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.
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
The Story: Each episode begins with a narrator telling an opening to some form a fairytale which then plays along into the episode. The main story "The Prince and the Raven" is where the story of Princess Tutu comes from. Drosselmeyer being the author of the story who died, but still keeps a close watch on how his story has progressed because every story that he writes comes true. "The Prince and the Raven" is suppose to be a tragedy where the story most end as the beginning.
Characters: The story gives off the feeling that Drosselmeyer is the villain and Princess Tutu is the hero, but then the story progresses and you start to realize the truth behind every character. Each has their own tragic background story which makes them into the character they play in the story. "The Prince and the Raven"'s characters go like this; Mytho is the prince obviously, Fakir is his loyal knight, Princess Tutu was created as a source of interest to Drosselmeyer because he said that his story was going no where, Rou is Princess Kraehe (the crow) and all the other characters do have some importance, but end up not being in the story eventually. Of course thats only for the story that the show is "based" off of. Mytho has lost his heart and it is now in different pieces spread all over due to his fight as a prince with the raven and has no memory of it, but for every shard that Princess Tutu returns to him he gains an emotion and a memory of who he is. Duck is Princess Tutu and yes a duck. She is suppose to return the prince's heart to him and is cursed to never tell the prince of her love for him. Princess Kraehe is the daughter of the Raven , but Rou is just an ordinary human girl who was kidnapped by the Raven and was fed his blood in order for her to be Princess Kraehe and not feel love. Fakir has been protecting the prince for quite some time in his life and knows the story of "The Prince and the Raven" and figures out that the story has come true and that he was suppose to die since he is the princes knight, but a family tree shown to him shows that he is a direct dissident of Drosselmeyer and has the power to rewrite the story.
Back to the Story: The show leads you into believing that you already know how the story is suppose to end, but change of events and discovery leads to an alternate ending and this time it is a happy ending for the only person (or thing) that suffers is the raven.
Now that the story is over, a few questions came to mind: What will happen with Mytho and Rou since they still have the raven's blood within them? What story has Drosselmeyer moved on to? and What was the emotion for that finale heart shard?
Animation: I find nothing wrong with the animation the characters move just like people and are moving just like ballet performers. I only found the half animal half human people weird, but if they were real they would move and behave just like that in the show.
Sound: The music fits every scene and gave off the feel that I was watching an actually ballet with dramatic music for dramatic scenes, and different types of music for the different types of scenes to give the viewer an understanding of whats going on and know the characters emotions.
Overall: The story was very entertaining and a bit confusing, but still easy to understand and loved by all the age groups apparently because every time I watched it someone would just walk by and look at what I'm watching and actually liked it. My mother joined me for a few episodes before she went to work and every time I brought home a Princess Tutu DVD my little brother joined me in watching it and loved every moment of it (then again he might have just watched it to see all the lady ballerinas ^_^).
I recommend this show to anyone who loves a good story and imagines what would happen if fairy tales came to the real world and if you would love to imagine seeing everyone and hear what their thinking from the safety of your giant clock. ^_^
Real men wear tights.
Writer, Drosselmeyer has died while he was in the middle of writing his latest novel. As a result, the characters and story are in a suspended state, unable to continue. The story in question is of a prince and how he defeated a great raven and pierced his own heart into numerous shards. Wanting to give the story a proper tragic end, Drosselmeyer comes into contact with a young duckling, appropriately named Duck, to put the gears of the story back into motion. Duck, who has seen watching the same prince from his story dance a sad dance, wants nothing more than to make the prince Mytho happy again. Drosselmeyer gives the Duck a magic pendant which allows her to not only become human, but when the time is right to become Princess Tutu. In human form, Duck attends the same ballet school as Mytho and develops a faint friendship with him. As Tutu, she is able to gather Mytho’s heart shards, which have become part of different people and alter their feelings. The first part of the series is fairly formulaic, episodes usually boil down to Duck finds a heart shard, becomes Princess Tutu, dances and returns the heart shard to Mytho, rinse and repeat. This part of the series is lighthearted, and will turn off most reluctant watchers. However, near the end of the first act, the story begins to depart from this pattern and travel into a comparatively darker story. During this depart, new dangers arise, and characters go through drastic changes.
Our protagonist, Duck, is your typical full of energy, klutzy girl who has difficulty going through basic ballet routines. However, once she becomes Princess Tutu, she has all the grace in the world and her eccentric nature disappears. Mytho has all the personality as someone without a heart has, for better or worse. As the series continues, and Mytho gains more of his heart his character develops. Rue, Mytho’s girlfriend, is surprisingly likable. While the usual convention would be to play the love rival as temperamental and/or spoiled, Rue is easy to feel sorry for. Duck doesn’t hold Rue’s current status as Mytho’s girlfriend against her, and quickly tries to befriend her. While Rue is a little hesitant at this, the two do get closer as the first act progresses. Fakir, a friend of Mytho, is fairly antagonistic in the first half, and both he and Rue are against the return of Mytho’s heart for reasons that are made clear. Supporting characters such as the almost pedophilic Mr. Cat, and Duck’s friend Pike and Lillie help to keep light comedy coming even when the show becomes more serious. Of course one of the more important characters, Drosselmeyer, looms over the other. His goal, as stated earlier, is to give his story a tragic end, and he will pop in time to time to try to nudge it back into the direction that he sees fit. All of these characters develop very well throughout the series and have their dramatic turns where friends may jump to a foe and vice versa.
The show looks great, and the animation is crisp and entertaining to watch. Unlike other “magical girl” shows, Tutu eschews magical battles on a grand scale to ballet dances with hint of magic here and there. While there is a sword fight here and there, they are few and far in between. The dances are well done and are a joy to watch. Music-wise the series also stands out as classical pieces are used during more important scenes in the show. Nutcracker, Sugar Plum, and many more classical pieces help to set the tone in the show. They all do so well, that it’s easy to forgive the rest of the soundtrack which is fairly decent at best. The dub voices do well to emulate their characters and they all are memorable. Luci Christian makes Duck’s exuberant nature cute when it could have been grating.
The problem, as previously stated, is the how slow the series begins. While characters are played out well, there’s very little in terms of things actually happening.
At the end of the day, Tutu is a wonderful tale. The characters are deep, the dancing is new and enjoyable, and once the show picks up it rarely slows down. If you plan to watch it, be persistent. To the male audience, if you bear through the girly nature of the show, it is still entertaining.
Princess Tutu (2002-2003) - Junichi Sato & Shogo Koumoto, Hal Film Maker
An anime ballet? Seriously?
This was the thought that niggled at the back of my mind when I tried to decide whether or not to watch Princess Tutu. I'd heard good things about it, and the suppressed girl creature in my heart does enjoy a sparkly shoujo every once in awhile, and yet that thought persisted. An anime ballet. What the flying crap?
Nevertheless, I gave the series a shot. And I am happy to say that my foot has en pointe-ed its way firmly into my mouth.
I loved this series. I stayed up all night watching the second half of it, and I’ve already amassed a not-too-shabby collection of fanart and amvs. Looking back, I can name dozens of scenes that should have been ridiculous--dancing to save the world? pah!--and yet they absolutely weren’t. Princess Tutu just worked.
The series takes place in a small village--probably somewhere in eastern Europe--where the stories of the eccentric author Drosselmeyer have taken over reality after his death. Enter our heroine Ahiru, a duck turned human by Drosselmeyer's writings. Although clumsy and average-looking in her usual human form, Ahiru nevertheless takes it upon herself to save the prince of the story, the mysterious and emotionless Muto, and so dons the alter ego of Princess Tutu. Unlike Ahiru, Tutu wears the feathers of a swan and exibits the grace of one, effortlessly calming lost souls and collecting pieces of the prince's shattered heart. Her original goals are only the tip of the iceberg, however, and the story quickly unravels into a startlingly heartfelt and heartwrenching drama.
The plot is rather helter-skelter, always throwing in new elements and pulling explanations out of its ass, but the delivery has a magic to it that keeps it afloat. Most everything about the series feels like a fairy tale, from the short synopses reminiscent of bedtime stories told at the beginning of each episode to the fantastic cast of characters to the ballet itself. I never had to suspend my disbelief because the magic had me in its clutches the whole time. I felt like I’d been turned into a kid again.
The characters are also an unexpected treat. Although the side characters don’t develop much, the four main characters--Ahiru, Fakir, Rue, and Mytho--each acquire a surprising number of layers. They all come with their own personal demons to conquer, which emerge slowly throughout the series. Princess Tutu arguably has some of the best character development out of any magical girl anime I’ve seen. The inner struggles of the characters does give the story a somewhat melancholy air, but the angst manages to tiptoe along the line of tragedy without ever falling onto the side of Downright Depressing.
Then there's the ballet. My biggest beef against the show going in quickly became one of my favorite aspects. The battle scenes play out like acts in an actual ballet. Although repetitive at times, these scenes rarely feel over-the-top and ultimately contribute perfectly to the fairy tale atmosphere of the series. They reminded me of plays like Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, and not just because of the allusions.
The music is absolutely gorgeous, an ethereal collection from various ballets that compliment the dance scenes beautifully. The anime would not have been nearly as believable and pretty without such great music. I had symphonies playing in my head for half a week after finishing this series.
Tie all these aspects up in a ball, and you’ve got yourself a great anime that I would recommend to just about anybody despite its genre-specific nature. Princess Tutu not only satisfied my shoujo sweet tooth but placated the cynic in me as well. In my book, this is one of the better magical girl anime out there. Hell, it's one of the better anime in general.