Reviewby Theron Martin, May 1st 2006
DVD 4: Prinz und Rabe
In the wake of their climatic confrontation against Princess Kraehe, Duck/Tutu and Fakir try to settle back into the regular business of recovering The Prince's/Mytho's heart shards. Princess Kraehe/Rue, the daughter of the Raven from Drosselmeyer's story, had dipped one of the prior heart shards in the Raven's blood, though, which allows her to twist Mytho to her side. Now she is desperate to secure the sacrifice of a young heart to aid in the release of her father, for he is putting pressure on her to complete the task quickly. Princess Tutu and Fakir must combine their efforts to thwart Kraehe from drawing the innocent into her plan, all the while trying to reorient the increasingly devilish Mytho.
The fourth volume of Princess Tutu begins its second season, this time subtitled “Chapter of the Fledgling.” Originally these episodes were broadcast in half-episode segments as part of an anthology program, but they have been reunited into whole episodes for both the Japanese and English DVD releases. This is definitely for the best, since each whole episode has a distinct story theme based on a famous ballet in addition to being part of the overarching plot about Kraehe seeking a way to release her father while Duck/Tutu and Fakir seek a way to free Mytho from her influence. Though nominally a new story arc, it is really just a continuation of the previous one.
The original pattern of searching for heart shards returns in the last of the five episodes on this volume, but the emphasis in the rest is more on developing Mytho's evil side and Rue's increasing desperation in fulfilling her father's demands. Although we are treated to a somewhat formulaic structure of Rue being pressured, a potential victim being established, and then the rescue by Fakir and/or Tutu, this pattern lasts for only three episodes and is interlaced with substantial character development for the supporting cast. The cheery sadism of Duck's friend Lillie (the blonde one) becomes more pronounced, a more philosophical side to Mr. Cat is revealed, and a psychological basis for Princess Kraehe's possessiveness of Mytho is established. Most importantly, Mytho finally develops a personality, and its nasty side is chilling in its maliciousness, which comes through most clearly in a few sharp comments directed at Rue. Scattered amongst this content are a fresh set of lively guest shots, including the flower maiden Freya, a comical set of meerkat brothers, an utterly narcissistic (to the point of extremely overblown) young prince, and a ghostly knight whose own story greatly disturbs Fakir. A childlike replacement for Edel appears in Uzura, though she is more annoying than endearing.
The great appeal of Princess Tutu has ever been about its elegant mixture of ballet with elements of magical girl stories and European fairy tales, a process which continues so smoothly and naturally here that it's a wonder no one thought to do this earlier. Silly humor alternates with the kind of fairy-tale drama that can come to life through ballet, creating the entertaining balance which has sustained the series quite well so far. Though it may use many standard anime artistic conventions, Princess Tutu continues to distinguish itself from all other magical girl series by avoiding the cutesiness and clichés normally rampant in the genre; even the transformation sequences are abnormal, as they are mercifully kept short and always done to the episode's theme music rather than having a separate theme just for them.
My opinion of the visuals in Princess Tutu has improved significantly since my review of the first volume. Although the character designs continue to be simplistic and stylized, they nonetheless contribute to an overall attractive look, especially the designs for Princesses Kraehe and Tutu, and are well-rendered. The artistic flair of the series can be seen in the scenes of feather-strewn fields where Kraehe speaks to her father, in the dance sequences, and in the costuming of the dancers. The sparse costumes of Kraehe and Tutu strongly suggest of nice figures and add just a hint of sexiness to the show without being overtly sexy. The animation makes some of the dance sequences seem like things of beauty, while others take so many shortcuts that they're barely animated at all. On the balance both artistry and animation are good enough to contribute to a pleasing overall look which enhances the storytelling and musical score, but while this may be one of the best-looking magical girl series it isn't visually a top-tier title overall.
To say that the music used in Princess Tutu is amongst the best for series animation would be a little unfair, since between the opener and closer (which remain unchanged from previous volumes) it is entirely composed of classical music numbers selected from famous ballets, selections which have long proven their quality over the test of time. What makes the score for this and the previous volume truly remarkable, though, is how completely integrated it is into the production; whereas the musical score normally supports and complements the events on the screen, in this case it becomes a living, breathing part of the flow of the storytelling, much as one would expect from a ballet. No anime series does this better, and amongst all animation only the classic Bugs Bunny musicals (remember his take on the Barber of Seville?) are Princess Tutu's equal in this regard. The exceptional nature of the score becomes even clearer once one learns the names for the themes used in various places and how appropriately they fit the characters and visuals to which they are synched.
The quality of the English dub, when compared to that of the originals, varies from role to role but it flows well enough that it should satisfy most viewers. The Raven sounds better in Japanese and Uzura's speech quirks don't work as well in English, but Mr. Cat, Duck's friend Lillie, and especially Femio, the “prince” of episode 17 (played by an unrecognizable Vic Mignogna – yes, that's the same guy who does Edward Elric) are clearly better in English. Most other roles are toss-ups that will come down to personal preference. Jay Hickman's attempt to give Mytho a wispy voice was one of the weakest points of the dubs in previous volumes but his efforts work much better when he voices Mytho's nasty side in this volume. The translation remains close enough to the original that it shouldn't cause complaints unless one gets really hung up over the fact that the proper animal names are translated (“Duck” instead of “Ahiru,” the Japanese word for “duck,” for instance). The dropping of honorifics also causes meaning to be a bit unclear in one place. The reasoning for the former was explained in my previous review, so I won't reiterate it here, and really, by now it's an accept-it-or-don't issue anyway. Also watch the Commentary for Episode 16, where the project translator and ADR script writer have some interesting things to say about the way “crow” vs. “raven” is used in the story. (Japanese apparently uses the same word for both even though they're technically different birds.)
In addition to the aforementioned audio commentary, the fourth volume continues ADV's practice of loading up Princess Tutu volumes with extras despite the presence of five full episodes. As with past volumes, this one contains company previews, clean opener and closer, an “In the Studio” segment showing clips of English VAs in action, an Étude featurette which explains various ballet references in-character, a reversible cover, and additional Japanese cast interviews in the liner notes. New for this volume are the additional opener, closer, and previews used in the split episodes for the original broadcast and Egg Suite, a fully-translated New Year's special which offers a half-episode summary of the story to date; presumably this was the lead-in to the second season during the original broadcast.
Don't think ballet or magical girl stories are your kind of thing? Princess Tutu may make you think otherwise. Though a bit off its peak storytelling form, the first volume of its second season is nonetheless a joy to watch.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : A+
+ Superior synthesis of music and storytelling, impressive balance of comedy and drama.
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