"I Can't Believe It's Not CLAMP!"
1996-98 OVA, 6 episodes
Studio: Triangle Staff, Director: Mitsuru Hongo, Writer: Mami Watanabe
Well, this is the first review looking at titles licensed in the States by Central Park Media, a NY based company that specialised in licensing and distributing anime and manga...at least from 1990 up to 2009 when they went under. Shamanic Princess was released under the US Manga Corps, the main anime distribution arm, a fact made evident by their logo, which has the main character of MD Geist (one of their early releases).
Now, Shamanic Princess is an OVA from the late 1990s that is a bit of an oddball. In terms of story, it is rather straightforward: Tiara is a being from the 'Guardian World' (a world parallel to our own) who is on a quest for the 'Throne of Yord', which is the power source of all magic in the 'Guardian World'. In the process, she discovers that her friends Lena and Kagetsu are in pursuit of Sarah, Kagetsu's sister and friend of Tiara, who has become a person of interest to the Throne of Yord. Along the way, Tiara must face opposition from not just her friends but also from within.
Of course, it is not that simple. The first four episodes follow this story thread, with the last two episodes that serve as prologue rejoinder to the events of the first four. This threw me for a moment when I first watched, but then it clicked that this was mostly an extended flashback. As a recommendation, I suggest that if you do view this OVA, watch episodes 5-6 then go back and watch the first four episodes as that way helps to mitigate any confusion or plot holes that pop up in the main story, and it certainly has some. Thankfully, those don't defer enough from the story to make it bad.
As the title of this post suggests, what got me hooked to this OVA was the fact that it reminds me of CLAMP, even had a quote from Gamers' Republic on the back of the DVD cover giving this 4 stars and saying "a must have for CLAMP fans". Ha, what a gross misinterpretation. The only aspect that Shamanic Princess shares with CLAMP is in character designer (Atsuko Ishida), which shares similarity to Magic Knight Rayearth, a mid 90s fantasy TV anime series. Past that, it has similar aspects but at the same time differing from actual CLAMP series, in this case comparison to Magic Knight Rayearth (a contemporary series to this) is very apt.
First off, let's talk about magical power. In MKR, it is very much elemental in nature, reflecting core qualities of the attached characters. But SP's magic is more arcane and occult in nature, reflecting the rather dark, mysterious and surreal realm the characters reside in. Tiara's and Lena's powers rely on intricate symbols and chants similar to that used in occult magic.
Second, the characters' relationships. MKR would require an immense chart just to keep track of the huge ensemble cast within the course of that series. Luckily, SP doesn't have that issue as the main cast contains about 5-6 characters. An interesting exercise for viewers-try to diagram the various relationships of the characters in Shamanic Princess, that should be interesting.
Finally, the thematic focus isn't too far off from MKR. It deals primarily with how emotions and love can drive our actions more so than exterior forces. Of course, it adds to that philosophical musings on the nature of reality. For instance, when Tiara fights the Throne of Yord, it decides to take on her likeness, which while somewhat expected and cliche, it's interesting nonetheless as Tiara can't really beat herself. How she wins, quite frankly, I shall leave you to find out for yourself.
Apart from that, the rest is not too shabby. The background visuals are rather nice to look at, even in the Throne of Yord scenes, which have a dark surreal atmosphere. The magic battle sequences are very well done, kinetic and quick; just having enough time to run through without being a drag on the plot. The music is very fitting, shifting from battle action to quiet atmospheric moments, all without being intrusive.
Now, to talk about the English dub. Short hand, its not too bad, a rather decent effort. The only stand off voice actor in the dub is Crispin Freeman as Kagetsu. The rest of the V.A.s are only noteworthy of being in other CPM dubs and they do ok. Granted, the dub script is so tied to a straight translation script it's not even funny. Seriously, I watched this with the subtitles and I swear that the english dialogue was fitting to them 9 times out of 10. The only one that felt stiff was the V.A. For Sarah as she seems very monotone, but that's partially how that character is written. Overall, a decent dub and worth listening to; not too bad but regrettably not great.
So. I could recommend this to any fan of fantasy anime series. It is much in the vein of Ruin Explorers or The Sacred Blacksmith, that is decent fantasy fare that straddles the middle in terms of quality. It's not terrible nor it is particularly great, as the DVD cover would tell you. And on a final note, this just shows how desperate CPM seemed in trying to promote this. No really, the DVD cover boasts that this comes from "the director of Outlaw Star". I have a slight issue with this as I find that if you can't market a product on its own merits, then maybe you should reconsider Relying on other products/associations only serve to miff me a bit.
That being said, it is rather good fantasy yarn. It certainly worth a watch at the very least.