Revolutionary Girl Utena
Reviewed by Jayne Lockhart:
At a tender age, Tenjou Utena lost both of her parents. As she was grieving, a mysterious prince appeared on a white horse. He embraced her with the scent of roses and told her to never lose her strength and nobility. The prince presented her with a rose signet ring and a promise that it would lead her to him one day. But Utena was so impressed by this prince that she decided to become a prince herself!
Utena is now an eighth grader at the prestigious Ohtori Academy. Clad in her custom-tailored uniform, admired by male and female schoolmates alike, Utena has never lost her noble heart or her princely aspirations.
When Saionji Kyoichi, the arrogant vice-president of the omnipotent Student Council, humiliates her best friend Wakaba in front of the entire campus, Utena challenges him to a duel for Wakaba's honor. He agrees to meet her in the forbidden dueling arena forest after class.
Deep in the forest, Utena's rose signet is the key to a strange gate. A white, spiraling staircase leads to the arena, above which an inverted castle floats in mid-air.
There, Utena meets Saionji. She is surprised to learn that every student council member owns a rose signet just like her own. Saionji calls for the "Rose Bride," a demure and submissive girl whom Utena recognizes as her classmate, Himemiya Anthy.
Anthy tucks a green rose in Saionji's breast pocket and a white rose in Utena's breast pocket. Utena learns that the Victor of the Duel will be the first to cut the rose from their opponent's chest. Anthy chants an incantation, and to Utena's surprise, Saionji draws a magic sword from the center of the Rose Bride's chest and vows to revolutionize the world!
The duel begins. Having brought a mere wooden practice sword to the Arena, Utena fights at a great disadvantage, but she perseveres with valor and honor. Suddenly, a familiar princely figure descends from the castle suspended above the Arena, endowing Utena with his power. Both Duelists make a final charge, and the petals of a green rose are soon drifting to the floor.
Utena is now the Victor of the Duel. However, nothing is quite what it seems in this surreal series....
According to the terms of the Duel, Utena finds herself engaged to Anthy! "I am the Rose Bride. From this day forward, I am your flower," Anthy says. It is also said that the Victor will gain the power to revolutionize the world. The members of the Student Council, who have been receiving mysterious and prophetic letters from "The End of the World," will do anything to regain that power. Utena's rose signet becomes her key to a world of mystery, intrigue, and apocalypse.
Central Park Media/Software Sculptors has released the series under the title "Revolutionary Girl Utena." The director is Ikuhara Kunihiko, who directed some of the most dramatic episodes of Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon as well as the beloved Sailormoon R movie. At Animation Kobe '97, Ikuhara won the 1997 Kobe Award and Utena won the Best TV Animation Award.
Parent's Guide Rating:
yellow (parental guidance advised)
Utena was equally inspired by the shoujo anime classic "Versailles no Bara" ("Rose of Versailles") and Hermann Hesse's novel "Demian." This is a surreal, darkly philosophical series that would probably get a PG-13 rating if it was broadcast in the US. That being said, Utena is also beautiful, inspirational, and weirdly comic. Utena herself is an excellent role model: noble and sincere, yet innocent. She has a strong sense of justice and fairness and balances both masculine and feminine traits, combining the best of prince and princess.
In Japan, Utena was originally a "shoujo" series, intended for young girls (probably between the ages of 8 and 16). However, this series contains sexual themes and mild violence that some parents might find unsuitable for preteens and younger children. The following reviews the content of the first 13 episodes, which have been released in English formats. For a more in depth look at the later episodes, I suggest the Utena Encyclopedia:
Sex: The mutability of gender roles is a major theme in the series, as the main character is a girl who wears a boys' uniform and "would rather be the prince who rescues the princess than the princess who is rescued." As the result of her involvement in the duels, she becomes "engaged" to another girl.
The series unabashedly explores same-gender relationships, both platonic and romantic. Utena and Anthy are said to be "engaged," but share a deep, platonic friendship. (Utena calls herself a "totally normal girl" who just wants a "totally normal boy.") Another character, Arisugawa Jury, is a lesbian. Curiously, the dubbed version (which I have not seen) seems to have toned down the lesbianism. Those who have only seen the dub are often surprised to find out that Jury is gay. In the subtitled version, her true sexual orientation is more apparent.
Some sexual situations are implied; since the setting is a school, most involve teenaged characters. There are also a few incestuous themes and relationships in the series: poor, sheltered Nanami has fallen in love with her protective older brother, Touga, who does not return her affections.
Violence: Nanami is the frequent target of comedic slapstick violence, as is Chu-Chu, the animal "mascot" of the series. Anthy, the perpetual damsel in distress, is frequently slapped by various members of the cast. In one scene, Jury suddenly turns on Utena and tries to wrest the signet from Utena's fingers. Utena fights back in self-defense. In a flashback, we learn that Nanami once killed a kitten in a jealous rage when she was a child. Touga receives a flesh wound in a duel. Duels are fought frequently throughout the series, always with swords. The object of the duel is to cut a colored rose from your opponent's breast pocket. The dueling is intense, but mostly bloodless.
Profanity: Profanity should not be a problem with this series.
For More Information:
There are 39 episodes in this series. At this time, only the first 13 episodes of the series are available in English (subtitled or dubbed). The final 26 episodes have been optioned, but not yet acquired.
For more information on this series, try the following links.
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