Archive for March 21st, 2008

Revolutionary Girl Utena: “For the revolution of the world!”…or, at least, Utena

Behold! Confused Utena! I don’t really know what I can say about the nigh-legendary series Revolutionary Girl Utena, but I’m going to try!

This is my third time through the series as a whole. I first watched it back in 2004 (or, at least, I think it was 2004…) and it was quite the ride the first time through. Then I watched it a second time in 2006, and that was quite a ride, but this time because I watched the entire thing over the span of approximately three days, the latter two-thirds in one day (I swear I didn’t mean to watch the whole thing that day, it just…happened) And here, it is 2008, and I’m rewatching Utena for the third time, and it’s every bit as enjoyable as it was the first time.

The first arc, it seems to me, serves more as setup than as actual plot generation. The arc focuses on Utena rather a lot, as opposed to the focus on Anthy which the later series adopts. The arc serves to mature Utena in the eyes of the viewer, from a girl who is merely trying to imitate the prince of her youth by dressing in a mannish fashion (and thank god for this) to a girl who could arguably be called a prince in her own right. If she were male, but gender never matters in anime.

At the beginning of the series/arc, Utena simply wants to seek out her prince and find him and live happily ever after with him. Instead, she finds herself drawn into the duels of the Ohtori Student Council (who has the best theme music ever: Densetsu – Kami no Na wa Abrazas [Legend – The Name of God is Abraxas]. Yes, for those avid Herman Hesse readers out there who also watch anime religiously enough to follow this blog, the whole spiel in the elevator to the Student Council room is a reference to Derian) . She wins the first of these duels against the vicious Saionji, and thus comes into possession of the Rose Bride, Himemiya Anthy.

As the arc progresses, she finds herself increasingly supporting Anthy’s change for the better, and the two of them become good friends. As Utena fights the other Student Council members for possession of Anthy, she grows ever more sure of what she sees as her mission, which is to free Anthy from the clutches of the dueling game and turn her back into a normal human being.

And then Touga steps in with a malicious plot of his own. Planting in Utena’s mind that he’s the prince she’s long sought after, he tricks Utena into losing a battle against him, giving him possession of Anthy and leaving Utena in a state of shock. The loss of Anthy is more devestating to Utena than she lets herself realize. It is then that she is forced to choose between her desire to help and nurture Anthy, and her desire to be loyal to her prince, who she sees as Touga.

Because otherwise the series would be 13 episodes, she chooses Anthy. And here it is interesting to note that, by choosing Anthy over her false prince Touga, she rejects the grip that the prince, Dios, has held over her since that fateful day in a coffin. She is no longer driven by a desire to emulate the prince in attire, rather, she has become a much more whole emulation of the princely desire. She stands up for what she believes in, even against insurmountable odds and a frightening new power of the Sword of Dios.

In the world of Anthy, however, the effect of this arc is small, but significant for the larger picture. In the second duel with Touga, Anthy realizes that Utena is her only true friend, the only one who likes her for who she is, not the Rose Bride that she represents. By so doing, she cancels the protection and power offered to the Sword of Dios in Touga’s possession. It’s a small spark that will later trigger the much larger concluding scene to the TV series: stepping out of Ohtori Academy by herself.

The series functions primarily as an allegory, which means that the events of the series aren’t to be taken literally Considering the sheer wtf-factor involved in the imagery and setting of the series, and general bizarreness, that shouldn’t be a surprise. Utena is one of my all-time favorite series for a reason, and the depth of characterization stands at or above thelevel of the  directorial wonkiness Ikuhara pulls off. The two function almost at a synergy, the way they should be in any story. Clever direction cannot not stand on its own merits, at least for me, and, while story can stand on its own merits in the absence of good direction, it does require at least competent, average direction to properly work. When the two are combined, however, magic is made. Or, in this case, revolutions. And swirly rose blossoms.

Spice and Wolf: Determined Horo, Helpless Lawrence

Yes, he’s useless again. This may be Medieval Moe Economics Thriller, but, despite that Medieval there, the Damsel in Distress to save isn’t a damsel at all.

Uselessness of Lawrence aside, this episode existed solely to set the viewer up for the subsequent episode, which will be the Climactic Finale for the series, to be followed by a special DVD episode of what I can only hope is 24 minutes of Horo being Horo. As setup, it’s all just kind of…there, but the Thrilling Conclusion to this arc, and the series as a whole, promises to be Quite Good indeed.

Since it seems that no matter what Lawrence does, he can’t catch a break from anyone at any time, I can only imagine how frustrating his life must be. Backstabs, double-crosses, and sneaky tactics a thrilling story make, however, and this arc is certainly much easier to comprehend than the first one. It almost makes me want to see Japan make Wolf and Stock Market, and have it explain the principles of modern economics so that I can maybe finally get a handle on the elusive maths. That, and it’d be fun to have entire arcs devoted to trying to profit off a collapsing housing bubble, and wolfgirls running amok on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. We might even encounter Alan Greenspan with wolf ears!

Seeing Horo interact with others of her kind (“her kind” being giant wolves), even if all she’s doing is yelling at them for being impudent, is facinating. I think, perhaps, what’s driving her to fight this newcomer isn’t so much a desire to protect Lawrence and Nora (but mostly Lawrence), but, rather, her sense of pride as a wolf. She’s upset at the upstart young whippersnapper of a wolf for daring to approach her and her party, and so, it must pay the penalty. It’s that kind of attitude that makes Horo a bit more than your average tsundere. It’s an admission that, despite looking human and acting human, she isn’t quite fully there yet, and she has a vicious feral side that might just get let out next episode. Bloodletting ahoy.

As long as Nora doesn’t die I’m a-okay with it, though.


I cannot understand those that take anime seriously, but I can love them, and I do. Out of my love I warn them to keep clear of this blog.

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March 2008