The Consulting Analyst – An Introduction to Revolutionary Girl Utena

prologue

Or a version of me. Possibly the metaphor I represent
…Not me at all, actually

Once upon a time, years and years ago, there was a little princess. And she was very sad, for her mother and father had died. Before the princess appeared a traveling prince, riding upon a white horse. He had a regal bearing and a kind smile. The prince wrapped the princess in a rose-scented embrace and gently wiped the tears from her eyes.
‘Little one,’ he said, ‘who bears up alone in such deep sorrow. Never lose that strength or nobility, even when you grow up. I give you this to remember this day. We will meet again. This ring will lead you to me one day.’ Perhaps the ring the prince gave her was an engagement ring.

This was all well and good, but so impressed was she by him that the princess vowed to become a prince herself one day. But was that really such a good idea?

So begins the fairytale that lies at the heart of Revolutionary Girl Utena, though that is neither all of it nor the entire truth. Out of what we might term the Classic 90s Anime (shows that were outstanding artistic accomplishments as well as being extremely influential), Utena is far, far more likely to get overlooked than its contemporaries – Sailor Moon, Evangelion, Cowboy Bebop, and so on.

romance

Hey, remember when vaguely romantic imagery actually prefigured a romance?
Good times

And yes, I would absolutely include this show as being equally important to those juggernauts of anime. Not only is it the second major project of auteur director Kunihiko Ikuhara (who also directed Sailor Moon) and share quite a bit of Evangelion’s creative staff, but the show is nothing less than a work of art both visually and narratively. It plays to classic shoujo sensibilities and undermines them, conjures fairytales and questions them, creates characters who are both heartrendingly young and thematically timeless, and packs an jaw-dropping wallop of a feminist allegory. Further, it worked on the same budget as Evangelion for a third again as many episodes, and manages to maintain a consistent and arresting look from start to finish (stock footage exists for a reason, kids!).

The plot, briefly, is as follows: Utena comes to Ohtori Academy seeking the mysterious prince who once gave her a rose sigil ring, having sworn on that day to become a prince herself. She quickly gets drawn into the Student Council’s duels over Anthy, the so called “Rose Bride” said to give her betrothed the power to revolutionize the world. There is, of course, a great deal more to it than that – Utena is primarily a web of character studies, the framework of the duels serving to explore the hearts and minds of Utena and those that surround her. And symbolism. Oh boy, is there ever symbolism.

For those who weren’t around during my Fujiko Mine series, The Consulting Analyst works as follows: each episode gets its own post, where I’ll break it down into a set of subsections to help us get a better look at it. While this series is less twist dependent than Fujiko, these posts will still operate under a basic assumption that the viewer has seen the series at least once. In other words, if you’re nervous of spoilers you should finish your viewing first…which is a bit of a tricky matter. The series is available for free online here, but I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it. You see, the dub (and I say this as someone who enjoys making full throated dub defenses, and indeed watches certain shows exclusively in English) is a complete atrocity. It embodies the worst of the late 90s/early 00s dub process, with shrill overacting, unfitting voices, the occasional weird and distracting accent, and a general tendency to prod the actors to play far, far bigger and flatter than the material deserves. So, while I must by needs point out the free availability of the English dub, I would implore you to get hold of DVDs or some manner of (legal) subbed copy. It’s more than a worthy investment.

UPDATE MAY 2015: THE SUB IS LEGALLY AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE. FLOCK, MY DARLING READERS. FLOCK LIKE THERE IS NO TOMORROW. 

SO-DEEP

Feel free to make this your mental image whenever I talk about how
DEEP AND MEANINGFUL something is

The sections for this series will go as follows:

Episode Specifics: An overview of the plot, as well as any really overt references or common devices the episode in question is using.

Creator Commentary: Nozomi’s (wonderful, seriously worth the money) box sets come with creator commentary on quite a few of the individual episodes. My transcription skills will get quite the work out copying them here for your reading pleasure.

Character Spotlight: Because each duel or episode tends to explore the characters one at a time, we’ll pick out what’s going on with their arc and their individual issues (and later, how this relates back to previous characters they’re connected to).

Have You Heard: A discussion of the mysterious shadow girls and their plays, and how that relates to what’s going on in the episode.

Anthy Watch/End of the World: Like Oscar in the last series, Anthy is intensely polarizing. In light of What We Know in the finale, we’ll keep an eye on Anthy’s actions whenever applicable (as well as the mysterious End of the World).

Themes: This remains the catchall category, meant to discuss the underlying meaning or applicability of the episode in terms of itself and the series as a whole. It’s also pretty handy for anything I want to discuss with y’all that doesn’t fit explicitly into one of the established categories. Most though, this is where we take a minute to go Big Picture with the characters, the episode, and the series.

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19 comments on “The Consulting Analyst – An Introduction to Revolutionary Girl Utena

  1. Artemis says:

    I don’t know if I agree that Utena is more likely to get overlooked in comparison to the likes of Bebop, Sailor Moon, and Evangelion. Every single academic text that talks about 90s anime in some context also discusses Utena, and there’s been a slew of articles and essays, both in blogs and journals, that deal specifically with the title from various standpoints. I honestly can’t say that I’ve ever thought of Utena as a neglected anime. (Not that that’s a bad thing – while I may not be a fan of the series personally speaking, I can still definitely recognise it’s worth.)

    • Vrai says:

      You raise a fair point about it getting frequently mentioned in analytical or historical treatments – I suppose I was thinking of it more in the context of popular media? Among a younger generation I’d feel safe calling it the least likely to have been seen/heard of in the 90s stuff (which in America is explained by it being the only major 90s anime not to get any time on cable – but it also seems to be a case more widespread as well, on which I’m not so sure? I’d be quite interested to know if it was ever wildly popular).

    • Would you happen to have any specific articles or essays that you’d recommend, or academic texts that include an in-depth discussion of the series? I’m actually working on a conference paper about the series at the moment, and so far I’ve only been able to find a couple of literary journal articles looking at it. (I’d love blog posts and essays as well as published articles/texts.)

      (I know it’s been a while since you left this comment, but if you are able to offer any recommendations, I would greatly appreciate it!)

      • Artemis says:

        It’s been ages since I’ve done any academic research for anything, but a good starting point might be Susan J. Napier’s ‘Anime from Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation’. To be honest I’m not a huge fan of the book, but in a lot of ways its still a pretty useful text.

  2. Emily says:

    I watched this entire series subbed a few years ago and was captivated. I personally enjoy it more than I do Cowboy Bebop or Sailor Moon.

    • Vrai says:

      I hope you’ll enjoy the posts, then! It certainly has its specific appeal (I’d never call it superior to Bebop in particular, which deserves all its accolades), but it can stand toe to toe and its themes are particularly intriguing.

  3. I consider this Dub hate among the least understandable.

    I love this review, and I love how Meta the Anime is. But you should know there is also a Light Novel version that is even more explicitly Gay,

    I disagree with the stereotypical DUb hate here, The Dub is awesome, all the themes you mentioned in this post and more come off perfectly, regardless of how well the dubers understood them.

    Non of the acting is Bad, but it at times Narmy but that to me fits the bizzareness of the story perfectly.

    Utena is the same voice actress who Dubed Misty and various other Pokemon characters, yet I took me while to put my finger who she was because the role is very different.

    Taouga is the same voice actor who did Jeremiah Gutwald of Code Geass, and I as usual love how Hammy and over the top he is, it’s a perfect voice for deconstruct a Knight in shining armor.

    Saionji’s dub actor seems to me to be going for a young Vincent Price vibe. Maybe that’s just me but I love it.

    Shiori is perhaps the best however, her voice is able to be capture the complexities of her character brilliantly. And that her role is expanded in the movie makes it even better.

    But I suppose to an extent that’s just the advantage of not having seen the Japanese first and constantly comparing. I still haven’t seen the Sub, Anime is a visual Medium so I prefer my enjoyment of visuals to not be distracted by reading. I have watched plenty of Subs when ti’s the only option however, like RoV.

    I will say this, it’s important to see the Series before the Movie. The Movie is purely a commentary (sometimes elf Parody) on the Series, much of it will no work if you don’t already know the fuller story.

    And see the movie in the same version you saw the series, it won’t give right if it’s not the same voices you recognize from the series. I point this out because the Sub is easier to find online for the movie then the series.

    • Vrai Kaiser says:

      I’ve heard of the light novels, yes. Though as I understand it they’re their own separate canon (as is the manga, as is the movie manga, as is the movie if you’re not someone who takes it as an extension of the series, and so on).

      As to the dub…I’m quite fond of dubs if they’re well done, and the Utena dub is perhaps not as awful as I remember it being, but it’s still not what one would call ‘good’ (while there are those who are unilaterally dismissive of dubs, it’s a rather dishonest move to attribute that sentiment to anyone who doesn’t like a specific cast). While Utena’s dub has a decent enough script, and even a few alright voice actors (baby Crispin Freeman particularly), it’s also plagued with a lot of the problems of 90s dubs: flat, wooden delivery that sticks out more painfully against acceptable or the occasional well delivered line; cringeworthy mispronunciation of names, voices that feel cartoony without making sense to the character (especially in secondary cast), and a few absolutely critical parts (Anthy, Anthy, Anthy, and Nanami’s not much better) that simply cannot communicate the layers that are crucial in a work of this depth (it COULD be pulled off even then, as Evangelion proved, and Utena’s dub just doesn’t). Were it any other show I’d give it a pass, but the run of the mill issues are simply impossibly glaring against the impeccable voice work of the original version. And it’s not even a show where one can claim not wanting to read, not with the heavy reliance on text and lyrically important songs that are subtitled only.
      Still, if you found enjoyment in it (and there are parts to be enjoyed), I wouldn’t take that from you. Only encourage a willingness to try both sides, in this age when options and multicultural eperience are so readily available.

  4. Hi! I just recently came across your blog and I’ve been pouring over your analyses of Utena. They are fantastic! I’m actually working on a conference paper that I’ll be presenting next week on the use of fairy tales and narrative framing in the series, and I will definitely be citing your work. I’m also really looking forward to reading your analyses of the remaining episodes!

    • Vrai Kaiser says:

      Oh, wow! That’s really, really flattering! I’m glad you like the analyses, and I hope that your paper is well received and its presentation viewed by many masses.

  5. Also, I did have one other minor translation note about the opening narration. As with the line I mentioned in your episode 1 post, the issue is in the subtitling rather than your work. The line “We will meet again,” which the subtitles include as part of the prince’s speech, is actually a question asked by little Utena (“Will we meet again?”), to which he then answers, “This ring will lead you to me one day.” I managed to figure this out because the “voice” the shadow girl narrator uses for this line is markedly different (higher and more childlike) than the voice she uses for Dios’s lines.

    • Vrai Kaiser says:

      Interesting. With the amount of love that went into the rerelease, i wonder if that’s just something that slipped through the cracks (or if the subtitlers were working solely from scripts, no audio).

  6. I have also just discovered your blog, and as Utena is very near & dear to my heart I am looking forward to reading through all the posts. I only wish I had seen them in real time so as to dive into the discussions.

  7. […] by Vrai’s series of Utena analyses, I’m trying to make Utena magic happen on the Interwebs, and I want each and every one of […]

  8. […] The Consulting Analyst – An Introduction to Revolutionary Girl Utena (Fashionable Tinfoil accessories) […]

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