Admittedly, I'm biased when it comes to reviewing this anime. I started watching it at a very impressionable age, and the impact it had on me at that particular time in my life is astronomical. I also have a huge soft spot for anything surreal, gender-bending, absurd, existential, or psychological.
That being said, Utena fulfills all of those criteria beautifully. And it is enjoyable on multiple levels. I enjoy it as much now, at age 20, as I did at age 12. My understanding of the characters, the symbolism, and the message inherent in each episode has changed dramatically. At a young age I saw
everything as Utena did; I viewed the series from her standpoint, agreed with her fully, and essentially played the role of the fool. In the final episodes when she does not understand what Akio was saying, I did not either. Now I do. Now I sympathize with him, understand his cynicism and manipulation of adolescence, and now I realize just how truly revolutionary and powerful one Tenjou Utena was. Now I understand Akio's shock. He's lost the ability to see things as the iconoclast--the fool who is an iconoclast without being self-aware of the full implications of what he or she is doing.
But then, I digress.
"Utena" borrows heavily from the philosophies of Carl Jung and Hermann Hesse, most notably the latter's incredible novel "Demian". I highly recommend that those who enjoyed this series read the works of both men. The anime incorporates a brilliant and deft weave of existentialism and psychological analysis with excellent characterization and a degree of slice-of-life realism. There is a running theme of the discomfort inherent in becoming self-aware, adolescent discomfort, budding sexuality, and dissatisfaction with the status quo that is inherent in these realizations. These are teenagers who look for the meaning in everything; they cannot yet except there IS no meaning in everything. They want to rebuild the world. In this sense, these turbulent, anarchic sentiments are a throwback to "Demian"; they are the same sentiments that had an entire generation of disillusioned German youth hailing the book as a voice speaking on their behalf for the first time. In many ways, that voice is universal. "Utena" does it justice.
From a technical standpoint, Utena is top-notch. The artwork is gorgeous, the music lush, and the direction lucid. It hearkens to the era of cel-based animation with a minimum of CGI, especially as compared to current offerings. The seiyuu all do an excellent job with their characters. J.A. Seazer's musical compositions are worthy of stand-alone acclaim. They are quite unlike anything else known in the anime genre.
I suppose I am obligated to warn of the exploration of various taboo subjects beyond homosexuality (Utena and Anthy being one of few canon yuri couples out there outside of hentai), including incest; if you are squiked beyond your comfort threshold by this, don't watch the show. Otherwise, I cannot recommend this show highly enough. I acknowledge it is not for everyone, but if you are that sort of twisted, abstract person who would enjoy this show, and if you remember the growing pains of adolescence (or are currently undergoing them), you can't watch it soon enough.
Warning: Epically long review ahead, mainly because I love this series so much.
Title: Revolutionary Girl Utena
Manga, Anime: Revolutionary Girl Utena was originally a manga with story by Be-Papas and art by Chiho Saito that ran in Shogakugan's Ciao magazine from 1996 to 1997. It has been licensed Stateside by Viz Media, and the final volume, which covers the movie, was released on December 3rd, 2007.
Revolutionary Girl Utena has two anime incarnations. One is the original TV show, which is made of 39 total episodes, and was produced by JC Staff (famous for their work on Honey and Clover and Potemayo), and directed by
Kunihiko Ikuhara (famous for becoming the director Sailor Moon after the second half of the R season up until the SuperS season). It ran on Japanese TV from April 2nd, 1997 till December 24th, 1997. The second is a movie adaptation, which will be covered later in this review. Both have been licensed Stateside by Central Park Media, which is now defunct. Let's just say it's been out for a long time Stateside.
Story: "Once upon a time, years and years ago, there was a little princess, and she was very sad, for her father and mother 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 and 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 she was so impressed by him that the princess vowed to become a prince one day. But was that really such a good idea?" This is the story that a younger Utena Tenjou tells us as her older self, still aspiring to be a prince and dressing like a boy, goes to the prestigious Ohtori Academy. After her close friend Wakaba is cruelly treated by a member of the Student Council, Saionji and she sees him slapping Anthy, his supposed girfriend, she challenges him to a duel. The ring she wears unknowingly admits her to a secret duelling arena in the forest where Saionji meets her with Anthy, who is apparently the Rose Bride. Saionji then pulls a sword out of Anthy's chest, and things only get odder from there on out...
Utena is an absolutely amazing series.
On the surface, Utena is just a duelist of the week series, with recurring duelists. However, what makes this show so much more than that is the depth of character development that you get with the duelists, and even with the recurring minor characters. Each duel shows another side to them, and, in addition, reveals even more reasons why these people should go to a psychiatrist. Seriously, you could probably do a good case study on every one of the main characters, and a good deal of the minor recurring characters. Hell, even the girl who's mainly used as comedic relief gets excellent development and light shed on her psychological problems!
The other thing about this series is that nothing, nothing is what it seems to be at first. There are layers and layers to every single character and aspect of this show, and as the show goes on, you realize exactly what is going on at Ohtori Academy. There's some very heavy symbolism that uses some fairly mundane objects and allegories that foreshadow what's going to happen long before it ever does, and you'll only catch this on another watchthrough of the series.
Which, by the way, would probably be best after you've watched this the first time through. There's a lot of things that you only get in subsequent watchthroughs, and you'll realize just how much there is to this series when you do. I am convinced that someone could probably write a master's thesis on this show.
Warning: There are some fairly blatant innuendos and sexual images in this, along with hints of incest and major age differences and definite abuse. Oh, and there's lots of girls and boys feeling up/kissing their respective genders. So, if you don't like that, you should stay away from this series.
Art: The art takes a bit of getting used to, admittedly, with blank eyes, sharp edges, and heavy lines. In general, Utena is heavily stylized, but when compared to other shows airing around that time (Neon Genesis Evangelion, Beserk), the quality is fairly high. A lot of work goes into the background art and all the symbolism as well, all of which figure heavily into the show.
There's a lot of stock footage in this show, but luckily it's animated well enough that it doesn't bother you, and every time it plays, you can catch some new little detail about it.
Music: The background music for Utena is done by Shinkinchi Mitsumune, who also did work on Rozen Maiden's background music. From what I've heard from him, this is probably his best work, and I wonder what happened that he put so little effort forth with Rozen Maiden, compared to the effort that had to have gone into this. Every theme is memorable, and is probably some of my favorite music from a series ever.
And then there are the vocal songs that play while the duels happen, done by J.A Seazer. When you're looking at a translation of the songs, you're going to realize that they make absolutely no sense and just seem like random words thrown together. And, at first glance, they do. However, as you're watching the show through again, you realize just how much effort went into those random words, and that yes, they actually do mean something.
The OP, which never changes, is one of my favorites. It's not anything out of the normal standard for OPs out there, upbeat female JPop number, like with Ouran, but for whatever reason, I really like it. It's the same thing with the three EDs; all upbeat female JPop numbers that I normally wouldn't like, but really work for the series.
Seiyuu: Takehito Koyasu (known for his roles as Hotohori in Fushigi Yuugi and Haruhi's dad in Ouran High School Host Club) appears as the voice of Touga, one of the more interesting male characters in here and one of my favorites, and Kotono Mitsuishi (known for her role as Sailor Moon in the show of the same name and Misato Katsuragi in Neon Genesis Evangelion) appears as the voice of Juri Arisugawa, probably the most interesting female character after Utena and Anthy. Akio's seiyuu, juurouta Kosugi, was also Fernand d'Morcerf's seiyuu in Gankutsuou, and sounds like sex and malice incarnate. And Anthy's seiyuu, Yuriko Fuchizaki, brings an amazing amount of depth to her character, just barely hinting at what's going on beneath the surface and letting hints slip as to what she really is throughout the series.
All in all, an amazing cast.
Length: Thirty-nine episodes may seem a bit lengthy at first glance. And admittedly, there are elements that get a bit repetitive. But I'm fine with the length, as it allows you to see a lot of detail that you might not necessarily see in a shorter series, which works to the benefit of Utena.
Overall: An absolutely amazingly written and acted series with lots of depth, heavy character development, stylization, symbolism and allegories, and people with lots of issues, that has a lot of details you'll notice on subsequent watchthroughs.
Tied for my all-time favorite series. Watch this. You will not regret it.
First things first - "Revolutionary Girl Utena" (I'll just call it "Utena" for the sake of brevity from here on) is a weird anime. And I mean *really* weird. The surreal settings, the plethora of symbolisms that constantly assault the viewer, the sexual innuendos... the whole show is so bizarre that it's hard to know where to begin the review.
I'd heard a lot about "Utena" beforehand. Some say it's the shoujo version of "Neon Genesis Evangelion"; others say that Oscar from "Rose of Versailles" is Utena's spiritual grandmother; and many people consider it to be one of the greatest masterpieces in anime. Having seen it,
I can conclude that there is merit in all of those statements. Well, perhaps apart from that last one. For me, "Utena" is too flawed to be deserving of that honour. However, there's no denying that it's an influential series, and many of its influences can still be seen in more recent shows.
Although "Rose of Versailles" does have a certian degree of influence on "Utena", most of these extend only as far as the surface. The most obvious of these influences is Utena herself. Born as a girl, but lived most of her life as a "prince" rather than a "princess", the parallels between Utena and Oscar, the heroine of "Rose of Versailles", are obvious. A lot of the visual effects (such as the various rose effects) that "Revolutionary Girl Utena" deploys also seem to be derived from "Rose of Versailles", although a lot of them do seem to be used in a rather more tongue in cheek way. But beyond this, the two series are vastly different in terms of content. "Rose of Versailles" tells a much more straight forward story, albeit with the gender bender twist provided by Oscar herself, while "Revolutionary Girl Utena" is anything but straight forward.
Not being a fan of the overly abstract and surreal, I had a little trouble getting to grips with the show. For the settings in "Utena", you have this school with a bunch of these outlandish rules, where the school council members fights duels with each other in a secret tower in the forest for the possession of the Rose Bride (another student), in order to gain the power to revolutionarise the world... Whaddaf*ck? Is this some kind of peculiar school play? Alas no, it appears to be reality, just not as we know it. Utena (who is, in case you haven't guessed, the protagonist) is thrown straight into this strange setting, and initially, she seemed as confused as I was about the strangeness of it all. She does make some effort towards finding out what the heck is going on, as you would naturally expect her to do, but her efforts are... kinda pathetic. One minute, she's like "WTF is all this?! Duels? Rose Bride?? Power to revolutionalise the world???" Then the next minute she's completely sold on all the weirdness and, without anyone prompting her, starts drawing swords out of Rose Bride's chest and shouting key phrases such as "grant me the power to revolutionalise the world!" like the rest of those freaks from the student council.
And so, after this extremely half-hearted effort at forming a tenuous link to reality (I don't know why they even bothered to be honest), the scene is set for the rest of the show!
Despite all the weirdness of the premises, I initially found "Utena" less difficult to to get through than I would have expected. However, a few episodes in, I found an even bigger problem that made the going a lot tougher - repetitiveness. There is simply a ludicrous amount of it. If they took out all the repeated scenes, the series would probably be able to fit into a standard 26 episode season quite easily. In each of the arcs of the series, the same scene is reused to set up almost every battle as well as to end almost every battle. I've lost count of the number of times I've seen Utena accepting the power of Dios into her... it's the same scene everytime, no matter what the situation leading up to it is. Sometimes she would be crouching before the scene, sometimes standing, sometimes even with the enemy rushing towards her, but always, she finds the time to casually stand around, being infused with the power and then lunge at her opponent and win the dual. After seeing it 20+ times (and I don't think I'm exaggerating in the slightest here), there's just one word to describe this... BOOOOORIIIING. Perhaps they're trying to parody the transformation sequence of the magical girl, but even as a (not particularly funny) running joke, it wears out its welcome pretty quickly. The action scenes aren't even good, and they certainly don't become good after about the 30th time of viewing.
The repetitions aren't just limited to the battles either, they extend to the "Duelist of the Week" format. "Utena" really taken this format to extremes, with a lot of the scenes/dialogues being used to set up the duels being recycled to the point of annoyance. In the black rose saga, for example, every episode follows the same formula of some person with some personal problems getting told that their only option is to "revolutionalise the world", and it just seems laughable that it's the answer to all their problems
"My cat has died."
"I see. Your only option is to revolutionalise the world."
"I've lost my favourite red pencil."
"I see. Your only option is to revolutionalise the world."
"I got a hole in my left sock."
"I see. Your only option is to revolutinoalise the world."
You wouldn't believe how sick of that phrase I became. The dialogues often borders on absurd and smacks of lazy scripting.
But because of all the repetitions this show has, on the rare occasions when it does makes a deliberate change to the script, the contrast can really pack a hefty punch, and those episodes shines all the more brightly because of it. It's hard to say whether this is a positive thing because the resulting effect can be so refreshingly wonderful, or whether it's a negative thing because the show's repetitions drove me to the point where I end up over reacting to the smallest change. Probably a bit of both. Perhaps it's all deliberate, and you may say I'm missing the point as I'm unfairly criticising what it's aiming to do, but just because some chef *deliberately* poured a bottle of vinegar into a dish in order to give it an extra zany kick doesn't change the fact that he's completely ruined the dish as a result, and it doesn't make me feel much better knowing that it's all intentional when I'm gagging from the taste.
As someone who's really into character driven shows, I did not find the characters of "Revolutionary Girl Utena" to be particularly interesting in general. There's too much posturing and general displays of shallowness. Every week Anthea the souless doll gets slapped for some petty reason as she's the scape goat for everything; most of the girls are annoyingly vain, but most of the guys are even more so, and need no encouragement to unbutton their shirt and start poncing around. There's an irritatingly large amount of time devoted to this, while more fascinating characters like Jury are criminally under used. Admittedly, by the end, most of the characters do reveal themselves to be more than just faceless people in a dull crowd, but still, with a couple of exceptions, I found it hard to care about most of them at any given point in the show. It says a lot that I'm more interested in what Anthea's pet monkey Chu-Chu is doing than what most of the characters - Anthea especially - is doing. At least Chuh-Chu's crazy antics, in particularly when he's battling his arch enemy the frog, never ceases to amuse me.
Speaking of amusement, the nature of the humour in "Utena" is random, and whether it's effective or not also seem to be pretty random. There are times when it works but then at other times it's just... random... without being at all amusing.
The similarities between "Neon Genesis Evangelion" and "Utena" comes mostly from comes from the apocalyptic themes and also the mountain of symbolisms the two of them contain. If anything "Utena"'s use of symbolims is even more aggressive than that of "Neon Genesis Evangelion" - they're constantly being shoved into your face and, to be honest, I found it all a bit too much. As the author Stephen King once put it, "Symbolisms exists to adorn and enrich, not to create a sense of artificial profundity," and there's a sense that "Utena" is more of the latter than the former. In my opinion, symbolisms should be done with a subtle touch, preferably integrated into the show such that they don't stick out like a sore thumb. This way, it can be nice when you get them and you don't feel like you're missing out if you don't. The fireflies motif from "Grave of the Fireflies" is a textbook example of how I think it should be done. The intrusiveness nature of the symbolisms in "Utena" on the other hand, feels like it goes against the whole spirit of the concept, and it results in some completely bizarre scenes (f*cking cars popping up all over the place, anyone?) that can really be frustrating if you've no idea what these weirdass symbols are supposed to mean.
In terms of production values, "Utena" also comes up short. Other than the ludicrous amount of reused footage that I've already mentioned (they should consider displaying "Warning: Contains at least 25% reused animation! on their DVD boxes), the sound production quality also comes off as something more dated than it actually is. I was unimpressed by the much lauded soundtrack that consists a lot of rather experimental sounding songs with gibberish lyrics relating to apocalyptic themes. What's worse is that those songs tends to stick out badly, so not only did I not like them, I also found it hard not to take notice. It does improve in the second half of the show (I particularly liked the second ending theme, and one of the eyecatch themes is nothing short of beautiful despite its short length), but overall the sound department mostly comes off as a poorly produced, failed experiment.
But despite the amount of time I've just spent bitching about the show, I actually think it's good. It's just that I found it a lot easier to identify the source of my negative feelings towards it than the positive. I guess there's an odd kind of enjoyment to be had in "Utena" by turning off the part of your brain that's grounded in reality, and there's a certainly a kind of magnetism about the show that keeps it interesting. Amidst all the surreal madness, some of the direction is undeniably brilliant, especially in its execution of twists.
Ultimately, "Utena" is a show that's far greater than the sum of its parts - in spite of the overly repetitive animation, the overly similar shallow, vain individuals in its cast, the overly aggressive use of symbolisms and the overly filler nature of the story etc, the whole thing works surprisingly well. I just wasn't blown away, that's all.
It's been about five years now since I first saw this anime and still it's my definite favorite. I wasn't that interested at first, because it sounded rather pathetic with a bunch of people having secret meetings to duel each other over some girl. But I gave it a chance and watched the first four episodes, which ended with the first of a two part episode. Not really nice and the question "what happens next" haunted me quite some time and I was relieved when I got the DVD with episode five. I was satisfied afterwards and just didn't have enough time for the rest
of it. But a few months later a friend of mine bought DVDs 1-7 (8 wasn't out yet) and so we sat there, three people, a weekend with nothing to do and we watched. 35 episodes in a row and there was no question, wether we should have done anything else. The last month waiting for the grande finally was emotionally painful.
The story may seem pretty strange (in fact it is), but everything falls in it's place and the driving force are the brilliant characters and their relationships. There is love, friendship, loyalty, adoration, obsession, disgust, hate and anything in between. If you like character driven drama, than this show is for you!
The series can be divided into four arcs and each lets us explore the whole cast in a different light. Everybody has issues and these issues are reflected on most everybody else. It's interesting to explore the goals of the duelists, who want the power of the Rose Bride, to revolutonize the world - even by the end you can't be sure what this phrase really stands for. A revolution means drastic changes in a short frame of time and in a way, these changes already start with Utena arriving. She sets things in motion in a world, where everybody seems to have a very definite place.
Symbolism is pretty high in here and even some of the corny comedy filler (usually revolving around a girl named Nanami) reveal pretty dark motives. Nobody is what he or she seems to be at first. Still the story by itself gets an 8, because the basis of all that's happening is pretty thin and you have to wait before the greater plan is revealed. But the characters get the full 10, since they are what it's all about. My favorite character still is Arisugawa Juri, to me, she's an alternate version of Utena herself. Both are strong and independent, but where Utena reaches for high goals, Juri has sunken into bitterness. But everybody gets defining moments thanks to the duels and with those duels comes another great strength - the soundtrack. The opening is pretty catchy, there are two ending songs I'd rather skip, the BGM sets the mood from easy going over dramatic to depths of terror, but the outstanding part are the 21 duel songs. J.A. Seazer composed a piece for every of these encounters and they not even set the tone of the action, if you have the time to look up the lyrics you found yourself drowning in yet more metaphors.
The animation is rather good, it can stand up to Magic Knight Rayearth and Slayers, which came out roughly around the same time. Even though there are lots of re-used scenes and images (Utena's walk to the dueling plattform is the counterpart to a Sailor Senshi transformation, yet more dramatic), the carefully placed colors and the great mimic expressions totally make up for it.
The entertainment factor is pretty high. I enjoy rewatching some of the comedy episodes occassionally or you can just watch the bunch of episodes that revolve around your favorite character. Of course rewatching the whole show is the best way to explore the world of the Ohtori Academy and after seeing the shocking finale it's refreshing to go back to the light hearted start again. I never expected the tragedy that unfolds from episode 34 ("The Rose Signet") onward. It takes a very dark turn.
If you plan to watch this, be prepared for all the characters you slowly start to hold dear been emotionally torn apart. Maybe all the roses and bishounen might scare you off at first, but you need the contrast of such a "noble" setting to embrace the twist and turns.
Revolutionary Girl Utena, or Shoujo Kakumei Utena, is a 1997 anime series directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara that ran for 39 episodes. After the death of her parents, a young Tenjou Utena crossed paths with a handsome prince, who consoled her. As prince departed, he left her a ring, and the promise that they would one day meet again, with the young girl swearing to one day become a prince herself as a result. About a decade later, a now teenage Utena Tenjou meets the Rose Bride, Anthy Himemiya, a young woman who is essentially being treated like a prize for winning a duel at Ohtori
Academy. Utena sets out to unravel the mystery of why this cruel system is in place, and to one day meet the prince from her past once more.
Structurally, Utena starts with a 13 episode arc where each episode introduces and develops a new character, and the next episode has their motivation for wanting to duel, and the duel itself, then the cycle restarts. This formula works extremely well because of how strong the characterization is. After this first arc, we have a well established mystery plotline going on in the background, and a rock solid cast of characters. It’s a phenomenal introduction, so much so that after only 4 episodes, I put it in my favorites.
The next arc goes even farther, by giving stories to all of the side and comedic characters. Not only do these stories give further meaning and meat to the characters in question, they also flesh out the major characters that they are connected to. This arc isn’t as great as the first, but it’s certainly very impressive, and by the end, focuses more on the plot.
The final arc focuses entirely on the plot, and it’s the best of them all. Every loose string is tied, and all of the characters finish their arcs. This arc does have one major downside, which I’ll get to later, but it certainly delivers.
Utena is filled with comedy. It always knows when to use it, and it’s often rather funny. There are 5 episodes in particular that focus heavily on comedy, that revolve around a character named Nanami Kiryuu. These 5 episodes are, in addition to being hilarious, some of the best subtle character exploration and characterization I’ve seen in anime, and act as the main way of expressing Nanami’s character. The importance of these comedic episodes leads me to the number one rule of Utena: Every episode is equally important, from the first episode, to the last, to the recap episodes. This is the kind of show that not only has its strongest thematic and character beats in comedy centric episodes about exploding curry, but also hides its craziest twists and turns within recap episodes. This is not a joke, there is not a single skippable or unenjoyable second of the 39 episodes of this show. Think of your favorite anime. Isn’t there that one episode that you just think “yeah, that one wasn’t as good” or something of the sort? Utena doesn’t have that.
Utena is told like a classical drama. It is not a story, it is telling a story and it is constantly aware of this, and makes sure that the viewer is constantly aware as well. From the symbolic imagery, to the odd framing, and almost fairytale like narrative structure, using repetition and motifs to great effect, by changing just enough each time to not become bothersome or frustrating, but keeping enough the same as to be coherent.
The art in this series is simply gorgeous, with the backgrounds being done by the legend Shichiro Kobayashi, of Berserk fame, and the unique and stylish character designs being drawn by Shinya Hasegawa, a renowned Key Animator.
The animation itself is conservative during casual dialogue, or comedic moments, but really shines during the sword battles. Episode 20 is the first peak of animation quality, with a fluid and impactful sword fight, animated by Yoh Yoshinari himself. Unfortunately, after that, the animation drops off heavily, and it’s legitimately the only problem I have with the final arc… that is, until the last episode, which has so many things moving at once that it’s like nothing else I’ve ever seen. I almost thought that the hundreds and hundreds of objects moving at once during that episode’s climax were CGI, and then I realized that this show came out in 1997 and CGI doesn’t look like hand drawn animation at all. Suffice to say that the conclusion of Utena is one of the most stunning and fluid pieces of hand drawn animation that I’ve ever witnessed, only beat out by a fight scene in a certain mecha anime film that came out the same year, and it damn near makes up for the 19 episode drought preceding it.
The music is fitting and loud. It often creates a scene, in the same way that the soundtracks for shows like Cowboy Bebop and FLCL do. The first opening is incredible, with a catchy and memorable beat, thoughtful lyrics that basically spoil the whole show, strong visuals and visual directing, and pleasant vocals. It should go down in history, up there with the openings to Stardust Crusaders, Evangelion, Gurren Lagann, and The Tatami Galaxy.
Utena is also quite subtle. As enjoyable as it is to watch, paying attention is a must, as thinking about it and piecing everything together after is just as fun and rewarding as the show itself. I recommend taking a few minutes between episodes to think about some of the dialogue or metaphors used, especially if you think something was particularly out of place or pointless; because chances are, it wasn’t.
Revolutionary Girl Utena has a cast of over 15 named and decently fleshed out characters. This is not an exaggeration, I counted. The back two thirds of which are 3 dimensional and could carry a series on their own, and 4 or 5 of which are some of the most realistic, respectful and emotionally profound characters I’ve seen in my time with this medium. I tend to use what seems to be hyperbole a lot in these reviews, and I swear, it isn’t hyperbole. I legitimately feel this way, and it’s because I only review things that I’m truly passionate about that I tend to say things that seem over the top.
Because of how many good characters there are, I’m going to limit myself to four full explanations, which will be my four favorite characters in the series. Utena Tenjou is a confident, but idealistically misguided and often lost, young woman. She presents herself with a lot of hubris, and has a demanding presence. Her actions and treatment of others can be less than heroic at times, but she’s a relatable and human protagonist, whose growth is nuanced and subtle, but important. Anthy Himemiya is a mysterious and passive student who is treated as a possession by whoever wins a duel against the previous “owner” of her. Her arc is the most complex and slow of them all, but she is also the most important character in the show from a thematic standpoint. Nanami Kiryuu is the younger sister of the Student Council President, Touga Kiryuu, and she is extremely frail. She presents herself as a “popular girl” but her ego is weak and breakable. Touga Kiryuu himself is an extremely dominating and manipulative force, one who has fallen deep into his sexuality and often does awful things for sex or even for the hell of it.
Revolutionary Girl Utena has a lot to say. About gender. About identity. About sex. About incest, love, hope and the ideal of eternity. Instead of feeling cluttered or forced, Utena addresses these ideas with unflinching honesty and respect, weaving all of them together with every aspect of its presentation and narrative.
Gesamtkunstwerk is a pretentious and elitist German word that critics tend to use to sound smart, and it’s also the best word that I could come up with to describe this show. Essentially, a gesamtkunstwerk is a work of art where all of the elements complement each other. Where the characters and characterization enhance the plot, and the presentation and framing enhance the characters, so on and so forth. It can be translated a few ways, but to my understanding, the most accurate translation would be “Synthesis of the arts.” However, I prefer to translate it as “Revolutionary Girl Utena” and leave it at that.
There are so many ideas and themes present in Utena, and the ending is so ambiguous and strange that putting together a central theme is a bit tricky. However, I’d like to offer up my interpretation of what the central theme is, and what “revolutionizing the world” truly means. Skip to the final verdict to avoid spoilers.
I firmly believe that the central theme of Revolutionary Girl Utena is the journey to freeing oneself from the gaze of the world and the clutches of others. It’s why I believe Anthy to be the main character, as, to me, Utena is the story of Anthy’s emancipation and freedom. The gaze and hatred of the world around us is a consistent theme in all of the individual character stories, from Nanami’s fear of not being accepted and wanting to be loved by her brother, to Utena’s dream of “becoming a prince” and trying to be a hero. Thus, revolutionizing the world is giving someone the tools to free themselves from the prison they inhabit, which causes an eternal domino effect. Anthy’s final words to Akio prove this, and it’s so cathartic I could cry. Is Utena still out there? I don’t know, that’s up to you. All I know is that one day, someday, together, they’ll shine.
I also think that the series employs ideas of existentialism. Mikage existed because everyone thought he did, and he stopped existing because no one believed that he did anymore. Utena exists to the people that think she does, and doesn’t to the people that think she doesn’t. Utena doesn’t exist in Akio’s world but she does in Anthy’s, as Anthy says in the final episode.
Revolutionary Girl Utena is quite possibly the most perfect anime series that I’ve seen. It masterfully weaves together dozens of motifs and ideas, then muddles half of them, while also accentuating some random shit because it can. I can’t quite put it over Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann and FLCL, but that doesn’t reflect at all badly on the series; it’s a masterpiece in every sense of the word, and I haven’t gone 30 seconds without thinking about it since I finished it. Hell, it only took me three days to watch all 39 episodes. I’ve just barely scratched the surface in this review, but that might just be for the better. Put this puzzle together yourself, it’ll certainly be a ride you’ll never forget.
This series continues to flirt with the #1 spot among my favorites, and Utena stands high above any other female character in anime that I have seen. Her character is so strong and holds to her ideals of nobility so much that it's hard not to like her.
Some of the terminology took a little getting used to, as it takes normal ideas of gender roles and throws them out the window. Utena, for example, wants to become a prince. No, she doesn't want to become a man - she wants to be strong and noble and rescue princesses. Why can't a
girl do this, too? Yes, Anthy is considered the Rose Bride, and she becomes "engaged" to the people that are the current champion. Does this mean they're going to get married? Not sure. Once the words are out of the way, though, you're good to go.
The plot starts off relatively simple: Utena arrives at school, manages to find her way into a duel, fights, repeat next time. However, all throughout the story are little subplots that need to be resolved. Who is this "End of the World" that keeps sending letters? What is this world revolution the student council keeps talking about? What mysteries are the individual characters keeping secret? Thankfully, the show doesn't disappoint in answering all these questions, compounding the complexity of the situation at Ohtori Academy until it all comes to fruition in the final arc. The duels are bigger, the stakes are higher, and the mysteries are all answered.
However, over the course of the series, there are a few episodes that stand out as being superfluous or poorly done. For most of these, I feel they at least have some pseudo-symbolic reason for existing within the series. The only episode that really seemed ill-plotted-out is one of the duels in the second arc.
The art, while full of images of castles, fancy architecture, roses, fancy uniforms, and other such things as well as pretty fluid (while oft recycled) animation, looks a little more dated than the show actually is, which is one of the shows only drawbacks.
Soundwise, this show is very well acted, and the soundtrack is probably one of the best orchestrated I've ever heard. The music fits the atmosphere incredibly well, and the songs they play during the duels are quirky to say the least. Their rock background and full chorus vocals help to create a mysterious yet serious atmosphere.
As for the characters, there's lots of big brother/sibling complexes going on here, and frankly, it's a little creepy. However, only one of these ever comes to any fruition over the course of the series, so for the most part it stays innocent. This is why I marked the series down. Most of the characters really stand out and are dynamic to the things happening around them, and even if they don't change, most of them have distinct personalities.
Enjoyment-wise, this show is a lot of fun, and is very engrossing. The really quirky-yet-chivalry-laden atmosphere really drew me in, kept me hooked, and still keeps me coming back to this day. I've probably watched this series more than any other. Some will say it's too episodic, and to them I say, who cares? With a show this unique, I never get sick of it. Also, it's not like there isn't a single overarching plotline keeping the whole thing moving. It also helps to know that the repetition doesn't go on forever - it's only 39 episodes long, after all, and even then, the show does plenty to keep switching things up before they get too boring.
Is it possible to stay noble forever? From birth onward, reality batters at purity: those who wish to fly are pinned down by gravity; those who wish for harmony are lied to in a world filled with hateful war; and those who wish for love are perhaps given it, only to be broken by death or betrayal.
Sometimes the pain is so great, that the victim begins to fear never-ending misery inflicted by a disappointing world - one all to lacking in miracles. This fear becomes a barrier between the victim and the world. The mere thought of intimate connections triggers very strong anxiety, resulting
in either total seclusion or a public, yet detached and empty existence.
Utena tries to be chivalrous. With that one notable exception, there is not a character in Revolutionary Girl Utena who has remained noble. Even more depressing, every single one of them continues getting injected with trivial, jealous rage. The plot of almost every single episode concerns one mentally unbalanced person following irrational negative emotions, courtesy of one very specific being’s machinations. Whoever receives the spotlight is consumed by an idea only tangentially related to their tragedy, convinced that breaking a poor girl’s spirit will make things better.
Once a fight, once an episode, someone asks for the power to revolutionize the world. As embittered as they are at the sad world, they are humans who will always try to find hope. Remembering the shattered dreams, a search begins for a strength which may be able to make a miracle; and, if a miracle can happen, then purity too can be reclaimed. It must be noted that the revolution is not for the sake of others, but instead born from a need to have the world exist as each duelist wishes they could see it.
It is possible that we the viewers are also watching a different world than the characters. No one says that Anthy has wonderful purple hair, or comments on unrealistic, noodle-like body proportions. When Utena sees Miki, perhaps she sees a regular boy, without the deep blue hair to remind viewers that he is calm, passive, and feminine. What Utena does see are faceless peers who flock from one newly introduced male to another. These drones exist to show that the men have something, and the series typically goes on to display the new man’s trademark talents. Despite that, every one of them cannot forget the things they wish for. Repetitive plots are fuelled dozens of times by this disregard for what is, and desire for what cannot be.
As a spotlight character’s motivations reach climax, they fight Utena in a sword duel, aiming to cut a flower off her chest. Each arc/season has only one duel choreographed, the only difference being the duelists involved. That detail matters little, however, as the typical fight is recycled stock footage of Utena striking poses and dealing the same finishing move, over and over. Luckily, the reused content is both fluid and interesting; and curiously, each fight has a unique song complete with thematically-relevant lyrics. The composer should be commended for not only surpassing expectations, but doing so in the face of such lazy animators.
Lacking the funds to animate fights may be understandable, considering the immense love put into backgrounds. Of course one could ask why writers would create so many fights without the money or time to draw them, but that is irrelevant at this point. Ohtori Academy’s architecture clearly received the bulk of attention. Complex, detailed wall patterns, sprawling arches and tall pillars pervade the exterior, evoking a sense of wonder. Inside, like so many things in RGE, we find a bland school filled with rows and rows of identical lockers, classes and desks. It is only after unexpected exploration that Utena finds, and we see, the hidden depths. These secret places conceal a power that can change the world. Whether that is good or bad depends on the world wanted to be seen.
The beauty of Utena is not the way it is presented, but the force with which it connects. Viewing it can be described as exploring the insides of a clock. The device toils away, going through expected motions in an expected manner, with a faint click heard before. As the cover is removed, stubborn gears continue turning the same way. When the pieces are separated, the clock all but destroyed, the first thing that springs to mind is how tedious the whole ordeal is. Still, by the time reconstruction begins, an understanding of how marvelous an invention and elegant a solution the clock is begins to develop.
Of course, the inner workings of a device are only interesting to those who liked it to begin with. In Utena’s case, the device is a magical teenage girl and her misadventures. I have remarkably little interest in the genre, so all the trappings left a bad taste. For those who find anything to love about RGE’s inspirations, and barring the hyper-formulaic plot, I imagine this is the best it will get.
Revolutionary Girl Utena is routinely described as Neon Genesis Evangelion for girls, and not without good reason. However, I believe this may well be a series even greater than the benchmark Evangelion sets.
At the very start of the series, we are given a vague explanation of some of the events that lead to Utena becoming who she is today. When her parents died when she was only a child, she fell into a serious depression. In the midst of this, a strange, prince-like man approached her, presenting her with a rose-crested ring, and telling her the ring will lead her back to him one day.
So far, so generic shoujo. But normally, the female protagonist would simply be wooed by the mysterious man, and desperately need him. Utena is a little... different. She didn't want the prince... she wanted to be the prince.
We then cut to the present-day Utena, a tomboyish teenage girl who sticks out like a sore thumb, for her unique charms, loveable personality, and for wearing the boy's uniform instead of the girls (though interestingly, not one boy in the series wears the same uniform as her), who goes to the boarding school of Ohtori Academy. Amidst her everyday life at Ohtori, a series of events lead her to discover that other people at the academy also bear the ring with the rose crest, and that it unlocks a dueling arena where they must fight for possession of Anthy Himemiya, a withdrawn, timid girl who is known as the Rose Bride. The reason? They'd rather not explain that.
The most obvious reason for its comparison to Evangelion is that despite having a clear plot going on, there is clearly so much going on in the background being held from us by major characters that the series' strongest point is drawing you back to find out just what the hell is going on at Ohtori. Utena, however, has something of a leg-up on Evangelion in this respect in that more questions are actually answered, albeit semi-cryptically.
Another clear comparison, however, comes in the form of one of its biggest faults, and that is taking some seriously excessive animation-saving measures. Evangelion relied more on unusually long pauses and obscured mouths, whereas Utena relies more on stock footage. Way too much. While it does gradually improve on it, Utena's biggest fault by far is that it is extremely repetitive. Sequences are constantly repeated, and there's usually only around 15 minutes worth of original footage in each episode.
However, here's where it gets interesting: Utena has 3 clearly defined story arcs. For the first, the Student Council arc, this is where the repetition hits hardest. However, in the following two arcs, the Black Rose arc and the Car arc, this weakness becomes a strength. With the change in plot direction, the story becomes far more interesting, and with it, the repetition stops being annoying and starts being a tool to use to its advantage, building a strong, Monster of the Week (or in this case, Duelist of the week) style pacing, and on many occasions using it to play with our expectations, use well-placed character connections to create interesting comparisons, and its best point, it uses it to build excellent character development.
Another criticism of it, however, is that it often falls back on fillers. More unfortunately, these fillers are either recaps (but don't let that put you off, as they all have their reasons... especially the third, which is not to be skipped under ANY circumstances), or generally focus on the series' most annoying character, Nanami Kiryuu. Most of them simply end up abound with unfunny comedy, with one interesting example in which Nanami wakes up one day and finds that she has laid an egg (or at least, believes she has). This should probably be reminding you of something. The episode in general becomes an interesting metaphor for the insecurities of puberty, which, at its core, is something that Utena has a lot of parallels to.
On which note, I should bring up another thing it has in common with Evangelion: symbolism. Symbolism absolutely everywhere. However, this definitely beats Evangelion in this respect, because the symbolism always has a clear meaning, whether it be blatant abstract physical parallels, or subtle details that you will pick up subconsciously. In the latter's case, this is more specific to Utena's last, and best arc: the Car arc. More specifically, the titular car itself. The car, and its driver, clearly represent the adult world, power, seduction, and corruption... in particular, this is clear out of how the driver picks up vulnerable people, and... well, given what is implied to happen at the end of each car ride... you can probably fill in the blanks.
Overall, the series does start slow, but progressively becomes more and more impressive, with a clear, defined improvement with each passing arc. This builds up to a climax that brings together everything, an amazing crescendo of symbolism, perfect dialog that oozes brilliance with every line... to be perfectly honest, it may very well be my absolute favourite scene in any anime, ever.
The characters of Utena are one of its main draws. Every character in Utena is slowly revealed to be a flawed, vulnerable individual, each with their own personal struggles. There are also a few outwardly antagonistic characters who, as the series progresses, are revealed to really not be as bad as you'd think. The most interesting characters, however, are definitely the Rose Bride herself, Anthy Himemiya, and her brother, Akio Ohtori. The two have a tragic, mysterious backstory, as well as the most powerful presences in the series. Love them or hate them (and there are strong camps for both), you can't ignore either one.
From a technical standpoint, the art style is pretty bad at its worst and excellent at its best. Like most of the series, the art makes a clear progression with time, with the car scenes in particular looking absolutely gorgeous (and they damn well should). The music is also a mixed bag, being somewhat cheesy in its execution, but having some good quality music in there (expect the main transformation theme to get stuck in your head a lot), but with a lot of cheesy battle themes. Most of the background music for the series is superb, though, and several tracks are absolutely perfect for the series, most notably Poison, and the everpresent car's theme, the latter of which is a pimptastic blues/jazz song that fits with its scenes perfectly, being yet another reason why the car scenes are the coolest thing ever.
Overall, Utena starts off slow, but it's definitely worth sticking with. The series truly progresses into something absolutely amazing with time, creating an excellent cast of characters, showing off some brilliant directing, and making a stone cold classic in the process. Oh, and did I mention that the car scenes are cool?
I had high hopes for this Anime at the beginning because of the high global score, but I was quickly disappointed.
Story: There is very little story. There is an event which you are told about in the first episode and remains through the whole 39 episodes, but after the show ends it's still unclear. There are other mysteries which never develop at all and are never explained.
Art: Art was very poor, specially the characters are poorly drawn with girls who sometimes look like guys.
Sound: The music was actually pretty good. It has several songs which switch every few episodes.
Character: Character development was really bad. They
barely changed at all through the entire series, besides some sudden and totally unbelievable complete change for no clear reason, just to be the same again the next episode.
Enjoyment: Some of the girls were nice so I enjoyed when an episode was about them. Also the fillers were somewhat ok.
Before you read this review, I would ask of you to please not judge it solely on the high rating. I have put a lot of work into this and I do address things like repeated footage and why I still give it this rating. Besides, what anime of this format does not have reused footage?
This anime is one of the best I have seen and, is arguably the best Shojo anime ever made - although it breaks away from that fold very fast. The show slowly moves into a darker territory that many shows do not dare approach. The biggest surprise is how subtlely
and tastefully it explores things like incest, lesbianism, obsession and adoration. This show explores all these spectacularly well, in fact you could still go on decoding imagery and sounds after viewing the series 30 times because it is so rich in metaphors and allegories.
The animation is exquisite in this show. Not just in the sense that things are drawn well or move well and fluidly but also in what imagery is selected to drive a point home. One thing that springs to mind to point that out is in the second last episode, badminton was used as a symbol and the detail put in the racket or the shuttlecock is graphically breathtaking. The reused footage will not be to everyone's taste but I enjoyed those sequences immensely as it gave the start of the duel a ritualistic feel. I also love the detail in the background and the characters. Just a stance has meaning and purpose in this anime, as a model and a Fine Art student - it was great to see references to Michaelangelo's drawings, as well as a few famous paintings that were presented just for the sheer story behind them. The architecture is also imaginative and well drawn, much like in the style of Charles Rennie Mackintosh I also love the way attention is paid to slow moments, as well as faster ones as they radiate symbolism and meaning. The colours and the rose motif are more things I appreciate about the series and I do think it has an original style by marrying its own to its close inspiration, Rose Of Versailles.
The characters and the backgrounds are also extremely well suited for each other unlike shows like Naruto or Ranma where characters can look juxtaposed onto the background. The restraint in the use of 3D imagery is also something to be applauded as it allows the show to keep the beautiful fairytale feel and style.
The sound of Utena is another one of its strengths and it is so well suited to the battles or the overall theme of a particular episode, not to mention Rinbu Revolution and Zettai Umnei Mokushiroku which are just amazing left of the centre pop songs. Every episode features either a new composition or a new song, which is to be applauded in this day and age where most series use the same tunes over and over again. The duel songs are also terrific, they don't only sound great but they add another layer of meaning to the story as well as the characters. Seazer (the composer, also a 60s Japanese personality) did a wonderful job with his work here as the music does not just suit the anime but elevates it to new heights. It raises the bar in how anime can really make full use of the sound. The voice actors match the high standard of the soundtrack by delivering a universally amazing performance. A notable cast member is Kotono Mitsuishi, who breaks out of her cute signature character Sailor Moon for an amazing dark turn as Juri Arisugawa.
The story seems quite simple at first but the layers that it is wrapped into makes it very complex and entertaining. The most amazing thing about Utena is how much it kept me on my toes, there was never a moment where I knew exactly what the outcome of an episode would be, how they would affect or change the characters. Even the filler episodes include footage that can answer questions one might still hold over a particular situation or character, or give you a fuller understanding of a character.
The execution is what sets the story apart as well. It never gets manipulative to try and make you side why a particular character for a particular episode. Instead, it depicts these instances realistically, with just a little irony to really hit it home.
The characters in this show are also amazing. I can't think of another show (except maybe Rose Of Versailles) that has such full and deep characters, even Nanami who can seem quite shallow (and is reminiscent of the depiction of a young Marie Antoinette in ROV) has a strong presence and further episodes explore her character very well. Even the secondary characters are given situations (via the Black Rose Arc) to explore their feelings and more interestingly, how they affect other student council duelists. I felt after watching this that no character was one-dimensional as they all had a chance to show different facets of their personality (Be it through a whole episode or just a scene; that's how symbolic the series can get).
This show has the best value of any show I can think of as you will definitely have to watch the whole thing twice and maybe more to understand all the subtleties. It is also a great, enjoyable show that no one open minded should miss. It is a unique experience and a fascinating look at what adolescents go through emotionally. The use of symbolism to explore this will be a turn off for some but it is so complete and deep that you will be left with something for taking the journey. It is a remarkable title and I recommend it to every anime fan.
Shoujo Kakumei Utena is a difficult beast to review. On one hand, it has one of the more interesting and heart-wretching plots in an anime I've watched ; on another hand, it sure takes its own sweet time reaching the good parts. Let's dive in, shall we?
The major problem I had with this anime is its pacing. The first episode set up this incredible tale of action and drama with a lingering mystery as to Utena's backstory and the identities of her prince, the mysterious End of The World character and the Rose Bride as well as their relationships with one another. However subsequent episodes
instead stopped this focus on the main characters and instead introduce and shifted the focus onto the side characters and their arcs, which are also split in between several other filler episodes. While I did enjoy Juri's and Nanami's story arcs, they weren't enough to redeem the boredom and mediocrity of the other character arcs (Wakaba, that kid whose name I forgot, Miki and etc etc). Since none of these side characters play a huge role in the overall story between Utena, Anthy and Akio, the pacing is very messy. Basically, the pacing grinds to a complete halt after the beginning of a new story arc for the filler side character stories to take the spotlight, only to accelerate completely once the show remembers Utena is the main character of the series. It makes watching the series difficult and keeping track of the story becomes a chore.
The series can get very formulaic, especially for the episodes that do not focus completely on Utena. Side character, let's call him José , has problem, José angsts, José consults untrustworthy person, José challenges Utena to a duel for some reason (occasionally they don't have one), Utena kicks their ass with the power of stock footage, José get better until the next José-focused arc. It's a chore to grind through these episodes, especially if you don't particularly like the side character currently under the spotlight. Honestly, the series would have benefited greatly if it trimmed out all the fat and just focused solely on the Utena episodes with maybe a few episodes introducing the side characters and giving them some development.
As I said previously, not all the characters are engaging as they are. Juri and Nanami are standouts for me thanks to the character development they went through, and most of the student council is fairly likable, and Akio is fabulous as all hell, but I couldn't care less for the plight Utena and Anthy went through. While a good deal of this comes from the schizophrenic structure of the series, Utena herself isn't an engaging character to begin with, and her character development isn't anything to write about. Anthy is a bit better as she constantly has a mysterious aura around her, but the payoff comes so late into the plot, and the fact that she's a complete doormat failed to garner even the slightest bit of interest in her.
Shoujo Kakumei Utena does a few things right though, and while I may seem like I hate the series, I actually like several moments from the series. The Shadow Girls were an excellent addition to the series, providing some nice breaks in the episodes and giving a nice plot synopsis for the times I slept through the episodes. The animation is brilliant, mixing familiar real-world elements with abstract, surreal imagery, and the male characters are absolutely fabulous.
Is Utena worth watching? It all depends on your tolerance for filler episodes. Otherwise, watch the first and last episodes of each story arc (1,9,12,14,22,23,25,32, and 34 onwards).
Revolutionary Girl Utena is a thinking anime at its core. Director and original creator Kunihiko Ikuhara (worked on Sailor Moon) makes excellent imagery and allegory ridden anime to say the least, and has great prior experience in the shoujo genre. Working with the fairly new studio of J.C. Staff (Slayers), Utena would basically become a major starting point for both the director and studio. J.C. Staff still creates well received and popular anime today as well as Ikuhara.
The story of Utena on the outside is very basic. Our main character and tom-boy Utena, met a prince and bestowed her a ring with a rose symbol
on it. Utena then vows to become a prince herself which sets herself up for the trials years later. In the school she attends, Utena gets involved with duels over winning a woman called the rose bride, and he who has the rose bride will receive power. On the inside of the story are filled with illusions, sexuality, identity themes to name a few with a blending of countless imagery, metaphors, and complex ideology creating a very complex story overall.
The animation is top notch and music hits all of the right keys. However, if it were not for the crazy deep story that could easily go over a casual fans head, Utena as an entertaining anime falls very short. One can’t help but feel that this anime is geared more towards an ultra-specific group of fans. All imagery and hidden meanings are not too complex most times where with a little thought makes the viewer go ‘ah-ha’ and gets the message. Although, even with this, the anime suffers from the terrible re-hashing and repeat fights much that Sailor Moon suffered from, one such anime Ikuhara previously worked with.
The first 13 episodes is the introduction, followed by Utena dueling each person on the student council for the rose bride. Yes, the audience follows along and learns more about each characters personality and motivations, but most is revealed in the first few episodes or could have been much more condensed. Basically, Utena’s biggest flaw isn’t the intelligence factor but the entertainment factor. It is simply a boring over-the-top metaphor ridden anime with legendary pacing issues.
Much like what happened with Sailor Moon, most of the anime is skippable unless the viewer wants to experience every imagery and metaphor Revolutionary Girl Utena has to offer.
Let me give you a fair warning when watching this anime, it is a complete mind juggler. There is an abundance of homosexual insinuation and incest. You may think you have the plot down by watching the first 2-3 episodes, but trust me when I say there is way more to the story.
Lets begin with the characters. Each character has their own time to shine. Some characters have their story retold throughout the show with some minor details added in every once in a while. There is a strong sense of hardship with each characters story. Place close attention to each character for it
is very important to somewhat understand the rest of the show. The main character Utena is very easy to read, its Anthy that makes you wonder the most throughout the series.
As you may have read from other reviews, there is much symbolism in this anime. Some symbolism is just random, others kind of makes sense, and others are obvious for the trained eye.
I very much enjoyed this anime, it is very original and epic in its own way. That does not mean it does not have its flaws. You will most probably tend to skip the beginning of the fights, and the annoying drama actors behind the rose wall. Many scenes are repetitive and are replayed throughout the entire series.
Other than that, i really think more people should watch this anime and share their thoughts. It really is a good watch once you get the rhythm of it.
This is the first time I've ever felt compelled to write a review here. Revolutionary Girl Utena is possibly the most beautiful anime experience I've ever seen.
First, the characters are what carry the series. There is quite a cast of characters, but the show uses every episode (save some of the more humorous ones that tend to involve Nanami) to build and build upon each character. Utena and Anthy are two of the most fascinating anime characters I've seen, and the cast of the show delivers some of the most truly human feelings I've seen in this medium.
Second, the show has some of the best
music I've ever heard in anime. There's the epic main theme used when Utena has to fight. There's the beautiful piano theme that is centered around Miki's story (and which is used in other parts of the show, sometimes in orchestrated form). There's the fact that every single battle has it's own unique, kickass, soundtrack. How they managed to pull that off, I don't know.
Something must also be said about the artwork. The animation quality, obviously, is somewhat dated at the time of writing - the show is about 10 years old, after all. However, the artwork itself is incredibly detailed. In particular, the unique style of the faces shows much more emotion than I've seen in more traditional anime styles. Because of this I give the art a very high rating, despite the somewhat choppy animation and flat colors of the time period.
All in all, this is possibly my favorite anime series ever. I haven't actually finished yet - 6 more to go. This also seems to be a sort of forgotten series that no one talks about. This would go at the top of any recommendation list from me.
Revolutionary Girl Utena is a hidden gem within hidden gems. A rather strange anime indeed but everything about this story just spews out greatness. There's just so much happening all at once, it's almost as if there are 6-7 different stories happening all at the same time, and then as the show progresses, each story intertwines with another. There's no doubt that this anime was highly influenced by Ikeda Riyoko's Rose of Versailles, one of my favorite tragedies ever; both have a strong female lead growing up as a male (focus on gender-roles), take place in a historical (royal) setting, are quite theatrical (Shakespeare-like almost),
incorporate inexplicable roses and have a intriguing/illustrious story. Utena tells a coming-of-age story that explores two big questions in particular (in all, there are several several more): can one stick to childish ideals that they had as a child in order to defeat an opponent who embodies adulthood? And can an "pure and innocent" female with pink hair and flower symbolism back in the days escape her duty/role as a female and instead take on the role of a male/prince?
Revolutionary Girl Utena revolves around Utena Tenjou, a girl who dresses like a boy and dreams of becoming a prince when she grows up. The reason she wants to be a prince? Because she was so "impressed" by a Prince who had given her a Rose Crest ring and told her that they'd meet again in the future. Utena grows up attending Ohtori Academy, a very strange high-school where people fight for their ideals, and to achieve a rumored celestial something. Throughout the course of the story, Utena is forced into battles with the Duelists in order to claim the Rose Bride, which is said to be the key to becoming a prince and obtaining something eternal (celestial thing).
The entire series is divided into four separate story arcs. The first arc (Student Council Saga, episodes 1-13) focus primarily on character development, how Utena ended up having the oh so important Rose Bride (Anthy Himemiya), and the beginning of the mysteries lurking under the outline of the story. The second arc (Black Rose Saga, 13 - 24), more characters are introduced, the most important one being an 18 year old school psychologist who uses Black Rose Crest Rings to manipulative people. The third arc (Akio Ohtori Saga, 25-33) is the psychological trauma aspect of the show, where betrayals and truths are slowly unraveled. Promises are broken, friendships are severed. This is literally the Neon Genesis Evangelion-part of the story if you will. And the final arc is where the conflict, and entire point of the story escalates up to it's climax; and all the dark secrets are revealed.
Okay so this is a pretty tricky story to write a review for because it was just all over the place, and it's difficult to pinpoint the main storyline. Honestly though, this series was more of a live dramatic theater play than an anime story. Constantly the show is "telling" the story, "not being" one. You'll see what I mean by this when you watch the show. At the surface of the story, it'll seem like this is just another magic-school-tournament story with repetitive fight scenes, but oh no. That's just incorrect to it's maximum incorrect level. Although it may not seem like it at first, once you finish it, you'll realize how deep the story is, and how much of an impact it'll have on your psychological understanding of the world/human nature. The beginnings of each episode constantly make no sense. They jump from this scene to that scene, without explaining what happens in between until later. But as the story progresses, the writers did a fabulous job connecting each minor detail with each other to form a "bigger-picture"-plot. All in all a great story.
The character development was genius. One of the many things I loved about this anime was it's amazing cast of characters and the way they were used to portray a specific theme/archetype. In each arc, different characters were focused upon which really created a bond of understanding between the audience and the characters. Many others begin as stereotypes but flourish into complex beings during their respective character arcs. The most important character next to Utena would be the comic relief, Nanami whose capriciousness heads deep into slapstick terrain but stops just short of overbearing. Her theatrics represent her superficial behavior with substantial intentions. Other important characters include the male antagonists (for most part), Touga, Saionji, and Akio, who through callous psychological and emotional bullying almost cease to be human and become more and more like symbols of human vice. If they are not slapping their female cohorts into submission, they are coldly seducing them for their own gratification. They blend in quite remarkably with Utena’s melodrama/characterization. But moving on...
Utena’s an interesting character for a variety of reasons, but it all starts with the basics. As a little girl, she lost faith in the world when tragedies unfolded before her. Was there truly a divine being that watched over us? If so, then why is tehre suffering? Shortly later, a prince comes along and and gives her conviction, gifting her a [symbolic] ring and promising that they’d meet again, just so long as she doesn't lose her bravery and nobility. (Sound like a common fairy tale yet?) So captivated by the prince, she decides to become a prince but is that really a good idea? So goes the fairy tale the show comes back to time and again. Though the words remain the same, the message never does – in a show obsessed with performance and perception, the meaning of words can shift even as their base nature remains consistent. Words like “prince,” the traditional storybook male savior, a word that ultimately comes to signify both less and more than its stated definition. From the beginning, Utena’s desire to be a “prince” points to the serious bone this show has to pick with traditional gender roles. Even the show’s ornate style contributes to this effect – the flowery framing that’s typically a hallmark of “female-oriented” manga and anime is here used to convey traditionally “masculine” power, such as the seductive power of a potential male prince, or Utena herself. Utena is consistently cast in “masculine” terms, from her chosen form of dress, to her adoring female fans, to her athletic prowess and skill as a swordsman. However, to Utena, all these choices are a perfectly legitimate expression of self. In fact, whenever anyone expresses surprise about Utena acting like a “traditional” girl and “performing” girl, Utena responds with a defiant “but I am a girl” – to her, her standard behavior and representation is a completely valid expression of “girl.” Which all points back to the show’s obsession with spectators and performance – in the context of a show that emphasizes how much we all “perform” our personalities, the arbitrary, “performed” nature of gender roles is that much more apparent. Basically others insist on calling out her ‘weaker’ girlish facets to humble her but in the process deny the possibility that she is an inseparable compound of both. Her battle of identity (becoming what others wish vs remaining true to oneself) eventually becomes more salient and more interesting to follow than her duels.
Okay so the story is good and all, and the characters were all masterfully developed, and are all perfectly created characters. But they're not the highlight of the show, nor are they the reason why I like this show to the extent where I'm a fanboy. The greatest part of Shoujo Kakumei Utena is it's constant ambiguity (themes). The show presents to the audience countless numbers of psychological conceptions, societal values, human nature, through use of motifs/symbolism. Seriously, the amount of symbolism is overwhelming, and it's not like a "all up in your face symbolism" like Neon Genesis Evangelion, but it's subtle which makes it all the more impressive. Themes of Nobility and Strength. Gender Roles. Eternity of Youth. Freedom/World Revolution. Corruption of Power/Human Nature. Forbidden Desires. The series also focuses on sex, although it doesn't use any explicit imagery. Incest becomes a major theme, and the series explores it from numerous perspectives; loss of innocence (sexual and otherwise) also becomes very important. At its core, though, Utena follows the story of a friendship-turned-romance between two girls who never expected it; director Ikuhara has even said that the love between the two is the most important thing of all. I won't get into detail about each concept though because it'll be much better experiencing it for yourself than reading about it.
The art and sound are both magnificent in this series, although they aren't exactly the best. The art I think the show tried to use "old" art a little too extremely to make the show seem more "classic"-like (which it is btw). But I did really love all the portrayals of symbolism/art paintings, the beautiful castles/backgrounds, fancy uniforms, and each character's design, especially Utenas. Soundwise, this show is very well voice-acted, and the soundtrack is probably one of the best orchestrated I've ever heard. Seriously though, this show had probably the most appropriate voice actors - characters connection I've ever seen. Furthermore, the music fits the atmosphere well, and the songs they play during the duels added quite the "epic" feeling. There were those church-like chorus soundtracks that created a mysterious and sinister tone when necessary. Openings weren't great and all that memorable, but they certainly weren't bad; I will admit that I skipped the opening after like episode 7, but that's because I was crazy about watching more of the great show. All in all, I liked both the art and sound; somewhat high quality.
Stop wasting your time now, and go watch this series, it's one that you should definitely watch~
Well, if I try to write a detailed review of my favourite anime series, I'm likely to end up with something more like a doctoral thesis. :) So, here's just a brief list of what may be found inside this anime:
• A surreal and philosophical piece of art, where each frame is tightly packed by symbols, where you may find new details and ideas with every rewatch;
• A very complex and thoroughly thought-out plot, with its unique rhythm formed by numerous through and recurring storylines, where every two lines either parallel or intersect;
• An ultimate deconstruction of the shoujo/romance genre, crushing/subverting/reducing to absurd each
and every popular cliche;
• A picture of how twisted might classic fairy-tales have become if they really happened in our daily life;
• A great story of most sincere Friendship and sacrificial Love;
• A Christian metaphor of Salvation, if you will;
• A manifesto of the true dignity of women and men, a pitiless conviction of what may be commonly seen instead of it in reality;
• A set of totally weird characters, each one with one's own passions and past disasters, each one showing dramatic development from one story arc to another;
• A complete set of perverted and distorted relationships, each one being deconstructed and torn down through the series;
• A sorta brief guide to the spiritual life, showing most clearly what may happen to a person blinded by pride or letting dark desires take possession of their mind, depicting both abysses of frantic passion and true victories of spirit;
• A lot of mind-blowing dramatic scenes, yet also loads of crazy humour and intelligent self-parody;
• A whole bunch of genius seiyuu and one of the best film soundtracks ever made;
• (complete the list for yourself after watching the series ;)).
I must preface this review by saying that there is indeed a lot of depth to this anime. It is rich with symbolism and rife in philosophical and psychological intonations. I can completely relate woth anyone who enjoys Utena. However, that does not negate the fact that it is random, repetetive, repetetive, monotonous (lol :p) and painful to keep watching.
The story begins randomly with no clear explanation as to why highschool students are running around trying to bash each other with swords, and continues to introduce plot twists such as these which are never adequately explained -- even as the
What does the show mean by "the cracking of the world's shell"? How does the Rose Bride enable people to bring forth a revolution? Is such a revolution metaphorical? And what the freak is up with all of the references to watches, metronomes and time? Is that supposed to symbolise the passing of years as we grow up? Questions such as this remain largely unanswered throughout the entire series -- a fact that frustrated me immensely.
Anyway, I will give the story some credit. The characters show a lot of depth and were masterfully constructed, even if they never changed as the story progressed. Ninety percent of the time I could really feel what the characters were feeling and connect with each individuals' past. The other ten percent of the time I was left wondering how the hell this could ever wind up happening in real life.
At some points the character interactions were somewhat unbelievable and unrealistic. For just one example, refer to the episode where one character turned into a cow after wearing a Dior cow bell for a day or two day. I don't think they ever really explained that one. Maybe it was meant to symbolise how superficiality will turn you into a cow-like glutton? Or maybe it was just completely random, like the rest of the series.
I actually did a google search on what the references to time in the anime actually mean, by the way. It would seem that even the anime's director doesn't know, because he keeps giving different answers every time someone asks him in an interview. Maybe they don't mean anything? Maybe this entire show means nothing except what you choose to interpret from its absurdity? Wow... existentialism, much?
But the major problem with the story I had was not its utter randomness at points, but instead, the fact that certain things kept repeating themselves over and over and over and over and over and over again. I almost died! There was one part where the same fight scene repeated itself four times over several episodes.
Seriously. The music was the same, the conclusion of the fight was identical, the means through which the fight began was the same. And it was boring me to tears! If the music (that was repeating itself every fight scene) weren't so good then I probably would have considered dropping this anime and watching a new one.
Despite its inherent faults this anime did strike a nerve with me at several points. It eloquently and beautifully displayed the pain, the anguish, the joy and the angst that comes with teenage years. Over all, if you can ignore the problems, then Utena is an anime that is mildly heart-warming to watch and leaves you with something to think over during its conclusion.
Revolutionary Girl Utena is a strange and beautiful show. It's a wonder that I have not seen it when it first came out, a wonder that I barely gave it another glance that time when I first heard of it. However maybe it was a blessing: I understand it now more so than I would when I was younger. And with so much symbolism and such complicated characters with an equally complicated mythos and purpose.
Story: The fairy tale is torn apart. The idea of the princess being the helpless damsel, the witch being a cruel, jealous being, and
the prince being charming and courageous is destroyed piece by piece within Utena. Even the unusual fairytale of the Princess so impressed by a Prince that naturally she wants to become a Prince as well is dismantled. As a shoujo anime, it is the characters that drives the story. The story is all about revealing the flaws of each character and showing us why Utena is special from the other duelists, why her sense of nobility and her high goal outshines the skills of the other duelists. The story also reveals the oppressive nature a fairy tale has on a woman, on a girl, as well as the hypocrisy and cyclic nature of a fairy tale whose focus is on a prince always saving a princess. I wish I can go deeper, but that would reveal a bit too much.
Characters: In the story section I focused on how the characters in Utena drive the story and that is true. At first we are introduce to each character as archetypes: Utena, the noble warrior, wanting to save a princess and become a prince; Anthy, the damsel in distress, the princess who gives her obedience to the one who wins her. Utena, despite her courage and nobility, is naive and self righteous; she doesn't see herself as the wrong and despite her good intentions, she never truly see who Anthy is, what Anthy truly wants. Utena is not even really perfect...
Anthy...I can take all of the characters of Evangelion and not one is as complicated, as messed up, and as twisted as Anthy is. Nothing about her is what it seems. Introduce as the damsel in distress and a doormat, nothing can be farther from the truth. I love Anthy and I know not every one will. It'll take more than one showing until you scratch the surface.
Even the duelists, who show themselves as classic archetypes first are complicated and flawed. Juri and Miki, my favorite duelists, are each caught in a web of their past. Touga, the playboy, is more insecure than he would let on. And Saonji, the misongynist ass hole...is not really that much of an ass hole.
Then our prince...well. You'll see.
Overall fantastic characters, best part of the show.
Art: The art is gorgeous. The campus of Ohtori looks as if it's modeled after Versailles. The architecture is symbolic and breathtaking, just like in a fairy tale. The dueling area is otherworldly, and generally the backgrounds used are breath taking.
The character designs are very attractive. I'm not crazy for the female sailor uniform design, but the dueling outfits I really like. I love Utena's and Anthy's clothes as well.
Along with the character designs, I love how certain characters who don't stand out as our main character (with the duelists and Utena having hair with all the colors of the rainbow and Anthy and Akio being the ONLY characters with dark skin and of Indian descent) have their plan appearances affect their personalities. And ohh boy...are the men GORGEOUS! Not a flaw!
So the art of the show is top notch...why did I give it an 8? I'm big on fluid animation and they are a lot of repeated footage and cells used as well as still images. I don't mind it, with the budget Utena had, I'm still reasonably impressed.
Sound: I love the Japanese voice actors..I...ugh they fit so well. I love seiyuus over all in almost all anime. The soundtrack is really well done. My one big gripe is that I got tired of hearing "Absolute Apocalypse" over and over and over again in every episode. Even in it's different versions it was very repetitive. I mean, it's catchy...but it suffers from the MTV syndrome of being played WAY TOO OFTEN. Overall, not much to say, just beautiful.
Enjoyment & Overall: Just..go and watch it and pay attention. You can try and read all the character analysis you want, but even with that and watching/rewatching the show, you'll find something new. Wonderful :D.
Spoiler upon spoiler; reviews aren’t supposed to have spoilers? Guess this will have to be the last spoiled one, then.…
With so much to love, where to begin?
The shadow play girls, A-ko and B-ko, lend a child’s simplicity to every episode, strangely deepening it as only children can; or maybe they really are aliens? Nanami with her cowbell, Nanami with her egg, Nanami crushed repeatedly by elephants: she’s a foil, rich with absurdity. Wakaba and Utena are true friends, and the student council members actually develop into individuals rather than remain as personality quirks; as individuals, they share in moments of intimacy with Utena that are
natural and unforced: whether it’s Juri offering Utena a sword, Utena grieving over Wakaba, Utena with Touga the night before their final duel, or Juri and Miki playing badminton to clear Utena’s head before her last duel. Then there is Utena with Anthy. There is the greeting each night before sleep, and Utena’s faithful offer of friendship; the strange scene when they drink tea and eat cookies, promising to do so in ten years; and every single time Utena bows as a prince over Anthy’s body to withdraw her heart-sword. There is also the closing sequence for the final episodes.
There’s a plot, too, developed in four movements, with exposition, development, recapitulation, and revolution; it’s a delightful symphony.
The Student Council Saga revolves around the exceptional people of Ohtori Academy. This is the original heroic history, focusing on the duels of the men and women who make things happen. But exceptional people exact a cost from the world around them: the “ghosts” of the Black Rose Saga seem to feed on the resentment, frustrations and pain of the “lesser” folk left littering the landscape in their wake. Such a history is necessarily revisionist, but not automatically revolutionary. This is left to the Akio Ohtori and End of World Sagas. Here we see the origin of Utena’s decision to become a prince, and it’s Anthy. Suffering Anthy with the eyes that are both contradicting and beseeching, flat and deprecating and clinging – frankly, such a collection of opposites as to inspire delicious rage, as seen in everyone around her, and especially in Saionji and Akio. But never in Utena. In Utena, Anthy inspires pathos, the kind that spurs her on to be a prince. Now let it be said once: I am allowing myself a bit of poetic license; Anthy’s eyes are the usual anime eyes, and if there is depth in them, it may be imagination and nothing more. So be it. Imagination paired with love has fed the fire of revolution since the origin of the species.
Why does Dios show Anthy’s suffering to Utena? Maybe he intended that it merely move her; but young Utena, confronted with Anthy’s torment and Dios’ helplessness, finds the stirrings of the heroic within her. Ah, now that repeated narration makes sense: The travelling prince enjoins the princess never to lose her strength or nobility, even when she grows up…. “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?” Dios, the prince, gives Utena the rose signet ring that allows her to participate in the duels. Then true to the fatalist he is, he adds, “And yet I’m sure you will forget all about what you have seen tonight. And even if you do remember this, you’re a girl. Eventually you will become a woman.”
I love most that these are the words that spark the revolution. Utena very nearly does forget. She is a girl becoming a woman, and there are magnificent men all around her who want to be her prince. Touga uses romance to confuse Utena: is she in love with the prince who came to her in her childhood? Is his love her object? Akio uses sex and the power of Utena’s orgasm against her, which prove much more potent. Even Anthy can’t believe that Utena will remember after that, and says so, as she runs her through with a sword. “You remind me so much of Dios when I loved him. But you can never be my prince, because you are a girl.” Which brings us to the revolution.
Human beings build prisons as “necessary evils.” For reasons that are well-detailed in the plot, Anthy and Akio build their prison together; if there is any doubt that Akio is a prisoner, too, the movie dispels it. Ohtori Academy is a habitable prison, but habitability does not obviate suffering. Anthy suffers. She loved a prince once; but when eternal torment came, she became someone who lives, but no longer loves and lives for her prince. Having lost the object of his love, Dios changed too, and became Akio.
How does one escape from a prison where one is pierced by a million swords of hatred? Suicide comes to mind; but when Anthy does attempt it, in that pivotal episode, it is Utena who catches her, closing off that route. The only way out is through revolution; it requires remembering the past in order to change the present. Utena remembers what she had almost forgotten: she decided to become a prince when she was confronted with Anthy’s suffering, and she is resolved to be Anthy’s prince in the present. Playing off Dios’ words, Utena is a woman, so she will NOT forget. The ironic truth is that Anthy’s prince had to be a woman. Which is not to say that Anthy’s prince had to be a lesbian: Juri hates the very sight of Anthy. Anthy’s prince had to be a woman who remembers to love longest, even after the best men forget, with Akio as the proof.
Anne Elliot expressed it best: “I should deserve utter contempt if I dared to suppose that true attachment and constancy were known only by woman. No, I believe [men to be] capable of everything great and good…so long as you have an object. I mean while the woman you love lives, and lives for you. All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one, you need not covet it), is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone." Utena is Anthy’s prince, even when existence and hope are gone; that’s why she accepts back the letter from End of World which she had torn up and which Anthy patched. For Anthy, there is no other prince in whom she can believe, except the one who does not forget to love beyond hope and even existence. No one is more surprised than Anthy, when Utena breaks the seal of the Rose Gate and pries open the coffin with her bloodied hands, reaching out to her with unhesitating and heroic devotion. Utena falls, convinced of her failure, but Anthy is set free from her prison.
Is Utena still alive? Logic says no, for who could survive the piercing of a million swords of hatred? But Anthy says yes, and goes out (with Chu-Chu) to look for her prince – “Someday, we will shine together.” The revolution is complete.
After 1000 words, there are no obligatory remarks.
This review is based on a rewatch of the anime. Three years ago, I watched this anime for the first time and was totally confused from the first episode to the last. Now, perhaps due to some gained experience with watching and analyzing serious and meaningful anime, I've been able to understand this anime better and appreciate it more.
This anime uses a lot symbolism from various things including roses, Biblical stories, Greek mythology, shadow puppetry, and more. There are many interpretations of this symbolism as it relates to the story's main plot. I didn't figure all of it out, but I'd figured out enough
to be really entertained by the anime.
This anime discusses what can cause self-actualization and what can prevent self-actualization. For the most part, the anime is focused on self-actualization in teens. Some teens struggle to self-actualize themselves b/c they are attempting to make certain moments eternal. Once you near the end of the anime, you see that everyone in this anime is trying to hold on to something eternal (i.e. precious memories) b/c they are dissatisfied with their personal lives which make up their world. As a result, they try to get "the power to revolutionize world" in order to make whatever they want eternal. Yet, the true power to revolutionize goes beyond holding on to precious moments that you can't experience again. That true power is the freedom to live unhindered by restraints from family, friends, and the world around you through self-actualization.
To review the characters, soundtrack, and animation separately is pointless because they all revolve around the symbolism. They are all engaging, poignant, and complex aspects of the anime. Some of it may be too repetitive, but to me that repetition just serves to drive home the theme of self-actualization.
The only final thoughts I have is that there are some things that may make viewers uncomfortable including implied yuri and yaoi as well as incest. Stay clear of this anime if you don't like this stuff.
Overall, I enjoyed this series A LOT better than I did the first time around. I felt like I was watching a mythological tale play out, and it was very satisfying. If you don't mind analyzing a lot of stuff to understand what's going on, then I recommend this anime. It is a masterpiece.