by Michelle Villanueva

Once upon a time, there lived a tiny yellow duck. And one day, she fell in love with a handsome prince. The prince had long ago lost his heart, and the duck yearned to restore it. So she was given human form to embark on a quest to repair the prince's broken heart. So begins the series, Princess Tutu.

Don't like that? Okay, then. We can try something different. That's no problem. The best thing about a story is that details can change and shift at the whim of the author.

How about this?

Once upon a time, there was a storyteller who died while writing an epic tale of light and darkness. A prince battled a troublesome raven, and he managed to seal the bird away by using the strength of his heart. As a result, his heart shattered into many pieces, each shard holding a different aspect of human emotion. Since the tale was unfinished, the characters in the story sprung from its pages to search for an ending. So begins the series, Princess Tutu.

Not quite what you're looking for? Well, let's try this one more time.

Princess Tutu is a mahou shoujo anime series whose premise mirrors other "magical girl" shows: a young, extremely clumsy, but good-hearted girl is granted a special item (usually a piece of jewelry) which allows her to transform into a superhero of sorts, an idealized version of her real-life self. But that's pretty much where the similarities end. Not many mahou series feature a duckling as the main character.

Yes, Ahiru (or Duck, as the main character is called in the English dub) really is a small duck, as in the bird. She has fallen head over tailfeathers for a boy named Muto (inexplicably called "Mytho" in the English subtitles). Ahiru frequently watches Muto dance, and though his ballet style is beautiful, Ahiru senses a certain amount of loneliness in the boy's eyes. Which is odd, since Muto appears to have no emotion at all. Detached from the world around him, he needs the guidance of another boy, Fakir, to help figure out how to interact with other people.

Thus Ahiru begins her quest to restore Muto (the prince's) heart, but at what cost to Muto? Each of Muto's heart-shards has settled into those who have a void in their hearts, and Ahiru, as Princess Tutu, must coax all these emotions to leave their host bodies and return to Muto. Yet, at first, all Muto can sense is jealousy, anger, loneliness. Is a heart filled with extreme negativity better than having no heart at all?

Calling all the shots in the series is a man named Drosselmeyer, who may be an incarnation of the dead (and perhaps very insane) storyteller mentioned at the prologue of each episode. As he speaks, the cogs of a clockwork machine fill the screen and surround Ahiru, suggesting that he's the one literally setting the story into motion. There is an underlying sense that everything in the town can bend to the storyteller's will, for it is Drosselmeyer who gives Ahiru the pendant which allows her to transform both into a human girl and into Princess Tutu as well.

If the name Drosselmeyer sounds familiar, it should. The storyteller in Princess Tutu shares a name with the (perhaps very insane) dollmaker from The Nutcracker ballet, who creates life-size dancing dolls to entertain guests at the Christmas party and who gifts Clara with a small, carved nutcracker. The similarities between the two characters are eerily strong. Both men create things that bring pleasure to other people by tapping into the very real magic of imagination.

Princess Tutu is probably best described as an overlay of fairy tales, where unrequited love runs rampant, tragedy lurks behind every corner, and there's no real promise of a "happily ever after" ending. This is "old school" storytelling before Disney cleaned up all the best fairy tales, where Cinderella's stepsisters chopped the toes off their feet so they could try on the glass slipper and Little Red Riding Hood never escaped the Big Bad Wolf's stomach.

In very rough and curt terms, you could say Princess Tutu is Card Captor Sakura mixed up with Swan Lake and The Nutcracker by way of The Ugly Duckling. But that's doing a great disservice to the anime itself. Populated by fascinating characters (some likable, some outright disturbing, some not even human!), a brilliant soundtrack featuring selections from many classical works, and a plot that steers clear of cliche, Princess Tutu steps (or pirouettes) above and beyond most other "magical girl" shows. The English dub is surprisingly good, and as I switched between the Japanese and English soundtracks, I sensed a good deal of similarity between the two. The VAs for Ahiru (Nanae Katou) and her English counterpart Duck (Luci Christian) are both suitably ditzy, energetic, and adorable.

I'm not a huge fan of mahou shoujo, and to be honest, I wasn't sure what I was getting into when I watched the first 5 or 10 minutes of the first episode. But by the time the DVD was over, I found myself cheering for Ahiru and hoping that she will heal her handsome prince at last. A great story like this snatches you by the heart and pushes you on a journey through human emotion. It can grind you into the ground or lift you up into the heavens, depending on where the path leads. And if you're like me, you enjoy every single second of the ride.

Princess Tutu Vol. 1: Märchen
Distributed by
ADV Films
Release Info
Volume 1
Bilingual DVD
Dolby Digital 2.0 Eng./Jap.
Run Time: 125 min
Catalog #: DPTT001

MSRP: $29.98
Street Date: Jan 25, 2005