|Forget Captain Harlock, THIS is the manliest anime ever||2 out of 2 users found this review helpful.|
Princess Tutu is a magical girl anime (yeah, think Sailor Moon) where our naïve, well-meaning, slightly ditzy heroine must collect a (insert magical item here) in one episode, learn some grand moral, and start the whole process over again in the next episode, rather like your dirty laundry, a seemingly endless cycle that spirals into madness, unpleasant smells and a bout of unmanly weeping. Not only that, it’s about ballet. I hear that and I want to give myself a good shave with a lawnmower. That being said…I think Princess Tutu is a freaking masterpiece.
Princess Tutu has much more in common with a Grimn’s fairy-tale than with any Disney Channel crap, (every time Miley Cyrus is allowed onstage, there’s a natural disaster in Asia) which means childlike whimsy combined with dark melancholy. It takes place in a fantasy world quite unlike anything I’ve ever seen in anime, one that blends the mundane with the otherworldly, much in the realm of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel, for any literature buffs who might be reading. It is a truly magnificent mӓrchen amongst anime. Like its four main characters, Princess Tutu is more than it appears.
It deconstructs traditional fairy tale archetypes, much in the realm of its spiritual successor, the classic magnum opus and postmodern fairy tale Revolutionary Girl Utena. However, while Utena is so heavily symbolic that it can be cold and unapproachable to some viewers, Princess Tutu manages to do all this while remaining simple enough for children to understand, making it warm and inviting by comparison. I don’t know how to more clearly illustrate my adoration for both these series even though they’re both shoujo, so I’ll cheat and use a somewhat lecherous metaphor. If Revolutionary Girl Utena is the gorgeous, shapely senior girl whom you would love to approach if only you weren’t so woefully insecure about your inadequate manhood, Princess Tutu is her cute and much more approachable younger sister. (Sorry about that, ladies, but hopefully you catch my drift now).
To add layering to a story that already exceeds expectations, Princess Tutu is very…meta-fiction. The characters struggle against the tragic fates written out for them in this story within a story, confronting its deceased author Drosselmeyer, who keeps lamenting the loss of his beautiful tragedy, toying with them for his own amusement, and in general being a complete douchenozzle. Meta-fiction can sometimes seem over-used and gimmicky when it’s not properly done, but I’m happy to say that this is not the case here. The story’s self-awareness fits flawlessly with the ballet, theater, and fable themes at play here, and adds some new twists on classic tales in a way that is thought-provoking but never pretentious and always relevant to the story at hand. This is Slaughterhouse Five meta-fiction, not Dark Towers meta-fiction. (But I still love Misery, Stephen King!)
Keep in mind this is primarily a children’s anime, so while it does have its darker moments, it’s still PG, and is actually something I would definitely recommend if you have a younger anime fan living in your house. Duck is a warm and very admirable heroine, much purer than Hannah Montana and other horrible self-centered preteen sluts that little girls are aspiring to these days. (Seriously, I don’t want to sound like a prude or anything, but in my opinion you should at least wait until you’re past puberty before you start pole-dancing and stripping in order to get a record deal). I normally detest the clumsy, stupid every girl who is the typical lead in shoujo, but I think anyone not made of stone can like Duck, who isn’t just loveable, but multi-layered and human, with spirit, spunk, and laudable courage. She’s the little sister many will wish they had, and the other three main characters are very sympathetic as well.
The Japanese track is very well-acted, but I have to say that Princess Tutu has one of my favorite dubs of all time. The versatile Luci Christian delivers perhaps her best performance yet as Duck/Princess Tutu, sounding graceful and lilting as Tutu, but equally adorably clumsy as Duck. Her voice really helped me to love the character. Chris Patton makes Fakir strong and gallant but with an attitude attached, whereas his seiyu’s delivery is more flatly forceful. Patton’s Fakir is not only more likeable, he’s closer to the actual character. This is not my favorite Patton performance (that would be either Graham Spector from Baccano or Sato from Welcome to the NHK) but it’s up there. Jay Hickman has a daunting task before him, as it would be very easy to make Prince Mytho merely emotionless and robotic. Instead, he manages to render Mytho appropriately zombie-ish, with a shade of princely nobility and also something very tragic and broken. Mytho also doesn’t have that many lines in the first season, so this makes it even harder to get all of this across. Hickman does this marvelously, so kudos to him. By comparison I’m not crazy about his seiyu, whose delivery is cold when there should be more of a human edge there. He also makes Mytho sound effeminate, and despite his appearance, Mytho isn’t unmanly. I would go so far as to say that he’s masculine, but after all he is a ballerina (ballerino?) Herr Drosselmeyer’s (think Dumbledore crossed with the Native American from the Village People, and one of the show’s many ballet allusions) phantomlike timbre is excellent as well, equal parts all-knowing storyteller and playful poltergeist. But my favorite would have to be Mr. Cat’s feline lisp, making it even funnier when he threatens the students with marriage if they don’t improve their dancing. (No really. It’s just more effective than detention, you know? Although it gets less funny when he licks his balls. No really.) Overall it’s a fantastic dub, with just a few irritating extras to throw it off balance every now and again. It lacks the seamless perfection of dubs like Paranoia Agent, Wolf’s Rain, and Cowboy Bebop, but it’s pure magic and suits the show well. The perfect cherry on this is a great soundtrack. Well, I hope you like cherries! I mentioned in my review of Elfen Lied that it has the best use of sound I’d ever heard, after Cowboy Bebop. Well, sorry, Elfen Lied, but Princess Tutu has just knocked you off the number two spot. The soundtrack is almost entirely classical and ballet compositions, but even better is how they are used. They blend perfectly with the themes of the story as if they truly belonged there, and often I feel as though I’m actually watching a ballet, except with dialogue. As far as visuals go, the animation budget was probably kid-sized as well, but the art directors did a really amazing job with what they had. Regardless of whether or not the scene looks like a dance or a pop-up book, it still looks pretty spectacular, helped along by its soundtrack.
All in all, Princess Tutu is a perfectly-penned, genre-shaking marvel, equal parts Grimm’s fairy-tale, multi-layered meta-fiction, Fantasia sequence, and brilliantly lit ballet stage, with surprisingly rich and compelling characters. It touches your heart and grips your attention from beginning to end, (one of the most magnificent and fitting endings I have ever seen in an anime) making you think and bringing you to tears. (I was genuinely moved by the ending, and my heart is as dry as a mummified cat filled with aged couch stuffing. Enjoy that image!) I’m someone who would rather listen to AC/DC over Tchaikovsky any day, and I was awestruck by it. Despite its narrow appeal and initial reliance on formula, I absolutely must give it no fewer than four “shout-outs to Tchaikovsky” out of four. It honestly might be too girly for some guys, but I highly recommend it to anyone who can get past the men in tights, especially lovers of mythology, folktales, literature, fantasy, classic Disney, and the theater.