Friday, May 10, 2013

Anime Review: Princess Tutu

I’ve finally got around to this anime, which is probably the single most suggested series I’ve gotten in over a year. I hadn’t gotten to it sooner partly because it’s been on my list but fairly low, partly because I was somewhat hesitating because it aims at a young demographic, and partly because I tried watching it on Netflix but was turned off by the English voice acting for the main character and instead waited for the DVD to creep up my queue. But I’ve finally watched it so I’m happy to review it.

Princess Tutu, which was suggested by a fan named LaTonya as far back as early last year, is an original anime series created by Hal Film Maker in 2002. A twenty-six episodes, evenly split into two seasons, it was licensed by now-defunct ADV Films. It currently is being licensed by AEsir Holdings but the DVD I watched was the ADV Films copy (this will be important later). This show is clearly in the magical girl genre, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like; young girls given powers from some magical source. Sailor Moon is probably the most well known in the west but it’s a pretty varied genre with all sorts of shows under its umbrella.

So anyway with all the time it took for me to actually watch this show I have to ask: does it live up to all the hype?

Full review after the jump.



I think I would have preferred a break dancing magical girl
Duck (or “Ahiru”, which is Japanese for “duck”) is a young girl attending a school for the arts, specifically studying ballet despite not being all that good at it. She has a big crush on her classmate Mytho, an attractive but seemingly emotionless boy. One day Duck sees Mytho falling from his dorm window and, in a bizarre twist, she suddenly transforms into Princess Tutu and saves him. However upon this moment Duck remembers the truth she had forgotten; she isn’t actually a human girl but rather an ordinary duck who was given human form by a mysterious being called Drosselmeyer. His motives are unclear but it appear unlikely that they are altruistic. At all.

Like I said it’s a Magical Girl series but unlike Sailor Moon it mostly avoids violence. Instead of fight scenes this show uses ballet scenes. This sounds kind of weird but let me assure you that it actually works really well. For the tone of this series Princess Tutu using her ballet prowess to defeat her foes rather than pummeling them makes a lot sense and never feels poorly done. I like violence as much as the next guy but I also like when writers come up with clever ways to avoid it. Princess Tutu is a solid example of this.

You won’t find too many shows with better music out there, mostly because Tutu pretty much exclusively uses music from ballets, operas, and classical music in general for its soundtrack. In addition to sounding awesome the creators took the extra time to ensure the music used was related to either the plot or themes used for the episodes which is a really cool detail to include.

Fakir, inwardly debating if he should break open Duck's skull
The main characters are among my favorite casts in an anime. Duck is a very complex lead, which is usually a good thing. There’s a divide between her in her civilian (and duck) identity compared to the elegant and impossibly talented Princess Tutu, which causes her a good amount of grief as she is not a naturally talented ballerina. Furthermore she’s possibly one of the most selfless protagonists in any anime I’ve ever seen. Duck’s mission in the show is to restore the broken shards of Mytho’s shattered heart but it becomes clear to her early on that there likely won’t be a happy ending for her and the boy she loves and, indeed, that if she reveals her feelings for him she may very well cease to exist. And yeah, she has moments of hesitation and doubt because of this but she always puts the mission first because she wants to save the prince and see him happy. In fact this determination eventually includes  everyone close to her as the idea of sacrificing her happiness, or her life, is acceptable if it ensures the welfare of her friends. Fakir, Mytho’s self-proclaimed protector, is probably my favorite character in the series. In the beginning he’s a very antagonistic to Duck and is greatly worried about the presence of Princess Tutu but as the series progress we learn there is so much more to him than icy stares and threats; you know, that asshole anime stereotype that’s everywhere. I don’t want to get too into it but I will say that this is what I’m talking about when I say I like character development. Rue, another dancer at the school who Duck befriends, is also really good in ways that, like with Fakir, I don’t want to get into so not to spoil anything. I will say that she too isn’t what she seems and she’s a very complicated character.

Mytho…well he’s not really a character, more of a plot device. Which kind of sucks since the other three main cast members are extremely well done. It’s not really bad though and in a way it sort of reverses the gender role you’d normal associate with a fantasy or fairy tales on its head. The rest of the cats are significantly less interesting, even Mr. Cat who is little more than two reoccurring jokes (“hey, that’s something a cat would do” and “wow, he really seems to want to marry those twelve year olds”). There are some intriguing one shot characters that I wished had stayed around but when it came to the supporting cast they were pretty two dimensional and compared to the main cast their flaws were even more obvious. Drosselmeyer, the mysterious puppet master of the series, is almost more like a force of nature. He’s neither good nor evil but rather an insane being who really wants the story to be as dramatic as possible. It works pretty well and made for some of my favorite surrealistic moments of the series.

Also he's creepy as shit!
The plot of the series is far deeper and more complex (and a bit darker) than you’d expect for what is considered a children’s show. The twists, the rising action and both seasons climax’s were all done exceptionally well, having me at the edge of my seat. This doesn’t happen all the time and I certainly didn’t think it was going to happen here. There’s a very strong “fairy tale” vibe, which seems to be deliberate, and while it’s technically a Magical Girl series it seems to deal more with themes and plots more associated with stories that begin “Once Upon a Time” than anything else. Though when it’s good it’s great in both seasons, especially in season two, the show falls into a “plot/thing of the week” pattern that really drags for several episodes. When things picked up I was totally into it but when they were slow I could barely bring myself to put in the next DVD.

Speaking of DVDs I’d be remised if I didn’t talk about how awesome the DVD was. I don’t talk about DVDs that much as I usually stream anime but I’m super glad I did it this way this time. The ADV copy had a boatload of extras. There were commentaries of an episode per disc done by either the voice actors or other crew members (such as translators) which were all either very insightful or funny. There were segments where voice actors, in character, explained what the music in each episode was and how it related to the themes of that episode, as well as video recordings of studio sessions with the actors, giving a lot of insight into what goes into dubbing an anime. There were also bloopers, original Japanese broadcast material and a few essays explaining the context of key elements of the show in relations to its original broadcast. This is easily, easily the best collection of DVD extras I’ve ever seen in an anime collection. I don’t know if any other version new re-release has any of this stuff so I recommend trying to snag the ADV version if you can just to be safe.

"Come dance with me."
("Then later we can get milkshakes")
My number one issue with this show, and it’s kind of minor, is that while the ending is fine there’s a small element from it that stayed with me in a bad way. Because of it you can’t really call it anything else other than “Bitter Sweet”. I don’t want to go into it but it left me feeling like I got a complete story still with lingering concerns. Also the scope of Princess Tutu’s powers is too ambiguous. I don’t really understand what her powers are but she seems to repeatedly alter the fabric of reality at will. I mean it’s fine, I just wish I knew what the deal was.

Bottom line is that Princess Tutu, despite appearances, has everything you’d want out of an anime: it’s funny, it has great characters, it has a strong story, and awesome music. Though it’s supposed to be something of a kids cartoon it doesn’t really feel like it’s talking down to anyone. So if you’re looking for an anime you can enjoy with the whole family I don’t think I’ve seen a better example than Princess Tutu. If you have no kids I’d still probably recommend it but you might want to be prepared to have to explain yourself to confused friends who see it on the DVD shelf and don’t know that it’s actually awesome (though to be fair if your friends don’t like anime they’ll say that no matter what).

That Rue doesn't have huge boobs and yells "OHOHOHO"  shows an amazing amount of restraint on the creator's part

I give Princess Tutu 4 out of 5 Adorable Pandas.



Pros 

-Strong Female Lead

-Great main cast

-Very strong story

-Great use of music

Cons 

-The plot drags a bit for a few episodes

-Princess Tutu’s powers are kind of vague


If you have any anime you’d like to me to review or just a suggestion of what to check out next shoot me an e-mail at betaisdead@gmail.com or send me a tweet @JasonBetaMagnus.

6 comments:

  1. I had considered it in the past, because so many people love this show, but the "ballet dancing magical girl" thing always made me hesitate. It's been on my "maybe try" list for years now.

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    1. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It's not really a typical magical girl series, which is a good thing. The ballet thing somehow works.

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    2. I normally hate ballet, but for the most part it really didn't annoy me. It does become a bit repetitive at times, but it moves the plot along. I highly recommend it to anyone, anime fan or not.

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  2. I love Princess Tutu! People say it has a cheesy name but actually the story I'm not if I should this but its very dark in some places if you know what I mean!
    All in all I recommend it to people who may or may not like anime and manga

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  3. It is a truelly beautiful anime with an absolutely unique set of characters and a wonderful plot.
    My favorite characters are Mytho, Fakir, Rue, Duck and pretty much every other character... The show is quite amazing in almost every way
    <3

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