Princess Jellyfish is about a young woman called Tsukimi. Tsukimi, who has been obsessed with jellyfish since her youth, lives a peaceful, man-free existence with a group of similarly strange women, the Amars, until, one night, during a campaign to rescue an endangered jellyfish, she meets Kuranosuke. It isn’t long before Tsukimi discovers, much to her surprise, given his impressive drag act, that Kuranosuke is actually a prince, not a princess! Thus begins an unlikely friendship between the two characters. Over time Kuranosuke helps Tsukimi to grow in confidence, Tsukimi helps Kuranosuke to open up to other people, and the pair combine their love of fashion and of jellyfish to help save the Amars’ home from a group of predatory landsharks. See MAL for more info.
This is a fairly outlandish setup for a story, nevertheless, the messages that Princess Jellyfish tried to convey were pretty classic and down-to-earth, including messages like “true beauty comes from within.” Wait! Before you dash to the bathroom to vomit, let me just say this: while this may seem like the most cliched, overused moral to a story ever, in today’s world, where we put a filter over everything, from our selfies, to our snaps of what we ate for breakfast, I’d say that this message is just as relevant as it ever was!
Kuranosuke’s magical, mystical makeovers may have made Tsukimi and the Amars more palatable to the outside world, but that wasn’t really the point of them and I think that Higashimura-sensei, the mangaka, made that very clear throughout Princess Jellyfish. The clothes, the hair, the makeup, these were always just tools, armour that the characters donned to help them feel more confident and fight for what they really cared about, their home.
Some of Princess Jellyfish’s other take-aways were: getting a makeover won’t necessarily solve all of your problems and you don’t always need a prince to come and save you. Higashimura-sensei conveyed these by turning cliches on their head. She was obviously very heavily influenced by other shojo manga, as Princess Jellyfish was full of nods to frequently used tropes, including: a plain, dowdy girl suddenly becoming beautiful once she takes off her glasses, the makeover, a person’s vision erupting into sparkles and flowers upon encountering the love of their life, and the prince saving the troubled princess. But Higashimura-sensei gave these enough of a twist to make them feel novel and to appeal to the more empowered woman. To demonstrate, even after being made over, the Amars soon reverted to their old tracksuit-wearing selves, they were just more comfortable and happy as they were, the sparkles, flowers, and idealised versions of the characters were just other characters getting swept up in their fantasy world and seeing what they wanted to see, the reality was often much grittier, and, finally, Tsukimi’s happily-ever-after didn’t involve being swept off of her feet by a prince, settling down, and having 1.5 kids, but chasing her dreams with her weirdo mates.
Another arrow to Princess Jellyfish’s bow is that it did a fantastic job of balancing drama and humour. The manga touches upon some pretty heavy themes, including grief, family breakdown, and even the greed and excess of the fashion industry, but it never dwelled on these things long enough to bring down its overall lighthearted tone. Princess Jellyfish is, above all else, a comedy and remained an easy, entertaining read throughout its serialisation.
Princess Jellyfish is a fairly sizable read. Its large, diverse cast of characters reflects its length. My favourite character was definitely Kuranosuke. He may have been responsible for the dramatic physical transformations of Tsukimi and the Amars, but he underwent the biggest transformation of all. During Princess Jellyfish Kuranosuke fell in love, learned to be vulnerable around other people, built bridges with his brother, and took his first steps towards independence. And not only was he immensely beautiful, he also had the rare gift of being able to see and appreciate beauty hidden in other people – even if it was buried beneath layers of grey sweatpants!
Tsukimi was also fantastic! She was the kind of woman you don’t see all that often in fiction, the one who, instead of flouncing around in perfect hair and makeup, like most heroines, constantly shows only the most cringeworthy, most embarrassing sides of herself to the hot male protag. As somebody who’s also an expert at making a fool of themselves, Tsukimi was extremely relatable to me.
The art of Princess Jellyfish was also extremely impressive. No, “impressive” doesn’t do it justice… It was stunning! Never before have I actually stopped reading to simply soak up the beauty of a panel or a page, but I often did that with this manga, the characters were just that gorgeous! They were also remarkably expressive and each had a very distinctive look.
My only criticism of Princess Jellyfish was that its pacing seemed somewhat erratic. Some subplots felt like they, much like an Energizer battery, kept going and going, whereas others I would have liked to have seen receive more time and attention. Sadly it seemed as if both the Singapore arc and the manga itself were hurried along towards their conclusions prematurely.
Overall, Princess Jellyfish was an incredibly uplifting read. I think its themes, its diverse and lovable cast of characters, and its stunning art style can appeal to a wide audience, regardless of whether or not they are especially interested in fashion. This manga has actually been one of the few series that I have read to completion, and now that I’m done, I can definitely say that it was time well spent!