October 30th, 2006

fairy tale utena

Princess Tutu, ep. 01-05

(I need to make myself a Princess Tutu icon, but for now, I feel the Utena one is quite on-topic)

I write this up for octopedingenue, who I think has been attempting to get the entire world to watch Princess Tutu (and quite rightly so, by the way).

I have been meaning to watch this for at least a year now, and possibly for two. It's gotten many comparisons to Revolutionary Girl Utena, one of my favorite brain-breaking anime series (the other being Neon Genesis Evangelion), along with the fact that it's about a duck who becomes a girl who becomes a magical ballerina and saves the world through ballet!

I mean, I knew this!

And yet, when I watched, and saw the duck become a girl become a magical ballerina, I laughed and laughed and laughed in delight because it was SO AWESOME. I do not mock. It is honestly that awesome!

The story begins with sepia-toned illustrations and an old woman's voice intoning, "Mukashi mukashi..." (the Japanese version of "Once upon a time..."). It goes on to talk about a prince who was fighting an evil raven and ended up shattering his heart to imprison the raven. But! The author of the book (Herr Drosselmeyer -- yes! Can you start to see why this is SO AWESOME?!) died before the book was finished, and the characters managed to escape. The old woman's voice says, "The most tragic thing is a story that never ends," or something to that effect.

So already, in the first two minutes, there are layers of narrative. Then we're introduced to Ahiru (literally "duck" in Japanese, and I love that the subtitles just call her Duck), who is sitting in a pond, watching a prince dance on the lake (yes, on the lake). She wants to dance with the prince, and the very creepy figure of Drosselmeyer steps in, essentially pauses the show, and gives her a mysterious red amulet.

Next thing you know, a slightly goofy-looking pink-haired girl wakes up, wondering if she was dreaming about being a duck (or was she a duck dreaming about being a girl?).

Ahiru's been entranced with Mytho, an unemotional ballet dancer somehow held in check by his best friend/keeper Fakir and pursued by the prima ballerina Rue. Of course, Mytho is the prince from the story, and Ahiru begins turning into Princess Tutu to collect shards of his heart.

I love this so much! First of all, there's the whole fairy tale thing. Ahiru's the ugly duckling who turns into a swan/ballerina, as referenced in the opening titles, and it's no surprise that Princess Tutu is dressed like Odette from Swan Lake. Then there's a strange green-haired lady who wanders around giving Ahiru advice like the old women/fairies/etc. in the stories. Like Cinderella and the little mermaid, there are conditions to Ahiru's human condition -- once she behaves like a duck, she turns back into one. Only in her case, jumping back in water will turn her back into a girl again (like Ranma 1/2!). She actually uses her duck form to do things, btw, which is just more kinds of wonderful. And, of course, there is the prince without a heart. The best part is, in every episode, the opening sepia-toned illustrations and narration change to give the viewer more and more of the fairy tale.

Then there's the fact that it's a story within a story, as referenced by Drosselmeyer, who every so often pops in to comment on the plot. He's almost always shown in a blank space surrounded by gears, referencing both the Drosselmeyer character from The Nutcracker, who is an inventor and toy-maker, and the fact that he's essentially turning the gears of the story. So far, there's been a crisis point three-quarters of the way through each episode, in which we'll see Ahiru framed in a clock gear with Drosselmeyer standing over her, asking, "What will Princess Tutu do now?" And she'll transform.

Also, Ahiru's world so incredibly surreal! I love that her being a duck isn't just one of those hand-wavy anime things; when she shows up to class, she comments, "The teacher is a cat?" And then she stops and says, "Well, I guess I'm a duck." And then! The best part is, everyone else is confused by the teacher being a cat, but then they think, "Wait, I think the teacher was always a cat!" because Ahiru has changed the story just by becoming a girl, and you can see the entire narrative changing around her! The cat also acts just like a cat and cleans himself when he gets flustered. Also, a dancing anteater shows up, and there is the same confusion for a second, until everyone thinks that the anteater was somehow always there. I love that Ahiru's existence totally breaks down the wall between human and animal. Also... dancing anteater!

And then! As if that weren't enough, there is the fact that it's such a great take on the magical girl thing. Everytime Ahiru undergoes the transformation, there's the henshin sequence with floating feathers and an egg and the red pendant turning into the Sooper Speshul Princess Tutu Power Pendant, ala Sailor Moon. Except, she conquers the world through the power of ballet! So far, there hasn't been quite as much done with the Magical Girl thing, but I expect there to be, given that it's already taking on fairy tales and ballet. Oh, extra special bonus points for referencing Utena with the pink hair and Ribon no Kishi with the fifties-style animation. I have to admit, I was a little taken aback by the style at first, because the characters all have giant heads and willowy bodies, huge sparkly eyes framed with thick lashes, and perfect crescent curls of hair. But it totally works because it is referencing the very old-school shoujo style, and I only wish I'd seen/read more of fifties shoujo to know what it's taking off of.

And! There's the whole ballet thing! I love that Princess Tutu moves in ballet steps and seems to always be posed as a ballerina, though I can't say for sure because I don't know that much about ballet. But the music constantly references ballet or directly comes from ballet (usually Nutcracker and Swan Lake), and I'm sure there are a lot more that I can't reference because I'm not familiar with them. But I love hearing those familiar strains of music. And, of course, there's an episode that's basically Giselle, but slightly different.

I cannot wait to watch the rest. I'm halfway through disc 2 already, and it's going even better places, but I will write it up when I am done.

Shounen tropes and Fullmetal Alchemist

These are going to be brief notes rather than an actual argument, largely because my brain is still broken from watching all of FMA and from the beginning episodes of Princess Tutu.

Disclaimer and standard grain of salt: My understanding of shounen tropes is taken from sports anime/manga, fighting anime/manga, and some mecha anime, though most of the tropes that I'm used to come largely from the arena of fighting anime/manga. Also, my samples pretty much consist of Bleach, Naruto, Hikaru no Go and Kenshin. I also don't read/watch that much shounen, so again... grain of salt.

Also, I generalize a ton with regard to shoujo and shounen; I don't mean to imply that female equates emotion while male equates physical. I'm being more descriptive than prescriptive in terms of the genres, given what's largely out there in the market.

Spoilers for all of FMA

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Anyway, I am running out of bullet points.

In conclusion, go watch Fullmetal Alchemist!