Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Magical Girls for the Masses

For the past few weeks, I've been watching an anime series with my daughters, Princess Tutu. We just finished it last night. I can't recommend this series highly enough. And I find that very, very strange.

Princess Tutu is a japanese anime of the shojo, or magical girl, genre.

Magical girl stories feature young girls with superhuman abilities who are forced to fight evil and protect the Earth. They generally possess a secret identity... Magical girls generally obtain their powers from some sort of enchanted object such as a pendant, a wand, or a ribbon. By concentrating on this object, in addition to speaking a special phrase or command in some cases, a girl undergoes an intricate transformation sequence and changes to her fully powered form. A major theme of magical-girl stories is learning to harness these powers and develop them fully.
The LumpenProf is not really the target audience for "magical girl" animes -- I'm a few decades too old and the wrong gender -- but I was fascinated by this unlikely story. It concerns a duck that is changed into a girl, who can then transform herself into a magical ballerina who tends to resolve each episode by inviting the antagonists to dance with her -- which sounds like crap, and which ought to be crap, and yet somehow manages to be very, very good instead. Even stranger is the character of Drosselmeyer (yes, the mysterious uncle from the Nutcracker) who is the author behind the story and who intrudes every now and then when things are not tragic enough for his characters to suit his tastes. Mixed into these Western ballet motifs are some thoroughly Japanese mythologies as well of soul-stealing crows and a ballet-teaching cat who threatens to marry the young girls in his class if they don't practice and pay attention. It makes for a wonderfully disorienting mix.

This series is so much more interesting than any Disney fare. The plots and and characters are complex and subtle, even though the basic story revolves around a thoroughly Disney-esque plot of Princess Tutu's quest to restore the lost pieces of a handsome prince's broken heart. It's wonderfully strange. It's also wonderfully strange that the LumpenProf finds himself moved to write about a cartoon of a magical pink ballerina.

I recommend watching at least two episodes before you decide whether you want to commit to watching the entire series. I also recommend watching it with subtitles and the original Japanese voice actors.


  1. Onechan and imoto will thank you for this soon.

  2. I hope they like it! I'm stretching a little far outside my field on this one, so I'll look forward to their more expert opinions.

  3. Heh! Drop on by Mostly Harmless and click on the anime or youtube tags for what they've been watching!

  4. Well, so far they like the ending theme and a ballet sequence from midway in the series, but even onechan (4) is young for the plot. We'll have to see when she gets into it....

  5. 4 is much younger than my own 9 and 17 yo anime otaku. But I'm glad there are still parts which are being fun for them and, I hope, for you too.

  6. Thanks! Oddly enough, the plot and main character's motivation sound weirdly similar to this Hottie Paradise 12-episode J-drama my wife and I have been hooked on via Veoh (cf. MH a week or so again for my initial reaction--we now have two episodes to go and once we finish I'll do a follow-up). Your kids are in the prime demographic this high school drama is aimed at, but it really appeals to people of all ages (at least in Japan).