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Princess Tutu? More Like Ballet Ballet Revolution! - The Book of the Celestial Cow

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October 4th, 2007


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01:49 am - Princess Tutu? More Like Ballet Ballet Revolution!
About a month ago, hobviously (Tris) and latropita (Tropie) suddenly got very into this anime series I had never heard of called Princess Tutu. Tris described it thusly:
- at least three or four levels of nesting doll stories-within-stories
- draws from A) ballet and B) fairy tales
- both intensely meta and intricately plot-driven
- put in a blender and braided like whoa
- garnish with a generous dollop of wtf

Omg epic fairy taley Swan Lakey vaguely lesbonic mythological philosophical existential structural thematic narrative clusterfuck featuring a hot raven-black swan villainess future member of the Susan Pevensie Club For Awesome Girls — my brain hasn't gotten such a workout from fiction in a long, long time.
Now, initially, I received this input into my brain, and the output was: blah blah blah anime ballet ballet ballet anime. Yeeeeah, I think the whole "ballet" thing put me off at first, like the football in Friday Night Lights. Looking back, however, I think this description, when not being discounted on the presence of ballet, is very apt and should be enough in and of itself to recommend the series. Besides, I knew almost nothing about the series before I watched, and that was fun. But let us continue anyway.

What hooked me was her second post, in which she described it as a "story about stories," and...you know I love that shit. I am no ballet junkie, so the aspect I love about the series is the fact that it's a meta-fairy tale about fairy tales.

The basic premise of the series is laid out in the prologues to the first two episodes (each episode begins with a prologue that summarizes a fairy tale, always ending on a dark note or question that sets the theme for the episode): once upon a time (they all begin this way, of course), there was man named Drosselmeyer (named after the character from The Nutcracker) who wrote stories. One of his stories, "The Prince and the Raven," was unfinished when he died. So the raven escaped from the story, and the prince chased after him, finally sealing him away with a forbidden power by breaking his own heart into many pieces. This magic has thrown Kinkan, the setting of our tale, way out of whack, and now some of the old fairy tales have a tendency to come true.

Here, however, is the kicker: although Drosselmeyer died...he still appears to be monitoring his story. In some of my favorite parts (due to the juicy meta goodness), we cut to Drosselmeyer watching the story in a world full of gears, and he comments on the direction on the story is taking, usually rejoicing in the pain the characters are going through, because he loves a good tragedy. It gets better, though: Drosselmeyer sometimes interferes with the story to make sure it goes the way it's "supposed" to.

In fact, that's how the series begins. Drosselmeyer kicks the whole plot into gear by granting the wish of a duck to make a boy smile. Yes, the main character is a duck. It's awesome. This is anime. Roll with it. Anyway, he turns her into a girl named Ahiru (which means "duck" in Japanese) enrolled in the same ballet school as Mytho (pronounced "Myuto"), the boy who won't smile.

It's hard to talk about the characters without spoiling, since a lot of who the characters are is wrapped up in who they are, if you get my drift. You probably don't. I can talk about Ahiru, though. Ahiru is totally cute and extremely hyper in the way that anime girls often are. But she is also the titular Princess Tutu! And she gets the obligatory anime-transformation scene every episode, usually highlighted and perhaps even instigated by Drosselmeyer himself.

Here is the thing about the show: Princess Tutu FIGHTS WITH DANCING. She dances ballet with her opponents in order to understand their feelings. It's so not Dragonball Z.

Another character I can talk about in a non-spoilery way is Neko-sensei. Neko means "cat" in Japanese. And Neko-sensei is, in fact, a cat. A cat who teaches ballet. And in one of the most consistently amusing running gags I have ever seen, he constantly threatens his students that if they do poorly, THEY WILL HAVE TO MARRY HIM!!! What makes the gag work is every time he gets all het up about marriage, they play Mendelssohn's "Wedding March."

Which makes a nice segue into the use of music. Now, as I said, I'm no ballet junkie, but I was still familiar with a lot of the music they used. They pull from a variety of ballets and operas musically and thematically, including but not limited to the following: The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella, La Sylphide, Scheherazade, Coppelia, Carmen, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Bartered Bride, and Ruslan and Ludmilla. Each episode features one musical piece in particular and highlights it throughout the episode; one episode even awesomely features Danse Macabre. The musical selection is always appropriate to the story being told. So, the music rocks, clearly.

There's also quite a bit of ballet, but it never overwhelms the story. This is my "Don't avoid this because you don't care about ballet" paragraph.

But I was never in it for the ballet. I was in it for the story. The story about stories. And just for me, they threw in a generous dose of Identity Issues and Being True to Yourself and REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE SIMBA. And this is a series that gets better and better with every episode, basically, because it can't help but not. Each new installment enriches the story and carries it forward as it builds. Complications arise, and Drosselmeyer rejoices. The first season appears to come to a pretty sound conclusion of the tale, and then the second season pulls the rug out from under the narrative. Drosselmeyer constantly comments on the progress of the story and what roles each of the characters has. Is this one truly the protagonist? Is this one truly the villain? It's good fun.

Now, with a metatextual delight such as this in which the audience is made to view the characters in the story as characters in a story, I was waiting for the moment to arise when they would just smash the fourth wall to holy hell, and I would like to take this sentence to assure you: it totally fucking happens omg. As Tris says, "Stranger Than Fiction WOULD BE Princess Tutu if it were animated, set in weirdo Germany, and replaced taxes with ballet."

My experience watching Princess Tutu was very similar to my experience reading American Gods. For most of the run, I was enjoying it quite a bit (I started this Saturday, you guys, and I'm already done) and really liking it (it at least had more of a defined plot than American Gods), but I wasn't in mad squeeful love. Some of it was pretty repetitive, with each episode leading to a pretty standard Tutu confrontation of some sort. But then the end of the series was just so amazingly awesome that it retroactively awesometized everything that came before it, just on principle. This was a meticulously crafted story after all; how could I properly judge it until it came to an end?

That ought to do it, don't you think? If you can deal with anime, this is totally one worth checking out, as it appears to be far from typical and is apparently well known for subverting common anime tropes, not that I'm familiar with most of them. Someone on Wikipedia says one character is "one of the most complex characters ever"..."[i]n anime terms." If you can't deal with anime...this is still worth checking out because it's an example of the awesome things anime can do that you just don't find in traditional animation. Seriously, do Americans score their episodes with ballet music? Hell, one of the climactic moments in the finale just would not work anywhere else, and it's practically the climax of the entire series. If I told you what it was right now, you would laugh your ass off, but in the context of the show, it's awesome and perfect and works so beautifully.

Princess Tutu is a mere 26 half-hour episodes (though the second season has its episodes split in two), and you can find them all on Veoh or find a torrent. Fansubs are love.

If you do not check out this show, YOU WILL HAVE TO MARRY ME!!!
Current Mood: hungryhungry
Current Music: Elliott Smith - Needle in the Hay

(44 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")

Comments:


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From:hobviously
Date:October 4th, 2007 09:36 am (UTC)
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Haha, I should have known you'd love Neko-Sensei.

Note to the world: if you watch Tutu on Veoh, be careful to not read any comments, as they are all spoilery (and dumb) as shit.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:October 4th, 2007 02:43 pm (UTC)
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OMG SO DUMB.

Neko-sensei was ridiculous and amusing and ridiculously amusing.
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From:sophiap
Date:October 4th, 2007 10:17 am (UTC)
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Ooh! I have just recently started watching this. I'm only about seven episodes in, so thank you v. kindly for not spoiling. I look forward to talking more about this.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:October 4th, 2007 02:45 pm (UTC)
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Awesome! I look forward to hearing your thoughts, as someone more versed in anime than I.
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From:tigeremme
Date:October 4th, 2007 11:57 am (UTC)
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what did I say about tempting me with new shows?? especially when I love anime??

on the other hand, I might have a lot of free time after January. =P
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From:spectralbovine
Date:October 4th, 2007 02:46 pm (UTC)
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Hee! Oh, Emily, you'd LOVE this one! Just on the use of music alone, probably.

Aaaaand OPTION 1 FTW?!?!
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From:shpyum
Date:October 4th, 2007 12:57 pm (UTC)
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I will not watch this show, as you still have not watched Big Love. Or, btw, read Inkheart and Inkspell, which are maybe the best juvy fantasy books ever that are stories about stories. And actually, they sound a lot like Princess Tutu in some ways.

NO really, I don't have time for a new show, but you have time for kids books!
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From:spectralbovine
Date:October 4th, 2007 02:49 pm (UTC)
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I'm sorry, I just...have little to no interest in Big Love, despite your constant pressure!

And you never told me about Inkheart and Inkspell, which do sound a lot like Tutu in some ways! Way cool! I will have to look into them. It seems they're making them into movies now.
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From:ohimesamamama
Date:October 4th, 2007 01:40 pm (UTC)
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Huh, sounds not unlike Shoujo Kakumei Utena, but with ballet rather than swordfighting. I'll have to see it.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:October 4th, 2007 02:50 pm (UTC)
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Hmmm, I checked the Wikipedia description, and I can sort of see the similarities.

How are you doing?!
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From:twenty8penguin
Date:October 4th, 2007 03:11 pm (UTC)
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I have never gotten into anime, but I've been asking around for suggestions of where to start.

I'll add this to my list!
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From:spectralbovine
Date:October 4th, 2007 03:16 pm (UTC)
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This was Tris's first anime, and she had no problems. I think this is as good a place as any to start since the story is pretty straightforward...in a way. I mean, it's not THAT cracked-out, as animes go. There are random talking animals and stuff, but it shouldn't scare you away.
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From:capnnick
Date:October 4th, 2007 03:13 pm (UTC)
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I've put up with a lot more out of anime, so I think I can give this one a shot. Actually I am ecstatic about giving this one a shot.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:October 4th, 2007 03:17 pm (UTC)
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Awesome!
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From:gymble
Date:October 4th, 2007 03:42 pm (UTC)
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Neat. It sounds like something I'd enjoy. One of these days, I'm going to make you watch Utena.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:October 4th, 2007 03:50 pm (UTC)
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ohimesemamama mentioned that one too.

Hey, are you guys coming tomorrow?
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From:theodosia
Date:October 4th, 2007 07:12 pm (UTC)
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Better yet, buy the not-too-hideously-priced DVDs and revel in the extras like the commentary by the American voice actors.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:October 4th, 2007 07:25 pm (UTC)
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But...I am afraid of the dubbed version! They call her "Duck," which is accurate but sounds so wrong! She is AHIRUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU.

I imagine if your first exposure is through a dub, it would be fine, but having experienced it in the original Japanese, that's what I would recommend.
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From:alannaofdoom
Date:October 4th, 2007 11:49 pm (UTC)
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If you do not check out this show, YOU WILL HAVE TO MARRY ME!!!

[stocks up on bronzer, saris, and dark hair dye, and goes to meet your mother]

Hee. Anyway, I probably will check this out - have never been one for anime, but have never really not been one for anime, if you know what I mean. Very few of my friends are into it, so it's not much on my radar.
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From:alannaofdoom
Date:October 6th, 2007 05:01 am (UTC)
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OK so I'm only halfway through the first episode but already I had to comment, because a) the Wedding March is hilarious, and b) - and this is totally unrelated to the show itself - when Ahiru walks in on Mytho in the dance studio and she's all [transfixed, swoon, lean], that is me when I'm watching Angelo's solo in Act II of "The Car Man". Because OMG is that one of the most beautiful pieces of dance I have ever seen. I am aware that probably no one reading this has the least idea what I'm talking about, but whatever. OH, MAN. Guh.

Anyway. This concludes Alanna's Contemporary Dance Revue.

(And if you like dance at all, or the music of "Carmen," go get the dvd of "The Car Man" (hey, Netflix has it!) because it's freakin' amazing.)
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From:vonniek
Date:October 5th, 2007 12:22 am (UTC)
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*eyebrows*

I've heard about this series from my anime-loving friends, and I was all, "well, I can go for anime, but ballet...? I'll pass," and then I heard about the cractasticness and the meta and was vaguely intrigued.

(Then the fall season started and I lost my train of thought.)

Which is to say, this sounds quite interesting and up my alley despite everything, so when I'm not trying to watch 10 shows at the same time, I'ma give it a try. All for you, Sunil! *g*
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From:spectralbovine
Date:October 5th, 2007 12:27 am (UTC)
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So up your alley! I don't know if you actively despise ballet or just don't care about it (like me), but if the latter, NO WORRIES. Just roll with the ballet and embrace the fairy tale. And Neko-sensei.
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From:ahtrap
Date:October 5th, 2007 05:11 am (UTC)
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Seeing as how I've never got into anime, and adding ballet to the mix would probably have me gouging my eyes out....when/where's the honeymoon?

and hell, you live in the bay area, it'll even be somewhat legal.....
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From:latropita
Date:October 5th, 2007 06:29 am (UTC)

treeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

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they play Mendelssohn's "Wedding March."
WAGNER.

The musical selection is always appropriate to the story being told.
And it's thematically useful: note the significance of the fact that Swan Lake is in the first finale, but both The Nutcracker and Swan Lake are in the second.

Ahiru is totally cute and extremely hyper in the way that anime girls often are.
But it's NOT a magical girl story. You can watch Sailor Moon for that crazy shit.

Here is the thing about the show: Princess Tutu FIGHTS WITH DANCING.
The only really worthwhile thing about the first special is when Neko-Sensei notes what the twirly hand gesture means. So cool!

Fucking Veoh, man. *shakes head*
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From:spectralbovine
Date:October 5th, 2007 06:35 am (UTC)

Re: treeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

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WAGNER
MENDELSSOHN.

But it's NOT a magical girl story.
But she's a magical girl!

The only really worthwhile thing about the first special is when Neko-Sensei notes what the twirly hand gesture means. So cool!
Yeeeeees!! Suddenly, that all made so much more sense. I waited for her to do the "Dance with me" twirl followed by the "Will you" pose.
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From:missquita
Date:October 6th, 2007 12:59 am (UTC)
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Did you watch the premiere of Pushing Daisies? It's rather cute.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:October 6th, 2007 01:04 am (UTC)
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Oh yeah, I'd already seen it. Love it. Totally adorable.
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From:glasseseater
Date:October 6th, 2007 07:20 pm (UTC)
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this sounds promising.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:October 6th, 2007 08:05 pm (UTC)
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I thought you might like it.

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