Upon reading the original Hans Christian Andersen fairytales, any reader will note the unnerving tragedy underlying most of them. As timeless classics, their worth partly lies in the fact that they not only serve as idealistic moral allegories, but simultaneously capture life’s fundamental struggles in vivid and disturbing imagery. Hollywood replicas include such titles as Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal, but to experience the modern animated equivalent to Andersen’s classics, anime fans should look to the exquisite Princess Tutu.
At face value, the story proceeds with the straightforwardness of a fable: Ahiru (literally meaning ‘duck’) spends each episode collecting pieces of heart belonging to Prince Mytho because, without them, he remains an emotionless shell. The narrative approach, however, is far from simple. In adopting the flamboyant style of classical theatre, Princess Tutu weaves a plot more majestic and vibrant than its girlish title suggests.
Princess Tutu’s most original accomplishment is its representation of climactic struggles through ballet. This is ballet as a skilful art form – not a corny gimmick – with melodrama neatly channelled through expressive dance. As well as being highly imaginative, these set pieces are pulled off with elegance; the theatrical mix of magical props (including sandstorms, vine pedestals, water bubbles), rousing dialogue, and realistic ballet choreography combine to create a captivating treat for the senses.
Significantly, Princess Tutu omits all the needless fluff that usually dogs the featherweight mahou shoujo genre – gone are the wince-inducing catchphrases, the infantile antagonists, the silly diversionary filler episodes. Instead, the series comprises a meaningful, streamlined adventure tinged with profound sadness: Ahiru not only grapples with emotive dilemmas regarding her identity, but the entire story revolves around her struggles to stop her world hurtling towards inevitable doom. As such, Princess Tutu exudes a momentousness more often found outside of the fantasy genre and almost never associated with mahou shoujo.
Not to say that tragedy is the only cuisine on the menu; in fact, Princess Tutu sprinkles its grave themes with light-hearted albeit exceptionally bizarre anecdotes. Its comedic style ranks somewhere between madness and ingenuity – how anime fans receive it will depend largely on their readiness to simply ‘go along with it’. In particular, fans who appreciate a little insanity mixed into their weighty narratives will find the spastic expressions and off-beat situational comedy a charming complement.
Naturally, even Princess Tutu suffers from minor weaknesses. These include the repetitive ‘heart of the week’ plot device used to kick-start the story and the brief transformation scene recycled in every episode. Nevertheless, they are trifling elements and have such little impact upon the overall quality that they are easily forgiven and, more importantly, easily forgotten. Princess Tutu may initially feel repetitive, but, in combining eccentric humour with profound art forms and traditional shoujo loveliness, it steadily matures into a breathtaking experience.
The inventive animation concept is an integral part of Princess Tutu’s composite delivery. Although it lacks the technological prowess of contemporaries such as Fullmetal Alchemist, the animation style, so full of contrasts, works magnificently with the bittersweet tone of the narrative.
A typical shoujo must have pretty characters, cheerful colours, and a world that any little girl would want to live in. Princess Tutu delivers all this and more, inserting darker, edgier colour tones, zany expressions, and abstract battle sequences. For example, while Ahiru looks wide-eyed and has a cute antenna for her hair, Drosselmeyer, the storyteller, is a gargoyle figure with sharp angles and unsettling eyes. Furthermore, Princess Tutu displays a rare appreciation for light, shadow, and adaptable colour tones to enhance the atmosphere of the emotional scenes. In one memorable sequence, when Drosselmeyer appears to Ahiru with premonitions of doom, the environment becomes an eerie wash of deep shadows and glaring lime lights.
In a way, Princess Tutu does with its music what it does with its themes – it borrows from the masters of the past. From Swan Lake’s waltz during a poignant conflict to ‘The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’ used more as a motif in several episodes, each classical piece should be recognisable to almost everyone even if their specific names remain unknown.
Of course, Princess Tutu is not the only anime to employ renowned compositions for added poignancy. Neon Genesis Evangelion’s triumphant theme is none other than Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, and the use of Mascagni’s ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ during one of Rurouni Kenshin’s farewell scenes is ingenious. Princess Tutu’s unique achievement, however, is to apply nothing but monumental ballet compositions throughout. While a lesser series would appear laughably contrived to continually pump out Dvorak and Wagner, given Princess Tutu’s ballet theme, the timeless melodies feel woven into the story as naturally as if they belonged there.
As devices in a fable, most of the characters only attain a minimal level of depth. In the early episodic phase of the series, all of the characters apart from Ahiru appear more allegorical than human. Still, the other key protagonists - Mytho, Rue, and Fakir – eventually take on layers and transform into intricate personalities.
Prince Mytho is the most obvious case for slow development; he only grows in nature whenever the courageous Ahiru finds another piece of his heart to implant in him. Initially, Mytho is an empty vessel, and, at most, a passive participant in his own rescue; later, his personal struggles become far more involving. The most emotional performances, however, belong to Fakir and Rue, whose interest in the prince glosses over two very tragic origins.
Aside from the four central protagonists, Neko-sensei, the ballet school teacher, and Ahiru’s two best friends, Pike and Lilie, also deserve acclaim for making some of the most repetitive jokes seem continuously funny. Whilst the supporting characters fail to achieve boundless complexity, they at least remain entertaining and well-acted at all times.
Most people will probably observe Princess Tutu’s fairytale premise and cute animation style and pass it by without a second glance, but doing so would constitute one of the biggest mistakes any serious anime fan could make. Princess Tutu is uniquely imaginative and crafted with the kind of elegance rarely seen since the great fables of the past. To enter this eccentric and compelling world, leave all preconceptions about shoujo at the door.
ANIME EVOLUTION SERIES
Full list of the review series can be found on this page, 3rd post from bottom:
Animated by Hal Film Maker, a studio which hasn’t produced anything amazing other than this one and perhaps Aria if we count excecution. Directed by some nobody who didn’t take over any other worthy projects. I must say this show took me by surprise. The names behind it didn’t seem promising and neither did the artwork at first.
My first impressions were like “What am I watching here? Cartoonish anthropomorphic animals dancing ballet and doing silly magical tricks in some weird Wonderland. It’s probably a marketing trick to promote ballet dancing to little children.” I was really not fond of the cheery graphics and would normally give up on it early on.
But then I started to notice the finer details, like the the artwork, an example of fine art. Vivid but not tiresome colors, variety on objects and locations. Dreamy backgrounds like strolling through a fairy tale, filled with wonders and magic. A very special artistic concept that sets it apart from almost all other titles, something between a circus and the Renascence. The visual effects looked like smart optical tricks that are used in theatrical and puppet plays; they boosted the atmosphere and the artistic value tenfold.
This is not the result of some random brainstorming project and definitely not a work done on the run for little dumb kids. After awhile, everything felt dreamy without becoming impractical, planned through with care and with a specific aim behind them. Afterwards I noticed all the allegories behind all this weird decoration and how the cheery atmosphere was in fact hiding a terrible secret, which is not what it appears to be at first glance. Looks are very deceiving in this series and many details play out as hints, not just decorations. Well, that was more than enough to love it, since I am a sucker for subliminal and symbolic meanings.
If there is something I didn’t like that much, those would be the character designs; too simple and similar to one another. I mean, ok, I can tolerate the cute little girls, boys and fuzzy animals to the point everything borders moe but they lack variety and are a huge contrast to the wonderful backgrounds. They look simple, and seem to share the exact body and face structure, making it a bit hard to set them apart if not for the hairstyle. Yes, the cookie cutter syndrome strikes again.
Notice for perverts: All girls are wearing a weird skirt that hovers mysteriously, revealing their feet up to the knee. Just pretend to tie your shoelaces and voila! Pantsu land! Plus, the heroine can’t seem to be able to stay dressed for over 5 minutes without ending up naked because of all her continual transformations. And there are plenty of scenes with bishonens without shirts on, and bishojos in leotards. WOOOO! Fangirls and pervs will rejoice! … I also liked how the ecchi element is IMPLIED and not ADVERTISED. The series aims at kids too you know; and it’s very cool to have it there as subliminal as everything else.
Another glitch of sorts is the lack of motion. For a show based on ballet and magic it has plenty of stale images, crude chibi scenes, repeated magical transformations. The most disappoing part is the dancing choreography which is almost always just still images rather than a continual scene full of motion. It makes almost all action scenes to feel dull. Not that this is a show you watch for the action of course.
All characters really talk appropriately and in accordance with how they feel or what their personalities are. Ahiru DOES sound insecure as a girl and sure of herself when becoming Princess Tutu. Mytho REALLY gains coloring in his voice as he gains emotions. Neko-sensei TRULY sounds like a cat in heat. YOU WILL MARRY ME lol. Really sweet and funny talking most of the time, really serious words during dramatic scenes. Nothing sounds repetitive or retarded (Dragonball Z anyone?). Everything is spoken with a meaning and with realistic emotions backing it up. I got to laugh and feel sad several times because of them. Great voice acting.
You will find lots of all time classic ballet music themes in here. It doesn’t matter if you don’t appreciate that kind of music; they are masterful pieces of fine art and are recognizable no matter how ignorant of ballet you are. You KNOW THEM even without ever watching ballerinas dancing. And even past them, the lesser important sound effects are used properly and boost both atmosphere and the theatric feeling.
The first episode will give you the impression that the story is quite silly and fake. But as the scenario unfolds, you will come to realize that although still a slow paced mahou shojo series, it packs a great plot. It practically bends all the clichés Sailor Moon solidified so many years ago and made all later mahou shojo to imitate them. I ensure you that almost NONE of the expected plot twists happen in the story in an obvious way. The story is original in a sense for that, and even packs some really cool metaphysical concepts that go beyond romance and love. It is definatelly not simple or shallow for little kids; they will hardly get half of them on the first try. It also has far too many scenes of mystery, suffering and angst to count as completely “childish”.
The plot is uncommon in its own way as well. The story is divided into 2 story arks; both are very interesting during the beginning and the ending but rather boring in the middle. This normally counts as a minus but it was presented in such an elaborate way that makes the in-between episodes no to count as fillers. Although almost all of them have secondary characters that appear only for one episode and then disappear from the story, at the same time the main characters evolve and mature bit by bit in ALL the episodes. You may miss something important if you skip an episode.
I liked how all the stories are based on some famous fairy tale or ballet play. The premise remains the same but the plot is generally darker, as something unexpected always happens that turns even cheery fairy tales into a grim drama with a sad ending.
Also, everyone has a story to tell, one-episode characters included. None are irrelevant to the main scenario and some of them even manage to overshadow it in drama. You will not feel like they are dragging the story but rather they are enriching it. Plus, the rather boring inbetwwen episodes can also work as intentional relaxation points. They give you the impression that the series became dull but in reality they lower your expectations just to raise them again towards the end and leave you with a really good feeling of fulfillment. It is a lot more successful to have spikes of intrest and relaxation, since too much of only one of each would eventually tire anyone.
If the whole thing plays out in a plausible way is rather blurry, since you must accept the idea of magic performing miracles and supernatural forces bending reality to their liking, including memories and free will. It’s also a story where the characters dance ballet instead of throwing energy beams in order to win in a battle. But surely the story does provide explanations that somewhat reason all the wackiness, in accordance with the in-laws of the series. And it does a much better job than most others. Even without that you will easily be absorbed in the story, as nothing feels forced most of the times, and even most of those end up being fixed parts of a predetermined sinister plan.
There is a solid and wonderful ending to the series but unfortunately it is rushed and fake. It could have been a lot better if the scriptwriters had simply rearranged some events in the last episode or rolonged it a little bit more.
I would love to see the Crow King being aware that he was part of the story as well and not just a generic archevil that was almost asking to be destroyed. I would love to see Drosselmeyer’s writing/fate spinning machine to have been introduced sooner in the story. I would love to have listened mentioning that it simply resets when the story is over and starts all over again. I would love to see Fakir avoiding being killed by the Crow King just to be killed by that executioner with the axe. I would love to see where Mytho and Rue went. I would love to see the people of the city remembering everything that happened. Of course none of that took place and I got a bit disappointed for getting a lot less that what I hoped.
All characters are imposing, cute, funny and/or dramatic to the point of cherishing them in a few episodes. They have distinctive mannerisms, quirks, goals and feelings. You will never confuse one with another if the cookie cutter syndrome does not get in the way. Ahiru’s love for Mytho, Rue’s snobbism, Fakir’s cruelness, Mytho’s apathy are unique traits that set them apart. I can’t say much about their backdrops; the main 4 characters have a decent story behind them but all the secondary feel like they popped out of nowhere (and I don’t mean the ones in the fictional stories). The mains are also the only ones who develop but at least they do so in such elaborate ways to the point of becoming totally different people at the end. And I mean that in a good way; not like they were out of character or something. No loose ends or half-baked solutions either; they get their catharsis and it is NOT a predictably cheery one. It is a bit sad not to have the secondary getting some of that too instead of being introduced in an episode and having Princess Tutu aiding them before disappearing. But to hell with them; they are there just for flavor anyway.
For me this is the best mahou shojo of all times but it is surely not as famous as Sailor Moon or Madoka Magica. Not that those publicity tricks prove a show’s value; it’s closer to how much they milk the fans. It is still a show you could always watch at least once again for noticing all the details you missed the first time (since there are too many of those). And even if you don’t, it is an unforgettable experience that will forever be in the back of your mind for the rest of your life.
Those mid-episodes may make you feel bored a bit but as a whole it was an amazing watch. After watching over 2.000 anime, you feel like most just copy one another and cherish those who do it differently. This series is one of those cases. It is the most well-made mahou shojo ever!
Oh, and for all of you who will jump to tell me Madoka Magica is the best of the genre, I will vertically disagree. Its duration was short, its themes were a mess, and the ending was a cop-out. No thanks; I pick the better paced, better developed, and more humane Tutu over that shitty travesty.
Those who didn’t love it are sentenced to death by watching repetitive mahou shojo transformations.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 8/10
Analysis: General Artwork 2/2, Character Figures 1/2, Backgrounds 2/2, Animation 1/2, Visual Effects 2/2
SOUND SECTION: 10/10
Analysis: Voice Acting 3/3, Music Themes 4/4, Sound Effects 3/3
STORY SECTION: 9/10
Analysis: Premise 2/2, Pacing 2/2, Complexity 2/2, Plausibility 2/2, Conclusion 1/2
CHARACTER SECTION: 9/10
Analysis: Presence 2/2, Personality 2/2, Backdrop 1/2, Development 2/2, Catharsis 2/2
VALUE SECTION: 9/10
Analysis: Historical Value 2/3, Rewatchability 3/3, Memorability 4/4
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 9/10
Analysis: Art 1/1, Sound 2/2, Story 2/3, Characters 4/4
Story: In my opinion, the story was beautiful, I really loved it, and it was certainly far more captivating then your typical magical girl shouju anime. The only thing that might set some people back about the story was a little confusion about certain parts.
Animation: The animation was pretty, but not really anything out of the ordinary shouju anime style. It just so happens that I like that kind of style, so that's why I gave it an 8.
Sound: I loved the music, and to this day I can still say the entire main theme in Japanese. The background music really added to the show, and I feel the music really did a great job of churning my emotions, I mean, I was crying at the sad parts in that show.
Characters: For the characters, even though I really sympathized with and loved them, they were pretty typical cliche's.
Overall: Overall, if you like shouju anime, you will LOVE this. As far as shouju goes, this is pretty much the best in my opinion.
I absolutely LOVED this anime ! NO SPOILERS
THE ANIME has a great combination of fantasy, fairy tale, romance, comedy FABULOUS twists and turns ! Great design and Animation that enhance the story and it keeps making you say WHATS NEXT WHATS NEXT ! there def. Needs to be more animes that address such innocence and kindness !
I would just like to start of by saying that personally, I am not a great fan of magical girl anime and it is actually on my 'Top three least favourite genres' however, I did greatly enjoy this particular magical girl anime. To me, being a ballet dancer, the anime was one of my favorites, however I tried not to let this make the review too positive and was honest with my opinions, not just considering the fact that this is one of my all-time favorites. Well, without further ado, let's get on with the review, shall we?
【Synopsis】 Princess Tutu has a storyline basically about about a story - if that even makes sense. Before the tragedy author - Drosselmayer - could finish one of his tales, he died, causing the story to take a life of its own. Ahiru, who is the main character in the anime, transforms from a duckling - or, referring to Andersen's classic story, an ugly duckling - to a beautiful princess (Princess Tutu) in quest of restoring the prince's heart. However, perhaps loyal act of love is not enough to rewrite Drosselmayer's tragic tale's ending.
【Review】 Every once in a while, you come across an anime where everything is so well put together that it is literally unreal. At times I think that maybe some of the older animes are better than the latest ones - as much as this is slightly disappointing, it's true. Princess Tutu is one of those anime where you try so damn hard to pick at least one negative point about something, at least something, and in the end, you just give up due to the hard work and effort the team put into this little show. While this anime may be thought to be one of those anime's that you'd think only girls would watch, I strongly disagree with that and definitely recommend it to boys as well; trust me, you'll enjoy the classic fairy tale feel if you're into this kind of stuff.
A little warning, there is some near-nudity scenes. And while Ahiru's body isn't physically mature for it to be a big deal, I just wanted to say that it is there. However, this is nothing major and barely really happens. Oh, and of course it is quite common in magic girl anime.
【Animation - 8/10】A shoujo anime isn't a real shoujo anime unless it includes pretty girl characters, bright and cheerful colors, and a world that any little girl would love to live in. Princess Tutu includes all this and more. It hasn't got overly bright colors as there are usually a bit of darker tones inserted, however this does not in any way spoil the shoujo anime feel - in my opinion of course.
【Sound - 10/10】It's not just how great the music in Princess Tutu is, it's the way it is used throughout the anime that is even better. Many famous ballet music is borrowed off of renown composers such as Tchaikovsky or Wagner. In my personal opinion, I think the timings of the music were flawless. Whether it's blaring passionately over a dance sequence and quietly playing in the background when Ahiru wakes up, not one piece of music is misplaced.
Usually, subbed anime episodes are my preferrence, however I did try out the dubbed version as well and I must say, both voice actresses - Nanae Katou and Luci Christian - did great with dubbing the sweet little duckie princess Ahiru. Both the English and Japanese performances manage to keep the voices natural and human-like while keeping the touch of fantasy.
【Characters - 9/10】All characters are lovely and unique in their own ways. They are very complex, loveable characters which form their own ideas and act entirely different from their appearances, showing the rich development throughout the show.
【Overall - 9.9/10】As I have mentioned already, I am deeply in love with this anime, despite the genre of it (Magical Girl) being one of my least favorite. A story of this type would most likely appeal to those who enjoy a bit of fantasy and shoujo, with a touch of the classical fairy tale feel. This may not be everyone's cup of tea, and can definitely think of a few people who wouldn't enjoy the show to the extent that I did.
Nevertheless, this does not change my fond opinion about Princess Tutu, which was a beautiful story from start to finish. The characters and lovely, the story is incredibly put together, and the music is wonderful. Be sure to try this anime and you may fall in love with it as much as I did.