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Being a Brief Discussion of Anime Dubs: Princess Tutu, Volume 3
By Way Jeng
October 06, 2006
If you're anything like me, you have an anime backlog. It might be only a few discs, or it might sprawl across several shelves and end in a pile on the floor, but sooner or later most anime fans develop a backlog of some size. This is almost inevitable for fans who like to stay current on every show in release. Animeondvd.com lists eight releases for the week of 10/01/06 alone. Very few people have the time to watch that much anime. So a disc gets put on the backburner. Then another gets thrown in the pile, and another, and another, until there are so many discs that it seems like it's too much trouble to even start in on the lot because it's too much to ever finish.
One of the odd qualities about backlogs is that their contents don't always reflect a show's quality. Consider Princess Tutu, released by ADV Films and dubbed by ADV Studios, as an example. I never intended to take a lengthy break from watching the show, but nonetheless I stopped watching for a while. It began when my local retailer stopped carrying the series after the second disc. At first I assumed that they were getting their shipments in late, and after a few weeks passed I forgot about the series until the fourth volume had already been released through other channels. By that time it made sense to wait until the entire series had been released. After all, I'd already missed two discs. Waiting for two more so I could watch the series all at once wouldn't take long, and there were other shows waiting in the meantime.
It became easier to put off watching Princess Tutu as more time passed. The sixth and final disc in the series came out before I finished the series. At that point there was no reason to hurry. I had already fallen behind on the series, and once again newer shows beckoned me. In the end, I decided to watch Princess Tutu because I wanted to hear some of the dub's cast. The dub sounded very good through the first two discs, and that remains true in the third.
The entire cast of Princess Tutu does excellent work, and the core cast has few if any problems. Luci Christian plays the ducky title character. The performance sounds good through the entire disc, though there are a few scenes near the middle of the disc where Princess Tutu sounds lower and more casual than usual. The scenes between Duck and Fakir sound the best in the disc, and fans may want to pay particular attention to them.
Jessica Boone does the best work in the cast as Rue and Princess Kraehe. Her performance sounds impeccable through the entire disc. Viewers should take special note of scenes where Rue interacts with Mytho. The undercurrent of menace she brings to the character works extraordinarily well. It's menacing, evil, thoroughly fun, and a surprisingly vulnerable performance even when Ms. Boone expresses her character's cold anger.
Jay Hickman plays Mytho, the prince without a heart. Jay Hickman has done an excellent job of gradually bringing the character to life. The change has been ongoing since the first disc, and by this point in the series the character has taken on quite a bit of vocal complexity. It's a solid performance without any weak moments worth noting.
Chris Patton rounds out the cast as Fakir, the requisite brave knight. He brings considerable resolve to the character, and Fakir's intensity becomes particularly focused in the back half of the disc. The character's more vulnerable scenes also come across quite well.
This disc focuses on the core cast almost exclusively, but the supporting members have a few good moments. Cynthia Martinez and Sasha Paysinger return as Pike and Lillie, respectively, to provide occasional comic relief and remind the audience of simpler times now long gone. Both performances fit well and match earlier discs. It's worth noting that Sasha Paysinger's work sounds a bit too comic and jovial for the serious scenes depicted, but in all occasions the delivery matches the intent of the scene. The discord highlights the contrast in atmosphere between the beginning of the series and the end, and it shows how far these characters have come in a world that has largely stayed the same. Marty Fleck does the strongest work in the supporting cast as Drosselmeyer. He brings an authentic feeling of amusement to the character that matches his role as the interested observer well. The dub shows considerable polish on the whole. All of the actors sound confident in their roles, and the few problems I had in delivery stem from artistic choices rather than awkwardness or the failure to commit to a character.
Looking back at everything, I wish I had watched Princess Tutu as it came out. It's an excellent series that offers a very fulfilling conclusion. The third volume brings the current story arc's important plot elements reach resolution, and it doesn't leave any significant cliffhangers or unanswered questions.
Beyond that, Princess Tutu's final disc demonstrates two major achievements: First, it follows through on the show's focused vision. The first disc set out with the ambition to tell a modern fairy tale full of princes, knights, and princesses. It posited a fundamental framework and stayed with it until the very end. At each point the story doesn't grow or change so much as it unfolds and reveals itself. That's slightly different from other shows, which typically create whole new elements to keep the plot moving. New characters enter the series and upset the status quo. Events take place in faraway places, or characters make surprising discoveries that allow whole new opportunities.
Princess Tutu begins with a status quo that could continue indefinitely. Rue, Fakir, and Mytho exist in equilibrium. Princess Tutu enters the situation and becomes the catalyst of change. But after she enters the story, there aren't any major external shifts to the story. The plot plays out with only the few players it begins with. This makes the story unusually personal and intimate. Princess Tutu's story isn't a series of events that take place because characters make decisions as the result of opportunity and circumstance. It's more channeled and focused because the events are inevitable. Each of the characters has a fundamental nature that he or she must fulfill. The story unfolds the way it does because the characters don't understand themselves in the beginning and neither do we as an audience.
The show's second major accomplishment is its unusually proficient use of the ballet elements. The end of the series mixes the show's most intense moments with dance. That holds true of the personal interaction, which we've seen to varying degrees in earlier discs, but it also incorporates the dance elements into the show's physical conflict. Almost every anime includes a few scenes where nameless minions arrive to make a show of fighting with the protagonist. Princess Tutu is no exception, but it adapts fighting to the drama and presentation of ballet. The minions arrive in high drama, striking poses and approaching in synchronized movements. It's stylized, clearly fictionalized, and it demonstrates exactly how ballet conveys stories. People often view ballet purely as a dance. We watch it with an eye for technique or grace. Princess Tutu challenges that view because it places the highest priority on storytelling and relegates the dance to a specialized role.
But the moral of today's column isn't to go out and buy the latest volume of Princes Tutu without delay. It's not a bad idea, because the series has a lot to offer viewers, but there's a larger and more general point at stake. It's easy for us in fandom to become passive consumers of anime. Dozens of titles compete for our interest, and new shows start every week. Fans should stay alert and consider the titles they're watching carefully. The path of least resistance isn't necessarily the one that provides the best overall experience.
Viewers should not settle for the vacuous enjoyment of having the next disc of a favorite show. Having an expectation isn't the same as judging from experience. It's an insidious problem because purchasing anime, particularly from a show that made a strong showing in the past, is satisfying to some degree. It satisfies the consumer and collector in all of us, and in the short run that might be enough for some fans. Problems arise later. Buying anime is the equivalent of fan candy. It's quick and easy, but it's not fulfilling in the long run. Trusting that performances sound good, thinking about amazing visuals, and expecting an engaging story doesn't provide the depth of experience that watching the show does.
The greatest danger is that fans who start to realize that they aren't enjoying anime as much as they once did will continue to purchase more and more anime to make up for the deficit. That may work for a short while, but starting a new show doesn't provide the same emotional closure that finishing one does. It's easy to remember that a show is fun, but it's more difficult to remember why it's fun. The details and exact origins of those impressions fade with time. Chronic periods of starting new shows and not finishing them can easily lead to a fans' disillusionment with anime as they enjoy the quick rush of starting a new show without recognizing the emotional core that binds the experience together.
The good news for fans is that this problem isn't too difficult to avoid. It takes a little discipline, both in managing free time and in budgetary spending, but in the end it leads to a much more fulfilling experience. Track down the shows you know you like, even if they're not as popular, and don't worry about having every last disc or keeping up with the latest trend. Watch the shows, enjoy them, and remember: It's just a hobby.
Questions? Comments? Suggestions? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2006 by Way Jeng