Fandom: Princess Tutu
Spoilers: Throughout the entire series, split in half for season one and season two.
Notes: Some 4,800 words. Quotes are a mixture of dub/subtitled/fansubbed and there are a half dozen images from the anime within. Also, apologies for being a couple days late.
Once upon a time, a girl named Duck, or rather, a duck who wanted to become a girl, fell in love with a prince who had lost his heart. She wanted nothing more than to bring a smile to the prince’s face…
This is the way we are introduced to Princess Tutu. Although more complex than the fairytale that first weaves the story, it remains about love that endures and overcomes all tragedy presented to it. Love that drove a prince to break apart his heart for the sake of protecting others, and love that inspired a duck to become a princess destined to restore the heart to the prince, even if it meant she could never be with him.
Ahiru (Japanese for ‘duck’) is the main character of Princess Tutu, an anime about ballet, fairytales, and some serious identity crises. Her true form is a small, yellow duckling and she is only able to turn into a girl with the help of a magical pendant the old storyteller, Drosselmyer, bestows upon her in exchange for taking up the role of Princess Tutu. However, if she quacks or gets seriously hurt she will revert to a duck until she splashes water on herself, and without the pendant she can’t become Princess Tutu or girl at all. This gift comes with a weighty consequence as well, if she ever tries to confess her love to the prince she is destined to share Tutu’s fate in the original story—to vanish in a speck of light.
In human form, Ahiru retains a lot of duck-like qualities in her speech and flighty nature. She is determinedly cheerful, easily flustered, and a spaz. In fact, at the ballet academy, Ahiru is constantly in danger of being dropped into the probationary class. But despite her awkwardness, Ahiru’s well-meaning intentions are obviously the most striking part of her personality. For good or ill, her naivety and reckless heart is what draws her to becoming Princess Tutu, despite not knowing the troubles she will later face for it.
This doesn’t mean she doesn’t struggle. Many of the common traits in magical girl protagonists are serious detriments to Ahiru. As a clumsy dancer she can’t compare to her graceful prima donna counterpart. As someone hiding her identity, not only as Princess Tutu, but as a duck enchanted to be a human girl, she questions how the prince could fall in love with her when she doesn’t even know herself. This leads to moments where she’s sometimes self-effacing and doubts her abilities to help others in any meaningful way. Yet despite being confused over everything going on in the story, the one unwavering feeling she holds is her devotion to Mytho.
“If I can be a girl again and stay by Mytho’s side then, someday, I might be able to put a smile back on his face, and if that’s the one thing I can do then I could wish for nothing more.”
Mytho is the storybook prince from Drosselmyer’s “The Prince and the Raven.” At first glance he appears to be nothing more than a soft spoken and handsome boy who is not quite all there. This is because he’s not all there. The heart he sacrificed to seal away the Monster Raven caused him to lose all his emotions and the only act of will left to him is an overwhelming compulsion to protect helpless creatures from harm, with no concern to his own wellbeing.
Since the plot revolves around Mytho getting his heart back piece by piece, he undergoes a lot of emotional changes. For the most part he is subdued in his reactions, and can be thoughtless in how his responses affect other people since he has no way to understand their feelings. As he begins to regain feelings he struggles to come to grips with his newfound identity, rediscovering his responsibilities as the prince. He also has moments where he responds badly, since the shards Princess Tutu finds for him in the beginning are associated with mostly negative emotions.
Throughout it all Mytho exhibits a noble persona as befitting the prince, although he has no memory prior to breaking his heart. He reacts to everything with a kind of childlike wonder. It results in Mytho doing very stupid things, almost following a wilis to the underworld out of sympathetic loneliness, or falling into a river when it questions him about his feeling of fear. But with more of his heart returned to him, the more he begins to act on his own, and the deeper the longing he expresses for Princess Tutu.
“Even if it hurts, when I think of you I can feel a small light being kindled and coming to life inside my heart. If you were to disappear, I feel like that light will be extinguished and vanish with you.”
It begins on a lake, with a duck, a prince, and love at first sight. Certainly the prince is handsome and graceful, but the thing that draws the duck to him is that he looks so lonely. Ahiru begs him to smile at her, but a duck can’t convey that kind of wish and he couldn’t comply even if he understood. Ahiru wistfully declares that she would do anything if she could only see him happy. However, she only remembers this meeting as a dream, thinking her identity as a duck and this sad prince to be figments of her overactive imagination.
Their first real meeting happens when Ahiru runs into the ballet classroom and finds Mytho practicing alone. She is completely enthralled by his dancing and, upon being noticed, trips in a fit of nervousness. Like I said, very clumsy girl. Mytho manages to catch her in time, although he twists his ankle in the process. Ahiru realizes he has the same expression as the prince of her dreams, but she ignores it because she’s so busy apologizing.
Ahiru: I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! I’m bothering you, huh? I’m really such a scatterbrain and I’m so bad about things, like everything, and on top of that I’m always too hasty like Pike and Lilie say I talk like a duck so I’m weird. I mean don’t you think I’m weird? Shoot, even I think I’m weird
Mytho: I don’t.
Ahiru: Huh? You don’t think I’m weird?
Mytho: I don’t.
Mytho isn’t being kind, he doesn’t think she’s weird because he has no judgment toward others’ behavior. Ahiru is simply glad she doesn’t seem to be troubling him. Watching them you realize something is amiss but at the same time it’s cute to see how Ahiru’s crush on him seems to burst out in her every word and how he patiently listens to her, looking at her as if waiting for something. Or at least waiting for a moment where he may have to restrain her from hurting herself.
Mytho’s roommate, Fakir, arrives and berates Mytho for getting himself hurt. Ahiru tries to defend Mytho by saying he did it to save her and Fakir snaps that such actions are pointless so she should stay out of their business. Undaunted, Ahiru later goes to see how Mytho is doing, which leads her to find him stepping out of his window to watch the birds. A raven attacks one of the fledglings and Ahiru can only shout helplessly as he jumps from the ledge in order to catch it.
The fall Mytho rescued Ahiru from earlier is reversed when she becomes Princess Tutu order to save him...with a bed of flower petals (this is still shoujo). Mytho has no reaction from his brush with death except to pull the bird from his nightshirt and let it fly free. It’s very dramatic with the Tchaikovsky score and the background fading away to leave them in a significant moment ™.
It’s cut short as Drosselmyer reminds Ahiru this is all a dream and she is just a duck. Tutu cuts off a surprised quack at this revelation, and runs away from Mytho. Yet even without his heart, Mytho’s expression when Tutu leaves is like someone who had a glimmer of what it is like to feel lacking. And that moment right there, the beat of uncertainty and when she pulls her hand away from him is when I first thought Mytho/Ahiru was interesting.
Ahiru’s trepidation over loving Mytho has weight and poignancy. It isn’t a matter of “will he/won’t he like me” or love triangle disputes. Not entirely. All of the trivial differences become layered with extended meanings. Mytho is not simply the best danseur and she the klutz, he is a mythical prince and Ahiru is...a duck. In fact, her reasoning for not telling Mytho about her triple identity may be the best explanation I’ve ever heard.
Ahiru: Oh no! What if he found out I was a duck, like the actual bird! “Oh a duck, you’re the worst. No wonder you sound like a duck. Shoo shoo!” Or… “My favorite meal! Let’s dig in!” Uhhh, I’ll keep it a secret.
Then comes the other dilemma. Mytho can’t love her back. He can’t love anything at all because he has no heart. So Ahiru sets off to restore Mytho by recovering the pieces that found their way into the cracks in people’s hearts. It’s not an easy task. Mytho’s caretakers, Fakir and Rue, see Tutu’s actions as a threat. The owners of the heart shard sometimes fight against Tutu taking it from them. Or the heart shard itself needs to be convinced to return. For example, when trying to coax the prince’s feeling of fear to returning, it lashes out at her. Tutu manages to return fear to Mytho’s body, but he collapses in a paralyzing terror. When Fakir asks what has him so afraid Mytho repeats that it is Princess Tutu that scares him.
Only when she hears Mytho suffering does she begin to doubt herself. Princess Tutu’s fate in the original story, knowing that Mytho is “with” Rue, they were all disheartening but she believed she was helping him so she pushed on regardless. But at the prospect that she has been hurting Mytho by giving him back his feelings, she falters. Going so far as throwing away the pendant and turning back into a duck, something even Drosselmyer didn’t expect.
Ahiru: I just wanted Mytho to smile. But he’s in such pain. Was it bad? Was I wrong to want that? Have I done something terrible to Mytho?
Mytho’s own recklessness causes her to become Princess Tutu again. He hears a voice in the river (his feeling of curiosity) that asks him why he fears Tutu, beckoning him to come into the water so could find out more. Ahiru realizes he may drown, but as duck she can’t rescue him, so she returns to Drosselmyer and becomes Tutu again.
Tutu rescues Mytho and tells him how sorry she is for hurting him, but she wanted to help because there were also good emotions she wanted to share with him. In the midst of her speech she begins to cry and falls to her knees, begging him to come back with her just so he would be safe.
Mytho stares at her. All he knows of Tutu is the feelings she gave him, and they’re not the kind of feelings you want to associate with your romantic interest. But he holds out his hand and says he will return with her. Because he doesn’t want her to cry. He says that the idea of never seeing her again is something he won’t bear. And it is only then, at the threat of losing her, that he implores her to return all of his heart or mentions wanting a heart at all.
One can see from the examples that the Mytho/Tutu dynamic is different from the relationship between Mytho/Ahiru. Yet the multiplicity of their roles—Ahiru as a duck, a girl, and Princess Tutu; Mytho as a heartless puppet of the story and a prince—still bleed into each other. There is the nature of a girl crushing on her popular classmate, the fondness a duck has for a human who treats even the lowest animals with the same consideration he’d give anyone, and the overarching tragedy of a prince and princess torn apart by fate’s circumstances. And, of course, there is the competition over which aspect is the “true” feeling between their identities.
But while Ahiru feels she can’t compare to Princess Tutu in Mytho’s newfound attentions, that doesn’t diminish the impact she has on him as Ahiru. Mytho wasn’t only sheltered by his missing heart. His entire existence before she stumbled on him was dictated by Fakir, his self-appointed protector, and Rue, his “girlfriend,” both of whom treat Mytho as little more than property. Ahiru is the first person to befriend Mytho, the first to treat him like a human being.
Ahiru: You don’t understand love, Mytho-sempai?
Mytho: (scratches his hand against a plant) Mytho is fine.
Ahiru: Mytho-sempai! I mean, Mytho! Your hand!
Ahiru: Doesn’t it hurt?
Mytho: No. Why are you making that weird face?
Ahiru: It is...really a weird face? B-but you’re hurt!
Mytho: Fakir and Rue don’t say things like that.
It’s a cute contrast to their first meeting. Mytho finally recognizes that Ahiru’s behavior is different...because she shows concern over little injuries. But he still has no clue that she loves him, even though Ahiru is very, very obvious about it when she gets caught up in the moment.
Yet Ahiru’s friendship with Mytho is not his primary concern. Mytho has enough of his heart back to start seriously questioning the relationship he has with Princess Tutu. For someone with no concept of love and a rudimentary grasp of affection, Mytho seems to try very hard to find a way to express his feelings for her. And he is consumed with the need to know what she feels for him in return.
This culminates into an idea he overhears from Ahiru’s friends when they’re trying to encourage Ahiru to confess her crush to Mytho. Give a gift to the person to discover their feelings. And Mytho, completely oblivious, asks: What would you want if it was for you, Ahiru? Mytho/Ahiru is also a good relationship for that dramatic irony gut punch. Because Ahiru knows he’s not asking her, he wants to ask Princess Tutu. But Ahiru, confronted with the idea that he would even speak those words, can’t help but feel conflicted.
Ahiru: The one Mytho wants to see isn’t me, it’s Princess Tutu. But...
Rue also fears that Mytho’s feelings for Tutu will cause her to lose him, and turns into Kraehe, daughter of the raven. Kraehe lays a trap for Tutu by taking Mytho’s gift, a gem called “love,” and soaking it in raven’s blood. Yes, it actually is Mytho’s feeling of love that he gives to Tutu. Princess Tutu loves their symbolism.
Tutu starts to return the heart shard when Kraehe intervenes, trapping her with the jewel. Mytho collapses with the shard half in his chest and Tutu can only look on in horror as Kraehe rips the feeling of love from Mytho, sealing away all the other emotions that Tutu worked so hard for.
Kraehe: How does it feel to be bound by the prince’s feelings? It hurts, doesn’t it? That’s just how strongly he feels for you.
Kraehe escapes with Mytho, giving Tutu an ultimatum. Either she can remain silent and Kraehe will make Mytho destroy the shard, or she can draw the feeling of love to her with a confession, and thereby disappear. Although Ahiru is willing to give up her life for Mytho, she realizes it won’t save him. So after Fakir’s sacrifice of breaking Mytho’s sword, Tutu decides to convey her feelings for Mytho by dancing.
Initially Kraehe makes her falter by calling her a clumsy girl that is only borrowing Princess Tutu’s power. But Ahiru knows her feelings for Mytho are genuine and begins dancing a pas de deux alone, trying to show him that she wants him to complete her.
“I want you to be here. I want you to show me your smile. I want you to dance with me. I want you to support me, firmly, yet gently...
“The real me is just a powerless duck. But with you here, I can change! The feeling I get when I see you is what turns me into Princess Tutu. I want to protect you! I’m sure you never wanted to lose your heart. Smiling, crying, loving someone...in order to protect someone’s happiness you threw all of that away. When you had such a kind heart, that was the real you. I love you that way.”
Kraehe tries to keep the shard of love from watching Tutu’s dance, but that doesn’t stop Mytho himself. The prince lifts his hand, holding it out to her like he did before. His feelings have awakened at the sight of her and he’s smiling. Saying...“I’m here.”
Tutu, forsaking all grace, runs into his arms. And just like that, Mytho’s shard of love returns to them. Kraehe retreats, they find Fakir alive, and with his feeling of love restored Mytho asks Princess Tutu if he could dance a pas de deux with her.
Would this count as a happy ending? Perhaps. But the story doesn’t end here.
Season two is where most people admit they switch from shipping Mytho/Ahiru to the more popular Fakir/Ahiru and Mytho/Rue. There are a lot of reasons for it, especially since Mytho/Ahiru is eclipsed by the development of other relationships. Their own interactions change drastically. Mytho succumbs to the raven’s influence that has him behaving more like his sworn enemy than the gentle prince of the first season, while Ahiru struggles with guilt and her helplessness of being unable to protect him from the evil within his heart.
Their awkward friendship vanishes from the story. After episode fourteen Ahiru never has real interaction time with Mytho again except as Tutu or the duck. And I admit, that’s the part that disappointed me the most. The last thing Mytho says to Ahiru is that he wants her to continue being his friend because she’s the only one he feels he can tell everything. But after that the raven takes over and the story becomes Ahiru and Fakir facing off against Kraehe and Mytho. Mytho/Ahiru turns into something different, and many felt was the end of the relationship they fell in love with in the first season.
Regardless of the direction taken in the second chapter, it showcases vital moments explaining their tragedy. This isn’t a case of the male lead being brainwashed and brought back through the power of true love. The weakness in Mytho that the raven exploits is his desire to be loved and Ahiru, who can’t help but desire reciprocation from Mytho, can’t stop him from feeling that. All Tutu can do now is prevent Mytho from taking the hearts of others. And each conflict that has Mytho and Tutu facing against each other showcases an obstacle in their feelings that they can’t address except through others.
The one that has the most bearing on the relationship is Hermia’s. Of course the issue of speaking your feelings would resonate with Tutu. The scene where she encourages Hermia to turn away from Mytho and think of her feelings for Lysander is filled with regret as she tells her not to give up, that one day she may tell him how she feels.
Tutu: If...if I were allowed, I would also...if I were only able…
Mytho: Begone from inside me, Raven!
Mytho clasps his hand to his mouth from the pain. It’s clear even at this stage that their feelings still are seeking closure. And Tutu can’t help but look to her prince, only a few feet away, but impossibly out of reach.
Surprisingly, the biggest revelation in season two, Mytho’s silent reciprocation, is mostly overlooked. Episode 17 has Femio, a wannabe prince, interrupt the ballet class with his unusual dance. When Femio finishes he hands Ahiru a rose and says he is delivering “a feeling that can’t be expressed in words.” Mytho, looking on, clutches at his chest and images of Princess Tutu’s solitary pas de deux flash before him. His eyes flicker between the raven controlled red to gold while Mytho does the pose of love before collapsing to the floor.
Ahiru sees it as a sign of Mytho fighting the raven’s influence and doesn’t even consider that he might be trying to reach Tutu. She’s just relieved to see the Mytho she knows and loves is still there. And when she mimics it to Fakir, the gentleness in Ahiru’s expression comes from her hope that Mytho will come back to them.
“Words without a voice. Are they a sign of a prince’s return to his old self? Or rather, a pitiful death cry…?”
The other significance is when Mytho is recovering in the infirmary. Mr. Cat comes in to check up on Mytho, saying that it was a beautiful pose but ephemeral and tortured and if something is wrong.
Mytho: Love shines most beautifully when you love so strongly, that you would give up your life for that person, doesn’t it?
Mr. Cat: It’s possible it does. But love cannot keep shining forever on that feeling alone.
Mytho asks him what he means, but gets no answer. It could be a remark on the potential sacrifices, but it could also be that Mytho understands Tutu’s feelings for him at last, or maybe his own willingness to be a sacrifice. The scene is purposefully oblique. Since Mytho is fighting an internal conflict its validity is uncertain, yet Tutu is still the likely source of his questions. Foreshadowing that what Mytho and Ahiru feel for each other may not be enough.
It seems an accurate prediction. As the story progresses, even when Tutu manages to return Mytho’s feeling of pride, they’re losing him. Mytho is becoming more and more like a raven. When Ahiru almost runs into him on the street she quacks and turns into a duck. Trying to look inconspicuous, duck Ahiru walks past Mytho and he picks her up.
Mytho: Say, what happened to all the other birds? They won’t come near me, even when I call them.
Mytho: It’s strange, isn’t it? I love everyone in the world and want to protect them…
Ahiru: Ah! The prince’s heart!
Mytho: And yet, I also want to make all the world’s love my own. I wonder which is the real me. I want people to love me. But is it okay just to be loved? I don’t know...
This is the last moment we see Mytho resisting the raven. After this scene he’s given in to the desire to sacrifice himself. It’s really a moment of pathos; Mytho curled up over a duck and talking to it with wild eyes. And Ahiru can only give him the slightest comfort by remaining near him. She is afraid of what he’s become but she doesn’t try to leave. And Mytho, as wretched as he is, sets her down gently before walking off with the last murmurs of his resolve fading.
Realizing that time is growing short, Ahiru finds the last heart shards that were keeping the raven locked away. And then Drosselmyer reveals to her the last, tragic twist. The pendant he gave her that allows her to be a girl is part of the prince’s heart as well. If she ever wants to restore him to his true self she’ll have to give up that part of her.
Drosselmyer: And yet! To think returning the prince to normal is more important to you than your own problems! You’re a much different duck than you once were whose sole desire was for the prince! You should be desperately in love with the prince and want to marry him! Don’t you?
Tutu (looks away) I just...
Drosselmyer: That’s right. It’s natural to want to make the prince yours and yours alone...
But Ahiru has changed. Where she once threw away the pendant out of fear she was hurting Mytho, now she can’t help but hesitate. If anything it means she loves him more, to have such an attachment to the life she’d grown used to. Just like Mytho’s suffering over the raven’s blood caused him to confront that kind of desire. But Drosselmyer mistakes the unconditional nature of Ahiru’s love for Mytho when she escapes back into the story and resolves to finish it.
Tutu releases the pieces sealing the town, but it doesn’t save Mytho and it looks as if he’ll throw himself into the raven’s jaws. Tutu tries to stop him, but Mytho throws her off and it is only when Rue confesses her love that he turns back into a human. Even then he looks to Tutu first, and asks her if she was the one who saved him. Expectant and possibly wanting.
Tutu tells him that it was Rue, who had been taken by the monster raven while Tutu rescued him. Mytho then turns to Tutu and asks for the last shard, saying he needs, no, wants to save Rue and make her his princess. This is where the ending takes us. Mytho will rescue Rue and take her back to the story. Ahiru will remain a duck.
They don’t say anything more but Tutu nods sadly. It doesn’t come off the first time, and Ahiru has to make peace with relinquishing it, but in the end Tutu gives him the last piece, and Mytho smiles in gratitude in the moment before she disappears.
I admit it, when she vanished and Mytho lurched forward as if he could stop her, I cried. It’s a very brief moment, and once he realizes she’s not entirely gone he calms down. In fact the part where he discovers her a duck is the most bittersweet. He recognizes her from his confession before, and Ahiru’s brief moment of fearing that he would be repulsed by her vanishes, as he kneels and murmurs in an awed voice.
“Something so small and fragile accomplished this... Thank you, Princess Tutu.”
I think Mytho/Ahiru is a beautiful relationship despite, or partly because of, its nature to remain unrequited. The manga storyline presents a clearer case for Ahiru and Mytho ending up together, but it remains less satisfying than its anime counterpart simply because the struggles aren’t as epic. Supporters of Mytho/Ahiru generally tend to respect the sheer amount effort the characters put in for it and want them together because it’s the thing that would make the “happy ending” come true. However, there are plenty of other reasons to love it.
It’s both archetypal and unconventional. I’m always surprised to hear people say Mytho/Ahiru was what they expect of magical girl anime. Yes, it makes sense that the prince would reciprocate for the princess that restored his heart and loved him so much. It’s the way that fairytales work. But the theme of Princess Tutu is denying the expected outcome, the happy ending, and it was abundantly clear the very mechanics of the story were set against them. The biggest twist wasn’t whether or not they would reciprocate their feelings, but how the end would allow them to resolve those feelings between Mytho and Ahiru.
Even fans of other pairings should appreciate Mytho/Ahiru for the way it offsets the relationships in Princess Tutu. It’s not simply the catalyst for the plot, but also becomes the standard the characters use to compare their feelings for each other. Without Ahiru’s love for Mytho first inspiring her to transcend her role as something more than a duck, we can’t fully appreciate Ahiru’s feelings for Fakir giving her the strength to accept herself as she is later on. Mytho choosing Rue to be his princess, even though spent most of the series as an antagonist, showcases the redemptive qualities of love. Especially when compared to how he spent most of the series pursuing Tutu, who is responsible for redeeming him and honestly deserves it more. But sometimes love isn’t about merit or how much you want it, and that’s part of their relationship too.
Mytho/Ahiru is not destined. These two aren’t just star crossed, but story crossed, species crossed and yet they continue to gravitate together out of need to complete each other’s purposes. They are from unconnected fates and Tutu’s feelings were expected to be unrequited. The beauty of the series is that you never feel as if the story is merely placing obstacles in the path of their “true love” as they endure them to the end. Their feelings change too. Both Ahiru and Mytho grow dynamically from their relationship, at times growing closer and other times drifting further apart. They fight against their fate, they stumble in their roles, gain empathy for the other’s unexpected suffering, and ultimately change into characters who can overcome Drosselmyer’s set tragedy even if it means straying from the so-called expected conclusion of their romance. It’s why you can consider it a happy ending even if they didn’t get to say how much they loved each other.
“A feeling expressed...without even a word...”
They already know.
Given the small nature of the Princess Tutu fandom and the smaller still support for Mytho/Ahiru, there aren’t many fanworks that focus primarily on them. Which is understandable since their ending is very final. But works that captured good moments are:
Mytho/Tutu fanart by kaoru-chan.
Three Wishes by mellish
Hold Me Now AMV by Marisa Panaccio. Really a summary of Princess Tutu, which does a good job showcasing Mytho/Ahiru.