Oh, So Tropical: The Princess in Peril

You know that the Princess in Peril is one of the oldest tropes in film, let along anime, right? I mean, seriously, The Perils of Pauline was made in 1914. 1914!! Go to YouTube and have a look.

But the classic Princess in Peril is Pauline her own self. I want you to think of the classic moment: There she is, the good girl from a good family (a quintessential American princess), tied to the railroad tracks. She has to sign over the family farm/marry the villain/surrender her virtue/WHATEVER or Nasty Snidely McMiser will leave her there. Oh, my dear, will she live or will she die?

Here He Comes To Save The Day! It’s Mighty Mouse/William S. Hart/White Blood Cell/The Hero! He defeats the villain and rescues the Princess, all at the last possible instant!

Of course it works narratively. Let’s take a look:

You have the Princess. She’s a likable/attractive character, a person of good moral character. And yes, she’s usually, although not always, female, i.e. The Weaker Sex.

Whoever decided women were the weaker sex never met Asuka Langley Soryu. Just sayin’.

So you put the Princess in Peril, usually potentially fatal Peril. That creates tension, and dramatic tension is a good good thing. Will she live or will she get squashed into 105 pounds of jelly? The closer the squashing object gets (and the better the musical score) the higher the tension. Oh, no, she’s gonna diiiieeeeee….

Until she’s rescued. BOOM. Tension released. Oh, yeah, that feels soooo goooood…

That’s exactly how it works. That’s exactly why it works. And that’s why you see it all over the place.

Like where, says you?

Oh, I don’t know. How about Cells at Work. Am I right? Here comes Red Blood Cell. Let’s have a little walk-up music for her: Doot doot doodle doot. She’s lost, as usual, and she’s got a big box of oxygen to deliver, as usual, and she’s got to get it there ASAP when…

Red Blood Cell: Born to be a Princess in Peril

OH NOes! It’s evil bacillus __ … I don’t know. Maybe it’s tetanus this week. OH NOes! It’s evil bacillus tetanus! He’s going to kill Our Girl Red Blood Cell. She cowers in fear as he looms up over her. She’s gonna diiiieeeeee….

But no!

Here He Comes To Save The Day! It’s White Blood Cell! He defeats the villain and rescues the Princess, I mean, Red Blood Cell, all at the last possible instant!

I mean, it works, right?

Of course, when you flog a trope too hard, you end up with a cliché. That’s one of the real problems of the Princess in Peril. It works so well it’s hard not to use it, and when you overuse it, the ladies, they roll their eyes (RIP Lou Reed).

Sure.

In FLCL: Progressive Hidomi is a PIP.
In Outlaw Star Melfina is a PIP
In Welcome to the NHK BOTH main characters are PIP, in different ways: Misaki rescues Tatsuhiro from hikkikogamorism, while he saves her from a suicide attempt
A Silent Voice: Shoya saves Shoko, also from a suicide attempt
At the beginning of the Revolutionary Girl Utena manga the Prince who smells of roses rescues Utena. And of course ultimately Utena rescues Anthy
Beastars: Haru was born to be a PIP
Samurai Champloo: Fuu has to be rescued several times
In Kill la Kill, both Ryuko and Satsuke are PIP and rescue the other. Oh, and Mako has to have her tushie untied from the tracks, too.
The final third of Steins;Gate is Okabe rescuing Mayuri over and over until he gets it right

Get it? It happens A LOT. That’s one of the problems with this trope: It gets so overworked it becomes a cliché.

And you know the other problem, right?

Sure you do. It’s blatantly sexist.

Right? Think about Red Blood Cell again. As a red blood cell she has a function in the body, but as far as the STORY is concerned her only purpose is to be rescued. That’s it, right? She’s the Princess and she has to be rescued. She’s the Princess in Peril. Let’s face it: There are lots of red blood cells. The body’s going to get oxygen from one of them. The real function of making Red Blood Cell a character – and a female character at that – is so she can be put in peril.

But by usually making her a female to be saved by a male reinforces the female weak/male strong stereotype. That blows. People of any gender can be strong or weak, and more commonly are sometimes one and sometimes the other.

I can think of examples that violate the gender roles. As above, Misaki rescues Sato in Welcome to the NHK. In Neon Genesis Evangelion Rei saves Shinji at least once, typical of EVA’s gender role reversals, for instance. Revy saves Rock in Black Lagoon, also consistent with that show’s gender role reversal between them. But it’s not for nothing that the trope is called Princess in Peril and not Person in Peril.

Tropes are tropes because they work, but tropes become clichés because they are overworked. Use this one at your own peril.

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.

3 thoughts on “Oh, So Tropical: The Princess in Peril

  1. Girlfiend in the fridge is a close cousin to this.

    But that said, I wonder how avoidable this is. In most stories, someone needs to be in danger, whether it’s emotionally or physically. While I think a lot of stories work by having the main character rescue themselves, I don’t think you can have that in every story, especially if you have an ensemble cast.

    So I guess the question is if there is any point where the PIP isn’t a cliche, or at the very least is used in a way that it’s well-done.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think a good example of it being well done is in Samurai Champloo. Fuu does need rescuing at times, but part of that is the nature of the times; she can’t be a killer ninja in that day and age. But she’s also clearly the protagonist and has a great deal of agency outside of fighting.

      This as opposed to Shoko Nishimiya. Shoya is actually the protagonist of A Silent Voice, and Shoko exists only so we can see his character development, including him being injured rescuing her. That bugs the heck out of me.

      Liked by 1 person

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