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