Review: Princess Ai

2010-12-21-355013It seems musicians really enjoy making manga.  I mean, did you know that Courtney Love has a manga? Well, she does. It’s called Princess Ai and it’s a pretty good read. It was co-created by Courtney Love the lead singer of the band Hole, Ai Yazawa best known for probably Paradise Kiss or Nana, Misaho Kujiradou, and DJ Milky. The first manga was originally published in 2004 by Shinshokan and the English publishing company Tokyopop. It also had a sequel that only ran for two volumes in 2008 before going on hiatus to this day. It even spawned an entire album available on iTunes called Princess Ai loves Skye. Basically it got a bunch of merchandise to go along with it, because it was a pretty popular manga in the early 2000s.

The basic plot of the story is one of a girl named Ai who can’t remember anything but her name and that she loves music. She wakes up in Tokyo with only her heart-shaped box as a clue to who she is or where she is from. The she begins working at a club as well as slowly becoming a hit sensation on music charts. However, she has the feeling of needing to know who she is but also the feeling of being trapped by the very power and industry she starts being a part of. She also falls in love with a human musician named Kent, but people are after her from a place called Ai Land. She also begins growing wings from her back, which only adds to the stresses of her mystery life. It’s a bit convoluted in that there’s a lot of these mini subplots that never really get explained, which cause a lot of strife in really caring for some of the characters we meet.

Ai is the main character of the series and she is, with little spoilers, out of this world. She wears clothes highly inspired by Japanese Lolita and she rocks it. She is in control of herself and sees her body as a temple, refusing to strip for quick cash. Instead she promises a real show through the power of music! Which, in reality wouldn’t probably work, but manga logic so it works out fine for Ai just fine. Her power is within her music as she later finds out. However first she has to figure out who she is in the first place!

Kent is Ai’s love interest, half American/half Japanese, and one of the first people to encounter Ai after she is almost attacked by a random pickpocket. He is a musician who doesn’t really see himself going anywhere and is sort of downtrodden. He feels a connection to Ai, but can’t quite place it, perhaps its love? It’s implied that he himself is based off of Courtney Love’s late husband Kurt Cobain. It’s actually pretty obvious he’s based off Cobain, but we’ll keep a little mystery in our lives.

There’s also Takeshi, a talent agent who signs Ai to his agency. He’s a bit of a jerk but he means well. He may or may not have ties to the Yakuza through his boss. We don’t get a lot of backstory on him, rather we just see him interact with Ai and he’s mostly a sassy jerk.

There’s a whole lot of other characters, but let’s not worry about them too much, they either are spoilers or don’t really add a whole lot in terms of the actual story’s development.

Now the art style, as this is only a manga, is a bit limited in the fact that it’s a bit dated. Misaho Kujiradou has a very distinct long legged shoujo style of art. The anatomy of characters suffer because of this, but not completely. There is never a moment where it looks really strange, rather it’s accepted because there’s never horribly misshapen things. It’s actually a rather pretty art style in my personal opinion. It also has really interesting fashion and just general style of characters drawn out. I would say, if for the art, it’s a good place to look into. I mean, it’s nowhere near the mess that is xxxHolic in terms of anatomy.

Now in terms of music, because this manga got popular enough to have a full release album of all the music written from the story. But there is the letdown that it isn’t that great, I would know, I own the album. There was a lot of disappointment especially with people wanting Courtney Love to sing all the songs instead of who they got. While it isn’t great, it isn’t bad either, it’s just sort of subpar. I mean, definitely if you want to look it up there’s nothing stopping you. The singer Skye Madison worked well with what she was given in my opinion and it can actually be pretty enjoyable music. It also has pretty standard Hole-esque lyrics, which is a plus for manga considering. Still, it’s wort a listen if you’re really interested.

Ultimately though, I do have to take into account the sort of overly complicated story line that is a bit convoluted and the fact that it hasn’t been resolved. I think the issue is, comparatively to something like Daft Punk’s Interstellar 5555, it’s a bit rushed and doesn’t have the finely tuned type of storytelling that made the French film so captivating. It doesn’t share the same love of the art itself and doesn’t make you really care about the characters that Love tries to share, Daft Punk does that, but Princess Ai struggles. Princess Ai has the problem of trying to do so much in so little content and attempts to break down boundaries while maintaining within the confined realm of its art form.

Still, I have fond memories of reading Princess Ai and finding it genuinely enjoying it as a child. I also remember that a lot of other kids practiced art based off the manga. And it still holds up just as it did back then, as something enjoyable. It’s not the best, but it’s far better than what it could have been.

Princess Ai: 6/10

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