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Revolutionary Girl Utena? More Like Fence Fence Revolution! - The Book of the Celestial Cow

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July 20th, 2014


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11:00 am - Revolutionary Girl Utena? More Like Fence Fence Revolution!
I was first recommended Revolutionary Girl Utena after watching Princess Tutu (obligatory PRINCESS TUTU IS THE BEST OMG) seven years ago, and I've been wanting to watch it ever since! While I wasn't able to watch it to follow along with Mark Watches Utena, I was put on a Worldcon panel about feminism and magical girls so now watching it became research.

When Utena Tenjou was a little girl, she met a prince, and the prince gave her a ring and told her to be noble, and she decided that when she grew up, she was going to be a prince. Not a princess, a prince. Now, as a teenager, she's at Ohtori Academy, and she discovers that her ring marks her as a Duelist, like the members of the Student Council, who duel for possession of the Rose Bride, Anthy Hememiya, who, as they have been told by "End of the World" (whatever or whoever the fuck that is), will grant them the power to bring revolution to the world.

You guys, this is the first episode.

On a superficial level, Utena is confusing and repetitive. Literally minutes of every episode are taken up with reused sequences either leading up to duels or transformations during duels—or, later...other things. Episodes begin to feel incredibly formulaic, designed to be written around these plots, and character motivations can feel muddled, more like "Welp, this character has not yet dueled Utena, so let's give them a very flimsy reason to do so" rather than anything approaching actual human feelings. Also, a great deal of what is shown onscreen makes so little sense it's unclear whether it's even real, from random kangaroos to, well, anything that happens in the dueling arena.

But Utena, like a lot of anime, speaks in metaphors and symbolism and emotions: deeper, emotional truths take priority over logic. I don't normally see subtext but this is the most homoerotic anime I have ever seen, a show where the subtext is practically text. At times, I wasn't even sure non-incestuous heterosexuality existed in this world. Oh, yes, homoerotic subtext, incestuous subtext, there is a lot of subtext here. There's bizarre sexual tension between siblings like it's not even weird. Sometimes the men just lie around with pretty hair and bare chests because that's what real men do, I guess. And this is a high school show so of course HORMONES, everyone is fucking. As a result, a lot of characters are driven by jealousy and competition for men or women, and it's simply turned up to anime levels. There is a lot going on about gender and sexuality, and the general theme is basically FUCK THE PATRIARCHY, as Utena consistently rejects traditional gender roles, from choosing to be a prince to wearing the boys' uniform at school. Roses symbolize lust, there are phallic symbols everywhere, who even knows how much meaning is really buried in this show beneath all the fucked-up manipulation and deceit.

It took me a while to really get into the series, and it probably wasn't until more than halfway through that I really got into it, as the plot began to thicken in more and more incoherent and coherent ways. And while I wasn't entirely satisfied by the ending, I think it's more a matter of my not having properly followed the story. Which is difficult to follow. Revolutionary Girl Utena is a challenging show, but with its strong focus on character relationships—particularly between Utena and Anthy—and thematics, it's ultimately rewarding.
Current Mood: dirtydirty
Current Music: Howling Bells - Slowburn

(8 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:kittycat22
Date:July 20th, 2014 11:06 pm (UTC)
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*token comment from kittycat2302/Rachel2302*

Yes, all of this was verrrrrry difficult to follow, and I agree- it took until at least halfway until I was really invested. And combine the repetitiveness with the ads on hulu and I probably would have given up if not for watching along with MW. Particularly in the clip show episodes. Heh.

But ultimately, I really liked it, too. Thoughts on the movie?
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 20th, 2014 11:16 pm (UTC)
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What the fuck was any of that, like you had to have watched the show to even have the slightest clue what was going on. It was weird. I liked that they made Utena/Anthy explicit even though, again, it made little sense if you didn't already know their relationship from the show. The movie was like a compression of the basic themes shaped into a semblance of a narrative.

SHADOW GIRLS FOREVER though.
[User Picture]
From:kittycat22
Date:July 21st, 2014 12:07 am (UTC)
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Ugh, seriously! I initially hated the movie; reading some of the commentary at MW helped me appreciate it. As did thinking of it as a sequel of sorts rather than basically an AU. So now I merely didn't like it vs hated it.

But Utena/Anthy kissing, and Utena was a car. So it had that going for it! Plus that beautiful dance scene.
[User Picture]
From:thetheatremouse
Date:July 23rd, 2014 01:39 am (UTC)
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Hmm. It's possible you had me after using the words "recommended", "after" and "Princess Tutu" in the same sentence.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 23rd, 2014 01:47 am (UTC)
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OH MY GOD THERE ARE SO MANY WEIRD SIMILARITIES AND MAPPED CHARACTER RELATIONSHIPS.
[User Picture]
From:the_narration
Date:July 31st, 2014 03:55 pm (UTC)
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Over the years, I've made two attempts to watch this series. Once back in college with the roommate who got me into anime, and once by myself a few years ago. Both times my viewing ground to a halt at the same point: "Runaway Kangaroo!" Something about that just makes my brain go all divide-by-zero.

I still want to someday watch this all the way through, because it seems to be full of things that are relevant to my interests, but the wildly inconsistent tone in the early episodes makes it really hard to get into.

(My frustrations with the comedic shenanigans weren't helped by the fact that Utena herself didn't seem to care about the plot in those earlier episodes. There's a portal to another dimension or something in the middle of the school and a secret society of students wagering a human being on a swordfight like she was property and also pulling swords out of her chest, but no need to try to get answers, apparently, when there's the big dance to worry about. Not even just asking Anthy, "Hey, WTF is this shit?" It's hard to get invested in a myth arc when even the main character doesn't seem to care.)

Maybe next time I try watching it I should grab my friend who likes really bizarre shows and a full bottle of whiskey so we can engage in some drunken riffing to get through the rough spots....
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 31st, 2014 04:00 pm (UTC)
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Ha, I had those same issues with the early episodes, but I was glad I stuck it out. It was definitely odd how complacent Utena seemed to be with the fact that, you know, she was pulling a sword out of Anthy's chest.
[User Picture]
From:the_narration
Date:July 31st, 2014 04:55 pm (UTC)
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Between that and the extradimensional space with the upside-down castle, maybe she just figured that she was tripping balls the whole time? ;-P

I can certainly understand why she never told anybody about it. Imagine that conversation...

"...and then I went through a secret portal in the garden, and climbed an endless staircase to an upside-down castle in the sky, and there was a guy who pulled a sword out of a girl's cleavage, and then I dueled him for her hand in marriage!"
"...No more drugs for that girl. She has clearly already done all of them, and saved none for the rest of us."

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