Archive for January, 2009

Mobile Suit Gundam 00: Innovations

Ribbons is going to Innovate you all over the place.

As Gundam 00 winds its way towards its end–much to my dismay, as I will have to wait at least another two or three years before Sunrise decides it wants to create another installment in the Gundam franchise to get a newer, fresher Gundam take (using the interim time to catch up on the older series)–the puzzle that has been Gundam 00 is starting to, finally, look much more complete, especially as the Newtypes move into the final phases of Aeolia Schenberg’s plan.

Did I say “Newtype”? I meant Innovator, sorry.

I’m sure, in some deep recess of my mind, I’ve noted the similarity between Universal Century’s heroes and AD’s villains–made obvious, I suppose, by the fact that Ribbons Almark voice actor is Furuya Tohru (using a pseudonym–Sougetsu Noboru), better known as Amuro Ray–but I’m not for sure the full impact of this has truly sunk in. I’m sure this is a totally unoriginal observation–or not, depending on how mad people are at Gundam 00 for not being “Gundam” enough (or, alternatively, being too “Gundam”)–but it took Ribbons mentioning that he’d piloted the 0 Gundam, years ago, the same Gundam unit that had a profound effect on Setsuns F. Seiei, the very effect that would lead him to the position of Celestial Being’s Gundam Meister.

The in-show ramifications are rather obvious–as a result of the early encounter with 0 Gundam, which Ribbons described as a “field test,” Setsuna’s infatuation with Gundam led him to believe that it was Gundam that would bring about world peace. Setsuna insists that there’s no God in this world, but there is for him: Gundam, and, in some kind of weird twist of fate or irony, he believes himself to be the literal Gundam Jesus, the savior who will bring about world peace through his own personal Logos, Gundam.

Never mind that, even from very early on, we’re treated to Setsuna not as a strong, brave man–but as a defenseless kid, who’s been manipulated into killing his own parents. He presents himself as stoic and unshakable, because he’s trying to convince himself that he’s stoic and unshakable, not others. This all changes when he finds that the 0 Gundam, the symbol of the mystical power of the Gundam to end conflict, was piloted by none other than Ribbons, the leader of the Innovators who are acting contrary to Celestial Being–and with the fervor of the devout when faced with a challenge to their faith, he quickly takes action and corners Ali Al-Saarchez, the man who made him as he is today, before being stopped by the 00 Riser Trans-Am’s broadcast of Marina’s song with the orphaned children. I don’t think I moved, blinked, or thought throughout that whole ED sequence–I think I just stared, rendered speechless by the last seven minutes that, more or less, upheaved everything in Gundam 00.

To conjure up an old adage and bastardize it for the 21st century: Gundams don’t kill people, people kill people. Setsuna has now been forced to accept the collorary to that statement: Gundams don’t save people. Ribbons makes it clear to Setsuna that the Gundam is not an instrument of salvation, of peace-bringing–but a weapon. But, as before, if Gundams don’t save people, then people save people. The Gundam itself is not the Messiah, but, rather,  an instrument for people to bring about peace. A Gundam can be used for ill, just as it can also be used for good.

"In the beginning was the Gundamd, and the Gundam was with God, and the Gundam was God." (Note: this makes as much sense as the real John 1:1, i.e. none)

Perhaps even more subversive is the message encoded in the similarities of the Newtypes of Universal Century and the Innovators of A.D. In Universal Century, Newtypes are the “next step” in human evolution, a new race that will enable humanity to reach for the stars, and bring an end to conflict. Of course, this is UC Gundam, so it’s all muddled up, but I’ve always felt that the Newtypes were cast in a positive light (aside from the few Newtype villains, such as Haman Karn) with an implication that, once Newtypes were the majority, conflict would be eradicated.

But in 00, the Innovators–who have the same telepathic powers of the Newtypes, and who have names like Anew Returner and Bring Stability, names that clearly do not reflect their personalities–are cast as the villains, those who are trying to get in the way of the natural course of things. It is the Innovators who pull the strings behind the A-Laws (who feel suspiciously similar to the Titans in Zeta Gundam) who are sowing conflict across the world in the name of “world unification”. Celestial Being is opposing them as best they can, but only by playing at the A-Laws’ game and trying to stay one step ahead of them.

The 0 Gundam’s design similarity to the original RX-78 and its piloting by Ribbons, the leader of the Innovators, bear a trans-Gundam, or trans-anime, or even trans-national message: military machines and superhumans are not going to bring about peace in our time. And yet the 00 Raiser Trans-Am is the most powerful weapon in the entire series (I am set and ready to have a debate over Moonlight Butterfly vs. 00 Raiser Trans-Am at some point in time, just so you know), not because it kills, but because it unites–the Innovators can communicate telepathically with one another, as can Marie and Allelujah Haptism and the other super-soldier experiments, but the 00 Raiser Trans-Am gives everyone this power. It levels the playing field with the Innovators. The Gundam accomplishes what the Innovators cannot: uniting humanity.

Yes, it’s a paradox. Yes, Gundam is still an instrument of death, of chaos, of schism. But it can also be an instrument of life, of order, and of unification. Or can it? The new ED sequence is rife with Gundams, half-dismantled, growing moss and becoming part of the landscape. There’s still ten episodes to go in Gundam 00 until we reach the conclusion, and I lack the precognition necessary to know the ending beforehand. Even with a conclusion that results in true, peaceful world unification, knowing Mizushima, and Gundam, I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be an easily-won peace, nor a low-maintainance peace. Peace is far too complex for that.

Gundam 00 is breaking my mind in ways the other Gundams never did, it seems. Maybe I’m imagining it–or maybe it just resonates with me, the way Zeta, or Wing, or SEED, or Turn-A resonates with others, and defines, for them, what Gundam means to them. In my case, it would seem to be a consummation, rather than a revelation–the affirmation that Gundam still has the power to affect people, 30 years and many, many merchandising campaigns later.

RideBack: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Ballet

I cannot stop watching the OP; MELL is amazing.

I’m not even kidding with the subtitle to this post: this is exactly what I’m thinking RideBack is (or is going to be). I only have vague memories of the actual Robert Pirsig book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance from reading it at age 14 (most of them being “I thought this book was going to be funny and it wasn’t, it was boring”; obviously I was not exactly the mental peer of my parents when they were that age), and reading over the linked Wiki entry I should probably revisit it, despite it having nothing whatsoever to actually do with RideBack other than providing a humorous subtitle to a blog post about it and this dull anecdote which I’m going to stop writing before you fall asleep.

It’s kind of hard to judge where RideBack is headed at this early stage; when I started it up I was kind of expecting Students for a Democratic Society-style protests, I thought the RideBack club was going to be some kind of Weather Underground outpost, and I still half-expect, at some point in time, a giant rock concert where everyone is a) naked b) drunk c) stoned d) all of the above. I can’t exactly say where the series is going (possibly due to Expectation Shattering), or how well it will do it, but I have had a small and minor epiphany, which follows.

It’s rather clear at this point that for Rin, after her fateful on-stage ankle-twisting that forces her to leave a life as a ballerina, that the RideBack (specifically KITT Fuego) is symbolic of her means to express herself, her freedom she had on stage regained. Some watching the series seem to dislike the quieter moments, the moments where there are cherry blossom petals blowing everywhere and vague yet pensive uncertainty (I posit that you have not properly been a twentysomething if you have never felt an extended period of vague yet pensive uncertainty; those older who have not yet experienced it will simply be repaid, with interest,  later), but it’s those moments that make the RideBack races (set to awesome electro-whatever) more than an Initial D race on a pseudo-sentient motorcycle with a “spread legs form.” For Rin and the rest of the RideBack enthusiast club, the RideBacks are a nifty, exciting, and thrilling new technology through which they will forge an identity for themselves.

Freedom is wearing a lot of protective gear on your fancypants motorbike so you don't die when it spirals out of control.

Of course, it’s been quite heavily insinuated that the RideBacks were developed not to give college students a thrilling chance to find themselves, as so many through the years have, through chrome, four-cylinder engines, and mufflers (this is the extent of my mechanical knowledge, by the way, and I had to look one of them up), but, rather, as a new weapon of war, to be used by the (presumably) heartless dictator of Greater East Asia (I think?). The same utility that gives Rin and her fellow classmates a liberating thrill is the same machine that’s being used to further a campaign to quench freedom, wherever it might lay in wait in hastily dug foxholes, armed with hand grenades and a machete.

This much is clear, but I don’t know how far they can take it in twelve episodes at this pace. Student protests are inevitable, I believe, and, perhaps, a rousing message that the very machine that crushes freedom gives rise to a movement that fights for it. Perhaps that is why I am a tad cautious at this point–not knowing where the series is going to go makes for difficult snap judgments of measured quality for me–but I certainly am developing a certain fondness for Rin, Fuego, and the rest of the gang. It’s too early too tell how far it’s going (or if they’re angling for a second season later, as many series these days are tending to), but I’ve a feeling I’ll like it, however inconclusive the ending might be. The only question is how much I like it–and that I cannot tell at the moment.

And I also quite like the art style; perhaps not the best art ever, but it’s quirky and enjoyable, and a not unwelcome change of visual pace. And Rin’s friend in a cheerleader outfit was great, but, then, I always have a weakness for cheerleader outfits and pom-poms. When the girl wearing them is, you know, actually cute.

Kimikiss~pure rouge: Or, Romancing the Ensemble Romance

My love affair is only just beginning--with Kimikiss, not Yuumi. (but her too)

First: I picked up Kimikiss, uh, last night. I’m now on episode 7 24 hours later, which isn’t bad progress at all (for me, anyway), and I’m highly surprised that I’m that far already. This is a good thing, as, although I was expecting Kimikiss to be good, I don’t think I was quite prepared for what Kimikiss was, nor how well it pulled it off.

By “ensemble romance” I more mean the large cast of male and female characters, where none of the relationships exist in a vacuum to each other; ef – a tale of memories, for instance, sort of pulls this off, but ultimately Chihiro and Kei’s stories didn’t seem to have much effect upon each other during the course of action (aside from text messages and shared histories). Kimikiss, however, has the main cast–the three childhood friends Kouichi, Kazuki, and Mao–pursue separate but interlocked stories. Kouichi’s is the most straightforward, apparently, as Yuumi seems to be the only one interested in him, but no doubt that will change over the course of the series. The other two seem to be embroiled in complex love polygons (I’m not even sure of the full extent of the shape of the loveagon), and none of the stories exist outside the context of the others.

That, of course, makes for compelling watching, as you can almost touch some of the more wrenching developments, even this early on–a step forward for one pair is a setback for some of the others, sometimes without their even knowing it. I think that, too, is where the strength of Kimikiss lies: the ability to address character flaws and interpersonal mishaps without ever really saying them explicitly in expository dialogue. I’m hesitant to use the word “subtle” here because the direction from Honey & Clover veteran Kasai Kenichi doesn’t really seem to be downplaying things in that way, but yet it’s not exactly stated explicitly. It’s the old “show, don’t tell” authorial gimmick, and I never cease to be amazed when someone pulls it off–most of all when you innately don’t expect it to be pulled off, even if you know better.

Consider, for instance, Mao: after transferring, within a day she has the cell phone numbers of twenty students–her “friends”–in her class without even owning a cell phone herself, and doesn’t seem to be very close to anyone other than Kouichi and Kazuki, and even there it still feels a little flighty at times. It’s an incredibly obvious case of living vicariously through other people because you’re empty inside–staying up late to play games, not caring about passing entrance exams, etc.–but it’s all revealed implicitly instead of explicitly–we’re never told this is what’s up with her, but it’s obvious from her actions (and a bit of expository history) how she got that way. Her own tendency to keep relationships shallow (all the better for a disseminated identity, in this case) comes back to bite her when Kai, who’s very obviously falling in love with her simply from the fact that she shows friendly interest in him when no one else has, declares his love not with words but with a rather forceful kiss, driving her away from him in shock.

Right before that moment at the end of 7, you’re dropped hints that Mao, although friendly, cheerful, and willing to be there for Kai’s sake, still isn’t fully there–she’s checking her cell phone messages, in the jazz bar physically but out with the Movie Research Club mentally. She doesn’t seem to exist outside a context of other people, whereas Kai doesn’t seem to exist inside that context. Kazuki has a similar problem–so smitten is he with the first girl who showed him a direct sign of interest by kissing him unexpectedly (despite the fact that Futami did it entirely out of a desire to investigate the origins of love) that he doesn’t even realize that Asuka, the soccer-playing fanatic, has very obvious feelings for him.

"If I surgically removed your heart, would it be possible to separate the feelings of 'love' from the muscle?"

The only pair who doesn’t seem to have any problems–yet–is Kouichi and Yuumi (the latter of which is after my own heart with her love for horribly traumatic and depressing romance stories), and that might just be because someone has to be the control in the show. Although, then again, it took Mao’s intervention to get them together to begin with, since they’re both so painfully adorably shy, so who knows what’s going on with that. And maybe Yuumi is one of those people who’ve read so many tragic stories of unrequited love that she becomes convinced that her and Kouichi have to end badly so that they both can be properly cathartic.

The next-episode preview for episode 8 had Futami making what was probably an in-character episode preview joke, but it did pose the wonderful question: does a relationship begin with a kiss, or is a kiss merely a finalization of the relationship that pre-exists? Thus far, we have the examples of: a relationship that began with a kiss (Kazuki and Futami), one that might end with a kiss (Mao and Kai), and one that is very clearly a relationship in its burgeoning phase that has involved no direct physical contact at all yet (Kouichi and Yuumi).

I think I pegged it best 24 hours ago after watching episode two: Kimikiss is probably going to end in tears (for some characters, no doubt, and potentially me), and I, for one, welcome the onslaught of salty outpourings of emotion, for I am an Aristotlean when it comes to that.

Revolutionary Girl Utena: Upon This Black Rose, I Swear I Will Make Sense Of You!

That is, if it were remotely possible to make sense of Utena. The limit of understanding approaches sense the more times I watch it, but never quite gets there.

Hyperbolic descriptions of the insanity of Utena aside, revisiting the Black Rose arc of Utena in the past week or so has reminded me why I love it so: it effectively  integrates  the Utena brands of sanity and insanity into a highly enjoyable set of episodes. And no matter how blatantly symbolic the elevator interviews are, they are deliciously so, and I still get chills from Mikage’s standard lines in those scenes. And I  think that the also blatantly symbolic duels are at their best in this arc, together with the J.A. Seazer compositions that accompany them. For some reason–perhaps the desperation-fueled hatred the Black Rose Duelists generally exhibit during the duels–they feel slightly more tense than the duels from the other arcs.

As a character-driven viewer (I feel I might want to separate character-driven writing from character driven reading to further nuance my own self-description of what I like), I’ve always preferred the more concrete structure of the TV series to the obtusely meta-symbolic nature of the movie. I watch and more or less understand the movie in the context of my understanding of the series, and the movie is effective in that way–but I also find it chore to slog through, whereas the TV series is amazingly compulsive viewing. The compelling viewing draws from the characterization: I’ve always felt that although Utena revolved around a set of mostly unsympathetic characters, they were empathetically unsympathetic–the viewer is brought to know, feel, and understand the inner workings of the characters, but not necessarily like them as people.

Utena being the sort of series that it is, every time I’ve revisited the series I’ve drawn new conclusions out of the events. I’ve read around a bit the Utena discuss-o-verse (not to any significant depth) and the conclusion tends to be that Utena is a (what else?) coming-of-age story. Gnosticism gets tossed around a lot in the context, too, arguably because Gnostic concepts and 90s anime seem to be highly inseperable (I blame the economic crisis of Japan in the 90s–it’s the “illusory world” thing), and they do seem to have weight. But the meat of Utena, for me, as in most seriess, is the nature of the characters and their interactions.

If the first arc of Utena is thematically centered around grasping for the past and lost happiness, the second is about the desire to keep hold of the present. More importantly, perhaps, is the depth to which the desire to maintain the status quo resides in the various students twisted into Black Rose Duelists. Kozue doesn’t want Miki to pursue Anthy despite her refusal to acknowledge his existence, and tormenting him when she does; Tsuwabuki doesn’t want to pursue a girl who is quite obviously interested in him because of his devotion to Nanami; Wakaba refuses to give up the fiction of Saionji’s trust and like of her for someone who does love her from her childhood; Shiori can’t abandon her complicated relationship with Jury.

More interesting, perhaps, is the depth of hate at the bottom of their elevator heart–beyond every refusal to change lies the stubborn selfishness that things should stay the same, forever, and those who attempt to change them are despised. It’s almost the diametric opposite of Aria (which I wrote about two days ago) where change gently comes and is gently accepted; in Utena, change comes violently and is violently rejected. Even Wakaba–the seemingly happiest and most carefree of characters–has depths of desperation that her exterior serves to hide. Utena, in this arc,  showcases what happens when one refuses to change: hatred, general malaise, and self-inflicted anguish (the latter of which I am all too familiar with, sadly). My favorite moment demonstrating this was the Jomon sculptures holding the chocolate bars for Tsuwabuki’s duel. Jomon sculptures date back to Japanese prehistory, so you already have a primitive feeling grasping onto love, but when one of his swords splits one in half, there’s a smaller sculpture inside, now holding the sword amidst the fractured remains of the larger sculpture. Love is primitive but strong; hate, apparently, is just as primitive but far more dimunitive.

Life being what it is, no one can ever perfectly extricate themselves from what is the core of their being–their leaf in a display case–no matter how much they try, but even in the anguish and despair of the Black Rose arc, there’s a glimmer of hope. The characters never seem to change after their failed duels, but there is frequently a subtle difference, and–more importantly–whatever caused them anguish has been purged of their system, leaving them with a catharsis and, perhaps, the first step towards their ascent into maturity. We never find out if they accomplish this, but it seems to be integral to the arc’s theme that confronting one’s own self in anguish is painful and somewhat disturbing–but it usually leads to a deeper understanding of oneself.

Of course, the one person unaffected by this arc–Utena–hasn’t actually been through this yet. If memory serves correct, that is for the next arc. My mind is pre-melting in anticipation, I believe.

[meta-post: I figured out how to do captions! This has, for some reaosn, elated me beyond reasonable expectations!<insert joke about how I am slow on the uptake>!]


I’m horrifically, hilariously late to the Aria the ORIGINATION post-party, as per usual, so I’m pretty sure that everything I say will have been said before, but that never stopped me before. I feel like Ai-chan in the picture above (who wears the Aria Company outfit quite nicely, I must say–but maybe it’s the Pair gloves and/or hair ribbon and/or final episode super-budget injection), nevertheless.

Starting ORIGINATION, I had the constant wondering thought of “why did they call the final season ORIGINATION?” I never quite got NATURAL either, and ANIMATION was a rather silly subtitle for the first season (surely, in retrospect, they should have given it something more exciting), but, as in most things, actually watching the series provided the answer.

ORIGINATION is, indeed, the culmination of the story of Akari, Aika, and Alice, the Undine trainees–as they, one by one, are promoted to full Prima status, there’s a tangible sense of acheivement, of success–but it’s not “the end.”  Alice skips the Single grade straight to Prima in episode 9, and is shown being horribly nervous on her first day as a Prima the next episode. Aika, too, earns Prima–rather subtly, as the audience didn’t realize  it until we’d seen her hiding her ungloved hands from Akari–yet she, too, has her own set of responsibilties to undertake as heir to the Himeya company. And Akari earns Prima last, but at the same time must assume the responsibility of running Aria Company almost immediately, as Alicia is retiring.

They’ve all earned the ungloved status of Prima, and the responsibility that comes with it, but there isn’t really a “happily ever after” feeling. In fact, even though they’ve attained what they’ve worked towards for the past 52 episodes, they feel as if they haven’t really changed. And yet they have, in that intangible sense, where, even if Akari is the same old persistently cheery girl, even if Aika still has her klutzy moments, and even if Alice is still a confounding mix of external confidence and internal insecurity, they’ve still changed in how they view themselves. They’ve admitted that they’re imperfect, compared with their allegedly perfect mentors–but by admitting they’re imperfect, however unspoken the admission might be, they abandon their quest for perfection, and so, attain Prima status. Perfection cannot be had, but acknowledging and living with one’s own imperfections draws one closer to the ideal. And their mentors are themselves imperfect, yet are viewed as perfect for how they handle their imperfections.

It’s deliberate, too, that there isn’t much closure to the series; with closure, we have finality, and Aria is very much not about “finality.” Finality imples that the story is over, done with, and even though the “plot” of training to be Prima has been completed, there’s still more to come. A stage in their life has passed, and there’s that feeling that although the sorts of days and fun times they’ve had up to this point are over with, and impossible to return to,  there’s a host of new experiences yet to come, some good, some bad, but new nonetheless. Acheivement of a goal is not the end, but a beginning, and a continuation of what transpired before.

It’s that distinctively mono no aware feeling, where change happens, and its passing is always poignant; but the same change opens up new paths even as it closes others. If there’s one thing I’ve noticed about life while living it, it’s that it has a funny way of working itself out in sometimes ironic and amusingly unexpected ways. There’s some situations where, no matter how firmly you grasp, never seem to be in your control; surrendering control completely can often bring about the desired effect as nature takes its course and rebalances itself. The only thing you can reliably change for certain is yourself; digging your heels in tends to only make you more miserable, worsens your situation, and negatively affect the rest of your life as well.

I am starting to feel somewhat like Akari, and no doubt you are beginning to feel like Aika,

In sum: Is Aria a series for hopelessly romantic INFP idealists such as myself? Certainly it is, but that’s not a problem as far as I’m concerned. We could all use a bit of mono no aware in our own lives, I think. But I’m feeling kind of hazukashii-serifu’d out here, and when I spend more post-writing time being introspective rather than actually putting pen to parchment, and in the process coming up with far more to say than I can struggle to put into words that are merely going to be inadequate anyway, it’s probably time to stop.

But only temporarily. Completeing one post leaves room for another to come!

Princess Tutu: A Review, As Best As I Can Approximate One

There are probably spoilers in this “review,” because, frankly, it’s hard to avoid them with Princess Tutu. I didn’t spoil anything super-major, I don’t think, but tread carefully, those who are wary of spoilers.

I remember, way back in 2002 (when Princess Tutu had started airing, conspicuously close to the date when I started watching anime in earnest) hearing about Princess Tutu, favorable comparisons of it to Revolutionary Girl Utena (which I had not watched at that point, except maybe a couple episodes), and people of all sorts going nuts over it in a small corner where they could all discuss the series. I also remember watching the first half (through episode 13) and really enjoying it, but somehow never getting around to finishing the series proper; eventually, ADV licensed it, and the library bought a copy of the first volume and stuck it in the kids’ section next to Angelina Ballerina. I can only imagine some of the confused looks on kids’ faces when they popped in Princess Tutu expecting Angelina Ballerina and getting…Princess Tutu, complete with horribly terrifying Drosselmeyer. Nightmares must have ensued.

I picked up the DVD set recently, excitedly ready to revisit the series with five years of anticipation on the backburner ready to simmer over, and finally found the time to start watching it this Thanksgiving while on break from school. Time being the precious commodity that it is these days, I’ve only just now gotten the chance to finish it (upon hitting the last disc, I figured it’d be better to watch it all at once rather than in two-episode bites as I’d been doing; this, of course, meant that I had to delay watching it on our new HDTV, which meant, more or less, having to actually wait to be able to use the basement television, an as-yet unheard of proposition,  sending best-laid plans out of whack as they are wont to do.

The fun and interesting aspect of Princess Tutu, aside from the sheer girlishness of watching anime about ballerinas with Okazaki Ritsuko openings–which, I admit, is 90% of the appeal and one must be ready for epic ballet dances if one is going to watch Princess Tutu–is the amazingly convoluted story-within-a-story-within-a-story-within-a-ballet-within-a-story, and that long hyphenated phrase probably isn’t half as long as it really should be. Taking place in a city where Drosselmeyer, an author of stories reknowned for his ability to make stories come to life–literally–has constructed a mechanism that effectively imprisons the city within a “story”, which he controls from his vantage point within the cogwheels and gears of the mechanism. Drosselmeyer and the spinning gears of the story, grinding towards their inevitable, tragic conclusion–Drosselmeyer, we learn, is not only creepy as hell, but a big fan of tragedy. Really big fan.

you gonna get danced with son

Of course, this being strange meta-fiction, the characters stalwartly refuse to remain characters in Drosselmeyer’s stories. Ahiru (I refuse to call her Duck, ADV, do you hear me?), the protagonist of Princess Tutu, is merely two sentences in Drosselmeyer’s story of the Raven and the Prince. And yet this two-sentence character takes on a stronger and stronger role in the story proper until the story itself is about her–Fakir, after learning wallhax discovering his power, descended from Drosselmeyer, to write stories that are real, finds himself unable to write a story about Mytho, who he, according to his role in the story, is destined to protect, but yet he finds that he can easily and freely write about Ahiru/Princess Tutu, who wasn’t supposed to be important at all.

More importantly, all expectations of how theseries would turn out given at the start of the series (which starts exactly like a fairy tale crossed with mahou shoujo) and built up through the first half are knocked down, steadily and systematically, in the second half. The first half flows exactly as you’d expect a mahou shoujo series to flow, done sublimely and with grace, as befiutting its ballet motif.  The ballet aspect works well in emphasizing the meta-fiction aspect of the series: whenever Princess Tutu shows up, the backgrounds, normally standard anime, suddenly fade to white lines on black as though they were now proscenium, and spotlights show up on the characters like they’re on stage performing an act. Drosselmeyer’s story encompasses, generally, only this aspect, while the outside events grind their way through each episode to produce the desired conclusion. It’s only in the second half that the lines between what is “story” and what is “real” start to blur and get mind-bendingly confusing.

I’m no expert on ballet, since I lack sufficient culture points to pour into that stat at the moment, but Princess Tutu overall feels extremely like a ballet. I’ve heard hearsay that the plot structure is quite similar to an actual ballet, and I’m inclined to believe that. Ballet often is described as a form of interpretive dance, I believe–and if not, I’m calling it that for now, so take that, centuries of art scholarship–and while the actual dance the characters may be performing at the moment is often interpreted in dialogue by the characters themselves (thereby preventing me from being horribly confused at these moments, and, instead, only normal levels of Princess Tutu-generated confusion), the “dance” and the “interpretation” might not exactly be what we might think it is in Princess Tutu. Are the main characters merely performing an elaborate act, or do they have free will? If they have free will, do they only think they have free will because the story wants them to think such? Why is my brain puddled on the floor and quivering slightly?

I believe this image sums up the elegance of Princess Tutu–both character and anime.

However you wish to interpret Princess Tutu, it’s still seemingly sadly overlooked. A series that literally breaks the fourth wall as Princess Tutu does seems like it would require razor-sharp precision to avoid making a misstep and sending everything awry, yet it accomplishes that delicate task with the grace and finesse true to its ballet motif. It refuses to succumb to the expectations one might have of the series: the ending was nothing like how I’d imagine it would have worked out from episode 1, and yet everything that led to the grand finale made perfect, logical sense as the story unfolded, and never felt forced. Perfect? No–but I’m also perfectly sure I don’t care if it isn’t.

I still feel like going to a ballet, though.


I cannot understand those that take anime seriously, but I can love them, and I do. Out of my love I warn them to keep clear of this blog.

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January 2009