As previous history with Princess Principal has indicated thus far, the show has kept consistent with its character explorations with each passing episode, especially if we consider the bombshell that episode eight was. Episode nine chooses to focus once again on the combat expert and resident Nihonjin of the spies, Chise. We already had a pretty solid episode of development dedicated to her earlier in the season, wherein which she faced off with and slayed her father-turned-traitor, and we saw a distinctly human side of her by the end of it. That episode focused somewhat on integrating her into the team, and in many ways, this episode is largely the same, thematically. However, we learn far more about Chise in relation to her Japanese pride and heritage, and how that comes into play with her work as a spy. In a way, though, this episode serves as a deep dive into the character of Princess, as well, using the events of last week as a frame of reference.
What immediately sets this episode apart from its predecessors is that the entire episode, from the get-go, is framed as a letter written by Chise to her elder sister. She writes to her sister about all sorts of things – the awful food the foreigners have in their land, her missions she takes on as a spy, and above all else, her desire to be useful. This episode takes place not long after Chise is brought into the fold, so she has not been with Princess and the gang for any great length of time. Chise, as we have seen through the series, is a very direct, no-nonsense type of person in varying circumstances, and is much more comfortable resolving issues that arise through force than through subterfuge or mental gymnastics. Her major skills rely on her skill in combat, and as many of the missions the spies participate in are quiet affairs, Chise does not often have opportunities to strut her stuff and let loose. Often, the crew has her on standby, in case the mission gets out of hand and things go loud. Not all of the crew gets to do their thing all of the time, of course, but with Chise having grown up in a culture of honor and pride, her desire to do so and to show her worth weighs heavily on her mind. Beyond the desire to be useful to her compatriots, her personal emphasis on honor drives her to also want to be useful to her home nation, as well. Wanting to be useful to her crew is a major aspect, but her mission to determine whether Operation Changeling can even succeed has, essentially, the fate of her homeland resting in the balance. In that sense, her desire to be useful to her homeland, and by extension, to her spy crew, makes a great deal of sense.
Despite living in Albion, Chise harbors great love for and a desire to see her home again, in part because she is often treated as an outsider in Albion, or completely misunderstood. We see Chise deal with some serious prejudice in this episode, being called an Oriental by some snooty academy boys, as if she were sub-human. The insult to her personal honor is heavy, but when they insult her homeland, she does not stand for it, challenging their ringleader to a duel. These kids, who know nothing of her country, dare to mock and scorn it? It is out of the question. She is reminded by Ange, however, that it is also out of the question for spies to stand out, or to draw attention to themselves. In this, Chise has found herself in a conflict of interests: to be useful to her home, she must defend its honor; to defend its honor, she must stand out; and to stand out, she is making herself less useful as a spy, paradoxically making herself less useful to her home. It is this odd situation that Chise seems to find herself in.
Given the revelations of last week’s episode, it is only fitting that Princess is the one that steps up to help Chise. Princess fully understands what it is like being completely out of one’s depth, in a new place, where you have to re-learn everything from scratch. In many ways, and in this especially, Chise and Princess are stunningly alike – they are both outsiders, for one, and have had to take lengthy adjustment periods to come to where they currently are. Beyond that, however, Princess’ motivations very much mirror those of Chise, in that she desires to be useful both to her country, as well as to her crew. Princess pushes at every opportunity to help with the crew’s spy work, even when they insist that she does not take part in it. She feels that she needs to contribute beyond being a good cover for the girls, and feels stifled when she is sent to essentially be on royal standby duty. Even more than that, however, is Princess’ intense desire to become queen of Albion, and to be the ruling body that her country needs her to be so badly. With these deep connected motivations and rough patches that they have both experienced, it only makes sense, then, that Princess would be very keen on Chise’s slow adjustment to the ways of Albion, and for her need of guidance. After Chise is reprimanded by Ange for not carefully picking her battles, Princess meets with Chise privately and explains to her Albion’s rules for dueling, actually sets up a duel for her with the young man that insulted her honor, and even is present at the duel to help officiate it. Even though Princess does not yet fully understand Chise’s culture, she realizes the adjustment issues that Chise is having, and she tries her best to be of use to her crew in this, one of the only ways she knows how.
We also have to give the rest of the crew credit, as well. After Chise’s incredible dueling victory, despite her opponent rigging the duel against her, the spies celebrate Chise’s win with a sumo wrestling ring-entering ceremony, which they mistake for a samurai’s duel victory celebration ceremony, as they put it. Even though Chise says for what seems like the thousandth time this episode that her culture is completely unknown to those in Albion, she laughs about it, which is a rarity when it comes to Chise. Even though the crew is laughably off-base with their attempt, they at least made one, and to Chise, that is as good as a full acceptance into the crew and a sign of their respect and fondness for her. Not only that, though, but it is an acceptance of her status as the loud, brash, not-so-subtle spy of the crew.
I think this episode is one that was definitely needed to give us more perspective on Chise and her position in the crew, as well as a perspective on the crew’s ties to one another and their efforts to understand each other. Beyond that, though, this episode was a welcome addition as a proper follow-up to last episode’s work with Princess. As the series starts to wind down in the coming weeks, I hope to see more connections like this, but at this point, I fully trust the show to take us wherever it will lead us.