Medium Matters: Princess Jellyfish

I got the Princess Jellyfish manga a while back and found it delightful, a sweet, well-told story that spanned nine tankoban volumes.

Then I FINALLY found the anime, and you know what? It’s a shorty, only eleven episodes. That’s, like, three or four manga volumes, and did not bode well.

Watched it twice and liked it, and I think I liked it because they managed to maintain the essential features of the manga’s longer story even while cutting it to the bone, and they did that in a very tricky way: By using the plot line that triggers the physical end of the story.

You see, one cool thing about Princess Jellyfish, manga and anime, is that the story is wound around three major plots that run simultaneously.

Okay, quick overview: Our Hero(ine) is the Jellyfish Princess her own self, Tsukimi. She is a socially awkward woman with no job or education but with an extreme fondness for jellyfish. She lives in an apartment building with other women – Chieko, Banba, Mayaya, and Jiji – who are exactly like her except that they have different fandoms.

Alas, their apartment building is owned by Chieko’s mother, who wants to sell the building so she can move to Korea and be a fan of some Korean pop idol. Sure, why not? But the apartment building is in a development zone, so it will be torn down after it is sold.

When it appears the women are going to be evicted from their safe, man-free house, the cross-dressing man Kuranosuke steps up to assist the women in saving the building, even though it’s his half-brother Shu who is god-fathering the building purchase. So the women and Kuranosuke start a business making clothes and hilarity ensues.

Got it?

From left: Banba, Mayaya, Tsukimi, Kuranosuke, Jiji, Chieko

So, three plots. Number one is a romance story. Shu falls for Tsukimi and she is attracted to him, but as the story goes on Kuranosuke also discovers his own attraction to her. So BOOM: you’ve got an Eternal Triangle. Who will she end up with, traditional, quiet Shu or brash, flamboyant Kuranosuke?

Number two is an Overcoming the Monster story, the story of what the women (and Kuranosuke, who is the brains of the operation) have to do to save their home in the apartment building.

And the third plot is the key one here. Across both versions of the tale Tsukimi realizes that she can translate her love of jellyfish into beautiful dress designs that could make awkward, self-conscious, unstylish women like herself feel attractive and confident. She finds beauty inside herself and evolves from caterpillar to butterfly, or, to be precise, from loser to jellyfish princess.

This last story is a Rebirth story, and it’s the emotional heart of the series. Tsukimi is a sweet kid in a bumbling, awkward way, and you root for her to find a way to be successful in spite of her obvious shortcomings. When that happens, it feels right. You know the story is over.

But here’s the trick that tied the two versions together so the anime felt like it worked as well as the manga even though it left out two-thirds of the story: While the EMOTIONAL end of the story is Tsukimi’s rebirth, the PHYSICAL end happens when the Monster is Overcome and the apartment is saved.

See it? Whenever that happens all the tension driving the series disappears, so as a writer all you have to do is have Tsukimi find herself WHENEVER YOU WANT and then BOOM, save the cat, er, I mean apartment. With this combination of plots you can end the story wherever you want!

That’s exactly what they do in both versions, and it shows. The need to save the apartment drives the story forward, because Kuranosuke convinces the women they have to buy it themselves. That forces them to start a business making clothes in order to get the money they need. But in neither version do they actually accomplish that. In the manga the building is bought by a Chinese millionaire who likes the clothes Tsukimi designs, so he lets her and her friends (and Shu and Kuranosuke) live there. In the anime Chieko’s mom decides she doesn’t really like that Korean idol anymore, so she doesn’t need to sell.

See what it is? In both cases it’s a deus ex machina. The women don’t save themselves; they work hard but are saved by outside forces. AND OUTSIDE FORCES CAN SHOW UP AT ANY TIME!

What a gimmick! You can stop the story at ANY length. Write Tsukimi’s rebirth so it makes sense and punches emotionally, and then bring on the outside force. BOOM. Story done, and it feels right.

Oh, and the romance plot? It doesn’t really resolve in either version. Because the story is about Tsukimi’s rebirth, not who she dates.

So without even two entire plot arcs, one where they have to figure out how to make and market and promote their clothes, and one where Tsukimi goes to work for the Chinese millionaire Fish, they end up telling essentially the same story in manga and anime. You watch it and it feels like the same story even though a whole bunch of characters (including my favorite, the Indian clothier Nisha) and two-thirds of the story are missing. Because at its guts Princess Jellyfish is about Tsukimi.

I bet you could make a cute 90-minute movie in the same way. Fire up the three plots, stick Tsukimi’s rebirth at about 85 minutes, then run in the deus ex machina to finish the story.

That’s a really cute trick. I’ll have to keep my eye open to see if I see it someplace else.

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.

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