It’s been a long time since my last Methods & Mediums post. To refresh your memory, my approach to reviews are a little different from that of other people’s. What’s important to me above all else is the following question: Was the chosen medium the most effective way to tell the story that was told? Basically, if someone made a TV show instead of a book, did they make the most out of the medium?
Surprisingly enough, a show that captured and has kept my heart since it did is one from over fifteen years ago by the name of Princess Tutu. Now, I know what you’re thinking – with that name, it must be a children’s show about ballerinas, all pink and and frivolous as it is frilly. In many ways, you’re not wrong. Princess Tutu is a Japanese magical girl show, targeted towards girls age 12 and under, about a ballerina. However, regardless of first impressions, the story is undeniably powerful, and in my opinion, it remains one of the prime examples of how to make the most of a medium. And I assure you, despite its questionably childish name and art style, every person whom I have coerced into watching this underappreciated little show finds themselves strangely and inexplicably charmed.
The premise of the story is that once upon a time, an author named Drosselmeyer wrote a story about a noble prince and an evil raven. To seal the raven away, the prince shattered his own heart, leaving him empty of emotion. However, before the story could be finish, Drosselmeyer passed away, and the characters – unbeknownst to themselves (vaguely beknownst to themselves??) escaped from the story to live out their lives.
In the story by Drosselmeyer, there was one character who was never cast, known as Princess Tutu, the heroine whom no one should ever hope to be, for her destiny is tragedy. In eagerness to get his story moving again, Drosselmeyer – from beyond the grave – gives the power of Princess Tutu to a little duck who had fallen in love with the prince. In an oddly compelling blend of “The Ugly Duckling” and “Swan Lake,” the duck is given human form and allowed to attend ballet school with her beloved prince. This girl, named Ahiru – literally Duck – is also tasked with collecting the scattered pieces of her prince’s heart and returning his emotions to him, one by one.
Already, the story is intriguing. Already, the story makes you wonder how it was targeted towards children at all. And truly, it is a story that could only have been told through a TV show.
What mediums of storytelling are there in the world? As it stands, we are as limited as our technology allows: oral tradition, written prose, poetry, song, comicbooks, webcomics, stageplays, musicals, screenplays, TV shows, video games, and augmented reality. That’s it. That sums it up. And I truly do believe that the products that excel are the ones that choose a medium that tells its story best.
Princess Tutu could be nothing other than a 26-episode TV show. Specifically, it could be nothing other than an anime. Because it is animated, the creators could take a more stylistic approach to telling their story, with surreal visuals and effects that would only have seemed jarring in live-action, not to mention that audiences relate to animated children differently than they would with real children.
With multiple episodes, the story could build upon itself, retaining the episodic structure that almost characterized the magical girl genre of the time while also committing to an overall plot. As the Prince regains his heart piece by piece, this structure allows the creators to devote time to each remembered emotion, displaying the importance and repercussions of each. A movie, though dramatic, would have been too short, too dense for the audience to process the underlying themes while watching.
Text alone could not convey the emotive and physically powerful displays of ballet included within the show. A comic format could not account for the soundtrack, accompanying every episode of the show with the score of a renown ballet. Because ballet is already designed to convey emotions without words, the music complements the creators’ stylistic endeavor to move the audience through its visuals very well.
The best glimpse I can give of this show’s stylistic success comes from its promotional trainer, which I have reluctantly included below – there are no subtitles, but the visual storytelling does include some minor spoilers. As such, if I have managed to convince you to give the show a go, please just watch the episodes rather than the trailer.
However, all those components aside, I also appreciate Princess Tutu for its ambition. Stories about storytelling have been done before, but few are done well. I’ve been recommended an anime in this season known as Re:Creators which engages with the idea of what happens when characters intersect with the reality of their creators, but it has failed to keep my interest.
Ultimately, this is a story about the nature of fairy tales, a question of destiny and free will. Who is entitled to a happy ending? Can everyone achieve their happy ending? And if so, on whose terms?
If Princess Tutu has a failing, I would say it didn’t know its demographic. Its name and visuals were too childish to catch the attention of older teens and adults at first glance, yet its subject matter was perhaps too philosophical for the children who would be drawn in by the artwork. That is not to say that children cannot enjoy darker, more thoughtful works, but the true meaning of the show may elude them, and I think some children would even find the show frightening because of that.
I watched this show when I was 15 years old. I cannot say whether or not I would have understood it as a child. Perhaps I would have watched it and then rewatched once I was older to find that the story ages well. However, I can say that as an aspiring storyteller, Princess Tutu remains, to this date, a primary motivation and inspiration. Its influence on me has been profound, and I will continue to admire it for a long time to come.