your local video store has dropped shows for financial reasons. Or because it wasn't available. Or because you forgot to continue buying it. Either way, the age of the internet (and a 9-5 job) allows you and I to return to those shows that you never got around to seeing through. Of the anime on my list that fits this bill, Shamanic Princess stood out, since I remember having no idea what it was really about beyond cool magical battles in the dark. So, when I returned to it with no expectations over a decade later, I was not prepared for its layered plot, layered animation, and complex characters.

Shamanic Princess is an OVA told in two sections, one action-packed, one character-driven. The first segment concerns Tiara's attempt to recover a powerful artifact stolen from the Guardian world by one of her close friends. En-route to a satisfactory if unsurprising ending, the initial volley of episodes abounds with stylish magical combat and dramatic declarations of friendship; which makes the anime by most measuring sticks, an average and enjoyable short offering. However, when the show plumbs the personal history of its cast in the final two installments, a unique narrative alchemy turns the standard storytelling that came before into something more. Seen through the lens of these characters' struggles and motivations, significance, emotion, and animus leak out of the preceding chapters upon reflection. Consequently, this anime's earlier portions resonate stronger and seem markedly better after the final credits role than when first viewed mere hours before.

That is not to say that the OVA doesn't stumble. Most of the important explanatory legwork comes in one chunk at the end of the first section, and so has a forced feel to it. Similarly, the brooding, languid pacing of the first two installments seems wasteful given the short nature of the work, and its predominant focus on Tiara seems a poor choice given the more character-driven content that dominates the back half. In addition, the anime chooses from time to time to be cryptic, either in an attempt to impart information in a more indirect manner or to add padding. However, muddying the waters in order to draw out the otherwise tight pacing does a disservice to the story's straightforward underpinnings.


Animation

Though a little confused, Shamanic Princess stands out as an example of 1990's-era success. The lush, hand-drawn background artwork appears to be a larval form of Sora-No-Wo-To or Nodame Cantabile's enthralling vistas, but the lack of modern computer animation means that most scenery shots are static instead of pans. However, each location possesses a strong sense of place whether it be the hard deserts or verdant flower fields of the Guardian world or the vibrant European town in which the majority of OVA's main plot unfurls.

Amost all the action takes place at night, which does not help when combat consists of transparent proxies battling against dark backgrounds, but events still proceed with breathtaking vivacity and attention to detail. The lengthy casting sequences make a good use of visual slight-of-hand to direct viewers' eyes toward points of interest and away from characters or objects in the scene that remain motionless, but the effort succeeds. The visceral drip that peals off the ball of shadow Tiara squeezes to make her mystical minions and the winding vines coiling around Lena's body when she plays her flute grant the fight sequences equal parts novelty and coherence. In addition some of the surface effects of the protagonists' spell casting appear gaudy even by today's standards.


Sound

The music, for its part, ranges from inappropriate to well-suited, but none of it grates on the ear. For some inexplicable reason, the directors chose to grace this dark and action-packed OVA with a saccharine OP and ED theme that clash uncomfortably with the content of the show. Not that either song is bad, per se. But they seem more suited to a cheesy high school romance than the adventure-drama on display here. Luckily, the in-episode incidentals understand their role in the proceedings. Much of it falls into standard modern-synth cubbyholes reserved for "action music", "introspection", or "creepy". The score features one intense tribal track that stands head-and-shoulders over the rest of its peers, however. Comprised nearly entirely of drums and possessing a delicious buildup, it augments the increasing tension of its paired scene perfectly.

For their part, the Japanese voice cast fill the roles admirably, with special kudos going to Tiara's voice actress, Sayuri, for not making her charge sound either too "tough" or too "vulnerable". The competent treatment of each character ensures that the OVA does not offend, but suffers a touch at times from wooden delivery, which does not help viewers immediately identify with the cast. On the other hand, the reserved performances give the seiyuus room to inject increasing amounts of emotion with each episode; this development pays out in spades when they become more emotive in the second half.

Fair warning: the dub is bad. Not Slayers-cheesy, overacted tolerable bad. This English-language track is History's Strongest Disciple Kenichi-poor-direction-on-top-of-wooden-performance bad. Jaopolo's (Tiara's ferret familiar) faux-Russian FEMALE accent attempts to add some gravitas to the sidekick, but misses the mark entirely, making all scenes in which he appears unwatchable while simultaneously conferring on the character a maturity that the original audio does not afford to him. When the annoying rodent is not on screen, viewers instead have to suffer through Lena and Sara's droning, which actively detracts from the genuinely engaging story by draining any the emotional impact from their scenes.


Characters

All of the important characterization takes place in the second half of Shamanic Princess. The main cast appears standoffish and hardened at the outset, lead by Tiara whose confidence puts her in line with heroines in the mold of Kagome, Lina Inverse, and even Priss. But underneath her stern exterior lurks a young woman who can't choose between her friends and her responsibilities and possesses just enough power that she can probably have her cake and eat it, too. But she alone can't carry the OVA (much as she'd like to), and the creators provide her with the Emeraude-like Sarah and the brilliantly-portrayed Graham to complement the young magician. Graham's origins, role, and fate are too tied to the spoilerrific sixth episode to reveal, but suffice it to say he goes from "why should I care about him" to "favorite character in the show" faster than any three moeblobs. Meanwhile, Sarah coyly lays out her complex and altruistic motivations through cryptic conversations with Tiara which paint her as a much more sympathetic--and well-rounded--character than her Magic Knight Rayearth analogue.

Sadly, Kagetsu and Lena drag the cast down a touch. Lacking Zagato's (Magic Knight Rayearth) power and depth of emotion, Kagetsu comes across as more petulant than villainous. And Lena, for her part, doesn't show enough vulnerability to make her main character trait ("I'm in love with Kagetsu!") convincing. Characters like these benefit from reduced screen time, since it allows viewers to fill in the missing parts of their personalities with speculation and fan-wank, but the later sections, which do so much for Sarah and Tiara actually aggravate the thin characterizations of these two.


Overall

Shamanic Princess sticks out as a surprising gem of an OVA from the VHS era. This morsel seems to know that when your climax isn't actually a climax, it should go somewhere in the middle instead of being close to the end (a lesson that would have served X: the Movie well), and the resulting product rewards the viewers handsomely. The sheer momentum of the final two episodes alone should etch this anime into anyone's mind, and the whole thing has a cohesiveness that satisfies in a way so many other short works do not. If you're looking for a diverting, appetizer-sized offering with a surprising amount of character development, then check this one out. However, if you just want to see a scantily clad girl do some magic, this show doesn't disappoint in that way either. Whatever you come to it for, you should walk away from your TV screen or computer monitor pleased with your choice.

7.5/10 story
8/10 animation
5.5/10 sound
8/10 characters
7/10 overall
sothis's avatar
Mar 27, 2005

Story
In addition to the human world, there exists a Guardian world full of magic users and Neutralizers – those who are responsible for protecting the Throne of Yord, the source of their power. Tiara, Lena and Kagetsu are three friends who live in the Guardian world, but their lives become more complicated once the Throne of Yord is stolen. Without spoiling, I’ll just say that the plot involves betrayal, heartbreak, and loss... all related to the Throne of Yord, the real reason it was stolen, and the pains the friends must go through to not only survive, but to solve the mystery of the Throne itself.

When I first saw anything about Shamanic Princess, I was drawn to the art style. Due to how pretty it looked, I decided to watch it, hoping for something with a decent plot as well. I walked away having enjoyed the art style, but the plot itself was a bit more of a let down. First of all, as mentioned in the helpful information section of the AniRec entry (click the blue "I" icon), the order of release of these episodes is quite funky and can cause some confusion. There are two distinct sections in Shamanic Princess: a four episode arc, and a two episode direct prequel to that arc. Sometimes, you’ll find Shamanic Princess with the four episode arc being first, followed by the prequel. Other times you’ll see them in chronological order. Quite frankly, had I seen them in this "reverse" order (prequel first), I would have enjoyed the story a little bit more, though probably still not enough to really enjoy it.

Let’s assume you started off with the four episode arc (which is what I did). You are thrown into the middle of a story that you don’t really understand, and that, I’d venture to say, you still won’t understand until after you see the prequel two episodes. All we know is that Tiara and her ferret-like familiar are hunting down this thing called the Throne of Yord. After she’s in a town for a small period of time, friends come out of nowhere and lots of battles begin... seemingly meaningless battles that were reminiscent of Darkstalkers’ Revenge. The plot? Honestly, you’ll be confused most of the time, but even after hearing the twists and turns, you won’t feel very satisfied. After seeing the two episode prequel things will make a little more sense, but I am positive that had I watched these first, I would have thought of Shamanic Princess not as something good, but instead upgraded to a generic fantasy fighting OVA, rather than a great anime I’d like to watch again. In this confused order, you walk away wishing you had spent your time on something else.

In general, Shamanic Princess is a mix of fantasy and drama combined with a whole lot of fighting, but that’s about all it has going for it. The pacing is fairly poor and I felt amount of difference between fight scenes and boring "let’s talk about stuff" scenes was too large. A good analogy would be the first Resident Evil movie, which went a little something like this: ZOMBIE ZOMBIE ZOMBIE fight fight ZOMBIE pause, talk, ZOMBIE ZOMBIE ZOMBIE! The transitions between action and non-action scenes were too sudden and this made the pacing and flow seem rushed. It was the same with Shamanic Princess; all the scenes didn’t mesh together well. Even without the confusing mix of arcs, the story was average at best, even though the actual plot might have been different than other fantasy series out there.
Animation
As mentioned in the story section, I was originally drawn to Shamanic Princess for its animation, and walked away feeling happy about what I had seen visually. Everything in the OVA is designed to look exotic and fantasy-like, and for the most part, it worked. Hair is flowing and beautiful, scenery always seems to have the right lighting, and the colors are rich and vibrant. On the other hand, the character designs leave a little to be desired and suffer from what I’d like call Kanon syndrome. Yes, I know Shamanic Princess came before Kanon, but since I saw Kanon first, that’s what I choose to call the syndrome! Namely, the characters have wide faces and eyes that are way too large, misshapen, and are at the same level as the nose. This looks freakish and just... wrong. Unfortunately, though some of Shamanic Princess’s characters don’t look this way, others like Tiara definitely do, which was distracting and definitely wasn’t a plus.

In general, if you were to watch this, it would be for the animation. All of the characters are constructed in a very fantasy-like manner, and are beautiful. Tiara’s hidden power that emerges occasionally is a stunning winged creature, and most magical powers are ornamented with a creepy tribal eye pattern that definitely catches your attention. The attention to detail is wonderful, and for something this old, it’s impressive. If anything, watch it for the animation... just expect that the character designs will look a bit... weird.
Sound
The music sounded like it came straight out of Koudelka, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. One of Tiara’s friends played a flute to unleash her magical powers, and these very old school sounding melodies were intertwined with the background music (which was cheesy enough to begin with). Occasionally there were orchestral tracks, which did fit the tone of the OVA. I don’t know, it just seemed average and uninteresting, and the flute combination with the background music didn’t help much. Not memorable enough to remember after a few hours, and not exciting enough to warrant a super high score. Voice actors were chosen well, and did a good job.
Characters
The only character development in these six episodes originated in the first (or last, depending on what order you watch them in) two episodes. In these two, we see Tiara and her friends before the Throne of Yord was stolen, and what happened to them to cause all of the upcoming craziness to occur. We see Kagetsu and Tiara’s hint of a relationship, and the history of Tiara’s familiars (which was probably the most interesting bit of character interaction in all the episodes). These two episodes were very unlike the rest of the series since they not only contained character development, but also weren’t full of random fighting the entire time. Unfortunately, the other four episodes have little in the way of character development and are instead full of a fight every 2.5 seconds. I didn’t feel attached to any of the characters, didn’t feel any sense of resolution once it was finished, and didn’t feel emotional about any of the sad turn of events. In addition, I felt some of the explanations or "conflicts of interest" (spoken cautiously to avoid spoiling) were pulled out of nowhere and weren’t plausible or realistic. Had the character development in the first two episodes been prevalent throughout the entire six, this section would have been rated way, way higher.
Overall
Shamanic Princess ended up being pleasing to the eye, but boring to the mind. The confusing and unfulfilling plot left much to be desired, and the lack of character development (except the two episodes) was definitely not a plus. Literally the only good thing about the OVA was the animation, and even that has some flaws (the character designs). If you are looking for a good fantasy, there are plenty of others that will amuse you. I can’t think of much that Shamanic Princess was good for, except eating away 3 hours of my life... oh wait, that’s not a good thing! Generic fantasy at it’s finest, basically.
5/10 story
7.5/10 animation
6/10 sound
4/10 characters
5/10 overall
bbr's avatar
Oct 16, 2009

It's a great anime, but you have to know in which order to watch it.

Like this: 5, 6, 1, 2, 3, 4

This might seem strange at first, but it's seriously the best way to watch the anime.

See : http://www.dvdtimes.co.uk/content.php?contentid=11743

For a more detailed description, but beware of spoilers.

7.5/10 story
9/10 animation
8/10 sound
8.5/10 characters
8/10 overall
Larkawolfgirl's avatar
Nov 8, 2009

This show had a really confusing storyline. I still do not know what Throne of Yord's ambisions were. There was only a little character development. There was not a lot of relationship displayed between people. There was more of a telling of the relations. I think this show was very confusing and could have been made better. It wasn't a horrible show, but I didn't really like it. It was also a little boring.

4/10 story
8/10 animation
7/10 sound
6/10 characters
3/10 overall
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