Revolutionary Girl Utena



  • Let’s talk about Revolutionary Girl Utena an anime that contains a main character by the name of Utena who, dreams of becoming a prince, not a princess, but a prince. In this post I want to share some of my thoughts in terms of what I liked along with some criticisms on this anime as well as provide a spot for everyone to talk about this series, and considering how many Utena fans are here; I’m surprised nobody put this together.

    The setup story goes that Utena meets a prince at a young age and is so impressed, she vows she herself will become a prince. She chooses to wear a boys uniform, has a bit of a masculine feel to her, well, in comparison to the other girls in the story and is generally laid back and easy going. I want to get some of the criticisms out of the way first, although, there will be the odd praise thrown in this section as well.

    I think my first, and major issue with this series is the repetition, I understand there are a multitude of characters and how all the duels represent something of great significance; however, it did feel like a “villain of the week” format for the first two story arcs along with the fact that the structural composition of these episodes were virtually identical. From the exact moment when a problematic character would be corrupted into dueling to when the shadow puppeteers would appear to the turn out of the duel, it did take away the element of surprise.

    As a result, this did make things predictable for the first two story arcs and did impede the pacing at times. On a positive note, it did serve as a vehicle to develop many of the supporting characters involved by allotting them plenty of screen time along with delving into their personal structures thus motivating them to want to duel.

    The next issue is more superficial and cosmetic; the footage that was always reused for every battle, every time, some argue it’s there because it’s a ritual, however, I feel that it’s the sort of He-Man/Sailor Moon transformation syndrome.

    That English dub was pretty awful, I normally don’t’ get too bent out of shape about English dubs, one example being that I actually liked the Puella Magi Madoka Magica dub, because it was apparently very poor, which while I have some criticisms for, wouldn’t count as bad, not by a long shot; however the dub for Revolutionary Girl Utena on the other hand, aiya, aiya. With the exception of Utena’s character along with the voice of Touga (Crispen Freeman) and Akio which were passible, actually, they were pretty good, but every other character, especially Nanami ranged from mildly annoying and laughable to downright grating.

    Lastly, some of the comedic elements seemed to fall flat; random animals running out from nowhere to the antics of Choo Choo; he’s kind of annoying. It should be mentioned that some of the more subtle, less cartoonish humor was very well executed.



  • Now for the positive, firstly, this series was overall entertaining and it made great and clever use of allegory; which is precisely what prevents this series from becoming a shonen with a female lead. This allegory was strategically placed throughout the series as motifs to serve a number of functions, at times foreshadowing, or simply to illustrate a given situation. These motifs include, but aren’t limited to; elevators, roses, car(s), and one last one not a single person has mentioned; UFO’s and aliens. Even the duels themselves represented something of importance to the overall point of the series which is pretty much a coming of age, loss of innocence piece.

    It deals with many things young people go through during their maturity leading to adulthood, including sexual maturity. This is sometimes dealt with in a crafty, tongue in cheek manner, as on the Nanami’s Egg to a more disturbing darker perspective such as the incest to trying to ascertain one’s own identity.

    The setting itself, while is a high school has a more fantasy, elegant, fairy tale presentation to it with a constant barrage of roses, which is the series’ most predominate motifs, which obviously points to the fact that the roses, being different colors and in different situations, mean different things.

    One of the notable traits of older anime as opposed to modern anime is seen here with the character designs. I have noticed that in a lot of older titles the characters tend to have a more gangly, cartoonish appearance as opposed to more of the modern material which opts for more standard proportions (aside from some of the fan service shows where bust sizes seem to be exaggerated) and a more “cinematic” execution.

    Considering that I do tend to watch more of the modern material from 2000 onward; when I see an older title like Berserk, GunBuster or Akira, it does give me a deeper appreciation for this material. In the case of Revolutionary Girl Utena, I found it had a significant level of influence over some of my favorite anime, from Tenjho Tenge, to even the Queen’s Blade franchise; I felt that Annelotte was so alike to Utena in demeanor and behavior along with the similarities between the feeling and look of the setting with Gainos looking remarkably similar to the campus on Revolutionary Girl Utena. Even the rose garden that appears frequently throughout Revolutionary Girl Utena is virtually identical to a rose garden for a scene of great significance on the first Queen’s Blade series.

    I just can't help but feel a similar vibe between these two characters, a variety of design differences yes, and yet, so similar.

    I think my favorite point of this series were the last two arcs when Akio has a stronger presence in this series. This was where I felt the overall writing got tighter and everything just seemed to have more impact. It just seemed as though there was more riding on the line, the confrontations seemed like they had more validity, Utena’s world was beginning to unravel along with the kind of person she wanted to decide to become. Many more dirty secrets were revealed and character arcs were concluded, I actually really liked how everyone seemed to get along at the end prior to Utena’s final battle.

    The dueling arena, being an illusion which was actually the astronomy tower was brilliantly foreshadowed with the shadow puppetry scenes always starting with a UFO crashing into it, or how the cinematography had the duelling arena behind and perfectly parallel to it. If that wasn’t enough, Akio’s constant star gazing would lead to that conclusion.

    The last arc managed to link many of its events back to the beginning of the series which leads me to a theory I have about Utena; that she was dead the entire time. When they said she was hiding in the coffin next to her parents, perhaps she wasn’t hiding, perhaps she was dead as well and the world she inhabits is illusion, maybe it’s hell, or maybe she is like Souji and is only a mere memory to eventually be forgotten. Understand, this is merely a theory I have, I haven’t seen the movie that takes place after the television series.

    On the topic of Akio and his car, it was inventive the way he would seduce everyone who rode in his car in some way, be it feeding their lust, or their vanity, which eventually included Utena which seemed to be similar to the way Gilgamesh was able to manipulate and persuade Kirei.

    Which brings me to a very persistent motif; Akio’s car where a majority of his manipulation and seduction take place; a car, while is technically nothing more than a series of simple machines to get a person from one place to another tends to mean so many different things to people. Possibly one of the most prevalent being freedom, the ability to get up and go at any time; however, those of us who own, or have owned a car know they aren’t cheap to run. This is where, in order to have that freedom, a person must be willing to sacrifice some of it to work, earn money and pay to run that car.

    This is where a car not only represents an individual’s personality and priorities; it can actually be something of a status symbol. It can be easily assumed that someone driving a Gullwing Mercedes is doing pretty well financially, maybe earning good money at a high paying, and highly important job, or they have some heavy debt. The point being is that on Revolutionary Girl Utena, looking at the car Akio drives we know he has a strong social standing being the acting chair of the academy along with being a smooth talking all round “cool guy.” Except for that mullet; it has got to go. This is where I interpreted some scenes that contained both Touga and Kyouichi riding around on a motorcycle with a sidecar to be comedic because it seemed like they were trying to be like Akio, but, they just didn’t quite measure up in status. Even the scene when the two characters were riding the motorcycle in the dueling arena and were charging at Utena, while it may have been unintentional, I had a good laugh because the two of them sincerely reminded me of Beavis and Butthead during that scene.

    The music fit the tone of the series like a glove which consisted of plenty of string work and classical music reminiscent of some of Bach’s compositions. Which makes sense because the setting and general vibe has a very renaissance feeling to it. The entrance music for the arena ritual, which I didn’t think was anything special, actually it was quite cheesy to be honest, still managed to be catchy and had a nasty habit of getting in a person’s head.

    Overall, this was a pretty solid series and has managed to make it onto my level 3 section of my favorites, while it is quite repetitious at times; it is also an enjoyable anime to watch that makes clever use of various literary devices. I’m also going to admit, because there are so many on this series, I didn’t quite catch the meaning of every single one even when I knew they were coming up.



  • That's quite the lengthy post.

    I agree with your criticisms. The repetitive nature and recycled animation did get old and made it hard to watch more than a couple of episodes at a time. It was included for a reason, but it didn't make it any less tiring. I've listened to a couple of episodes with the dub after watching the entire thing in Japanese, and yeah…. not a fan.

    I got more hooked on the series once Black Rose started, but Apocalypse was easily the best of the arcs. And I loved the music for the series, and the art as well.

    I have the LE box sets in my drawer but have yet to take the shrink-wrap off, which means I also have yet to watch the movie. TRSI included the ring bonus item when I bought them, which surprised me since I thought it was something they were giving away only to people who had pre-ordered the sets.



  • Yeah, it's not a show that has aged well. I watched it last semester and it was pretty eurgh. Plenty of corners are cut, which is what I assume initiated the reputation that J.C.Staff has today



  • Once upon a time RightStuf trolled me massively by sending me parts of this as Bargain10 items (ie: $10 blind buy bargain bin items). I was set to open it, but then I saw-through other means-parts of this series and I realized that taking this one out of the shrink wrap would be like taking the uranium out of its lead casing.

    The art and animation were abhorrent. I expected this to look bad, having seen other JC Staff works, but I clearly didn't set my expectations low enough. I hear that there's some semblance of a story in there but not one that I've been informed is worth being exposed to such high levels of "radiation".



  • So what you're saying is Utena turned you into the Grumpy Hulk you are today!?



  • So yeah, I pretty much consider Utena basically the smartest anime ever produced. It is freakin dense. Multiple character arcs, concurrent thematic threads, overlapping motifs, a well-constructed story, and of course more visual allegory than you can shake a rose at. Complete with a powerful, positive message. Utena has more to say in its own runtime than most entire seasons of anime.

    I won't argue the stock animation and the comedy side-story episodes aren't grueling to sit through(though they're still important!). I do disagree that the show is ugly. I think it's gorgeous in only the way 90s shoujo anime can be. Utena isn't perfect by any stretch, but it is ambitious. And that's something fans should demand more of. It kinda makes me mad that so few shows try that hard.

    Oh, and the guys at the GeekNights podcast started doing video reviews of Utena by episode. There's a lot of really good insight for anyone still confused by Utena's WTFiness.



  • Sidereal you sure complain a hell of a lot over an anime you've never seen.



  • @Renzokuken:

    Oh, and the guys at the GeekNights podcast started doing video reviews of Utena by episode. There's a lot of really good insight for anyone still confused by Utena's WTFiness.

    Duly noted. I'll have to check them out sometime than revisit the series.



  • @St0ck:

    Sidereal you sure complain a hell of a lot over an anime you've never seen.

    Unfortunately just because I didn't take any of them out of the shrink wrap (I'm still mystified as to how these were Bargain10 items) doesn't mean that I haven't seen a bulk of the show. Enough to know that the "greatness" said to be within it doesn't exist and that groupthink is the reason that it holds such an unsubstantiated reputation in the anime fandom.

    Recycled animation ought to be a crime. I guess it is a "trademark" for this "franchise" as the tangentially-related Penguindrum and, especially, Melody of Oblivion also had more recycled footage than a recap episode in a shounen series :)



  • @Renzokuken:

    So yeah, I pretty much consider Utena basically the smartest anime ever produced. It is freakin dense. Multiple character arcs, concurrent thematic threads, overlapping motifs, a well-constructed story, and of course more visual allegory than you can shake a rose at.

    I disagree with you here with the idea that it’s the “most intelligent” anime; it is definitely thought provoking, but it’s intelligent in a different and unique way. I knew with the way the allegory and surrealism were executed that I was to stay mindful and aware of patterns.

    This brings me to my point; this show is very upfront about its literary devices to the point that the viewer is made more than sufficiently aware of their existence. It doesn’t make it less intelligent or inferior, but it’s done differently incomparision to something a little more subtle like Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero or the two Fullmetal Alchemist series, and even then, these shows have some differences amongst themselves even when they do cover some of the same ground in terms of the real world implications and themes.

    @Renzokuken:

    Utena isn't perfect by any stretch, but it is ambitious. And that's something fans should demand more of. It kinda makes me mad that so few shows try that hard.

    I do need to disagree with this statement to a certain extent with the consideration there is some degree of truth to it. I can’t speak for the greater portion of the most recent anime; I know even with just basic readings that Psycho-Pass is more than likely thought provoking and I’m sure there will be room for interpretation of the sociological implications it makes. Attack on Titan had some very thought provoking motifs, foreshadowing and it has an intelligent point in regards to society, economics, politics and governance, all the while being disguised as an action packed shonen with mediocre pacing.

    Sometimes intelligence and ambition in anime is hidden right under the viewer’s nose in some of the most unlikely titles such as Queen’s Blade (which I’ve spoken to great lengths about), or even High School of the Dead, which when I take some time to think about, has far more depth than I originally gave it credit for, which I’m not going to get into or how and why because I’m tired and lazy right now.

    Once again, I’m not making any implications that the way Revolutionary Girl Utena is in any way subpar to these examples I’m giving, it goes about it in its own way, I’m just saying that when (I)(we) approach any anime with the same intuition and respect the results are downright astounding in terms of what can be found in terms of connecting the dots, looking at the implications and seeing patterns form that can change a person’s perspective on a given title.

    @sidereal_presence:

    Enough to know that the "greatness" said to be within it doesn't exist and that groupthink is the reason that it holds such an unsubstantiated reputation in the anime fandom.

    Whoa, whoa, hold on there a minute; I went into this series completely unbiased and open to the ideas it was presenting. While I found it entertaining and it made great use of literary devices, I did also have some criticism for it in the form of how repetitious it was. I did state that the first two arcs episodes were virtually identical from the structure right down to the execution which did cause some pacing issues.

    As a result of my findings, I don’t think this series is as great as everyone makes it out to be, but it sure as hell is a solid, intelligent and entertaining series that I would easily recommend to anyone.

    @sidereal_presence:

    The art and animation were abhorrent. I expected this to look bad, having seen other JC Staff works, but I clearly didn't set my expectations low enough.

    I completely disagree with this, and since I can’t say it better, this quote should do well to convey my thoughts on the matter:

    @Renzokuken:

    I do disagree that the show is ugly. I think it's gorgeous in only the way 90s shoujo anime can be.



  • You've watched a bulk of the show… so you've watched over 20 episodes? I'm still amazed how much you punish yourself for no apparent reason.
    I remember when I watched Beck, I couldn't stand it and only watched 3-4 episodes of the show, nothing else needed to be done.
    Also I have to ask, you were at the point where you were about to unwrap it but then stopped because:

    saw-through other means-parts of this series and I realized that taking this one out of the shrink wrap would be like taking the uranium out of its lead casing

    Then proceeded to watch 20 episodes? unwrapping the shrink wrap is horrible but wasting 8 hours watching the show is ok? You're pretty amazing…



  • Hey, I like watching shows that look like they're going to be terrible. They can range anywhere from ironically moderate surprise (ImoCho) to genuinely surprised surprise great surprise (Outbreak Company)



  • @Riles:

    Hey, I like watching shows that look like they're going to be terrible. They can range anywhere from ironically moderate surprise (ImoCho) to genuinely surprised surprise great surprise (Outbreak Company)

    Well you do it because you actually like anime, Sidereal just says it so he can complain about stuff.



  • One of my favorite Ani-Bloggers just wrote a really great write-up for Utena: http://wrongeverytime.com/2014/02/17/performance-identity-eternity-revolutionary-girl-utena/



  • @Renzokuken:

    One of my favorite Ani-Bloggers just wrote a really great write-up for Utena: http://wrongeverytime.com/2014/02/17/performance-identity-eternity-revolutionary-girl-utena/

    I took a look around at some of his other blogs while I was there. Some of his material I agree with, some, not so much. Pardon me if I go off topic here a bit, I just want to express a few thoughts.

    The material I do agree with is some of the thoughts and sentiments I already have about anime, some of it helped put things into perspective and I also got something more from some of it.

    For what I agreed with, in fewer words, the idea expressed there seems to be that anime is subjective, but I particularly agreed with what he said about critics. He really hit the nail on the head for some topics for me, the main difference, and this is humbly speaking, I feel that he’s better at expressing those thoughts than I could.

    I want to take a moment to talk about what was said about critics. I strongly agree that there are certain critics (I won’t mention names this time because I’m sure by now people know who I’m talking about) who don’t stop at simply stating an opinion and explaining how they arrived at that opinion. I find these people’s reviews read more like “if you like this anime, or this anime type you’re a degenerate, immoral, stupid sociopath,” integrated into the review, or they just outright insult the demographic by mentioning the type of people who watch a given anime.

    The overall irony of this is that some of these critics or anime figureheads in particular have referred to members of the anime fandom as sociopathic when the same behavior has been exhibited by these critics themselves.

    I also agree with the post about how if these critics do write some nasty things they should be ready to deal with the negative consequences, however, he did fail to mention some of them have received death threats. I don’t care how insulting or derogatory an anime review is to a given demographic, or how much I hate that critic; nobody should have to put up with that.

    Both Zac Bertschy and Hope Chapman have received death threats, I remember Zac wrote a post where he mentioned that he got a threat and a photo of his apartment. Now, I really don’t like the guy, but that's pretty fucking scary, he doesn’t deserve death threats for expressing an opinion, even if it is done in a derogatory and inflammatory manner. Aside from the fact that death threats are illegal, they do reflect poorly on the individuals creating them and as a result the fandom.

    I do feel, however, that such critics and people should be called out and criticised for their behavior as opposed to people making excuses for them.

    The bottom line is that there is no reason to insult fans or people who happen to like a certain anime title or a certain type of anime; there just isn’t, and I don’t care who you are. This is where I agree with that blogger in how reviews are written, and yes, the negativity does get hits, but then, that sort of motive would make it a sensationalist junk food review, or outright trolling; would it not?

    I do disagree with the blogger’s stance on fan service, I see his point and his angle, which as I said I strongly disagree with and it's ground I have treaded over and over. The best way I can sum it up is; if an anime has a good, well executed story with worthwhile characters, the result, for me anyway, is the fan service takes a backseat or secondary position because I’m more engaged in the characters ambitions, motives and development and how they correlate to the story and the implications that go along with them. I’ve already said, that as a heterosexual male I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I liked the fan service; it’s just that it’s not my main priority when watching an anime. I've already mentioned along the lines that if the characters are well written in a good story then the fan service is derogatory to them nor the viewer.

    Strange thing about fan service now that I think about it, on shows that have an excessive amount; it doesn’t seem to bother me whereas on series that have it very sparingly it bugs me a bit. Maybe because it sneaks up and catches me off guard the way it was done on a show like Stein’s; Gate; the rare scene when I was subjected to Kurisu’s labia did more to shock me than all the fan service on Queen’s Blade, High School DxD and Samurai Girls combined. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I really didn’t expect it. Whatever, fan service; some people like it, some don’t mind it, others hate it; just how it is.

    As for the blog on Revolutionary Girl Utena, I started reading it and will continue it later, it is pretty good though, and one of the more detailed, well thought out write ups I’ve seen about it; still no mention of UFO’s of Aliens though.


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