When I was a teenager, a friend of mine suggested watching Princess Tutu. I briefly looked up images, and they gave me a typical shoujo vibe. I was very skeptical that I’d enjoy it, especially since it had to do with ballet and I had no interest in dance, but I finished it anyway since it was highly recommended. The anime started slow, but by the end I couldn’t wait to see the grand finale. Even with my lack of interest in ballet, it showed a surprising level of depth that I wasn’t expecting. The heroine focuses on how to deal with emotional distress, in the healthiest and most optimistic way possible. I found myself getting invested in each and every character and their well-being. Princess Tutu is a strong character who saves people without resorting to violence. As someone who focuses on character development, I was ecstatic to see that Princess Tutu and the main cast are given different roles than you’d expect, and the lessons they reflect real emotional challenges in life that people struggle with. It’s become a classic to me, and I can’t wait to share it with you and other people too!
Spoilers ahead! If you haven’t seen the show, it’s available for free on Hulu!
Princess Tutu is an anime created by Ikuko Itoh in 2002. It was later adapted into a manga in 2003. The story follows a small duck named Duck (it gets better, I promise). She sees a young prince, sadly dancing by a lake, and wishes she could see him living happily. Duck suddenly turns into a girl, loses her memories, and attends a ballet school in the nearby town. She learns why the boy, Mytho, is so sad is because he is missing his heart. After learning about Mytho’s condition, she gains the ability to turn into Princess Tutu to help recover the scattered pieces of Mytho’s heart.
Occasionally Duck would hear a voice guiding her (or in this case manipulating her) on what to do as she learned about her magic. This voice was Drosselmeyer, a writer who controlled the town with his own magical ability. Anything he wanted to happen, he could write as a story, and it would happen in real life. Soon Duck realizes that Drosselmeyer changed many things in the town, from other animals walking around like humans, to her friends, including Mytho, who is living out one of his stories, The Prince and The Raven.
The Prince and The Raven was a tale about a prince who fought against a giant raven. In the end he could not defeat him and had to shatter his heart to seal the raven away. Unaware of this, Duck, as Princess Tutu, continues to recover Mytho’s heart piece by piece. Once Mytho’s heart is put back together, the spell sealing the raven is broken. The raven breaks free from his prison and fights with the prince once again. In the end the raven is defeated through Duck’s hope and with the determination of Mytho’s friend, Fakir. All of the fairytale characters go back into their book, while Fakir stays in the town and Duck changes back into a duck.
A pleasant surprise in this anime was how the story went from a typical fairytale into a story about free will. Characters that were assigned roles like hero or villain by Drosselmeyer grew to make their own roles. The best example would be how Fakir believed his role was to protect Mytho, and that he was a knight from The Prince and The Raven. Originally he stopped Princess Tutu from giving Mytho’s heart back, because Fakir thought he would die, just like the knight in the story. Later on he lets Princess Tutu continue to give Mytho his heart since he started to live like a normal person rather than a passive doll. As his fear of dying faded, he began to help Mytho by using his own abilities. Instead of dying in vain, he learns he has the same writing ability as Drosselmeyer, and writes a story to help everyone live happily instead of following Drosselmeyer’s tragedy.
This show also impressed me by having little to no violence. It’s not that I hate combat; rather, any problems that arise in the show are handled peacefully. What I really liked was how the show even covered emotional turmoil people experience in real life. My favorite example is the story about a cook. A woman has an elegant restaurant in the woods where she serves anyone who comes in with endless courses of food, free of cost. Duck and Mytho wander toward this restaurant and don’t understand why she viciously serves them course after course. Despite how delicious all the food looks, each meal is cold and bland. Duck finds out that the cook has a piece of Mytho’s heart with the emotion loneliness. She turns into Princess Tutu and dances over to the woman. Princess Tutu asks why she acts this way, and the woman explains that she missed the lively, fun days she and her late husband spent in the restaurant. Her husband passed away, and her sorrow affected her cooking. Princess Tutu explains that it’s okay to miss her husband, but that it would break his heart to see her in despair. He would want her to cook their recipes with joy, and spread that joy once again to customers. The woman agrees and Princess Tutu removes the feeling of loneliness from her and returns it to Mytho. I can always appreciate a show that can help people with their own grievances, and this anime does so in a delicate manner.
The story can get cheesy, but it’s also very touching. How undefined the rules of magic are in this world can be frustrating, but the rest of the story works well. It’s impressive to see a show have little physical fighting, and instead use dancing and therapy to answer any conflicts present. The ballet complements the emotion in the show by making the plot more poetic instead of being taken literally. There isn’t anything like Princess Tutu, at least none that I’ve seen. I hope more stories will push the boundaries and become unique as well.
Have you seen Princess Tutu? Do you have any stories you enjoy sharing? Feel free to share a comment below!