ANIME REVIEW — Princess Tutu

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.

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ANIME REVIEW — Princess Tutu — 7 Comments

  1. *sighs in complete happiness*

    Yes, indeed… this!!! Much more eloquent and clearly argued than my squeeing. What a lovely way to start the New Year!

    Regarding the ending, I had the same first impression after watching it the first time through, but the more I understand the deeper threads of the story, the more the ending we were given makes sense. It makes sense like the ending of the Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper makes sense. It actually elevates the work as a whole to pinnacle of its kind of anime. They can not better this, they can only produce different ones now.

    For the undecided ones, that don’t mind extra spoilers, here is the best argument for watching this anime – a multi-winning Anime AMV (with a very different style of music to the series, though, but edited incredibly effective – we have lots of ballet music and some lovely Ritsuko Okazaki – she’s the late composer of the Fruits Basket music, too): Princess Tutu AMV – Hold Me Now (Warning: Spoilerific)

    Ditto on the unworthiness of the manga.

    The US disks also have lots of additional goodies that came with the Japanese release (at least the single DVDs have, which is the version I bought), but you can get it as a pack already, for currently $ 35 on Amazon for example Princess Tutu: Complete Collection

    The name Duck is a correct translation of the meaning of the original Japanese name Ahiru, but I still prefer watching the series subbed, because I enjoy the voice artists more (as a German reading subs is not unusual, although we dub our foreign movies and series more often).

  2. I wish we could edit comments, I keep remembering things I want to add:
    for all those who really want a GOOD shoujo ballet manga in English, please support SWAN – a very overlooked classic manga being released by CMX (only once a year now it seems) – up to volume 15? I think in English. Shaenon Garrity included it in her Overlooked Manga Festival and added some scans – which work better to convince doubters.
    http://shaenon.livejournal.com/28663.html

  3. You bad woman. You’ve been looking at my notes for this essay, haven’t you? Yes, I love the ending, but it wasn’t what I thought I wanted when I first saw it — I hoped Duck would become a swan. And I thought about linking to Hold Me Now, but decided not to (although I didn’t feel it was a spoiler, since you don’t know exactly what you’re seeing in the editing. But the music, though great with the montage, is so different.)

    Okay — SPOILER for those who haven’t seen the anime.
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    “And then begins the second half, where Princess Tutu ultimately finds herself protecting an individual Duck thought was Mytho’s enemy — but in fact is the only one who may be able to finish the story.

    “In the end, it is Duck — no longer Princess Tutu, only a small duck, totally herself, who can save her prince — only Duck truly understands Hope, and how one can only be true to oneself, and continue the fight no matter what. No matter who tries to dictate the story, we must all tell our own story. Duck tells her story, and the new storyteller steps aside and does what he can to help her.

    ‘Those who defy their fate shall find glory.’

    The musician who did the Fruits Basket music has passed on? How sad. Entirely too many talented young people involved in manga and anime have passed on.

    Let’s see if the HTML is allowed….

  4. No, no peeking at script – I find (regarding the animes I’ve watched that you’ve watched and reviewed) that we just seem to enjoy them similarly, so that’s where it must come from ^^.

    Oh, I like the idea of her turning into a swan… after all the opening of the anime alludes to precisely that. But actually with the relationships she does keep (which she hadn’t had before being involved into all of the drama), I think it even more encouraging an allegory (as in “if you stay true to yourself and don’t lose hope, you can realise all your potential anyway – and you don’t need to turn into a swan to do so”).

    I thought the Mytho parts from later in the series in the AMV (well in both, and the end form of her dance) were spoilery.

    Yes, Ritsuko Okazaki died.. I think of blood poisoning. She was in her early 40s at the time, a real tragedy. She’d been steadily getting more well-known as an anime composer (although no one yet compares to the fame and scope of Yoko Kanno – probably most famous over here for the music of Cowboy Bebop, Escaflowne, Wolf’s Rain and discovering Maya Sakamoto). ANN has this info on her: Ritsuko Okazaki

    Since you guys use WordPress as a blog software, may I direct your eyes to WPGrins, which adds a short cut to html-tags to the comment field (they also have plugins to enable editing of comments, which would make my comments longer, but not look like so many, heh.)
    http://mk.netgenes.org/my-plugins/mcecomments/
    http://sw-guide.de/wordpress/plugins/edit-comments-xt/