Princess Knight is a Japanese manga created by the “Godfather of Manga” Osamu Tezuka. I stumbled across this gem at my local library whilst browsing the graphic novel section. I’ve known of Tezuka’s work since I was a child. I remember watching Jungle Emperor Leo when it came out on DVD, and I’ve can’t remember when I haven’t known about Astro Boy. But beyond these two examples, Tezuka’s works have always been held at arm’s length from me. I always have the intentions to read Black Jack or Dororo, but I’ve just never gotten around to it yet. So when I found the first volume of this at my library and discovered that the English version is done in two volumes, I couldn’t find any reason not to give it a go.
The story of Princess Knight reminds me of a twisted romantic comedy, but instead with gender identity crises and almost-love triangles. The story begins with a mischievous angel named Tink, who feeds a baby a blue boy heart while the child is in line to meet God (or some kind of masculine deity) for their assignment into the world. Upon reaching God (who, by the way, is wearing long robes and has a beard – all the tropes), God gives the child a red girl heart. The child then says that they already received a blue heart, and the conflict begins! The baby is then born into the monarchy of Silverland, and Tink is given the task to track down the child and removed her boy heart.
Meanwhile in Silverland, a princess is born to the king and queen. One of the attendants, however, announces that it was a boy that was born and not a girl (well, he had a lisp, so he said “Prinsh”). The parents basically go along with it, and they raise Sapphire (the protagonist) as a prince. This also helps because the law of the country is that only males can become heirs to the throne, and thus Sapphire passing as a boy would prevent the heinous Duke Duramin from gaining power via his twerp of a son. Sapphire is raised as a boy, so she learns fencing and keeps her hair short and gets to wear a cape and other manly attire. She is still very feminine, and will wear dresses when alone with her mother. Sapphire must always assert her manliness though, for the Duke apparently has never been convinced that she was a boy and tries multiple ploys within the series to reveal her true gender.
Things get even more difficult for Sapphire when she meets prince Franz from Goldland (maybe there’s a Copperland out somewhere too). And of course, Sapphire becomes attracted to him and begins to have more of an identity crisis than ever. Sapphire eventually falls in love with Franz, but he only views her as a prince from another kingdom. So what should Sapphire do? Keep her identity as a man but never have a chance with prince Franz? Should she do the best for her kingdom or for herself? All the dilemmas! It probably doesn’t help that there’s also an evil witch after Sapphire’s girl heart, a goddess who falls in love with Franz, a pirate who falls in love with Sapphire, and that Satan makes an appearance in the scheme of things as well.
If there are any themes that can be pulled out of this manga, gender identity and the concept of androgyny would be a major one. Throughout the chapters, Sapphire continues to struggle with the person that she is and tries to shape a world where she can take over her father’s throne. She [spoiler] eventually gets the Duke’s son to change the law so that she can reign as queen, but ultimately her boy heart is removed from her. I liked the series and how Tezuka portrayed Sapphire as a fearless fighter as well as gentle and carefree, demonstrating the complexities of human nature and behavior. I also enjoyed on how the whole conflict of the series was on Sapphire’s gender identity and her not conforming to either gender role. Franz eventually finds out that Sapphire is a girl, but still continues to view her as a man and calls her “Prince Sapphire” after the fact. And the fact that Tink’s mission throughout the series is to remove Sapphire’s boy heart shows mankind’s tendency to dichotimize things, including people.
I loved the series, except I disliked the ending. Obviously, Sapphire and Franz end up together, but not at the cost Sapphire losing her boy heart and thus truly becoming meek and “the weaker sex.” I was kind of enraged at this, for Tezuka’s demonstration of gender norms and having a strong, female protagonist becomes diminished. Throughout the whole series, I was expecting Sapphire to find out a way to live with her two hearts, and that hopefully the god figure would let Tink leave his mission incomplete. But of course, sacrifices had to be made, and it seems like that’s okay because Sapphire ended up with Franz and she’s free from being plagued with a complex identity. I also disliked how Sapphire losing her girl heart would make her pretty much useless in combat. Later on, she is able to fight without her boy heart, but initially she couldn’t even fend off enemy attacks.
Overall, this work speaks a lot about how humanity views gender and the position of women, but I’m afraid that it continues to emphasize the importance of women being in the designated gender role, and that having a fierce heroine simply cannot be.