Does the name Ito Ikuko mean anything to you? If it does then you probably recognize it as the person behind the endearing Magic User's Club series. Taking equal amounts of charm she spins a tale in Princess Tutu that stands out among the crowd. This isn't your typical anime and if you're looking for something off the beaten path then you'll definitely want to give it a shot.
Released by ADV, this 26 episode series has just been compiled into a complete collection but it's not a thinpak like you'd expect. All six discs are included inside of an inch thick DVD case which certainly breaks from the tradition of the publisher, but I digress. Packaging aside Princess Tutu is a show that should be put on your wish list if you're an appreciator of unique anime that attempts to be different.
With a name like Princess Tutu and characters dressed as ballerinas running all over the place it's hard to get around the fact that this show is seemingly aimed at a female audience. Thankfully the writing, quality of character development, and storyline prove quickly that the series is anything but gender specific. I do have to admit that the content of this show will appeal more to younger viewers than older ones. It's a fairytale at its core and as such there are very light elements employed here.
When the series begins were discover that a gentleman named Drosselmeyer was in the middle of writing a story when he passed away. With nobody to write the rest of the tale a young prince and raven from the book leave the pages and wind up in Gold Crown Town. In order to stave off the raven Prince Mytho had to seal his own heart away which took its toll on the boy. He wouldn't know happiness or emotion without his heart and essentially it turned Mytho into a walking shadow of his former self.
Luckily for Prince Mytho, Drosselmeyer happens upon a cute little duck that becomes quite taken with the heartless wonder. The ghostly writer conjures up a little hocus pocus and transforms the duck into a beautiful young girl aptly named Ahiru. As it turns out Ahiru watched Mytho and has become quite smitten with the Prince. Once in human form the duck turned ballerina as she decided to attend the Academy with Mytho and seeks to restore the lost pieces of his heart.
Hanging around Ahiru's neck is a red pendant shaped like an egg. This trinket is more than a fashion statement though as it also gives her the ability to transform into Princess Tutu. Tutu is an alter-ego of sorts that allows Ahiru to dance like she's never danced before and recapture fragments of Mytho's heart. This gives the show a slightly different spin on the magical transforming girl, er duck, anime though it certainly sets it apart from the rest. Rather than straight out going into ass-kicking mode, Tutu's approach is arguably more graceful and it makes for a serene atmosphere.
On the flipside is the show's villain. Well, I say villain, but really this character happens to be very complex and caught in an interesting situation. A girl named Rue who also happens to attend the school that Mytho and Ahiru do has some interesting ties to Drosselmeyer's story. She is the daughter of the Raven and as such has been sworn to destroy the pieces of the Prince's heart to unseal her father. To do so she becomes an alter-ego known as Princess Kraehe, much like Ahiru becomes Tutu.
Making Rue's character even more complex is the way she warms up to Ahiru and Mythos through the course of the show. It gives her character a ton of depth and made her the most interesting offering that Princess Tutu brought to the table. Granted her roommate Fakir made for some intriguing moments later in the show but Rue was my favorite the entire way through.
While the main storyline is fascinating in its own right there are many undercurrents that carry the program from beginning to end. Considering Princess Tutu is supposed to be a fairytale written by Drosselmeyer it's only natural that things are designed to end the way he intended. Each of the characters begins to question their destiny during the course of the show and the story explores several layers of complexity.
While I found the ballerina theme a tad off-putting at first I must admit that it grew on me over the course of these 26 episodes. The manner with which the show handled it felt natural and the incorporation of some famous pieces such as "The Nutcracker" and "Swan Lake" certainly helps add authenticity.
Princess Tutu surprised me. I previously hadn't much opportunity to watch the show and I only had a very small impression to work from. Viewing the series from start to finish was very refreshing and something I wish I had done sooner. Despite the kiddy look and girly design that blankets the show this is truly a series that anyone could sink their teeth into. It's a sweet little treat with a ton of layers that only gets better as you get closer to the last bite. Tutu is a high recommendation!
Princess Tutu originally aired in Japan in 2002 and is presented on DVD with its broadcast ratio of 1.33:1 full frame. The image quality for the transfer is very good with next to nothing to complain about other than the aspect ratio. This is a show whose art direction absolutely begged for a widescreen presentation though I suppose beggars can't be choosy. The video remains free of grain, speckle and aliasing, plus the colors are well saturated and vibrant. This is a show with very unique look with imaginative design and very fluid animation.
Princess Tutu comes with two 2.0 Dolby Digital selections. Naturally those are Japanese and English, but it surprised me that ADV didn't opt for the 5.1 English dubbing that they usually do. As it stands, the quality is very good for both tracks considering that they are presented in stereo, but the diversity of the mix isn't very strong. Sound effects and music tend to sound better on the English track though that's not by a lot really. English subtitles are included as well.
Shockingly ADV not only offered up a different style of packaging for Princess Tutu but they also included a bevy of bonus features. If you've ever snagged one of ADV's complete collections this is something of a rarity and considering this is a great show it should be treasured.
The first disc includes a whopping two commentaries: one with the voice actors for the first episode and one with some of the production staff for the fifth. These are straightforward anime commentaries with a lot of laughing and such but with the multiple views of the series there are some nice impressions given here. Clean opening and closing animations make the cut along with two and a half minutes worth of English cast outtakes. Some of the English cast also chimes in for a cute little feature called Etude which talks about the music of the series. A clip collection for an introduction to ballet is included as well as an in studio session with the English cast.
This style of features continues for the rest of the discs in this set as well. The second includes another staff commentary, ballet piece, Etude, In the Studio, and outtakes. The third offers a voice actor commentary, the rest of the standard features, and a promotional original Japanese video. Disc four features a staff commentary, a mini recap of the first bit of the show, clean animations to go along with it, and the rest of the carried over supplemental content. The fifth disc has a voice actor commentary, another New Year's Special episode, and the standard features we've come to expect. There was a nice little inclusion of a digital booklet of sorts that chronicles Tutu's journey from sketch to fulfillment. And finally, the last disc in the collection has Voice and Staff commentaries, another TV special, and the expected features. Overall the bonus content here was quite lengthy and more impressive than we typically see in anime.
Princess Tutu was a surprising show for me. I originally came to it with great curiosity but not a lot of expectations. To my amazement I found a series that captivated me, drew me in, and wormed its way into my heart. This was a fun ride from start to finish and though it gets a little dry in spots there is a fine layer of depth that keeps you watching. If you missed it the first time around ADV's complete collection is definitely a must see. The fact that they included all of the bonus features and it's packed in an inch thick case instead of thinpak seals the deal in my opinion. Highly Recommended