(Note: I apologize for the late posting. Certain things came up, and this took longer than I expected. Hope you enjoy!)
It’s been almost a year since Disney’s Frozen came out in the US, and it has since taken the world by storm!
Sure, we get to the point when we think, “If I hear ‘Let It Go’ or ‘Do You Want to Build a Snowman’ one more time, I might just kill someone.”
But we have to admit it’s a well-crafted Disney film worthy of admiration. The characters are easy to fall in love with (or, in the case of Hans, fall in hate with), and often subvert our expectations of what we expect characters in a fairytale to do.
Another animated fairytale in which characters subvert expectations is the Japanese anime series Princess Tutu (which I swear is a lot better than the name suggests). I see quite a few parallels between the main characters, but in particular I find the female protagonists, Princess Anna and Ahiru (also known as Princess Tutu), very similar, both in temperament and in the values they represent. I think these similarities reveal a lot about the values of each story.
But first, how to describe Princess Tutu? The 26-episode ballet-inspired anime takes quite a few mind-blowing twists and turns, but this is how I would best describe it at the onset:
Ahiru (“Duck” in English*) is a young girl studying ballet in the small town of Gold Crown (“Kinkan” in Japanese), and… well… she’s not very good at it (but she tries so hard!). She has a major crush on a senior ballet student named Mytho, a beautiful dancer who seriously lacks emotion.
She discovers that Mytho is the prince from a tale called The Prince & The Raven, whose tale was left unfinished when the writer was killed, leaving the characters to cross the boundary of fiction and continue their fight. The prince shattered his heart to seal the Raven, the shards scattered around town. The writer, Drosselmeyer**, is able to extend his powers beyond the grave and give Ahiru the power to become Princess Tutu, who can retrieve the heart shards and return them to the prince.
But Ahiru wasn’t always a girl… she was an actual duck turned into a girl by the same pendant that turns her into Princess Tutu (I did say this was a fairytale, no?). Further complicating matters are Fakir, Mytho’s controlling roommate, and Rue, Mytho’s girlfriend, who are not thrilled about Tutu’s efforts to restore his heart, or Mytho’s fascination with her. But nothing is as it seems in the town touched by stories…
From the plot, you may not think it seems anything like Frozen. I get that. Frozen has singing and Princess Tutu has dancing, for one. But nonetheless, Anna and Ahiru occupy somewhat similar positions, and thus share many similar, likable traits (major spoilers ahead):
Not exactly princess material:
Okay, so they’re not the most coordinated. That’s not a crime. But compared to the common perception of princesses, as well as the graceful people around them, they seem to fall short. Anna has her older sister to measure up to, and Ahiru has a whole freaking ballet school! Ahiru also measures herself against her Princess Tutu form, which has considerably more dancing skill. They work hard to try to be less awkward, but their klutziness tends to leak through. That’s okay – we sympathize with their effort, and love them all the more it!
These girls may be sweet, but they know how to fight! They speak their mind when necessary, even to guys twice their size, standing up for themselves and for others as best as they know how. They are both incredibly brave against the odds, and still keep a positive attitude while doing it.
Overlooked and underestimated:
Anna and Ahiru are both initially considered unimportant. Anna is isolated from the world and ignored by her sister and only friend for most of her life, and when she goes after her sister, Hans and Kristoff both size her up as being incapable of making the distance. Ahiru is, as she often admonishes, “just a bird.” In human form, she is the worst in class, and as Princess Tutu, her original role in the story is a mere two lines that comprise of the princess telling the prince how she feels, causing her to vanish into a speck of light. Yeah. She often feels there is little she can do to ease the suffering of those she cares about. Both of course prove their worth over the course of the story.
Faith in others:
Anna and Ahiru are caring people who try to see the best in others, even those who have tried to hurt them. Anna, though shocked that her sister kept her powers secret all those years, holds no fear for her, even after she freezes her heart. Though Kristoff is initially cold to her, she is consistently kind to him (though they do argue), and eventually wins him over.
Ahiru befriends Rue very quickly, despite knowing that she is Mytho’s girlfriend. When Rue turns out to be Princess Kraehe, the Raven’s daughter, Ahiru still sees the good “Rue” as her true self (and is more correct than she realizes). Additionally, though she has a very rocky start with Fakir, once she sees his vulnerabilities, she’s supportive enough to reveal her true form to get them out of a bad situation. As they say in Frozen, “Love brings out the best,” and this proves true in each case for the protagonist’s faith in others.
Love at First Sight?:
Both Frozen and Princess Tutu, at the onset, appear to follow the fairytale tradition of love at first sight. Anna is immediately attracted to Hans after she literally bumps into him, accidentally calling him “gorgeous.” Her desire to marry him is what sets the plot in motion. Ahiru, as a duck, sees the prince dancing alone, and has a strong desire to help him smile. Not exactly romantic feelings, but this innocent attraction is what inspires Drosselmeyer to turn her into Princess Tutu, setting the plot in motion. Both suitors are handsome and kind towards the protagonist, and there seems to be no reason not to like them.
Sadly, Ahiru was never able to express her feelings and, in the end, Mytho, doesn’t love her like that. He was attracted to her more because of what she represented (we’ll get to that later), and finds he is truly in love with Rue, who has loved him for much longer.
And we know what happened with Hans…
But then there’s these guys:
They’re not exactly romantic, or even very nice on first glance. Kristoff admits that he is okay with letting Anna die in the wilderness; Fakir is a huge jerk towards both Ahiru and Princess Tutu’s efforts to help (before he knows they are the same person), and constantly calls Ahiru an idiot.
But Kristoff and Fakir prove to be Anna and Ahiru’s greatest allies. They get to know each other over a longer period of time, put through dangerous situations together, able to see past their initial impressions to see the “honest goods” underneath, and finding they care for one another. In the end, both Kristoff and Fakir are willing to make sacrifices that Hans and Mytho never could – Kristoff sacrifices being with Anna to save her life; Fakir promises to stand by Ahiru forever, even when she is a duck again. So both Ahiru and Anna end up with entirely different people than who they started out with, proving that love is earned.
Ugh, this one makes me sad. As true heroes do, Anna and Ahiru are both willing to make sacrifices to do what’s best for others, because love is putting someone else’s needs before your own. Anna may have charged up the mountain after her sister, putting her life in peril along the way. But it isn’t until after Hans’s betrayal and Olaf’s lesson that she realizes what love is, and thus is able to sacrifice herself for Elsa while inches away from death herself. Thankfully, this is the thing that saves her, but it’s still hard to watch!
Ahiru constantly puts others before herself throughout the series, as she serves to give the heart shards back to Mytho. Because her pendant turns out to be the last of Mytho’s heart shards, she discovers she has to give up her humanity to complete her quest. Though this puts her selflessness to the test (she nearly drowns herself when she can’t get the pendant off on her own!), in the end she does return the heart shard, returns to being a duck, and nearly gives her life to save Mytho, Rue, Fakir, and everyone in the town.
Hope and Love
“Only an act of true love will thaw a frozen heart.” – Frozen
“The power flowed out from deep within the duck’s body. Unquenchable and inexhaustible.”
“One by one, that power warms the people’s hearts that had been frozen by the Raven’s blood. That power is… hope!” – Princess Tutu Akt 26
Finally, Anna and Ahiru each represent a powerful force in their respective stories, one with the power to break spells and thaw frozen hearts. For Anna, it is unconditional love, which thaws her own heart and helps her sister find the trigger to break her own curse. Love and the desire for it is what powers all of Anna’s actions, but it isn’t until she is able to sacrifice herself that she unlocks love in its purest form.
For Ahiru, it is hope (you could argue that this is combined with her love for everyone as well). As Princess Tutu, she was able to lead people influenced by other powers to find their true emotions and break whatever hold was on them. In the finale, though she is no longer Princess Tutu, her hope gives her the strength to dance even as a duck, to lead the people turned into evil crows by the raven’s blood back to normal, and to give Mytho and Rue the strength to give their stories a happy ending as they battle the Raven.
The ability to access these powerful emotions is what marks them as the protagonists. Ahiru often doesn’t seem like the hero of her own story, and I’ve seen arguments that Frozen would have been more interesting had Elsa been the protagonist rather than deuteragonist. But as personifications of hope and love, it is these unlikely heroines that have the power to give happy endings – without them, all else would fail.
If you want to watch Princess Tutu for yourself, I suggest sites like GoGoAnime, or Amazon Prime. It’s definitely worth a watch!
To end the post, here’s “For the First Time in Forever” set to Princess Tutu:
Look for a new post next Monday. Learn more about the blog here, about me here, and resources here. Check out the links for related works and Pinterest boards, and leave a comment to let me know if you have any thoughts or ideas.
Until next time,
*I actually prefer to call her Duck since I saw the dub first, but Ahiru and Anna looked better in print
** If you’re wondering why that name sounds familiar, you may be thinking of Uncle Drosselmeyer from The Nutcracker.