Princess Jellyfish was neat to see in that a lot of the characters were upside down in their construction; instead of having one key weakness, many of them had one key strength instead. This allowed them to push the plot forward and keep the narrative momentum going.
Narrative momentum? You mean there was a plot there?
Of course there was. In fact, for most of the series there are three meta-plots running at the same time.
Man, that’s cool.
What’s cooler is that, while we’ve seen a story with three meta-plots before – in Carole and Tuesday Carole, Tuesday, and Angela each have their own story going on – in Princess Jellyfish the three plots occupy many of the characters simultaneously, so they are all intertwined, one pushing to the front here, one taking center stage there. It’s hard to tell which is predominating at a given part, and hard to tell which is the “real” plot.
If there is a “real” plot.
Oh, you saw me winking. Yeah, there’s a real plot, and I’ll tell you how you can tell which it is before we’re done.
OKAY, plot one: Overcoming the Monster
The gang of women at the center of Princess Jellyfish are a group of basically unemployable otaku types who all live in one old, run-down apartment building. Uh, oh … a developer has their eye on the whole neighborhood and wants to buy their home, and the owner is ready to sell.
Oh, no, someone has to save the building!
In fact, this plot drives a lot of action as our protagonist, Kuranosuke, determines that the women can save themselves by making and selling clothes. Since the women are socially inept, this creates a great deal of conflict and a great deal of comedy, especially since there are other parties bidding on the building.
And the women are terrified of being driven out of their nice safe house and into the cold, cold world outside. The threat of the sale is powerfully motivating for them.
From left: Railroad otaku, Chinese history otaku, jellyfish otaku, dude, old man otaku, and kimono otaku
Plot two: Eternal Triangle
Formally speaking this isn’t really one plot but two. If you resolve an Eternal Triangle, where two people vie for the affection of a third, you typically end up with a winner and a loser. For the loser, the meta-plot is Tragedy: Boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl. For the winner, the meta-plot is Comedy: Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl.
Cute, right? That’s why the Eternal Triangle still plays out all over: It’s tricky.
So we have the half-brothers Kuranosuke the transvestite and Sun the virgin, and they both fall for our heroine, Tsukimi the Jellyfish Princess. It takes Kuranosuke longer to make himself aware of that, but you can see it coming a mile away starting the first time he makes her dress up and see the beauty she has inside.
What’s neat about this Eternal Triangle is that they all like each other. Usually the suitors are rivals in some way, with a natural tension between them. But there is a genuine affection between big brother Sun and little brother Kuranosuke; it’s sort of implied that in the political family they were raised in, when they were kids it was just the two of them, and in fact Sun would be detailed to babysit Kuanosuke. They still have a big brother-little brother vibe going on in which their mutual affection is clear.
And, of course, they both adore Tsukimi, while Tsukimi doesn’t really believe any guy could be interested in her (although she likes them both). It’s an unusually symmetric Eternal Triangle, and you don’t see that a lot.
Plot three: Rebirth
It’s not for nothing that the manga is titled Princess Jellyfish and Tsukimi is a jellyfish otaku. At the start Tsukimi’s focus is always small: They need money to save the building, she’s able to translate her love for jellyfish into viable and attractive clothing designs, so that’s the job she ends up with in advancing plot one.
But as she is being yanked around by the forces around her, she starts to see things larger than jellyfish. Yes, they are lovely and she can love them, but clothes can be lovely and she can love them, too. And more importantly, she comes to believe that clothes are important, that they can make the wearer not just attractive or stylish but also confident and secure, that by making her designs she can not only meet the minor goal of saving their house but also gain the much more important satisfaction of helping improve peoples’ lives.
That revelation turns Tsukimi from inward oriented to outward oriented. She’s ready to join the world now, ready to join it and skilled enough to conquer it, to make it a better place.
Oh, heck, yeah, that’s a rebirth, all right.
When I lay it out like that you can see which is the key plot, right? I mean, who gives a rat’s butt about who Tsukimi falls in love with or where she lives if she can change the world, right?
You can also see it structurally in the way the plot lines get resolved.
Plot one: Fish, the Chinese millionaire clothing designer, loses his company in a hostile takeover, and instead of his severance package takes the building. Now he owns it and he likes the gang so they can stay forever. Yay!
That’s, like, practically a deus ex machina. I mean, seriously, it couldn’t be a more contrived ending if Banba finally combed her hair (she has an unruly Afro) and a 100,000,000 yen note fell out.
But the series had to end, so we get a lame ending to plot one.
Plot two: Sun has already proposed to Tsukimi and been refused, and Kuranosuke has realized (in book 9) what we’d already figured out (in book 1 or 2): He loves Tsukimi, too. So we have this half-assed Eternal Triangle where everyone likes everyone. How are we going to resolve that?
Kuranosuke says, “Hey, now that Fish owns the place, let’s you and me and Sun all live here together.”
I don’t think he means polygamy; I think he means “As friends and mutual admirers.” But look at what that does in terms of resolving the Eternal Triangle: It doesn’t. It’s a non-solution that extends the plot line beyond the end of the series.
So now we have one plot line that limps out and one that doesn’t really resolve. What about number three? (“I am a plot! I am not a number!”)
Plot three: Tsukimi evolves from caterpillar to butterfly, from Otaku Jellyfish to Princess Jellyfish.
That’s the big one, right? She’s metamorphosed, spread her wings. She understands she has the ability to help people, people like herself and her friends, and she decides that’s exactly what she is going to do.
That’s a reinvention, a rebirth. It shows you, regardless of what happens to the stupid building, whatever happens between her and Kuranosuke and Sun, it shows you who she is, who she will be, and where she will go. It is final, and it is complete, and it feels right. THAT’s the real plot, and that’s how you can tell: The end is satisfying.
There are a whole bunch of plot arcs, such as when Kuranosuke and the chauffeur go to Singapore to rescue Tsukimi or the gang has to create a fashion display, and sub-plots, as between Fish and his childhood friend/assistant Fayong. They are all part of the flim-flam going on to keep the story moving.
But there are three meta-plots going on throughout the series, and until the end we don’t know which one actually matters. Pretty cute!
I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.