Danielle Leigh's Reading Diary -- Princess Princess Plus

Not being a big fan of the original series, Princess Princess, as it is mainly a shojo cross-dressing "procedural," I was pleasantly surprised that the teenage-boys-forced-to-do-drag-for-laughs focus of the original takes a back seat to the sequel's friendship-oriented drama.

Two boys who don't know each other at all are thrown into each others' orbit when they are both picked to become their all-boys' academy "Princesses," a kind of drag-mascot role which comes with certain perks and a great deal of grief.  The original focused on how three young men, chosen to be princesses, learned to deal with this role and their new status as a kind of feminine-idol for their entire school.  However, Princess Princess Plus is about how two people with very different personalities, and who come from very different social and economic backgrounds, can overcome their differences and learn to accept and care for each other.

Izumi is a cheerful, oblivious young prince type, who dreams of a warm family environment and becoming fast friends with the tightly wound Matsuoka, who carries a big chip on his shoulder, thanks to his less than stellar family background.  From the start, Izumi pisses Matsuoka off by being incredibly thoughtless and overbearing.  Izumi wants to make a connection so badly -- he's clearly lonely -- he barges into Matsuoka's home and basically treats him and his siblings like the "poor but happy orphaned" stereotype shojo manga has taught us to expect.  Matsuoka is infuriated and ashamed all at once and he pushes the silly, but sweet, Izumi away hard.

Our three previous princesses from the first series act like a cross between a snarky Greek chorus and caring older brothers.  Together they watch over the boys like protective mother hens and shepherd them into uneasy and fragile, but very genuine, friendship.  Amusingly, the three previous princesses become concerned when it looks like they've done their work too well and as a result Izumi and Matsuoko might be too attached to each other.  (Usually this kind of coy hinting at bl overtones would be annoying, but Izumi and Matsuoko so clearly care for each other here it seems as though the first princesses are just letting their own insecurities whip them into an anxious frenzy about the traditional boundaries of male friendship).

Importantly, the boys' reconciliation occurs early in the book -- the rest of the volume deals with the two of them learning to overcome bad habits ingrained by past experiences and prejudices.  The longer they interact, the closer they become, as layers of social habit and defenses are stripped away by true connections.  There are a few of those hoary old "hijinks" in the book but I'm pleased to say they never detracted from the emotional arc (even the dumb old "rich boy kidnapped by inept dumbass!" didn't bother me in the slightest).  In the end, I felt this was a very successful volume and that the shojo-preoccuption with male drag was just window dressing to a much more emotionally engaging story about maintaining a difficult, but ultimately, rewarding friendship.

Mikiyo Tsuda's art is confident, clear, and quite pretty.  One of the pleasures of this book is how well Tsuda is able to convey a wide variety of emotions and while she is never one to shy away from chibi forms, her figures are still recognizably themselves and maintain their distinct personalities no matter what crazy situation they happen to find themselves in.

Review copy provided by DMP.

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