Friday, July 3, 2009

All Ye Who Like Stories Gather 'Round -- Princess Tutu review

Stringed again. I fail so hard; I was planning on doing regular-ish updates, but clearly that did not work. I'll keep trying, though! Well, if Owari's TL;DR about the history of her internet connection didn't scare you away, this wordy Princess Tutu review of doom probably will. The TL;DR version of the review is: Princess Tutu is AWESOME and you should watch it, preferably by actually buying it, because it is one of those series that really deserves to be bought, even if you're not a buyfag. But even if you can't bring yourself to pay for it, watch it. You won't be disappointed.

(The character pictured is Rue. I don't mention her much in the actual review because it was getting too long and her importance to the story, as well as Fakir's, doesn't come into play until a bit later on in the series. However, she is possibly my favorite character along with Fakir, so I felt the need to use her image.)

Modern anime (anything made after 1999) rarely breaks any molds. This is a commonly accepted viewpoint that many fans that have been fans for a long time hold. Most anime that’s being produced is a variant of a tried and true archetype that will make money for the company, but won’t do anything new or groundbreaking. Moe shows, typical shonen fighting shows, and harem shows are the majority of what comes out of Japan anymore. However, there are times when some brave souls opt to step away from this formula. Sometimes it fails miserably and the involved are left kicking themselves for taking the risk, but sometimes, they achieve greatness.

Okay, maybe not greatness; at least not in most lights. These unusual series that turn out amazing don’t usually sell well. They don’t get merchandise or huge fanbases. Often they go completely under the fans’ radar. Unfortunately, that seems to be what happened with this little gem that I’m reviewing, Princess Tutu.

This series came out in Japan in 2002-2003, though I was still a new fan back then and didn’t really hear about it until around 2006 after it had been released in America. I never ended up buying and watching it until just last year, though. But now I’ve seen it all and I must say, mind = blown. Sadly, I don’t think anywhere near enough people actually gave this series a shot, especially not out of the demographic of anime fans that actually buy their anime.

ADV really didn’t handle this series too well at first, though. There was nearly a year’s gap between the initial releases of vol. 1 and vol. 2, and the series was obviously not very well marketed, since I had no idea it even existed until the first episode got shown at the anime club that I attended at the time. By this time, the entire series was out, though there was no box set. When I finally got around to buying it, having really liked what I saw at anime club and having heard a few positive reviews of it, as well as watching the famous Håll om Mig nu AMV, the single discs were next to impossible to find. A box set was put on schedule after I’d bought the first disc, but I continued attempting to chase down the singles up to volume 3. I did so because the box set was listed for a low price, so I was afraid it was going to be a thinpak rather than the brick that it was, and ADV has a history of stripping the extras from its thinpak releases. I knew from the first disc and word of mouth that Princess Tutu had really good extras, so I didn’t want to pay for stripped discs like I had stupidly done with Azumanga Daioh. I stopped hunting singles after volume 3 since I found out that the new box set was actually going to leave its extras in tact. Also volume 4 was next to impossible to find. I still need to watch the extras on vol. 2-6, but the ones on vol. 1 were completely worth it. The English director commentary was really fascinating; it went into a lot of detail on the music used in the series.

As for the actual series itself, I already said that the end result of watching the whole series was mind = blown. I have a list of the 3 anime that I consider to be the best ever made, and Princess Tutu is #2 on that list (1 and 3 are Haibane Renmei and Gankutsuou respectively). Whenever I watch a new anime title, I judge it using those 3 titles as my standard (the exception being comedy anime. Those are judged on how much I laugh at them and that’s about it). Because it’s one of the series that I use as a standard to judge other titles against, I thought it would be best to make it my first actual series review, especially since I finished it recently (December 10th, 2008 to be exact).

The basic plot of Princess Tutu sounds so very simple. There once lived a man who loved to write stories. He was working on a story called “The Prince and the Raven”, which was about an evil raven and a prince that broke his heart into many pieces in order to seal the raven away. Unfortunately, the man, Drosselmeyer, died before he completed the story. The raven, bored of being stuck in a story that would never come to a conclusion, left the pages of the book. The prince followed, knowing it would be disastrous to let the raven wreak havoc upon the world unchecked.

From there, it turns out that somehow, Drosselmeyer’s spirit is watching the events unfold, and he is pleased. He decides that he should make things more interesting and bring another character out of the story. That character is Princess Tutu, a minor character from Drosselmeyer’s story, but the lead of the tale to unfold. He brings her into the story by offering a pendant to a mere duck. This pendant will allow the duck to transform into a girl by the name of Ahiru, and then again into Princess Tutu. The role of Princess Tutu is to return the scattered shards of the prince’s heart to the prince, who just happens to be Ahiru’s crush, Mytho. …Wait, did I say the plot was simple?

I must confess that Princess Tutu does have its flaws. There aren’t many of them at all, but still they’re there. The only one that is inherently part of the series is that there are a few dull spots. There aren’t too many, and they’re only present in the first half of the series, but they’re still there. I think they are a case of the exposition of the story stretching over too many episodes. I’m a big fan of character and world building, but even I have my limits. Though I think the biggest issue wasn’t so much that there was more character and world building going on than plot, but rather how formulaic the episodes were from episode 2 up to episode 6. These episodes all boiled down to there being a heart shard causing problems, so Ahiru transforms into Princess Tutu, convinces the heart shard to stop being defiant and return to its proper form, then she returns the shard to Mytho. That got old pretty fast, but once the series picked up, it really picked up.

This show really left a strong impression on me. It has a sort of charm that is really hard to resist once you get into the series. I felt so strongly for the characters that I feel guilty for wishing there was more, even if it were just an OAV or a movie. The reasons behind that are extremely spoilerific, but let's just say all stories need to end. Also, Princess Tutu is a rare example of my opinion on a character doing a complete 180. That character is Rue (pictured near the top). The first half of the series has her characterized one way, but she steadily breaks out of the mold that you think she's set herself firmly into and becomes something else entirely. That's what Princess Tutu does so many times that it's crazy; leads you to believe it is or will do one thing, then completely changes direction. It's like a roller coaster that starts off with a pretty good drop, then slows down for a bit, but then it charges full speed ahead through all kinds of peaks and plunges and turns and anything imaginable, leaving your head spinning when you get off.

A lot of people passed up on watching Princess Tutu just from glancing at the cover and title. It does look and sound incredibly girly, after all. But the people that made that decision made a big mistake. Though it does have its feminine elements, Princess Tutu is primarily an extremely messed up fairytale. I don’t mean it’s along the lines of Junko Mizuno’s works; it’s not even close to that. What I mean is that it’s like the creators took the basic outline of a standard fairytale, then proceeded to turn it upside down, shake it a couple times, flesh it out far more than most fairytales ever get fleshed out, especially in character development, then spin it around really fast and see what it does. In other words, it’s a unique story in both the realm of anime and the realm of fairytales, and Western literature in general.

I urge anyone that has an interest in Princess Tutu either to buy one of the recent box sets that have been put out for it. I understand not wanting to blindly shell out cash, so watch a few episodes via Netflix, borrowing from a friend, downloading, etc if you’re not completely sold, but if you do end up liking it, it’s absolutely worth purchasing. Both the first complete collection, which I own, and the more recent one leave the extras in tact, at least according to Anime on DVD. If nothing else, these extras are worth buying the DVDs for, but as Princess Tutu is the second title on my list of the top three best anime ever made, it deserves to be purchased.

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