Case Number 16609

MURDER PRINCESS: THE COMPLETE SERIES

Funimation // 2007 // 150 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // June 15th, 2009

The Charge

Nobility takes no prisoners.

Opening Statement

A frenetic blend of every genre imaginable, Murder Princess: The Complete Series is a short and unsatisfying foray into the magical kingdom of Forland. A show about a well-dressed princesses toting samurai swords and slaying monsters sure sounds fun, right? You would be amazed how hard Murder Princess works to derail this enjoyment.

Facts of the Case

In the kingdom of Forland, a kingdom built on the remnants of a society that destroyed itself through war and violence, a coup is brewing. Dark forces threaten the lineage of the noble bloodline, and to save the royal family, Princess Alita escapes just as the king falls. Lost and helpless, she encounters a feisty bounty hunter named Falis hunting in the woods. Unexpectedly, destinies cross quite literally, and the two magically exchange bodies.

Now in strange bodies, Alita begs for Falis to help, offering her all the glory and position of a princess -- so long as she swears to reclaim and protect the kingdom. Falis, always looking for a good time, accepts. Unbeknownst to the subjects of Forland, the princess is returning...but definitely not the same one as before!

Murder Princess: The Complete Series contains all six -- yep, just six -- episodes on one DVD:

* "Birth"
* "Coronation"
* "Return"
* "Exile"
* "Fate"
* "Determination's End"

The Evidence

Even for anime, where the rules of common sense go for long walks on the beach with Mai Tai in hand, Murder Princess is incredulously stupid. A loose reworking of "The Prince and the Pauper" with scantily clad female sword-swinging princesses and dismemberments (hence "loose"), the show contains more conceptual contradictions than can easily be counted. The series is set in an ancient feudal kingdom that for no easily explainable reason contains all of the following: supernatural robotic cyborgs, samurai swordfights, flaming Ghost Rider-style motorcycles, Frankenstein-esque sidekicks with big metal bolts on the neck, girls who can swap the souls out of their bodies into other bodies, tiny garden gnome-style personal assistants to the King -- and more craziness not even worth mentioning here. A little genre mixology here and there can indeed lead to tastiness in anime, but you can't just pour a little of every bottle in and expect it to do anything but make you vomit uncontrollably.

Lo and behold, the kingdom is overthrown by an evil cyborg scientist (or something) and the princess is set out into the forest alone -- the one filled with gigantic monsters, mind you -- to escape the coup and preserve the bloodline. Good planning there. When she encounters a tough-talking female bounty hunter, for reasons known only to Mark Twain, the two "trade souls." Just...trade souls. One minute, everything's fine, and the next, it's body swapping time. This is also never explained in any satisfactory fashion. Now the kick-ass bounty hunter is in the meek princess's body...and she's ready to take back her kingdom. Her loyal subjects, completely unfazed by the fact that the kind, gentle, and well-mannered princess is now a blood-soaked weapon of mass dismemberment and destruction, cheer wildly and christen her the "Murder Princess." Makes sense, right? Oh and there's a secret plan in place to use the princess to bring about the end of the world. Just because, you know? This is about the point where you should star reaching for that Mai Tai, because it's a downhill ride from here on.

With six episodes, each only a half-hour long, Murder Princess doesn't even attempt to wrap up its plot or pursue any meaningful character development. Personally, I'd love an explanation of why Falis' companions are a purple Frankenstein monster and a short, scythe-toting Grim Reaper-styled Dragon Ball Z reject -- or more importantly, why nobody seems the least bit fazed by it. I can handle some leaps of logic now and again, but Murder Princess is just a gaping chasm of nonsense, with nowhere for audiences to go but straight down. Ironically, there isn't a single idea in Murder Princess that wouldn't work on its own, given the right amount of care and development. But this is just too much all at once. Dumping all this crap on audiences in a six-episode run is just ridiculous. There are some baleful attempts at profundity and purpose at the very end of the arc, trying to explain the motivations of the villains, why such strange things are going on in Forland, and how it all makes sense, but this is too little too late.

From a technical perspective, Murder Princess: The Complete Series has an adequate transfer, one that looks older than its age suggests. The feature is only two years old, but has the look of an anime at least ten years older -- a clean but overly soft image, washed-out black levels, saturated colors and distinct texture and grain on the backgrounds and animation cells. Edge aliasing is a problem on this DVD, as even the simplest of motion send character outlines into a sea of jaggedness. Pause the feature and individual still frames look quite nice, well-drawn and clean, but in motion look less impressive; murky, grainy, and excessively soft.

As for audio, we get a full 5.1 surround English dub treatment and a simple, weak-sounding 2.0 stereo Japanese presentation. This is an especially irksome shortchanging of the native track, which sounds thin and unimpressive placed next to the English dub, which is full-throated and clear, and has punch and good bass response. The quality of the dub is passable; the voice actors and actresses put as much emotion and energy into their performances and it translates well to the picture, but I hate to see the Japanese track get the shaft.

Extras are slim; we get a commentary track on the final episode with AVR director Caitlin Glass and English voice actresses Colleen Clinkenbeard and Monica Rial, and the obligatory (and increasingly useless) textless intro and outro sequences.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

The content of Murder Princess is garbage, but at least it looks great. With animation production by Bee Train (.hack//Sign, Noir, Batman: Gotham Knight), a studio notable for its excellent character designs, specifically in women, Murder Princess has excellent style and fluidity. When the aforementioned murder princess swings her sword, body parts fly and blood pours. These are the only satisfying moments spent watching this anime.

Closing Statement

Murder Princess is a six-episode exercise in ridiculousness. All style and no substance, the series ends before any significant character development or story can emerge, perhaps even saving the show from mediocrity -- but we'll never know for sure.

The Verdict

Guilty. Avoid it.

Review content copyright © 2009 Adam Arseneau; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 85
Audio: 85
Extras: 20
Acting: 77
Story: 73
Judgment: 73

Perp Profile
Studio: Funimation
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)

Subtitles:
* English

Running Time: 150 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Episode Commentary
* Textless Songs

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt1000133/combined

* Official Site
http://www.funimation.com/murderprincess/