I can’t remember a time in my life when I haven’t loved stories. I don’t care what kind of story or what media it’s in, I’ll try anything that catches my imagination and as a child, I sometimes even daydreamed myself into stories. But what if the world you lived in and all the actions that took place there really were part of a story, the creation of a single person’s mind? That’s the case in the whimsical anime tale, Princess Tutu.
Ahiru is the unusual heroine of this equally unusual story, a school girl in a town truly fit for a storybook: a cat teaches ballet classes, anteaters, ostriches, and other animals are classmates, and not one of the human inhabitants of this tiny town bats an eye at this. Also in the town is a prince from a story who has lost his heart and lives an emotionless life as a student in this town. This is all the work of a mysterious storyteller believed to be long since dead. As for Ahiru, well, she may seem like a normal girl hanging out with her friends and trying to make it to school on time, but she’s anything but normal; she is actually a duck who has fallen in love with the lost prince and, by the workings of the storyteller, is turned into a girl with the use of a magic pendant (f.y.i. Ahiru means duck in Japanese). Now add the factor that Ahiru can also turn into “Princess Tutu,” a mysterious princess who can find the pieces of the prince’s lost heart, and the tale begins.
I’ve had this anime on my must-watch list for a while now after I heard it praised, but when I first started watching it, I have to say, I wasn’t sure exactly what to think of it. Some of it seemed typical, like a clutzy heroine in love with a popular boy, a jerky yet handsome guy, and a rival in love. It also seemed a little young to me in the first episode or so, what with the whole magical princess ballerina routine and all, yet after the first disc I was intrigued. There is a certain charm about it, like dusting off those old fairy tales that were read to you as a kid (in fact, some of the episodes are roughly based on classic fairy tales). In addition, Princess Tutu may not bend stereotypes quite like Utena, but it seems to go further than the average anime with more than one delightful twist and moments of emotional depth that will keep watchers interested.
Take Ahiru for example. Granted, her story revolves around her love for a guy and, as usual, our spunky heroine has a heart of gold, but I ended up appreciating her inner strength. Some of my favorite moments concerning Ahiru occur toward the later half of the series when she has a male ally (I’m trying to keep this spoiler free). A this point, she’s feeling rather useless in her quest to help the prince (called Mytho) and begins to rely heavily on this ally. However, instead of being reduced to a helpless damsel, Ahiru reevaluates herself and strengthens her resolve, deciding she also has a job equally important to accomplish. Thus, unlike some other magical girl stories I could mention (Tokyo Mew Mew), Ahiru’s role as the hero is not really reversed into damsel in distress. She represents the hope of a group of characters that come to fight against paths assigned to them and find their own way.
Perhaps most interesting from a sociological point of view is the prince. In some ways, Mytho plays a role traditionally given to female characters. For a good portion of the series, he’s a pretty face with a beautiful heart yet little personality to speak of who people can’t help but gather around. Not only that, but he’s completely dependent on the help of others and can do little to nothing to help himself. Unlike female characters that have played this role, Mytho does have the background of being a brave and noble prince who fought evil and lost his heart in the process, but I still thought this was a noteworthy change of roles. He ends up playing more of a traditional role at the end, but remains an interesting character to examine nonetheless.
It may not break stereotypes like Revolutionary Girl Utena, but characters are often more complicated than they initially seem, in a truly surreal and fantastical story that fans can enjoy. Princess Tutu won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those looking for a slightly whacky plot that doesn’t go as one might have expected, it’s worth giving a try. You just might love it!