by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 15 of
Princess Tutu ?
How would you rate episode 16 of
Princess Tutu ?
It's an interesting thing about stories that they cannot be twisted to the breaking point. Almost everything (and everyone) else can: twist and tug hard enough, and most things will snap. But a story can only change into a different version of itself, a variant, a concept at the heart of the study of fairy tales. And now that Princess Tutu is in its second half, that's precisely the concept that's being proven, day after day in the closed world of Gold Crown Town.
While we started to see this with episode fourteen, when the apparent happy ending of the first cour began to warp with the revelation that Mytho's heart has been tainted by raven's blood, it's really the opening of episode fifteen that solidifies the formula. The elderly narrator tells the plot of the ballet Coppelia, about a young man named Franz who falls in love with a mechanical doll made by the Drosselmeyer-like Dr. Coppelius. (Both The Nutcracker and Coppelia are based on literary fairy tales by E.T.A. Hoffman, so that's likely intentional, or at least a character type Hoffman liked.) In the ballet, his human fiancée Swanilda teaches him a lesson about girls vs. dolls and they live happily ever after; in the variant recited in Princess Tutu, things don't turn out so well. It's still recognizable as Coppelia, but with a dark turn.
If the idea of the living doll reminds you of Edel, that's on purpose. Edel, in her sacrifice, rewrote the stories of Herr Drosselmeyer and Franz, proving that although she was made as a clockwork doll, she still had a heart and will of her own, and with that she was able to overcome the power of Story to change the plot into the one that she desired. Without Edel's death, the original tragedy might not have been prevented, and the Raven would have triumphed. That he didn't brings us to this second half of the series, where everyone is working to rewrite the narrative in a way that suits themselves: the Raven wants a heart, Rue/Kraehe wants Mytho, Mytho wants his heart, and Duck and Fakir want to save Mytho. All of these pieces are not going to fit together nicely, especially if everyone is writing against the others, trying to be the protagonist of what they see as their story. Not even Tutu seems entirely aware that they need to shift from the singular to the plural to achieve anything.
That's probably because very few fairy tales, literary or folkloric, have more than one protagonist; even in Coppelia the eponymous doll is played by Swanilda for all of Act Two. When Mytho in his Raven Prince role tries to take Freya and Pike's hearts, he manages to get close to them because he convinces them that they are the princesses in his fairy tale. (Interestingly, his transformation is itself a twist on Princess Tutu's atypical magical girl nature; in this half of the show he's much more like a typical magical girl villain than anything that happened in the first cour.) He's fighting his new nature, and that suddenly makes him much more like Kraehe than he ever was before, shifting his allegiance to a different princess while the knight and the first princess find themselves allied against him.
This brings us to another really interesting use of folklore within the show. I know I keep going back to Sleeping Beauty, but once again there's a very specific and fascinating link to a specific variant of the tale. In the French version of the tale recorded by Charles Perrault, The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood, the prince's mother is “of the race of the ogres,” and he is constantly trying to prevent her from eating [his] children. This is in some ways the position Kraehe is in: she is human (her raven father says as much), but her father is a monster, and she finds herself carrying out his wishes rather than her own. Given that the story uses a school for its setting, we could certainly say that he is eating the hearts of children, putting Kraehe as Perrault's prince who hasn't awakened the princess yet.
But we could also see Kraehe as the heroine of the tale type known as “The Ugly and the Beautiful Twin,” ATU 711. In this story, best known by its Norwegian variant Tatterhood, a queen with no children is given a beautiful and an ugly flower with instructions to only eat the beautiful one. She gets greedy, however, and eats both, and the result is that she has twin girls, a beautiful one and an ugly one. As the story goes on, the ugly twin turns out to be the kinder and smarter of the two, and eventually she becomes the real heroine of the story, but that's largely because she never doubted herself. Kraehe is that sister, the Tatterhood, but without Tatterhood's belief in herself or the knowledge that her beautiful twin (Tutu) loves her anyway. Because she lacks that, she sees herself as the villain of the piece, when really she could be like Tutu if only she didn't feel limited by her own ugly qualities.
Can a doll have a heart and choose its own life? Can the so-called Ugly Twin come to understand that she's just as lovely as her beautiful sister? Does anyone see Tutu for the duckling she also is? Why did someone decide to spell Duck's friend's name “Pike” instead of “Piqué,” an actual dance term, something that has bothered me for years? And most importantly, when will everyone realize that Edel's sacrifice points out that they don't have to be trapped by a narrative?
All it would take to change things is a little twist.
Princess Tutu is currently streaming on HiDive.
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