It's time to envision the most stereotypical anime possible. It's got to have a shapely girl with big eyes and an unusual haircut. She's got to be forceful and aggressive, yet shy and vulnerable. Her color should be red and she should probably be the main character. The heroine must be a student no older than high school. There must, of course, be a cool guy as a love interest. He must, in turn, be part of a love triangle. This must have something to do with saving the world. There must be magic. There must be a great malignant power working from the shadows. There must be a cute mascot who offers the main character encouragement in good times and in bad. There must also be service.
In 1996, Bandai Visual did something rather unusual. Summoning two teams of its crack creative talent, it directed both of them to make anime based on the above formula. The result was a pair of twin 6-part OVA series that became Bandai's flagship direct-to-video releases for the next two years. One of them focused on comedy, bright visual imagery, and service -- the Abel series already underway at CJAS: Mahou Tsukai-tai! The other team opted for a much darker exploration of its characters and the way their special powers and special relationships impact themselves and their world. Where Mahou-Tai was bright and flashy, the twin was subdued and phantasmagoric. Where Mahou-Tai's magic was whimsical and even wonderful, the twin's magic was shadowy and tinged with dread. Both series contain sexuality: but where Mahou-Tai deployed it mainly for fun, its twin used it in deadly earnest. The name given to this Cain series was Shamanic Princess.
As the curtain rises on the story, we immediately begin to feel the rich tapestry of life, death, and the struggle between them. Tiara, an emissary from another world, arrives on Earth in search of a stolen artifact from her home. She is assailed by a strange foe within moments, her supernaturally powerful (and talkative) familiar defeating it with ease -- perhaps too much ease. The lavishly painted backgrounds and carefully sculpted character animation seem to echo the sentiment in Tiara's words, that this is merely the beginning of something very, very big. As the story progresses and events become complicated by the addition of other characters from the Guardian World, Tiara is quickly brought face to face not only with the prospect of combat in the world without, but of combat within herself. With her own feelings.
Shamanic Princess is a feast both for the senses and for the intellect. Its beautiful artwork and spectacular animation are stunning even from names the anime industry has come to equate with quality: Animate Film and Bandai. The soundtrack is a bewitching mix of almost primal percussion and ethereal instrumentals. There is ceremony and ritual graven into every line and brush stroke and trill of this series. And ultimately, this lush environment is not the means in and of itself, but is the vehicle to bring the true point of the story, the characters, home to us.
Shamanic Princess is not about the struggle between good and evil. It is a show about people, striving to do what they believe is right in a world that offers power with one hand and delivers death with the other. How those people try to live, and love, is the magic ingredient that makes this intoxicating animation complete.