Interview: Masaki Tachibana

Princess Principal is a steampunk style espionage adventure anime produced by Studio 3Hz and Actas and released in July 2017. Directed by Masaki Tachibana, and written by Ichirō Ohkouchi, the series is set in a fictional analogue of Victorian London called Albion, where five girls, including the titular Princess, work together as spies during a revolution. Geeks OUT sat down with the series director Masaki Tachibana at Anime NYC to talk about the inspiration for the anime's aesthetics and themes, and whether we're just imagining a same-sex romance between two of its main characters.

What inspired you to create Princess Principal, and to develop it in a Victorian steampunk style?

How it became a Victorian-era steampunk was, to start off with we began off with the key words "girl," then "spies," well "teenage girls" and "spies," and those were the two things and we were talking it out, but then we came across the fact that we would need another key word in there to make it more interesting. The producer came up with the idea that we might want to put in steampunk elements in there. I was asked "Can you do steampunk?" and so my answer was "If it's Victorian, then I'd like to do it."

The story revolves around a cast of five young women with unique personalities and abilities. Can you describe each of them, and what sets them apart from each other?

In regards to explaining the characters, I would say that firstly, Ange is a character that although she might look strong, she is actually not very strong, and she lies in order to conceal her weakness. In that sense, she might be a very weak character compared to how she actually acts. The Princess is a character that doesn't give up. She uses lies in order to keep herself in the game, and she has worked hard to maintain her status. In that sense, she is a very hard-working, not-giving-up character, with lots of efforts, and she is all about perseverance, too. Beatrice—you could explain her as loyalty. She is loyal to her Princess, and in one word she'll always be going like "Princess!" Dorothy is the big sister kind of character. Because lots of the other girls are relatively young, she's the older, trustworthy sister kind of character. And Chise is the samurai! Easy right?

Historically, women have been involved behind the scenes as spies during wartime. Did you do any research on historical female espionage for Princess Principal?

We came up with the world and the settings first, and the research actually was done by Seiichi Shirato, who is our researcher, and he is really knowledgeable about history, and especially about history around the Victorian Age. So we actually took our ideas of the world and the settings, and what we wanted to do, like say the key words of "girls" and "spies," and we asked him: are there any historical backgrounds we would want to reference in order to put this world into action? So he came up with lots of interesting historical facts and photos, and that's what we referenced to get this world going.

Are there any real-life female spies that you did research on?

We did do some research into actual female spies, like say, Mata Hari, whom you might know as the historical female espionage personnel. But we actually didn't use her specific case because, although we had researched her, we didn't use her specifically. So in that sense, yes, there were historical figures that we specifically researched, but they didn't make a huge footprint in the characters.

How would you describe the very close relationship between Ange and the Princess? Would it be appropriate for viewers to interpret as romantic?

Ange, during her younger days, was at a point when she just wanted to disappear, cease to exist. But what became her light was the Princess. That's the reason why she kind of became what she is, and Ange thinks that the reason for her existence is the Princess. So in that sense, their relationship is a lot more based on trust and friendship, and as the creators, we didn't intend on putting in romantic elements into their relationship, but then if we say everything in black and white terms, that's no fun too, right? So the best way I can put it is, we leave it up to your imaginations.

There are several instances in the narrative of women working together to survive, to support each other, and to work towards a common goal. This is a very feminist message (and we at Geeks OUT like that a lot.) What other messages do you believe we can take away from Princess Principal?

So the initial idea about the show as you had mentioned is about cute girls doing spy things, and for that, all the characters are spies, not because they wished to be spies, but there were situations that got them into becoming spies. None of them really wished for it. So in a sense, they are pulled into fate's fingers, but they oppose the many hardships they come by, and they struggle to live, as you mentioned, they come together to make miracles happen so they could all live on. And that last part is the message that I wanted to pass on, the struggle to live, to not lose hope. I wish the audience could take that message from Princess Principal.

Support a second season of Princess Principal by purchasing the series on DVD and legal streaming services!