This 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.
Wikipedia 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.
Her 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.