Anime Reviews: Princess Tutu
Though you'll feel your manliness wither away, Princess Tutu delivers spectacularly in its gorgeous visuals, sweeping orchestral score, and unpredictable story.
Title: Princess Tutu
Production: HAL Film Maker
Series Length: 26 episodes
Air Dates: 8/16/2002 to 6/28/2003
Age Rating: 13+ (brief partial nudity, dark or disturbing thematic elements)
Summary: Duck is a seemingly normal girl who takes up ballet at a private dance school in Gold Crown Town, but her humanity is due only to her pendant. Without it, she transforms back into a duck. This unique pendant was given to her by Drosselmeyer, a storyteller who explains that Duck is a chief character of his new story, "The Prince and the Raven." In it, the town has been attacked by an evil and powerful raven, and while the Prince fights valiantly, his only choice is to shatter his heart in order to seal the Raven away. Duck's role in the story is to become Princess Tutu, a paragon of peace and love whose dances can repel evil and malice, to collect and purify the lost shards of the Prince's heart so it can be restored to its original state. However, if Princess Tutu falls in love with the Prince, she cannot speak of it lest she dies and vanishes in a flash of light. But if the Prince's heart is restored, the Raven will be set free once again. Will Duck be able to shoulder this burden, and will she be able to find a way to make things right?
The Good: Gorgeous art direction; peerless use of classical music and theatrical motifs; classic fairy tale-style characters and story utilized well; incredible and intense second half
The Bad: Takes a few episodes to get moving; requires vast knowledge of ballet and theater to fully enjoy
The Ugly: The main character's name is "Duck." Good luck taking that seriously.
Once again, I bring you back to GenCon 2011's "Best Anime Ever" panel. This title came up among the 30 or so others, and the first comment made by the panel leader was this: "You can't call yourself a real man until you've watched all of Princess Tutu." Of course, this works as a pretty funny joke, because Princess Tutu is among the girliest things I have ever seen, but because of its mention at this panel, there lies another meaning. He was also saying that this series is just so good, that missing out on it just because of its aesthetic and premise is a lame thing to do. So, of course, I manned up and marathoned the whole thing the very next weekend. That was a weekend well spent.
The first thing you'll notice is that the art direction in Princess Tutu is just beautiful. From the Renaissance-style storybook drawings of each episode's intro, to the vibrant artwork of the episode itself, this show looks gorgeous. Bright colors, smooth animation, greatly detailed backgrounds and set pieces--Princess Tutu has it all. And to make the pot even sweeter, both the visuals and the music complement each other perfectly. During each confrontation with a corrupted soul, the background fades to black with only important structures and spotlights visible, creating the look and feel of a classical stage play. Each of these scenes correlates to one of such plays or ballets (Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, La Sylphide, Coppelia, etc.), complete with key movements and musical cues. Both your eyes and your ears will thank you by the time you're done.
To go along with the classical ballet and theater motif, the characters are suitably cast into fairy tale roles: Duck is a clumsy girl who becomes a graceful Princess Tutu, Mytho is the noble Prince who's lost his heart and now lives as a soulless vessel, Fakir is his dutiful yet stern "knight," and Rue is the elegant noble destined to wed the Prince. These are fairly common tropes in any fairy tale, and they'll be instantly recognizable to those who've spent their fair share of time with their nose in a book. But they're never shackled to their roles, powerless to develop and be attaching; rather, as time goes by, they break free of their molds and become dynamic characters in their own right. This becomes especially important during the tremendously intense second half of the series.
But before that, the story itself starts off fairly simply, with the same fairy tale-esque charm to it that the characters exude. Duck must find the Prince's heart pieces, become Princess Tutu to purify them, and return them to the Prince. From there, the story builds and builds, until it eventually escalates and flies off the rails. No really, you'll see what I mean when you get there. And it's ultimately the second half of the series that makes Princess Tutu as great as it is. The first half is enjoyable, too, but the twists and revelations of the latter half add enough intensity and unpredictability to cause its fans to dub the series with the nickname "Guitar Ninjas." What's that even mean, you ask? Well, you'll have to see why for yourself. With time, you'll understand.
However, Princess Tutu is not without its faults, as minor as they are. First off, it takes a good 4 or 5 episodes for the series to find its footing. While there was a lot of exposition and build-up needed, it could've been streamlined and paced a little better. If you find yourself tapping your foot impatiently in the first few episodes, don't you quit on me! You get back in there and finish the job, soldier!
Finally, you'll just need to know a lot of classic fairy tales, stories, stage plays, and/or ballets to fully appreciate this anime. The writers clearly did their homework, and so they expect you to do the same. The episode intros do help you out a little, giving a very brief and very generalized version of the original story's plot, but ultimately, if you want to dig deeper into Princess Tutu (and trust me, you will want to, because it's just that good), you'll have to brush up on your classical theater.
So hopefully, now you'll see that Princess Tutu is, indeed, a worthy anime despite its tendency to leech the manliness straight out of your soul upon hearing its title. But once you make the dive, you'll find that the investment was well worth it. And now you can convince your peers to better themselves as you did--after all, real men watch Princess Tutu!
Final Score: 9 out of 10. Despite its slow beginning and somewhat emasculating aesthetic, Princess Tutu's beautiful visuals, memorable score, and unpredictable story twists make it one of the best shoujo anime of the past 20 years.