Princess Tutu–Anime Review

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4.5 Stars
This is a bit unusual–an anime based on ballet. The story draws heavily from Swan Lake and the The Nutcracker, with individual episodes inspired by various other ballets, operas and pieces of classical music.

Princess Tutu with GearsThis gives the series the singular advantage of having some of the world’s most beautiful music for its soundtrack. It also features clever and thoughtful writing. However the animation is, overall, only mediocre. It’s regrettable that this was not produced by one of the top-ranked animation studios (I’m thinking of Madhouse in particular.) If it had been this would surely have deserved a full five stars.

  • Title
    Princess Tutu
  • Genres
    Fantasy, Drama, Musical, Romance, Magical Girl
  • Demographic
    Shoujo
  • Contents
    26 Episodes on 6 DVDs (1 box set.)
  • Languages
    English, Japanese with subtitles
  • Original Story
    Ikuko Itou
  • Chief Director
    Junichi Satou
  • Series Director
    Shougo Kawamoto
  • Series Composition
    Michiko Yokote
  • Music
    Kaoru Wada
  • Character Design
    Ikuko Itou
  • Art Director
    Kenichi Tajiri
  • Chief Animation Director
    Ikuko Itou
  • Animation Studio
    Hal Film Maker
  • Broadcast
    2002-2003
  • Region 1 Distributor
    Section23 Films

Parental Advisory

Tutu in boatAs in a real ballet, all of the violent scenes take the form of dance numbers. So this must be totally innocuous and ideal for children, right? Actually it’s worth being a bit cautious.

The dark imagery and dark themes may be disturbing to younger children. If you show this to a five-year-old she may well have nightmares.

A ten-year-old will probably not be unduly disturbed, but most ten-year-olds are not the world’s greatest fans of classical music, and many might be annoyed that the fairy tale premise does not lead to a standard fairy tale happy ending.

Given that this is about ballet, I presume that most American boys could not be induced to watch it even at gunpoint. (This is not necessarily true in other countries. A modified version of the story was published as a shounen manga in Japan.)

The bottom line is that this is most likely to appeal to a viewer (of any age) who likes classical music and has developed a degree of tolerance for nuanced storytelling.

Premise and Characters

Once upon a time there was a man who died. The man’s work was to write and tell stories, but he could not defy death. The man’s last story was about a brave and handsome prince, who vanquishes a crafty raven. But now, their battle will go on for eternity with no end.

“I’m sick and tired of this!” cried the raven.

“I’m sick and tired of this!” cried the brave prince as well.

The raven escaped from within the story and the prince, in pursuit of the raven, did as well.

Then the prince took out his own heart and sealed the raven away by using a forbidden power.

Just then, from somewhere, the man who was supposed to have died murmured “This is great!”

AhiruAhiru (“Duck”) is a young girl enrolled as a beginning ballet student at Gold Crown Academy. She is a good girl, but awkward and clumsy, always doing or saying the wrong thing.
Ahiru as a duckAhiru is troubled by a recurring dream in which she is a duck watching a prince dance on the water.
Prince dancingThe prince is beautiful and graceful, but the loneliness in his eyes tears at her heart. She wishes desperately that she could dance with him.
MythoAhiru recognizes that the prince in her dream is actually an older student named Mytho [1]. He is a splendid dancer and very good-looking, and all the girls are in love with him. However his eyes are lonely and his manner is detached and passive.
Mytho fallingOne day Ahiru is horrified to see Mytho falling out of a window.
Ahiru runningShe runs forward, desperate to save him, and suddenly realizes…
Princess Tutu…that she has the ability to transform into Princess Tutu, a magical girl with special dance powers.
Mytho and TutuShe uses her powers to save him, but when he asks her name, all she can say is “Quack!”
Ahiru as duckAhiru realizes that instead of being a girl who dreams about being a duck, she is actually a duck who was dreaming about being a girl.
DrosselmeyerDrosselmeyer the storyteller appears to her. He explains that Mytho is the prince from his unfinished story about a prince who fought against an evil raven.
Raven sealed in the storyIn order to seal away the raven, the prince tore out his own heart and shattered it. Now the shards of his heart are scattered around the town of Goldkrone.
Tutu restoring heartDrosselmeyer wants the prince’s heart restored so that the story can continue. Only Princess Tutu has the power to do this. He offers Ahiru the chance to become a girl again if she is willing to assume this role.
Ahiru acceptingAhiru eagerly accepts. “If I can be a girl and stay by Mytho-sempai’s side, then someday I may be able to put a smile back on his face, and if that’s something I can do then I could wish for no more.”
Ahiru with pendantDrosselmeyer explains that the pendant he has given her will give her the form of a girl, but if she accidentally says “Quack” she will turn back into a duck. If that happens, touching water will turn her back into a girl again.
Drosselmeyer with bookDrosselmeyer has not been entirely straightforward with Ahiru. In particular, he has failed to mention that Princess Tutu is fated to vanish as soon as she confesses her feelings to the one she loves.
Drosselmeyer with globeThis is typical of him. He is a cruel storyteller who likes tragic endings, and watches the suffering of his characters with maniacal laughter.
Edel and AhiruAhiru is occasionally helped in her quest by Edel the organ-grinder. She has a collection of evocatively-named gems and is full of ambiguous advice, such as “May those who accept their fate be granted happiness. May those who defy their fate be granted glory.”
Lilie,  Pike and AhiruAhiru’s best friends at the Academy are Lilie and Pike. As friends they aren’t all that helpful. They are silly, gossipy girls who treat her more like a doll than a person. They love tragic romances and seem to want everyone to have one.
Neko-senseiMr. Neko is the ballet instructor, a harsh taskmaster who terrifies the girls by threatening to marry them if they mess up. Though he seems a clownish character he is a dedicated teacher, and most of his advice is actually pretty good.

Once upon a time there was a girl who loved to dance very much. The girl made the mistake of putting on a pair of red shoes that would force her to dance for eternity once they were on. The girl continued to dance day and night…

Oh my, this is a different story. But perhaps it is not entirely different after all.

RueRue is another older student, very beautiful and a talented dancer, though somewhat lacking in stamina.
Mytho and RueEveryone thinks that Rue is Mytho’s girlfriend, and it pains Ahiru to admit that they seem perfectly matched.
Mytho and RueRue is very possessive of Mytho, and bosses him around shamelessly. He passively does whatever she tells him, but then he acts that way with everyone.

Long ago there was a warrior. In order to protect his friend, the warrior took his friend’s life.

Long ago there was a sword. This sword had continued to fight for the sake of peace. It realized that in order to protect the peace, It had no choice but to kill the one who wielded it. Thus it took its master’s life.

The warrior and the sword had no choice but to do as they did, but was that really what they ought to have done?

Uncertain of the answer even now, they wander aimlessly.

FakirFakir is Mytho’s roommate and childhood friend. He is handsome and a talented dancer, but he seems an unpleasant person with a brusque and contemptuous manner.
Fakir and MythoFakir seeks to control every aspect of Mytho’s life, discouraging him from having other friends, or from having any interests other than ballet.
Karon and FakirFakir often clashes with his foster-father Karon, an armorer.
Princess KraehePrincess Kraehe is an evil magical girl who wants Mytho for herself.
UzuraUzura is an innocent child who goes around asking embarrassing questions and beating a drum.
AutorAutor is a music student who is obsessed with Drosselmeyer’s power to write stories that come true.
BookmenThe Bookmen are determined to do whatever is necessary to keep Drosselmeyer’s stories from continuing.

DVD Notes

If you have read a lot of my anime reviews you have probably figured out that I am not a fan of English dubs. I almost always find the acting on the original Japanese soundtrack to be better. Since it would be boring to say “The Japanese soundtrack is better” every time, I usually say nothing about the English dub unless there is something unusual about it (good or bad).

In this case Nanae Katou, the Japanese seiyuu for Ahiru, seems to find a perfect voice for both Ahiru and Princess Tutu. Conversely the American voice actress plays Ahiru with a voice so shrill and whiny that it makes me want to gouge my ears out. I can’t stand to listen to it for more than a few seconds. [2]

The most interesting extra included on the DVDs is a section on each disc called “√Čtude”, which discusses the musical theme chosen for each episode. Unfortunately this requires you to listen to the American voice actors.

Links

Wikipedia entry. (Spoilers.)

ANN Encyclopedia entry.

My own spoiler-filled notes on the symbolism and the ending.

Notes

[1] Mytho is pronounced “Myuuto”, from the Japanese pronunciation of “mythos”, even on the English soundtrack.

[2] The American actors may be especially handicapped in this case by the fact that the name “Princess Tutu” naturally sounds ridiculous to any native English speaker. To the original Japanese cast, “PURINSESU CHUCHU” probably sounds rather cool.