Nov 12, 2015
I grew up on weird obscure titles found in our small town VHS rental store as well as, a bit later, whatever I could scrounge up from the deep reaches of the early internet. Which is to say, not much, because back then there was no YouTube nor Crunchyroll. At first there were a few websites, then there was DirectConnect, then shitty KaZaA, and, if you were adventurous (like me), there were the archaic-but-useful IRC channels for the various anime fansub groups. Ah yes, XDCC. How you saturated my poor slow internet connection with lovely AVI files. I still have hundreds of CDs burned with those old treasures. Later we would get the wonders of BitTorrent but until it caught on, things were rough. I mention all this because it pertains to the old title I finally, after so many years, got around to.
Shamanic Princess is one of those mid-nineties classics that even many nineties anime fans probably missed. It wasn’t obscure but it never really got noticed until the early aughts and only generally through the random scene thrown into AMVs. Even then it was always the scene where you’d go “Whoa, what show was that?” but have no idea. You’d easily recognize it due to its distinct style and, ahem, that memorable tight-fitting fairy-demon-girl-thing.
Make no mistake, this is a fairly gorgeous show, even by today’s standards. It has aged fairly well, partly due to having a unique style and good animation but also because it takes place primarily in fantasy-esque fighting between demons and summoners and who knows what else. It moves fluidly, has some pretty nice character designs, and the fighting and action is always lots of fun.
Even better, the characters themselves aren’t cookie-cutter slouches. The lead, Tiara, straddles the line on being a cliché tough girl but I think she manages to pull it off well. Japolo is funny at times and at least more useful to the story than just comic relief, and the rest of the gang all have interesting motives and backstories and so on.
That is, what we see of it. The big problem here is length or scope or both. It’s a mere six episodes, about three hours total counting the credits, and it tries to cram a lot of stuff in there. Well, sort of. It hints at a much larger story and so we get a dozen different things introduced but hardly explained by the end. I wish I could say it’s because it was adapted from some long running manga or something but no, it’s an original story made exclusively for this OVA. There was a manga but it was only a single volume released after the fact. Which makes it all the more strange that it ends up being so disjointed and incomplete. Maybe it was a budget thing. We may never know.
Even so, what we do get is rich with creativity, both in design and world. It’s positively oozing style and depth. There are few things quite like it these days and it’s frankly just a visual treat even if the story itself can be often confusing, to put it charitably. At times I was simply giddy with all of the old-school art and attention to detail and motion. However memorable and striking some of it is, the story is so forgettable largely due to being so difficult to follow. Normally when I use a word like “forgettable” in relation to some anime, I’m more saying it’s overly cliché and has little lasting impact. Shamanic Princess has plenty of impact but it’s so hard to process and make sense of as it happens that it slips through your fingers like sand.
Nearly two decades later, it’s still a fun ride. Though it suffers from a lack of explanation and closure it’s still well done and enjoyable and the short length at least means you can blow through it likely in a single evening, especially when you consider the last two episodes are actually prequel-ish stories chronologically speaking. It’s a nice time capsule of days gone by and a reminder of how much anime has (and hasn’t) changed.
Possibly some of the appeal is nostalgic, despite the fact that I only ever saw glimpses of it in passing back in the day. I’m okay with that, though. I like to think that old shows like this give me perspective and shape my own understanding of the anime media and fandom. As easy as it is to get lost in the modern styles and tropes, it’s worth having the context, to compare and contrast, and to fill out your experience. Too often we like to silo things, like only listening to classic rock versus current pop. But as a wise little girl once said, “Why not both?”
As of this writing, you can watch Shamanic Princess for free on Crunchyroll.