Princess Arete has a very deliberate pace and really sets into a mood of its own. The princess is courted by suitors at a young age by knights or princes who are determined to win her hand in marriage for the wealth they would gain. Now, imagine being a STUDIO 4℃ fan and having to wait for the DVDs to come through in the way they did in America for Studio Ghibli or anything else of obvious quality, and now you have an idea of the frustration many animation fans feel about this work. The character Arete is quite possibly the most well written and fleshed out female character I’ve come across in anime. She’s a symbol for the feminist aspect of the story. She hates her patriarchal overbearers who keep her locked away in a tower and use her name to amass riches and treasures from suitors desperate for power.
Despite being made in 2001 it has a rather old fashioned feel. The character design and art direction has the feel of an ‘80s anime which is a period of Japanese animation I am particularly fond of so it was nice to see referenced here. The hints of magic and the fantastical are well realised particularly during the film’s final third where Arete escapes her confinement and the story builds to a satisfying climax. Princess Arete is an interesting but flawed fable that is saved by compelling characters, charming art direction and several standout sequences.
Overall the film is imbued with meaning, and while it might not be the most entertaining work (on the surface it seems like a lesser Miyazaki immitation), it certainly is successful in making some well aimed comments about society’s treatment and perception of women. The ‘princess-in-a-tower’ framework gives it a familiar feel that can appeal to young and adult audiences, and the ultimately optimistic outcome without a traditional ‘defeat of evil’ ending (but rather a ‘compassion with evil and understanding of their situation’) serves to make it a work that makes us think about the stereotypical boilerplate stories that we’ve grown with. As always, the Studio 4°C animation fits well with the subject matter, and nicely integrates aesthetic with idea to create one cohesive whole.Please enter the url to a YouTube video.
In fact, writer-director Sunao Katabuchi – who was an assistant director on Kiki’s Delivery Service and with a source novel (“The Clever Princess” by Diana Coles) drawn from English children’s literature; a bright, independent-minded heroine; lush, evocative animation that merges medieval designs with steampunk fantasy (Boax’s flying machine resembles Leonardo Da Vinci’s helicopter); and a borderline Marxist subtext – the Ghibli influence is heavily apparent. Yet far from mere pastiche, Princess Arete is an enthralling, substantial piece of work. More a fantasy drama than an adventure romp, the slow pace and unconventional plotting, coupled with a tendency to let viewers figure things out for themselves, may alienate some children and steadfast action fans. Frankly, it’s their loss.