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Analysis: Revolutionary Girl Utena

This analysis is examining differences in the three primary variations of Revolutionary Girl Utena (All of which are canon in their own universe.).

Beware of spoilers.

The Manga

Has very Shoujo styled writing.

The characters a more down to earth in this version. Saito makes it hard to dislike one character too much, but doesn't develop the minor characters as thoroughly or examine the major players to nearly the same extent.

For example, Ohtori Akio is more of a Chessmaster then a Magnificent Bastard. This makes sense for a more realistic stting, where he'd get in huge trouble anywhere else but in the nearly alternate world of the anime Ohtori Academy for his schemes. In the manga, he's only acting as the Chessmaster because he has been literally separated from his good half.

Adolescence Apocalypse: The Utena Movie

Has been stated by a reviewer at the Anime News Network to take three viewings for coherence to take shape.

This is essentially the Anime packed into one movie. Having all of the creativity of that series in a shorter period packs a heftier punch, that's less accessible to those who don't feel like thinking everything through as much as the movie asks. The series, in comparison, gave the audience surreal moments in shorted bursts, and was thusly more understandable [outside of the bursts].

The Anime

Is surreal and epicene, with a relatively straightforward premise that deepens as it goes along. Each arc is subsequently darker than the last, with consistently linked semiotic imagery that forms its own narrative.

The way longer television series work (and this seems very true for anime) is that they get people addicted over the course of time they watch it as they get used to the characters, settings, and formula. This is a plus for the Utena anime; the viewer is more likely to be entertained by its use of artistic license, rather than being scared off or confused. The movie, comparatively, gives the viewer less time to ease into the formula.

Akio and Anthy's relationship as an example of an abusive battering relationship

Contemporary studies on the effect of abusive relationships define battering as when someone has physical, social and emotional control over another person that create an illusion of helplessness, and when you look at Akio and Anthy's relationship it fits all three of these. This comparison is based on the anime version.

Physical control

Besides the clear instances where he uses physical force on her during their sexual encounters, their relationship was once referred to as "semi-consensual" and even though she is his co-conspirator and does aid him in his plans, she's not his equal.

This works for a few reasons: He's her only known surviving family, she appears to be a foreigner in a land where she evidently was not born, and regardless of her actual age she presents herself as being a minor. He, on the other hand, is an adult and recognized as such (he's at least 18 to have a driver's license and car in Japan) is apparently her legal guardian and is evidently her source of income and livelihood. That's not an equal relationship on a purely factual level, and he has clear authority over her when it comes to big decisions. Battering in a relationship is in part defined by limiting the ability of one party to make informed decisions their own, and she simply doesn't have it because of him.

Social control

Along with the above, he has a hand in whom she interacts with. She really only has Chu Chu as a companion, so she's socially isolated from other people. While a certain amount might be self-inflicted given her general views on humanity, his manipulations in the Rose Bride competition more or less ensure that the only people she has contact with on a regular basis are the duelists, and they usually want her just for her role as the Rose Bride and nothing else (see Saionji for a perfect example). There's also the implication that Akio had a hand in setting up Utena and Anthy in the empty dorm, further isolating her. Until she meets Utena she pretty much has no social network outside Akio, limiting her options if she did want to escape.

Emotional control

Since she has given up so much for him he pretty clearly guilt trips her into a lot, and while she does have the capacity to fire back it's not on an equal level. The ways she fires back are, until the last episode, passive-aggressive, doing little things that piss him off, such as their conversation while she's in the planetarium. On the flipside he seems perfectly willing to use force on her, and retaliation against any sort of rebellion is another part of battering. He retaliates mostly whenever she shows signs of connecting with someone else like Utena, or if she hesitates to "come to him" at all. The message when he retaliates is pretty clearly "you are mine and you have no one else" and the sexual aspect is just icing on the cake.

The illusion of helplessness

One of themes in Utena is the idea that you can lead a horse to water but you can't make them drink, or in the case of the show you can rescue a princess but not free her, and this is why Anthy stays at Ohtori. We see at the end of the series that she simply can and does walk out, but the reason she didn't before is that she didn't believe she could. The coffin is part of the metaphor of her being confined there; she sees it as safety even though it's restricting her. That's another big part of battering: convincing the victim that they do not have the power to leave and that it's in their best interests to stay. The batterer sets themselves up as the sole focus of the victim's world, and a big part of helping the victim is showing them that this isn't the case, so removing them from the batterer's presence is usually a critical step. That's why orders of protection are so important.

The end of the series is essentially Utena breaking through the illusion that keeps Anthy there and breaking through her brother's control over her, hence the whole bit with opening the coffin. But — and this is key — Utena just reaches out a hand, she doesn't actually pull Anthy out. Anthy does it herself. Likewise, it's been shown that unless the person who has been battered breaks free of the lock the batterer has on them they will very likely end up in the same situation again.

Utena and Feminism

Many shows have damsels in distress who are kidnapped/manipulated/almost raped/almost killed/actually killed several times over...but plot devices dictate that these girls must remain improbably innocent and nice because if they lose their role as the group's "moral compass", the writers will have absolutely no idea what to do with her character, because they can't imagine a heroic woman outside the "cheerleader" role. (Plus, the Moe fanboys would freak out that their perfect little girl has been RUINED.) Revolutionary Girl Utena points out that in real life, most people, female or male, would start acting passive-aggressive and manipulative (stereotypically "evil") if repeatedly forced into bad situations where they can't seize any direct power. Examples include Shiori - whose sweet demeanor belies maliciousness and extremely low self-esteem - and, of course, Anthy. This is not to say that Being Tortured Makes You Evil, or that it's stupid to be remain nice after a tragedy. It's just pointing out a general trend: if weakness is imposed on a population en masse, they will suffer psychological damage and will find ways to lash out, even doing self-sabotage in some cases.

Hair Colors

Arguably, given the color symbolism utilized for most of the major characters, the major secondaries with regular hair could be representations of being and feeling not special - the emotional complexes shown are pretty close to life. In addition to Wakaba's special complex, there's her childhood friend Tatsuya, who she calls the "onion prince." Mind, in Japan, referring to something as an onion means that it's second-rate - hell, he even gets rejected from the Black Rose duels, even though his distress was probably more painful than some! Then there is Keiko, a part of a Girl Posse, completely subservient to Nanami for the sake of winning Touga's affections. After Utena duels her, she realizes that she doesn't know her name, or the names of her fellow posse for that matter.

Utena and Witches

In a fairy tale, a woman has to be a witch if she's not a princess. The only way to escape this fate is to leave the confining world of Ohtori. Meanwhile, Anthy is implied to be either a Wicked Witch or a Damsel in Distress. Different characters don't realize that her personality isn't that flat. It seems that in-universe Damsels in Distress are accepted by society as Princesses and those who fight their fate, those who actually stop being submissive, are branded Witches. However, that said... Revolutionary Girl Utena shows that women (and men) don't have to fit into cliches and can build their own persona beyond traditional stereotypes. Another series metatrope: Damsels in Distress and Wicked Witches in Revolutionary Girl Utena are very interchangeable. It only makes sense that the average person who stays helpless for too long will inevitably find unscrupulous ways of seizing power. It's also brilliant commentary on stories, because writers (and people) have traditionally been unable to imagine women outside the "Madonna/Whore Complex".

Anthy and Hera

Anthy's name is derived from Anthea, an epithet for the Greek Goddess Hera, and there are quite a few parallels between them. Hera is mainly known as a goddess of weddings, tying in with Anthy's Rose Bride role, but she's also the sister and wife of Zeus, a notorious philanderer (or in many cases, a flat out rapist) which is a clear parallel to Akio. And in some versions of the myth Zeus actually tricked her by turning into a peacock, her favorite animal, and then raping her when she tried to help the poor creature, essentially forcing her to marry him afterwards (and some scholars think that this was a metaphor for the takeover of Hera's original goddess cult by the more patriarchal cult of Zeus). And Hera is infamous for being jealous of Zeus' various lovers and their children and inflicting curses and torture onto them, but rather than being a Wicked Witch as she's often portrayed, especially in feminist literature, as this being her passing aggressively lashing out at Zeus himself since she can't attack him directly. All of this sounds a lot like Anthy.
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