a.k.a. Shoujo Kakumei Utena
Saddened by the death of her parents as a child, Utena is comforted by the gentle words of a prince on a white horse. The prince gives her a ring and says “This ring will lead you to me”. So impressed was Utena by the prince and his words that she wants to become a prince herself! What role does the ring given to her play? Who is this mysterious Rose Bride that she meets, and what does it have to do with her finding her prince?
summary by Kei
Highs: Keeps you interested; unique
Lows: Confusing; recycled cels
Amazing. Simply amazing. With all the high regard I have for this series now, it is by no means what I expected Revolutionary Girl Utena to be when I first heard about it. With all of the mediocre, so-called “magical girl” series out there, I was expecting this series to be just as predictable as the rest. Boy, was I wrong!
From the outside, Revolutionary Girl Utena has the basic formula of a decent shoujo anime. Take one heroine, add two or three friends, stir in one kawaii pet, sprinkle in about a dozen bishounen and you have yourself the skeleton for your average shoujo anime. However, Utena takes everything one step further. If at any time in the series you can say to yourself “Oh, I definitely know what’s going to happen next”, then you are lying. The most wonderful thing about this anime is that it always keeps you guessing.
However, it’s the way that things keeps you interested that may turn some people away. This series is filled with the most symbolism that I have ever seen in an anime. Even the comedic, filler episodes have some sort of hidden meaning to them. With all of this laying under the skin of the anime, someone who understands what is going on will obviously enjoy it more than the rest. I personally found it to be extremely interesting, standing far above other anime in its genre.
Despite it being labeled a shoujo anime, this is really something for all fans of anime. Now that you’ve heard it from me, I suppose you have no choice but to revolutionize the world. The path before you has been prepared.
Highs: Elegant art and music; story and symbolism
Lows: Reused scenes and animation
From the story to the animation and music, Revolutionary Girl Utena radiates elegance. Although it conforms to some of the conventions of the magical girl genre, such as the repetitive “transformation sequence” at the end of nearly every episode to prepare for a duel, this anime series is one of the most unusual, profound shows of its kind.
When it comes to the art and style, Utena is nearly peerless. The soft backgrounds matched with the long and angular character designs make this an anime that looks like no other. Whether it be fencing, driving or dueling, the action scenes flow smoothly and maintain the graceful air of the setting and story. Each scene is matched with beautiful and slightly eerie music, especially the duels and the accompanying lyrics. The ascent to the dueling arena occurs in nearly every episode; if you don’t like the associated song and animation, you might find these repeated scenes annoying. Even the end of most duels uses the same attack and animation, and these two recurring scenes give the anime the repetitive feel that plagues so many magical girl series.
On the other hand, the multi-layered story and the attention to both symbolism and characters more than make up for this imperfection. This story is unpredictable and mysterious, always giving the impression that there’s much more than what is shown on the surface. To that end, the series is rife with symbolism, especially the use of roses and various objects in the duels. Although the story advances at a steady pace, there are a few episodes that are frivolous and not related to the main plot. In spite of this, these episodes provide some needed levity and even more insight into the characters, which are fully explored and developed by the end.
Revolutionary Girl Utena lives up to its name as a revolutionary series. If you’re ready for an anime that requires you to think, get your hands on this one. You won’t be disappointed.
Highs: Elegant art; deep symbolism
Lows: Reuse of cels and music ad nauseam; sloooow start
This is perhaps one of the most frustrating anime I have ever seen. Frustrating not because it is bad, but because of the inappropriate use of the 39 episodes. Here is a nice, twisted, complicated fairy tale story that borrows from the magical girl genre, but it isn’t quite a magical girl show. In fact, many of its elements are too mature for young girls, setting it apart from that branch of anime.
One of the first things that draws people into this show is the beauty of the character design. Kudos to Hasegawa Shinya for such a clever, elegant and unique style that remained faithful to the manga while being very appropriate for the animation realm. We should also applaud the efforts of Enokido Yoji for the screenplay. This is a series filled to the brim with very classy symbolism, the type that are meant to make you think but have specific reasons behind them… unlike Evangelion and its tricky imagery. I particularly liked the segments with the Kashira shadow theater, which serve as the equivalent to the chorus, an instrumental element in ancient Greek theater that further explained the situations and reasoning of the characters.
Unfortunately, after the first couple of episodes, this anime almost comes to a standstill as few things happen. All we get to see is fencing duel after fencing duel with similar outcomes. There is also the very annoying music. While we are at it, let’s add those scenes with the same lines and animation, which take about a fifth of the airtime and add nothing to the story. Revolutionary Girl Utena could have fit perfectly in a 26-episode format. There was no need to put us through such a lengthy period of inactivity that only threw a minute or two of development, while the rest of the material had little relevance. It is only until episode 30 or so, that the good stuff starts rolling and we get to see a satisfying yet puzzling ending.
In the end, Revolutionary Girl Utena is a lot like a soccer match with a 0-0 tie going into the final period. You end up leaving somewhat pleased with the outcome but had to put a big effort to avoid dozing off at halftime.
Revolutionary Girl Utena can be downloaded legally in the United States HERE.