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
it is not for every one it is vrey slow some times but if you are in to a anime that is classic and beautiful this the one for you. If you waich this you have to like classical music and ballet. It has many funny moments to.
Recently someone asked me what my favourite anime was. It's impossible to pick just one anime, but I just happened to be re-watching Princess Tutu, so it was easy for me to say that definetely Princess Tutu is one of the best. It's one of those anime for both children and adults; as a matter of fact, grown ups will probably get much more out of it than children. It combines a really good story with good characters and decent character development, good pacing, interesting and sometimes thought-provoking themes, nice art and great music. The result is an emotionally involving anime that leaves you with a smile on your face but also feeling sad that the story ended and you won't be seeing anymore of the characters.
I guess you could label it a magical girl anime, but really do not expect anything similar to the magical girl anime you've seen before. It's a deceptively simple anime, but as you go on watching you come to understand that it's really not simple at all. A lot of thought must have gone into the development of the plot and the narration. And the plot is only revealed a little at a time, so there are countless surprises in store for you: things are not what they seem to be.
The characters are divided very neatly in main and secondary ones. The main ones are well-built and well-presented and develop a lot as the story goes on. The secondary ones are caricatures, very well done, but they do not develop. The only fault I can see for what concerns the characters, is the Crow; he's the main antagonist but remains confined in his role of fairytale badass. But if on the other hand you see Drosselmeyer as the main antagonist, I guess it's ok if the Crow isn't developed at all.
The animation is very good, with very nice backgrounds and setting. You're in a fairytale and the artstyle conveys exactly this, it is dreamy with muted and hushed tones that become dark and threatening when needed. The character design is maybe a little too simple. The sound is simply beautiful, the setting is a fairytale ballet world, so you have many of the great musical ballet pieces on the soundtrack. The voice actors do a really good job: Ahiru, Mytho, Fakir, Rue and Drosselmeyer are so effective characters because the voice actors are extremely effective at communicating their emotions, spirit and frame of mind.
Just to get you started:
Once upon a time there was an old man who died. He was a storyteller but he could not defy death. His last story was about a brave, handsome prince who vanquishes a crafty, evil crow. The death of the old man means that the fight between the prince and the crow cannot be resolved and is destined to go on and on and on. After a long long time, the raven escapes from within the story, and the prince, in pursuit of the raven, gets out of the story too. They arrive in a small village where fantasy, imagination and reality soon get all mixed up. The prince decides to end the battle by sealing the crow away, and does so by tearing his heart away from his chest. His heart splinters in a thousand glittering shards that get scattered - invisible - all over the village. The prince lives on, but without a heart he is little more than a puppet, doing mindlessly what others bid him to do, the beauty of life lost to him, he just dances on and on, effortlessly. Devoid of kindness towards others and without memories of ever having fought the raven. An empty shell.
A small duck floating in the pond among the reeds sees the sad prince dance and it is overcome by the desire to dance with the him and bring a smile to his face. But it is only a duck and what can a duck do?? Suddenly, a creepy old magician appears and offers the duck the possibility to become a girl in exchange for a tale. And so the story is set in motion. Ahiru is enrolled in the dance academy, she's loud and clumsy but with a very big heart. She watches the sad prince from afar, as he gracefully dances in the special class made up of the top students.
The duck is Ahiru, the girl, and the girl is Princess Tutu. Princess Tutu is the only one who can gather the shards of the prince's lost heart and give them back to him. The shards scattered from the prince's heart find new places in which to settle, people who have a void within their heart, every shard an emotion. Princess Tutu is a princess from a fairytale, she is fated never to be with the prince she loves for as soon as she confesses her love, she will become a speck of light and vanish. A love forever unrequited.
"A prince without a heart to love. And is just a story.
A princess who cannot express her love. And is just a duck.
A cowardly knight who fears death. And who is just a human.
A villain without resolve. Is she really the villain?
It's dangerous when you aren't aware of your place in the world"....
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.