• Titles: Princess Tutu
  • Genre: Adventure, surreal, magical girl, romance, drama, fairy tale
  • Episodes: 38
  • Studio: Hal Film Maker

The world can be a cold harsh place for a little duck. Danger lurks everywhere. It’s freezing in winter and stifling in summer. You have to stay strong and sharp, if you don,t want to be eaten. Thankfully Ahiru lives in a fairy tale. But stories can be the harshest of them all. What is a little duck to do when the prince she loves has lost his heart? How can a mere duck stand up to the evil Crow? And who can she turn to for help now that the story has started to take on a life of its own? Maybe a duck doesn’t belong in a world filled with brave knights and powerful magic. But a princess does.

Princess Tutu is one of these titles I have been hearing about for a long time. I’m a pretty huge fan of Revolutionary Girl Utena and of Sailor Moon. It seems these titles often get lumped in together with Princess Tutu and now I know why. The similarities are inescapable. But I think I might like Princess Tutu better than either… Don’t tell Irina, she won’t know how to deal with it!

starting off slowly

Production

Princess Tutu is no spring chicken. Get it? Cause the main character is a duck…

Princess Tutu aired close to 20 years ago and I won’t pretend you can’t tell. For one, it’s in old school aspect ratio which always instantly gives it away. There’s also the slightly faded colour palette that is so common in older titles. However, if it wasn’t for those two elements, I would have thought Princess Tutu to be a thoroughly modern anime.

The designs are fantastic, and the cinematography gets very interesting. They aren’t too frequent but there are some really great camera angles. The animation is, for lack of a better word, interesting. As the name may have given away, there is quite a lot of ballet in Princess Tutu. The action often takes the form of dancing. And occasionally, the animation looks a bit stunted. But I quickly realized that it looks a little like those old-fashioned wind-up ballerinas. The pertinence and narrative tie-in of that is just too strong to be a coincidence. Not to mention that there are more than a few really impressively animated scenes.

I will say that action that involves a lot of characters on-screen does result in loss of detail and character model integrity.

All in all, it’s a solid production all around. Some elements do date the visuals but not in an unpleasant way.

most of it is good old down-to -earth anime

Story & Characters

Princess Tutu is something of a high-concept magical girl anime. All the classic elements are there. Lots of wild and powerful magic. A handsome prince to save and a noble knight to confuse the heart. A ruthless rival who might become an ally all in a schoolhouse setting filled with gossip and shenanigans.

Also anthropomorphized animals. Not everyone is an animal mind you. Just some occasional people. In one of the first episodes, Ahiru seems shocked that her teacher is a cat but she’s the only one who seems to care at all. And that’s when I realized this isn’t your average MahoShoujo. We are going surreal!

At its core, Princess Tutu is first and foremost a story about stories. It’s about how fiction treats its characters and how a story can build momentum and almost become its own thing. It has a subtle metacommentary on plot structure and classical genre construction. That may not sound exciting but it’s absolutely amazing.

It is! Trust me!

The first act is a retelling of Swan Lake. Retelling might be too strong a word. There are enough similarities to recognize Swan Lake if you are familiar with the story but it’s also very different. And it upends the core themes. Maybe more of an hommage.

Even more interestingly though, the second act does the same with Coppélia. This is absolutely amazing because Coppélia is awesome and batsh*t and isn’t referenced as often anymore.

And the entire thing is narrated and occasionally interrupted by Drosselmeyer. He’s the character that serves as a framing device for the Nutcracker. I think he’s the prince’s uncle but his character is pretty mysterious.

Now may be as good a time as any to tell you that I’m a pretty big ballet fan. I’m not sure if it’s my Eastern European blood guiding me. I have always enjoyed both the music and the contrived storylines of classic ballets. Seeing them updated and effortlessly dropped into an anime like this, was an utter delight. I won’t pretend that it didn’t make for an often very odd show but the bizarreness was charming.

the Swan Lake references do continue into the second act. It’s a Swan Lake – Coppélia mix and that’s insane!

Although my personal tastes surely lead me to a deeper appreciation of Princess Tutu, please don’t think that you need to know or care about ballet to enjoy this anime. Like I said above, it is at its core an exploration and love letter to stories. And more specifically, to fairy tales.

My notes are filled with scattered sentences like the nobility of a random heart or Fakir is a character whose story no longer needs him: Cool or Is it better to love or to be loved? I’m not sure what I’m hoping to get across by sharing these. Maybe that Princess Tutu is three stories one on top of the other.

Princess Tutu is a wildly unique magical girl anime that will take you on a heart-pounding adventure and make you discover a timeless romance. Princess Tutu is a love letter to the great narrative history of ballets and fairy tales of the last century. Princess tutu is a rumination on the very nature of stories and storytelling.

and the characters reflect their narrative

I’m actually not sure how to properly describe this series for you. I’m not even completely sure how to put my own feelings about it into words. All this time writing about what I think of animes and as soon as something speaks to me a bit more deeply, I’m at a loss. In a way, the fact that Princess TuT put me at this sort of loss, is what I,m flailing to get across here.

Princess Tutu about a little duckling that becomes a princess. I was a little girl who wanted to be a princess. So I liked it!

You might like this anime if:

You like fairy tales. You like Ballet. You like deeply allegorical anime that explores the female condition or you just wanted to be a princess or a prince. Or both!

or maybe you wanted to dance with a prince

My favourite character:

Like a lot of anime I enjoy, the characters of Princess Tutu aren’t really characters. They are extensions of the themes. I think Fakir has the best arc but he starts off as sort of a butt. I think I’ll go with Edel or Lilie. Lilie is kind of amazing.

Suggested drink:

a Pink Tutu obviously!

  • Every time Ahiru turns into a duck – take a sip
  • Every time Fakir insults Mytho – take a sip
  • Every time Mr. Cat threatens marriage – run
  • Every time two ballerinas dance together – take a sip
  • Every time we see a big letter D – be suspicious
  • Every time we see Edel – cheer!
  • Every time Mr. Ct grooms himself – take a sip
  • Every time Mytho gets a shard back – hmmm.
  • Every time there’s a dance-off – get ready
  • Every time Fakir and Rue bicker – take a sip
  • Every time Lilie is bein’ Lilie – you’ll know it when you see it
  • Every time Drusselmeyer speaks directly to Ahiru – take a sip
  • Every time someone should know their place – take a sip
  • Every time Mytho “falls” out of a window – take a sip
  • Every time we see feathers – take a small sip
  • Every time here’s a close-up of Mytho’s eyes – blink
  • Every time a new animal person shows up – take a sip
  • Every time we see gears – wonder if there’s a reason you seem to enjoy anime with gear motifs. Just me?

I save all my screencaps on my Pinterest and you can find more there if you are interested. But I still like to show you a few in the post. If you’re like me, screencaps are something that really helps you decide to watch an anime or not.

19 thoughts

  1. I started watching this as just sort of a “oh that looks interesting” and about the time I really got sucked into it and was delighting in the fairy tale and story and ballet references – BAM – Amazon decided I now needed to pay for each episode (on top of my Prime membership). I was left reeling. I was very interested in reading what you had to say, and I’m glad I did because it got me to look around and well, lookit that, it’s on VRV (through HiDive). Yaaaay! I can finish now! There is so much to love for me in this one that I know it will be a favorite, even if I don’t like the ending or whatever. No doubt, this is going to be a big favorite.

  2. Great post! I never thought there would be a post about Princess Tutu. I couldn’t really talked to people about it so I thought it was one of those rare gems. I found this series by accident a very long time ago, but I really loved it! I think what caught me was the story and its characters. The story was very interesting although I really didn’t like how the ending turned out.

  3. I love this series! I grew up seeing ballets with my mom, and I love fairy tales, so when I saw that there was an anime that had both and the animation was cute too, I was sold. I think I first found the series about 10 years ago. I watched one episode and loved the series so much that I binge watched the rest (I bought the whole series as a set). For some reason every holiday season I get the craving to watch it again.

  4. I thought of it as Ugly Duckling meets Swan Lake, though that’s not exactly accurate. I loved the set-up, I loved the ending, and I liked the middle a lot, too. It’s one of my favourites, actually. The anteater duo dance was such fun to watch. Pretty much everything the show did was interesting. I’d love to talk about it, but this is really something I don’t want to spoil. There’s a lot to discover here.

    You have no idea how much I cheered for that final dance.

    1. Oh sweet. My comments were rather lukewarm about this show and it made me a bit sad because I think it’s really one of the greats.

  5. This is one of those series I’ve heard was great, but years ago when I looked at the style and the poster and title and everything I set it aside for good. But there probably is a lot more to it than I gave it credit for then. The stills you posted are definitely interesting too.

  6. I remember when that anime came out in America. That was something that didn’t look like my thing, but I did hear some interesting things about it. Okay, I did see the Pretear which is from the same creator, but that was as close as I would get at the time.

        1. Thanks. There have been times where I got self-conscious about it especially if I don’t notice them at first, but I’m glad you got the gist of what I was saying.

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