| Politics, Feminism, Princess Tutu and Sandra Lee
||[Jan. 9th, 2008|02:05 pm]
How's that for a subject line?
Bad phrase of the week: “I’m caveating everything today...”
Heard on the Diane Rehm Show this morning.
Also heard on the Diane Rehm Show:
“Barama is new, he’s fresh...”
I’m sure he is. Who the heck is he?
I was going to write about Princess Tutu today, but I find myself increasingly drawn to writing about women’s issues instead. Or in addition, or maybe they even go together.
On the good side, there’s Senator Clinton’s win in New Hampshire as well as the shaming of the pollsters.
On the bad side, someone linked me to this op/ed piece about a hideous op/ed piece from Forbes, Don’t Marry Career Women (Link is to the op/ed piece about the op/ed piece, not the op/ed piece itself – how’s that for confusing? Sorry!)
Back on the good side, the imdb reports that PBS will air The Complete Jane Austen on Masterpiece Theater, premiering January 13th.
So, do I have to struggle to somehow make Princess Tutu relevant to women’s issues? Because on the surface, before you watch it, it appears to be a fairly traditional fluffy-girly anime with lots of ballet.
(Warning! This discussion is much more spoiler laden than my usual discussions and reviews of things I’ve watched on Netflix. It assumes you’ve seen the series. If you haven’t, parts of it won’t make much sense but it will definitely spoil you for the ending.)
And yet ... it turns out to be very non-traditional in some respects and not particularly fluffy, either.
Since I finished it, I’ve been trying to decide if the Prince’s vapid personality was intentional or just followed the long tradition of princes who were merely ciphers a la Prince Charming (not the one from Shrek - I’ll discuss him later) or if he was consciously written and drawn as a foil for Fakir,
I actually found Tutu herself to be not terribly interesting, at least when compared to Rue/Kraehe and most especially when compared to Fakir. She is even less interesting to me than Edel (though those two characters do at least have regression in common). Fakir and Rue/Kraehe are much more complex than Tutu, and both of them show a great deal more growth and character development over the course of the series than Duck/Tutu does. Duck’s unwillingness to let go of her childish infatuation with Mythos and really open her eyes to Fakir really bothered me. I wondered if I was supposed to admire her unfailing loyalty to Mythos to the point that I forgave her inability to love Fakir as much as he loved her. I couldn’t bring myself to do that, and in the end it left me with a niggling dissatisfaction with Duck/Tutu that almost made me satisfied she was a duck in the end. I think there was a way for her to recognize Fakir’s goodness and love him without being disloyal to Mythos. It requires the ability to love more than one person and to love in multiple ways, which is something Tutu certainly should have been capable of, and I think to at least some extent was. She just didn’t do it in a way that satisfied me, personally. So part of me thinks Fakir deserves better (actually, no, all of me does). But then so does Rue/Kraehe. (I wonder if there’s Fakir/Rue fic around somewhere. That might be interesting.)
And yet ... I have to admit I cried throughout the last two episodes and most of my tears were shed for Duck/Tutu. I can understand how much it must have hurt to hear Mythos declare he was taking Rue as his princess. I can understand how much she longed to remain a girl rather than turn back into a duck and how hard that sacrifice must have been for her.
Free Will vs. Destiny
This is probably the most frequently appearing and probably the main theme of the series. The primary issue is, are the characters destined to perform as the writer has written them or are they able to exercise free will and act independently. Echoing this is Rue/Kraehe’s story - is she forced to act as a crow and try to bring the Raven a heart because she was fed the Raven’s blood or is she able to exercise her free will and resist? The series comes down rather heavily in favor of free will, though it recognizes destiny/fate as a force that must be overcome. So there’s not really that much to discuss here. The different ways the issue arises throughout the series, with the book-ending remover group, Duck/Tutu’s resistance of her presumed fate of turning into a speck of light and vanishing, and most of all with Fakir and Rue resisting their respective destinies as provided by Drosselmeyer as the writer are more worthy of discussion than the series’ take on the issue overall. Predestination is rather simplistically presented as a form of sadism throughout the series and resistance to it as a virtue. I can’t disagree with that attitude towards predestination, but I did think the treatment was sometimes heavy-handed.
Marriage to a Cat as Punishment (and marriage as punishment in general)
This one had me boggled. I had never heard of a theme of forced marriage to a cat in western folklore. After looking it up, I find it is a theme in Japanese folklore (See here for info, but the concept of it being a punishment isn’t. That appears to be new to the Princess Tutu series. Especially since this anime is directed at young girls, I found this particularly disturbing. Certainly forced marriage is something to be avoided, but the idea of marriage as a punishment is truly disturbing to me. On a lighter note, I thought it was funny that the Cat only behaved in a feline manner immediately after threatening marriage.
Use of Ballet Storylines
This is not a theme, but more a construct that allows the major theme to evolve from episode to episode and I thought it worked a little better than I expected. On the one hand, most of the storylines of well-known ballets contain fairly universal Romantic themes, which makes them easy to work with. After all, the majority are based on folklore and fairytales. What this series did especially well, though, was give those storylines a neat twist that helped them feel less contrived than I expected them to be. As a result, the overall storyline to the series and the plot of each episode manage to be both comfortingly familiar and thought-provokingly new.
Edel is a minor character, but one who encapsulates and exemplifies the free-will versus destiny theme. Not only does she rebel by giving her life so Fakir can resist his own destiny and live, she manages to come back in a form that, while regressed, plays a fairly large role in the other characters’ destinies. I found her intriguing, though sometimes so odd she was off-putting.
Rue/Kraehe’s story was touching and for the most part affirming, though I was only moderately happy with the ending. This is partly because I don’t particularly care for Mythos. I thought Rue sort of got the short end of the stick by ending up with Mythos. But maybe he’s better in the story they went off to. And he is her happy ending and kidnapping and abuse victim that Rue is, a sweet happy ending is, I suppose, what she deserves. It at least made me feel that her resistance to the Raven was vindicated. Rue is a tremendously tragic character. I enjoyed the way she was presented as both a friend and nemesis to Duck/Tutu. She reminded me a little of what Smallville’s Lex Luthor should have been. And in the end, her resistance is heroic and her victory against the Raven is very satisfying.
Fakir is by far my favorite character. I’m going to try to resist the urge to gush over him, though. I think that by the end of the series, he shows the most growth and development of any of the characters. In fact, the final scene made me feel that he was the protagonist of the series, rather than Duck/Tutu. I think he’s fairly easy to identify with – a loyal knight who rather than accepting his fate fights for his free will while remaining loyal. Fakir is gifted, intelligent and just the right amount and type of cranky to be interesting. He’s set up originally as a foil/enemy for Tutu, and watching them come together as the series progresses was the highlight for me. I also founded it endearing that he first felt kindness towards duck in her most regressed and truest form and enmity towards her in her most contrived form. He thus appears to love what is true and real and reject falsehoods. No wonder the author could not control him! And yet he turns out to take on the role of the author himself. The wonderfully open ending lets the viewer decide just what kind of author Fakir is in the future, and that made me very happy.
How does any of this relate to women’s issues?
Eh, well. It’s an anime primarily directed at a female audience. It has one and a half strong and empowered female characters in Rue/Kraehe and Duck/Tutu. It deals with forced marriage in a strange and sometimes-funny, sometimes-disturbing way and it has the most non-fairytalish ending of a fairytale I can think of, as the heroine ends up not with the vapid prince but with his far more intriguing sidekick, and instead of being some sort of transported princess, she has reverted to duck form. In other words, the reality of her existence pwns her fairytale desires. I find that quite refreshing. It firmly condemns abuse and abusive relationships. I think there are probably other feminist issues involved as well. If you’ve seen it, flist, what do you think?
In summary, for such a short series, Princess Tutu addresses some interesting issues, manages to develop two very interesting characters in Fakir and Rue/Kraehe and is very enjoyable overall. It’s not as complex as, say, FMA but then it is much shorter. I’m a ballet fan, so I got a kick out of the dancing and out of the use of classical ballets woven into the storylines. You should consider yourself warned that this anime contains very dark themes and images, some what which may be unsuitable for young children. But then the folk stories it is based on and takes its inspiration from are also quite dark in their original forms.
I loved Princess Tutu and would definitely both watch it again and recommend it.
And finally, I’m going to briefly discuss one other woman I was re-introduced to over the holidays. I’ve scoffed as much as anyone over Sandra Lee’s show on the Food Network and mocked her in my head more times than I care to remember. I admit that upfront. A little over a week ago I watched her “Chefography” on Food Network. While I still think the food prepared on Semi-Homemade is unhealthy, after watching that show I have much more sympathy for her than I ever thought I would have, and I can even understand why and how she came up with the concept. Just as she did, I started cooking the family meals when I was 12, but I at least had a little guidance and direction and my parents, though almost completely absent as parents, were foodies and cooks themselves and had taught me how to prepare food. Ms. Lee did not have that advantage. She had, at that time, been ripped away from the only person who tried to parent her and forced to become a parent herself to her siblings. That she arrived at using prepared shortcuts to make meals appealing to her younger siblings isn’t surprising. The rest of her teenage years were focused on abandonment, loneliness and self-sufficiency. It was hard for me to watch, but I’m glad I did and I can’t snark on her anymore after doing so.