Yucie is a seventeen year old girl… Although you wouldn’t know it at first glance, because a strange curse stopped her growth at age ten, freezing her permanently in the body of a tiny tot, and forcing her to go through the embarrassment of being treated like a child by every single person she encounters. Fans of a certain detective show may think they’ve seen a plot like this before, but where the two characters differ is in the fact that Yucie actually has some semblance of hope towards one day reaching physical adulthood. Hidden away in the highest point of her school is a mysterious artifact called the Eternal Tiara, which is the prize for one lucky student with the qualifications to be crowned Platinum Princess!
While she’s gotten used to taking her vertical impairment in stride, Yucie becomes a candidate for Platinum Princess, and decides when she wins the crown, she’ll use the one perfect wish that the Tiara grants to bring herself back to what should be her actual height and proportions! But the task won’t be an easy one, as she must contend with and ultimately overcome four other candidates, similarly stunted girls hailing from the spiritual, demonic, heavenly and fairy worlds. One by one, these strange girls become friends with Yucie, helping each other to overcome the trials and tribulations of community service and hunting for crystal flowers, but as team work and loyalty see them through to the end, can their bond survive the very competition that drew them together?
I’ve said this before many times, to the point that I probably sound like a broken record… Gainax’s animation quality is inconsistent. I’ve said it for more or less every show of theirs that I’ve reviewed, and the same goes for Yucie… But to a different effect. Coming hot off the heels of reviewing Gurren Lagann, a series that could change animation quality on a dime, Petit Princess Yucie is instead restrained throughout the majority of the production, with fast imagery and high octane action being the exception and not the rule. That’s not to say this anime looks bad… Far from it. the low budget animation is handled extremely well, never feeling too cheap or lazy, with occasional cg effects incorporated in naturally.
When the budget needs to pick up, it doesn’t disappoint. The first time we’re given a taste of what truly looks like Gainax animation is in a chase scene in the Demon world, and while it may come out of nowhere, the bizarre scenario of a demon princess trying to cure her entire kingdom and friend/rival of the ruse that turned them into cats will have soundly prepared you for such shocks. Action packed chase scenes aren’t the only deviations from the norm, however, as this series can suddenly thrust you into unexpectedly inspired moments of breath-taking artistry pretty much whenever it feels like it. The overall effect can be very disarming, especially when in it’s worst moments, it resorts to bouncing characters up and down to simulate walking.
The design choices are a bit on the bland side, but it’s not like there aren’t any hints of inspiration and effort in it. The human world looks pretty standard for what you’d normally expect from a magical pre-technology environment, with your villages, castles, and horse-drawn carriages, with it’s only really unique element being the dragon in the lake that serves as the village elder. It’s a comfortable and homey sort of setting, but it’s fairly forgettable when compared to the much more visually pleasing alternate worlds that the other four candidates hail from. The character designs for the five girls do a great job of reflecting this, as do their familiars to an even greater degree. The music in this series is incredibly diverse, which is once again no surprise, coming from a Gainax show. The orchestration is very Disney-esque, relying primarily on light hearted piano and string-based tunes, but it’s not afraid to twist these conventions and in some cases even venture outside of them, whenever the mood of a scene demands it(Beth’s Scene is a perfect example of this). It’s a very pretty sounding show.
Well, it would be, if it weren’t for the dub. There are only a few actors who I’d consider straight up bad… Yucie’s first friend Cocoloo comes to mind, though… But I don’t recall a single performance sounding anywhere close to good. Rachel Rivera plays the title character Yucie, and she sounds like… What’s the best way to put this… She sounds like Dora the Explorer without the accent. Similar voice, same pitch, she constantly sounds like she’s about to turn to the audience and say “Do YOU know how I can grow taller? That’s right!” which isn’t to say that she doesn’t have good emotional range, but it’s still really distracting. The rest of the cast… Main and supporting… Is made up about 90 percent with actors whose resumes are shorter than Yucie herself. That’s not a joke, either… I can’t for the life of me find a single other role from Rivera, and while there are a small handful of other mid-2000s anime roles sprinkled throughout the cast, the only noteworthy names are Jason Leibricht and Larissa Wolcott, who both play familiars to the main girls.
Surprisingly enough, most of the rest of the cast is credited to have appeared in the DC Universe Online video game, which might be a sign that they were outsiders to the anime medium. Lee Eddy, who plays the fairy princess Beth, had a few titles to her name, and she’s probably the best performer in the group… Having the most complex character probably helped… But it’s weird that her biggest roles were in Yucie and Red Vs. Blue. Monika Bustamonte and Leigh Fisher can barely act, and Kelley Huston… God bless her, she really tried, but enthusiasm doesn’t equal talent. I did find the actor playing Cocoloo’s familiar to be amusing, but that was more a matter of gimmick than actual acting. The show’s primarily for kids, so they probably won’t have the same complaints, but if you’re watching as an adult, subs are preferable..
One of the most problematic things a critic can do is try to review children’s media. I mean, you would think it would be obvious that some children’s movies are better than others, as anybody observing the vast difference in objective quality between Frozen and, say, Bebe’s Kids will tell you, but what does an adult’s opinion matter when either movie has the power to make a kid shut up and watch TV for over an hour? I’ve encountered this problem several times when dissecting popular kids movies, and especially when ranting about the Planes movies. “They’re just kids movies,” is what you’ll hear from hard working parents who just want to get a few hours of peace. “Who do you think you are?” Ask my own parents, who are fully well aware of the kind of terrible shit I watched when I was a tot. They’re right, for the record.
Petite Princess Yucie is a kids’ series. It’s very obviously intended for children, and that makes it very difficult to criticize. I know some of us like to think we’ll only show our kids good media, in order to help them develop good taste, but in reality, that’s more trouble than it’s worth, and people develop their tastes as they grow. Even the best of us will let our kids watch something dumb as long it’s inoffensive enough. But does this mean that, from the perspective of a writer, is it okay to be lazy and pump out effortless movies? Is The Magic Voyage really just as good as Frozen? Well, considering the fact that even little kids couldn’t make it through Norm of the North in theaters, it’s obvious that kids do have some level of standards. So how do I judge the quality of Petite Princess Yucie?
Well, ideally, what do people look for in Children’s media? Ignoring the lowest common denominator of “Make my kid sit still for a while,” what are children’s stories supposed to do at their best? I guess the first thing most people consider is whether or not said story teaches a lesson to the audience. Most childrens stories were founded as fables and parables for exactly that purpose, so does Yucie have any lessons to teach your tot? Well, sometimes, yes. It’s not often, I grant you, because most of the episodes revolve around conflict and magical solutions, but there are a few good lessons sprinkled throughout as well. The relationship between the Angel Princess Elmina and her father offers a touching window into the way a parent’s attitude and expectations can affect their children on a psychological level, and the fact that there’s no shame in failing and trying again. Aside from that, there are strong themes of friendship and tenacity, which I guess gives this series some value.
Well, what do we have next? Entertainment value. Could a child sit through this show from beginning to end? I gotta be honest, it was hard for me. I’m an adult, and I predicted literally every single twist and turn of the plot at least a few episodes in advance, sometimes more. Little kids won’t have that problem, or at least little girls wouldn’t. I guess I could see little girls getting invested in this series, at least in a Sophia the First kind of way. If you can get invested in Disney Princesses, than I don’t see any reason why this narrative would bore you. The plot might be a little too complicated for younger noggins, but the overall flow of the story is more than simple enough to follow, and even if it did get boring at times, I’d go so far as to say that the last third of the series is more than epic enough to reward even parents for their patience.
But speaking of parents, is this series safe for kids? Well, for the most part, yes, I’d say it’s sterile enough for parents to not have to worry about what their kids are being exposed to… The only exceptions would be, unfortunately, the difference in standards between Japanese and American cultures. Now, I’m not saying there’s any fanservice in this show… The count is just about exactly zero, with nary a single wardrobe malfunction, nude tease, or panty shot present in the entire run time. This is a feat unto itself, especially for a Gainax show, but I’d be remiss to not warn you that there are some interactions between characters that parents may find problematic. Yucie, despite being physically ten years old, has a 17 year old love interest, and not only do they both clearly have feelings for each other, but he even steals a kiss at one point, making for an uncomfortable situation all around. Also, some parents may see red over the mutual romantic attraction that takes hold between the Fairy princess and the Spirit princess. No, I’m not saying same-sex affection is bad, but considering what got cut out of Cardcaptor Sakura…
But the most crucial element of a children’s show, that even parents will have to admit the importance of is this; Will kids want to watch it in the first place? Well, why would they? It’s a Japanese series that hasn’t even survived the test of time in it’s own country, wallowing in obscurity for most comers other than Gainax completionists like myself. The only kids who are likely to have even heard of this title are the ones with otaku parents who introduced it to them in the first place, and I’m sorry, but that’s a very narrow margin. You can buy this title for your daughter in hopes of hooking her on an anime, and you may even be successful at it, but considering how obscure it is, I’d have to question whether it’s really worth the effort with much more popular and well known children’s fare floating around out there. And it’s hard to argue with where this final element leads us… Yucie’s appeal to kids is shaky at best, with even the most likely target audience being extremely unlikely to have heard of it in the first place, and thus unlikely to ever demand it.
So what about it’s appeal to adults? Well, I’ll admit that if you’re the type of person who just likes cute, pleasant stories, you’ll probably enjoy this one. For those of us looking for anything more, it’s a chore to sit through just to get to the episodes that are kind of good. Yes, there are a few individual episodes that can be somewhat emotionally compelling, and there are several of artistically impressive moments sprinkled throughout, and as I mentioned earlier, the ending is actually quite good, but there is so much pointless, inane fluff that you have to sit through in between that I considered dropping the series at multiple points and found myself constantly having to rewatch episodes that I’d slept through. I really want to give Yucie credit for all the little things it does right, but you just can’t forgive execution and pacing this tedious.
Petite Pruncess Yucie is available from ADV Films. It was initially released as five individual disks in the early 2000s, before being released as a thinpack box set in 2006, and… That’s it. It’s been out of print for ten years,with no signs of a re-release yet. The license is currently owned by AEsir holdings and Section23 films, but it doesn’t seem like they have any plans for it in the near future. It’s not available on Netflix or Crunchyroll, the single volume manga is not available stateside, and the soundtrack CD, which I actually would recommend picking up, also seems to be universally unavailable. Unless you’re planning to watch illegally, good luck with this one.
Petite Princess Yucie isn’t anywhere near Gainax’s worst work. It at least manages to be more watchable than about a quarter of the other work they’ve done. The animation, being as low budget as it was, is very impressive, as is the very lively soundtrack and musical composition. The characters are likeable, which to be clear is not synonymous with interesting, and while it’s surprising to see Gainax tackle such family friendly fare, it’s remarkable just how safe for Japanese children they were able to keep it. I don’t think it’s a bad series, but I just can’t forgive it for how boring it is. Maybe it would have been better if it had been condensed down into a 14 episode run, but as it is, I can’t think of anybody I’d reasonably recommend it to for any reason other than to make a point. I give Petite Princess Yucie a 5/10.