"Grant me the power to bring the world revolution!"
Anime fans often regard Revolutionary Girl Utena (Shoujo Kakumei Utena) as the Neon Genesis Evangelion of shoujo, and not by accident. At Kobe Animation '97, the anime series won the "Best TV Animation" award. A previous work by Chiho Saito, Kanon, may have served as the inspiration for several of the themes and tropes in this story.Utena consists of:
A five-volume manga; though chronologically the first version (serialization began in mid-to-late 1996), the manga and the anime were simultaneous projects.
A 39-episode anime series that aired in 1997 from April to December; considered the "core" canon.
An original animated feature film, released in 1999; considered an alternate continuity to the original series (and discussed in better detail below).
A single-volume manga based on the animated feature; considered yet another alternate continuity, as it diverges from the movie's story.
A pair of light novels (one focuses on Miki, the other on Saionji) published in 1998; perhaps the most obscure part of the Utena canon, these light novels make up another alternate continuity (though they bear the closest resemblance to the original manga).
On the day of her parents' funeral, seven-year-old Utena Tenjou meets a prince on a white horse. The prince gives Utena a signet ring and says it will one day lead her back to him; overwhelmed with emotion, Utena decides that she will become a prince. Seven years later, Utena has followed the trail of her prince to the exclusive Ohtori Academy — and one fateful day, she defends the honor of her best friend Wakaba from upperclassman Kyouichi Saionji. Saionji calls Utena to the dueling arena at the back of the school, where Utena's ring opens the door to a private arena. After a duel with Saionji, Utena becomes enmeshed in a swordfighting tournament with the members of the Ohtori Student Council. Utena eventually learns that the tournament's winner will receive "The Power to Revolutionize the World" — as well as the hand of the mysterious Rose Bride, Anthy Himemiya. At the young age of fourteen, Utena has a power she doesn't know how to control...and no idea of the trouble it will bring to her life.Utena makes both friends and enemies at Ohtori while participating in the duels, and she grows in skill with each win. As she and Anthy slowly become friends, Utena learns Anthy has a connection to "End of the World", the mysterious force behind the duels. The show's second arc (the "Black Rose" arc) kicks the story into full swing when acting school chairman Akio Ohtori takes an interest in Utena — and everything promptly goes to hell.Utena lovingly includes, describes, averts, inverts, and subverts a large number of anime tropes, most notably Stock Footage (Utena's Once an EpisodeTransformation Sequence) and Clip Show episodes (two of the three contain major plot twists essential to the story). The series has a striking visual design (pieced together by director Kunihiko Ikuhara and influenced by Takurazuka, Noh theater plays, fairy tale imagery, and classic shoujo manga) as well as a lush soundtrack that mixes classical orchestral themes with outre choral harmonies and surrealist rock.The show features commentary on (and references to) existing works, including — but not limited to — Rose of Versailles, Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, the House of Borgia, Paradise Lost, William Shakespeare, Cicero, Ovid's Metamorphoses, multi-episode obscure visual references to Manet, and numerous nods to the existentialist German war novel Demian. Underneath these themes, Utena tells a coming-of-age story that explores a curious notion: can someone stick to childish ideals in order to defeat an opponent who practically embodies adulthood?While Utena doesn't contain explicit or gratuitous content, some viewers may find certain implications of the plot distasteful (e.g. incest becomes a major theme, and the series explores it from numerous perspectives). At its core, though, Utena follows the story of a friendship-turned-romance between two girls who never expected it — and while you can debate the canonicity of what you see on the screen, you can't do the same for the statements by director Ikuhara on the subject.In contrast to the series' approach, the 1999 film Shoujo Kakumei Utena: Adolescence Mokushiroku (literally Adolescence Apocalypse; known as The Adolescence of Utena or Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Movie to Western audiences) makes the romantic nature of Utena and Anthy's relationship obvious. The film gave most of the characters a dramatic change in both appearance and characterization, and the storyline receives just as many drastic alterations; fans consider it more of a recreation of the series than an adaptation. Utena: The Movie has become (in)famous for its Gainax Ending — as well as its Gainax Beginning and Gainax Middle; one could construe the film as an allegory on Mahayana Buddhism, Jungian philosophy, gnostic belief, just a story about lesbians, or anything in-between. The film eventually garnered a nickname (The End of Utena) which serves as a Shout-Out to that other infamous Mind Screw of an anime film.Central Park Media originally released both the series and the movie in the United States (they also handled the dub). In 2011, Nozomi Entertainment re-released the series across three DVD sets (using the show's remastered Region 2 DVD release as the video base and retaining the CPM dub) and the movie (packaged with the third set). Viz Media published the entire manga series and the manga based on the movie, but those releases have fallen out of print. The series will eventually air on Viz Media's Neon Alley streaming service; Manga Entertainment (who shares a distribution deal with Nozomi) has made the whole series (dub only) available in its entirety on both Hulu and YouTube.As a final note: Word of God says that all interpretations of Utena's symbolism hold true. (Ikuhara has a reputation as a Trolling Creator, though.)
Revolutionary Girl Utena contains examples of the following tropes:
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Absurdly Powerful Student Council: Almost every episode, the Council members ride in a fancy elevator to meet in a rose-decorated tower to discuss the upcoming worldwide revolution. Then they swordfight for a chance to control said revolution. That's about as absurdly powerful as you can get. Beautifully subverted when it turns out that Akio and Anthy created the Duels for for the sole purpose of benefiting Akio, and not even Utena really had a fighting chance to become the final Champion as long as Anthy remained the Rose Bride.
Absurdly Sharp Blade: Anthy can power up the Sword of Dios/Utena's soul sword; included in said power-up is this property, although it's only demonstrated during Utena's duels with Touga. To put it into perspective, Utena's powered-up soul sword can easily split approaching cars without them losing velocity.
Utena started in the manga as a blonde, but was given pink hair in the anime and later manga volume covers and illustrations. Her eyes also varied between being brown or blue in the early colored artwork, but stuck as blue after her hair changed to pink.
Anthy also originally had dark brown/black hair in the manga, but it was changed to violet in the anime and later colored illustrations, while her eye color changes from brown to green. Other hair color changes included Juri going from being blonde to having orange hair (while her eyes changed from brown to blue), and Touga's hair changing from black with red bangs to red with one paler forelock. Miki's hair also was originally brown in the first color illustration of him, but quickly changed to blue to fit with the anime (as did his eyes).
Utena's uniform was also originally pink in the manga (though she receives a black uniform as a plot point in the third volume), but Ikuhara vetoed the idea of it carrying over to the anime. Chiho Saito explained in an omake that he gave her the choice of having Utena wear black or red in the anime; while she picked red, he settled on giving her black.
Anthy's Rose Bride dress was originally white with blue trim, but changed to red in later manga illustrations to match with Ikuhara's color choice.
Age-Appropriate Angst: Played with. Though most of the cast are teenagers, reasons for angsting and levels of angst will vary depending on the personality and maturity levels of different characters. Then it's played straight with Akio and Anthy, who've lived for what's implied to be centuries and have universal problems proportional to their humongous ages.
All Love Is Unrequited: Sadly lampshaded by Juri, who remarks that people would be much happier if they could simply change the objects of their affections.
All of the Other Reindeer: Towards a certain Mysterious Waif... Don't expect her to take everything lying down, though. And Nanami would've fared better if she'd known that Anthy has faced far, far worse than any bullying her little group of schoolgirls could've come up with.
All Take and No Give: Akio and Anthy's relationship is a twisted and messed up play of this trope. Akio has the position of ultimate power, not just in the relationship but in the whole Ohtori, while Anthy is at the lowest buttom of the social power's pyramide and it's at her brother's hands; but he's powerless without her and she knows it and in exchange of the power she gives to him, she manipulates him to get attention and some kind of "affection" from him in a manipulative masochistic tango.
Arc Words: "Revolutionize the world!" encompasses the entire series but each of the three (or four, depending on whether you consider the third and fourth arcs distinct) have their own arc words.
From the Student Council arc: "If the egg's shell does not break, the chick will die without being born. We are the chick; the world is our egg. If the world's shell does not break, we will die without being born. Break the world's shell!"
From the Black Rose arc: "Deeper... go deeper..." and "the way before you has been prepared"
From the Akio arc: "The ends of the world, I will show... to you."
Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: "Snails in her pencil box... A mongoose in her desk drawer... A giant octopus balloon in her closet! And now shaved ice for dinner?! You're making me sick!"
Ascended Extra: Nanami, a major secondary character in the anime, only appears in a photo in the manga, where Juri more or less takes her place. By that association, because Juri has some of Nanami's traits in the manga, Shiori as an ascension in the anime also counts.
Ascended Fridge Horror: A good rule of thumb with this series is that if something, especially a relationship, seems a little fucked up at first glance odds are it's not only exactly as bad as you think it is, but worse.
Tsuwabuki, of all people. Sure, the main characters spend pretty much all their free time having sword fights to bring about the World Revolution (Whatever the heck that means), but all they ever really do is try to knock something off each other’s shirts. Nine-year-old Tsuwabuki, on the other hand, gets jumped by three high-schoolers, and he takes them all. That kid has got spunk.
Hell, Utena herself. Even outside of the duels, she's a really tough chick both in personality and in physical ability. She can jump, she can punch, she's a demon on the basketball court, and she can beat trained duelists with broken swords, bamboo practice swords, and a pitchfork. And let's not get started on the truly epic move she pulls in the last episode...
Bastard Boyfriend: Saionji, Touga and Akio are cold, and diffident to the Rose Bride, and to other women.
The Beautiful Elite: Almost every major character (except, notably, Anthy) has a scene where they are being admired by a crowd of lovestruck onlookers (of bothgenders). This usually happens when they're first introduced.
Bittersweet Ending: Utena has disappeared and the entire campus will eventually forget about her. But the revolution did occur—Anthy is inspired to finally end her cycle of abuse, and go out into the world to find Utena again. And the rest of the Student Council seems to have, if not had their own revolution, at least resolved their issues.
Bloodless Carnage: There aren't any injuries that would be accompanied by noticeable blood until the final episodes, but none of them feature the puddles of blood that they should.
Blood Sisters: Utena vows to protect and support Anthy no matter what the cost, but being a Mind Screw show, just getting there is half the battle...
Book Ends: The very last episode features a montage of "everyday" scenes paralleling events that happened to Utena and the other characters throughout the last year. As Anthy points out, the ending is not as bittersweet as it initially appears — the character dynamics that Utena changed are things that can't be undone.
In the first episode, Utena asks Saionji why there's an upside-down floating castle in the middle of the forest. He says, "It's a kind of mirage. Think of it as a trick of the light." Thirty-seven episodes later, Akio turns off the planetarium projector.
Brilliant but Lazy: Played with in Miki and Mikage. Neither are completely lazy, but they do not reach their full potential in the series.
Brooding Boy, Gentle Girl: Wakaba and Saionji take on this role in her Black Rose episode. It goes horribly wrong, of course.
Brother-Sister Incest: No! Don't be repulsed! The incest is for Deconstruction! Not Fetish Fuel! Miki and Kozue, Nanami and Touga, Anthy and Akio. The first is implied and the second never gets explicit. Akio and Anthy, on the other hand...
Broken Bird: An overt example is Juri. She's the reason Ruka comes back for the dead. A more unconventional example is Anthy. Also, Kozue and Shiori.
Chalk Outline: The arena during the Black Rose arc becomes filled with red silhouettes of dead bodies. Rather creepily, whenever a Black Rose duelist is defeated, they collapse perfectly into one of the silhouettes.
Remember where Mikage gets his Black Rose Seals...?
Cinderella: Subverted, of course. At first, Keiko seems to follow this tale straight to the point of parody, Nanami being a sorta "evil stepmother". But then her attitude to her "prince" appears to be much more "rose-bridish" than "cinderella-esque". And as she gets close to Touga at last, she switches roles with Nanami, starting to humiliate her. To crown the subversion, she ends up beaten and "princeless".
Continuity Nod: The shadow play girls talk about a monkey-catching robot in episode 22. It makes later appearances in episodes 24 and 31.
Cool Car: The movie has a hypertrophied pink Batmobile-like vehicle with two modes. It's actually Utena, after she's transformed in the world's most intense car wash.
Cry for the Devil: Akio is as much of a victim as anyone else in the series despite being the Big Bad. Though it's debatable whether Akio or Dios was the victim.
Crystal Dragon Jesus: The series really toys with this trope. There's the deity Dios, a literal prince on a white horse, who occasionally comes down from the heavens to give Utena his strength. The antagonist is Akio ("Morning Star", as in, Satan), who clearly defines himself as Dios' evil counterpart. It turns out they were once the same person, who was worshiped as a god in a medieval society, but unable to listen to everyone's prayers and fulfill his duties as a deity. His sister Anthy took the blame and was symbolically crucified as a Jesus-figure, still to this day feeling the pain of her punishment, but absolving the people of their sins.
Custom Uniform: Utena claims to wear a uniform approved for boys at her school, not that any boy we ever see has clothes that vaguely resemble hers.
Damsel in Distress: Subverted. Anthy is introduced as one, but it is eventually shown that there's more to her than it first seems. Different characters shoved her between the different stereotypes until it finally occurred to Utena that her personality didn't have to be so flat. Meanwhile, Utena is in constant danger of becoming one herself, and everyone else has deep psychological problems which they must either be saved from or save themselves from. Failure in either is is what Akio counts on to keep them in the Duels.
Discretion Shot: We are mercifully spared seeing Nanami wearing a nose ring.
Disposable Fiancée: Kanae is either a hilarious invocation or an inhumanly cruel straight example of the trope, depending on how you watch the show.
Does This Remind You of Anything?: Done several times throughout the series, though a particularly notable example is the filler episode "Nanami's Egg," a metaphor for the onset of puberty.
Domestic Abuse: Saionji and Akio are particularly abusive to Anthy. The Movie features a particularly disturbing scene of incestuous rape involving Touga and his adoptive father.
The case with Akio is more complex than it seems at the first glance. It's not physically abusive (in the conventional sense, at least), and emotionally, the two torment each other bitterly, even as they share shallow expressions of affection. Akio is in the position of power, but on the other hand he's utterly dependent on Anthy, and she knows it. It's a crazy, messed up relationship of passive aggression and emotional cruelty. It's Anthy who ultimately desires to break the chain of abuse, and Akio who tries to cling to it, however; Utena is the impetus for Anthy finally breaking free and leaving Akio behind.
Downer Ending: Inverted. Most of the Black Rose episodes end with the Black Rose duelist happier off and with some Character Development for their trouble. Wakaba's ends with her coming to see Saionji has left as she mutters an "I'm home" to herself.
The Dragon: The Student Council, and later Mikage.
Earn Your Happy Ending: The ultimate goal of all the Duelists is to literally gain the power to "bring the world revolution". How and why is an entirely different matter, but the Student Council model sums it well enough.
Touga: If it cannot crack its eggshell, a chick will die without being born. We are the chick. This world is our egg. If we cannot crack the world's shell, we will die without being born. Smash the world's shell! All: FOR THE SAKE OF REVOLUTIONIZING THE WORLD!
This could be one of the interpretations for the ending of the movie.
Everyone Is Bi: Most everyone is canonically or hinted at being bisexual, although lip service is paid to heterosexuality as being the norm ("I'm a totally normal girl who wants a totally normal guy!"). Hilariously lampshaded when Touga, who is sleeping with Akio, tells Nanami, his sister, that only boy/girl romance is normal. And proceeds to make out with her.
Everything's Better with Princesses: Subverted. Since when is being a helpless waif better!? When the alternative means being stabbed by a million swords, that's when! And what's worse then that? When the princess in question is so psychologically traumatized and resentful of the experience that she'd rather be tortured for all eternity than re-enter the outside world!
Fanservice: Played straight with all female characters due to uniforms and attractive body structure. Played straight with all the guys due to many bishonen performing dramatic and meaningful shirtless poses. Then there's the Akio Car, not to mention the movie ending...
Fan Disservice: A lot of the sexuality takes on this aspect when you think about the other aspects of it, and it's pretty much a given that almost every sex scene in the series and movie has somethingtwisted behind it, most notably the ones between Akio and Anthy and Touga and his father in the movie.
For a show with a fair amount of Fan Service, the only bona fide nudity ends up being rather disturbing.
Pretty much any episode that prominently features Nanami without actually having her duel. Could be subverted because even the fillers can be analyzed. "Tsuwabuki's Secret Diary", on the other hand, can be skipped.
Five-Bad Band: The Student Council isn't really "bad" per se, but definitely functioning in an antagonistic role for most of the series:
Gambit Pileup: Played with. Though all of the characters have their own agendas and minibosses Touga and Mikage would like to imagine themselves as Manipulative Bastards, only Akio's machinations truly drive the force of the whole story.
Gambit Roulette: Avoided. The Myth of the Prince and Rose Bride is shown to have existed in a time where swords were the main weapons, implying that Akio has been trying for centuries to achieve his goals and is not just relying on some one-shot, throwaway gamble.
Geodesic Cast: Each Duelist has their own Black Duelist counterpart. Even Akio, though Kanae isn't shown drawing his soul sword. Hmmm....
George Lucas Altered Version: There are changes to the animation and sound editing for the remastered editions. The most noticeable are the addition of bodies resembling the Black Rose duelists to the coffins in the Nemuro Memorial crematorium, which were originally empty in the older versions, and the removal of the decaying rose in the background of the flashback when a younger Utena follows Dios and is shown Anthy's fate as the Rose Bride.
Genre-Busting: It's a complex, metaphorical coming of age story seen through the lens of Buddhism, Gnosticism, and Jungian philosophy. It also uses deconstructionist theory to tackle issues such as gender roles, the incest taboo, and binary principle. It also a complex look at the dark side of tropes and imagery associated with European fairy tales, such as the prince, the princess, and the wicked witch. It also is a surrealist dramedy observing the complicated interpersonal relationships between the students. It also is about lesbians. But TV Tropes likes to say it's a Shōjo (Demographic), and back away slowly. Pretty impressive for a TV series that states "From the Director of Sailor Moon!" on its American DVD release.
The eyecatches and soundtrack CDs translate the title as Utena: La Fillette Révolutionnaire.
The first clipshow episode gives Utena's seven duels up to that point French names: amitié, choix, raison, amour, adoration, conviction, and soi.
Grey and Grey Morality: Even the bad guys have their reasons, vague as they may seem. The fact that everybody lives for the most part also tends to dull the seemingly malevolent natures of Touga, Nanami and Saionji later on in the show. The only actual villains are Mikage and Akio, and even then they're just a darker shade of grey (albeit a very dark shade in the latter case). However, no character in the series truly is entirely pure, despite how they may seem.
Greek Chorus: The shadow-play girls, with an assist from Utena during the second arc.
Growing Up Sucks: At the heart of all the symbolism is the notion that growing up is inevitable, and denying it is consequential. It takes a big effort for the student council to move beyond their problems/complexes, but by the end, it's clear that they either did move on or cope with their problems in some effective way. One could make the argument that Utena refusing her romantic feelings for Akio and the final duel, and fading away is a metaphor of Utena stubbornly refusing to accept her issues, grow up, and perhaps change her ideals to fit in the adult world. Even before the Apocalypse arc, it's clear that how mentally childlike Utena is, seeing how she cannot comprehend or accept both the student council and other students' emotional problems - a big example is her being unable to see that Wakaba is jealous of her and the student council for being "special" (both of them are admired and take important leadership roles for the school) despite Wakaba screaming at her face about it during her Black Rose duel.
About that last part, that scene in particular could have been Utena not understanding how Wakaba could see herself as not special when she considers Wakaba really special to her as a best friend. A better example is her not fully understanding Juri and Shiori's issues and her confliction towards Touga (and later Akio) and her loyalty to her Prince.
In the second episode, the only person Utena has eyes for is the dream-like prince who saved her from her Despair Event Horizon. Everyone else, female or male, is only peripheral to her. By the last arc, Utena loves Anthy, but isn't sure if she wants to continue fighting for a girl who is less than what she imagined her to be. Juri throughout most of the series loved and defended Shiori no matter how badly Shiori treated her, and the above quote refers to when Utena tells Juri that she doesn't want to become a Love Martyr like Juri once was.
It's implied that neither Miki nor Juri have much interest in the End of the World since, after their personal problems are resolved, they stop being antagonistic to Utena (and in Miki's case, they're overtly friendly). Even Saionji is not really evil, just an easily manipulable jerk. Only Akio and Touga in the anime remain villainous until the end, though Touga has his reasons...
Heroic Sacrifice: A battered, exhausted, and freshly-stabbed Utena saves Anthy's soul by opening the Rose Gate with her bare hands, but ends up getting the stabbing from the Million Swords in Anthy's place; Utena's willingness to do everything possible to help her friend is ultimately the key to helping Anthy break free of her relationship with Akio and leave Ohtori.
Hot for Student: Do you really wanna know how many students Akio sleeps with? Does anybody really know?
Human Resources: The Black Rose Circle's plot is apparently powered by the corpses of the 100 boys who died in a fire at Nemuro Memorial Hall.
Impossibly Cool Clothes: Everybody, but especially the Rose Bride outfit. Utena's is famous for its visuals. Averted somewhat with Utena herself, as she has a perfectly reasonable outfit underneath the jacket — a tank top and bicycle shorts. It's just the jacket that makes cosplay very hard.
Intertwined Fingers: Utena and Anthy do this quite a bit. Used at the end of the series for dramatic effect. It's the final frame of the anime.
If It's You, It's Okay: Touga is implied to be a variation on this trope: it seems he likes girls for meaningless sex, and guys for emotional affairs — Utena and Nanami being an exception to that rule — although Akio is the only guy he's really implied to sleep with. One could also make a case that this trope summarizes Saijonji's feelings for Touga, but just the same, it's possible to argue that it's purely platonic.
The moment where he's first implied to be sleeping with Anthy is a defining one. As is the part where Anthy is revealed to be a witch, with Akio as her 'jailor'.
In his debut episode, if you really pay attention to The Stinger, the fact that he set his incredibly self-conscious girlfriend up to be Mind Raped for the purpose of testing Utena.
Keep Circulating the Tapes: It started out this way, with literal tapes back before the show was licensed. Then when it was picked up, it turned out that Central Park Media had only bought the rights to the first 13 episodes, so fans continued doing this for the remaining episodes until the rest of the series was finally picked up years later. When CPM went out of business in 2009, the show fell into legal limbo, and fan distribution became the only way to see it outside Japan again; eventually, the Anime Network started airing the series online. And, as pointed out above, Right Stuf has begun rereleasing both the series and the movie in 2011.
Knight in Sour Armor: Utena. By the last arc, Utena loses faith in her own goodness because she realizes that she only became a prince in order to find something to live for after her parents died. She loves Anthy, but is not sure whether she wants to continue fighting for a less than pure girl who sleeps with her brother. In the end, though, Utena realizes that no matter what Anthy does, she'll always get the short end of the stick as long as she stays in Ohtori. She can manipulate as many students as she wants, but at the end of the day, she'll still be the Rose Bride openly stepped on by every Duelist she comes across, and the only one in the world who is perpetually impaled by a swarm of animated swords.
Ladykiller in Love: Touga, but it depends on whether you think he's really in love with Utena or not.
Lethal Chef: Anthy, who cooks up not poison but explosives with magical side effects. Unless she's making shaved ice, which is safe. Subverted with Akio, whose magnificent cooking skills only belie his Big Bad status. In the comic, it's Chu-Chu's fault.
Let's Get Dangerous: The Black Rose arc is pretty much comprised of the supporting cast bucking up and trying to kill the Rose Bride. Many a jaw dropped when this included Tsuwabuki and even Wakaba.
Loophole Abuse: Ain't no rule a girl can't wear a boy's uniform! This is given more detail in the manga, where the exact rule Utena is manipulating states that a student must wear a uniform from the school's designer. It may not be the usual boy's uniform, but it's by the same designer, all right.
Utena idolizes Dios and loves Anthy but gets tempted by Touga and sleeps with Akio, who is engaged to Kanae and sleeping with Kanae's mother.
Anthy mourns Dios, has love/hate feelings towards Utena, sleeps with Akio, and is pursued by Saionji and Miki.
Saionji, who may-or-may-not return Wakaba's feelings, also may-or-may-not love Touga.
Touga may-or-may-not love Saionji back, but seduces hordes of schoolgirls anyways, attracts both Keiko and Nanami and appears to fall in love with Utena. Also, Touga sleeps with Akio, and Miki in the light novels.
Wakaba loves Saionji and maybe Tatsuya, who definitely loves her. She also develops a schoolgirl crush on Akio later, and she may-or-may-not love Utena in more than a platonic way.
Tsuwabuki loves Nanami, but Nanami has feelings for Touga, who has no problem with kissing her.
Mari is jealous of the attention that Tsuwabuki pays to Nanami and Tsuwabuki may-or-may-not like Mari back. Interestingly, Nanami seems to be jealous of Tsuwabuki's friendship with Mari, in spite of being in love with Touga.
Kozue fools around with lots of boys, sleeps with Touga (and quite likely Akio as well - at the very least, she goes on a date with him and rides in his car) and kisses Anthy at one point, but actually loves Miki; meanwhile, Miki may-or-may not also be attracted to Kozue, and loves Anthy at least in part because he thinks of her as an idealized version of the person Kozue once was. Miki is also implied to be molested by his piano teacher, at least until Kozue pushes him down a flight of stairs.
Mikage nce loved Tokiko, who was seduced by Akio, and now loves Mamiya, who is Anthy in disguise (kind of).
Meanwhile, Juri, Shiori, and Ruka ave their own love triangle all to themselves, but Juri also has lots of subtext with Utena, and Juri may-or-may-not love Miki in the movie, and Akio manipulates the emotions of all of the above to keep them in the Duels.
Love Triangle: Juri-Shiori-Ruka and Utena-Anthy-Akio are the main ones. Then they're the smaller canon ones, and the smaller non-canon ones, etc... The Juri-Shiori-Ruka one is a particularly messy one for being about a non-titular character. None end well, though that observation is extremely debatable.
Loving a Shadow: Everyone but Akio. Let's see..there's Miki-to-Kozue, Juri-to-Shiori, Shiori-to-Ruka, Saionji-to-Touga, Nanami-to-Touga, Touga-to-Utena, Utena-to-Dios, Utena-to-Anthy, Saionji-to-Anthy, Miki-to-Anthy, Mikage-to-Anthy, and finally Utena-to-Akio and Anthy-to-Akio for a time. Had fun reading that? Fortunately, all of the relationships are examined and have well-developed backstories to keep them from being repetitive. Not to mention that no two of them evolve the same way. Utena/Anthy is especially unique.
Madonna-Whore Complex: Deconstructed. "Women who cannot become princesses have no choice but to become witches."
Manipulative Bastard: Akio, also a Magnificent Bastard. Touga aspires to be like him, Ruka tries to be like him for moral reasons, and Mikage believes himself to be one and succeeds for the entire second arc.
Let's just say that the series becomes more and more of a Mind Screw with each arc. It starts pretty normal, starts losing it in the Black Rose arc, and becomes a metaphor/symbolism storm in the final arc—and the movie is a mental trainwreck, plain and simple.
Mood Whiplash: The filler episode with the boxing kangaroo is followed by an episode where an Ensemble Darkhorse agonizes over her sexuality. This is followed by a Freaky Friday episode, which is followed by a flashback where eight-year-old Utena hides in a coffin and begs to die.
More Than Mind Control: The Black Rose Saga, and Akio does everything in his power to keep doing this to Anthy.
Surreal shows are full of dramatic flourishes and objects suddenly appearing in thin air. Touga, Saionji, and Akio are particularly found of this kind of Fanservice, and Utena loves dramatic poses to show her powerful, princely nature.
In episode 21, Keiko hands out party invitations by whipping them like throwing stars.
No Export for You: Zigzagged with the show and movie, as explained above under Keep Circulating the Tapes. Played straight with the Sega Saturn game and the light novels, although fan translations do exist for those to one degree or another.
The Nondescript: Played for drama with Wakaba, who is notable because she's pretty much the only "normal" person in the main cast. Over time, this causes her to feel very unhappy with herself, and she becomes desperate to break out of that role and become someone "special".
Nonuniform Uniform: Utena wears the boys' uniform instead of the girls', much to the chagrin of her teacher after Utena justifies this with a loophole from the school rulebook. To further this trope Utena's boys uniform does not look like the others: where the standard boys uniform is a light-green jacket and pants Utena's jacket is dark blue with red shorts. In the manga her uniform originally consisted of a pink jacket and shorts.
Noodle Incident: What, indeed, were Tsuwabuki's strategies for winning Nanami's heart? Especially Plan 24...
Not Blood Siblings: Nanami is crushed after finding out she and her brother Touga are both adopted and not blood related after all. This is then subverted when it turns out that Touga was just playing with her head — while they are adopted, they were adopted from the same family and thus actually are blood siblings. For the record: This is the Double Subversion of the inversion of a trope — a prime example of how Mind Screwy this show is.)
Even further subverted in that Nanami never finds out the truth (or if she does, it's never shown onscreen).
Not Just A Tournament: The winner of the Rose Duelists' tournaments will hand over the godlike power of Dios to Akio, then be promptly disposed of.
One Dialogue, Two Conversations: In the episode "Nanami’s Egg", Nanami and Touga have a conversation where she asks him if he would prefer a boy or a girl. Nanami talks about a kid (which she thinks will get hatched from an egg she got...It Makes Sense in Context); Touga thinks she's talking about boyfriends and girlfriends, so when she says she would like a girl, Touga ends up thinking she's a lesbian.
The first ending credits sequence gives Utena a pink version of Anthy's dress, which she actually wears in episode 38. The third arc gives a blue dress to Kozue and a purple dress to Shiori.
Akio and Anthy wield a black version of the Sword of Dios/Utena's soul sword during the endgame.
Parental Abandonment: Utena herself, the Kiryuu siblings and the Kaoru siblings. The parents that are not dead or absent are simply not mentioned.
And then there's Kanae's mother, who, even though she's one of the only parents to appear, manages to show in one short scene that she's abandoned her daughter in a way more heartbreaking than the rest of the casts' families put together.
She has no control over her future and it's passed to the current winner of the duels.
When she confesses a desire of learn to cook like Wakaba, Touga laughs at the idea of the Rose Bride cooking and that her only priority is taking care of the roses. Like a princess who it's just there to be pretty.
Rape as Drama: The true nature of Anthy and Akio's relationship goes from squicky Fan Disservice to flat-out heinous when, at the end of episode 25, Akio rapes Anthy when she hesitates to "come to him" as she usually does. It is later heavily implied that he has used force on her during their nighttime meetings more than once.
Say My Name: Utena and Anthy in their last duel with Touga.
Scary Shiny Glasses: Anthy, which serves to underline when she's being complicit with her brother's manipulative plans. Also when she's pissed with him - once he even snaps at her with something almost approaching fear when she does this to him (along with a seemingly innocuous goodnight wish that really clashed with the scene).
Shotacon: Touga and his father in the movie. In the series, there's Touga flirting with Miki in the music room (which Miki understood fully, as his Imagine Spot indicates). Finally, in the light novel, Touga has sex with Miki(!!).
Shout-Out: Wakaba is seen reading and talking about Magnolia Waltz, an earlier manga by Chiho Saito, in the second episode.
Shrug of God: Director Ikuhara is infamously unhelpful — and sometimes deliberately infuriating — when it comes to explaining things about the show and even more so regarding the movie. Don't expect much in the way of straight Word of God.
Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: The series plants itself in the middle of the spectrum, refuses to budge, and lets the characters and plot (and audience) fight over it to whatever extremes they please.
The Smurfette Principle: Inverted with the Black Rose duelists, discounting Mikage himself; all but one are female, with the Elementary school boy Mitsuru being the only male to be lured into the duels (Tatsuya, another boy, was lured in, but rejected).
Spoiler Ending: The first ending shows Utena with the Prince, in a pink version of Anthy's Rose Bride dress. Utena wears the dress when Akio draws a sword from her in episode 38.
Stock Footage: Utena climbing to the arena (and several of her signature moves), Akio's highway scenes, and many others — it may hard to believe, but Utena's budget wasn't that much higher than Evangelion's.
Of course, it wouldn't be Utena if it didn't subvert even this. The story about the little girl who lost her parents and met a prince that opens several episodes is repeated enough that most viewers will have memorized it... except it is eventually revealed to be only partially truthful.
Stock Shoujo Bullying Tactics: Girls jealous of Saionji's attention to Anthy pretend to be her friends, and persuade her to wear a special dress to a ball, which falls apart when they "accidentally" pour water over it. Good thing Utena saves Anthy's dignity with a dress made from a tablecloth.
Surprise Creepy: To the point that the first company to license the show marketed the first batch of episodes as a bog-standard Magical Girl series... they wisely changed their approach from the second arc on.
Take Our Word for It: Steadily less of the action of the fights are actually shown during the third arc.
Take That: In the movie, Akio referred to the Princess role for Anthy as being a "living corpse" which is actually the perfect way to describe that trope in general. Most princess are described unflatteringly as nothing more than waiting for a Prince to come and save them but in the movie, Anthy defies her role beautifully. More subtly, the Castle in the movie looked a lot like a Disney-esque castle.
Tech Marches On: Akio's omnipresent car includes a car phone. Back in 1996, this luxury helped emphasize how rich and important he is. Now... not so much.
In French, but the themes overall are more complex than usual.
Lots of references to flowers and botany are made. "Utena" (萼) means "calyx", which is the part of the flower that protects the petals. This is a role that Utena attempts to fill, with doubtful success at the end of the series. "Ánthos" (Anthy) is Greek for "flower".
Twincest: No! Don't be repulsed! The Twincest is for Deconstruction! Not for Fetish Fuel! Also only really present in the movie.
Triumphant Reprise: The very end of the show, when Baiser slams into "Rose & Release", which is Okui Masami scatting to the tune of the opening theme. After everything that has happened, it is incredibly joyous.
Umbrella of Togetherness: Between Keiko and Touga in episode 21. Obviously Nanami will have none of it and expels her from all extracurricular organizations and has the rest of the Girl Posse ostracize her, which drives Keiko over the edge and causes her to become a Black Rose duelist.
Unusually Uninteresting Sight: While most of the student body has a touch of this, it's most obvious in Utena herself, who spends almost zero time investigating the supernatural events that are happening to her regularly. She appears to believe that the best way to handle her classmates trying to kill her and Anthy, in the midst of physics-defying weirdness, is to simply go about her regular routine. A normal person would be interrogating the Council, talking to the principal, or calling the cops.
Valley Girl: In the English dub, an unnamed Ohtori student never really seen onscreen speaks with an exaggerated valley girl dialect. Most of the time she's relating gossip about Shiori and Ruka. Apparently, "the whole school's talkin' about it."
Villainous Breakdown: Averted somewhat in that instead of going Ax-Crazy upon losing his second duel against Utena, Touga simply sits down in a chair. And stays there. For thirteen episodes.
Real Life Writes the Plot. His voice actor temporarily left to work on other series. Plus, it made his re-entry into the third arc all the more dramatic.
For the first part of the series, you can almost convince yourself that the whole show is going to be interesting, but mostly fun and lighthearted. Then during Episode 9, we have a flashback to Utena more or less trying to kill herself when she was eight, the Upside-Down Castle nearly coming down and taking Anthy with it, and Saionji attempting to kill Utena and Anthy both. And then you can't.
Episode 33, a Clip Show episode, which by its nature lulls the viewer into a false sense of boredom. And then Akio has sex with Utena, and you've missed it if you blinked.
Episode 34, in which the Shadow Girls interact with the main cast for the first time and casually reveal the entire real plot thus far. And it's horrifying.
Wham Line: In the movie, Miki asks who Touga is, while Touga is right behind him. We soon find out why Miki would ask that: Touga's been dead for years.
William Telling: Episode 11 features the Greek Chorus playing out William Tell, albeit with the "son" pointing out that it's the 37,919th time in a row the apple has been shot, with the "father" saying that they'll keep going until somebody stops them. There's some point about being trapped in a destined eternal horror.
Astrologic eras, primeval oceans, erosion, deposits Three billion years, birth of life, geologic eras Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian Stromatolite, bacteria, collenia Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous
The duel songs for the first two story arcs (except for Mikage's duel) weren't written specifically for the show, and most of the ones that were manage to be even more obtuse than the ones that weren't.
Yandere: Nanami towards Touga, Anthy towards Akio, Kozue, Shiori etc.
Yaoi Guys: Mikage and Mamiya, though it gets complicated. Akio and Touga (and maybe Saionji as well) get into it later on, but most interactions like that aren't exactly lovey-dovey.
You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Other than Wakaba (reddish-brown hair), Keiko, Tokiko (both have brown hair), and Tatsuya (dark brown hair), all of the characters that are majorly involved at some point have outrageously colorful hair: