Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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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.
Tags: anime, new show squee, revolutionary girl utena, tv

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