Princess Ai image.

Love, Conflict and Song

The arrival of a new obsession

by Patrick King

Everybody wants to be a rock star. Much like last month's feature on Kaleido Stage, which made me feel as if I wanted to be a circus performer, this month, I'm getting the bug for a different sort of performance.

Princess Ai is an entirely new sort of collaboration for the manga industry. Princess Ai is mostly the brainchild of Courtney Love, who rose to stardom as the lead singer for Hole. It was created from character designs courtesy of Ai Yazawa, author and illustrator of the excellent Paradise Kiss manga, though most of the story ideas that didn't come from Love originated from D.J. Milky.

You may not be familiar with D.J. Milky's work, but if you've seen the TOKYOPOP versions of GTO, Initial D, Reign, or Rave Master than you most likely have run into some of Milky's songs.

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Potentially the most overlooked contributor to this project, at least stateside, is Misaho Kujiradou, the skillful manga-ka who actually wrote the final story, dialogue, and created the illustrations for Love, Milky, and Yazawa's collective vision.

Altogether this sort of project is not common, though if it ends up as a success, we can hope to see more like it in the future.

It is no coincidence that the name of the main character in this series is Ai. Readers out there with some Japanese experience will know that Ai is Japanese for "love," drawing the first of many obvious ties to the fictional Ai and real-life rocker, Courtney Love. Naturally, the nice, young, brilliant guitarist Ai takes a liking to is named Kent. If you haven't yet made the connection, think back to the mainstream arrival of grunge rock and a song that centered on Teen Spirit.

If you're not too fond of Courtney Love, then fear not - this story is in no way autobiographical. It's inspired mostly by the image she wants to project - not the image she's been touting unintentionally with her various run-ins with the law.

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In this tale, which is a blend of fantasy and romance, Princess Ai is from a world apart from Earth. However, when she arrives on our planet in Tokyo, she doesn't remember much about her origins. Her tattered attire, beautiful body, and blonde hair instantly attracts the attention of every man (and a few of the women) who walk by. Yet, she wanders down the street without noticing, concerned more about why she woke up on Earth than the number of people staring at her.

She's snapped back to her immediate surroundings when a would-be thief grabs the only possession she has on her and starts running.

The robber is stopped in his tracks by Kent, though the spunky Ai would most likely have run down the criminal and beat the stuffing out of him had Kent not halted him first.

Lost, confused, and unabashedly attracted to Kent, she follows the young man to the school library where he works.

There, she finds a book that sparks her memories of her homeland, Ai-land, and her status as the princess of that alien world.

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Ai is fiercely independent, but without a home on Earth, and thus she falls asleep in the small patch of trees outside the library.

She wakes up, surprised, in Kent's apartment. This is when Kent truly proves his chivalry, for he carried Ai to his place without any intention of getting her out of her tattered clothing. He is quiet and reserved, but behavior such as this shows that Kent is a good person with strong moral values.

Not wanting to burden others with her situation, Ai hits the streets in search of a job. An impromptu song with backup from a street guitarist catches the attention of a passing businessman who suggests Ai work for his club. Club Cupid, while catering to a higher class of patrons than most places, is really nothing more than a fancy strip joint. Unlike her reality-based inspiration, Ai will not willingly strip in public, but her talent more than makes up for her desire to retain her clothing.

Eventually, an agent for a major record company notices Ai, and she begins the path to stardom by the time the first volume comes to a close.

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It's a good thing that agents for major publishing houses hang out at gentlemen's clubs, isn't it?

While Ai begins to establish herself as a talented performer, forces from her homeland unexpectedly track her down and begin to threaten her. She still doesn't remember why she left Ai-land, but powerful enemies arrive on Earth eager to end Ai's life. Others seem to want her to return to her home, but given the character of Ai, I'm going to bet that Ai will do whatever she wants.

Given the strong moral quality of Ai's personality, parents can rest assured that this book is not going to promote rock-star behavior to the children that may want to read it.

Surprisingly, Ai is an excellent role model for any of us. Her fashion choices represent her independence - not her looseness - and despite the trouble she's thrown into by the author, she bounces back admirably from the first few conflicts she encounters. Ai has a forgiving heart and radiates optimism born of determination more than naiveté.

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Ai is a symbol of the ideal performer. She is creative, unique, intelligent, and self-reliant. I don't personally know Courtney Love, but I'm aware that the public opinion of her isn't especially grand. However, in this series, Love isn't the star. Rather, we're given a chance to get to know Ai, Princess of Ai-land, and she's a person we can all learn something from. It's important to differentiate this from the real-life Love, but then it's also very easy to tell the two apart. Even Love might be able to find some inspiration from the character she helped create.

Fans of Courtney Love should enjoy this fictional counterpart of her persona, and people who aren't familiar with or fond of the female rock star should be happy to hear that only her positive traits have been filtered into Ai's personality.

From the way in which this tale was conceived to the interesting storyline it promises to present, Princess Ai is undeniably a new series to watch out for.

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