Revolutionary Girl Utena

Revolutionary Girl UtenaType: TV Series
Episode Count: 39
Genre: Surreal Drama
Vintage: 1997

Version reviewed: Japanese Subtitled
Date of Review: 11 Jun 2007

Grade: A+

My alltime favorite series. For the uninitiated, Utena is Evangelion except with roses and duels instead of biomechs and Angels.

Plot Summary
Utena Tenjou has come to Ohtori Academy seeking her prince, who gave her a ring with a rose crest when she was a child and comforted her after her parents had died in an accident. Since then, she’s strived to live a noble life and become a prince herself. Unknown to her, this ring with the rose crest is the symbol of a duellist at Ohtori. The secret tradition at this school is to duel for possession of the Rose Bride, a girl named Anthy Himemiya. The current winner of the duels is engaged to the Rose Bride and she submits to their command. It is said that the power to revolutionize the world will be attained by the one engaged to the Rose Bride. Utena unwillingly becomes wrapped up in this duelling ritual, but her reasons are different from those who also wear the rose crest: the Student Council members, who receive letters from an unknown party called “End of the World” which instructs them on how and when the duels should take place.

The Review
It’s always hard to review a favorite anything because of the tendency to go on and on with glowing remarks and nothing else. I’ll attempt to give an in-depth look at this series without getting too wordy and piling on too much praise, but I make no guarantees.

Revolutionary Girl Utena is an amazing anti-fairy tale. It is a drama full of metaphors. It is anything but your average shoujo series. This is a series that uses unconvention to its fullest.

The first remarkable thing about this series is its setting. Ohtori is in Japan, but the campus is undeniably European in architecture, resembling the palace at Versailles in France. Indeed, the French influence is the most dominant in the setting of the story. Then there’s the soundtrack to the series, which is both illogical yet perfectly suited to the series. Of course there’s the classically influenced background music that could almost be expected for a series like this, but then there is the duel music. Duels are fought with a backdrop of what can only be described as Wagnerian Japanese Progressive Rock. It is about as far removed from strings and woodwinds as possible, yet it works and is almost a necessity for the way in which the story for Revolutionary Girl Utena is told.

The cast of characters is varied, and stock characters are virtually nonexistent. That is, every character and relationship has a purpose in the story. There are relationship dynamics at work that may seem shocking, but work and are in fact necessary for a story like this to be told. Every character has a story to tell, and over the course of the series, they all get told.

The plot itself is nothing short of amazing, especially if you are into metaphor and allegory and thrive on stories that work on multiple levels. Especially once the second story arc begins, almost everything that happens and that you see means something. Symbolism is the order of the day in Revolutionary Girl Utena, and it is here in spades. The series doesn’t escape having filler episodes, but even those are entertaining and carry some meaning with them. As to the overall plot and its resolution, it is on par with (and in my mind, surpasses) the kind of mindgames that something like Neon Genesis Evangelion plays. The two series are not all that alike, but they do share some similarities, and the best way I can describe Utena to those who know little to nothing about it is that it is like Evangelion, except with roses and duels instead of giant biomechs.

Revolutionary Girl Utena is a series that begs to be analyzed over and over both in story and in imagery. Rewatch value is extremely high because of this, since it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll pick up on something that you missed the last time through. This series earned its place as my overall favorite anime thanks to several factors: the plot with all of its symbolism and imagery, the music with its ability to recall said imagery, and the incredibly deep layering of just about every aspect of the story – characters and plot alike. This is a series that I live rather than watch. To me, it’s not ‘just another anime’, but an experience that I look forward to distilling meaning from again and again. It has become a part of me in some ways, and even to those that it does not touch at such a core level, there is much to be gained from watching Revolutionary Girl Utena. This series is metaphor at its finest.

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