Reviews: Revolutionary Girl Utena

If you want to say something, say it, donít pull a The Walrus Was Paul!

As this series repeatedly demonstrates, Brother-Sister Incest is messed up, yet it appears itself to be the product of Brother-Sister Incest between Neon Genesis Evangelion and FLCL, going halfway between the formerís mostly solemn tone and messages and the latterís wackiness, resulting in comic reliefs used when least appropriate, (Ikuharaís Author Avatar obnoxious monkey that could and should have been replaced by, say, a conventional cat or a dog, and the Big Lipped Alligator Moments during student council assemblies).

Ikuhara seems to have wanted to discuss serious themes and messages, but insisted The Walrus Was Paul, adding heaps of opacity (Mikiís watch, songs played during duels) to genuine symbolism (the tower juxtaposed with Akioís seductions and the egg Nanami lays), resulting mostly in an incoherent mess.

The series takes about 2/3~ to become genuinely good. Up until that point it suffers terribly from unrelatable immature and somewhat flat characters who undergo little to no Character Development (and later some Aesop Amnesia, to make matters worse) (Nanami gets special mention as truly intolerable), excessively long Stock Footage including Transformation Sequences (that continue even after that). When it finally starts Growing the Beard it feels far too little and far, far too late. Additionally, unlike Neon Genesis Evangelion, the small budget was not used to create compelling minimalist animation, just bad animation for too large a portion of the series.

Worst of all, the creators of the franchise decided to deconstruct prince/ss tropes. Not only are most of these tropes mostly irrelevant for modern viewers, they seem not to really understand in full how these tropes work, displaying the same kind of ignorant appropriation Westerners often do when Ďusingí themes and tropes from other cultures. I would have been happy had this series been about samurai and Yamato Nadeshiko, or a live-action French one, but as it is, it is very much a disappointment.

Ah, well. At least the ending was somewhat cathartic, and the comedic filler episodes were genuinely good.


How to recommend Utena

If you are willing to really jump into cold water as I did, I am going to give you something to ease the jump. Certainty.

I need you to listen to track from the sountrack of the original Series. It is called "Poison". Knowing the context in which the Track is used triggers a wild range of emotions for me. Most of all, disgust, tension, fear, hope and empathy.

If you want to understand why people who have watched Shoujo Kakumei Utena all the way through are gushing about it, especially on TV Tropes, you have to understand one thing.

For most male audiences, it is fucking painful to slog through.

You will change the language to japanese (which is a good thing).

There is this word in German, 'Faustregel', and it has the same meaning like the english 'rule of thumb'. 'Faust' = fist. There was this gag among my friends of the 'Faustregel of anime': "If you'd be be more embarrassed by someone walking in on you watching this, than by someone walking in on you watching anal fisting porn, don't bother."

To be honest, at first, the promise of romantic lesbianism was the only thing that kept me hanging on. It took really, really long before I was hooked. My stubbornness, my longing for context and my hope that it would become good at last were the engines that drove me forward. I regularly skipped the intro and outro, most of the fights, and each time I saw nanami. But then, all of a sudden, it became better. In the third arc at last you get everything you wanted all this time. Namely: Context, Progress and the feeling that you did invest your time the right way.

I won't talk flaws because they are subjective as all hell. You will spot more than enough. What I will say is that they made me ashamed of liking this Series. There shouldn't be such a thing as guilty pleasure. That's unhealthy.

Utena is hell of a ride, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

I'll hereby give you the assurance that it is indeed good. And it WILL affect you on some level. Do you have what it takes? Do you have the self-awareness of your own sexuality, that it does not "make you girly" and "not a real man" if you watch it? Do you have enough Energy, enough Curiosity, enough courage to be vulnerable and enough open-mindedness to not dismiss it until it gets good?

PS: my initial review was 1800 words long.

The movie manga

I refer to it as 'the movie manga' because like the movie it's titled "The Adolescence of Utena" and that would be confusing. I haven't watched the entire movie, but a few differences I can note is that it doesn't have room for side characters. Or cars.

But more importantly: It's wonderful. Sensual without pandering, beautifully drawn and really something to think about. Watching the show or reading the other manga is required (because otherwise you'll have no idea what just hit you), but after that this reinterpretation is really recommended. It's less than 200 pages and really makes the most out of them, focussing on Utena and Anthy and how they see the world. If you want to understand Anthy better: pick it up. If you thought she was horrible: still pick it up, it's awesome.