Princess Jellyfish (Kuragehime)

Japan (2014) Dir. Taisuke Kawamura

Getting the live action treatment this time is Princess Jellyfish, a quirky cult anime series that in reality shouldn’t work outside of the animated medium, due to its eccentric characters – especially as film makers have an annoying habit of altering the material to suit themselves, often leaving a huge stain on the franchise they are trying to expand to a wider audience.

The story revolves around a group of female otaku naming themselves as the Amars after the Amamizu apartment they all live in, each with their own obsession. Tsukimi (Rena Nounen) is completely dotty about jellyfish; lanky Mayaya (Rina Ohta) is devoted the Romance Of Three Kingdoms saga; afro sporting Bamba (Chizuru Ikewaki) loves her trains; shy Jiji (Tomoe Shinohara) has a crush on older men, and Chieko (Azusa Babazono), daughter of the house owner, is into traditional Japanese dolls.

One night Tsukimi meets Kuranosuke Koibuchi (Masaki Suda), a feisty fashionista – natural enemy of the Amars, along with men – unaware that Kuranosuke is in fact a cross dressing male. His father is local politician Keiichiro Koibuchi (Sei Hiraizumi) who has the power to implement a new building plan which will see Amamizu House be torn down.

Princess Jellyfish is 90% hit, 10% miss which is rather good considering the struggle it has to contend with in terms of matching the anime’s aesthetic and its endearing and unique spirit. When it sticks with the story Taisuke Kawamura’s adaptation captures the essence of the anime and the quirks of the cast very well. However the third act sees Kawamura go into business for himself straying from the story to deliver a different ending.

Having to compact an eleven episode series into just over two hours was always going to be a tall order, so excising of some subplots and essential character development is sadly inevitable. One of the chief casualties is the other side of Kuranosuke – his growing affections for Tsukimi, the reason why he turned to cross dressing and the secret about his yearning for his absent mother. Instead he is just portrayed as an ebullient and flamboyant catalyst that brings change to the Amars.

Also streamlined are some of the nefarious acts by real estate developer Shoko Inari (Nana Katase) to curry favour with Keiichiro to push her housing plan through. The set-up with Keiichiro’s eldest son Shu (Hiroki Hasegawa) survives among others, but the full extent of Shoko’s deviousness doesn’t get full exploration.

The brotherly vying for the interest in Tsukimi between Kuranosuke and nerdy, woman shy Shu is underplayed to the point of non-existence, while other aspects, such as Tsukimi and Shu unable to recognise each other are not made explicit enough to become a crucial facet of their slowly forming relationship.

Generally though enough of the familiar material, no matter how diluted it is, survives to keep established fans satisfied while newer fans won’t notice any discrepancies nor will they feel excluded from something or are missing out. The aforementioned altered final act is a slight detour from what occurs in the anime but is sufficiently different to make some fans check their memories of what they saw before.

Translating the Amars into real life characters was always going to be a troublesome task to pull off with acceptable conviction, not just with the physical appearances but also the affectations and quirks each character possesses. For example, Mayaya’s jerky, exaggerated movements provide hilarity in animated form but the danger of portraying a real person behaving like that has the potential to fall flat on its face.

Fortunately the cast are canny enough to avoid appearing like embarrassing caricatures and pull off these esoteric idiosyncrasies with a degree of credibility, bringing a similar sense of charm to the characters as their animated counterparts. But, they largely play comic support for Tsukimi, the nominal wallflower about to become a princess, although they all undergo a personal change in their fashion and confidence.

Playing straighter roles such as Shoko, Shu, his driver Yoshio Hanamori (Mokomichi Hayami) and Keiichiro relieves their assigned actors of having to play dress up yet they are all physically well matched against their anime designs. Kuranosuke borders between the two extremes, being androgynous enough to pass muster against the convincing femininity created via the artist’s pencil.

Taisuke Kawamura is known mostly for romantic dramas for TV and film making Princess Jellyfish quite the departure for him. This previous experience shows up in the odd saccharine moment towards the end, and in the dreamlike moment where Tsukimi enters a fantasy world alongside her beloved jellyfish. Kawamura keeps the pace lively, perhaps  a little to frantic for some the plot points to sink in, until the late second act when things slow down, conveniently parallel with the detour from the original story.

The general visual flair and aesthetic, especially the buildings and other set pieces, have been faithfully reconstructed from the anime when they could have just used any old building. This attention to detail, including such comic effects as the turning to stone by the Amars, creates a welcome sense of familiarity and continuity across all media platforms for this story.

Give the diverse personalities and foibles of the Amars, the cast all have a keen idea of what is expected of their interpretations of their characters and represent them rather well. Rena Nounen goes on the biggest journey as Tsukimi, successfully capturing the requisite essence of both the frump and the shy beauty. Masaki Suda has way too much fun and is often too convincing as a female Kuranosuke while Nana Katase perhaps overdoes the villainy of Shoko just a little.

The perfect anime to live action transition may not exist just yet but Princess Jellyfish can be held up as one of the stronger and more credible efforts to date. Bespoke ending aside, this charming anime has been brought to life satisfactorily enough to warrant a hearty thumbs up.

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