Friday, December 5, 2008

I Review Princess Tutu: The Shamening

I think it's been sufficiently long since my last anime review that I may comfortably subject my three readers to a second one. This will be somewhat unlike my last review, mainly because I intend to put some thought into it and pretend like I have some kind of standard of quality. Hint: I do not.

It's only fair that, since I've already reviewed a series that I can unabashedly enjoy, I should now review one that fills me with deep, painful nerd shame. Allow me to explain, first, how I came to watch and enjoy this girly, fluffy, sparkly, poofy horror of a series.

Our story begins in a cramped, poorly stocked and laid out dealer's room at Vermont's only anime convention, Bakuretsucon, whose Cheeto-scented halls we shall never darken again. Our anime club had traveled over two hours to reach the cramped event that amounted to a hallway, a staircase, and a few personal rooms transformed into viewing rooms. Following our arrival in this dismal place, we spent a total of five hours within those inoffensively beige walls. I was bored after the first hour, hungry by the third, and homicidal toward the end when we lost two of the younger club members and had to send out two separate search parties.

When I was far past fed up with the activities (or lack thereof) outside the dealer's room, I sequestered myself there for a time, and came upon a nice booth with blind boxes for sale. On top of this, the booth also held the only article of Japanese-language printed material in the entire dealer's room. Was it manga? No, it was something even more lovely - it was doujinshi. Unfortunately for my desperate ass, it was for a series I had never watched, featuring characters whose relationship I had no prior knowledge of. As I mentioned, I was somewhat desperate for something of interest to show from this awful trip. So, negotiations began immediately. I asked how much it was, and was both amused and bewildered when he insisted on checking the UPC on the back for the yen price. Not only did he have the only doujin in the house, but he was under the impression that it was official merch. To my delight (and equal horror) I was dealing with someone who knew absolutely nothing about the most interesting item he was selling. Thus, the haggling commenced. I eventually acquired it for the princely sum of seven dollars, fifty cents, and a sizable chunk of my dignity.

To help me understand the book (and to have the boxset in her mitts) the club's vice president/treasurer/puppetmaster (who is also my good buddy) purchased the Princess Tutu boxset for the club library. I tactfully avoided watching it for some time after its arrival, then proceeded to watch the entire fucking thing in the span of one week. The shame was palpable, but god damn it, it was a good series.

I am as serious as a stab in the kidneys. The title is humiliatingly bad, the premise is sappy, and the classical music and fairy tale motif is utterly beyond my ken. But I devoured it like Roger De Bris devoured Springtime for Hitler. However, unlike Mr. De Bris, I feel shame for having enjoyed it. I wanted it to be terrible. I wanted to hate it so badly, but I just couldn't. I want to believe that I've reached the stage of geekiness where I don't have to pass judgment against myself for enjoying things outside my usual realm of interest. I'd like to have that kind of nerdy zen, but I don't yet. As such, I am still incredibly ashamed. Maybe I should be. But, enough about me. Let me try to explain what the series is, and why I *HURP* like it. I will most likely be antagonistic and accidentally spoil some parts of the series.

Like I said, the premise is soul-suckingly lame upon first glance. Anime News Network's summary made me want to kill myself when I read it in an attempt to learn something about the series I was about to watch.

13-year-old ballet student Ahiru is clumsy, good-hearted and sweet... and has a big secret. The mysterious Drosselmayer morphed a young duck into a girl to give her a mission: help a Prince to get the parts of his heart back. With that in mind, she morphs into Princess Tutu, whose magical dances ease the pain and purifies the bad feelings.
That is the single most embarrassing summary I have ever read. More so than the summary for Onani Master Kurosawa, which is about being caught jerking it. It manages to give a greater sense of vicarious humiliation than reading about a character being caught waxing his wizard's staff. However, the people of 4chan put it in a far more appealing light in the now defunct thread on the series:

It drops that formula and becomes a tale of fighting fate from a guy who cuts his hands off and writes all the main character's fates down with blood from his stumps.

Another Anonymous accused the poster of lying. He was not, and that is why the series succeeds in my eyes. It doesn't go so far as to become a deconstruction of magical girl shows, but rather it rides a comfortable mid-line between playing it straight and tearing it down. It falls into fewer pits than it majestically vaults over, but it did manage to frustrate me at times. Now that you know the story (kind of) I'll tell you about the characters. I can actually sum up everything that delights and infuriates me about the series through doing this, as it's largely character driven.

This is Ahiru. She is, arguably, the most important character in the show. She's either the youngest or shortest of the central players; it's never explicitly stated. She has a magical googaw which allows her to turn into a magical girl who must collect other magical googaws to restore the soul of her red herring love interest. Yes, I just spoiled that. No, I don't care. It was spoiled for me, and I didn't care then. Anyway. Like every other goddamned magical girl who has ever existed, she's a bumbling klutz with a reputation for being late for school and having the deductive skills of a wet hat. Unlike every other magical girl ever to exist, she doesn't inspire the urge to snap her little head off like a bored and spiteful child snaps the heads off of his mother's daisies. Yes, she is occasionally exasperating because she will do things during situation in which all signs point to 'no.' Still, she manages to be one of the few female anime characters that I like beyond grudging acceptance.

Here's the prince we mentioned earlier. Yes, he's naked. Yes, you should get used to that. Yes, you will become more or less numb to it as the series wears on. His name is Mytho, and he has no emotions. Shame is an emotion, so... this happens. I don't know if it's symbolic or not. As much as I like the little bugger, there isn't a lot to be said about him. He's a designated victim, more or less. He exists to be kidnapped andto jump half-dressed out of windows. So, really, he fills a valuable role that the token female character would fill in a shounen series. Badump tish.

This angry young man is Fakir, whose name I initially thought was the kind of gibberish name that anime often gives to foreign characters. Chibodee? Not a name. Anyway. Fakir plays the role of the knight, and plays it as well as he can when the villains mock him for it and the tragedy-bent universe he's been written into dumps liquid crap on him most of the time. He's such a serial failure that it's become a running joke among club members who have seen the series. As the knight, his sole purpose is to protect the little nudist prince until the bad guy inevitably kills him for his efforts. He is so dedicated to his charge that I spent much of the series waiting for the love dodecahedron to go rogue and collapse in on itself following a love confession from him. The subtext actually transcended the level of fanservice and became vaguely uncomfortable at times, because it was never played for laughs.

The lovely young lady to the left is Rue, who was my absolute favorite female anime character for approximately 14 episodes. In a 26 episode series, this means that she lasted for over half the entire series in a much coveted position. What knocked her off the pedestal? She stopped being nasty. Yes, I spoiled that too. However, you would have expected it anyway if you're jaded and didn't expect the series to be a direct deconstruction. Unfortunately, I allowed myself to enjoy her stint as the show's antagonist, and was sorely disappointed when she got a heartbreaking (I guess?) backstory and was turned from a grey character to a pearly white one with a dirty sheet draped over her head. I love female antagonists, and I think you can blame Batman for that. How can you not love this exchange (paraphrased) between her and Fakir:

"Get the Hell out of here, you crazy evil bitch!"
"Crazy? Evil? Damn right, I am. Now you get out, pissant."

It was glorious. But, alas, girls can't be nasty unless they have absolutely no reason to be so. There are countless male characters who have been allowed to remain the hateful, manipulative, slaughtering bastards they are under far worse conditions. Whole family slaughtered, forcing you to live alone on filthy streets crawling with human predators from an age when most kids are being weened? Suck it up. Driven to cannibalism and banditry by the ravages of war? No problem! Manipulative adoptive dad who's molded you into a minion? Live with it, yo- What, you're a girl? Get Out of Dark Side Free card! Yes, I spoiled that too. It's for your own damned good.

So, in sum, it's a fine series that needs a better title and to gain a reputation as a deconstruction so I can admit that I like it.

1 comment:

ElfGrove Studio said...

Nice review actually. Both summaries you quoted are surprisingly accurate. I was ashamed of liking PTT at first myself, but after a while, it just became... "Yes dammit, the title is horrible! But the story is good!" And then I've proceeded to convert others. Trust me, having others around that also like it eases the embarrassment. Of course... It probably helps that I have finally hit that "Zen Level" of geekdom you mentioned. I'm a geek, I like it, it's a hobby, don't care what you think... you're a little interested? CONVERT!

Fakir and Rue are certainly my series favorites, and I did love her better before she went super-soft. I'm okay with giving her the back story, but they also took away her edge and conviction, and I kind of wish it hadn't been so drastic.

I must say, I find it amusing that you're blog subtitle is "shameless excursions into fandom". already found your shame anime, huh?