The Power of Two: Princess Jellyfish

I never know how much to summarize about a series when I start these essays. I mean, stuff like Cowboy Bebop I know everyone’s seen; on the other hand I’m pretty sure just about no one remembers Samurai Gun, but then again I said the same about Coppelion, and someone dropped me a line to let me know they’d seen that stinker.

If you’ve seen Princess Jellyfish, you can skip the next paragraph.

Okay, so basically there’s this girl, Tsukimi, who adores jellyfish, and a transvestite named Kuranosuke who kind of likes her as does his brother Shu and she and her unemployed friends are going to be thrown out of their house because the owner is selling to a predator named Inari so Kuranosuke makes them start a business making clothes designed by Tsukimi that are inspired by jellyfish so they can buy the house themselves which leads Tsukimi to be reborn as a better person. (*deep breath*) Oh, and the house gets saved when it’s bought by a friendly millionaire (manga) or the owner decides not to sell (anime).

There are a lot of interesting relationships in Princess Jellyfish. You’ve got the dominant/submissive thing between Kuranosuke and Tsukimi. There’s the group of women living in the house, essentially as a commune. You’ve got a romantic triangle with Tsukimi, Shu, and Kuranosuke, and the boys have their own stuff going on with their perverted older relatives.

But there’s one relationship that’s not really a relationship but is still worth looking at because the writer, Akiko Higashimura, did something very clever with two of her characters: She made them mirror images.

Sure.

When you look at Tsukimi, what do you see?

A very flattering picture of Tsukimi

In a lot of ways Tsukimi is a loser. She’s small, chubby, has bad skin and hair, no education and no job. She utterly terrified by two entire classes of people: Women who are fashionable (called “stylish” by Tsukimi and her friends) and, well, men. Being noticed by anyone who appears to have a Y chromosome freezes her in panic.

But Tsukimi has a very powerful positive trait: She’s a dreamer. Her dreams are deeply rooted in her, tied to her love for her deceased mother, and as she realizes through the story that she has the power to make her dreams, and the dreams of people like her, come true, she blossoms into the Jellyfish Princess her own self.

What’s interesting is that the realtor buying the apartment Tsukimi lives in, Shoko Inari, is exactly Tsukimi’s opposite. She’s tall, slender, has great hair. She’s a college graduate with a realtor’s license and a well-paying job. She is not frightened of the “stylish;” she IS the stylish, and she’s not only not afraid of men, she uses her looks and body to manipulate men.

But Inari has a very powerful negative trait: She’s amoral. She doesn’t have dreams, she has a checking account. She is totally grounded in the world of money and power.

Tsukimi and Inari can’t really be said to have a relationship between them: They know each other by sight and are in a few of the same scenes, but if they share ten lines of dialog between them, I’d be surprised.

Not that I’m going to go back and count.

Rather, the contrast between them is shown by their separate interactions with Shu, Kuranosuke’s brother.

Befitting her construction, Tsukimi comes to like Shu, as much as she can like any guy given that she turns to stone when a man talks to her. (Kuranosuke is possibly the only exception.) On Shu’s part, he falls for Tsukimi and tries to ask her to marry him, although the proposal doesn’t quite work out through a series of coincidences and misunderstandings.

Inari has also dealt with Shu, and she deals with Shu in her typical predatory manner: She roofies him, takes pictures of them in bed together (He’s passed out, of course, so nothing happens.) and tries to blackmail him into giving her what she wants.

But as the story goes on, Tsukimi begins to find herself, and starts to grow as a person.

At the same time Tsukimi is growing, however, Inari is falling apart. Shu rejects her blackmail attempts and rejects her. At one point, after she tricks him in a particularly cruel way, he slaps her.

Shu and Inari (right): She’s beginning to lose him … and her self-confidence

This sends Inari into a tailspin. Never before have her wiles failed her; never before has a man rejected her advances. (She actually says that at one point, so I’m not reading between the lines here.) She becomes obsessed with Shu and while obsessed with him watches him falling for Tsukimi; Inari falls apart as her self-doubt takes her over.

In fact it goes further than success or failure in life as a human being: As Tsukimi makes clothes and wears them, she is physically transformed as well into a lovely jellyfish princess; as Inari turns to drink her beautiful hair becomes disheveled and her beautiful clothes unkempt.

See how that works? In fact, you’re SUPPOSED to see how that works. The upward trend of Tsukimi’s arc is counterpointed by the downward trend of Inari’s. Inari is a literary device who is meant to show you the bad things that happen to bad people in the same way that Tsukimi is meant to show you the good things that happen to good people.

On the one hand, it’s a pretty heavy-handed literary symbolism, a statement at roughly the same level of profundity as, “The wages of sin is death.” In fact, in Inari’s case, that’s pretty much it except that she’s still alive; she loses the man she loves, her looks, her job, and her self-confidence.

At the same time, it’s a whole different level of sophistication by the standards of manga, and it does what it’s meant to do, which is highlight Tsukimi’s transformation. Because Tsukimi’s growth from timid little nobody into a woman who knows she can help people by designing beautiful clothes is the whole point of the story.

Well, if that’s the point, it can’t hurt to rub it in a little, right? And it’s not like anyone liked Inari anyway.

But that’s one way to put two characters together without them actually BEING together: Make them mirror images of one another.

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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