by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 25 of
Princess Tutu ?
How would you rate episode 26 of
Princess Tutu ?
Who is Prince Charming? As the musical Into the Woods says, he's someone who was “raised to be charming, not sincere.” He's a man with a trait instead of a name, and it's he who is tasked in the mythos of fairy tales with saving the princess who cannot save herself.
Or at least, saving one princess.
But Princess Tutu has two princesses – Rue and Duck, and when push comes to shove, it is Rue who Mytho chooses to save, making her “his” princess, not in the sense that he loves her (although he does), but in that he wants to pick her over all of the other options every single time, even if that means asking Tutu to stop being a princess and revert back to her avian state. He doesn't realize what he's asking, granted, but despite all of Duck's efforts, Mytho ends up requiring that Tutu sacrifice herself for his happiness.
That might not have mattered in another variant of this story, where Rue or Mytho was the point-of-view character, because like in ATU545B, Puss in Boots, helper animals are almost always second fiddle, no matter how much they may have done to ensure the hero's happiness. But it does share distinct similarities with ATU402, stories of animal brides, which follow one of two paths: either they die to regain their human form (The White Cat) or they reclaim their animal forms after having been forced into human shape by a man (Swan Maidens). All three are at play in the final two episodes of Princess Tutu, with Rue and Duck filling in all of the roles – Rue has essentially died (or is in the process of dying) when Mytho reclaims her from the Raven, returning her to her true human form. He may not have directly cut off the Raven's head, like in most versions of ATU402, but the bird's death leads to Rue's reclamation of her humanity. Duck, meanwhile, returns to her animal shape (like the Swan Maidens), but also reaps small rewards, like in ATU545B – after all she's done for Mytho, she's still just a duck and will be treated as such.
But that's where the true strength of Duck as a magical girl comes in. Like Maron embracing her tainted self in Phantom Thief Jeanne's finale, Duck beginning to dance even though she no longer has a human body is a sign of her fully accepting herself – she's a duck, she's a girl, she's a magical princess. No matter what she looks like, she embodies all three, because she has risen above what people expected of her, and with both the belief in herself and the support of Fakir, she has found the freedom to do what she can to help those she cares about. Just because she doesn't have words doesn't mean that she can't keep telling her story – and being a duck doesn't mean that she doesn't have a story that deserves to be told.
That's what it means for a story to end. It's when all of the players take off their masks and their costumes and we see them for who they really are. This gives them the chance to return to their own true stories, the ones where they are the storytellers rather than the characters. We see this very clearly as the final credits roll, with Mytho (now reclaiming his name of Siegfried, a legendary German hero) and Rue dancing in what is clearly a performance – they aren't perfect, but they are themselves as they should have always been, before Drosselmeyer decided to pull people from Gold Crown Town into his world. The Prince and Princess have flown away on their magic swan-drawn sleigh; now only Siegfried and Rue are left. That's bittersweet, certainly, but also how it was perhaps always meant to be.
In the 1989 Italian film The Icicle Thief (a spoof of the classic The Bicycle Thief), a director, Nichetti, enters his own film after a power outage causes it to merge with the commercials being played on the television station. It ends with him trapped in his own altered movie when the viewer turns the TV off, his own investment in seeing the story play out as he planned having backfired on him. That's a little similar to what happens to Drosselmeyer, who, like the man who wished for more wishes or the wife in The Fisherman and his Wife (ATU555), was so greedy and desirous of getting his way that he ended up ruining his own plans. Is the same thing doomed to happen to Fakir, who inherited his gift of letters? It's unlikely. Fakir isn't writing for himself, he's writing for others, and having saved the mythos of The Prince and the Raven, he's now free to start a new story. Drosselmeyer is too, of course, from his shadowy realm, but the difference in their attitudes is everything. Uzura, with the heartbeat of her drum, won't play his games in the same way Edel felt trapped into doing. His reign of terror can't begin again because the soldier has been reduced to her heart, and she won't go against it.
And Fakir? He's writing a story, and the one he's writing it for is right there beside him, waiting. Duck has proved herself more than strong enough to change, and if we make the shift from the Swan Maidens, whose happy ending is escaping humanity, to Hans Christian Andersen's The Ugly Duckling, we can read her as simply waiting to become a swan – imagery that is firmly associated with her human form. If it isn't the perfect happy ending, it's still a hopeful one, which I think is worth much more.
Princess Tutu is a remarkable story. It melds folkloric themes, ballet and opera plots, and the myriad approaches to storytelling into a triumphant, hopeful finale. Like all classic magical girl stories, it relies on the strength of its characters' hearts and belief in themselves and others to carry it to its end, and then encourages viewers to tell their own stories, in whatever way they choose. Phillipe Chatel ended Émilie Jolie with a phrase that I think works well here, too, in the context of Princess Tutu's end: “Let your dreams consume your life, lest life consume your dreams.”
Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed Duck's journey as much as I did.
Princess Tutu is currently streaming on HiDive.
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