Many anime series and films utilize fantastic generic structures which feature magic, alternate worlds, heroes, heroines, princes and princesses, to varying degrees. For this theme week, I decided to go back to one of my favorite shoujo titles which plays most clearly with typical “Western” fairytale structures. Princess Tutu is one of many anime series which feature a magical girl heroine in a seemingly normal high school setting that actually obscures dark secrets and alternate realities of the attendees’ real identities.
Ahiru (meaning duck), is a duck in love with prince who has lost his emotions and memories. Ahiru makes a wish to be near her love, and through Drosselmeyer, a doomed storyteller with magical powers, she becomes magical-girl-cum-prima-ballerina, Princess Tutu. It is soon revealed that Drosselmeyer has trapped all the characters in a storybook tragedy. The players resist their former roles and struggle against what seems to be inevitable. Princess Tutu is the only one who can enact real change, using selfless love and determination to fight the doomed fates of those around her.
Each episode begins, “mukashi, mukashi,” or “long ago,” and each episode is themed with orchestral pieces from famous ballets. Clearly the premise is a playful perversion of Swan Lake, but the show also touches on Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, The Nutcracker, and others. In the beginning, Duck/Tutu’s primary opponents are the dark princess Rue and Mytho’s bodyguard, Fakir, who both hold secrets as to the role they play in Mytho's shattered heart and thus his tragic ending. Ahiru/Tutu can never be with her prince and knows her time as a human is only temporary, so how will she defeat the curse? (Watch it! It’s on Hulu.)
I especially appreciate this series for inverting the prince/princess structure of who saves who, featuring a girl heroine who takes up the mantle of active savior for herself and those she loves. Princess Tutu even goes one step further and inverts the typical fairy tale happy ending. Semi-spoiler: As the audience takes leave of our favorite little fowl her future is unknown, but there is the hint of a possible new story and a new love.