Type: TV Series
Episode Count: 38 (26)*
Genre: Fantasy / Drama
Version reviewed: Japanese Subtitled
Date of Review: 28 Feb 2008
*When aired on Japanese TV, the first 13 episodes of the series were broadcast in full. In the second half, the series went to the half-episode format and was broadcast as part of a compilation program for the next 24 installments. Then, the final episode was once again broadcast in the usual 24 minute format. For the DVD release, the half-episodes were combined into full episodes, resulting in the typical 26 episode television run.
A surreal fairy tale in the spirit of Revolutionary Girl Utena, and just as good in many ways.
Duck (yes, that’s her name) has a recurring dream where she is, well, a duck. In her dream, she watches a prince dance in her pond. The prince seems to be sad, and Duck’s wish is to bring joy back into his dancing, but she fears she is unable to do this, because she is, after all, just a duck.
Let’s get one thing out of the way… yes, this is a series set against a backdrop of classical ballet. If that is sending up red flags for you, you’re missing out on a very well done series that has depth, and isn’t just some frilly show for little girls. Even if you have no interest in ballet whatsoever, if you enjoy multi-layered shows that challenge the normal storytelling conventions, Princess Tutu should be on your to-watch list. Thus concludes the lecture portion of this review.
Having said all that, Princess Tutu does in fact have its share of the cuteness factor. Character designs are very cute, as is Duck’s voice, but all of this belies the story underneath. The reason I found out about Princess Tutu was the parallels that I learned existed between it and my alltime favorite series, Revolutionary Girl Utena. Both shows explore the ideas of what lies in the ‘real world’ and just who is pulling the strings in the one perceived.
Mytho, one of the school’s most proficient dancers, is the apparent pawn in the game. He is the boy at school who all the girls adore, yet he always seems sad. Mytho also bears an uncanny resemblance to the prince in Duck’s dream, and he is constantly watched over by his roomate, Fakir. Fakir decides what Mytho can and can’t do, and Mytho does nothing without Fakir’s permission. Duck is the reluctant hero, and while Utena has its duels, Princess Tutu has, well, Princess Tutu, who Duck transforms into (magical girl style) when she starts to find Mytho’s lost feelings. The world of Princess Tutu is one where stories become real, and the line where the stories end and the world begins is a blurry one.
Using classical ballet as part of the story makes Princess Tutu unique. The series is set at an arts school in a vaguely European town. The characters place the series firmly in the realm of fantasy, as talking animals make up part of the population. This includes Duck’s ballet teacher, who is a cat. A cat obsessed with marriage. And using marriage (to him) as a threat to his underperforming middle-school aged students, including Duck. Yeah, that creeps the girls in class out, too. Duck also has her two best friends, Pike and Lilie, who are always cheering her on, since Duck isn’t the most adept at ballet, often finding herself in the probationary class. This is in sharp contrast to Duck’s dancing ability when she is Princess Tutu, whose skill is world-class. Pike is Duck’s token ‘you can do it!’ friend, always cheering her on, and Lilie finds perverse delight in Duck’s misfortune, always wishing for things to become worse for her. The worse luck Duck has, the happier Lilie is, and the more she adores Duck.
So overall, Princess Tutu is an excellent series that challenges more than a few rules of the typical fairy tale, and has much more to it than what its appearance would suggest. If something reminiscient of Revolutionary Girl Utena with some elements of Haibane Renmei and a dash of magical girl themes tossed in sounds good to you, check out Princess Tutu. You may even gain some appreciation for classical ballet in the process.