Before Mawaru Penguindrum came in and screwed our minds, there was Revolutionary Girl Utena.
Shoujo Kakumei Utena is a Psychological-Fantasy-Shoujo series (how often do you see that combo) produced back in 1997 by J.C. Staff, and was created and directed by Ikuhara Kunihiko of current Penguindrum fame. Because of Ikuhara’s relatively well-known friendship with Hideaki Anno, creator of the equally renowned Neon Genesis Evangelion, Utena was labelled by fans of the series as Eva’s shoujo counterpart. Having watched both I can say that their claims are, well, plausible. If you have watched Penguindrum or Evangelion, you’d most likely know what to expect. If not, then, hopefully this short review could be of help.
As you may have guessed from the title, the series’ heroine is the “girl who would bring revolution to the world” herself, Tenjou Utena. She has a very tomboy-ish, energetic character with a strong sense of justice and nobility. This was made so by her vow of becoming a prince, in hopes of meeting the prince that saved her from the despair of losing her parents. Noble as she may be, she’s also just a fourteen year-old girl who was then only new to the world of adolescence and romance. What’s to stop this innocent girl from falling in love from time to time? The answer: nothing at all.
It has the shoujo tag so expect a certain level of romance and drama, which gets more and more intense as the arcs progress. There are a few breather episodes here and there but the series can mostly be divided into three major story arcs: first is the “Student Council Duels” arc, second is the “Black Rose Duelists” arc (which is almost like a filler), and the third is the “End of the World” arc. I can’t go into detail with the second and third arcs without spoiling you guys, so that leaves us with the first arc, which coincidentally is my favorite out of the three.
The Student Council arc introduces the series’ second main character, our prince’s princess, Himemiya Anthy. Utena is plunged into one-on-one sword duels with the Student Council, in a contest to decide who would own the “Rose Bride”, that being Himemiya. I’m not too fond of Himemiya’s character personally. Primarily she’s this aloof, timid character who doesn’t really stand out. She displays no will of her own, and her loyalty lies with whoever wins the duel for the Rose Bride. That being said though, the Council arc is my favorite arc for a lot of reasons, but mainly it’s because of the Council members themselves. Consisting of four (later on five) members, the Council are a very interesting bunch of individuals that become the main attention grabbers for the viewers early on.
The duels are visually okay-ish, with a lot of stock footage being reused here and there. These one-on-one’s are mostly fencing matches, which are still pretty intense, and considering this was back in 1997, it was alright. Visually overall I think this series was very nice and for the most part consistent. If you’ve watched Penguindrum first before this, you’d notice the nods Penguindrum made to Utena – one of the amusing ones that I found would be Penguindrum’s stock audio “Rock Over Japan” in comparison to Utena’s “Zettai Unmei Mokushiroku”. Which also brings out one of Utena’s strong ponts in the audio department. There are a bunch of insert songs in this series and all of ‘em are rather catchy.
As a psychological anime, the series is abundant with symbolism, from religious mirroring to sexuality, the bulk of which I doubt I caught. I found it best to just let it slide until I finished the series, before looking up the stuff I didn’t manage to pick up. The reason for which is because this series can and will be punishingly exhausting. It spans thirty-nine episodes and it feels like it’s thirty-nine episodes long. I for one found myself getting stuck at episode 30 or so, and it took a few weeks for me to get back on track. I don’t recommend watching this in one or two sittings. Not only does it make for a struggle, but this series takes time, and it’s well worth it.
All in all, Revolutionary Girl Utena is a wonderful show for its time. You’ll scratch your head, but I guess that’s just part of the regimen.