Princess Tutu dancing in front of a silhouetted tree, duck, and male dancer.

What To Binge Watch?: Introducing Princess Tutu, Anime’s Underrated Magical Girl

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The magical girl genre is an ever-growing landscape, but I’ve yet to find anything like Princess Tutu. The show explores the theme of fate and free will as it (literally) dances between playful light and mature darkness, making it appealing to a diverse audience. The series takes inspiration from The Ugly Duckling and Swan Lake with an appropriate, ornate scale to match. It’s a bewitching sensory experience that definitely deserves praise.

Once Upon A Time In Princess Tutu‘s World

Princess Tutu tells the tale of an author by the name of Drosselmeyer, who had the power to make his stories come to life. However, he died before finishing his last work entitled The Prince and the Raven, therefore trapping the two characters within their story until, one day, the Raven broke free. The Prince followed behind, and after a fierce battle, shattered his own heart with his sword to seal the Raven’s evil power. This act erases all of the Prince’s memories and emotions.

Princess Tutu holding a heart shard.
Princess Tutu | Ikuto Itoh & Hal Film Maker

When Drosselmeyer’s ghost observes a young duck fall in love with the boy who was once the Prince, he decides the story deserves an ending. He gives the duckling a pendant that transforms her into a girl. The girl, still known as Duck, attended a ballet academy with the boy, now known as Mytho. Mytho’s heart shards have begun to possess the citizens of their town and it becomes Duck’s duty to restore all the lost shards to Mytho in the form of Princess Tutu, a very skilled and graceful ballerina.

May those who accept their fate find happiness; those who defy it, glory.

Edel, Princess Tutu
A side by side of Princess Tutu and Princess Kraehe.
Princess Tutu | Ikuto Itoh & Hal Film Maker

But…

However, not everyone wants Mytho to get his heart back. Mytho’s girlfriend, Rue, and best friend Fakir both fear that the return of the shards will change the Mytho they love too much. Rue is the daughter of the Raven, and her attempts to thwart Tutu’s plans unleashes her ability to transform into Princess Kraehe, Tutu’s evil counterpart. Duck also learns that if she confesses her love to Mytho, she’ll turn into a speck of light and vanish. Despite her torn emotions and her rivals, she persists in her quest to restore the Prince to his former self. 

Behind The Curtain Of Princess Tutu

The show emanates from a bedtime story through its soft color palette and a comedic supporting cast of animal characters. The most prominent of which is Mr. Cat, their instructor, who threatens poor performance with marriage to him. Princess Tutu lulls you into a sense of routine, finds a heart shard, returns it, subplots shenanigans, repeats. Yet in its second half, the show itself becomes aware of the story at hand. Once the characters realize just how much Drosselmeyer has been pulling strings, everything changes, especially the show’s tone. 

Heart Shards Are A Heavy Burden

Perhaps my favorite part of the series, besides the play on the typical prince rescuing a princess narrative, is that it’s listed as a shounen anime. Shounen anime are commonly targeted towards a young male audience. I love this for two reasons. The first is the discussion of emotions in Mytho. There’s a back and forth about Mytho openly expressing his feelings, or feeling nothing at all. It’s subtle, but the nod towards the sliding scale of masculinity is an important one to note, for sure.

It’s truly symbolic that, to complete his duty as a hero, he needed to sacrifice his emotions. Fakir’s fear for Mytho is that with the return of the heart shards, he will be locked in an eternal battle with evil. This alludes to the idea that with his emotions, the Prince cannot win. Yet, even without the shards, Mytho is portrayed as a kind, approachable person. When the shards begin to be returned to him, Mytho is a little afraid of the sensation as it causes him to doubt and feel pain. However, it allows him a perspective and from that, he decides he wants to be made whole again.

Compassion, in the end, is the most significant heroic trait the Prince has. Princess Tutu as a hero nurtures this lesson. Every time she gives a small speech before returning a shard, explaining to Mytho why each emotion is valuable. The second gem comes from the influence of dance used throughout the show in place of fight scenes. Much like a traditional ballet, the characters perform dances in tandem, competing for the most beautiful display to win over the personified heart shards. The emotional impact of the dances set to their swelling tracks is potent and effective on all fronts (not to mention breathtaking).

Encore For Princess Tutu

If you love the magical girl genre, Princess Tutu is one to check out. Besides being outstandingly artful, the show begs for an encore as both the Japanese and English voice casts create beautiful viewing experiences with their performance choices. Especially if you can find the outtakes, which are equally charming. Princess Tutu can be found on Hulu and Amazon Prime. So don’t dawdle, or else you’ll have to marry Mr. Cat!