Saturday, September 8, 2018
Anime Recommendations: Revolutionary Girl Utena
Revolutionary Girl Utena is about a girl who vows to become a prince, but was that really such a good idea?
I had been planning to watch Revolutionary Girl Utena for a while and was disappointed that I couldn't find it on any legal anime streaming sites. Fortunately, I ended up stumbling upon it on YouTube, published by Nozomi Entertainment. So if you want to check out Revolutionary Girl Utena, you can find the whole series by clicking the link here.
There are two main reasons why I wanted to watch Revolutionary Girl Utena. The first is because I have a fondness for Magical Girl anime, especially series like Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha, and Sailor Moon. While I knew that Utena was not a technically a Magical Girl anime, I heard that the series had some of the fantasy elements that were common in that genre of anime.
The second reason was because of my love for and experience with Penguindrum. Part of the reason why I loved Penguindrum was the surreal directing and impactful storytelling of Kunihiko Ikuhara. Like with Penguindrum, Ikuhara was the director of Revolutionary Girl Utena, so I was expecting the same kind of deep and strange story from this series, and I was not disappointed.
Revolutionary Girl Utena, or Shoujo Kakumei Utena, is a story about a girl who wants to be a prince. After the death of her parents, Utena Tenjou is comforted by a prince who tells her to never lose her strength and nobility, and gives her a ring that he promises will help Utena find him again. Enchanted by the prince, Utena vows to become just like that prince, protecting young maidens from harm. In middle school, Utena dresses in a boy's uniform, is a thorn in the side of her traditional teachers, and beloved by all of the girls.
Utena's heroic nature brings her into conflict with the vice president of the student council, who humiliates her friend and abuses a student known as Anthy Himemiya. Utena ends up defeating the vice president in a sword duel and unknowingly becomes engaged to Anthy, who plays the role of something called the "Rose Bride". Utena now has to participate in duels against the rest of the student council to protect Anthy.
That's the basic premise of the show and pretty much the plot of the first episode. If that seemed like a lot to comprehend, I'll warn you that so much more happens in the rest of the series. Revolutionary Girl Utena is a fantasy that challenges a lot of societal norms that are reinforced by other fantasy stories and fairy tales. Utena challenges traditional roles of men and women and toxic masculinity, while also shedding light on topics of domestic abuse and sexual predators.
Utena is also very strange. While the story is a fantasy, most of the characters are average middle school students, attending an average academy. They just happen to get involved with magical sword fights and attempt to bring about a world revolution. If I had to categorize Utena under a genre, it would be magical realism, because it is set in a world that does resemble our own reality, there are just these very strange and fantastic elements that add flair to the story.
I also thought that the characters were great. Utena Tenjou was a typical heroic protagonist who was shown to be flawed and simpleminded as the series progressed. Her relationship with Anthy is a perfect example. While Utena first sees Anthy as a helpless maiden who needs protecting, Utena starts to see her as a friend and maybe something more.
The "villains" or antagonists were also great characters. Like Utena, they were introduced as being typical villains, scheming in the shadows while looking down on others, but as the series progressed, a lot of their motivations were brought to light. While a lot of them did awful things, I think that it was hard not to feel sympathetic for them and hope that they find a happy ending.
So if the story, setting, or characters are not enough to convince you that you should add Revolutionary Girl Utena to your "Plan to Watch" list, then maybe Steven Universe will convince you. Yes, Revolutionary Girl Utena is one of the anime series that influenced Steven Universe creator Rebecca Sugar. You can read more about it here, but I remember when I watched the first episode of Utena, I couldn't help but think about Steven Universe when looking at the character designs and setting. So if you like Steven Universe, maybe check out one of the series that had an impact on the popular cartoon.
In conclusion, if you like anime that have a lot to say and challenge societal norms, you should watch Revolutionary Girl Utena. If you're a fan of magical realism, you should watch Revolutionary Girl Utena. If you like complex characters that grow and progress with the story, you should watch Revolutionary Girl Utena. If you like Steven Universe, you should watch Revolutionary Girl Utena.