Princess Tutu vol. 1 (manga)

Princess Tutu vol. 1 (manga)
 Chad Clayton  rates it:    

Story/Art: Ikuko Itoh & Junichi Sato/Mizuo Shinonome
Format: Paperback
Price: $9.99

The first thing one tends to notice about the Princess Tutu manga is its incredibly ugly cover. It’s not the artwork itself that’s ugly, mind you, but the cover is washed in this hideous orange-pink color that would drive even a Lisa Frank designer to think “wow, this is a bit much.” It’s a far cry from the elegant, clean cover design of the anime DVDs, but the difference in cover design reflects the difference in content. The Princess Tutu anime is a unique, classy mixture of ballet, folklore, and magical girl story that every fan of the genre should check out. By contrast, the manga version of the story is nothing more than a forgettable magical girl yarn that doesn’t expand upon or complement the original material at all.

The manga version of Princess Tutu is ostensibly based on the anime, but in reality the two don’t have a whole lot in common. They share the same core premise: a little girl named Ahiru is given a magical pendant that allows her to transform into the sacred ballerina Princess Tutu, the only one who can restore the shattered heart of the prince Mytho. Unfortunately, that really is where the similarities between the two continuities end. The manga dispenses with most of the fairytale elements from the anime. Ahiru is no longer a duck that turns into a girl – she’s just a typical plucky-yet-awkward magical girl heroine. The storyteller Drosselmeyer doesn’t even exist in the manga – Ahiru gets the magical pendant from a ballet-shop owner who has some as-yet undefined relationship to Mytho. Even ballet, an integral part of the anime, is reduced to little more than Ahiru’s hobby and Princess Tutu’s gimmick. In other words, the manga version of Princess Tutu does away with pretty much everything that made the anime such a joy to watch. It leaves us with a completely standard magical girl story – and not even a particularly well-done one at that.

Princess Tutu
Glaring deviations from the source material aside, there really isn’t too much to be said in Princess Tutu‘s favor. The manga isn’t read so much as it is endured. It slowly, mechanically drifts along towards its inevitable conclusion, never truly drawing the audience in. There’s a couple of reasons for this; one is simply that the comic has no surprises or high points. There’s never any moments of high action, high drama, or high comedy. Every so-called “battle” goes along exactly as the one before it. Ahiru never deals with failure, nor is she ever foiled by her adversaries. There’s seldom, if ever, the sensation that things could ever go horribly awry. The manga consistently expends the bare minimum amount of effort needed to get the story told. This is boring! We may as well be reading a lecture about fence painting, for all the excitement and passion there is in this book.

Another big problem with the story is that it often feels like it’s taking place inside the author’s head more than it is on paper. The exposition is minimal, and what little there is tends to be clunky and vague. There are moments that probably sounded good when the author was thinking them up, but they don’t translate well to the printed page. Often characters say or do things that either make little sense or seem to come from out of nowhere. For example, during her first transformation into Princess Tutu, Ahiru asks “What is this light? Is this the light of the heart?” even though no reference to such a thing had been made earlier. The manga’s so vague concerning Fakir and Rue, the primary antagonists, that it’s hard to get a handle on what their motives might be or what their roles in the story are. Are they trying to protect Mytho? Are they trying to hurt him? Or do they just want to keep him docile and indecisive for their own ends? I don’t expect an answer to this right away, but there isn’t much convincing evidence for any of the above. Such a lack of depth doesn’t serve any purpose at all except to keep the audience at arm’s length. I mean really, who can be bothered to care about a protagonist whose foremost personality trait involves a crush on someone, and two antagonists who have no depth outside of being heartless pricks to everyone and everything? Worst of all, since there’s only one volume left in this series, I don’t see this problem getting any better.

Princess Tutu
In spite of my complaints with the story, I found myself appreciating the artwork. There’s nothing terribly original about the style, but the characters are well drawn, and cute besides. The facial expressions and hair are rendered particularly well, but I don’t think the transformation and “battle” sequences express motion or action very well at all. In fact, the comic often goes out of its way to avoid showing the battle actions directly, which is rather disappointing. It really subtracts from the whole “ballet as a weapon” concept.

Princess Tutu admittedly had some big shoes to fill, which is part of what makes its lack of spirit and ingenuity so frustrating. It takes one of the most unique and imaginative magical girl shows of the past several years, and reduces it to a graceless rendition of the formula long laid down by Minky Momo and Sailor Moon. Ahiru sees Mytho, giant monster/other threat appears, Ahiru turns into Princess Tutu and dances away the bad-bad, Mytho gets a piece of his heart back, lather rinse repeat. Princess Tutu is seldom if ever excruciatingly awful, but it really doesn’t live up to the anime’s legacy. I can’t see any reason to recommend this average-at-best manga when a far superior interpretation of the story exists. Go watch and enjoy the anime. Only hardcore completists should bother themselves with this pale reimagining.

Added:  Monday, February 28, 2005

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