Princess Tutu Vol. #1 -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: A-

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  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: A-
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: B+
  • Age Rating: TV 14
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: ADV Films
  • MSRP: 29.98
  • Running time: 125
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Princess Tutu

Princess Tutu Vol. #1

By Chris Beveridge     January 17, 2005
Release Date: January 25, 2005

Princess Tutu Vol. #1
© ADV Films

What They Say
A girl named Duck - or rather, a duck who wants to become a girl - falls in love with a prince. One day, a bizarre old man emerges and gives her a magical pendant that transforms her into the waltzing Princess Tutu. Now she must choose - for those who accept their fate find happiness, those who defy it, glory.

The Review!
Even a rarity for anime, ballet, fairy tales and a lead that's a duck all come together for one of the most charming and fascinating shows in recent memory.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its English language adaptation. To my surprise, this is one of the few new series from ADV that didn't get a 5.1 mix for its English mix but it still comes across very well with its stereo mix. The show is obviously richly filled with music and that doesn't fail to sound beautiful here at all. Mixed in with both subtle and very outgoing dialogue throughout all the episodes, the stereo mix does a good job of handling the basic directionality and depth that it requires and turns out a solid performance. During regular playback, we had no issues with dropouts or distortions.

Originally airing in 2002, the transfer for Princess Tutu is presented here in its original full frame aspect ratio. This is one of those series where the colors and style of coloring used is critical for the shows presentation in that it's a major part of the mood and not just another part of every day life. The slightly washed out and dulled feel, an almost brushed on look in many places, is very well achieved here and the authoring bears it out with wonderfully solid looking backgrounds and very clean looking characters who don't exhibit any noticeable blocking in their large areas of single color. Aliasing is extremely minimal and cross coloration was nowhere to be found. There were a couple of areas where some very slight color gradation could be seen but it didn't make much of an impact for the few seconds it was visible.

Unfortunately none of the beautiful Japanese cover art was used for this release but what we do get works in a couple of ways. The main cover has a very fairy tale feeling image of Duck in her Princess Tutu mode doing a dance while Drosselmeyer is in the background with a large face shot that really pushes his dark nature. It's almost a bit too cartoony in general but for an opening cover it provides some of the key pieces. The back cover has a good selection of images through the center while the top half provides the summary of the premise. The bottom half lists the discs episode numbers and titles and rounds it out with the list of extras. The discs technical and production information fill out the very bottom of the listing. The insert is a very dark piece that has Tutu come out from inside a clock while the reverse side has a good chunk of text from the shows creator talking about the origins of the show. The cover is fully reversible for this release and I can see a lot of fans doing that as it's a much darker piece that has a richer feel to it with Drosselmeyer seemingly crushing Duck in-between his hands while the back cover is much in the same style but uses gears for the images and is a bit less word and flowery.

The main menu is a relaxing piece that uses the artwork of Tutu from the cover off to the side while a window next to her rotates between a number of scenes from the show as some of the light instrumental music plays. With the standard 30 second loop that's used, it repeats pretty quickly but it blends well enough that you can leave it on for awhile without a problem. The layout and design is pretty nice with a soft feel to it but there's a bit of shimmering in the menu in general when the scenes transition in the window. Access times are nice and fast and navigation is easy with instant access to each episode. As is standard with ADV releases, our players language presets were properly read and played accordingly.

While it doesn't appear there were too many extra on the Japanese release, the US release is making out fairly well. A couple of the old standby's are here such as the clean opening and closing sequence. The first episode gets a commentary track by Luci Christian and Chris Patton while episode five gets a staff commentary track. There's a brief segment of dub outtakes with a few good ones and a few general screw-ups. Etude is an interesting piece in that it has a couple of the characters explaining in English about some of the music in the show. For those who are experiencing ballet for the first time, there's a beginners section (again, in English) that uses clips from the show to illustrate some of the basics and their meanings. And lastly, there's a segment of footage from the recording booth that has a couple of the leads showcasing how they do the magic that they do.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Created by Ikuko Itoh during the design phase of Magic Users Club, it took ten years from that point to get to this point where the initial designs of a girl in a ballet outfit became what is known as Princess Tutu. While parts of this show aren't all that unusual for an anime series, there is enough to it that puts it on the outside of most mainstream shows that come out. With its sense of charm, magic and characters it's able to transcend ages and entertain just about anyone you put in front of it.

Taking place in Gold Crown Town, we're told through the first five prologues in slightly different forms, about how a many named Drosselmeyer had been writing a novel called The Prince and the Raven. The tale involved a young prince who was trying to seal away an evil raven but the only way to do so was to remove his own heart and use that to seal him away. In the midst of writing this tale, Drosselmeyer dies and leaves it unfinished. But the tale has taken on a life of its own and the characters 'escape' into the reality of Gold Crown Town and brings much of their world with it. The town takes on characteristics of fairy tales and reality, such as one of the ballet teachers being a cat that's human in its build but with many cat characteristics. Since the time of the authors' death, the town hasn't been the same but it's taken on a truly interesting quality.

What we're introduced with this story is a young girl named Duck who is very much liking a senior student in the ballet academy she's in named Mytho. As we see him through her eyes, we find that she was originally a duck that had seen him dancing and had fallen for him then, only to have the ghostish form of Drosselmeyer appear and give her life as a human girl so that she could pursue him. Duck does her best when she's a girl, though she confuses her time as a duck by dreaming of it which further blends the distinction between reality and fantasy here, but she's the weakest of the girls in the ballet academy and her nature causes her to get into trouble fairly often, particularly with her instructor Mr. Cat. He's an amusing and strange character who insists that those who fail him will have to marry him. That ends up motivating most of the girls quite a lot.

Through her fumbles and stumbles, Duck becomes slightly closer to Mytho but never close enough because of his fellow classmate Fakir, a dark haired boy who is very protective of Mytho but so much so that he keeps him closed away, ensures he reads only what he gives him and doesn't let him practice with anyone he doesn't want him near. With the help of Rue, who is basically considered the best and brightest girl of the academy, he's able to control Mytho very well. Much of what we see of Mytho is very muted, beyond laid back and almost lifeless in a way. Duck tries to get through some of this since she very much likes him but continually runs into problems with it and often it's Fakir that's at the heart of those.

Everything changes though when Duck learns of what's really going on about Mytho not having a heart and that it's been spread into shards throughout the town. These shards have taken on a strange form of life (or death if you prefer) as other entities have used them and the aspect of the heart that they are to becomes something else. For example, in one episode we come across a funeral procession where the lead there performs Giselle, something that Rue realizes she cannot keep up with yet because of its intensity. Duck is there as well and she transforms into Princess Tutu thanks to the gift given to her by Drosselmeyer and she's able to dance with the spirit and complete it, thereby retrieving the shard so that she can return it to Mytho and give him back a piece of his heart. And each piece he gains, he changes every so slightly as the emotion that is returned to him.

One of the biggest problems Duck faces though is that while she can transform into Princess Tutu and do all of these wonderful things, she's got a price to pay for it in the short term at least. That comes in the form of having to control who she is as if she talks or acts like a duck while a girl, she turns into a duck fairly quickly. She's able to transform back, but at first she can only do so by touching water, but even that's a problem as it doesn't leave her with any clothes. Changing into Tutu isn't too much of an issue though but the transformation sequence for it is unlike most others as she circles inside an egg that wraps around here and then bursts forth as Tutu. And unlike a lot of other transformation sequences, even those aimed at young girls, there isn't any real fanservice here to give it even the slightest of creepy feel.

Visually, this series is just gorgeous to look at. The prologue sections are done in a seeming rough pencil draft feel with a few moments of vibrant colors mixed in. That dark realistic tone is carried into the rest of the show where the town has that European feel to it but not the brightly colored one. With hardly any of the natives ever seen and the doors always shut, the town has a pervasive eerie quiet to it that's enhanced by the darkness and fog that often wafts through it. Even the school is set much the same way with its stone and wood interiors and then its more lavish rooms that are equally as cold. The structures are gorgeous to look at as well with the window designs and the general layouts of many of the rooms and its architecture.

The characters themselves reflect a lot of this with fairly muted tones but still some bright pieces. When a simple white ballet outfit can stand out amongst everything you know you've got a dark looking show but it's one that adheres to the traditions of the classic fairy tales. The boys of the academy have their usual matching uniforms but they have a real sense of style to them and both Mytho and Fakir look really good in them. The designs of those two are critical and they look great here, particularly with the way Fakir's hair is layered. Mytho is so lifeless at the start that his design mirrors it nicely. He's the most interesting to watch since he gains emotions as it goes along and the changes as he does are quite noticeable.

Since this was something I wanted to watch with my kids, we watched it in English. To my surprise, my eldest at just under five years old was enraptured by it much more than I thought she would be. The story is simple and easy to understand but there's a great element of darkness to this and you can never be sure how kids would handle it. The cast in the show do a wonderful job and even after switching back to Japanese for a second viewing I'm unsure of whether I'll listen to it in Japanese again. That's one of the advantages I find to shows that are like this and set in a non-Japanese setting. Luci Christian, who I've become a fan of since Super Milk-Chan, does a fantastic performance here in capturing Duck's nature, both her frenetic moments and her quiet inner monologues about feelings. It's one of those performances where her voice for this doesn't feel like it's too young or to childish but rather just right. I was also really impressed with how well Jay Hickman did Mytho since the character is intentionally so lifeless at the start. Even with that, he's able to infuse him with the right kind of voice that as he gains emotions it seems very natural. The quiet nature of his voice is just spot on for this. But probably my favorite out of the characters in these first five episodes is Chris Patton's performance as Fakir. He simply nails this role from the first appearance on screen and runs with it. It's the right level of nearly mean and creepy and eerie without going over the top or having the character wear a nametag that says he's the villain.

In Summary:
Princess Tutu is a very simple and easy show to get into for obvious reasons, as most fairy tales are simple in their basic nature but their natures can change with their re-interpretations over the years and into other cultures. This title is something I'd been looking forward to for quite some time and was very happy with it as it's a beautiful little piece that's rich in style and story that keeps a number of anime traditions to it in addition to fairy tale traditions such as there not always being a happy ending for everything and things having a dark edge to them in general. There's a lot of ways this show can go but the opening act of five episodes has not only me hooked but my entire family. It's not often a show is able to do that and it's not often that I have my kids asking to watch it again themselves the next day.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Staff Commentary with Shoko Oono (Translator) & Mike Yantosca (ADR Writer), Voice Actor Commentary with Luci Christian (Duck) & Chris Patton (Fakir), Clean Opening Animation, Clean Closing Animation, ADR Outtakes, Étude - Ballet for Beginners,In the Studio clip

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI with upconversion set to 720p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.


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