LGBTQ Manga Book Club: Princess Knight


For August, the LGBTQ Manga Book Club will be having a change of pace. Our previous three books have been recent manga by LGBTQ authors, but this month we’ll be looking at a classic manga through a lens of current understanding of gender and LGBTQ concepts. It’s Princess Knight (volumes one and two) by Osamu Tezuka! Both volumes are available in English as translated by Maya Rosewood in paperback and digital from Vertical Inc. The manga follows Sapphire, a fifteen year old girl who was accidentally born with a “boy heart” and a “girl heart” given by God and his angels. She lives as a princess in private, but a prince in public to maintain the throne. Of course, be warned the story invokes gender essentialism and heteronormativity.

Background Information

Osamu Tezuka was born in 1928 in Toyonaka, Japan and shortly moved with his family to Takarazuka City. He originally was on the path of medicine, but broke into manga in the late 1940s to early 1950s and would became known as “the god of manga” for his popularity and influence (and thanks to mainstream favoring men mangaka). Tezuka’s large body of work is known for its cinematic paneling, Disney-inspired aesthetic, recurring gags and character designs, and variety of genres from whimsical adventures to political dramas.

Tezuka was influenced by the Takarazuka Revue, the local Western-style musical theater troupe with all woman performers, to create Princess Knight (AKA Knight of Ribbons in Japan). Specifically Sapphire was inspired by the otokoyaku, the women who exclusively play the roles of men. Princess Knight was originally serialized from 1953 to 1956 in the manga magazine Shoujo Club, but this version of the story is not available in English. In 1963 it was remade to serialize in Nakayoshi, another shoujo magazine, which is the version for our book club. Luckily for English speakers, the Nakayoshi run is considered the definitive Princess Knight. It was also the basis of the 1967-8 anime adaptation. The series remains one of Tezuka’s most popular creations and led to more story-driven shoujo manga, rather than those made up of gags or behavior lessons. Sapphire influenced future princely heroines like Oscar of The Rose of Versailles and Utena of Revolutionary Girl Utena. (Fun fact: the Takarazuka influence on Princess Knight came full circle when the troupe’s adaptation of The Rose of Versailles saved them from bankruptcy in the 1970s!) Princess Knight was followed by the The Twin Knights in 1958, also available in English from Vertical Inc.

Further Reading

Discussion Questions

  1. What are your overall thoughts on the book? How did reading it make you feel? What chapter or moment stood out to you?
  2. Tezuka remade Princess Knight when his personal style was fleshed out, after the original run was heavy influenced by Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, though the influence remains. What do you think of the artwork? How does the fairytale aesthetic interact with the exploration of gender?
  3. Biological theories of gender ascribe gender to the body: hormones, chromosomes, body parts, etc. These theories are related to biological determinism, cissexism, and gender essentialism. How is gender portrayed as biological in Princess Knight and what do you think of it?
  4. Gender and sex are actually socially constructed, meaning they are created through social interaction. They are categories defined differently across societies and histories. How is gender portrayed as a social construct in Princess Knight and what do you think of it?
  5. In Princess Knight, a boy heart bestows bravery and a girl heart bestows grace. How and when are these qualities present in the characters? How and when are they not? How does this define the gender of the characters and gender in general according to Tezuka?
  6. By possessing a boy heart and a girl heart, Sapphire could be considered a nonbinary character. She ponders her gender identity throughout the manga, and decides on being a girl. What do you make of Sapphire’s gender situation and journey?
  7. Princess Knight contains an array of romance: Sapphire/”the flaxen-haired maiden” and Franz, Hecate and Franz, Sapphire and Blood, Sapphire and Friebe, Venus and Franz. How is gender at play in these relationships? What do they say about how gender and attraction are connected in the manga?
  8. How do the gender roles and/or use of cross-dressing in Princess Knight compare to modern manga?
  9. Any other thoughts?
  10. Any discussion questions you have for fellow book club members?

You may answer as many or as few questions as you like.