Original Run: January 4, 2019 - March 22, 2019 Number of Episodes: 12 Genre: Drama, Military, Science Fiction
***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for The Price of Smiles. Reader discretion is advised.***
On a planet far from Earth, there exists the peaceful Solei Kingdom. This land of harmony has just entered the reign of its young and beloved princess, Yuuki Solei (voiced by Yumiri Hanamori).
The princess is devoted to her people and will do whatever it takes to see them all smile. That is why she is devastated when the neighboring Grandiga Empire invades. Within a few short months, the Grandigan forces have nearly destroyed the once great kingdom, and Princess Yuuki must go into hiding.
On the Grandigan side of the war, there is elite soldier Stella Shining (voiced by Saori Hayami). Once an orphaned girl, Stella has an unnerving reputation of always smiling; even during the most unusual of circumstances. And in this heavy fighting, Stella seems to have finally found something to give her life purpose.
This is the story of two girls born on a distant world, and who’s fates appear to be uniquely intertwined.
I have a request. In the comment section below, can someone tell me a word that will adequately describe something which had a promising idea but was poorly executed in the end?
Whatever that term may be — if it even exists — The Price of Smiles would be a perfect specimen for its usage. This series was underwhelming, and the sad truth is, it didn’t need to be. There were aspects of this show, as in half of it, that I thought worked well enough. Too bad it was the other half which failed to rise to the occasion.
Now, splitting this show into two entities and calling them “halves” won’t help us in the long run. Instead, we need to think of The Price of Smiles in terms of the Princess Yuuki Storyline and the Soldier Stella Storyline.
As their names suggest, these two plots followed the perspectives of Princess Yuuki Solei and Soldier Stella Shining during the war which served as the primary setting for this series. And it was that duel perspective which was the before mentioned promising idea behind the show.
The Price of Smiles was a military anime that wanted to illustrate both sides of a conflict. Rather than having this narrative be about defenders against aggressors, the focus was on the people who were tasked to fight.
I enjoy stories which try to do this. It is so easy to think of war in stark black and white terms. They are bad, we are good, and being good, we must, therefore, prevail. To burst that bubble, it’s very rare when things are ever so cut and dry.
Hence, to give the credit which is due, I respect The Price of Smiles for its attempt. However, its attempt was half-hearted at best, and that obvious discrepancy turned this show into a lead balloon.
Of the two storylines, it was the Princess Yuuki Storyline that came out the stronger. Granted, it was the simpler of the two to get right. Nevertheless, getting it right was what happened, and as a result, I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy this part of the show.
Short of just re-telling what happened verbatim, the Princess Yuuki Storyline was a classic perseverance narrative. The princess needed to rally the hearts of her people to repel the might of an invading foreign nation. That nation quickly overran the princess’ armies and even managed to topple the kingdom’s capital.
Although Princess Yuuki wanted to defend her country and countrymen, she believed that any loss of life was a tragedy; be it her side or her opponents’.
The princess took direct command of her troops and led the resistance against the enemy. And she did so in ways that required the least amount of death. The Princess Yuuki Storyline was idealism at its most basic, but it did rely on themes which have been proven time and time again to succeed.
Admittedly, had this been the single plotline of the series, The Price of Smiles would have been serviceable; not magnificent. That notwithstanding, serviceable would have still been way better than what The Price of Smiles ultimately was — boring.
The Princess Yuuki Storyline worked because it was possible to see the characters involved as people struggling to survive a harrowing situation.
Princess Yuuki and her subordinates were fighting to protect their home. Before the war, the kingdom was a peaceful place that tried to cooperate with its neighbors and even lent a helping hand when it could. They didn’t ask for the violence, the death, or the suffering. It was clear what their goals were, and those goals were — I assume — universally understandable.
With that said, to be a proper companion to the Princess Yuuki Storyline, the Soldier Stella Storyline needed to actually put in even more effort to humanize its cast. Or, at the very least, this second set of characters required a reason to fight.
The Price of Smiles failed because the Soldier Stella Storyline not only was unable to do that, it barely made an effort to try.
For starters, the main protagonist of the Soldier Stella Storyline, Stella Shining, got her introduction at the end of episode two. By that point in the show, Princess Yuuki and the people she cared about had already taken severe blows and losses at the hands of both Stella and her comrades.
Along with that, all indicators pointed to Stella’s side being the cause of the war. Then, during her first mission of the series, Stella was shown to be ruthless. For example, she threatened to execute a group of kids to achieve her purpose.
Tell me “why,” show. Tell me why I should have cared about the people involved with the Soldier Stella Storyline. You did everything in your power to frame this half of the story as the antagonist side. I can’t imagine that was your intent because you had these characters deal with the horrors of war. You showed these people getting upset over a fallen friend and other huge losses.
But what you didn’t do was justify their actions. You never explored Stella’s views on the war. You never had her show remorse for her deeds. You never did anything that solidified why I should have bothered feeling sorry for this “tragic” character.
Essentially, The Price of Smiles completely wasted half of its potential. This was a chance to tell a story about how war affects those who fight in them — regardless of what uniform they wear. Instead, we got this broken mess.
I should mention (something I should have done at the beginning of this review), I had no idea what kind of show this was going to be when I started it. Therefore, I had no expectations, meaning, although I didn’t care for this series, it didn’t disappoint me.
It wasn’t until I was a good ways into the story that I saw what potentially could have been. And what could have been was a far cry away from what we got.
This series’ biggest fault was trying to tell two perspectives without putting in the effort to make each side worthwhile.
When it is all said and done, The Price of Smiles is a show I cannot recommend.
But these are just my thoughts. What are yours? Have you seen this show? What would be your advice concerning The Price of Smiles? Leave a comment down below because I would love to hear what you have to say.
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For Anime Hajime, I’m LofZOdyssey, and I’ll see you next time.