Anime Spotlight: Revolutionary Girl Utena (Updated)

Revolutionary Girl Utena is a shojo anime series that aired in Japan from April 2-December 24, 1997. The series was produced by J.C. Staff and was directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara. The feature film The Adolescence of Utena, which was also produced by J.C. Staff and directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara, was released in Japan on August 14, 1999. Central Park Media originally held the North American distribution rights for Revolutionary Girl Utena, but those rights are now held by Nozomi Entertainment.

Utena Tenjou is the title character of Revolutionary Girl Utena. When she was eight years old, Utena was orphaned and rescued from her sadness by a mysterious prince who gave her a Rose Signet ring. The prince tells Utena that the ring will lead her to him again someday if she never loses her nobility. Young Utena was so inspired by him that she decides to become a prince herself.

The main story begins six years later, when a 14-year-old Utena begins attending Ohtori Academy. Her best friend is Wakaba, and Wakaba has a crush on Kyouichi Saionji, a boy on the Student Council. Wakaba gives Kyouichi a love letter; he thinks it’s stupid and throws it away. Later, the love letter is posted on the school wall. Utena believes that Kyouichi is responsible and angrily confronts him about it. Utena challenges him to a Kendo duel, but when he sees the Rose Signet on her hand, he accepts a real duel.

Utena has her duel with Kyouichi and wins, and in the process becomes engaged to Anthy Himemiya, the Rose Bride. Utena and Anthy move into a dorm together, but Kyouichi comes to the dorms and physically abuses Anthy for “betraying” him. He demands a rematch with Utena. Utena thinks the duels are stupid and tells Anthy that she’ll lose on purpose. However, after being disgusted by the thought of Kyouichi abusing Anthy, Utena is motivated to protect Anthy and ends up winning the rematch. During this second duel, Utena gains access to the Sword of Dios, which Anthy has in her possession.

Over the first 13 episodes of the series, Utena also fights the other Student Council members one by one: Miki, Juri, Nanami, and Touga. With each duel Utena has, her relationship with Anthy strengthens.

After Utena defeats all the student council members in the duels, she encounters a new obstacle. Souji Mikage opens the Mikage Seminar, which is supposedly a place for student counseling. However, after people reveal their problems and inner turmoil to Souji, he uses his power to put them under his control. They become Black Rose duelists, and they are sent to fight duels with Utena in the Arena. Souji’s goal is to kill Anthy and make a boy named Mamiya Chida the Rose Bride.

After Kyouichi is expelled for injuring Touga, he is given permission to return to Ohtori Academy. Upon his return, Kyouichi challenges Utena to another duel. When Utena discovers that Anthy can pull out an even stronger sword than the Sword of Dios, she uses it to defeat Saionji.

Akio, the acting chairman of Ohtori Academy and Anthy’s brother, appears before Touga and takes him to a place called the “End of the World.” Together, they take each one of the remaining Student Council members there. Each one chooses a “bride” to take a sword from their hearts in order to fight Utena. The victor of the duels will be determined by the strength of the bond between the Duelist and the Bride.

When I first started watching Revolutionary Girl Utena, I found the concept to be a little on the strange side in the early episodes. However, I was still riveted by the story and wanted to keep watching in order to find out what would happen.

As the story unfolds, it starts becoming much darker in tone. However, near the end of the second story arc of the series, so many concepts were getting thrown at me that I felt all that information simply wash over me and feeling like I had more questions than answers.

The final story arc was an improvement over the Black Rose Saga, and as it went along, I was riveted and interested in what was happening. The series has a surprising and exciting conclusion, but in some respects, I felt a little let down by how it ended. However, I will say that between the Revolutionary Girl Utena television anime series and The Adolescence of Utena anime film, I prefer the television series.

Admittedly, Revolutionary Girl Utena is a series that I watched early on when I started writing about anime for BellaOnline back in 2007, so I hadn’t been quite as immersed in anime at that time as I am today. I’d heard good things about it from my older sister, so I had really looked forward to watching it. By the time I finished it, I didn’t like it as much as I had hoped I would.

But in early 2019, I re-watched the series again and realized that the series was a lot better than I thought it was when I first saw it a decade earlier. I think that with the re-watch, it helped that I was able to see the entire series within the span of a few days, instead of having the gaps between checking out DVD box sets from the library. Because I had seen it before, I was able to pick up more on some of the symbolism. Also, now that I have over a decade’s worth of anime viewing under my belt, some of the things that I thought were strange back in 2007 don’t seem quite so strange anymore. I honestly believe that I can better appreciate Revolutionary Girl Utena now that I’ve spent several years immersed in anime and have an even greater appreciation for the medium compared to when I first watched this series. Also, with this rewatch, I gained a better appreciation for the ending of the television series.

Revolutionary Girl Utena has become a classic anime to come out of the late 1990s, and it’s an interesting series that portrays a young woman going through adolescence. When you think about the fact that story is about Utena, as well as the other characters, going through adolescence, you realize just how powerful some of the symbolism is that appears in the series.

If you consider yourself an anime fan, I would highly recommend watching Revolutionary Girl Utena at least once. But it might be better to watch it at least a couple of times, to be able to pick up on the symbolism and perhaps gain a greater appreciation for the series and its storytelling. As of this writing, the series is available for viewing on YouTube through Nozomi Entertainment’s YouTube page.

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