The Twin Knights

By Osamu Tezuka. Released in Japan as “Futago no Kishi” by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Nakayoshi. Released in North America by Vertical, Inc.

In this sequel to Princess Knight (well, the original Princess Knight, that is – the rewrite we saw here is still 5 years away), Osamu Tezuka shows us very clearly right from the start that this is a fairy tale, a stage production, a full-blown melodrama. No, even more, a mellerdrammer. This is a cartoon straight out of Mickey Mouse. It has talking animals, it has villains that are so paper-thin it’s amazing they don’t blow away, it has truly ridiculous plot contrivances, it’s has somewhat questionable gypsies (who are straight out of the European Comics Book Of Stereotypes), two sets of twins, multiple breaks of the fourth wall, including an appearance by Tezuka as himself, and an ending that does not so much end as simply stop.


I loved it. But it really does seem to have everything that folks find annoying in a Tezuka manga. More than anything, I think this is the style of manga Tezuka did that we haven’t really seen over here much. The quick, dashed-off adventure stories. Lots of animal characters. Glib protagonists with not much depth. This is a good chunk of his output, particularly at this point in his career. If you read Tezuka for titles such as Barbara or MW, I can see you finding this ridiculously cloying and silly. Which it is. But it’s also so much fun! I can’t tell you the number of times I was grinning like a maniac while reading this. Not just for the adventures of Daisy and Violetta – truth be told, Daisy is perhaps the weak point of the entire manga. No, for things like the evil Duchess simply having her henchmen back out a high window to their deaths for irritating her. Ridiculous, but fun.

As for the sexism or lack thereof, it’s not too bad given the era and country it was written in, and I think does slightly better than Princess Knight. Yes, Violetta is constantly yearning to be female and wear dresses, etc, and her relationship with Emerald is far more interesting than that of her with Prince White (if this plot were written today, Daisy would marry Prince White and pretend to be Violetta while she goes off with Emerald for more adventures). But there’s no denying that Violetta kicks ass throughout, and the last page does note “Well, she may dress up as a man and have adventures in the future.”

Even better, and my favorite scene in the entire book, is when she and her family are thrown into the tower by the evil Duke and Duchess. She and her mother are separated into one room, and Violetta starts to despair. Then her mother sees a couple of swords that were conveniently left on the wall (the duke and duchess are not exactly the smartest of villains… we’re talking Gargamel-level smarts here) and decides that Violetta needs to learn how to REALLY fence… and be taught by Princess Knight. Here we see that, despite choosing to be Queen and settle down to raise a family, Sapphire has never truly abandoned her upbringing as a boy (and in fact, clearly must keep in shape with the rapier, given that she kicks her daughter’s ass). I loved this bit of family bonding.

There’s a lot packed into the 240 pages we get here. I didn’t even mention the incredibly tragic deer, or the cartoon wolves (one of whom I swear is voiced by Billy Bletcher), or the truly weird art that we see in places (check out the duke on page 231… pure Tex Avery). It’s not deep… it is in fact the very opposite of deep. But it’s fun, and lively, and would make a great fairy tale for children. Which, of course, is what it was meant to be back in 1958. A great addition to the North American Tezuka canon.

Princess Knight, Vol. 2

By Osamu Tezuka. Released in Japan as “Ribon no Kishi” by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Nakayoshi. Released in North America by Vertical.

This second volume of Princess Knight continues right where the previous one left off, with Sapphire going from one threat to another. The threats get worse this time around, however. First her girl heart is successfully stolen, leaving Sapphire as a boy (albeit a very shapely boy). And later on, when that heart is stolen as well, Sapphire falls into a coma. Can Tink manage to sort everything out at last? Can Sapphire ever find true happiness? Well, yes, but not before the end of the book. This is high adventure romance, after all.

(I’m not certain why the online images of this book feature different colors on the cover than the actual volumes themselves. Pretend that the picture you see above is far less blue.)

Much as I love Sapphire, and she gets some great things to do here, she does spend a fair amount of time in this volume reacting to others. So I spent a fair amount of time watching her reactions, and was struck by how well Tezuka can convey emotions with minimal effort. Sapphire’s face on the bottom of page 16, when confronted by Prince Franz, is “why must my love hate me”, “why is this happening to me”, and “oh my god, why does he not GET IT” all in one. Without her honest love, worry and despair throughout these pages, the book would suffer greatly.

It has to be said, there is a certain ‘I am writing from week to week with no real thought in mind’ feel to this book. The main antagonist from Volume One, the witch, is dispatched halfway through this book, which seems early to me, and is promptly replaced by the Goddess Venus, who can also do bad things to Sapphire via supernatural means. Likewise, the witch’s spunky and likeable daughter, Hecate (who also dies, which is a shame) is replaced by the spunky yet likeable Friebe, and for a moment I thought there was some reincarnation thing going on, but no. You aren’t really reading Princess Knight for realism, so you have to accept there is a certain ludicrousness here in terms of throwing obstacles in front of the heroine. (And what was with that sudden repentance and suicide of one of the main villains? Sheesh.)

Speaking of Hecate and Friebe, the book is also quite good at presenting some strong and likeable women. Hecate is tied to her mother by more than just blood, and yet is determined to live her own life, rather than one chosen for her by her mother – even if she does grow to like Prince Franz. Likewise Friebe may be the classic ‘searching for a strong man to marry me’ type knight, but this does not diminish her swordfighting skills in any way, and she ends the book still in armor and with sword (as opposed to Sapphire, it must be said). Then there’s the battle at the castle between the male army and their wives (who have given Sapphire sanctuary). It’s filled with amazingly shallow stereotypes, but its heart is in the right place, and it does mock the classic ‘only men are fit to rule’ idea seen in a number of fairy tales.

The thing that summed up the book in my mind was a line of dialogue said by Friebe’s brother Oolong (who is a wonderful character in his own right – after so many royal idiots, it’s a pleasure to see one who plays the role for all it’s worth). When Friebe cries on his shoulder and admits she can’t marry Sapphire as Sapphire is a woman, he laughs and notes that “you can find women as manly as any man in every country”. He’s gently mocking the fact that she zeroed in on Sapphire as her choice, but it also allows us to be more comfortable in Sapphire’s ending, where she finds the Prince and presumably lives happily ever after. Sapphire may go on to be a feminine queen, but there are strong, capable women like her in every kingdom. She is not a rare and precious snowflake. And that’s a good thing.

I’m not sure that Twin Knight (the sequel to the original Princess Knight that ran in Nakayoshi in the late 1950s) is likely to be licensed anytime soon, so this may be the last we see of Sapphire for a while. I’m very happy we got her story, though, and I hope that in the future Vertical can publish more of Tezuka’s ‘children’s’ works, in addition to his gritty adult titles.

Princess Knight, Vol. 1

By Osamu Tezuka. Released in Japan as “Ribon no Kishi” by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Nakayoshi. Released in North America by Vertical.

We’ve been waiting for this one a while. Gripping, depressing Tezuka seinen is all very well and good, but sometimes you have to bring out the big guns. And there are few guns bigger than Princess Knight, which most argue is one of the most influential titles ever, inspiring a generation of shoujo artists. There are actually several versions of the title; the original, in 1954; a sequel with the heroine’s children, in 1958; a rewrite and expansion in 1963; and a science-fiction tie-in to an anime in 1967. Vertical is releasing the 3rd and most well-known version.

Though enjoyable to children and adults alike, this work is definitely aimed at the younger reader, with its premise being couched in fairy tale language. In heaven, they give out girl hearts and boy hearts to babies about to be born, determining their gender. A mischievous angel, Tink, feeds a baby a boy heart right before God gives the same baby a girl heart. As a result, the girl is both with hearts for both genders. And what’s worse, the girl is a princess of the kingdom of Silverland! Now the girl is raised as a boy, to avoid rousing the suspicious of the evil Duke Duralumin, who wants his own son on the throne.

The inherent sexism of the kingdom (which must have a male ruler) is offset by Sapphire herself, who manages to be incredibly badass. Yes, there are those moments where the series undercuts itself – at one point, Sapphire’s boy heart is temporarily removed and she grows weak and loses her fencing skills – but for the most part she is a bright and active heroine, one who longs to be a young woman but who also does not want to give up the freedoms of being a young man. Things aren’t subtle here – her love for Prince Charming (yes, really) verges on the histrionic at times – but Sapphire remains a great heroine throughout, who you want to see emerge victorious.

That may be difficult, though. As with many stories in this vein, there are any number of traumas and disasters that befall her. Her father is killed, her mother imprisoned. She is forced to work menial tasks a la Cinderella, turned into a swan, and kidnapped by pirates. Sexy pirates. Once it gets started, the action never really lets up, just like the best children’s stories. Not that it’s all grim tidings. The basic plot trimmings may sound like Disney, but a lot of the gags are also right out of animated cartoons, with circus horses mocking the King, plucky mice helping the heroine escape, and the villain double-act of Duralumin and Nylon hamming it up for all they’re worth.

Vertical is releasing the three original Japanese volumes here as two slightly larger ones, and so naturally we end with a cliffhanger. Their presentation is excellent, with a lovely original cover (whose color is slightly more purple than the picture above, the only one I can find online), and the translation captures the broad, declamatory language. As Sapphire swashbuckles her way through various deathtraps and tries to gain her love and her femininity while remaining strong and speaking her mind, you’ll find that you absolutely can’t put the book down. The second volume cannot come soon enough.