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I recently finished something like my 10th re-watch of a very good anime, “Princess Tutu”. I’ve always loved it for a number of reasons, the characters, the ballet, the music…but this time as I start my own writing career what really struck me was the ending and the themes of happiness vs suffering the story presents. This will obviously contain spoilers for the end of the series, so if you haven’t seen and wish to remain unspoiled, bookmark this for after a good marathon watch.
A plot refresher: Princess Tutu is almost a story within a story—the characters belong to one Drosselmeyer, a deceased writer intent on finishing his story about a Prince and a Raven. He introduces the protagonist, Ahiru, who is literally a duck, to add a new element to the story and get things moving. It has lots of ballet references, fairy tales, side stories, and has a deep emotional undercurrent.
There’s lots to take in here (and probably an analysis on the meta of ‘Death of the Author’ my college professors would have loved), but I want to focus on the ending. As the story comes to a conclusion, Drosselmeyer is obsessed with the desire to see suffering. All four of the main characters need to be in pain for him to feel the story is going correctly. He’s focused on making the ultimate tragedy, one without end, with the characters forever trapped in the same pain over and over. It stuck me how much I see this in stories today across all media, that only suffering is considered ‘deep’, and stories have to end on it in order to be considered good instead of childish.
It then struck me that Drosselmeyer at this point in the story is clearly the antagonist. His opinions, his desires for a story he struggles to control, are shown to be the problem. It’s wrong to want only suffering. We see the characters struggling to break the cycle and not knowing how, and they are the ones who we root for—the ones focused on hope.
Ahiru, despite being turned into a duck again, uses the sheer power of her hope that they can all have a happy ending to turn things around. It’s her force of will, her desire to see an end to the suffering they’ve all gone through, that allows the story to end. And it’s all the stronger for it. A TV show that ends miserably after characters work so hard leaves such a bitter taste in your mouth. Isn’t it right that they deserve a chance at happiness? The characters want to make their own choices and be themselves after endless waiting and repetition. Despite being written for sorrow, their growth and yearning for love changes the entire world for the better.
Having the story characters rebel against their author is not something that would often come up in stories—we all know they’re not sentient, and in Princess Tutu it works as a story told in the context of the show. Even Drosselmeyer acknowledges he’s a puppet in someone else’s story in a very nice fourth wall nod as the show concludes. But it’s such a good showcase of the focus on our media landscape right now. Shouldn’t the struggles of the characters outweigh the desire to fit a mold of tragedy? Should we not, as writers, always try and focus on giving the characters what they’ve earned through hard work? What is it about many creators that they want only pain in the worlds they create?
I know for a fact I wouldn’t enjoy the show as much without this ending, and I’m glad to be able to articulate what about it is such an inspiration for me. Though characters suffer, they overcome, and that’s what makes a strong story. It’s also a good example of younger writers like Fakir rebelling against the older traditions. A huge inspiration for all of us going against the grain.
In the words of Ahiru, let’s give our stories the happy endings they deserve.