The shoujo genre has played a prominent role in the anime industry for decades now. Literally translating to “young girl,” shoujo anime usually center around a female protagonist and are aimed at young girls and women. While the shoujo genre has spawned or pioneered many subgenres, the most popular variant is the magical girl theme, notable examples including Sailor Moon, Madoka Magica and Tokyo Mew Mew.
Although it is common to believe so Sailor Moon started the magical girl theme (or the shoujo genre altogether), this is far from the truth despite its early date and immense popularity. Although only technically a magical girl anime, Osamu Tezuka’s 1953 manga and anime series Princess Knight is said to be the true origin of the shoujo genre and demographic.
Princess Knight’s exciting story
Set in the fictional European kingdom of Silverland, Princess Knight focuses on a young princess named Sapphire, who is supposed to be next in line for the throne. But because the law forbids women to do so, she is advised to pose as a boy. Fortunately, this turns out to be very easy, due to Sapphire being born with a blue heart next to the pink one.
Despite this, Duke Duralumin – who will also be next in line – will stop at nothing to expose Sapphire’s facade so he can rule Silverland as he wishes. Unaware of Sapphire’s predicament, an angel named Tink is sent down from heaven to remove her blue heart. When Sapphire protests, the two become friends and go on several adventures – all while avoiding Duralumin’s attempts to expose her.
What Elements Make a Shoujo Anime?
Contrary to what the name might suggest, there are many more aspects to shoujo anime than having a female protagonist. Although they can feature a variety of action, shoujo stories tend to lean more towards emotional issues the characters may have, whether it’s struggling to get over a breakup or losing someone they care about. Design-wise, the characters have a traditionally feminine look and are often drawn with large, detailed eyes to show off their personality. On top of that, the protagonist is usually able to speak for himself and function on his own.
Although each shoujo anime is unique in its own way, Princess Knight fits the genre perfectly. Aside from having a female protagonist with standard feminine traits, it also has several shoujo-oriented plot elements, such as Sapphire falling in love and feeling devastated when her parents are killed. She is also not afraid to show her skills when it comes to defending her kingdom against evil.
Princess Knight has taken her own creative liberties
While princess characters have typically been portrayed as damsels in distress and in need of rescuing, Sapphire turns out to be quite the opposite. Along with refusing to conform to traditional feminine standards, she is able to stand up for herself and others while embracing both sides of herself. While modern shoujo anime also show that their characters can stand strong and fend for themselves, they are still represented with traditional feminine physical characteristics and may not show much confidence.
This is often seen with Usagi i Sailor Moon, who must rely on their teammates while building their own bravery. On the other hand, Sapphire doesn’t hesitate to be herself or stand up for what she believes in, even though society may look at her differently for it. Combined with her own confidence and immense heroism, Princess Knight may well be ahead of most of today’s shoujo anime in terms of progressiveness and storytelling – especially given the time period of serialization.