by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 3 of
Princess Tutu ?
How would you rate episode 4 of
Princess Tutu ?
At its heart, Princess Tutu is about the power of story. While that was touched on in the first two episodes, particularly with the knowledge that Drosselmeyer is the deceased author who was writing the tale of the Prince and the Raven, the second two episodes really delve into that much more fully. These episodes reveal that Duck isn't the only one who is figuring out that she's living in a storybook – Rue and Fakir are also very much aware that they are characters in a story with the strong implication that they are trying to keep it from being completed as their original author (presumably Drosselmeyer) had intended. That Princess Tutu has suddenly appeared on the scene gives Rue, especially, pause; she's familiar with the dancing princess from her own tale, and although she doesn't say it, it seems as if Rue is alarmed that Tutu's presence means that the Storyteller is regaining his power, since in her own tale Princess Tutu vanishes the moment she confesses her love for the prince. This, and the idea of stories taking on a life of their own and becoming real, is backed up in episode four when the tale of Giselle suddenly morphs into a very apparent threat to Mytho's life.
As a ballet, Giselle is perhaps less important to Princess Tutu's story than the specific characters and scene chosen in the anime. The plot of the two-act ballet is a familiar one to students of tragedy: country girl Giselle is courted by Albrecht, a nobleman, who doesn't tell her that he can't marry her because he's already betrothed. When Giselle finds out the truth, she kills herself with Albrecht's sword (something usually left out of modern productions) and is buried in the forest. Her spirit is then raised by the vila, spirits out of Slavic folklore. Usually they're just place-spirits who entice people to dance with them; in Giselle they become more like land-rusalka in that they're the spirit of women wronged by their lovers. While their scene in episode four mimics the ballet's second act very closely, with the vile (that's the plural, not a misspelling!) raising Giselle's spirit from her grave and seeking to dance Mytho to death. Rue takes on the role of Hilarion, Giselle's huntsman suitor, who cannot survive the dancing, while Tutu becomes Giselle to Mytho's Albrecht, breaking the vile's spell and ultimately saving him before she vanishes. This is well within the scope of the magical girl's journey, wherein she typically sacrifices herself for those she cares about, especially since in this case she's saving both Mytho and Rue, whereas in the ballet Hilarion dies. That means that Tutu is rewriting the story – something that Rue and Fakir are actively attempting to do without success.
The reason why Duck succeeds where the other two fail is likely simply because they're doing it at least in part for themselves while Duck is working to save someone else. She knows, and says repeatedly, that she's just a duck; she's not even in charge of her own transformation, which comes at Drosselmeyer's behest. (Those spinning gears aren't just symbolic.) But despite what she views as her own limitations, she's able to rise above them and work for someone else's happiness because she cares about him, a quality that ultimately may raise her above Drosselmeyer's influence, because let's face it, he really looks like he's up to no good even without the character design that points in that direction. Until Rue and Fakir learn what Duck already knows, they're unlikely to be able to touch the story, as both of this week's episodes demonstrate.
While Giselle isn't strictly a fairy tale, literary or otherwise, it does still have that folkloric element with the vile and the sprig of rosemary, which you may recall from when you had to read Hamlet in high school as meaning “remembrance.” Episode three, however, uses elements of both Sleeping Beauty and Hansel and Gretel, specifically the German variants collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. These aren't tale types that are typically combined, but the show does it well here – the theme of eating and feeding from the latter becomes wrapped up in the idea of stagnation from the former. It's also worth noting that both tale types deal in children - Sleeping Beauty is sometimes read as being about adolescence with the princess slumbering through that time to awaken as an adult (a bit more literally in the Italian variant; there's a reason that's not the one the ballet or Disney used). In some ways, that's what Mytho is doing – he's a gender-swapped Sleeping Beauty; his eyes are open, but he might as well be sleepwalking, a position Rue and Fakir, in the roles of both the evil fairy and the vines, are keen to keep him in, while Tutu gently pulls him out of the vines' stranglehold as she reminds the Candy Witch (Ebine here) why she originally liked to cook.
Although much of the dancing in these episodes is relegated to still shots, we do see some beautiful moments animated, particularly Rue and the vila dancing together, with attention paid to how Rue's movements aren't smooth as she gets tired and the fact that she doesn't have her toe shoes on being taken into account. More interesting is the fact that in these two episodes (but especially in episode three) Tutu uses balletic hand gestures to supplement her words when she's speaking to the vile or Ebine. It's a beautiful detail that helps to make up for the lack of fully animated dancing.
Tutu's journey is, of course, far from over, but we're starting to understand the story's world a bit more. So until next week, I leave you with this burning question: is Fakir's hair in a ponytail with an invisible hair tie, or does he have a mullet?
Princess Tutu is currently streaming on HiDive.
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