Title: Princess Jellyfish (Kuragehime 海月姫)
Mangaka: Akiko Higashimura (東村 アキコ)
US Publisher: Kodansha USA
Age Relevance: High School, Adult
How Essential Is It?: Nice to Have
Curricular Connections?: N/A
Reader’s Advisory Tags: gender, gender nonconforming, identity, fashion, early adulthood, anxiety
Live-Action: Rakuten Viki
Content Warnings: A major plotline consists of a female character drugging a male character and tricking him into believing they had sex while he was intoxicated. She regularly sexually harasses him and blackmails him as a result. This is seen as a villainous action, and there are consequences. There’s also an age gap between Tsukimi and one of her love interests that some find objectionable, but he is not the main love interest.
Princess Jellyfish is a delightful josei manga that happens to be on my list of favorites. It focuses on the denizens of Amamizukan, an apartment building in Tokyo. These tenants are all NEETs (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) who each have their own point of fixation. The tenants call themselves “Amars” (nuns) because they have a severe aversion to men. The tenants have their world turned upside down when Tsukimi, the youngest tenant and a jellyfish enthusiast, meets Kuranosuke. When Tsukimi meets Kuranosuke, he is cross-dressing. Mistaking (or acknowledging) him as a woman, Tsukimi enlists his help in rescuing a jellyfish who is being mistreated at the local pet shop. After Kuranosuke winds up crashing at Amamizukan following the rescue, Tsukimi discovers that Kuranosuke is in fact a man who simply enjoys wearing women’s fashion. What follows is a romp as Kuranosuke eventually teams up with the Amars to save their home and start a fashion line, inspired by Tsukimi’s drawings of jellyfish.
What makes Princess Jellyfish unique is its treatment of gender and identity. Tsukimi and the other Amars are not fashionable women, and for the most part, don’t really care that they are not “stylish”. Kuranosuke is the one most concerned with beauty and fashion, and he has to learn that the Amars are never going to conform to the standards of beauty that he values. While there are makeover moments, the characters are frequently uncomfortable with them, and the makeover doesn’t stick past the moment. However, there is a moment where Kuranosuke explains to the Amars the positive element of engaging in fashion and female performance (which is affirming to those who chose to present in feminine ways).
When it comes to Kuranosuke’s gender expression, he is obviously gender-nonconforming, although the text never uses those terms. While he ultimately falls in love with Tsukimi, it doesn’t deter him from expressing his love for feminine fashion, and it doesn’t go away to make him “straighter”.
The Amars grow through the expansion of their horizons, and Kuranosuke learns to relate to people more deeply.
The other important element is how the text deals with the characters’ anxieties and fears. It’s clear that Tsukimi and the others have varying degrees of social anxiety that is detrimental to their personal growth. There’s no magic wand that makes it go away. Rather, they grow to the extent that each character is comfortable with, and throughout the series establish boundaries.
Also, romance is a theme in this manga, but it’s important to note that it never gets a formal resolution. Throughout the manga, Tsukimi becomes the center of a triangle between Kuranosuke and his older brother, Shū (and at least one other character becomes interested in her). Initially, Shū is interested in an idealized version of Tsukimi that he saw after one of Kuranosuke’s makeovers of Tsukimi. However, he learns to see Tsukimi as a whole person, and not so idealized. Both brothers come to love Tsukimi even as a socially awkward girl in sweats… and Tsukimi realizes that she needs to figure out her emotional self before she can commit to any relationship.
This is not to say Princess Jellyfish is a perfect text. There are moments of sexual harassment, and at one point Tsukimi is forcibly kissed against her will by another character. However, each of those incidents is seen as clearly wrong and as a violation.
Additionally, because I am not trans, I would like to offer this perspective from a trans woman: Trans Women in Media: Kuranosuke Koibuchi.
So, should you buy this manga for your collection? I’d say that it’s a great addition to your high school collection. It might be good for middle school, but I’d be a little cautious because of the plotline regarding the blackmailing of Shū by a woman who convinces him they had intercourse. You also may be in a more conservative school or district than myself, and the queer themes could bring challenges from parents or administration. I myself believe that we have a responsibility to our gender nonconforming students to show them representations of characters that are like them, but you know your school culture better than I do, and should make a judgment that best serves your community.
At its heart, this is a story about a group of people coming together to create things, protect their home, and achieve personal growth. Also, the art is gorgeous!