Princess Tutu is another of those series that lulls you into a shoujo-y state of mind before smacking you upside the head with symbolism and a much darker plot than initially expected.
Did I mention that it is another one of my favorite misunderstood-anime?
Princess Tutu is, ostensibly, straight up mahou shoujo, the signifier this time being the presence of ballet. We have a girl who can transform into a state in which she possesses magical powers, and who is collecting items, in this case heart shards, in pursuit of a final goal. On this alone, we can discern nothing groundbreaking, nothing of particular worth. Yet Princess Tutu begins conventionally only to step away from the genre and into something truly worthy of our time.
Ahiru is a young girl at a ballet school in an unidentified, European-looking town. She has her friends, has a crush on the school idol, and is, predictably, pretty clumsy. But we find out early on that she is actually a duck who was granted the form of a girl by the eccentric Drosselmeyer, an other-worldly being who is a storyteller. Drosselmeyer wrote a tale of a prince and a raven who fought, but when he died the two escaped from the book, the prince defeating the raven only at the cost of his own heart. Ahiru watches the prince, Mytho, as a duck, unknowing of his true nature, but admiring him nonetheless; Drosselmeyer, seeing an opening, has given her a human form and the power to become Princess Tutu. It is Princess Tutu’s duty to re-locate the heart shards lost and restore them to Mytho, for he lacks a basic humanity in that he does not possess emotions. Heart shards possess people, and to regain them Tutu must free the person possessed by helping them understand how they’re feeling, which she does through dancing with them. On the periphery lurk Fakir, Mytho’s closest friend, who tries to block the return of the heart shards, and Rue, an older girl who views Mytho as a possession of sorts. And, of course, how could we forget about Drosselmeyer…
I honestly steered clear of Princess Tutu when it first appeared, being very skeptical of the premise – it didn’t sound very original, and it didn’t sound like it was going to be any good. It was entirely through an accident of boredom and free episodes on On Demand that I watched the first few episodes – a very good accident as it turned out.
Truly, defining Princess Tutu as mahou shoujo is not the proper classification – although there are certain tropes of that genre contained within, Princess Tutu (PT from here on in) is a fairy tale in the truest sense. While I previously stated that Revolutionary Girl Utena worked by not having a fairy tale ending, I failed to point out that I meant the Disney version of a fairy tale ending. Princess Tutu is more closely related to the tales of the Brothers’ Grimm than it is to CardCaptor Sakura or Wedding Peach, as indicated very early on by the presence of anthropomorphism and the apparently European setting. However, the fact that it is more Roland and Maybird than it is The Little Mermaid (and I do mean the Disney version here) is not one which is as quickly displayed, but instead a fact that becomes clearer as time passes and characters change. We go from the sparkles and flowers of the earlier episodes to an attempted severance of body parts and a sinister puppeteer-like antagonist as time progresses.
On the backs of the ADV released DVD’s were short little phrases of relation to the content of the show, albeit not in a direct manner. One of these was ‘Those who accept their fate find happiness, those who defy it, glory.’ This line itself is an excellent way to describe this show, as shifts from being about simply restoring a prince’s heart to a struggle of all the characters against what has been deemed their ‘fate’. Along the way we are asked if ignorance is truly bliss, or if it is better to risk one’s happiness in a quest for the ability to have a hand in one’s own fate – if it can even be called fate or there is such a thing as fate.
For a fairy tale, Princess Tutu does end ‘happily ever after’, but it does so in the way in which true fairy tales bring us a ‘happily ever after’ – the characters have managed to shift their fates as much as they can and avoided tragedy, but they’re also irrevocably changed and cannot return to how things were before the machinery set itself in motion. ‘Bittersweet’ is the word that comes to mind in thinking of the ending. While taking their own lives in hand the characters still must ultimately accept that there are limitations to how much they can alter. The characters are satisfied with the outcome, but only since they have accepted that which they cannot change.
I have to say that it is very difficult to do a series review of Princess Tutu without spoiling people. The series does an excellent job of doing a 180 halfway through; the first half of the show could stand alone for those who want a purely shoujo ending and don’t want to touch on the darker elements that crop up later in the show, and this very fact makes it hard to attempt to convince people to check the show out.
Princess Tutu has pleasant art that starts off very pastel before it segways into blacks and reds. The animation is quite good; I in particular admired the rendering of the dancing, as this is something I know is not easy to do at all. In mentioning the animation in regards to the actual ballet, one also must acknowledge how good of a job the director and writers did on the ballet itself in terms of accuracy. Ballet is one of those things that, in anime, tends to get a bit of a short-shrift – that is, it’s there for window dressing, and it shows to anyone who knows anything about ballet. I myself took ballet once upon a time, and felt my interest reinvigorated by this, so I would make the claim that I would’ve caught most things if they had screwed the ballet portion up.
The music is another excellent point of the show, as they thankfully shied away from pop or synths in favor of more classical pieces. The OP in particular impresses me, as it seamlessly switches from an original song to some of the music from Swan Lake itself.
However, don’t let all the ballet and pastel colors scare you off, boys, because this is a top-notch show that can be enjoyed by anyone, so long as they aren’t addicted to explosions.
To anyone who enjoyed real fairy tales as a child… this one’s for you.