What’s it about? When Ani, the crown princess of the tiny nation of Inaco, goes to a neighboring country to sign a vital peace treaty, she’s bombarded with idiot pretty-boys and really just wants to get back home—but her politically savvy mother has other plans for her.
I can’t believe I’m saying this for the second season in a row, but here it is again, folks: a fun, well-made otome visual novel adaptation. However, unlike last season’s Code: Realize, an action-adventure story that mostly played the genre straight, DamePri looks to be a full-on comedy and loving parody of otome games. If Code: Realize was The Unicorn, then DamePri is Garyl the Beautiful Binicorn. It is the Ouran High of otome VNs and I loved it with all my heart. ‘Scuse me while I bust out the biscuits, ’cause this premiere was 100% my jam.
In broad terms, DamePri (pronounced like the Japanese “damé,” not the English “dame”) is the story of a diplomatic princess who’s found herself at the center of a harem and super doesn’t want to be. Not that you can blame her—all her potential suitors are sparkling idiots, and she has a perfectly nice childhood
friend knight to hang out with already. Much of the premiere’s humor and conflict comes from this personality clash, as one over-the-top boy after another comes glittering across Ani’s path and she is 1000% done with all of them.
I want to save talking about our excellent protagonist for last, so we’ll start with those boys. As that dame in the title assures us, they are trash, but thankfully not garbage. They’re airheads, egomaniacs, and hopeless flirts, but they’re never predatory, and I suspect they’ll all end up being basically decent guys.
The episode plays them with gleeful absurdity and ensures Ani is always more-or-less in control of her interactions with them, making them enjoyable clowns and worthy-but-harmless foils to our practical heroine. DamePri will likely have to develop them into actual characters at some point to keep the series from becoming too one-note (and there are hints that they intend to do just that), but for now they make for delightful punchlines.
“Becoming too one-note” is my chief concern for DamePri going forward, but thankfully there are glimmers in this premiere that the show is going to be more than just a sequence of gags. There are schemes at work in all three nations, providing lots of potential for this to turn into an extended political game as the various royals and aristocrats vie for power.
Ani’s mother is clearly the mastermind in Inaco, but there are also suggestions that several of our boys have plans of their own and that some may not be as empty-headed as they seem. There are a lot of parts and pieces glimpsed between all the jokes, and how DamePri moves forward with those pieces could make this not only a funny series, but a narratively compelling one, too.
There’s the definite sense that folks put genuine thought and care into this series, and that shines through in the production itself. While the setting is fairly standard European-style fantasy, the background art and architecture help give each location an immediate sense of personality, from the grand but cold gardens of Selenfalen to the rustic, cozy halls of Inaco Palace.
The animation isn’t flashy, but the storyboards are solid and sometimes damn good, and the art establishes characters well, particularly when it comes to Ani’s more restrained reactions. She’s desperately trying to stay composed even as she becomes more and more annoyed with the boys around her, and the animators convey that with subtle clarity.
It’s also a clever production, which goes a long way toward helping the audience buy into this ridiculous pretty-boy-laden world. There are some great tongue-in-cheek and meta-gags throughout, such as the dialogue options that display above Ani’s head when she’s torn on how to respond to an awkward situation or the “Who’s That Pokemon”-style eye catches featuring the boys in pin-up poses. This is Hoshino Makoto‘s first time as a series director, but I’m already excited to see more.
All of that is great, of course, and helps separate DamePri from the pack, but where this premiere really shines is its female protagonist. Otome VNs tend to have blank-slate leads that act as a self-insert for the player, relying on the boys’ development to carry the story. DamePri dispenses with that convention in favor of a magnificently layered main character who can hold her own and has zero time for all these noble yahoos.
Ani is keenly aware of her position as the crown princess of a relatively weak nation and handles herself with restraint and diplomacy throughout her visit, but she’s no pushover, either. She politely but bluntly shoots down the boys’ more absurd offers and calls them out any time they stray too far into Harem Trope Land.
She’s not so much “patient” as she is “strategic,” a responsible but perpetually annoyed young woman trying to do what’s best for her country without becoming a doormat in the process. She’s clever and pragmatic and firm, and it gives me hope that if the series does become a political power game, Ani will be more than capable of handling herself.
Do I have any critiques? Uh, I mean, I’m always low-key annoyed that most series in this genre don’t have any queer romantic options… although at this point I’m not even sure DamePri is going to be a romance, and I sort of hope it won’t be. Also, Ani’s parents do slot into gender-normative roles, with her dad as the brawn and her mom as the brains… but I love Ani’s sweetly smiling evil genius mother so much that it’s hard for me to really care about that, either.
So. Er. No, not really. No real critiques. What can I say? DamePri was made for me. I laughed a lot and can’t wait for more. If it can keep up this charm and comedic energy, it’s well on its way to being my surprise favorite of the season. Fingers crossed, folks.