by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Princess Tutu ?
How would you rate episode 12 of
Princess Tutu ?
Once upon a time there was a king who discovered that his wife was unfaithful to him. At that moment he decided to take a new wife every night and to kill her in the morning so that she could not betray his trust. In this way, he went through many of the women in the kingdom, and there seemed to be no end in sight to his rage. Then one day a girl named Scheherazade asked her father to allow her to go to the king as his next wife. Reluctantly he agreed, and when the king came to his bride that night, she began to tell him a story…
You may recognize the preceding paragraph as part of the framework of the classic text 1001 Nights or The Arabian Nights' Entertainments. It's the source for Aladdin and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, among other well-known tales, and in the case of Princess Tutu, it's important because Scheherazade is one of literature's greatest storytellers. For one thousand and one nights she staves off death by telling the murderous monarch a series of interconnected tales, ultimately reforming him, saving herself, and saving all the women in the kingdom. She's an aspirational goal for many an author, and in the episodes leading up to Princess Tutu's cour finale, it's her role that the characters all struggle to fill – whether they know it or not.
At this point Kraehe and Drosselmeyer may be the only two fully aware of what they're doing. Kraehe reveals that she can see and hear Drosselmeyer, meaning that she's outside of his power, and she announces to him that she's writing the story of Mythos as she wants to see it. Essentially, she calls him out for his deficiencies as a storyteller, something we're beginning to see as well as he slowly loses control of Edel, his means of manipulating the tale. Duck's transformation into Tutu may also be at his behest, but as we see when she and Fakir team up, she's learning to do things her own way even without the magical girl aspect – Drosselmeyer may control the Tutu transformation, but Duck owns the human/duck one, which is just as, if not more, important. It's a refutation of the fairy tale classified as ATU400, Animal Brides, often simply known as Swan Maidens.
Readers and viewers of Yuu Watase's Ceres: Celestial Legend are already familiar with this tale type: a man sees a beautiful supernatural woman, steals her magical garment, and forces her to be his wife. Eventually she finds her feathered robe/sealskin/celestial garment and is able to return to her world, leaving her husband and children behind. It's notable for being almost a reverse of the Animal Bridegroom story (Beauty and the Beast, ATU425c) in that the happy ending is the wife's escape and return to her animal form, whereas in ATU425c the happy ending is achieved when the husband retains his human shape. In the case of Duck and Drosselmeyer, episode twelve shows her not needing her magical clothes (the Tutu transformation) to do what she needs to – she's able to take off her necklace (akin to the feathered robe or selkie's sealskin) and go between girl and duck of her own volition. That which Drosselmeyer tried to use to manipulate her therefore loses some of its power. She still needs Tutu to fully fight for Mytho, but she's also working to be able to free him herself, an option rarely given to animal brides.
There are a few other interesting gender reversals going on in these two episodes as regards the folklore involved, with the most obvious being Mytho asleep in a bed of roses, a masculine Sleeping Beauty. (There are Sleeping Hero stories, too, but the imagery puts Mytho firmly in Beauty's camp.) He's also the Sylph (airy spirit) of the classic ballet La Sylphide, whose story forms the prologue of episode eleven – the girl who dies when her wings are removed. Interestingly the narrative of the ballet is often framed as justice prevailing, since the hero leaves his fiancée for the Sylph, and Kraehe clearly sees her own quest to have Mytho for herself as righting a wrong done to her. Why should she be framed as the villain, just because she loves him? Why does Tutu, who gets only brief lines in the story, be the love the prince yearns for? To Kraehe, removing Tutu from the retelling she's writing is justice, because if a prince only needs one princess, why can't it be the Black Bride and not the White One? Just like modern versions of Little Red Riding Hood give her weapons to fight the wolf, Kraehe's new variant plays with what the characters can do in a tribute to the art of retelling.
Does that make Tutu the Sylph as well? If Drosselmeyer's control of her transformation is revoked or if she loses her necklace, she could be said to either lose or gain her wings – and if she's just a duck, won't she be a wingless fairy, unable to affect the story? She's beginning to realize that she might be more under the plot's control than she though as she muses on why she loves Mytho, like an animal bride trapped by someone hiding her magic skin. The love in The Swan Maidens is binding and corrupt, brought about by one party's hold over the other. Edel is fighting that, as we can see in her jerkier movements. What will happen if Tutu, Kraehe, and Fakir begin to do the same? Drosselmeyer may feel safe in his clockwork cave, but he may be forgetting one very important thing about clocks –
They have a tendency to stop if no one winds them.
Princess Tutu is currently streaming on HiDive.
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