Take a good look at your anime habits and ask yourself “what’s more important to me; execution or concept”? If your answer is “concept” I’d re-direct you to some truly original stories that nonetheless end up falling beneath their own weight; Umineko no naku koro ni for example. If your answer is “execution”, however, I’d gladly point in the direction of shows like Cowboy Bebop and Madoka who excel in writing over original ideas.
Viewers looking for both might find themselves with a more limited list of alternatives, but Princess Tutu is one of their best choices in most regards. Not only does it create its own highly ambitious and complex fairy tale but it also dives into realms of meta-fiction as well as anecdotes that depict already existing tales in different ways. Prepare yourself not only for an intriguing story but alternate explanations and questions relating to fairy tales you’re already familiar with.
There are lower points to the story however, but these are minor and easily forgiven. My most prominent complaint is how the story occasionally seems repetitive; I don’t know how many times a plot point was revealed through Ahiru’s accidental or deliberate eavesdropping but I’m guessing the number is far higher than it should. There are also times when the writers seem to rely too much on Deus ex machina, even if it’s never as obvious or frustrating as it usually would be. When put into greater context of a story that understands the fundamental parts of good writing and pacing, though, I don’t see any real reason to complain. Tutu is excellently scripted throughout and the increasingly dark story reaches one of the best conclusions I’ve seen in anime. Do not, under any circumstances, miss this!
Despite having remained about as obscure as the anime they produce, the people behind Hal Film Maker did a great job handling the budget for Princess Tutu. As a whole, the animation hints at a less-than-ideal budget that most studios would handle carelessly, resulting in sloppy movement, ugly backgrounds and other visual errors. Avoiding all of these pitfalls however, the animators choose to pull out the big guns only when it’s actually needed whilst settling for still frames and slower movement most of the times which works a lot better than anyone would expect. Character designs are simple but charming and there are many times where their surroundings look like something you might find in a picture book which suits the fairy tale premise perfectly.
The soundtrack is one of the best in the world of anime, rivaled only by Cowboy Bebop for those who prefer Yoko Kanno’s genre-jumping over the classics. In many cases the use of timeless compositions from the likes of Beethoven would be excessive at its best and pretentious at its worst but the grand scope of Tutu’s narrative is well-deserving of an equally thespian soundtrack. I mentioned earlier that clever planning made the animation look absolutely beautiful despite financial flaws; if anything the music is a further complement that makes several scenes absolutely unforgettable. As is the case with Legend of the Galactic Heroes, the musical scores are implemented well enough for an untrained ear to mistake them for original compositions created specifically for the images seen onscreen. I have absolutely nothing bad to say about the soundtrack other than its potential role as a distractor from everything else. Luckily for us there are enough interesting things elsewhere to keep us focused and hungry for more.
Most characters start out as distorted fairytale archetypes. There’s a determined (yet disoriented) knight protecting a noble (yet heartless) prince who’s loved by a beautiful (yet manipulative) princess; alongside comes an innocent and kind (yet non-human) protagonist to get the story moving. What’s interesting isn’t only how the characters change over time but also the fact that they remain unaware of their various roles within the story until Drosselmeyer’s insanities reach further heights. Upon the realization of their own existences as characters within a story they all react differently with everything from defiance to acceptance which makes everything a lot more interesting.
It is, in other words, true that there’s an unexpected depth within the characters; even some of the minor ones reach absolutely unforgettable climaxes that were about as well-written as unexpected. Some of the sad exceptions to the rule however are the sadistic side-kicks Lilie and Pike as well as various anthropomorphic animals who fill little to no purpose other than slapstick. I got to hand it to some of them though; their constant shenanigans are way less obnoxious than they should be for one reason or another, but the frequency for their appearances is way too high.
Princess Tutu is a show that needs to be seen to be believed. Everything from the title to actual concept seems to suggest yet another bland example of overly-ambitious mahou shoujo, but any anime fan would be a fool to dismiss it as such. If you’re looking for your next masterpiece then look no further and if, per chance, you think you’re too manly or mature for a show filled with sparkles and ballet; get over yourself immediately!