Exciting news from the manga world: Vertical, Inc. just announced that it will be publishing Osamu Tezuka’s Princess Knight, one of Japan’s most beloved comics for girls.
If you’re familiar with Vertical’s catalog, you know that Vertical has translated more of Tezuka’s work than any other American publisher, focusing on mature fare such as Ayako, Black Jack, MW, and Ode to Kirihito. Anyone familiar with Tezuka’s career, however, knows that he was also a creator of children’s comics, among them New Treasure Island, Jungle Emperor Leo, and The Three-Eyed One. Despite his sizable body of work for young readers, only Astro Boy, Dororo, and the Nextworld trilogy have been translated into English — until now.
Princess Knight first appeared in the pages of Shojo Club magazine in 1953. Serialized in three- and four-page installments, it followed the adventures of Sapphire, a young noblewoman born with both a male and a female heart. Sapphire is raised as a boy — girls can’t inherit the throne in her kingdom — but secretly longs to embrace her feminine side and wear ballgowns and flirt with Franz Charming, a prince from a neighboring country. The death of her father, however, sends her down a different path: she dons a mask and cape, assumes the name “The Phantom Knight,” and fights hard to protect her kingdom from the wicked Duke Duralumon, who installs his half-wit son on the throne.
Tezuka’s original series proved so popular that he revisited the material three more times. He penned a sequel, Twin Knight, in the late 1950s, then revised the story twice, first for Nakayoshi magazine (1963-66) and second for Shojo Friend (1967-68). In 2001, Kodansha International released a bilingual edition of the 1963 version. As the sometimes colorful translation attests, the series was aimed at adult language students, not children. The edition quickly went out of print, leaving English speakers few options for reading Tezuka’s story. The now-defunct Shojo Beat magazine reprinted two chapters from the Shojo Club edition in its July 2007 edition, leading to speculation that VIZ had licensed the series. No edition was forthcoming, however.
Though the Nakayoshi version is generally considered the definitive edition, Vertical decided to license the more historically important Shojo Club edition. Anime News Network reports that:
Vertical will publish Princess Knight in two volumes: the first, about 384 pages long, on October 4, and the second, about 330 pages long, on December 6. Both books will carry a suggested retail price of US $13.95. The books will be the same trim size as Dororo and Black Jack.
As someone with a keen interest in manga’s history, I’m delighted that this groundbreaking series has finally been licensed for the US market. Tezuka may not have invented shojo manga, but Princess Knight helped transform the medium, paving the way for the magical girls and supernatural warriors found in such modern series as Mistress Fortune, Fushigi Yuugi, and Cardcaptor Sakura.
As someone who spends a lot of time recommending books for children, however, this license makes me even happier: it’s a fun, swashbuckling adventure with a sprinkling of romance, making it a perfect read for elementary school girls.
For readers wishing to learn more about the series, I’ve written a lengthier review-essay at my own site, The Manga Critic.