- Genre : School, drama, surrealism, romance, psychological, magical girl
- Episodes: 39
- Studio: J.C.Staff
Once upon a time, many years ago, there was a little princess, and she was very sad, for her mother and father had died. Before the princess appeared a traveling prince, riding upon a white horse. He had a regal bearing and a kind smile. The prince wrapped the princess in a rose-scented embrace and gently wiped the tears from her eyes.
“Little one,” he said, “who bears up alone in such deep sorrow, never lose that strength or nobility, even when you grow up. I give you this to remember this day. We will meet again. This ring will lead you to me one day.” Perhaps the ring the prince gave her was an engagement ring.
This was all well and good, but so impressed was she by him that the princess vowed to become a prince herself one day. But was that really such a good idea?
Revolutionary Girl Utena haunts me. I’ll be walking down the street, minding my own business, mumbling to myself under my breath, and suddenly I’ll think back on it for no reason. I’ll argue with it in my head or nod approvingly. It follows me around and I have no clue how to exorcise it. I’m not sure I want to.
There are many reasons this show made such an impression on me, for one, it thinks I’m smart. Well, to be completely accurate, it thinks we’re all smart but that comes down to the same thing… What I mean is this show is more like a loosely woven tapestry of symbolism and metaphors. It never actually comes out and says what it means. Everything is up for interpretation because the show believes its audience is up to the challenge. And at times this can be quite the challenge indeed. Occasionally it can come off as a full-blown mind screw, but I also had my share of eureka moments and these were thoroughly satisfying. Utena doesn’t spell anything out, it assumes you can read, sometimes though, it’s just not clear what alphabet it’s using.
The art and visuals are surprisingly tame considering the material although I did like the use of shadow puppet interludes. The animation gets the job done but could have been a little smoother considering how action heavy the show is. I’m guessing the creators decided not to take too many chances with the look of the series since everything else is so out there. That’s probably our loss as I can’t help but feel like they could have given us something thoroughly memorable to look at instead of the boring designs we got.
As I said the story is loosely woven and feels almost experimental at times (I haven’t seen it but I’ve read that the movie goes way deeper in that regard) and the characters are similarly abstract. Aside from Utena and her friend Wakaba, everyone feels off. In hindsight I think this actually stems from the fact that the characters aren’t actually in fact characters. They are philosophical incarnations – personifications of psychological traits rather than actual persons. I know it sounds a bit confusing but you’ll understand once you watch it – or maybe you won’t! You’re not likely to relate to anyone to recognize these people, but I don’t think you’re supposed to.
As I said, the show basically relies on the viewer filling the gaps and it can get frustrating, especially when you’re really not given enough information and the clues you do have are so esoteric they might as well be completely random. Sometimes I suspect that maybe Utena is in fact not the show I think it is. Control freaks beware, you are not going find much closure here.
The show obliquely hints at some very unpleasant subjects along with the obvious questions of gender identity and politics. Of course it doesn’t actually spell anything out, clarity is not its thing, but there are repetitive themes of every form of abuse, abandonment and rape throughout as well as some attempts to show their lasting impacts. It can get heavy or maybe none of that is true and it’s all in my head.
If you have heard of this show, you’ve probably heard it to be notable for its openly yuri storyline and to a lesser extent – its inclusion of a visible minority in the main cast. Both aspects have been discussed and written about at length so I’ll keep my own thoughts on the subject brief:
What I personally haven’t seen discussed though, is its acceptance of – for lack of a better word – promiscuity. Utena is in turns cast as the princely hero and the damsel-in-distress. She’s not only the protagonist and therefore believed to be essentially good by default, she actually represents purity and morality in the corrupt world of Ohtori Academy. Considering how weirdly prudish anime in general can get, you would think that she would be blushing and besides herself at the mere thought of holding hands, but not so much. Not only does she implicitly have sex, but she takes on several lovers during the course of the series and as far as I could tell, the show never shamed her for it at all. This is still unusual in pretty much all media. I’m looking forward to seeing more
Ant then there is that ending. I love that ending. Spoilers kids – although – well, you know, I could have imagined it. The scene with the swords all going for Utena is incredibly powerful. All the imagery of her trying to force herself in was beautifully done. I saw a testament of willpower of fighting against convention, of the crushing weight of expectation – again possibly all in my head…..And then there are those final scenes, where Anthy, who had willingly stripped herself of freedom and given up all her self-gouvernance, just quietly takes her stuff and leaves with her head held high because it’s her turn to be the hero. Those last few minutes just completely changed the story for me and had me seeing everything through different eyes. If you want to see a true expression of empowerment, you’ll be hard-pressed to find better.
I realize that the more I try to explain this show, the less sense it seems to make. So, after all this, did I like the series – I definitely did not hate it. Would I recommend it? – maybe, it depends, it’s not for everyone. What was it about really? – I’m not entirely sure. Can I say anything definitive – yes I can: this show haunts me.
Favorite character: Wakaba
What this anime taught me about myself: oh boy – we don’t have that type of time. If I had to pick one – I tend to play the martyr and that’s not a good thing.
“I am cleaning, I’m polishing off the wine bottles”
Suggested drink: Rose cocktail
- Every time Wakaba jumps on Utena – take a swallow
- Every time you see the shadow puppets – take a swallow
- Every time someone abuses Anhy – take a minute
- Every time Utena goes up the stairs – take a swallow
- Every time there is a duel – root for Utena
- Every time someone actually goes to class – take a swallow
- Every time someone falls for Utena – take a swallow
- Every time you see a rose – drink some water
- Every time the is unexplained surrealism – take a swallow
9 thoughts on “Revolutionary Girl Utena”
Good on you for reviewing some older anime. I’ve seen parts of it, but I should really watch the whole thing for the full effect. I also heard the movie gets really weird despite having great animation.
yeah – it goes off the deep end…
That I’ve heard. I’d probably watch the TV series first before immersing myself with the movie.