Anime Review: Sister Princess

Well, my head’s stuffed full of cotton from a head cold, so I’m taking the easier of the two articles: an animè review. I’d accidently bought the 3rd DVD of this series a month ago, so I ordered the first two and waited on them to come in before viewing all three (of six). Summary: If harem comedies are your thing to the point that you have to have every one ever made, get it. Otherwise, don’t bother. This is another example of the writers’ ambition getting ahead of their ability.

Take a top-of-his-class guy who weirdly, fails to graduate from Jr. High. Dump him on a mysterious island with a soon to open amusement park and a special invitation-only school. Then give him 12 girls, all of whom claim to be his younger sisters . . . and are totally devoted to him. The older ones are often a bit non-sisterly in their attention to him (though nothing ecchi goes on). Oddly, not all the girls know each other either. Drop a few hints in here and there about there being a larger backstory, but never resolve it. That’s Sister Princess.

I was going to do the usual first-episode synopsis, but the more I think about it, the less I think this series is worth it, especially given how I feel today. So here’s a few pictures and some more commentary, after the fold.

Twelve sisters... or are they?
From left to right: Hinako, Aria, Shirayuki, Kaho, Karen, Yotsuba, Marie, Mamoru, Rin Rin, Chikage, Haruka, and Saykuya. The two on the left are not drawn properly to scale; they’re actually children.

Each of them acts less like a sister than a woman out to capture Wataru’s heart–and indeed, the older ones drop some pretty heavy hints that it’s what’s really going on. Wataru, on the other hand, seems totally oblivious, even when all the girls play dress-up — as brides. And draft him in a bridal ceremony with each of them. Hello, Earth to Wataru?! It’s not that he’s retreating into treating them like the sisters they claim to be to keep from getting involved–he just doesn’t seem to question the situation, even when he’s being blatantly manipulated. And he has a self-esteem problem, to the point that you wonder how he ever became first in his class. He is constantly trying to quit any difficult situation he’s put into. Total lamer-putz.

In the first episode, Wataru’s parents are apparently dead, so he’s been raised by his butler, Jeeves(!), who announces that now that Wataru is through with Jr. High, his obligation has been discharged; here’s a card with a monthly stipend, and these two men are going to take you to your new school, goodbye! Bizarrely, he keeps running into Jeeves (who says he’s not Jeeves), who not-to-subtlely pushes him along to the school. Wataru meets only four of the sisters (Karen, Sakuya, Kaho, and Hinako), but also Yamada and Mami in this episode.

Yamada (center), Mami, and Wataru (pre-makeover)
Yamada (center), Mami, and Wataru. Someone put Yamada out of my misery, please.

In the second episodes he meets the other eight sisters and Mami again. One major problem is that the cast is too large. Although they made each of the girls distinct, it’s hard to keep them all straight during the first few episodes. And their devotion to him approaches the absolutely stalker-creepy obsession level–it even drives Wataru batty at first. With so many, it’s hard to give them adequate screen time without doing “girl of the week” episodes. They do manage it surprisingly well, but a few of the girls get shortchanged: Karen (after the first episode), Haruka, and Marie suffer from this worst. Here’s a rundown of the major characters, starting with the sisters:

  • Wataru: Milksop. Wuss. Quitter. Loser. And waaaaay too credulous. Twelve girls show up claiming to be my sisters, I think I’d have some questions for them. Like for starters, “Why didn’t you all know each other?” (They seemed to be in quartets).
  • Hinako: Youngest, probably about six. Often childishly demanding of “Bro-bro’s” attention. I have no idea what she’s doing here, considering the apparent hidden purpose of the girls.
  • Aria: Second youngest, 8-9? Very quiet and reserved, loves frilly clothes. Gets shunted aside by the more aggressive girls.
  • Shirayuki: 10-12? Determined to get to Wataru’s heart via the stomach. Her early efforts should be classified as biohazard material, but she gets better quickly.
  • Kahu: maybe 12? Early Jr. High. Klutzy, joins cheerleading squad and wants to cheer big brother on. Sometimes she does inspire him.
  • Karen: Oldest of the girls, supposedly younger than Wataru but in the same grade. She’s an early favorite, plays piano and seems the most mature. Gets outshone by her more aggressive sisters as the series develops.
  • Yotsube: Most annoying of the sisters to me, always running around with a magnifying glass, screeching “Check-it! Check-it!” Age uncertain.
  • Marie: Even more reserved than Aria, also physically frail and prone to fainting spells. A bit older than Aria.
  • Mamoru: the physical adept. Always skating or doing something physical. Gets some quality time with Wataru when she teaches him to swim; makes the other girls jealous.
  • Rin-Rin: The crazy tinkerer-inventor. Builds improbable devices that sometimes work. Even assembles a submarine for their vacation. Her interest in Wataru is mainly funding for her research/projects.
  • Chikage: Mysterious mage; one of the older girls. She apparently carries a small pocket dimension around with her. Often reads tarot cards relevant to what’s going to happen next. (Always picks the right-most card. Excessive scene re-use.) Of all the girls, she comes the closest to telling him straight out that he’s going to have to pick one of them. She may be the only one genuinely thinking about Wataru in all this. Calls Wataru “Brother Dearest”
  • Haruka: The traditionalist, although that doesn’t extend to the martial arts, because she’s quite accomplished with a naginata. Swears to protect her big brother from all threats.
  • Sakuya: slightly mischiveous, clothes horse; gives Wataru a complete makover after they meet. She is easily the most “forward” of the sisters, constantly flirting with Wataru or finding ways to get his attention.

There are three other major characters. Mami is sent to spy on Wataru by parties unknown. Caught in the act, she is mistaken for a 13th sister by everyone, and decides it’s easiest to spy from the inside. Eventually she mostly forgets her job and starts helping the other girls. Her actual identity (and who sent her) is given in one of the last episodes, but it raises more questions than it answers. Yamada is never really explained; he’s just the terribly annoying animè/figurine otaku who decides that he’s going to be Wataru’s bestest and only friend. He’s annoying. Terminally so. When he finds out Wataru has 12, er 13, pretty sisters, he starts trying to get their attention. Thankfully, the girls ignore him . . . mostly. Akio was Wataru’s best friend in the Jr. High school. Wataru spends a lot of time e-mailing him his thoughts, although we rarely see what Akio has to say back after the first few episodes.

You Flunk!
Wataru (pre-makeover) and Akio at the Student Affairs Office. Try putting the answers on the right line, next time, dummy!

The glasses were fake!?
Post-makeover Wataru, surpised by four of his sisters.

Once the group settles in together, episodes follow the same predictable pattern: Girls vie for Wataru’s attention. (Wataru is bugged by it at first, later comes to like having them around). Yamada shows up and acts annoying. The girls do their best to ignore him. Not-Jeeves puts in an appearance. Some hints get dropped that there’s something bigger going on. And that’s it. The hints aren’t coherent, don’t seem to lead anywhere, and the total lack of background on any of the major characters is a gaping hole that Wataru seems disinclined to think about. He never even asks them how they know he’s their brother when he knew nothing of them.

A good writer can advance a mystery by answering the audience’s questions in such a way as to raise more questions, while staying true to the characters. These weren’t up to it. Instead, they substituted totally ignoring the backstory, alternating with heavy-handed clue-dropping, often right in Wataru’s face. And it just strains the suspension of disbelief that Wataru isn’t the least bit curious as to what’s going on. It turns his character from merely wussy, into a total milksop. Someone with that little curiosity and drive couldn’t possibly be top of his class. He might, with a bit more personality, be the pet rock of the guy who’s first, but that’s about it. Another thing is that bothered me was that it was supposed to be a harem comedy. . . but the comedy was pretty weak, even when present. It’s telling that the biggest laugh I got out of the series was a prank that got pulled with the subtitles: When Wataru is laying on the floor with several books scattered about him, the screen pans across, and each is subtitled in English. One of the books is upside down. . . and so is the subtitle. Fun-ney. Any scene with Yamada was just painful to watch. I kept hoping hammerspace would manifest. (It’s apparently around, since Haruka can pull her naginata out of it on a whim.)

Frustrated, I headed over to some animè sites and read spoilers for the last three DVD’s. More of the same, only worse. The entire plot is left unresolved. All that comes out is that Akio is the one who sent Mami (not her real name, she’s actually Akio’s little sister), and he drags Wataru back to the mainland by the end of the show, despite Jeeves’ best efforts. For some unexplained reason, he wants the project sabotaged. But who actually sent Wataru to the island and set him up with the girls isn’t revealed, nor is why Akio is involved in manipulating Wataru. This causes the series to end on an entirely unsatisfactory note; I have to assume that there was a second season planned to get him back with the girls and resolve the situation. Due to the poor execution, it ends up looking like the writers just didn’t know where they were going and tacked on a very lame ending.

Edit: 1-17-06: There was indeed a second season. Not yet licensed in the U.S.
2nd Edit 1-17-06: And apparently Wataru is not in it! WTF?? I did find out who does the Japanese voice of Chikage, who was easily my favorite. Should have realized it was this seiyuu. She’s got a resume longer than Kobe Bryant’s arms, including Lafiel in Crest/Banner of the Stars. I don’t even understand what she’s saying in Japanese, and that voice grabs me in the . . . ahem. Never mind…
3rd Edit 1-19-06: Wataru is in the second series. The site I read had an incorrect reference. The second series has not been released in the US, but has been fansubbed. I have had some additional thoughts about what was really going on, which I will post later, in the comments.

I won’t be picking up the rest of the DVD’s.

  • Fanservice: Low to very low.
  • Animation: Below average. Later backgrounds were poorly detailed.
  • Music: Catchy J-pop opener, so-so closer.
  • Plot: Poor; feels like the writers came up with a setting, but couldn’t explain it.
  • Storytelling: Mediocre to poor.
  • Characterization: For the girls, individual touches were good, but the large cast made it difficult to give each enough time. Some faded into the background. Yamada was annoying as hell. Wataru was simply unconvincing as the main character. No one could be that accepting of suddenly aquiring a dozen-plus sisters.
  • Rewatch: Low
  • DVD Quality: Normally, I don’t make a big deal out of this category, but I have to make an exception here. ADV really cheezed me with the menu, as I have only two choices: Japanese with subtitles, and English without. And even without, the signs are subtitled. (Look at the picture with Wataru and Akio at the office again.) For screencaps, I prefer to run without subtitles, naturally. It doesn’t mean I want to listen to English. Granted ADV’s voice actors are light-years ahead of Bandai’s valley girls and surfer dudes, but still, the voice makes the character and I don’t want to be influenced by the English intonations. But the absolute, total, complete and utter negative, was that the last episode on DVD 2 would not play! Not through scene selection, nor any other way native to the player. I have never had that problem before. 4th edit: This was apparently a temporary glitch in my computer. It plays now. Also repeated with similar effects on Sol Bianca: The Legacy.
  • Overall Grade: C-
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