On a planet far from Earth, there is a kingdom full of smiling faces. Princess Yuuki is 12 years old, and about to enter a sensitive age in a person's life. Everyday, she cries, laughs, and sometimes, her heart throbs with excitement. All the while, she lives merrily in the royal palace. Filling her days are her loyal vassals: her tutor Reira, Izana who assists in political affairs, the leader of the chivalry Harold … and then there is her childhood friend and aide Joshua. "Yuuki! If you have spirit and guts, you can do anything!" "…No, not this again! Joshua, be nobler!" Stella is 17 years old and a capable, reserved soldier. However, she is always smiling ... for smiling is essential to living. This is a story of two girls born on distant planets. (Source: ANN)
To me, science fiction and is a genre that has been somewhat underappreciated in our generation. It feels like many shows are treated as ticking time bombs that starts off with promise but eventually degenerates into a dumpster fire. Egao no Daika (The Price of Smiles) is an anime project serving as a celebration of Tatsunoko Production’s 55th anniversary. To celebrate, I should say The Price of Smiles should try to stand out as a show of its own and not be a clone of other similar popular works. What do we really get?
First impressions are important and with no doubt, war themes makes an impact. It also gives off a political war feel with the conflicting nations, ideal clashes, and world building. We meet Yuuki Soleil, the 12 year old princess of the Kingdom of Soleli. Having lost her parents at such a young age, the show puts her character into the shoes of a leader. Red flags show early on when I see Yuuki as a naïve child and incapable of leading her kingdom. It doesn’t take long to realize how oblivious she is to the state of war. This is a sharp contrast to Stella Shining, a fighter of the Imperial Army serving for the Grandiga Empire. As a war orphan, she exhibits quiet strength although is also known for her untimely smiles. The show chronicles both characters’ roles on opposite sides of the war.
But did this show really capitalize on its sci-fi war story? To an extent, it definitely does as we we’ll quickly realize the reality of war. Smiles are shattered when Yuuki sees bodies hit the floor. Death is a harsh reality and it’s a hard truth to bear. Episode 2 is an easy example when Yuuki realizes the death of a close friend. And she finds out in the most gruesome way possible. Make no mistake. If there’s an episode that features extended focus on a character other than Yuuki or Stella, you should expect a death flag raised and set sail. That is to say, I do appreciate the show making time to gives some characters a chance to tell their story such as Joshua, Pierce, and Layla. The more important focus however falls under the main characters especially Stella and Yuuki.
From the very first moment I laid my eyes on Stella, I knew there was something unusual about her presence. The easiest way to say it is that she smiles a lot. In fact, she smiles under different circumstances that even includes on the front lines of war. During one particular episode, she shows an unstable side of herself after expressing a disturbing smile upon completing a mission. While a smile is often represented as an expression of joy and happiness, Stella’s smile instills an ominous feeling. It doesn’t also help that she is willing to kill children including Yuuki for her nation. Still, I do feel some sympathy for Stella after seeing her background story. Despite being an orphan, a family took her in and gave her love until they had a child of their own. From then on, her own world collapsed even more to the point where she abandoned her adoptive family. By the time we meet her in the present, she is considered “broken” as even stated by some of her comrades. However, the background storytelling about Yuuki is far less interesting, so much so that I don’t even feel it’s worth mentioning.
As a war driven show, there’s different elements that also includes politics. The Royal Order and Empire of Grandiga both adapts policies to maintain their existence. Even if needed to be, military dictatorship is used to maintain order. However, on the frontlines, there’s heavy emotions, bloodshed, and death. Stella’s squad undertakes the more direct frontline approach with their military expertise. Prominent members includes Lily, Gale, Huey, Pierce, and Break. The show explores some character relationship dynamics, most noticeably between Lily and Stella. For Stella herself, she may also be capable of expressing genuine smiles. In other words, while she can be a cold blooded person on the battlefield, she is still human and capable of showing human emotions. On the other hand, the more I watched more of this show, I felt distanced from Yuuki.
I’ll be honest. Yuuki is by far the WORST part of the show.
She is not intelligent as a leader, naïve as a child, and incapable of being a realist in this war conflict. I cannot take Yuuki seriously at all with her overly dramatic screams and personality. To make matters worse, she often doesn’t learn anything and has to have her advisors do the work for her. Now given her age, some could argue that she is too young yet to be a leader. Well, I say otherwise. She could take the better initiative and even support for her people. Instead, she gives the impression of a useless fool that others have to carry. Unlike Stella, her actions never speaks louder than her words and exposes the weakness of her character nearly every episode. By the time this show concluded, she became my very least favorite character. That being said though, Stella herself isn’t a very well written character either as she undergoes little development. Price of Smile seems to be more of an anime about showing rather than telling. The war speaks for itself and we can see the consequences of both sides. It’s not complicated to understand the story and to be honest, I don’t find it very well executed.
Created and produced by Tatsunoko Production, I could say this show is cool enough to be a science fiction war story. The mecha designs are distinctive enough to make an impact felt on the battleground. Meanwhile, characters on both sides are designed with military and political creativeness in mind. As one of the better executed part of the show, I would say the world building stands out for being able to craft these fictional worlds with complex systems and even technology. One of the key selling concept of the show is the smiles. The Price of Smiles, as they call it, is the title and we do get plentiful of that in different ways. On the other hand, I hate to bring this up again but Yuuki is really hard to take seriously when she shows emotions. It’s the typical scream of horror or anxiety you can picture from any war show.
The Price of Smiles. I don’t know if I should be smiling after completing this anime. It’s not too easy to recommend considering the length of its storytelling and lack of character development of the main leads. In truth, my feelings of this anime doesn’t change much from the first episode to the finale. It’s a mediocre mecha/sci-fi/war/drama story that did a lot of showing while failing to deliver a cast to remember.
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