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.

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

  1. 1 Faye 22 March 2008 at 6:37 pm

    This post made me want to watch the series all over again ^_^

    As well as the series having that brilliant characterization and general bizarreness that you mention, it’s also very, very fun, (those Nanami episodes are amazing) and there is plenty of Akio (shame that the same can’t be said about the movie). Such a bastard, but we love him. But as i told you last night, i think i do slighty prefer the movie over the series (i’m still amazed by it now). Actually, the movie made me cry three times and the only other anime to do that was End of Evangelion. I hope you watch it again after the series ^_^
    I think Utena is always going to be my favourite anime and reading this post reminds me partly why that is the case~

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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

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