Princess Tutu Vol. 1: Marchen
Ceri Young · March 13, 2005 | Once upon a time, a girl named Duck dreamed that she really was a duck, who was in love with a prince. Or did the duck dream she was a girl? Or was the girl dreaming she was a beautiful princess and ballerina?
From this muddled beginning comes the story of Princess Tutu. We follow the story of Duck, a student at a ballet school, who is in love with the handsome dancer and fellow student Mytho. All is not as it seems in the quasi-European village where they live. Mytho is, in fact, a prince who has escaped from an unfinished book and Duck is, in fact, a duck, who becomes a girl, who becomes Princess Tutu, another fairy tale character. To return Mytho to his true self, Princess Tutu must give him back all the pieces of his broken heart.
The show starts off on an excellent note, with an episode that gives an introduction to all of the principal characters, Duck's triple identity and a hint of what's going on in the bigger story. The rest of the disc continues to broaden and deepen the plot, while following the simple formula of returning one emotion to Mytho per half-hour episode, yet it never gets dull. Enough characters are introduced, and enough plot and emotions explored to keep the viewer engaged in the story.
What makes the show stand out from other "magical-girl" anime are the levels of meaning it plays around with. Duck's triple identity as girl/bird/princess saves the audience from the usual girl-versus-magical girl trope. Furthermore, the show is not only, or even mainly, about Duck's powers. Aside from the underlying plot of returning the emotions to Mytho, the emotions themselves are explored. How does a person react when they are suffering from too much sorrow or too much happiness? How can Princess Tutu get them to give up that excess of emotion? Add this to the layering of story upon story—Duck's story, combined with the prince and the raven, the story of the author who died before he could complete his book, combined with plot elements from classical ballet and the world of the dance school—the interplay makes for a rich and satisfying narrative.
While the show is aimed at children, it doesn't talk down to them. The fairy tale elements are simple enough to pick up on, but the story moves forward at a fast pace, with very little rehashing. Edel uses words like "requited" in her descriptions of what's going on. Rather than acting confused, Duck follows right along, adding her own insights and perhaps translating for a younger audience. It's unlikely a younger child will pick up on everything that's going on in the first viewing, but that's one of the beauties of the story—it's something with enough to interest adults and children alike.
DVD Features: Ballet for Beginners, Étude (a brief overview of the ballet pieces and plots used) Outtakes, Clean Open and Close Animation, Voice Actor and Staff Commentary, In the Studio (outtakes of some of the voice acting recording).