By Misaho Kujiradou, Courtney Love & D.J. Milky
Released by TokyoPop
Slugline: If half the effort that went into design of cosplay friendly costumes went into the story, this would have been truly epic.
All three volumes of the original Princess Ai series are collected into this single volume. The story in volume one is pretty feels pretty different from the others, in which an amnesiac Ai arrives in Tokyo, met her friend Kent and is discovered in a club singing, with Ai's rival of this volume disappearing its end. The second volume is about Ai's preparation for pop stardom culminating with her first live performance on TV while the last volume is the increasing success of Ai and her world tour, culminating in a final stadium show where all of the story threads come together.
I didn't mean to snark so heavily on the costumes in the slugline, but each of Princess Ai's outfits are shown clearly, almost always full page. And they are pretty interesting so that you can understand why in the back of the volume there are photos from the Princess Ai cosplay contest that TokyoPop had. But the costume visuals, they are confined to the main character Ai with none of the other characters having such distinctive looks, and the art, while nice, failed to excite me. The story, with its subtext about the other world, the slavery, the torture and so on, well it remains in the other world of the main action of the story we see, so we never see the real stakes or truly feels why Princess Ai is chased and considered dangerous, so it becomes abstract and a distant threat. Even the scenes in the other world are shadowy and dark, so all you see is the characters in the other world, not their environment. We really needed to see more, to understand the stakes that are driving the characters. The main opponent of the first two volumes converts to being an ally rather quickly, even for manga. And the threat from this world that Ai faces, she is never even really made aware of it so she can't really struggle against it. There are some good scenes, such as the killing of supporting character who stays dead, but they are countered with the utter predictability of another character's survival, Ai's leaving at the end of the story and the true nature of Ai.
Princess Ai: The Ultimate Edition is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.