Like last week's review, this is another adaptation of a beloved anime series from the 2000s (although it took a lot longer for this one to earn its acclaim). Unlike that review, this one isn't a simple rehash of the source material...it's just a major downgrade.
PRINCESS TUTU (Purinsesu Chuchu), based on the story by Ikuko Itoh & Jun-ichi Satoh & art by Mizuo Shinonome. First published in 2003 and first published in North America in 2004.
Ahiru is a clumsy girl who wants nothing more than to impress Mytho, a boy who is as handsome and gifted at ballet as he is sad and distant. Edel, a local shop owner, gives Ahiru a pendant that allows her to transform into the magical Princess Tutu. As Tutu, Ahiru can not only dance beautifully, but also salvage shards of Mytho's heart from monstrous creatures. As Mytho's feelings return, Ahiru/Tutu finds herself in conflict with both Mytho's stern protector Fakir as well as the mysterious Princess Kraehe.
Princess Tutu was a mistake.
Not the show, mind you - the show is one of my favorites. It's the manga version that shouldn't exist. Virtually everything about this manga is a mistake, right down to the choice of magazine to publish it in. What madman editor decided that the best place for a magical girl adaptation like this was a shonen magazine? It wasn't even one of those that purposefully courts more of a gender-balanced audience; it would be the same magazine that would later host fanservice-fests like The Qwasar of Stigmata and body horror like Franken Fran.
This version of Tutu loses most of its fairytale trappings, becoming more of a traditional magical girl story in the process. There is no Drosselmeyer, no animal people (save for Mr. Cat, which only just begs more questions), and Edel is not a puppet but instead just a human lady with big boobs. I suspect those fanciful elements were execised in the hopes of pleasing the male readership, but all it actually does is make Ahiru's adventures feel hollow and extremely repetitive. The core of the story is still there, but it's simply going through the motions.
It's also extremely condensed, so there's no time to develop anyone in the cast. At most, we get hints of a sinister conspiracy, but even these hints are half-hearted and thuddingly unsubtle. Even if I didn't have the show to compare it to, I couldn't imagine feeling the least bit invested in these dull characters. It's like the story itself has had its own heart stolen and scattered to the winds, but there is no magical ballerina waiting to save it.
That half-hearted feeling extends to the art. It's strange because it's not like Shinonome is a stranger to drawing cute girls, considering his best-known works is the yuri series First Love Sisters. Yet all the characters here are so flatly rendered with such feeble, dull-eyed faces. While his composition is fine most of the time, his attempts at drawing magical girl transformations and dance montages are muddled and graceless. Then there's the fact that he keeps trying to add fanservice, and every attempt to shove boobs and panty shots in feels more clumsy than the last. I can't imagine a worse match of mangaka and story than this.
There's an afterword from both Junichi Sato (the show's director) and Nanae Kato (Ahiru's seiyuu). These feel like odd inclusions considering that both are in reference to the show. There's also an afterword from Shinonome (complete with a sketch of some of the anime versions of the cast, which look so much better than this own) as well as a few omake with Mr. Cat that are notable only for how unfunny and confusing they are.
On a final note, while Kay Bertrand's translation is perfectly serviceable, there were clearly a lot of people slacking off in ADV's editorial department. How else can you explain how a panel with a completely unaltered speech bubble got through to print?
Like I said before, this version of Princess Tutu was a mistake. It takes everything charming and substantial about the source material and throws it away, leaving only this hollow shell. Do yourself a favor and stick with the (readily streaming, frequently cheap, and always enchanting) show instead.
This series was licensed by ADV. This series is complete in Japan with 2 volumes available. Both volumes were published and are currently out of print.