This wiki used to have this series listed as Anime First because Chiho Saito was the last member to join Be-PaPas — which may be true, but the manga was being published several months before the anime started airing, which is referenced by Saito-sensei in the early volumes. It's also worth noting that many tropes that are deconstructed in the anime series are played much straighter in the manga.
Many people have only seen the (very wildly alternate universe) film version, partly because it's easier to find on torrent sites and partly because it was the only version released in places like the UK. (And, okay, it's known for its Fanservice as well.) It's also been shown at some LGBT film festivals, giving it exposure outside the anime fandom.
The series was partly based on the novel Demian by Hermann Hesse, which most anime fans wouldn't know because it's never mentioned ANYWHERE EVER. Particularly, the egg speech is a direct reference - expect anything else which references the egg speech to be assumed to be referencing Utena.
Every. Single. Character. To one degree or another, anyway. Given the often ambiguous nature of the show and the complexity of many of the characters — even minor ones — this isn't surprising.
Some fans view Akio as just as much a victim of circumstances as Anthy. This could be an understandable interpretation given that things might've been different if the angry villagers hadn't demanded so much of Dios in the first place but nevertheless, it does usually result in him getting the Draco in Leather Pants treatment.
The different versions themselves have been claimed to be alternate interpretations of Utena, with the manga as Chiho Saito's vision, the movie as Kunihiko Ikuhara's vision, and the TV series as a compromise between the two; there's also the manga adaptation of the movie, which is Saito's own spin on it, and the light novels, which were written by someone else entirely (specifically, Ichirou Ookouchi). Characterisation varies wildly between all these versions, to the point where the differences between portrayals of any given character can be quite jarring.
On first viewing Touga comes across as a deeply manipulative, even petty figure with little to no redeeming qualities, whose behavior makes the audience feel sorry for Saionji, the guy who literally slaps women around when he doesn't get his way. He's one of the only major student characters we never really see from "inside" his head, which can make him fall oddly flat. But taking in Word of God's claim that his fate in the movie Where he is sexually abused by his stepfather, not that he drowns was also supposed to carry into the TV series (and perhaps wasn't due to Touga's VA being absent for most of a whole arc, giving him less time for development) not only makes a lot of his behaviors make more sense - manipulative to the extreme, a hatred/distrust/outright refusal to believe in friendship, and over-sexuality (a common warning sign in children who have been sexually abused) makes a second watching deeply upsetting, particularly when he's around Akio. He seems to be under the impression he's in control, but we already know that Akio is playing him like a fiddle, and likely all the easier due to his prior abuse. And just try to listen to his line about a relationship between step-siblings being more "romantic" while remembering what his step-father did to him. Brrrr.
And just to prove once again how flexible the fourth wall is in Utena, the Akio that wants to keep Anthy in the academy's world in the movie is Anthy's own Alternative Character Interpretation (of sorts) of the real guy that died ages ago. Something similar seems to be the case with Touga; compare his scenes with Utena to his scenes with Shiori, for example.
Anthy, Anthy, Anthy... see Alternative Character Interpretation above for just some of the details. There's no middle ground on a character as complex as she is, specially on her relationship with Akio and her stabbing Utena at the end. Is she the ultimate example of The Woobie who is broken beyond belief after a millenia of pain and abuse and therefore is not responsible for anything either good or bad that she does, or an evil Manipulative Bitch who played everyone as fools as either her revenge for said millenia of pain and abuse, or as her way to grasp power for herself after having been powerless for so long, and torture everyone (Akio included)? Either way, don't ask: the mere mention of Anthy can send the whole fandom into hategasms or lovegasms.
Depending on what part of the fandom you're looking at, Touga can be anything from an over-princified Draco in Leather Pants (particularly on older fansites) to a much-loathed Scrappy (particularly on Tumblr, though the DILP crowd shows up on there as well). Balanced opinions on him are very rare.
Akio, Akio, Akio. A flawless Magnificent Bastard who controls everyone and everything via Anthy so he can re-shape the world to his liking? An absolute monster who toys with everyone solely for his own gratification and power? A Tragic Hero who got way too broken in the past and reacted to the trauma by becoming a massive ass even to the persons he should protect? A pathetic manchild who has no intention of changing or taking responsibility and just wants to feel powerful by lording over a bunch of insecure teenagers? Can it even be ALL of the above?
Ruka, Ruka, Ruka. He's another particularly divisive character whose actions even today, years after the series has ended, are debated.
When there are no fewer than five different Utena canons (the TV series, the manga by Chiho Saito, the Adolescence Mokushiroku movie, the manga based on The Movie that's also by Saitou, and the virtually unknownLight Novels) some breakage is inevitable. Try bringing up any kind of comparison between these media; fans that support one version will be trying to murder the fans who prefer the others within seconds.
Complete Monster: Akio Ohtori is the epitome of heartless, callous selfishness. Once the heroic Dios, Akio grew disillusioned with being the hero and allowed his sister Anthy to be tortured for what amounts to centuries. As one of the prime figures at Ohtori Academy in the present, Akio seduces many high ranking figures (including his fiancée’s mother) in order to manipulate them, and runs the Rose Duels that essentially pimp his sister Anthy to the victors, abusive or otherwise. Akio gains a cold enjoyment out of mentally ripping apart those near him, including his fiancée, who it's possible he's physically poisoning to get her out of the way. He views Anthy as nothing more than a means to ultimate power and when at one point she's hesitant to continue their weekly tryst one night, he angrily rapes her anyways. Akio seduces Utena and takes her virginity, manipulating her feelings for him to send her into a final confrontation to be sacrificed for his "revolution," where he will rise above the world. Akio views people around him as nothing more than pawns or toys, to be mentally or physically used and discarded as his plans or his whims demand.
Crack Pairing: Miki/Juri has some vocal fan support. As far as crack pairings go, this is a fairly reasonable one; the characters interact on a regular basis, move in the same social/extracurricular circles, and get along the best out of all the Student Council members. What makes it crack is Juri's canonical lesbianism (at least in the series; she teases him in the movie and is straight in the manga).
Akio and Touga are givens here, since they're assholes but also very handsome and stylish.
Yes, Saionji has his pitiable moments (mainly due to Touga's REALLY sucky treatment of him) but he's still a massive Jerk Ass and Domestic Abuser who slapped Anthy around while acting possessive of her, decked Miki as well at one point, and threw Wakaba under the bus to return to the Council and Ohtori.
Mikage is a very tragic character, to be sure, but the fact remains that he's a Manipulative Bastard who effectively brainwashes four teenage girls (Keiko, Wakaba, Kozue and Shiori), a young woman who's barely out of teenage-hood herself (Kanae) and a prepubescent boy (Mitsuru) - all of whom were troubled kids to begin with - into becoming would-be murderers; plus, fans love to erase most of his wrongdoings, such as the fact that the hair-clip incident that broke Wakaba so hard was just as much his fault as it was Saionji's, as he was the one who made the fateful offer to Saionji in the first place.
Ruka Tsuchiya. Apparently, some fans believe that using different kinds of sexual manipulation on two really screwed-up young girls is a valid way to help one of these girls. No, sexual assault should never be used like that for any reason.
Ear Worm: The opening song "Rinbu Revolution," along with many BGM tracks (especially "Zettai Unmei Mokushiroku").
Fan Wank: There's a small group of people who think every single thing that Anthy does in the series is manipulative and for ulterior motives. Yes, even getting (re-)stabbed with a million swords in the last episode. Yes, even when Anthy disappears behind the coffin and reaches out for Utena's hand. All this is supposed to be an act to make Utena feel sorry for her so Anthy can have a prince to manipulate forever so the Rose Bride can finally leave Ohtori.While Anthy is very manipulative and much of her actions in the series are malicious, the above interpretation contains several logic bombs: 1.) If Anthy wants a prince to save her from Ohtori, she could've refused to betray Utena in the penultimate episode, because Utena was already doing everything in her power to help Anthy get out of Ohtori. Anthy's actions make no sense unless you interpret Anthy as being hesitant about leaving. 2.) As the series points out, it's not a lack of a prince or any inherent magic which prevents the Rose Bride from leaving Ohtori; it's the Rose Bride's own personal choice to stay. Utena's feelings for Anthy, or Anthy's lack of a prince, have nothing to do with magically binding her to the duels.
The ridiculous speculation that young Anthy rapes young Dios in flashblack, just because the two of them take shelter in a barn (as per the English double-entendre "rolling in the hay"). Supporters of this particular Tree insist that Anthy was waiting for the "perfect moment" to "taint" her brother and "claim him for herself", forgetting that this is the same Anthy who took thousands of stab wounds to keep him, and neglecting to explain at all why anyone (much less a small girl) would stop to rape their older brother when being chased by a sword-wielding mob.
Faux Symbolism: Various weird visual cues, the most common being rotating stylized roses, which don't appear to have any particular meaning. Ikuhara doesn't help either — he gives vague, non sequitur comments like saying the Shadow Girls are aliens (which would explain the repeated flying saucer imagery in their performances...). On the other hand, the pointing fingers in episode 22 seem to stand for Ship Tease.
Freud Was Right: Lots. Take Akio's car for example. Or his tower, or his projector, or... let's just say Akio provides the majority of this.
Growing the Beard: The first arc is fairly generic and lighthearted (barring episode 9) and despite common mentions of End of the World, it hardly feels like a massive shadow is looming in the background. In the Black Rose arc, however, things get a lot more sinister and weird.
Anthy's discomfort around crowds of people is so much more affecting when we learn what the angry mob did to her.
Utena zigzagging across pretty much every trope related to femininity is somewhat disturbing to watch nowadays, as her voice actress died of ovarian cancer. Made worse when Anthy stabs her just above her right ovary.
In Neon Genesis Evangelion, Maya had crush on her superior Ritsuko, who was tragically involved with her superior, Gendou. In RGU, her colleagueinverts this dynamic―she has a crush on her inferior, who is tragically involved with her superior.
Hilarious in Hindsight: The scene in the movie where Anthy convinces Utena to let her sketch her in the nude actually came out the same year as Titanic (1997), which had the same infamous scene ("Draw me like one of your French girls").
Apparently Akio's car is a corvette. Now what color is his corvette?
Touga's actor Takehito Koyasu also voiced Prince Hans in the Japanese dub of Frozen. Guess brutal deconstructions of Knight in Shining Armor princes are kind of his thing.
The preview of episode 17 features Juri's romantic attraction to Shiori sailing right over Utena's head. The English dub team would make the exact same mistake.
In episode 31 Akio tells Nanami that Ohtori campus rule 34 forbids students from sleeping in the quarters of other students, but she's welcome to stay at his place. Rule34 you say...
Say that you do NOT necessarily think Utena is the most important, groundbreaking, perfect, complex and uniqueshoujo series ever. Prepare to be slain by the Utena fandom.
Liking the movie better than the series will get you clobbered, and may God help you if you happen to prefer the first manga over the series; in fact, having a positive opinion of Chiho Saito at all can get you slapped by those who think she's nothing more than a homophobic hack.
We also dare you to ever insinuate you don't ship Utena/Anthy romantically. The Utena/Anthy rabid fans will tear you alive and accuse you of being a homophobe, regardless of your stance on LGBT rights on Real Life. On the other hand, referring to Utena as a yuri series can be controversial in itself, depending on which corner of the fandom you're looking at.
Speaking of LGBT matters, discussing the characters' sexual orientations (and, on occasion, gender identities as well) can be a messy affair. Is Utena straight, bisexual or lesbian? Is Touga straight or bi? Could Shiori ever reciprocate Juri's feelings for her? note This isn't helped by director notes by Ikuhara that suggest Shiori DOES have closeted feelings for Juri (but that her view of affection is rather unhealthy- for an understatement), while Enokido's notes for the movie (which he intended to be canon to the series for specific characters) state that she'd never return Juri's feelings The list goes on, and blood is going to fly wherever you stand.
Want to commit the ultimate capital offence in the fandom? Just say you're not a fan of Juri Arisugawa. Even pointing out that she has flaws can get you into trouble — to say nothing of what happens when a Shiori supporter takes such a stance.
Criticizing Ikuhara may possibly be an even greater crime in the fandom than criticizing Juri.
And if you say you like Mawaru-Penguindrum better than Utena, you shall be marked for a painful death.
Iron Woobie: Utena. She gets hit with a lot of manipulation and betrayal over the course of the series, but still manages to rise up again every time.
Mikage cruelly used the Black Rose Duelists — listening to their problems before manipulating their feelings to recruit them, and having a more direct hand in some of their breakdowns — but his past was really heartbreaking.
Nanami qualifies big time by episodes 31 and 32. She's such a terrible, obsessive, yet ultimately pitiful little bitch.
Shiori, whose crushing inferiority complex drives her to lash out at Juri because not only does she think no one could possibly genuinely like her, but she hates being treated with pity, which she believes is the only reason Juri was friends with her in the first place. Then she's humiliated by Ruka, the first person to make her feel, for once, good about herself.
Really, nearly everyone can fit here to one degree or another, barring Akio and those characters who are already The Woobie (or Iron Woobie, in the case of Utena herself), although some of them place heavy emphasis on the "jerkass" part. 90% of the cast is violently off their rocker. Good luckholding itagainst them.
Launcher of a Thousand Ships: Name one major character who is not. (Example: Touga. There's Touga/Utena, Touga/Saionji, Touga/Nanami, Touga/Akio, Touga/Miki, Touga/Juri... Touga/Anthy is a bit of a stretch, but it still exists.)
If you see Touga Kiryuu shirtless, ladies, GET AWAY. You too, Miki.
And if Souji Mikage says you should "go deeper"? REFUSE. In fact, his body language and facial expressions towards characters like Miki and Tsuwabuki make him come off as a pedophile to some viewers — which isn't helped by his relationship with Mamiya, who appears to be about fourteen years old at most.
Those who think Anthy is nothing but a Damsel in Distress forget her convoluted machinations and deep resentment of humans in general. Those who think Anthy is nothing but a Wicked Witch forget that fear and anger is likely going to be the typical reaction of a person stabbed by a million swords and faced with eternal torture on top of several kinds of abuse. Both of these viewpoints are also represented in-universe as well by different characters, indicating that Be-PaPas knew full well how people were probably going to react to her.
Also, for those who think that being a prince is "the bestest thing ever" and being a princess is "liek totally ewww"? Let us remind you of who incarnates the concept of a prince even better than Utena: Prince Dios... alias Akio Ohtori. Being a Prince doesn't automatically make anyone better!
Related to the above point: many fans who idealize the "princes" in the series miss the point that the entire concept of "prince" is just as heavily deconstructed and as the entire concept of "princess", as well as shown to be incredibly problematic, and that even the way Utena herself plays the prince role is very flawed in that she was doing it to bolster her own ego, without any real consideration for her "damsel" Anthy's feelings. Even more meaningfully, she eventually comes to realize her mistake and makes up for it via actually helping Anthy and giving her back her hope, instead of just whiteknighting for her.
The English dub can be wooden as hell at times, but it adds to the show's general surrealism and just works.
A lot of things on that aforementioned Narm page are loved particularly due to how weird they are, as it goes along with the more serious surrealism just as well. Especially Utena turning into a car in the movie.
Older Than They Think: Utena makes heavy use of tropes and visual elements from classic shoujo series such as Rose of Versailles, most of which were not familiar to American audiences before the popularity of this series.
Some Utena fans hate Anthy because she's a "weak", outwardly emotionless doll who claims to have no opinions outside of the Victor's whims. Others hate Anthy because they think she's too powerful and manipulative and "evil". Some just hate her because she gets to sleep with Akio and they don't (often disregarding the consentissues in their relationship).
Interestingly, all the kinds of Anthy-haters in the fandom are present in the story: Saionji batters her when she doesn't act as obedient as he wants her to, despite his claims that he loves her; Juri attacks her at one point because she reminds her of Shiori; Kanae feels threatened by her Extreme Doormat persona and the fear that she may be more sinister, which isn't helped by Anthy's passive-aggressive slights against her; and several of the Black Rose Duelists envy her for "being loved" and "stealing their love interests", with Wakaba going as far as seriously trying to kill her; there's Akio, who needs to keep "his woman" under his control in order to keep playing the Big Bad of the show... The people from Be-Papas really know how society views feminine archetypes, and those views are reflected in the Utena fandom.
It's not just the haters; it's her fans too. Some fans, like the characters Miki or Utena until almost the end, see her as a classic Damsel in Distress archetype for them to rescue/defend on forums and blogs in order to boost their own egos, often refusing to see that she is actually the very incarnation of how victims of abuse are human people, and thus liable to lash out at the world and other people instead of just being perpetually sweet and innocent. Some of them have been spotted throwing massive fits when reminded that canon!Anthy isn't some helpless doll who never does anything wrong.
Shiori is easily one of the most hated characters in the fandom, mostly due to the way she lashes out at fan-favorite Juri. Ironically, she's one of Ikuhara's personal favorites, with him having stated that he tends to "like girls who are mean but has [sic.] sexual tones".
Touga. The people who hate him really, really hate him.
Nanami is also rather unpopular in her own right, being frequently written off as annoying comic relief as well as hated for drowning her brother's kitten out of jealousy as a child (despite the fact that she showed clear remorse for it). On the other hand, episodes 31 and 32 tend to get her Rescued from the Scrappy Heap as many viewers end up pitying her too much to hate her anymore.
Manga!Juri has absolutely no fans thanks to being so shallow and immature compared to her beloved series counterpart, to say nothing of the Adaptational Sexuality issues that surround her.
Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped: Strictly defined gender roles are crap. If you believe you can do something, don't let societal norms stop you. Also, you don't have to be imprisoned by your family; if they bring you down and you can't help them, well, better save yourself.
Abuse isn't always apparent or easy to identify. Also you often can't rescue someone from an abusive relationship, they have to do it themselves.
Don't hate on women, and double if you're a woman yourself. Because a woman who hates other women will never be able to love herself.
Akio's "makeover" for the movie was not well received, to say the least. There's some Fridge Brilliance in his more pathetic portrayal, but try telling that to the rabid Akio fans...
Movie!Anthy's redesign has also gotten some flack, including accusations of whitewashing due to the changes in her hair and skintone (though she's still clearly not white or Japanese; her slightly paler skin is an unfortunate side effect of the altered color palette, and her straight hair contrasts with movie!Utena's wavy hair as an indication of their subtle role reversal).
The movie itself gets this, too. While there are plenty of legitimate criticisms, a lot of reasons for Utena fans hating it can be summed up as "it's not a carbon copy of the series".
Values Dissonance: Anthy hits this hard in America, where a dark-skinned person being treated as property by light-skinned people brings up some uncomfortable cultural memories that Japan doesn't have (and where dark skin color typically indicates that someone is Indian, for whom these aren't stereotypes).
That first point arguably ends up working in the series' favor, as the uneasiness many Western viewers feel as a result of Anthy's skin color and status as property/Damsel in Distress goes hand in hand with the feeling that something is just not right about Anthy and Utena's situation, particularly Anthy's extreme passivity and Utena's savior complex towards her. So the Values Dissonance, while likely unintentional, ends up reinforcing the series' themes.