When you look at the picture cover of a show, that’s usually the deciding factor on whether or not it is worth your time to experience watching it for most who don’t bother to look into depth on what the show is mainly about. There is the common notion of “Don’t judge a book by its cover” by many forms of fiction, but that saying shouldn’t just be limited to books. If there are things to be said about Princess Tutu in relation to this quote, it definitely fits that description on every account.
It can be conceived that Princess Tutu isn’t your average Magical Girl anime, even though it does follow the formulaic structure of one where the girl goes off into one plot arc to help save this person and so on. What is particularly unique about the show isn’t so much of its own style but of how it treats its own narrative in a meta-style of storytelling. It gives the show a very fairy-tale feel to the atmosphere whenever you see them try to mimic the classic fairy tales that involved princesses, in which Princess Tutu quickly turns its own spin on the genre and make it fresh and new to its own writing. The meta-narrative is nicely written to give us an abstract feel to the story and feel more attached to the characters and the struggles that they have to overcome that eventually drives them almost to mere madness. It almost becomes a self-parody of tragedy in how the characters want it to be a happy ending to the story because of stories of these typically end, even though the meta-narrative is at odds with that philosophy; of course I won’t get into it further to obviously avoid spoilers.
When we step into the world of Princess Tutu, it definitely has a lot of influence of old fantasy tales that have since been existing since the rise of Western Folklore, something that anime isn’t really known for a lot. Tchaikovsky would definitely be proud to have his symbolic nature of his artistic music to be portrayed on-screen. Anthropomorphic animals run about in the world but unfortunately it isn’t given enough clarity as to why the world around the characters even exist or how the society is the way it is, though it can be forgiven in how the plot is more focused on a minimal scale from the character interaction that goes on. It is, nevertheless, a very imaginative world to experience and quite unlike you would see in most anime in recent times.
To describe Princess Tutu’s authenticity in short terms, it would be like an actual theater production in animated motion. The ballet aspects of the show feel like it is structured like an actual ballet play in motion from how the dialogue is preformed and how the characters interact between one another. That’s where the uniqueness of the show jumps into gear and gives you a very fresh take on how you can portray a story in a show. Your typical magical girl show usually involves fight scenes that involve actual physical fighting involving magical powers that are mostly just their to be flashy and entertaining for younger audiences. While there are definitely key scenes that involve swords and physical confrontation, Princess Tutu actually involves ballet dancing to invoke their own powers to psychologically best out their opponent. This may seem a bit silly when you think about it in your head but what makes it work wonderfully is how well it’s directed and how it sets the tone of the show to new heights of tension and emotion, all without the single swing of a blade; that is if crows are considered a weapon of choice.
Memorable characters are extremely important in a show like Princess Tutu to help keep its world and story unforgettable, which it most definitely succeeds. Our lovable magical girl protagonist Ahiru might not break new ground in how we look at magical girl characters in the same way as say maybe Sakura in Cardcaptor several years ago, but she is nonetheless portrayed with absolute bravery and elegance. The way Ahiru comes across as a sometimes clumsy girl in rather very hilarious well-written comedic moments and as a deep involving sympathetic character who you always want to see overcome any obstacle that keeps her from obtaining her goal is not only deeply moving but also charming to say the least. Her voice might be a little grating at first when you come across her in the beginning, but thankfully she eventually warms up and you do feel a nice charm to her lovely personality as she transforms into Tutu.
The rest of the main cast actually have a lot of complexity to their own character archetypes to where there isn’t anything that is remotely cliched in anything about them from how unpredictable they are written into the story. Fakir is a great example of this where he is, at first, portrayed as the villain that stands in the way of Ahiru wanting to help Mytho regain his heart. It isn’t until later where we finally see the true reason for his own demeanor in protecting Mytho and provides extraordinary development to him, where we see him in a completely different light. His actions and reasons for doing the things that we were left with in mystery now come full circle and made Fakir a well-rounded character that we can empathize. To our main villain Rue, she is given the same kind of treatment as Fakir, albeit a little differently. Since she is the main villain, her archetype isn’t fully explored until the very last parts of the anime where we see her own tortured self that craves for love and acceptance from her prince so that she won’t feel lonely ever again by anyone. Rue contemplates about her own existence as someone who will forever be associated with her adopted father, who is a crow of all things. Her development at this point is in full circle and by that time we can now understand the pain she is going through, which puts her on a sympathetic light to the story that involve the dark themes that involve fate and death.
There are definitely side characters that pop up in most of the story arcs that happen, but they mostly only fill in their own roles to move the plot forward and nothing else that can be of significance. The ones that do make an impression are some of the students such as Ahiru’s two best friends who are always up to no good in their mischievous misdemeanor into pushing Ahiru into a relationship with either Fakir or Mytho. However, the one that is the most entertaining of all is the almighty Neko-sensei who’s gags all include how if any of the girls mess up he will force them into marriage with him. Not only is this absolutely hysterical but it never gets tiring or overly done in one episode and because of this, this useless form of entertainment that contributes nothing to the plot is always welcome if it’s Neko-sensei.
With the show’s implementation of ballet, music should be the main driving force in keeping the spirit of the ballet portion strong and poignant. The music ranges from composers from most periods of music that delved into ballet music. The most obvious one would be Tchaikovsky with his famous “Swan Lake” featured throughout most of the show and used to great effect and some other well-known composers who’ve wrote for some ballets such as Johann Strauss, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Erik Satie. What makes the score work so magnificently well is how it almost feel like the score is a part of the story itself and fits perfectly with the emotions that the characters exhibit whether it be sadness and despair with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade or happy and optimistic with Leo Delibes’s Coppelia. However, I felt the original score for the opening and ending didn’t leave a big impression on me whenever I came across them because of the weak vocals and downplayed instruments that hardly contribute much into the songs, which is kind of disappointing.
For people who feel discouraged about seeing this with the Magical Girl genre tagged into it, I wouldn’t necessarily call this mainly a Magical Girl show in so far as it is more of a show about tragedy and drama than anything else. Not to say that Magical Girl shows can’t do that and do it well, but it’s best to look past your bias and see Princess Tutu as something that may surprise you on so many levels in how much depth it has in store for you. The drama doesn’t feel forced in any way and flows very naturally to where it doesn’t treat you like you don’t know how a tragedy should be portrayed. The anguish that characters in Princess Tutu get into feel absolutely real and genuine that don’t push empty melodrama to make you sympathize with them.
With pure honesty and clarity, this is genuinely a heartwarming show to experience for yourself. Classical music, beautifully choreographed dances, and memorable characters make for an experience worth having in all of Princess Tutu’s running time. A modern fairy tale for the ages. One that we might not see again in the near future.