We remember the great battles and generals of the Sengoku Jidai, but in this era of great strife, many smaller stories went unnoticed. In a tiny fiefdom far away from the main conflicts, young princess Rangiku Ayawatari finds herself homeless and orphaned. Left with nowhere else to go, she seeks out the help of a legendary ninja to help avenge her slaughtered family. Sadly, the only ninja available is the vagrant Manajiri.
Though Rangiku is a precious girl with an overabundance of kindness, she is not helpless in the slightest. She carries a massive box on her back which contain a number of enormous puppets styled after different warriors. With an intricate device, she can control these puppets and take on entire armies alone. The only problem is that this leaves her stationary and unable to defend herself. She is a one-woman army with a fatal drawback.
This is where Manajiri comes in. He has to defend the princess while she fights off the actual enemies and plot a way to keep her mobile. However, Manajiri initially comes off as quite the scumbag. He is vulgar and disloyal, with a dash of lechery on top. Deliberating on how best to betray the princess is pretty much his go-to line of thinking, yet something in her speaks to him on a deeper level. Every time he’s ready to hatch a plot, his will falters the moment he looks at her.
His bastardly behavior forms a nice contrast to Rangiku’s pure goodness, which in turn drives their respective character arcs as the two begin to learn from each other. Overall, I enjoyed the story quite a lot. It’s interesting and has the right balance between grim revenge plot, character development, and comedic asides.
In terms of action, Puppet Princess is more a mixed bag. It has the gore of a typical grimdark OVA, matched with a more tragic depiction of life in feudal Japan. You’ll get gushes of blood and people being cut to pieces, but nothing that compares to the gorier action anime that characterized much of the 80s and 90s. At the same time, a lot of action shots notably cheap out on animation; often slowing down movement or removing backgrounds entirely.
On the other hand, the puppets compensate for a lot of these visual shortcomings. They are well-designed and often impressively-animated, leading to fight scenes that look a lot cooler than anything involving Manajiri. Seeing how Rangiku operates them is also very cool and brings out a very different side of the innocent maiden.
Puppet Princess is a reliable 7/10 anime to me. I had a great time with it and was fascinated by its story, but do have to admit that it has a slow start and doesn’t always look the best. A recommendation goes out to fans of old school OVAs and those looking for an action anime with a strong concept at its center. For a somewhat similar theme—albeit in a modern setting—check out Black Magic M-66.