However, I believe that there are enough clues, both shown and implied, that the likely general timeframe of “Princess Tutu” can be extrapolated to a single 25-year period.
Number crunching, refusal to disassociate reality from fiction, doubling back on scholarly paths, and boatloads of overthinking ahead!
Starting with Drosselmeyer, we can see that there are five generations before Fakir. The question is: exactly how many years are in a generation?
Wikipedia claims that a generation is 20 – 22 years, others say it’s 25 years, and according to the Oxford English Dictionary Online it’s a period of about 30 years. For the purposes of this post, I feel safer deferring to the Oxford definition; this higher numer has the added benefit of potentially factoring in any of Fakir’s ancestors who happened to produce offspring a bit later than others. Also, I will be attempting to work mostly in base 10 when it comes to dates, since it’s just easier to deal with. As for Fakir himself, I’ll be mostly disregarding him until the end, since I feel that his age is more or less negligible in relation to most of what I’ll be discussing (though I will return to him).
So, assuming that a generation here is about 30 years, a rough estimate of the time between Drosselmeyer and “Princess Tutu” is easy to guestimate: 30 x 5 = 150 years.
Okay. Next step, to figure out about when Drosselmeyer himself lived.
Germany After 1800
Vests also became much shorter during the 1700s, the long vest being a remnant of the first third of the 18th century.
First Third of the 18th Century, Nobleman
Only the coat seems to have a place through the first third of the 19th century.
Late 19th Century, Bavaria
If all of this was taken at face value then that would mean Drosselmeyer was hitting his 30-year mark around 1730 or 1740, which would drag the timeframe of “Princess Tutu” into the late Victorian Era. This clearly isn’t the case, so something else must be at work.
What we have seen of the anime series itself indicates that it probably takes place a bit too late for Drosselmeyer’s wardrobe to be made up of contemporary fashions. So was he trying to emulate the fashion of an older person he knew, or perhaps the fashion of a writer of that time he wished to emulate—for example, E.T.A. Hoffman, who was himself famous for his fantasy and fairy tails, many of which had darker themes? Unfortunately, without more Word of God, we just don’t know, and trying to dissect the possible motives for his costume would be a winding, rambling, and likely fruitless road. For this point, at least, all I can do is employ the adage that the simplest answer is usually the right one, and conclude for the time being the Drosselmeyer was just a nutter who liked to run around in clothes that were many decades out of fashion.
Does this mean that we’re back at square one, then? Yes and no. Thinking of Hoffman brings up another potential avenue to explore: the evolution of the literary fairy tale, and how Drosselmeyer may have fit into it. For this, I turned to two books (When Dreams Came True: Classic Fairy Tales and Their Traditions; and The Brothers Grimm: From Enchanted Forests to the Modern World) by Jack Zipes, a leading authority in the field of fairy tale and folklore scholarship.
Unsurprisingly, everything starts with the Grimms. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm did not start collecting tales until about 1805, and then only at the behest of fellow scholar Clemens Bretano. These tales were first published in a collection in 1812, and were much darker and starker than later versions, which were continuously edited, sanitized, and Christianized until the publication of the collection’s 7th edition in 1857. Perhaps surprisingly to us, though, the tales were not an immediate success in Germany; nevertheless, they were incorporated in to teaching curriculums in Prussia by the 1870s. Despite this lack of popular support, though, the Grimms believed very strongly in sharing their research and findings with friends and receptive scholars. So, does that mean that Drosselmeyer could have been a contemporary of the Grimms, perhaps even meeting them and learning about the early versions of their tales?
Well, maybe. The early versions of the story are indeed dark and violent, especially compared to the much more child-friendly versions of later years, but they nevertheless still end happily for the most part. Compounding the problem is that, according to Zipes, the Grimm’s major accomplishment in publishing their two volumes of tales in 1812 and 1815 was to “create the ideal type of literary fairy tale.” Though the brothers sought to be as close as possible to what they perceived to be the oral tradition, they regularly incorporated stylistic and thematic motifs that were meant to appeal to the literary sensibilities of the growing middle-class. In other words, the “classic” fairy tale as we know it today only truly took on a formalized structure with the Grimms. As for Drosselmeyer, his whole schtick was subverting the classic fairy tale genre by giving every (presumably) story he wrote a tragic ending. Yet, genres are hard to subvert while they are still being developed and their various tropes haven’t quite been ironed out, so it is probably more likely that he was writing his stories sometime after the first few editions of the Grimms’ fairy tales.
But who else could have influenced his work? A look at the anime’s main character might very well provide a clue. After all, the moment an awkward, unskilled duckling is made the central player of a story, particularly when it’s contrasted with a swan, there are few among us who would not automatically be reminded of “The Ugly Duckling” by Hans Christian Anderson. In some ways, this seems to be a better fit for a potential contemporary of Drosselmeyer. Many of Anderson’s stories, written between the late 1830s and the mid-1840s (“The Little Mermaid,” 1837; “The Ugly Duckling,” 1843) do not have happy endings, but rather end with the death of the protagonist. Also, regardless of the ultimate fate of the main character, he or she must always undergo some kind of humiliation or punishment, the suffering apparently meant to show the inherent virtues of the unfortunate recipient. Drosselmeyer certainly loved to see his characters suffer, though for him it had more to do with the simple banality of happy ending than with any kind of Anderson-esque Christian moralizing. This does not mean that Drosselmeyer was, conclusively, not a contemporary of Anderson, though it does beg the question as to whose fairy tales could be said to be most like his implied works.
Carlo Collodi, an Italian writer, first began publishing serial chapters of what would one day become Pinoccio in 1880; the chapters were later published together in book form in 1883. As Zipes explains, Collodi’s aim was to question the social norms of his time by turning genres and the “real world” they described upside down. The result was that each episode of the story begins as a strange situation which leads to a near tragedy so improbable that it borders on the ridiculous. In other words, Collodi was reworking the fairy tale genre as tragicomedy.
Later, in 1888, Oscar Wilde published both of his fairy tale collections. His stories are perhaps best well known for their intensely tragic endings. Though much of the narration of these tales follows the standard literary fairy tale formula, they always end with death, despair, and nothing truly gained.Wilde’s version of the fairy tale seems to be the closest to what little can be implied of Drosselmeyer’s own works. However, this would not necessarily mean that Drosselmeyer was writing after him. In fact, with no evidence to the contrary as of yet, it could even be argued that Drosselmeyer came before both these authors and influenced their work. So it seems likely that he was hanging out sometime between Anderson and Wilde.
Yet, this line of reasoning remains theoretical at best, especially since we don’t have any actual texts of Drosselmeyer’s stories. Fortunately, the anime itself implies that, at least in “Prinz und Rabe,” Drosselmeyer incorporated ballet motifs and storylines into his writing. That means we can reasonably look at the history of ballet itself to provide further information on the subject of a possible timeframe for “Princess Tutu.”
I will actually be starting not with “Swan Lake,” but with “La Sylphide.” The reason for this is twofold. First of all, a key plot point of the ballet is that the titular sylphide loves James, a Scottish villager, but she will die if she is held, embraced, or pinned down. This resonates thematically with Tutu’s fate to turn into a speck of light and disappear when she confesses her love, even as the precise manner of the disappearance has more in common with the fate of Anderson’s Little Mermaid. Still, if Drosselmeyer had happened to see a performance of this ballet—first danced in 1832 (a mere five years before the publication of “The Little Mermaid”)—it may have planted the creative seed for Tutu’s role in “Prinz und Rabe.” This was also the first ballet to have its dancers go en pointe as more than just a burlesque trick, brief though it was. Since Tutu is shown to perform this feat to perfection, the implication is that, by the time “Prinz und Rabe” was written, dancing en pointe had become accepted as a true technique of ballet dancing. Secondly, and what I find most interesting, are the similarities between Tutu’s costume and that of “La Sylphide’s” first performer, Marie Taglioni.
Marie Taglioni, "La Sylphide"
If we disregard the different cuts of the dresses and the “Swan Lake” feather headdress Tutu wears, there are noticeable stylistic similarities between the two outfits. For one thing, Taglioni’s costume had small wings on the back, just as Tutu’s does. Taglioni also wore beaded bracelets (pearls, in her case), and her dress had slightly puffed sleeves. In short, it may have been that the sylphide’s costume, as well as her story, influenced Drossselmeyer’s writing of Tutu.
Of course, the main thematic parallel used in “Princess Tutu,” and presumably hinted at in “Prinz und Rabe,” is that of “Swan Lake.” Because this particular ballet is so central to the story of the anime, it can be surmised that Drosselmeyer was at least aware of that plot as he was writing his magnum opus, so it should be easy to just find out when it was first performed and use that to determine the relative events of everything else.
Unfortunately, there’s a slight problem: there are two 19th century versions of the Tchaikovsky “Swan Lake” ballet.
The better-known version of the ballet was first performed in St. Petersburg in 1895. However, there was an earlier, darker, more violent and tragic version that had premiered in 1877 in Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater, though this version was retired from the repertory in 1883 due to drastic cutbacks in the theater’s budget. In this first rendition, summarized in the book Apollo’s Angels:
“…the ballet tells the story of a beautiful girl, Odette, trapped in the form of a swan. Tormented and pursued by an evil stepmother in the guise of an owl and demon sorcerer, she lives with a flock of similarly bewitched young maidens in a lake of tears. By day they are swans but by night they are set free to dance in the nearby ruins. Only marriage can break the spell that binds Odette to her watery fate, but when Prince Siegfried falls in love with her, the stepmother tricks him; an imposter black swan seduces the prince, who swears his undying devotion to this glamorous fake, thus betraying the real Odette and dooming her to eternal captivity.
“Realizing his mistake, Siegfried begs her forgiveness but—and this is the crux of the difference from later productions—it is too late. A crashing storm and terrible flood signal doom […] In desperation the prince tears off Odette’s crown, which is her only protection from the evil owl, and, consumed in guilt and grief, the erstwhile lovers are swept into the waters and drowned. There is no redemptive apotheosis, as there would later be, but instead a vision of a cruel and indifferent fate: the lovers perish and the moon shines through the clouds ‘and on the calm lake appears a band of white swans.’”
This version of the story certainly seems to be more in line with Drosselmeyer’s predilection for tragedy; the “lake of tears,” in particular, sounds quite reminiscent of the Lake of Despair. Nevertheless, if we assume (which I am) that Drosselmeyer saw “Swan Lake” at some point, that means that we have two different timelines to work with. For this, I’ll be using the premier dates of both versions of the ballet, rather than any of the many of other dates they were undoubtedly performed.
So, if Drosselmeyer saw the 1877 version of the ballet, and this proved to be the creative push he needed to begin writing “Prinz und Rabe,” then I can guess that he may have died in 1880. Why that year? Because: I don’t know how long it took to travel between Russia and Germany in the late 1870s, but I’m betting that it took a while; I have no idea how long it takes to write a book (even an unfinished one), so I’m assuming a bit of time for that; and working in base 10 just makes everything easier. In this same vein, if Drosselmeyer instead say the 1895 “Swan Lake,” then I’d calculate his date of death as being 1900.
From here, all that’s needed is to subtract Drosselmeyer’s age from both of these dates, then add 150 years to that to get the relative starting points of both timelines.
But just how old was Drosselmeyer when he died? 60? 70? 80? This simple answer is that I simply don’t know, and I don’t think anyone else does either. With no way of knowing his actual age, I’ll just arbitrarily take the middle number, because it’s in the middle.Timeline A: 1880 – 70 = 1810 1810 + 150 = 1960
Timeline B: 1900 – 70 = 1830 1830 + 150 = 1980
Of course, since there is no way of knowing conclusively when and of Fakir’s ancestors produced offspring, based on the information presented thus far these starting figures could presumably be knocked back 10 or 20 years. As promised, this is also where we come back to Fakir himself, specifically his age. Naturally, we don’t know exactly what this is either. I’ve seen his age described as being as old as 17 and as young as 14. Personally, due to the depth of his voice if nothing else, I don’t think he can be any younger than 15. That’s the number I’ll be using to pare down the terminal date of both timelines a bit.
1960 + 15 = 1975 1980 + 15 = 1995
Timeline A: ca. 1960 – 1975
Timeline B: ca. 1980 – 1995
So, this gives us two timeline starting points for the anime in the 20th century. The way to narrow these down even further is to next look at some of the clothing seen in the anime and the history of ballet in the 20th century.
A good place to start is the practice clothes of the ballet class. Despite a good amount of research, I could find no concrete date(s) during which female ballet students first began wearing leotards and tights. However, there are photos of the 1945 NYC Ballet company which shows the men wearing practice outfits that are a dead ringer for Mytho’s.
However, this does not necessarily mean that “Princess Tutu” takes place during the 1940s. Though Goldkrone was obviously kept sequestered from the goings on of the rest of the world, it’s still located in Germany. As shown especially in episodes 6 and 22, the town was not completely cut off from the wider world, and I would hazard a guess that this means that it is influenced by the German economy. Since the German economy was, to put it lightly, decimated by the end of WWII, who knows if the materials to make ballet practice clothes like the ones seen in the photo would have been available at all, even in Goldkrone.
Moreover, other clothes seen in the anime indicate that it takes place at a later date. Namely: Ahiru’s underwear. Don’t laugh, I’m actually serious about this.
The shots we see of the duck-girl’s knickers show what looks to be a standard bikini-style undergarment. However, women’s underwear of the 1940s tended to be short-like bloomers, and even in the 1950s and 1960s the top hem of these items did not drop below the navel.
Bloomers, 1940s 1960s
Bikini panties did not start to come into fashion until the late 1960s, into the 1970s.
This later timeline starting point is corroborated by ballet history. In episode 19, the character Hermia is shown to be dancing in a production that had costumes remarkably similar to those of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which leads me to believe that it was in fact that ballet in which she was performing.
However, this ballet only first premiered in 1962. I’m sure that the administrators of Goldkrone Academy, like those of any performance art school, kept their ears to the ground as to new ballet productions of merit, but I have no idea how long it normally takes for something new to work its way into the curriculum. Assuming a longer time, and still trying to work mostly in base 10, I could tentatively guess that the ballet “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” could be taught and performed at the Academy by 1970 or so.
What this leaves us with is a timeframe extending roughly 1970 – 1995. Oddly enough, the “Princess Tutu” DVD extras include a commentary on the making of the show by Ikuko Itoh, in which she states that by 1994 the setup for an anime she was putting together “had somehow become a ballet anime with a comedic touch based on ‘Swan Lake,’” a date which fits within the timeframe. Perhaps this means that “Princess Tutu” is meant to take place during the early 1990s? As always, I can’t be sure, but there it is.
For those of you who managed to get through all that, I commend you. Thanks for reading!