"Once upon a time, there was a man who died..."
Story: As a longtime fan of opera and ballet, I knew that I had to see Princess Tutu upon learning that it drew from those two influences. Much of the story is heavily inspired by Tchaikovsky's ballet Swan Lake. Other episodes draw from Giselle, The Nutcracker, and Sleeping Beauty, among others. Allusions also exist to Bizet's opera Carmen, in the episode with the infamous Femio.
The story centers around Duck who is, as her name implies, a duck. She has the ability to become a human girl, however, upon receiving a pendant from the mysterious Drosselmeyer. She reverts back to being a duck upon quacking or making any movement resembling that of a duck. As a human girl, she studies ballet and attends an arts school.
Moreover, she is not only a girl and a duck. She's also Princess Tutu, who is charged with the task of restoring the heart shards of Mytho, a prince who escaped the pages of a story. The heart shards contain Mytho's emotions and without them, he shows no feelings. Duck must also contend with Fakir, who is essentially Mytho's bodyguard and self-proclaimed protector, and Rue, Mytho's girlfriend and the prima donna of the ballet school that they all attend.
However, Princess Tutu is more than a simple magical girl, "gotta catch 'em all" type of anime. The collection of the heart shards is only a small piece of the story. As the story progresses, we learn more about the origin of Mytho, why he shattered his heart, and the consequences that will come with its restoration.
Animation: Princess Tutu takes place in a setting that looks much like Germany. I found the background to be very reminiscent of European fairy tales: it's exactly right for this type of anime. It's very pleasing to look at. The ballet sequences are well-choreographed and great attention is given to detail.
Sound: The soundtrack for Princess Tutu consists entirely of classical music, with the exceptions of the opening and closing themes. While much of the music is drawn from ballets, non-ballet music is also used (two examples include Saint-Saëns' "Danse Macabre" and Mussorgsky's " The Great Gate of Kiev"). Tchaikovsky's lovely melodies permeate Princess Tutu and it is truly a treat for the ears. However, as essential as the music is to the story, it is never overbearing or overwhelming. The music matches the scenes perfectly. Different characters have different themes: Fakir's is from Beethoven and Mytho's is the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy". The "Waltz of the Flowers" shows up frequently in major battles and also is part of the opening theme. I only mark it down slightly because I wasn't fond of the ending theme; it seemed a bit dissonant when compared to the other music. Overall, though, the music is moving and lovely.
Characters: The four major characters (Fakir, Duck, Mytho, and Rue) all show development.
Mytho, the prince without a heart, seems at first to be numb and emotionless. Although some might take issue with his character not being more fully fleshed out for much of the series, it does make sense in the context of the story: remember, he starts off with no heart and no feelings. Therefore, much of his behavior and initial lack of depth stem from the absence of emotion and not from sloppy writing or character development.
Without spoiling too much, Fakir undergoes the most radical transformation of anyone in the entire series, and he does so in a way that is believable. While he does change, he also does not lose the core of who he is: he evolves, but he nonetheless remains himself.
Duck and Rue also change and evolve by the end of the story, but I avoid discussion of that in further detail so as not to give away too many spoilers. Like Fakir, though, they are different though still recognizable by the end of the series.
Drosselmeyer plays the role of antagonist very well. He is sadistic without question, but it seems (to me) that his villain status is more of an "evil as a result of boredom" type of situation than anything else. He doesn't seem to hate anyone and is indiscriminate when it comes to making others miserable. Drosselmeyer is simply a troublemaker who enjoys tragedy. He doesn't seem to have a strong hatred of anyone. If he hates anything, it's happy endings.
There are several minor characters who serve as comic relief to the series, most notably Mr. Cat, Pike, and Lilie. The animal characters are also amusing (the sloth being my personal favorite, along with Mr. Cat). Uzura is entertaining and adorable, although some might find her irritating. Edel serves to keep the story moving. And, of course, there's Femio.
Overall: Princess Tutu is undoubtedly my favorite anime. It contains many elements that I like: plot twists, interesting and well-developed characters, beautiful scenery, enchanting music, and a hint of romance. The story is one that is heavily steeped in ballet influences, yet is also refreshing and original: it is obviously inspired by other works, but it brings something new and beautiful to offer the viewer.