With both myself and my husband working from home, my anime time has really become the occasional snatched pocket of time – unless it is one he has expressed an actual interest in watching. In the before times, Revolutionary Girl Utena is one of those shows I would have finished in a few weeks rather than two months – but having this be prolonged might be exactly what I needed with this show.
There is a lot that goes on in this series that it is pretty difficult to know where to begin. Going into this, albeit completely blindly, I was expecting something closer to Rose of Versailles than something quite as genre-breaking as Madoka. On the surface, Revolutionary Girl Utena looks like it is a mild comic featuring a gender-bending heroine who likes to wear the boys’ uniform and longs to one day be a prince. However, this is a lot darker than that. And the anime series adaptation – compared to the manga and the anime film – seems to have gone for the more friendly version of the story.
By playing on the safer side, this series plays any acts of same-sex love very much as subtext – with one notable exception, but it is a very much unrequited love. There are other parts that this series omits by playing it safe, which I look forward to exploring in this franchises other versions – but rather than removing it, the same-sex is diluted down.
However, no matter how much you dilute it there is no escaping that the love that the relationship between Utena – as prince – and Anthy – as the rose bride – is more than friendship. Something that the final scenes very much hinge on and what makes the final two episodes some of the best anime that I have seen made for the small screen.
In essence the series has a simple premise, we are in a high school where the upper echelons of the student body undertake duels in order to win the hand of a girl referred to as ‘The Rose Bride’ in an effort to bring about a revolution. Cue a lot of repetitive sword fight sequences and, in typical anime style a regular transformation sequence with kick-ass music.
However, once you get to the beginning of season three, things take a very sour turn which turns this from a fun series to watch into even more of the surreal and abstract conspiratorial storytelling that I really love. It starts to break it’s own genre and, at times, becomes downright Lynchian. Scenes involving sports cars driving to the ‘End of the World’ play like the Red Room of Twin Peaks and the shadow puppet theatre segments get more and more absurd.
Revolutionary Girl Utena is one of those series where I am so in need of a friend who has seen it as there is a lot I want to unpack and it is not as much fun to do it by myself. This was exactly what I needed after two sports anime in a row and it’s just nice to be posting about anime again – especially as my watch of Neon Genesis Evangelion with my husband is proceeding too slowly for my liking.