Happy New Year! And in honor of the day, I’m going to talk about one of my all-time favorite animes, Princess Tutu. Yes, I know – I can feel you cringing at the title. I can hear you thinking: A silly shojo (young girl’s) anime, about a duck transforming back and forth between a clumsy young girl ballet student and a superhero prima ballerina princess in a tutu? A dance instructor who is a cat and keeps threatening disruptive students with marriage to him? Oh, come on….
(Yes, there will be hints of spoilers, but for details you must see the anime!)
I hope that by now I’ve earned a little bit of trust. Trust me on this one. You must last through the first diskette. Give it even three episodes, and you will begin to “get it.“ Princess Tutu is a story about a tale that has escaped its book, running riot into a world where the fantastical is no longer fantastic. No one has the guts to set the story right, because there’s a job to be done, a thankless job – and until a little duck takes pity on a sad prince and wants to make him smile, the story will remain frozen in time.
For example – always watch the introduction, the “Once upon a time…” to each episode, because after the second episode, it begins to change – radically, after a while. Our story begins when an elderly storyteller dies, leaving his protagonist and antagonist, a prince and a giant evil raven, locked in battle forever. Well, neither the prince nor the raven care for that, so the raven flees the story, and the prince follows. Ultimately, the prince uses a forbidden magic to seal the raven away, protecting the people of the town. But the price of that magic is his heart, and all that the heart represents. And…“This is great! “ said the old man who was supposed to have died.
Yes – dead or not, the storyteller, Drosselmeyer of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King fame, is still pulling the strings, including telling a little duck that if she wants to help the prince, she is going to have to help him find the shards of his heart. The little duck agrees to Drosselmeyer’s offer, and finds herself a student at a dance academy, the same one where the prince is a senior student. If a shriek sounds like a squawk, she becomes a duck again, but water and a special pendant will return her to being a girl. Clumsy and easily influenced (by a pair of annoying little anime girls you will learn to take in stride) Duck has trouble talking to her quiet, dreamy hero, because his fiercely protective and bullying roommate Fakir tries to keep her away from Mytho, her prince. There’s also Rue, the senior prima, a dark-haired beauty who loves Mytho and is puzzled by Duck’s friendly overtures.
The great stories of ballet, and their music, will appear in the story to come. A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Cinderella, Romeo & Juliet, The Nutcracker, The Raven, The Wandering Knight, The Maiden’s Prayer, Swan Lake – each episode sends Duck after another heart shard, because Duck’s egg-shaped necklace glows when a shard is near – and the necklace allows her to become Princess Tutu. Often the shards have strayed into another person, intensifying that individual’s own behavior, and Princess Tutu uses the power of dance to coax the ghostly shards out of hiding, generally improving the lives of the shard-bearers as well. But this does not always improve the life of the prince – because some of the shards are fear, or uncertainty, or other challenging emotions. Soon Duck realizes that her prince is afraid of Princess Tutu, and Fakir is becoming menacing about her quest.
As we travel through the first twelve episodes, bad people turn out to be good people; good people become elusive, slipping back and forth between roles. Puppets who have toed Herr Drosselmeyer’s line suddenly cast off their strings and seize a part of the story for themselves.
“May those who accept their fate be granted happiness. May those who defy it be granted glory.” Drosselmeyer’s puppet organ grinder, Miss Edel, says these words early on in the story, and they may be the soul of Princess Tutu. For characters think they will accept their fates, even as the story goes deeper, giving them new power, new potential – new ways to seize the story and run. Drosselmeyer planned on a tragedy; even if Princess Tutu succeeds in restoring the prince’s heart, she can never tell him she loves him. If she does, she will turn into a speck of light! And if the prince’s heart is restored, the story of the prince and the raven will continue. Rue becomes Princess Kraehe, the daughter of the raven, who soaks the heart shard of love in raven’s blood, contaminating Mytho’s heart. Fakir is revealed as the childhood friend of the prince, who was the knight who protected the prince and is killed by the raven. When Fakir allows Tutu to start the story once again, he both accepts and denies his role in the story, attempting to find a happy ending to all tales.
At the end of the twelfth episode, you will think the story is over.
Then it just gets bigger, darker…better.
I don’t want to give away too many things, so I will end plot points here, except to say – it didn’t end the way I wanted it to, or hoped it would, even as so many things are successfully accomplished. But it’s a real fairy tale, which is why I love it, and re-watch it, even knowing I cannot change the final chapters. Even if you don’t care for ballet, watch this anime because it is about story. It’s about creativity, both its seeds and its uses, and about choices of both the creator and his or her creations. It’s about how story can carry you away, and why it’s often better to let the story run instead of yanking back the horses. If you love stories – to read them, to watch them, to write them – you should see this anime.
A note on this medium: Princess Tutu is an original story, written as a 26 episode anime. As often happens, someone decided to make it into another form – a manga, in this case – and drastically change the story. The manga is very different. It doesn’t end the same way, it uses characters differently, and the deep, fairy tale aspects of the anime sound like they’ve been stripped from the manga. So – I haven’t read the manga and must say that if you love the anime, caveat emptor with the manga. I’ve found that even boys like this anime, if they are into the story aspects of anime and manga. If they’re into anime for the battles, this won’t do it for them. Not enough big battles. Adults who enjoy animation generally respond positively to it.
Princess Tutu is one of my few 5 Star animes. Everyone who loves story should see this anime. Just remember – it’s not American pacing, so it starts out as a silly shojo anime. Patience. It will all be worth it. I promise. Get a trial of Netflix just for this anime.
Yes – of course I own it!
Next week – the best of my year with anime.