Princess Tutu will dance her way into your heart

When I realized I had the opportunity to spend this most precious of weeks working my way through a long-ignored anime series, I could have wasted ages agonizing over the decision, yet it was quite the opposite – two elegant words immediately jumped (or should I say, danced?) to mind: Princess Tutu.

ptutu_44.jpgThis week I’m off work, my first real break since August; no early mornings, no tired evenings, just hours and hours of free time. When I realized I had the opportunity to spend this most precious of weeks working my way through a long-ignored anime series, I could have wasted ages agonizing over the decision, weighing up the relative pros and cons as a scientist may treat his next great project, yet it was quite the opposite – two elegant words immediately jumped (or should I say, danced?) to mind: Princess Tutu. And that was that; seven episodes later, these are my first impressions.

Now, I know a lot of you must be thinking, “Princess Tutu?! Bateszi’s gone soft…” But you know what, underneath it all, I’m not into anime for any macho bullshit reasons. I enjoy heartfelt characterisation and relationships, fantastic stories and symbolic drama. It doesn’t matter whether I’m watching never-ending shonen fare like Naruto or magical girl anime like Pretear, what counts most is empathy, and I’ve always heard interesting things about Princess Tutu, about how it’s more than just cliche shojo.

ptutub_08.jpgWikipedia describes the series as a “meta-fairytale”. Essentially, Princess Tutu is a story within a story, an elegant and magical fusion of fairytale tropes that conforms to the conventional structure of “magical girl” anime (including the per-episode transformation into titular magical girl) yet constantly plays with its fantastic reality; like, amidst the more typical anime characters, we have the odd talking animals walking around and dressed as humans – a school-aged female anteater being one of the most bizarre examples. No one is surprised by this; the kids just carry on as normal.

It’s somewhat unsurprising then that clumsy main character Ahiru happens to be a duck, albeit a duck that can transform into a squeaky-voiced, ballet-dancing Japanese school girl. She loves the Prince but the rules of her magic dictate that she can never confess her feelings, lest she will vanish into thin air, and yet still, she will stop at nothing to see her Prince smile. Ahiru’s an adorable character; eccentric, selfless and full of fluttering butterflies, she so obviously deserves a happy ending.

ptutu_43.jpgHer quest for an unlikely romance is the core of the story, but I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. Simply describing the narrative is one thing, yet there is so much to say about the unique use of ballet, opera and theatrical music; you see, Princess Tutu doesn’t defeat her enemies; she dances into their frozen hearts. The misty landscapes, vintage architecture and moody lighting conjure an atmosphere of magic and whimsy as the characters laugh and cry with a melodramatic innocence and honesty. In many ways, it’s like watching a beautiful theatrical performance or reading a classic fairytale, each character destined to fulfil their fated roles as heroes or villains, but an interesting twist is their rebellion against fate; they are confused and conflicted by their subtle emotions, lost in an unfinished fable where good and evil aren’t supposed to be complicated.

Author: bateszi

A huge bloody nerd. I apologise in advance. I live in Cambridge, England. That's not an excuse, by the way.

25 thoughts on “Princess Tutu will dance her way into your heart”

  1. I’m glad to see someone else checking out Princess Tutu! As main characters go in anime, Duck is one of my favorites. Not perfect, not whiny, not a loser. She’s more like a best friend type.

    Whatever you do (if it’s not too late, as you already looked at the Wikipedia article), avoid any and all spoilers at all costs. The story which unfolds is too good not to let be spoiled.

    One of my favorite scenes from the series is an early one:
    Pike: Oh, the teacher’s here!
    Duck: Yes! *Sees teacher.* Cat?!
    Students: *gasp*
    Pike: That’s Mr. Cat!
    Duck: Mr. Cat?
    Lilie: Something wrong?
    Duck: A cat for a teacher?
    Mr. Cat: All right, quiet down. If you don’t, rest assured, I will have you marry me.
    *Wedding music starts playing, then dies down slowly.*
    Mr. Cat: *Licks back of paw, and wipes brow with it.*

    I love that Mr. Cat =D

  2. Sold. You have convinced me of this, and as soon as I get that monstrous 36 hour backlog out of the way (and write about it, too) before the year ends, I’ll be watching this. Thanks for the recommendation. :D

  3. By the way, anyone planning to buy might want to look into saving a ton of money and getting the newly released complete collection. I bought them invidiually during ADVFilm’s after-Thanksgiving sale, which is a good time to buy if you want them individually. I don’t know if the box set strips out all the wonderful extras (including a trailer for the concept for Princess Tutu back before they started actual production). Just saying, for anyone who doesn’t notice there’s a box set, and looks at the price tags.

    Let me also say that ADVFilm’s dubbing is top notch, excellent. Every voice fits the character wonderfully. Most are close in sound to their Japanese counterpart, and those who aren’t so close are still a very good voice (such as Pike’s voice). And you can’t miss out on Mr. Cat’s dub voice, no way.

    I write a post on Tutu myself about a week ago, but I write in advance, so it won’t show up on my own blog until the 24th — such is the life of future-posting, I can’t slip in a link here, saying “check out my own take on trying to sell the series” ;)

  4. Her quest for an unlikely romance is the core of the story

    It actually becomes something more as it progresses but I won’t spoil it for you. :)

    I am glad you are enjoying the earlier episodes because it only gets better from here. You will have to post your final reactions after you finish the whole series.

  5. @Christopher Fritz: I’ve seen up to episode 13 as of today (which is the conclusion to the first story arc, I think), but I’m an expert at avoiding spoilers so nothing has been ruined :) And I like Mr. Cat too, especially how he’ll just suddenly revert to being a cat at the end of a conversation or something… It’s so random, yet funny – the fact he has such a stuck personality (I love the scene when he turns down a marriage proposal from a goat!) definitely helps the comedy!

    I wish ADV would release the series in the UK on DVD, but apparently it sold badly. It’s the type of thing that needs to be on TV to find an audience – it’s way beyond typical anime fandom.

    And I’ll try to check out your own post on the series when it eventually appears. I wish I had the energy to future date posts, but unfortunately, it took me 5 to 6 hours to write this post, so it’s a bit time consuming.

    @Owen: Good stuff – be sure to write about it, too. Not many people know about Princess Tutu, and it’s probably better than at least 90% of the anime people are watching on fansubs right now. It’s interesting how people will waste time with mediocre anime just because it’s new, and ignore brilliant older anime simply because it isn’t current; I’m the same in those regards.

    @Kim: Yup, I’ll try to post my reflections on the show once it’s all finished. I hoping to do that on Saturday, but there are 23 mini-episodes in my way! Fakir is an awesome character, but I guess that’s a cliche thing to say :)

  6. Tutu remains one of my favourite anime series. The characters are wonderful, the Mahou Tsukai Tai character designs are brilliant, the comedy is gold, the story is excellent and goes in unexpected directions, the classical music score is wonderful, and the surreal touches are great too (that nice dash of Utena). There’s really nothing I don’t like about PT.

    It has taken a few years but people finally seem to be realising what a good series they missed out on back in 2003. During my barren years this was the one series I cared about. I’ve had to spend years convincing my own anime friends to watch it – and even though they generally have good taste in series they were all reluctant to try it. However not a single one has come away thinking it anything but top tier. Just such a wonderful tale that only gets better and better as it goes along. I really think, and hope, you will come away liking it as much as I do.

  7. Five to six hours? Wow; but I must say, the post has some very eloquent writing parts to it. It’s the kind of post that makes me say to myself, “I want to write something just like this!” I still have a long way to go, yet.

    For some reason I thought that there was a UK release, but now that I look into it, it’s the Australian release I was thinking of. The UK really can use a DVD box set of the series.

    The unfortunate part is that many people may pass up the series because of its title, “Princess Tutu”, and its premise, “a magical ballerina” they may think. Personally, I’d have no problem buying the individual DVDs with the reversed covers visible, but I’d feel weird buying the American box set with that artwork of Rue ADV went with. I really don’t know why they didn’t use something similar to the Australian box set.

  8. I just noticed AnimeNation has ADV releases for 40% off as part of a holiday sale, including Princess Tutu — you know, for anyone who wants to check out the series, but thinks US$49.98 is a little too much (for a series which’ll run over 35,000Y to buy in Japan ;) For $29.99 plus shipping, there’s no excuse for anyone in the USA not to try out Princess Tutu.

  9. @Equitan: I’ve heard a lot about Utena, mostly from yuri/shojo-ai fans. So, my inevitable question to you is, is it any good?

    And I can see how Tutu fell under the radar for most. The name and the general magical girl aesthetic is fairy subversive. Certainly, I wouldn’t be watching it if not for the good reviews that suggested it offered more than, say, Sailor Moon.

    @Chris: Thanks for the nice comment about the article. I seriously nit-pick everything I write (in fact, I re-wrote at least 40% of the “first draft”), and even though a blog is supposed to be an impulsive and informal place to write, I still treat it very carefully. I guess everyone develops their own style, that is mine.

    And $30 for the whole series is an amazing price – especially when it converts to just £15! Anyway, I hope Tutu is a slow burner for ADV… It may not have flown off the shelves, but as a steady stream of people like myself continue to discover it, fingers crossed it’ll gradually develop some good business for them. I bet it’s the same case with Kino’s Journey (Kino no Tabi); another remarkably good yet underrated gem that belies it’s rather simple aesthetic.

  10. I’m not even sure how many times I rewrote my own Princess Tutu post, which started out as something of a review, but then dropped as many spoilers as possible, then went through a lot of changes. In fact, the final version which will appear on my blog is actually a complete rewrite, which then had parts of the previous version slipped into it, then the whole thing rewritten to weave it together. I’m still not satisfied, I wrote the first version about a year ago. If I wait until I’m satisfied, I’ll never post it!

    At the risk of sounding like I’m advertising here, I’ll have a Duck wallpaper on my blog in about 24 hours (another item I made a week or two ago, and set for future posting). I have found a couple of nice Princess Tutu wallpapers out there, but nothing of Duck, so I had to compose something to use on one of my desktops.

    But, yeah, Princess Tutu is one of those easy-to-skip-over-series. It competely fits the genre I watch (alongside Ojamajo Doremi and Petite Princess Yucie), and even I was unsure just reading a one-paragraph description of the series somewhere. The paragraph basically told of the series as being about “a duck who transforms into a girl, and when she’s a girl she transforms into a princess, so she can save the prince,” and it left me rather confused. If ever there was a series in need of evangelizing to get it out to the people who’d enjoy it, but would otherwise pass it buy on appearances alone, this is that series!

  11. Revolutionary Girl Utena is a very good series. I wouldn’t worry about all you’ve heard from the yaoi / yuri fans as there’s none of that. It’s not difficult to make the leap with a couple of characters, sure, but it’s a very slight thing.

    You should endeavour to watch RGU at some stage because it’s a very good series built around allegory. The characters are great, and get plenty of time to develop, and there are some wonderful surreal elements (the Shadow Play Girls being probably my favourite thing from the entire series).

    The duels that take place, and the animation during said sequences, are minor knocks against the series – in the sense that they’re merely average and there’s some reused animation, rather than bad – so I’d really recommend you find the time one day for RGU as I’m sure you’d like it and find a lot of it worthwhile.

  12. I love Pretear. I watch anime also not for macho bullshit reasons, and that would be the reason why I love stories that paint their characters excellently. I am not avoiding old anime: in fact, I cherish a lot of them, and among my favorites is the almost twenty year old Maison Ikkoku.

  13. It’s great to see you exploring Princess Tutu– I was also very pleasantly surprised. Initially, it was almost entirely the music and ballet-like sequences that drew me in, but somewhere around eps 6 or 7, the story also got very good. Not everyone is as they seem, as you well know now. :) A lot of the characters really do some 180’s by the end of the first season, and some really change again by the end of the 2nd season– they’re not very static, and yes, Fakir kicks ass. Also, I think they do such a good job weaving the different elements of myth and fable in to the show. For what is, in essence, still a magical girl show at heart, there’s a reasonable amount to mined. A good show, but with a particular taste.

    As for Revolutionary Girl Utena, eh…. I could never get past the first 10 eps. It wasn’t horrible, but the drama was … too forced for me, and the characters unrelatable. I could see how, if one stuck with it, there’d be some interesting metaphors to explore, but it took to long to get going for me. If a show doesn’t catch me within 5-10 eps, I just let it go. Life’s too short, and I’ve got too many other responsibilities to spend hours watching anime I’m not even enjoying.

  14. So, one for and one against Revolutionary Girl Utena. Thanks for your comments on that show, guys. It definitely sounds like something I should try myself, since the heavy use of surrealism and symbolism can be both fantastic and infuriating.

    @Michael: Give it a shot, if you liked Pretear, you’ll like Tutu… It’s just a flat out better series, probably the best “magical girl” anime I’ve seen (not that my experience with the genre is especially deep).

    ***

    Also, just thought I’d leave a quick update on my progress with Tutu… Right now I’m in the early twenty-something episodes. I got back on track last night after an extended weekend break, totally determined to finish it. Still hoping to write another post, thanks to reading the nice comments here and on a certain someone’s live journal :)

  15. I’m a huge ballet and anime fan and was so excited when i saw pincess tutu. But it’s so sad i have to watch it on the web :'( as i’m in the uk. Was swan ever turned into anime??

  16. I stumbled across this blog… Yes, I just want to agree with EVERYONE here- this series is fabulous!
    As a classically trained musician, I ESPECIALLY love the soundtrack. Much of the OST is comprised of beautiful authentic excerpts of standard (famous) ballet music. The rest of the OST is pretty much the SAME music, re-vamped into an interesting mode/key in order to alter the feel/attitude of each scene.

    …its also cool to see that there are guys checkin this series out, and not getting turned off by the “girly” title or initial “feel”.

  17. Sorry I didn’t stumble on this site sooner. this reply is probably too late for anyone to see it or comment. I was looking for anime for my grandaughter and fell in love with Tutu. It is what a fairy tale is suppose to be: Complex, unusually, and with a sense danger that things just might not turn out well.

    It is a story taking over anouther story, trying to excape another story. As it unfolds you discover the next layer, which needs to the next layer. Different chacters are trying to control the story for their own purposes, and each finds that the story has a life of it’s own. This makes it (good) scary – children like that, they understand that because they find the world a confusing, maybe even scary, but fun place.

    I recommended it to friends who bought it for their daughters and grandaughers, they all loved it UNTIL THE ENDING! In a fairy tale world Duck’s fate makes sense, it even makes some sense in the story (although their is one chacter who would seem to have the power to rewrite the ending), but it is not what young (8 – 13) wanted to see! Duck did not end up with the person she loved and who loved her, and, even worse from a young girl’s stand point: her friends forgot about her. They howled and their parents and grandparents howled at me.

    I didn’t like the ending, I thought Duck deserved better, so I didn’t buy the series for my grandaughter. But I did show it to her mother (my daughter) who also loved the series but hated the ending, and she made a good point. The reason she didn’t like the ending is that one of the morals from the story is that you don’t have to surrender to your “fate” you can fight and change it, yet everything Duck did didn’t change her fate.

  18. Hi Ken Warren,

    Well I am not Baetzi but I hope you don’t mind hearing someone else’s opinion. I am huge Princess Tutu fan and personally I loved the ending. You said Duck does not end up with the person who loved her. However that is not true at all. Duck did end up with someone who loves her. She ended up with the person who loves her in every form (Tutu, the Girl, the Duck). It doesn’t matter to that person whether she is a duck, he will still stay by her side forever. This is exactly what that person told her and in the very last scene we see them together. Perhaps they cannot be together in the traditional sense. But Princess Tutu is a fairytale so who is to say a duck and human cannot have a happily ever after. I don’t see why Duck’s life has to be sad as a duck, Why can’t she have a happy life as a duck with that person?

    The reason she didn’t like the ending is that one of the morals from the story is that you don’t have to surrender to your “fate” you can fight and change it, yet everything Duck did didn’t change her fate.

    I don’t think the ending contradicts this at all. In Drosselmeyer’s story the characters were surrendering to the fate of their roles in the story. However in the end Duck and Fakir embrace their true selves, not imaginary roles made up for them. If anything I think the message was very strong because the characters did not have to have magical powers to overturn their fate. They were able to overcome the fate of Drosselmeyer’s story and be true to themselves in their true forms. I thought this was a beautiful message. There is nothing wrong or sad about Duck returning to her true self.

  19. Kim: Sorry not to have responded soon, but we have had a lot of rain and snow here. I hope you do check back because I want to thank you taking the time to respond to my comments. I usually don’t comment at blogs becauxe, due to where I am and how I get my anime long after other people, and usually well behind the curve, so it is nice to make a comment and get a response. Thanks.

    I’ll first respond to your comments, and then, as I often do, go off on a tangent.

    Your right one of the core appeals of Tutu is that it is a “fairy tale” and therefore complex with many lessions to be learned, and the “reality” (one of the wonders of “fairy tales” is that there is a “reality” to them – often a bitter/sweet “reality’) is that Duck is a duck, and has gained a lot, but is still a duck – one brave, strong, loving duck, but a duck. One who has gained alot including someone who knows and loves them for what they are. This is a great lession, from a great show.

    It was a show that I wanted young (8 – 12?) girls to see, and they did love it. But that is a difficult age for girls, and the ending hit one of their most basic fears. Evil witches (or ravens), monsters in the dark, the first flashes of love, and dangers of change are all things that both scare them and thrill them, but one fear strike to their very core: your friends turning against you, or worse your friends forgetting you even existed.

    Sorry to taken so much of your time, if you did read this thanks, I am sure that you wouldn’t be reading this if you haven’t already seen Tutu, but if you haven’t I suggest you sit down, I would recommend watching it with you child or grandchild so they can show you what you missed, and watch it.

  20. Hi Ken, thanks for comments, though I don’t want to dwell on your age, I’m quite amazed to find an anime loving grandfather, like your good self, reading my humble blog. I guess once you’re a fan, you never lose that passion for the genre? Some great comments, anyway.

    I definitely understand your point of view with regards to the end of Tutu. Through-out the last few episodes, I found myself hoping that Ahiru (Duck) would remain a girl and that her and Fakir would live happily ever after, and that we don’t get this ending left me feeling somewhat empty, but upon reflection, it becomes clear that Tutu is more than just a conventional fairy-tale; obviously it wasn’t interested in ending as a straight forward romance like many other stories, it had something to say about the nature of identity, self-confidence and friendship. Thinking about it, I realised it’s unrealistic to expect everything to end perfectly, after all, that’s not the way things go in real life; simply learning to accept ourselves as ourselves, is far more important than the depiction of an adolescent crush.

    To that end, I’d say it’s a brilliant story to show a group of young girls, especially given all the social pressures placed on today’s generations of children; here we have a role-model brimming with self-belief and courage. If you are concerned about the confusion ignited by its end, it might be worth sitting down and discussing it with your grand-children once it has finished. I’m absolutely sure in the belief that this series offers so much to impressionable youngsters embarking on the insecurity and confusion of their teenage years.

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