Review: Princess Tutu

We just finished watching the Japanese anime Princess Tutu on YouTube.  It was unexpectedly beautiful, freakish, and poetic.  Imagine if you combined classical ballet – Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, with the book Inkheart, and sprinkled in a little of The Matrix and Lord Of The Rings, to create an anime series.  What you would have is Princess Tutu, a complex, layered, and musical labyrinth of a fairy tale, created by Ikuko Itoh.

Once upon a time, a small, yellow duck sees a boy dancing by the waterside.  He is a handsome and kind Prince, a beautiful dancer, but his eyes are so lonely, because he has lost his heart.  The Duck wishes she could talk to the Prince, dance with the Prince, and most of all, help the Prince to smile.

Suddenly a strange old man appears and offers her a magical blood-red pendant.  She is magically transformed into a human girl, and begins studying at a ballet school with the Prince.  She is not very good at it, but tries her best.  Even with the pendant, if Duck quacks, she turns back into a duck; she can turn back into a human girl by getting wet.  Duck meets Fakir, Mytho’s domineering and rude friend, along with Rue, a beautiful advanced class ballerina who is Mytho’s girlfriend.

The strange old man is Drosselmeyer, a story writer who died, but had the power to bring stories to life.  When he died, the story he was writing, The Prince and The Raven was only half finished.  Thus, the Prince and Raven have been eternally battling, unable to stop as the story has no end.  The Raven escaped out of the story, and the Prince followed the Raven to protect the town and battle the Raven.  Unable to defeat the Raven, the Prince, using a forbidden spell, shatters his own heart to seal the Raven away. 

The Prince, according to the story, loves everyone and is loved by everyone.  Although now utterly defenseless and lacking any emotion, he still feels the need to protect small and weak things.  The empty, broken Prince is found by Fakir, who becomes his protector.  The pieces of the Prince’s heart have scattered and are hidden.  The entire town is under a spell, as the lines between what is real and what is the story have become mixed.

The magical pendant also allows Duck to transform into Princess Tutu, who is fated to love the Prince, but if she professes her love to the Prince, she will vanish into a speck of light.  Princess Tutu is the only one who can gather the missing shards of the Prince’s heart and return them to the Prince.  Instead of battling to take the heart shard from a person, Princess Tutu asks “Dance with me”.  She releases the wandering heart shards hidden inside people by talking with them about their true feelings.

But just as Duck is more than she seems, so are Fakir and Rue.  And, Fakir and Rue both don’t want Princess Tutu to restore the Prince’s heart, for different reasons.  And what of the Raven, who desires to be released from his sealed prison?  In a town that is ruled by stories, things are constantly changing, and not always as they seem.  Drosselmeyer is still writing the story, using the lives of real people – and he wants an epic tragedy.

There are so many questions to be answered –  

What will happen?
Who is good and who is evil?
Is it right for Princess Tutu to restore the heart shards?
Will Ahiru stay as a duck, her real self?
Who is Princess Kraehe?
Is everything happening the way it is, because it’s just part of the story?
Is there no escaping fate?
Will the Prince live happily ever after?  But with who?
How will the story end?

*** WARNING: SPOILERS ***

Here’s an AMV video which gives you a 3 minute glance at Princess Tutu, to a Swedish technobeat:

First off, let me explain that the Prince is called Mytho, which is pronounced Mewtoe (I kept calling him MewTew, cause I’ve gotten too much Pokemon over the years).  And try not to let the title “Princess Tutu” make you think of Disney pink princess confection, as that is not what this is about.  It is a darker tale, more along the lines of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale.

A breathtakingly suspenseful, sweet, funny, yet unusual and odd anime, both of Princess Tutu’s 2 seasons are on YouTube.  There are 13 episodes for season 1, and 13 for season 2, making a full 26 episodes of approximately 23 minutes each.  Episode 18 is not available in English dub on YouTube, so you will have to at least watch that one in Japanese with English subtitles.  (Although, some people think the Japanese language episodes are more enjoyable to watch and listen to than the English dubbed ones.  It’s all what you prefer – try a couple of each and see.)   Originally released in 2002-2003, Princess Tutu is an older anime.  You can buy the DVD set on Amazon, or on eBay, but why not just watch it on YouTube, for free?

The classical music and dancing are superb.  Think combat ballet – a dance-off  as a battle.  There are also quite a few sword fight scenes.  There are references to Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, Cinderella, Coppelia, A Mid Summer’s Night Dream, Romeo and Juliet, and many more classics.  I really enjoyed learning more about the different ballet “mimes” – how dancers use positioning to communicate language; for example, we learn the mimes for death, love, dance, no, you, etc.  As ballet doesn’t use the spoken word, you learn how a dancer uses ballet moves as language.

Rated TV14, and recommended for 13 and up.  I think Princess Tutu is fine for ages 8 and up.  There is occasional swearing towards the end (damn it, hell) and some nudity (nothing too revealing); there is also talk of sacrificing a human heart so the Raven can eat it.

A unique anime, Princess Tutu is a story within a story, with themes of good versus evil, the question of can you make your own destiny, the power of hope and love, and how one small, insignificant soul can change the world.

The ending is not what I expected.  Like many others, I imagine the “story of hope” that Fakir is shown writing at the end will lead to a happy life for him and the one he loves.

P.S.  The opening theme, “Morning Grace,” is written and sung by the talented Ritsuko Okazaki.

At the secret place by the waterside that no one knows of…
Dance the pas de deux of life…
And I’m dreaming again today

 

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