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.