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Manga/Anime Review: A Great Present for Kids of all Ages: Princess...

tutu_coverPrincess Tutu created by Ikuko Ito and Junichi Sato. Released in English by ADV. Entire 26 episode series available at Amazon for $28.49. Manga adaptation available but really, don’t go there.

Dear Readers,

I’m cheating today. This blog is for book reviews, things you read. And so I’m going to review an absolutely terrible manga adaptation so that I can also review the anime of the same name, because it’s just a wonderful series that’s so overlooked, and it would make a great Christmas present for anyone who loves storytelling, ballet, or classical music.

First, the manga. I’m not even linking to it. It’s terrible. It takes an enchanting story and wipes all emotion and excitement and meaning from it. Take, for example, the climax of the first story arc of the series. This is a tremendous episode in the anime, with the “light” and “dark” ballerinas battling through dance for the heart of their prince. In the manga, when the light ballerina comes and dances with the prince and his knight tells the dark ballerina those two belong together, what does the dark ballerina do? Does she get up and fight like she has for the entire book? Does she even try for the man she loves deeply? Does she at least weep in anguish and gnash her teeth? No, she says “Yeah I guess you’re right.” End of conflict. Boy, there’s some drama for you. So, the whole manga is like this and I hate it. F.

Now for the anime. Where the manga is flat and lifeless the anime dances and soars and teases your preconceptions and reshapes all you think you know, and it’s set to some of the most beautiful music written in history.

The story is almost completely different from the manga, framed by a storyteller of dubious motives and frightening powers, modeled after the manipulative uncle in The Nutcracker. He tempts a duckling who dares to dream of dancing with a prince and who says she would give her life to make him smile, and she accepts the storyteller’s bargain and amulet. Duck is given the form of a human girl in order to restore the prince’s heart which was shattered in a battle with a Raven. And whenever she’s near a fragment, she senses it and can change into Princess Tutu, a ballerina of highest caliber, able to touch the hearts of everyone she dances with.

Here’s the opening song of Princess Tutu, to give you a feel for it:

 

 

Notes of whimsy are added by a great collection of side characters, including the marionette with a heart, a variety of anthropomorphic animal students, like the anteater girl who also falls in love with the prince and especially Mr. Cat. Mr. Cat, almost creepy at times, is the school’s ballet teacher and a real cat. He threatens his students with marriage if they fail, almost hoping that they will so he might find love. He’s one of the oddest characters I’ve ever seen, dispensing wisdom one minute then licking himself the next.

Duck’s quest for the prince’s heart comprises the first arc of 13 episodes of the story, a beautiful standard fairy tale.

The second arc of 13 takes this story and rips it to shreds, examining what it means to be a hero and heroine, a story-teller and one within the story, and all the assumptions we as readers make about all of those. This section can just be seen as simple continuation by those who are too young to grasp otherwise, or it can be enjoyed by adults as a beautifully done exploration what it means to live at the whim of others.

The story is marvelous. The way it’s told makes it even better. The music in Princess Tutu is all classical ballet and orchestral pieces, mostly from the 19th century. Its drama and romance lends itself perfectly to setting the moods for all the episodes. This music has stirred audiences for decades, and it doesn’t fail to do so here where the musical selection is paired so well with the storyline.

A note about the extras. ADV came up with some great ones and they’re all included in the thinpak. There are animated shorts about ballet terms and the music in the episodes, as well as films of the voice actors in the studio. There are commentaries and interviews, as well as extra shorts about things like how to watch ballet, and notes about how Princess Tutu came about. These DVDs are loaded.

Drawbacks: There are two in my opinion. One, a couple of the episodes are repetitious, seeming like filler, completely skippable. Two, when side characters are involved, Princess Tutu almost always solves problems the same way, and the footage of Duck changing into Tutu is stock used in every episode (a standard anime practice). But while she might easily dance away the problems of the side characters, her own problems and those of the other three leads aren’t dealt with as easily, and it’s there where the series excels.

The saddest thing about this is how little this series is watched. No one seems to know about it. So I’m spreading the word. This one is for children who will love it for its excitement, beauty, scariness and humor, and especially the emotion I think. And it’s for adults who’ll love it for those same things, along with the cleverness and satisfaction of seeing something well told. And I have to say I literally sobbed for joy at the last episode, which was just perfect, and that really stunned me to be so affected by, well, anything.

Here’s an award-winning AMV (anime music video) created by a fan named Marisa Panaccio who calls this Princess Tutu in Three Minutes. The music is not from the anime, but it’s very cool.

OK, if you’re not convinced now you won’t ever be. But pick up the anime if you’re the least bit interested, or if you know someone who might be, because sadly it will probably disappear soon from shelves, and this is a series you would truly regret missing. Manga: F. Anime: A.

Sincerely,

ジェーン

(Jān)

reads any genre as long as the books aren't depressing. Her preferred reads these days are in manga format and come from all manga genres, but she especially likes romance, doubly so when there are beautiful men involved. With each other. Her favorites among currently-running English-translated manga series include NANA, Ze, Ouran High School Host Club, Junjou Romantica, Blood Alone, Vampire Knight, Skip Beat, Silver Diamond and anything by the holy triumvirate of BL: Ayano Yamane, Kazuma Kodaka and Youka Nitta, including any scribbles they might do on the backs of napkins.

27 Comments

  1. Vernieda
    Dec 11, 2007 @ 17:11:07

    OMG, YES! I love the anime (I, uh, skipped out on the manga because it did not look good at all) and I love that AMV. It’s fabulous and awesome and anyone who loves fairy tales and stories and writing should definitely watch it because the metastory is amazing.

    I’d also like to add, if that’s okay, that in addition to the music, the first 13 episodes reference several ballet and opera. Of course the most important are the Nutcracker, Swan Lake, and Sleeping Beauty. The animation team definitely did their research because you can definitely see the difference in skill level between Rue and Ahiru. (Yes, I’m terribly attached to the original Japanese name and can’t bring myself to call her Duck.)

    I guess all I can say, in this rather flailing comment, is that I agree and that everyone should run out and buy Princess Tutu. ADV kind of didn’t know how to market (not a surprise given their usual catalogue) and unsurprisingly, it bombed saleswise here in the US. It’s a miracle we even got a thinpak, but it’s my hope that it will continue on as a cult, beloved favorite. :)

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  2. Jan
    Dec 11, 2007 @ 17:22:38

    Oh yes, I should have said that. Each episode is based upon a famous ballet and the narrator at the beginning gives a tiny synopsis to draw you into the story. But the music used most is as Vern said.

    I actually only bought the manga so I’d have an excuse to review the anime here. I’m bad LOL. I really couldn’t believe how the manga was stripped of everything that made the anime good though. (It was written afterwards, too, so the mangaka had to have seen it.)

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  3. Bonnie L.
    Dec 11, 2007 @ 17:49:15

    Dude, I am so there! Where can I get this anime? Is it in English or just subtitled?

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  4. Jan
    Dec 11, 2007 @ 17:59:42

    It’s both subbed and dubbed, and you can watch it either way, and the link at the top takes you to Amazon where it’s on sale for $29 dollars which is amazingly cheap for anime. ^____^

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  5. Jan
    Dec 11, 2007 @ 18:09:22

    I should add that I watched it both ways, subtitled listening to the Japanese voice actors, and dubbed with the English voice actors, and I liked both. And while I like the Japanese better because I’m a fan of Fakir’s seiyuu (Japanese voice actor), the English one was very good. Most of the English VAs involved really cared about this story, which isn’t always the case in anime dubbing.

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  6. Nicole
    Dec 11, 2007 @ 19:46:15

    Oh, this looks really good. I hadn’t heard at all about this, but I’m going to have to keep an eye out for it.

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  7. LinM
    Dec 11, 2007 @ 20:15:07

    Thank you so much for this review (and sacrificing your pride/pocketbook to review the manga). When you posted about this last week, I was in the middle of an interminable day (work interrupting life) and didn’t read the recommendation until after midnight at which point I misread the entire comment and thought you meant the manga. I looked at the series, wondered why you recommended it, thought briefly about asking for more details, and was defeated by an inability to do anything coherent. But after this review, I’m floating – an enchanting story with all of the dark tradition of adult fairytales and the wonderful Tchaikovsky scores – I’m in love already.

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  8. Jan
    Dec 11, 2007 @ 20:45:50

    Oh dear Lin! I’m so glad you didn’t buy the manga. I’m going to conveniently give it away for Christmas to my nephew, bundled among books he’ll actually like. (and I’m sure I’ll hear about it too LOL. And then I’ll loan him the anime.)

    But really, this anime gave me goosebumps.

    Nicole, I have no idea why they haven’t been able to get the word out about this one. I think, as Vern says, that they just don’t know who to market it to. But really, they could market it to everyone, because it was *guys* raving about it that brought it to my attention, and it was a woman friend who convinced me to buy it with the above AMV.

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  9. Vernieda
    Dec 11, 2007 @ 21:22:54

    I have successfully hooked many people on Tutu courtesy of that AMV. It really is the best trailer you could possibly use.

    I think, as Vern says, that they just don't know who to market it to.

    Well, the reason why I say that is because it’s ADV that holds the license. ADV is known for its anime catalogue of blood, breasts, and guns. And while I know guys who love this show as much as I do, I dont’t really think they’re the norm in terms of anime DVD watchers/buyers. So I really don’t think ADV knew what to do. I mean, the art design for the thinpak is awful in my opinion. But I can tell it’s just their art department going their usual fanservice route again, and I’ve had more than one person say to me that it looks like the cover of a hentai title. (Which is kind of embarrassing because it’s not even close! It’s the opposite end of the spectrum!) It’s really a shame.

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  10. amylee
    Dec 12, 2007 @ 08:20:25

    Jan,

    I and my two girls are big fans of this anime since we caught it in our cable anime offerings. Usually I don’t go for this particular style of manga (with large circle eyes and impossibly long long legs) but the story and the whole nightmare/happy dream set-up hooked me. The girls are just happy with everything esp. the ballet part which is always cleverly integrated into each episode. The Prince is an interesting manga character, isn’t he? He reminds me the Prince Yuuki(?) character in Fruits Basket a little too.

    Anyways, Jan, I have to tell you I have always enjoyed your informed and insightful manga reviews. (I lurk a lot here) Is there any chance you will review “The demon Ororon” for us in future?

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  11. Jan
    Dec 12, 2007 @ 08:53:47

    Thank you amylee! The two main male characters reminded me a bit of Yuki and Kyou in Fruits Basket as well. I’m hoping that this one turns into a sleeper hit the way that one did. :) I need to review Fruits Basket too.

    I actually have never read The Demon Ororon, though it’s one of those series that always tempted me. I just hadn’t picked it up because I’ve not heard any recommendations one way or the other. If you recommend it, I’ll give it a shot.

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  12. Amy
    Dec 12, 2007 @ 12:01:51

    Jan,

    I loved Ororon because I am Not at all scared of teenage angst tearjurkers. (that is really mouthful but!) I can take them with a little bit of amusement and a lot of emotional investment as I do with Japanese or Korean soap dramas. Sooo what I am trying to say is that I loved Ororon but it might not be your cup of tea (or coffee). I really liked its particular graphic style. In fact, I bought my older daughter (11 yo) the complied volume one as a Christmas gift. I guess I am sort of experimenting with my daughter in a way. Has she entered that teenage phase yet or is she still a Tween? Should I be introducing her to this kind of manga already? Well, she liked Kare Kano so we shall see.

    BTW, I wonder if you know of the looong ballet/dance manga series called “Swan” (sorry I don’t know the Japanese title ). Now that was the serious “Dance Art” manga!!

    Amy

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  13. Jan
    Dec 12, 2007 @ 12:19:07

    I have Swan on my TBR. I’ve not yet read it, but plan to. I’m more in the mood after watching Princess Tutu again last weekend. :)

    The art style in Ororon reminds me of Yazawa Ai’s, just taken to a more extreme level. It’s also a bit like the Korean manhwa I’ve been buying from DramaQueen, their books Audition and DVD. I know that style puts some people off but I enjoy it. Your daughter might like those two books too. :) But DQ hasn’t been very reliable about releases, unfortunately.

    A lot of shoujo romances really are soap operas. But soaps are fun and sexy, and the good ones have good characterization. I don’t watch them any more, but I can get my share of that drama from various romances that I read. So I understand the draw and feel it too. ^__^

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  14. MaryK
    Dec 12, 2007 @ 12:21:31

    Wow, great clips – now I really want this! I’m completely new to manga/anime so I’ve been following these reviews with interest.

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  15. Jan
    Dec 12, 2007 @ 12:35:02

    MaryK – I think this is a great place to start. It has a lot of the best anime has to offer, along with one or two of its downfalls (like the occasional episode that feels like filler – but then what TV show doesn’t have that?). And it’s really really reasonably priced. I just can’t get over what it’s selling for.

    I should say though, that anime and manga are as varied as film or the contents of a library, so even if this isn’t to your taste, chances are there is some that is. But I think you will like it. :)

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  16. Estara
    Dec 12, 2007 @ 13:14:30

    Yes, exactly! One of the few completely successful romance animes out there up with Fruits Basket. Way too overlooked. Thanks for spreading the word to a wider audience.

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  17. Vernieda
    Dec 12, 2007 @ 13:22:42

    Furuba is overlooked? Really? While it’s no Naruto, it consistently makes the USA Today Bestseller list. A few volumes back, it peaked within the top 20.

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  18. Jan
    Dec 12, 2007 @ 13:37:20

    Furuba is overlooked? Really?

    She’s talking about the anime. It was a very slow starter and was a sleeper hit, only gaining popularity over a few years through word of mouth and with the popularity of the manga. Hopefully Princess Tutu will do the same eventually. Unfortunately it has no good manga to help it.

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  19. Jan
    Dec 12, 2007 @ 22:08:17

    Amy – The Demon Ororon is coming out in an omnibus version with all four volumes in it next week for only $15! I pre-ordered one. 850 pages is pretty darned thick, but I’m cheap so I’ll figure out some way to read it LOL.

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  20. Kat
    Dec 12, 2007 @ 22:19:43

    Hi Jan, thanks for writing this review. I became a fan of the anime for all the reasons you’ve mentioned above. I bought it on a whim because of my love for classical music and it has remained a favorite ever since. To be honest, I didn’t even know that there was a manga. Doesn’t seem like I’m missing out on much though. Did the dark ballerina really say, “Yeah I guess you're right.”? That, right there, tells me just how different the two are.
    I hope readers will take your advice and give this anime a chance. It really would make a wonderful gift for all ages. And I’m happy to see the AMV on here. It really captures the spirit of the series.

    ^_~

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  21. DS
    Dec 12, 2007 @ 22:30:04

    Ok you convinced me. I bought it from Amazon. Now if I hate it I know who to complain to. ;)

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  22. Jan
    Dec 12, 2007 @ 23:07:54

    Hi Kat! Yes, that was a direct quote from the manga. I just stared at that page in disbelief. Oh, and Edel is an evil corsette-wearing strumpette in the manga, and there’s no Drosselmeyer at all. *shakes head*

    —————————

    DS, I don’t know what you normally like, but if you love romance and storytelling and great music, I think you’ll like it. But hey, if you decide to get rid of it, it would also make any child really happy at Christmas. ^__^

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  23. Vernieda
    Dec 13, 2007 @ 04:51:44

    there's no Drosselmeyer at all

    *boggles* How in the world do you have Princess Tutu without Herr Drosselmeyer?!

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  24. Amy
    Dec 13, 2007 @ 06:38:15

    Jan,

    Thank you for the info. Actually this might be the one I have pre-bought for my daughter. Really, you would think that I should know what I am spending my money on!!!

    Amy

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  25. DS
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 19:55:20

    Just wanted to note in case anyone is curious, that I bought this DVD set and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m not an anime fan, so this was my introduction.

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  26. Fawx
    Jun 06, 2011 @ 18:17:54

    Man, you gave me a serious start when I saw ‘Princess Tutu’ in the F reviews queue. Agreed, though. The manga sucks all the balls.

    The anime, though? I can’t get enough of it. I first saw Tutu after years of a self-imposed ban on all shojo anime titles, directly caused by a traumatizing weekend where I was held hostage and made to watch all ten million episodes of Fushigi Yuugi twice. From that day anything even hinting at ‘magical girl’ was permablacklisted in my brain.

    Honestly, the only reason I lifted the ban to watch Tutu was because a friend insisted the not-subtle-at-all text between Mytho and Fakir was prime m/m fanfiction territory. So I watched an episode. And then a few hours later I was bawling like a baby at the season one finale. And then the next day I bought the thin-pack.

    Definitely one of the best series to come out of Kawaiistan in a long while.

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  27. ami
    Jun 06, 2011 @ 22:35:17

    Omg I remember that music video; it won some award or something, it also convinced me to finally watch the rest of tutu. I had watched the first episode and thought only so so. Ah.. the song matches the mood perfectly despite not being classical in theme.

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