So, I finished up Baki The Grappler’s second part a short time ago and was planning on writing about it this week. Unfortunately, I read my thoughts on my Part 1 post that I just wrote earlier this year and I still agree with a lot of the things I said? (You can read that one here.) That means that everything I write will be just repetitive and boring. I don’t think writing a post about a show where none of my opinions on it have changed at all would make for great material in anyway shape or form. At least right now. Maybe later on. Instead, you are going to have to deal with some of my bad thoughts on a little show that no one has ever heard of called Revolutionary Girl Utena. Such an unusual thing for sure. I deeply apologize for this change in my own scheduling that came out of nowhere. Next week, the second to last post on Netflix anime tour for this blog will continue with Aggretsuko Season 2. You know, until I complete more Netflix anime. Keep an eye out for that post.
(Just to be sure, so you guys don’t get confused, almost everything I wrote about writing about unfotunately covering Utena was in sarcasm. It’s hard to tell with text based media sometimes, so I wanted to make sure everything was clear even with that danger of ruining my joke badly. With that out of the way, let’s get serious now.)
Revolutionary Girl Utena is a show of slowly unraveling mysteries and tons of complex topics and issues to explore and discuss as it goes along. Of course, it doesn’t start that way. Let’s start with we do know first. Utena Tenjou is a tall school girl that is insanely athletic, wears a male uniform top with red short shorts because she has legs, is great friends with a girl named Wakaba, and goes to Ohtori academy where everyone fauns over her and her prince-ness. Maybe not the most ordinary things, but this is anime after all. The ordinary in any series could be the extraordinary for all of us. But that’s just where it all starts. Utena also wears a rose ring of mystery, given to her by a prince, is an object that she just think is a memory tool until the moment happens when everything changes.
In the first episode, Utena notices a beautiful girl named Anthy Himemiya being slapped and abused by a mysterious, long green haired student council person by the name of Saionji. Why? Because Saionji seems to think that Anthy Himemiya is his rose bride. Whatever that means. What does she do? Utena challenges Saionji to a duel, which he notices her rose ring, and accepts it. It was given to her by a prince she wants to meet one day, which is why she became like a prince herself. Down into depths of the strange world of Utena we go. In a secret place behind Ohtori academy, Utena climbs the stares of a secret area to her first duel where she brings a wood bakan and Saionji summons a sword from his rose bride’s chest. Despite her sword breaking, Utena wins the duel and shows up to her dorm with a new room mate by the name of Anthy Himemiya. The person Utena is now engaged to.
With all that in place, we are introduced to each of the Student Councilmen at Ohtori academy before their duel episodes. Touga is the playboy character who instantly seeks to feminize Utena because he likes her which is why they duel. Miki is a genius who is apart of fencing club and is great at piano, but wants Himemiya as his rose bride so they can play piano together. Yes, there is brother and sister sort of crush here because Himemiya would take the place of his sister in his heart who he always wants to play a duet with but knows that won’t happen. Juri is a character in a love triangle, but instead of fighting over the male in the trio, Juri wanted to be the girl friend to the other girl. Of course, the two ran away with each other, and all Juri has is her locket with the girl on it and a hate for miracles. That last part is the reason why she wants to duel Utena. Can I also say that Juri is my favorite Utena character because of her casual coolness when she isn’t the focus character? She’s just great.
I suppose there are other characters too. The characters that I didn’t like at first, but slowly grew on me. Saionji was a member of the student council and was incredibly possessive and abusive to Himemiya in the beginning. Somehow, he just becomes more sullen and grounded towards the end of the show because he knows he isn’t going to win any duel against Utena ever and just accepts his position as Touga’s friend. Nanami is the second annoying one and she is in love with her own brother, so she is constantly jealous of any girl that gets close to him. Especially Himemiya. In the first arc, Nanami constantly abuses Himemiya any chance she gets in whatever form she can get away with it and it’s just horrible. Of course, this happens because Nanami always personifies herself as being Touga’s +2. She really becomes a much better character when she comes into herself more.
I guess I should talk about Utena and Himemiya too, but those two seem like point of view characters most of the time and I don’t want to discuss some elements that happen towards the end of Utena directly. That’s were their built up friendship and relationship was actually tested to see it’s realness. For now, I’m going to merely side glance at it and talk about it from a thematic perspective later on in this post. Keep an eye out for that. I still have to say that Utena is one of the densest and ditsiest people in Revolutionary Girl Utena. Yet, she is also the purest character of the lot.
She jumps into situations she doesn’t understand in order to save people because she wants to be a prince. That’s how she got involved in this complicated situation with Himemiya. To be honest, Revolutionary Girl Utena wouldn’t work without her being that way just like how it wouldn’t work without Anthy constantly being slapped or abused by too many people in the show’s running time. Sometimes it’s painful, but it’s necessary all the way to the end where she truly knows what it means to be a prince no matter how superficial it starts out being. For Anthy, her relationship with her brother Akio, the chairman of Ohtori academy, gets more focus. Yuck.
Revolutionary Girl Utena’s plot development is what I consider systematic strangeness. Ok, I just came up with that term, but here is what I mean by that. Utena has to duel either student council members or people attached to each student council member in some way or form. So each duel in question is handled in a sequential manner and kind of follows up the theme of each arc which results in each character progressing in some way until they are focused on next. The student council arc establishes each character, the black rose arc following it examines all of these characters and their faults using the souls of boys from a boys dorm rebuilt after a fire so many years ago, and the next arc pushes them in the “what if we falsify what growing up means by making characters have sex with other characters.” I do think this format is a little tiresome sometimes considering how repetitive it is, but I think the characters are what make it interesting for me.
The fourth arc is the finale and focuses on Utena and Himemiya’s relationship on a deeper level so that doesn’t count with this scheme, but the point is that it doesn’t. Especially with Utena winning all the important duels forever. The three arcs and the fourth are connected in some ways on a thematic and story level. I can’t help but think that Revolutionary Girl Utena was at least running with two sorts of themes as the story progressed. Very connected themes because they center on the character’s relationships with different people, but Anthy’s rose bride situation and arc attached to her brother Akio are the core piece that attaches everything together. It would be a solid show without it, but having that to top everything off was powerful and meaningful. I can’t help but say that I think everything about the last arc was perfect.
The first important theme that Revolutionary Girl Utena seeks to discuss in my mind are exploring all sorts of negative and positive relationships. I think I can make the claim that everyone is bisexual or completely gay on some level in this show without much scrutiny, which plays heavily into the show itself. Touga is a playboy that has multiple dates with multiple girls, but he and Saionji have a relationship that goes beyond words too. I’m sure they’ve made out with each other before. His and Nanami’s relationship with her crushing on her is negative in the grand scheme of things, but Utena explores that anyway. Same with Miki’s solemn crush with her more sexually active sister who goes after boys and girls, when he tries to refocus all of that affection on Anthy. Juri’s relationship troubles with her senpai teacher and the girl off to the side is a relationship struggle that any gay girl probably struggled with too. (Wouldn’t know that myself.) Akio and Anthy have more then just sibling issues at the same time. Plus, everyone one of these characters falling for Utena in some way is only natural considering her natural charisma and awesomeness. I’m still shocked by how most of these people are in their early teens because of all of this exploration.
And lastly, we dig into Anthy’s constant sense of abuse. She is the rose bride forced into a relationship she doesn’t want to be in and suffering quite a bit of pain for it. Yes, this does have something to do with her unfortunate relationships with people of the familial variety too. It happens in Ohtori Academy because Anthy isn’t allowed to see more then the academy. That’s her cage she is allowed to roam because it’s her abuser and controller’s domain called Ohtori Academy. Utena is that strange, unknown presence that fights to take her out of it after hitting the fringes of that abuse cycle and seek to get Anthy out of it even if Anthy is so stuck in that cycle to the point where she doesn’t know what is on the outside. Still, Utena in her true prince form is the light that shows Anthy that she can do better then she currently is with her love. It works. That’s how the anime ends. Yay!
I love this anime’s visual style aesthetic. The fairy tale nature of the backgrounds of Ohtori Academy are absolutely wonderful to look at and add in so much to the story telling that it sells the parts of the show you usually wouldn’t be attached to. Plus, the backstories themselves are very fairy tale and I love that as well. The path the dueling arena and stairs fight it too. The shadow girls who are the greek chorus play to this aspect to when quickly explaining the themes of the episode in a unique way and separate the normal school environments to the strange dueling environment. Of course, not everything is fairy tale like. For instance, the character designs themselves are definitely late 90’s shoujo style. They are clamp, aren’t they? Each with their unique styles and clothing designs. Can’t help but love those too. So visually, everything is wonderful.
Revolutionary Girl Utena is an older style anime with over thirty episodes of what could include some filler episodes which effects the animation quite a bit. Why? Because it spreads the budget quite a bit thin except for key animation moments. So yeah, a lot of stock footage and such. You don’t know how often that specific Utena sword front slash is going to show up on screen. Plus, there are the constant Utena climb scenes to the arena which I find amazing and the lyrics absolutely stunning and catchy. Alongside those are the downward elevator scenes in the Black Rose arc symbolizing people’s disappear and how many times we see all those driving scenes in the next arc? Maybe it’s because I’m used to older animation and such, but I found that all endearing in it’s own way. The themes are able to carry it though.
Revolutionary Girl Utena is an absolutely ground breaking anime on an aesthetics level, character level, and thematic level. It’s Kunihiko Ikuhara’s first solo piece of anime and I say that he entered the anime with a loud bang. I doubt I was able to cover everything interesting about Utena in this little post other then it’s more adult then the sensors would allow it to be. So many sex scenes are either implied or cut in such a way that you can completely miss that they are sex scenes without context. It’s strange. With all of that, the ending gave me that emotional feeling of watching something unique like Eva again for the first time. Not many anime series can do that for me, so Revolutionary Girl Utena really is a powerful classic anime for a reason. It may be a little slow, repetitive, and visually boring some times with repeated scenes and stock footage, but I think that everything the show offers easily greatly outweighs the weaknesses in it’s presentation. Especially since those great things are still important to the world we know as of 2019.
I’ve seen Yuri Kuma Arashi and Sarazanmai from Ikuhara before, so watching this anime felt like the next step and I’m so glad that I did. Hmmmm, I suppose Penguindrum is next at some point in the future. I watched part of it in anime club years ago, but I just couldn’t get into it. Maybe I can now. Still, I’m not sure when I will get to that one though. Hopefully soonish. It might take a while for me to get into it though. I am currently watching some other things and I have my own slow watching schedule, so maybe it will be for the next turn around. Who knows?
Good review. I haven’t seen Utena in its past entirety, but there was unique stuff about it. I do like the theme song and the insert “Toki ni, Ai Wa…” from the movie even though I haven’t seen it. Funny enough, I have a review planned this Saturday that involves an anime remake of a live action series based on a manga which has inspired Utena and even Kill La Kill.
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Thank you! I still need to watch the movie myself.
Oh, which one? Rose of Versailles?
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You’re welcome. The only scene I saw from the movie was the rose dance part where that song pops up. I heard the movie gets really weird even by Utena levels.
It’s not Rose of Versailles, but that’s a good guess. The main character from this series could pass at Utena’s sister from the anime and manga. Hint: Think old-school ADV films anime…
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Utena reminded me of film school productions, where everything is intended to be deep with symbolism, leaving viewers to say, “WTF?” But I’m really glad they made the attempt. Even though it often doesn’t make sense, it holds up under repeated viewings as you see other weird goings-on going on.
Plus Utena and Anthy are great characters.
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That seems correct for all of ikuhara’s works, which makes then unique and stand out pretty well. I will have to watch Utena again sometime to see what I missed.
I can agree with that because I think all of them are great honestly.
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Heh, I was just listening to the opening song earlier. The whole story is a bit screwball, but it’s all-around stylish and stands out.
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That’s what got me too. It really is stylish and something special.
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