The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Revolutionary Girl Utena

Title: Revolutionary Girl Utena aka Shojo Kakumei Utena
Genre: Fantasy/Adventure
Company: Be-PaPas/Shogakukan/TV Tokyo
Format: 39 episodes
Date: 2 Apr 1997 – 24 Dec 1997

Synopsis: Utena, a kind-hearted girl with an ambition like no other, has a dream: to become a prince, like the very one that had shown her kindness as a child. Led to the prestigious Ohtori Academy, Utena began campus life like any other student. However, as soon as she befriended shy and delicate Anthy Himemiya, things began spiraling out of control. In the midst of mysterious swordfights, rose rings, and deception, Utena begins to lose the very thing she had before her arrival: herself.

The Highlights
Symbolism: In full amounts.
Characters: Deep and beautiful!
Plot: Long, yet unique.
Shounen/Shojo-Ai Undertones: Galore.

The description itself seems like enough of a story, correct? Not so much so… The first thing you must remember, before viewing anything in the Utena name, is that nothing is as it seems. What you may see and what is really there are two completely different concepts. It may just be that very factor that makes Utena as delightful as it is.

Utena is both beautiful and deep, like no other anime I have witnessed. Rarely can an anime substitute elegance for depth, or vice versa. Yet, somehow Utena pulls both strings. The artwork and animation are regal and dreamlike, nostalgic in presence. It flows like a storybook would if it was translated into imagery. The plot of Utena begins at a rough start, yet picks up immediately in the following episodes until it becomes more emotionally charged and romantic.

Besides being merely beautiful to look at and follow, Utena is also quite rewarding to listen to, too. Utena’s unique mixes of operatic vocals and dense rock music have created another world like no other. The hum of symphonies and the occasional piano lullaby both add to the tone of a beautiful fairytale. But, Utena isn’t a fairytale told of happiness. At some points the plot reviews darker and more destructive intentions amongst the show’s various characters. At times like these, you may see the story in an entirely new light.

Every scene is practically drenched in symbolism. The imagery itself often displays the symbols in heavy rotation; primarily speaking, the usually mid-show scene with the “Shadow Girls”, whom often imitate the show’s plot, however in a much more satirical fashion. And, in a show sporting a male-clad prince-to-be, there just has to be a slight undertone of shojo-ai, and occasionally some shounen-ai as well. Though the symbolism never gets over-the-top, it’s always present, in one form or another.

Even for an anime I have continuously praised, there has to be a few flaws in Utena. Many are often disappointed in the constant re-use of cels and blame it on the show’s budget. While it may be related to the budget, I think it’s more ritualistic and therefore don’t mind too much. However, if you aren’t fond of the same scene and same music again and again, the “fast forward” button is always handy. Despite this, the only other flaw of the series is the occasional filler episode, which tend to slow the plotline down a bit.

A masterpiece in its own right, Utena continues to dazzle far after its finale. The anime balances all the correct factors nicely: crystal animation, storybook plotline, attractive characters, and heavenly soundtrack. I recommend this to all who want something new, or who just like cross-dressing protagonists. Trust me, Utena won’t let you down.

The Rating: 9

Reviewed by: Pachinko

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