There will be spoilers for the manga and anime series for Princess Jellyfish. This review is exclusively for the manga, but because the anime is based on the manga, there is a likely chance this will spoil both.
Trigger Warning: Discussion of gender identity, sexual assault, and death as it appears in the manga Princess Jellyfish may be discussed.
Tsukimi Kurashita is obsessed with jellyfish. Her obsession began when she was a child, and her mother took her to the aquarium. While there, her mother promised Tsukimi that she would make her a wedding dress that looked like a lace jellyfish. Not long after that promise, Tsukimi's mother passes away, leaving her with the memories of the lace jellyfish and her mother's unfulfilled promise.
Even as those childhood days grew further and further away, Tsukimi's love and obsession with jellyfish never faded. Instead, it fuels and drives her entire life as she resigns herself to single life at the Amamizukan – a retro building dubbed the “nunnery” where many other like-minded, home-bodied women have congregated to live out their single lives together, obsessing over their own passions (some of which include elderly men, trains, and kimonos, just to name a few). As a result of their obsessions, the women of Amamizukan are all very anti-men and those they dub “stylish” and find themselves unable to interact with the general population as a result.
However, one evening, Tsukimi notices two jellyfish being kept in an aquarium together, and these two species can't be housed together; otherwise, one of them will die. Tsukimi does her best to explain this to the store clerk, but because the clerk is a man and a stylish, Tsukimi struggles to communicate with him. A stylish woman comes by and helps Tsukimi rescue the jellyfish by chance. Though the woman is a stylish, she is allowed into the sacred nunnery because she isn't a man. Throughout the evening, Tsukimi realizes even though her new friend Kuranosuke Koibuchi is a stylish, she is still a good person and even finds herself drawn to her beauty because she looks like a princess – something Tsukimi herself feels she could never be.
The next day, though, it is revealed that Kuranosuke is actually a man who cross-dresses as a way to escape his family's political background. To protect her place in Amamizukan and maintain her new friendship, Tsukimi tells all of her fellow nuns that Kuranosuke is a woman. Even with her own position at Amamizukan protected, the entirety of the building and the neighborhood itself is under threat by large corporations seeking to buy out the land to build hotels and stores in its place. Having fallen in love with Amamizukan and the residents there, Kuranosuke enlists the help of all the women of Amamizukan to create a fashion line based on Tsukimi's jellyfish illustrations so they can make up the funds needed to buy up the building before it is sold.
This reminds me of The Makeup Remover, one of my favorite manhwa from this year. However, what was lacking in The Makeup Remover, Princess Jellyfish made up for in spades. One of the similarities it tackles is the idea of beauty, specifically what beauty standards exist and how they can differ from person to person. Both The Makeup Remover and Princess Jellyfish look at beauty through the lens of people who don't see themselves as beautiful for one reason or another. However, where Princess Jellyfish blows The Makeup Remover out of the water is the fact that it doesn't have the main character just accept they will never be beautiful. Instead, it agrees that standards of beauty exist and are often unreachable, but that doesn't mean everyone can't be beautiful in their own way. This is a much more successful rendition of this theme and gave me that warm and fuzzy feeling I was looking for.
Another thing they have in common, unfortunately, is the unfulfilled romance. There are two male love interests for Tsukimi, Kuranosuke, and his older half-brother Shu. Kuranosuke often dolls up Tsukimi, and Shu instantly falls in love with that version of Tsukimi. When he meets Tsukimi as she usually is, he is repulsed by her until he realizes they are the same person. Kuranosuke likes Tsukimi regardless of which version she is, which had me rooting for him from the beginning. However, most of the series pushes for Shu and Tsukimi simply because Shu is much more forward in his pursuit of Tsukimi. At the same time, Kuranosuke spends most of the series coming to terms with the fact that he is attracted to Tsukimi at all. Unfortunately, though, we don't get a clear winner between these two by the end, which is also something that severely disappointed me in The Makeup Remover. There are definitely hints that lean towards one over the other, but it is never definitively stated who she would end up with at the end, which is a bit of a disappointment.
However, something great Princess Jellyfish does is look at gender identity. One of the main characters is a man who cross-dresses and longs to work in the fashion industry and who is in equal standing as a love interest for the female lead against a super straight-laced man in politics. So we see two depictions of men here – one we would associate with the standard form of masculinity. At the same time, the other depicts what we would associate with the traditional form of femininity, yet both are men, and both are vying for the affection of a woman. When I first watched the anime for this years and years ago, I remember being completely enamored by the idea that a man could be beautiful and, as Tsukimi put it, “be a princess” and yet still be viewed as a man. For the time this came out, I think this was pretty progressive, and even now, I don't feel I see this depiction of men enough in media.
I can't review this series, though, without talking about the lovely ladies of Amamizukan. Without them, there is no way this work would be as good as it is. Each character has their own passion and very distinct personality based on said passion. Mayaya, in particular, is one of my favorites as she is the loudest and has one of the most iconic poses of all time. I felt like they were my friends. As someone who grew up in the conservative south and who was a massive fan of anime, manga, and video games, I often felt like I was surrounded by the stylish – these people who seemed to just fit in and who were people I could never be. Reading Princess Jellyfish took me back to those days, and I grew to really love all these women who are so unapologetically themselves. It makes me want to be myself more and be proud of it, something my younger self would never have had the guts to do.
Finally, I have to talk about the art style. It is super cute and easily recognizable. I could pick this mangaka's work out of a lineup, no problem. It isn't the cleanest style, but the amount of humor and beauty we get out of it makes the messier parts all that more endearing and fun to look at. Furthermore, because fashion is such a major focus, we get plenty of beautiful extras and panels with some killer and fun fashion. I love it, even as someone who is super picky about art.
I love Princess Jellyfish so much. I remember watching the unfinished anime years ago when it first dropped in the U.S., and I am glad I picked it up again as an adult and finally got closure on this beautiful series. Is it perfect? No, but it is such a unique premise and touches on things that I think most women struggle with in the world – and even touches on issues men struggle with in terms of gender identity, which I think is something we should see more of in media like this. This is definitely worth a read. It's heartwarming, and by the end, you will see that everyone can be a princess.
Have you read Princess Jellyfish? If so, what do you think? Do you agree with my assessment? Do you not? Let me know, and comment below!