Recently I’ve finished watching Revolutionary Girl Utena. I got the Blu-Ray Collection last year, and around the same time I got the manga, but I must confess I’ve never watched the series all the way through until now. Revolutionary Girl Utena is one of those iconic series that influenced almost anyone who has ever watched it, and finally seeing it through I can understand why.
It’s an incredibly layered series. A person could probably easily do a dissertation about it, especially when you contrast and combine the themes, motifs, parables and reoccurring imagery spread across the manga, series and movie adaptations, and look at them all as three chapters of a single story. Because even though they tell largely the same story, Utena looking for her prince, getting caught up with the battle over the Rose Bride and making the choice between being a prince and being with her prince, the interpretations are different enough that seeing them all one after another that they all accomplish different things.
The anime can be slow at times and surreal to the point of confusion, especially the Nanami focused episodes, which honestly are largely filler, as is the Black Rose arc. The Black Rose arc, strictly speaking, is necessary to the end of the story, but it felt like it could have been shortened or told in a more straight forward way.
The Apocalypse arc on the other hand is almost perfect, with some truly beautiful animation and some very interesting themes and imagery. Utena’s ascent to the dueling arena is particularly stunning. I have to admit here I like the manga’s interpretation more than the anime’s, a story of a fallen god trying to manipulate his way back to his powers more than a battle to defeat archetypes, but I do like the anime’s more symbolic revolution of the world rather than the manga’s more literal one. But as I said, if taken as a whole story rather than an adaptation of one medium into another, it’s interesting to see the stakes get smaller but more personal, which gets further distilled into the movie.
I was worried I wouldn’t like Adolescence of Utena because of hearing how surreal the movie was, to the point of absurdity, but after watching it, I have to say I genuinely loved it and was one of the more interesting pieces of animated cinema I’ve seen. It’s far more enjoyable as a conclusion to the series rather than taken as a separate whole, with the final revolution being taken and the world finally destroyed. Again, the apocalypse is mostly symbolic even if it takes place within a magical situation where a real destruction could happen, but the actual change to the world for Utena and Anthy is a lot more magical.
The examination of relationships of family, gender, sexual orientation, traditional story archetypes and the effect school life has on transforming a person are all fascinatingly explored in a really beautiful anime, and I recommend that everyone should see it at least once.