The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Revolutionary Girl Utena

Title: Revolutionary Girl Utena aka Shoujo Kakumei Utena
Genre: Action/Drama
Company: Be-PaPas/TV Tokyo/Shogakukan
Format: 39 episodes
Dates: 2 Apr 1997 – 24 Dec 1997

Synopsis: When Tenjou Utena was a little girl, she was greatly saddened by the untimely deaths of her parents, until she met a prince clad in white. This prince gives her a signet ring with a rose on it and tells her that the ring will lead her to him. Oddly enough, Utena admired the prince so much that she decided she wanted to be a prince herself. Now enrolled in Ohtori Academy, Utena discovers that the members of the Student Council all have signet rings like her own. Caught up in a bizzare series of duels for posession of the Rose Bride, Utena searches for her prince and the truth behind the events taking place at Ohtori Academy.

The Highlights
Characters: Realistic and well-developed.
Themes and Symbolism: Fascinating.
Structure: Extremely formulaic; reused animation sequences waste too much time.

Watching Revolutionary Girl Utena is like staring at a Surrealist painting. While not quite as strange as the aforementioned works of art, Revolutionary Girl Utena combines a seemingly normal shoujo story with enough out-of-the-ordinary happenings to turn more than a few heads. Unlike anime which are weird for the sake of being weird, there is a method to the madness that makes Revolutionary Girl Utena anything but typical.

The many themes and symbolisms save what could have otherwise been a run of the mill shoujo anime with too much filler. From self identity, to attacking traditional gender roles, to philosophical ponderings on miracles and love, Revolutionary Girl Utena covers a lot of mental ground. It is questionable whether some things like the spinning roses and the pseudo-intelligent song lyrics have any sort of deeper meaning, but they still add to the mysteries of the plot. Whether it’s the symbolism or the unique oddities that pervade the show, Revolutionary Girl Utena will get hold of your attention, one way or another.

It is hard to keep one’s attention focused when the exact same transformation sequence with the exact same song is playing for the thirtieth-odd time. I swear if I have to hear “Zettai Unmei Mokushiroku” one more time I will personally hunt down every existing copy of the music and destroy them. Speaking of wasted time, the plot of Revoltionary Girl Utena proceeds very slowly. They could have cut a lot of crap and easily fit everything into twenty-six episodes. Hell, they could have saved over an hour alone by cutting Utena’s repetitive journey to the dueling arena and her transformation sequence. Broken into four story arcs, this heavily fragmented plot would have been inexcusably dull if it weren’t for several well placed plot twists. And what killer plot twists they are. The last two episodes have to be seen to be believed.

Furthering Revolutionary Girl Utena‘s good qualities is the cast of believable and often times quite funny characters. Even though there is a lot of wasted time in the episodes, plenty of time is spent fleshing out the characters. Indeed it is the stellar cast that makes up for the formulaic episodes and slow plot, saving the show when it would have otherwise been unwatchable. Not since Neon Genesis Evangelion has an anime had such lifelike characters combined with a foreboding atmosphere; an excellent one-two punch.

It would be hard to recommend Revolutionary Girl Utena on its one-of-a-kind charm alone, but it makes for a good watch because of the great characters as well. With enough symbolism to satisfy this animation-loving bear, and characters sure to appeal to everyone’s tastes, a wide audience can appreciate this anime on a number of levels. Highly recommended to all shoujo fans, and worth checking out for others to see if this rare breed of anime will capture your attention like it did mine.

The Rating: 7

Reviewed by: Kuma

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