Source: Episode 12, Princess Tutu
By: Beata Garrett | @clearsummers
On the surface, Princess Tutu is a simple and formulaic story: Ahiru, a duck, is transformed one day by her love and desire to be with a prince named Mytho. To get closer to him, she becomes a ballet student at his school and transforms into Princess Tutu to retrieve shards of his heart. She hopes to make Mytho’s heart whole again one day, but runs into trouble with Rue and Fakir, Mytho’s girlfriend and his best friend, respectively.
As much as Rue and Fakir appear to be the villains of the show on the surface, the real villain is neither of them. It’s Drosselmeyer, the writer of the stories in which Ahiru and the cast live. We often see Drosselmeyer watching and commenting on the events of Princess Tutu, laughing when his characters undergo especially troubling events. He urges the story towards a tragic ending and is never seen with gears in his shots, which represents his role as a puppeteer and his machinations.
Princess Tutu details the journeys of these fairy tale characters who find themselves straying from Drosselmeyer’s path. It’s a show that endorses empathy, compassion, and love that is empowering, not possessive. By the end, Ahiru, Rue, and Fakir are so much more than what Drosselmeyer intended for them to be. They reclaim their narratives in different but satisfying ways in defiance of Drosselmeyer and through their love for one another.
Source: Episode 14, Princess Tutu
Ahiru and The Power of Love
Let’s start with the main character of Princess Tutu, Ahiru. Ahiru begins as a duck whose one goal is to help her prince, Mytho, regain his heart and be happy again. She’s told very early on that Princess Tutu’s fate in the story is to disappear into a speck of light and to fail in her mission. Ahiru accepts this and functions as she should in the story, rescuing the shards of Mytho’s heart and doing what I like to call “dance therapy” for various characters throughout Season 1.
Ahiru’s role changes halfway through the show as she gains an awareness of her own failings and, most importantly, questions her role as Princess Tutu. In Episode 21, she vocalizes this difference showing itself in her ability to dance. While Princess Tutu dances beautifully, Ahiru does not, retaining her clumsy duck feet. Because dance is so important to Princess Tutu, this insecurity is not only about dancing, but about her mission to save Mytho. Ahiru wonders whether she’s up to task for it and says, “Somewhere along the way, I’ve decided I can’t do anything” (Episode 22, Princess Tutu).
As we, the viewers of the show, know, this change comes from Drosselmeyer pushing Ahiru towards a tragic end as he wants to make her circumstances feel as futile as possible. It’s also very human as Ahiru doesn’t seem to be making any progress, especially when one of the heart shards is dipped in the Raven’s blood, slowly turning Mytho into a more malevolent version of himself.
However, these challenges to Ahiru’s sense of self and purpose are important in her exerting her free will. She isn’t helping people only because that’s what Drosselmeyer wants, but because she wants to do it. Her kindness is not self-serving but expansive and encompasses even those who treat her as an enemy. Being friends with Rue, her rival in love, doesn’t serve Ahiru any purpose, but Ahiru does it anyway because she likes Rue. There’s also a fantastic moment in Episode 15 that defies the trope in which female friends suddenly become enemies because they’re fighting over a boy. Instead of seeing her friend, now interested in Mytho, as her rival, Ahiru is more concerned as to why her friend and Mytho are acting so hostile about it. She even tells their mutual friend, “I don’t think of Pike as an enemy.”
Ahiru’s kindness is special because it goes beyond her role as Princess Tutu. Princess Tutu gently empathizes with those that have Mytho’s heart shards, which benefits the user and her, but Ahiru’s kindness is not to get the heart shards and lends a more grounded aspect to the kindness she shows as Princess Tutu. At the end, when the entire town is turned into crows by the Raven, it’s an effective raising of stakes because we care about the people in the town. They are not faceless characters, but rather people who have witnessed Ahiru and Princess Tutu’s kindness and who have shed some light on their own stories.
This kind of love and kindness, that which humanizes those who receive it and those who give it out, goes directly against Drosselmeyer. The writer is uninterested in those beyond their function, which is why he’s surprised in later episodes when they go off-script and defy him. This is most evident with Edel and Uzura, two of his puppets who are meant to make his tragedy progress smoothly. I’ll get to them in another post.
In any case, Ahiru not only questions her role as Princess Tutu, but her own love for Mytho. In Episode 12, she questions why she likes him as she doesn’t even really know him, but continues her mission anyway because she wants him to be happy. However, she’s no longer attracted to him and no longer idolizes him in the same way. This is a welcome change as it brings about the possibility of the two being friends and deconstructs the notion that a prince is an object to be achieved. It is here that Ahiru begins to see Mytho as a person rather than a construct.
Source: Episode 23, Princess Tutu
The relationships Ahiru forms with the other characters is what aids her in breaking free from Drosselmeyer at the end. In Episode 23, Ahiru enters the story in which Drosselmeyer resides and actually speaks with the man. The episode is fittingly titled “Marionette.” Drosselmeyer is angry that his story is going off the track and berates Ahiru for not wanting to be with Mytho anymore and to suffer for the story. Instead of despairing over this, Ahiru replies, “My feelings belong to me. They’re all precious feelings, I’m not a marionette!”
By defying Drosselmeyer, Ahiru defies the fate written for her. Throughout the show, Princess Tutu has emphasized the importance of identifying and processing emotions, and Ahiru underlines how powerful that is in her conversation with Drosselmeyer. It’s one of the most outspoken moments Ahiru has in the show and made possible because, as Edel reminds her, she has a heart. A puppet does not have a heart or the feelings that come with it.
Episode 27, the final episode, shows our characters at their lowest. Despite their best efforts, it seems that the story is headed towards a tragic ending as Drosselmeyer wants. On top of this, Ahiru is unable to transform into Princess Tutu. She can no longer use those magical abilities as she’s given the necklace to Mytho as it was the final shard of his heart. Nonetheless, she continues dancing and while it lacks the beauty of Princess Tutu’s dancing, Ahiru affects the townspeople. She pleads with them, “Let’s all go back to the real selves in our own stories,” effectively wresting control from Drosselmeyer and giving it back to the characters.
The result is triumphant and made possible through love. Despite, or perhaps because, Ahiru is a duck, and came from outside the original story, she was able to guide it to a different end. She stays a duck, an end that is counterintuitive to Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Ugly Duckling.” Remaining in her original form isn’t a punishment, but rather a form of self-acceptance. Happy endings are different for everyone, after all.
Rue and Learning How to Love
Source: Episode 7, Princess Tutu
Now that I’ve discussed Ahiru and Princess Tutu, I’d like to move on to the other princess: Rue, also known as Kraehe.
When we first meet Rue, she’s presented as the girl other girls admire and want to be. She’s at the top of the class, regarded as conventionally beautiful, and dating Mytho, the school’s prince. In other words, she’s totally opposite to Ahiru. As episodes progress, this surface layer is stripped to reveal her possessive nature over Mytho and her desire to have him, no matter what. She’s not threatened by Ahiru, but she is by Princess Tutu, who seems to be changing Mytho into a different person.
Behind Rue’s glacial indifference is the heart of a scared girl. I admire the show for portraying her as sympathetic and examining where her possessive tendencies come from, but not excusing them. It’s also important that the show, as it does with Ahiru, demonstrates how Kraehe, the crow princess, is not exactly Rue but it is a part of her. She is the dark counterpart to Princess Tutu and represents how love, when twisted by fear, becomes corrupted.
In Episode 9, Rue’s transformation into Kraehe is shown to actively hurt her. She bears through the pain because she feels that it’s the only way to keep Mytho near her, and is afraid of change. This fear correlates with the fear of growing up and the reality that life is not a fairy tale. Most importantly, it is a child’s attempt to cling onto the only form of control and love she knows, even if that means hurting the target of her affection.
While Ahiru separates herself more from Princess Tutu and forms her own sense of self-worth, Rue is swallowed into the persona of Kraehe. It’s also revealed that Kraehe is the daughter of the Raven, the very monster that kills Mytho in the story, and that Kraehe is trying to free him. She wants to please her father, who starts off gentle but turns increasingly abusive as she and Mytho fail to sacrifice pure hearts to him. The Raven’s love is conditional and he threatens to take it away at any time if she displeases him. He also constantly reminds her that only he and the prince can love someone as ugly as her, keeping her tethered to him through fear and isolation.
Interestingly, Ahiru’s struggle with Drosselmeyer is paralleled to Rue’s relationship with her father, the Raven, as they’re both manipulative relationships in which Tutu and Rue are seen as tools to bring a desirable end for their “fathers,” not actual people.
Source: Episode 15, Princess Tutu
Rue’s feelings towards Mytho become progressively more complicated as she sees how painful the internal struggle is within him because of her actions. Her growing friendship with Ahiru also lends her a new perspective as Ahiru offers her support, something she’s never encountered before. She learns that, contrary to her father’s words, she is neither unlovable nor ugly.
Eventually, she decides altogether to stop sacrificing people to the Raven. After finding out that she was a human child stolen by the Raven, she is lost as to her purpose and who she is. This shows the degree to which the Raven manipulated and abused her, and how difficult it is to escape the familial relationships that entwine us. This is the final threat that severs Rue’s obedience to the Raven, and it helps her realize how much he’s hurt her to this point.
Princess Tutu was meant to save the prince, but it’s the other princess, the evil one, that ultimately does so. Rue chooses to not sacrifice Mytho to the Raven, even if that means she won’t get her “happy ending.” She chooses to put his safety and happiness above her own, and that is the power of love. Like Ahiru, Rue affirms her own self-worth, telling the Raven, “I was happiest when I was Rue!” (Episode 24, Princess Tutu). Rue’s quiet moments with Mytho, the times when she was not dominating him or trying to trick him, are shown during this line. As Mytho notes, it’s a “fragile love,” and one that he wants to protect.
In the final episode, Rue transforms into a princess for the final time. However, she is not Kraehe, but the princess we typically see in fairy tales. Mytho is not a reward for Rue’s decision to be good, but rather a consequence of it and of his own feelings for her. Throughout the show, she is the one at his side and who gets to know him above anyone else, including Ahiru and Fakir.
I understand if people find it distasteful that Rue, as someone who was possessive over Mytho, seemed to be rewarded for it. However, I believe it’s important to consider the lines between Kraehe and Rue, and to think about the ways in which she’s grown. In the end, Rue was a young girl who did not know how to love and she struggled throughout the show to understand how to do so until the very end.
Fakir and the Rejection of Exploitative Power
Source: Episode 20, Princess Tutu
Fakir is another character that is initially an antagonist, someone who sees Princess Tutu as a threat to Mytho. The two boys are best friends and Fakir, like Rue, is overly protective and possessive of Mytho. In Fakir’s case, this is because he sees himself as the knight that must protect the prince. This has eroded Fakir’s friendship with Mytho and prevented him from seeing his friend as more than an object he must shelter from everyone else. It also negatively affects Fakir’s own sense of self-worth as he places it all on how well he can “protect” Mytho and not on any inherent value as a person.
Fakir’s role in the story is very interesting as it’s revealed that he is a direct descendant of Drosselmeyer. This lineage gives him the ability to create stories that come true, but his inexperience makes it difficult. The power also traumatized him as it’s part of the reason for his parents’ deaths as he inadvertently brought it about when trying to write one day. This is also part of the reason why he feels the need to protect Mytho as he can’t fail to save another person important to him.
While presented as an enemy at first, Fakir becomes an ally by Episode 12. Like all the other main characters, he finds himself questioning the role given to him and how he fits into the world outside of it as Mytho becomes hostile towards him. At one point, Mytho tells Fakir, “In the story, you’re no longer needed,” (Episode 18, Princess Tutu), dismissing him as both friend and knight. This was because Fakir was turning less to physical violence to resolve issues and aligning more with the Princess Tutu way of doing things.
Fakir eventually leaves the sword behind to focus on the power of the pen, but finds himself frustrated that he can’t write a happy ending for Mytho. This is a great way to build his character and prevents the show from reaching an easy and underwhelming conclusion as the power rests in all of the characters’ hands, not just Fakir’s. It directly undercuts Drosselmeyer’s story as it shows that shaping the fates of others is not to be taken lightly, but that writing with purpose and compassion is powerful. After all, Fakir finds that his growing desperation and desire to help Ahiru and the others is what allows him to call her out of Drosselmeyer’s world.
As with Ahiru, Drosselmeyer serves as a father figure of sorts to Fakir. He tells the boy, “be a good boy and let yourself be manipulated” (Episode 23, Princess Tutu) and encourages him to manipulate others too. It’s a selfish mindset that encourages Fakir to revert back to being the knight that saw Mytho as an object and everyone else as an enemy, and Fakir ultimately rejects it. Fakir apologizes to Mytho and vocalizes how awful he was, not excusing his actions just because he had good intentions. It’s an important moment that heals some of the rift between him and Mytho, and something Drosselmeyer would never do.
Source: Episode 25, Princess Tutu
Fakir is the character that is most like Drosselmeyer, with the potential to force the rest of the characters to their tragic ends. However, he chooses to reflect on his goals and sees the tragic end awaiting him if he chooses to exploit his power to control others like his descendant. This is represented in the “stoppers of stories,” otherwise known as the Book Men, who cut off Drosselmeyer’s hands years ago to stop him writing tragedies. They almost do the same to Fakir, but stop once he proves to them that he wants to bring about a good end for the townspeople.
In the end, Fakir does become a knight. He embodies the honor of a knight and manages to protect those he cares about, but without sacrificing himself. In Episode 19, Ahiru told Fakir that he “could be a knight of books instead” and he does.
Mytho: Concept Made Human
Source: Episode 1, Princess Tutu
Mytho is one of the least human characters in Princess Tutu, and one of the least developed. He is more concept than anything else, but that works wonderfully in the show.
Everything that Fakir, Rue, and Ahiru do at the beginning of the show is motivated by Mytho. Their attempts to protect or possess him leads to him being viewed more as an object than a person, despite these people claiming to love him and want what’s best for him. This is clear by how no one, not even Ahiru, wonders what Mytho wants. Mytho himself at that point doesn’t know either as his heart is missing, scattered from when he sacrificed himself to save the town from the Raven in the original story. This emptiness is reflected in Mytho’s dancing and his eyes, which are noticeably blank.
While Princess Tutu returning Mytho’s heart shards is initially depicted as positive, it quickly brings Mytho into conflict with Rue and Fakir. He becomes enamored with Princess Tutu, but it’s more of an idealization than anything else. This interest may also stem from the hope that he will be saved this time instead of having to save others. His assigned role as the prince dooms him to loving and protecting everyone, but with no one truly loving or protecting him in return. This concept is similar to that of the prince in Revolutionary Girl Utena, in that both shows depict how harmful this is to the person within the idea.
Despite being a prince, Mytho is still a young boy. In a flashback to Fakir’s childhood, we do see that Mytho is seemingly ageless as he looks the same, but the loss of his heart has not allowed him to develop emotionally in any way. This takes a turn for the dark when Rue soaks Mytho’s love heart shard in the Raven’s blood so that he will love her. Instead of loving just her though, Mytho begins seeking love from everybody.
Ironically, Mytho’s attempts to seek love disgust the girls who used to worship him. It’s a sad depiction of the ways in which the prince is expected to love, but not want love in return. It also implies that perhaps he doesn’t deserve it, and Mytho is confused as to why no one loves him. He can’t even see that there is one person who loves him, Rue, and seeks love from other sad and heartbroken people like him.
Throughout this transformation, Mytho fights against these selfish impulses. Ahiru often gets through to him as Princess Tutu, but it’s ultimately Rue’s fragile love that helps him undo the transformation on his own. The last shard of his heart resides in Ahiru’s necklace and is given to him as “Wings to leave the nest” (Episode 25, Princess Tutu). This shard represents hope and helps him reclaim his true name, Siegfried.
I couldn’t get behind Mytho’s development in the latter half of the season until I thought about it more. Initially, it seemed as if Princess Tutu undermined its own themes and subversions of fairy tale tropes by pairing Rue and Mytho together and having it be Rue’s love that saved him. I still believe there was more potential for Mytho to develop and empower himself, more layers to add, but I accept that undoing the curse on him was well won.
Mytho isn’t my favorite character, but he does play his part well.
In 26 episodes, Princess Tutu manages to tackle and subvert the expectations we have as an audience about fairy tales. By humanizing and forcing its characters to reflect on themselves, the story gives them an agency that their original creator, Drosselmeyer, denied them. These characters fight to reach their happy endings, endings that aren’t given to them because of some birth right.
I love that the show rewards its characters for being good and that it concisely explores what goodness means. Everyone, it seems, has the potential for it inside them even if it takes a lot of time and mistakes to unlock it. It is worth fighting for and it is ultimately choosing that over selfishly pursuing one’s happiness above everyone else’s that allows the characters of Princess Tutu to rewrite their narrative.
Source: Episode 26, Princess Tutu