There is a price for everything, but how much will it cost to purchase a smile amid the sorrowful echoes of war?
Title: The Prince of Smiles (Eago no Daika)
Studio: Tatsunoko Production
Genre: Mecha, Drama
On a planet far from Earth, there is a kingdom full of smiling faces. Princess Yūki 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 with color 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. Stella is 17 years old and a capable, reserved soldier. However, she is always smiling for smiling is essential to living.
War: one of mankind’s most polarizing of challenges that can yield just as much beneficial gain as it can be detrimental. As either side of combatants aim to protect and persevere or suppress and dominate – those roles switching up and mirroring at any time, the real question extends to the purpose of it all and what happens to those embroiled in the center. Those who fight to protect and those being protected: soldiers, civilians, rulers – all bearing the same end. For the Winter 2019 anime season, Egao no Daika (The Price of Smiles) is one such title that ruminates and expresses the essence of war and what comes of it. Of course, whether or not it nails and succeeds on that front is up to the viewer themselves.
If anything, The Price of Smiles does have it’s narrative structured and carried out in an interesting way as it gently introduces the audience to the Kingdom of Soleil ruled by princess Yuki. Inexperience and naive, but possessing some innate talents, Yuki’s desire is to make Soleil a place where everyone can smile and be free from any burden – including threat of war. Of course, she is unaware of one conflict waging under her nose after a peace agreement gone awry with their neighbor nation, Grandiga. Despite her advisory team keeping this hidden, until the death of a loyal subject is discovered, she is brought to face this new reality. On the other side of the conflict, we are introduced to a band of Grandiga soldiers, including one Stella Shining, a young woman that despite living the violent life of a solider, never stops smiling. That smile itself belying something completely different. From this point, the story takes a dual narrative style, switching between the two sides each episode to show not only their struggles on the battlefield, but the problems and hardships that are apart of it. Where most the skirmishes give the audience something to anchor themselves to as both sides try to inch forward, the battles themselves isn’t exactly the strong suit or immediate focus of the series. With the stakes feeling so nebulous to begin with, it is merely a cover for many of the character interactions and personal stories to develop – something that the series excels at and struggles with at the same time in various ways.
Where both Stella and Yuki are about as undefined and bland as heroines come, (despite audience already getting hints to their own circumstances), the characters surrounding them are at least marginally better in the writing department and really sell the point home of what the war is costing both sides. After the short time spent getting to know the various faces of both factions and their own aspirations, it is heartbreaking to see them exit the stage in brutal ends as the conflict ramps up. If anything, the rising body count is the strongest element of the series in both a directorial sense and actual catalyst for what is to come. That being said, the major issue with The Price of Smiles is that it manages to subvert and lessen the character moments it so diligently works for with the introduction of the main cause of the war – something that is both implemented poorly into the story and an easy deus ex machina for the writers not having to properly think about. Granted that this particular element is only one of a few glaring plot points, since it is so deeply tied into the conclusion and overall focus, it is hard to ignore and even more difficult to write off as mere shoddy execution.
In comparison to the series creating and destroying any lasting impact it tries to nurture, the animation and art quality also seems to be another area in odds with one another. Never exceeding the violence level for a PG-13 film, many of the action sequences series look stunning and aids in encapsulating the atmosphere and theme of the series. Of course, Tatsunoko Production does have the occasion gaff or goof that slips through the cracks that shouldn’t ruin these moments too much, yet are noticeable to a certain degree. On the other hand, the artwork is without much to complain about: boasting beautiful backgrounds and set pieces that further support the series. In another striking comparison, the soundtrack by Tsubasa Itō does add to the series and keeps it from veering into melodrama territory. Outside of that, the opening and ending themes also contribute to the overall atmosphere and pleasant as standalone tracks.
Given the fact that The Price of Smiles can count itself as a one-trick pony in what it intends to do for the audience, I can at least say that the trick, like so many other common concepts, never gets tiresome, yet carried out so inadequately. With all the many predictable twist and turns fueling the desire to see more, it is the follow-through and ultimate conclusion that leads to so much unsatisfying anguish in the worst way possible. Having so many other series out there that succeeds in capturing the beauty and brutality of war, The Price of Smiles inches close, yet still so very disappointingly far.
Final Verdict: Doing well at exploring the irreconcilable and necessary evils of battle, The Price of Smiles is a series that has it’s heart in the right place with poignant moments and motifs to match. However, when putting it all together in a coherent and viewing format, it is a series that sadly can be skip and even be deemed a waste of time.