Based on initial impressions from the first episode, the 2013 animated series Majestic Prince is unashamedly, and in most entertaining fashion, a cartoon. Its characters warp and stretch and deform for comic effect, it is populated by caricatures and it plays with screen space in a comic-book esque way. This, in many ways, contributes to its strength as an entry in the “real robot” genre; it is a parody by virtue of its unquestioning adherence to the traditions of its genre set within a visually absurd framework. If anything, its closest analogue would be an OVA like ARIEL or Shooting Star Gakusaver, both of which are interested in highlighting the absurdities of their genre.
Majestic Prince‘s first episode rushes through every plot point a mecha animé needs to in its first episode, introducing the characters, the conflict and the machines in precisely the order the viewer expects, using the narrative beats that the viewer expects. The unassuming protagonists, a group of military academy dropouts and idiots, are given a mission of utmost importance by a cryptic commander and tasked with saving a human stronghold from an overwhelmingly powerful alien threat. It is a narrative tradition that is a direct use of the opening plot points of Mobile Suit Gundam, taken beyond the credible unassuming hero story into the absurd. In many ways it thus evokes Martian Successor Nadesico, which began with a very similar premise – what if the expected archetypes of a mecha animé were in fact completely unsuited to their roles. Yet where Majestic Prince differs from most genre parodies of this sort – indeed differing from Nadesico, or the similar Irresponsible Captain Tylor – is that it does not build some anticlimactic narrative reason for the cast to be buffoons, it simply establishes that they are and continues as if they were not. In Nadesico, a ridiculous exaggeration of mecha animé politicking leads to the inexperience Yurika taking control of a ship and going rogue with the ship’s cook forced into a pilot’s role alongside his wingman, an obnoxious TV addict. Majestic Prince simply has its ship-captain choose his squad for the apparent suicide mission from the protagonists in a plot turn that evokes more than anything Coach’s almost inexplicable relationship with Noriko in Aim for the Top! Gunbuster.
The humour of the situation comes not from the contrivances and extended jokes that account for why the protagonists are unsuitable (as Nadesico‘s opening does, for example by showing the engineer Uribatake’s home life) but that the protagonists themselves do so; they are endearingly, almost believably, inept, realise this, and make the best of it. Were they capable pilots, the opening episode of Majestic Prince could play out exactly the same and be an entirely unremarkable real-robot animé concerning an alien attack on humanity. This works, arguably, because the focus of the episode almost never leaves the protagonists save for the scenes which contextualise their fight. It does not establish boot-camp rivalries specifically by introducing bullies or rivals, although it demonstrates they exist with a training exercise sequence. It does not set the ship-captain against the authorities, although it does show that he is a maverick in other ways.
The episode has a consistent forward motion built around how predictable a mecha animé opening episode often is; that someone who has seen a show in the same genre can predict what will happen is almost taken as a given by the series’ writers and allows for the emphasis to be on quickly establishing those things that will differ between series – the nature of the combat, and the nature of the specific characters. Here the caricature-like style, all absurd reactions and fluid anatomy, works. Genre comedy is often based around placing amusing archetypes in situations and so the emphasis on showing how the team at the heart of Majestic Prince interact with each other and their superiors is ultimately establishing what matters most about the series. The entire setting, as it is established in this opening episode, seems so standard as to be almost highlighting how it is not the thing to worry about here and instead drawing attention to the comedy elements. Yet the comedy itself is not genre-specific to any great extent. Any referential humour is non-specific, highlighting the absurdities of the genre as a whole (and indeed referring to cliches that perhaps have fallen out of favour in actuality, yet remain in the viewer’s mind) and so associations with past series are based entirely on the viewer’s pop-cultural touchstones. While it is possible to spot how Majestic Prince does riff on Gundam, or Gunbuster, or Nadesico, it does so in ways that do not require knowledge of those specific examples. It alludes, thus, to genre tropes not specific examples of those tropes being deployed. Similarly, the reliance on physical and visual humour – and simple character humour based on archetypal characters across genres – makes the whole funny beyond being a parade of references.
It is often said that comedy science-fiction either fails as comedy because it relies too much on direct allusion, or as science-fiction because it relies too much on being funny. Majestic Prince looks to fall, for better or worse, in the middle. It may prove too unambitious in its reliance on proceeding in stock mecha animé plot form to carry the character humour and appeal to fans of mecha animé looking for a comedy based on a favoured genre, or the character humour may not develop beyond the broad-strokes archetypes that currently exist in an attempt to avoid direct allusion to keep the interest of non-fans of mecha animé looking for a new comedy to watch. Yet that said, the first episode was amusing, on a level beyond the simple funny faces and pratfalls – and its grasp of genre specifics in its use of mechanical design was attractive and interesting.