Thursday, August 25, 2016

Princess Tutu

Princess Tutu; animated fantasy series, Japan, 2002; D: Junichi Sato, S: Nanae Katou, Nana Mizuki, Naoki Yanagi, Takahiro Sakurai

A duck falls in love with a prince, Mytho, and is suddenly transformed into a girl, Ahiru, given an assignment to live in the town as a ballet student, with he ability to transform further still into a girl with magical powers, Princess Tutu, who can defeat evil forces through dancing and thereby return the fragments of Mytho's heart. Also, Ahiru can turn back into the duck whenever she says "quack", and back into human when she plunges into water. It turns out she was given that assignment by Drosselmeyer, a man who had the ability to make his stories come to life, and was thus cut off his hands because the townspeople were afraid of his stories. After his death, he continued writing the story about the raven and the prince, who were fighting in the town. However, Mytho's friend, Fakir, finds out he is Drosselmeyer's descendant, and tries to overwrite the tragic story into a happy ending. He succeeds, and allows Mytho to fall in love with Rue, raven's daughter. Ahiru turns back into a duck.

"Princess Tutu", a very unorthodox take at the 'magical girl' subgenre, is an anime that had potenital to be much more than it ultimately turned out to be. The story-within-a-story setting is outstandingly clever, presenting a concept where the girl Ahiru finds out she is just a character that came to life in a story set in a small, Baroque European town written by author Drosselmeyer, and thus this 'breaking-the-forth-wall' storyline is indeed at times reminiscent of "Sophie's World", as well as the '91 fantasy comedy "Delirious" - except that "Princess Tutu" unfortunately takes up too much time developing the less interesting story (the bland interaction between Ahiru and prince Mytho is standard) instead of obviously going for the more 'juicy' one ("supreme author" Drosselmeyer is just a supporting character who hardly ever appears in the story), and thus feel disproportionately assembled. Translating it into "Delirious", it would be as if the movie would play out only about the soap opera characters 90% of the time, and would barely even mention Candy's character who is the author who found himself in his own TV show. The 1st episode is excellent (the great joke where the teacher, an anthrophomorphic cat, is threatening his girl students that he will punish them by marrying the one who is the worst in ballet class, which prompts everyone to put more effort into it; the melancholic closing song where the duck dreamed of becoming a human to be with prince Mytho), but, sadly, that energy is never repeated all the way until the great finale starting from episode 22, which means that all those 20 episodes in the middle are solid, though full of empty walk, uninteresting moments and repetitive elements (the decision to repeat the same joke of teacher's threat of marrying the disobedient students over a dozen times (!) causes this gag to turn exhaustingly tiresome, to the point of ad nauseam).

For a 26 episode series, this is too much of 'filler' - if at least the fillers were fun or colorful, but they are mostly bland. Ahiru's class friends Pike and Lilie are insufficiently interesting, whereas her sole transformation into Princess Tutu to use dance to defeat the evil forces is rather thin (for instance, in one banal episode, Mytho is locked inside a restaurant by a woman who wants to spoil him with too much food, and thus Tutu "cleanses" her with her dance). We are also being told what to think about the relationships of the characters, instead of being shown how they interact. All this could have been skipped since the finale is the only part that pays off, since "Tutu" there finally 'twitches' from this grey routine and offers a few philosophical questions regarding free will and refusing to accept your role in the world (in one episode near the end, Fakir finds out he also has the ability to make the stories come to life, so he refuses to follow Drosselmeyer's command and stabs his own hand while he was writing a dark ending for Ahiru on paper; in another, one lad falls in love with Rue, but wonders if all this is also not just part of the story and if it is truly his own feeling), yet it is a major pity that the climatic duel was between Ahiru and the raven monster, and not between Ahiru and Drosselmeyer - such a clash between an author who pulls the strings and his creation would have been far more satisfaying and logical. Overall, "Princess Tutu" is an opulent and touching fairy tale, but only at the beginning and the end, and even that end could have been even more daring.


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