I suppose I’m a rather huge fan of Princess Tutu‘s ending. It’s a touching send-off to the small town of Kinkan and I couldn’t help but stare with damp eyelids when Ahiru refuses to give up her dancing, even as she passes on her final heart fragment to her beloved prince, Mytho. The dancing quartet take up arms and pens against Raven, the townsfolk, and the sadistic pen of Drosselmeyer, fully prepared to sacrifice their deepest dreams and desires for the sake of true individuality. A final montage that cuts like hot knife through butter ends with a final shot of a duck and former knight by the pond which is as cathartic as it is bittersweet; the icing on the cake for a beautiful series.
But what stands out to me isn’t the beauty of it all but rather its brevity: there’s a cynical bite to the ending that makes my mouth water months after I’ve finished it. Throughout the final episodes, Drosselmeyer, the depraved storyteller behind the scenes, warns of the dangers of the Happily Ever After: it is unfulfilling and boring in its brevity and the happiness found in fairy tales is often portrayed as no more than a few lines of prose. Drosselmeyer treats this as a universal truth and no story which he finishes ends in happiness. The stories he creates and even his own are replete with tragedy and defeat, each with an ending and orchestral piece just long enough to let the grimness set in.
Drosselmeyer’s refusal to write a happy ending is plenty fair, considering that much of the original fairy tales to begin with were fairly grim. Although written with children in mind, much of them end on extremely bitter notes. Ashputtle, Little Red Cap, and Rapunzel use the horrific aspect of the fairy tale in order to drive home a lesson, usually along the lines of independence or developing sexual awareness, and act as negative reinforcement. Women are forced into unwanted marriages, princes have their eyes gouged out by thorns, a child eats the flesh of her grandmother, etc etc. What’s more is that happy endings truly were short for the 19th century short story and oftentimes cover a horrific event anyways. Although Disney’s success drastically changed general perception of what fairy tales are like once the VHS tape became just as relevant as the book, the first fairy tales nevertheless remain an important prototype for modern horror.
Princess Tutu‘s ending plays into Drosselmeyer’s fears freely. There is no care for his warnings about the brevity of the Happily Ever After and the finale is just as short and quiet as he had ranted. Kraehe and Mytho fly off together on their chariot and set to only faint classical music, Kinkan quietly adjusts to a world without Ahiru, and a knight and duck rest by the bedside of a lake without so much as a sound. It’s a quiet whimper for the story to go out on, but the whispering feelings breathed out by Ahiru’s and Fakir’s happy ending are so raw and undeniably affecting that any credibility of Drosselmeyer’s fades to dust.
It’s an incredibly cynical jab in an otherwise sweet and even cleansing ending, far better than Drosselmeyer could ever write. A finely composed middle finger, so to speak.