Utena Anime – We Are All Enamoured of the Rose Bride
Decades after the Utena anime series was created, intelligent people are still trying to analyse it. These pass notes may help.
Utena is named Shoujo Kakumei Utena in Japan, Revolutionary Girl Utena in America (and Britain, too, I believe… not too sure on that one) and La Filette Revolutionnaire in France. Don’t ask why I have so much useless knowledge about the multiple titles of this show.
I should be shot for writing a review on this amazing series, because I won’t get it right. No one will ever be able to, because it’s so deep and mysterious, that even today, after more than twelve years of the series being done and over with, people are still analysing it to get what’s going on.
That’s not to say it’s confusing (although it can be). Utena just has a lot going on and no two viewpoints are the same. I will explain details of the series as a whole, with the help of a fabulous site called www.ohtori.nu, but most of the focus will be on the 39-episode Utena TV series, not the manga or Utena Movie . As you may already know, in Japan the last name comes before the first, but here I’m writing them western style unless for some specific reason.
Utena Tenjou is a 14 year old tomboyish, pink-haired goddess in 8th grade at her extremely large boarding school, Ohtori Academy. She’s the popular girl, and just from the first few minutes of the first episode you can easily tell that she enjoys and embraces her popularity, which is mostly with the girls. Don’t let this fool you, though. It appears that even though she’s well liked among her peers, she only has one good friend: a girl named Wakaba Shinohara. Wakaba’s a loud, eccentric, Utena-obsessed girl with no regard for anyone who wants to take her “boyfriend” away. Utena is rebellious and wears a boy’s uniform instead of a girl’s (which, oddly, doesn’t match any of the male uniforms at the school and therefore makes her outfit totally unique, though no-one in the series points this difference out), which gets the pissy old lady’s panties in a twist.
Along the way we meet the school’s Seitokai, or student council, who is probably more in charge of the school than the grope-worthy lavender-haired headmaster is. The Seitokai members are as follows: Touga Kiryuu, a sexy red-haired 11th grader and President of the council; Kyouichi Saionji, another school god and captain of the Kendo team, with curly green hair, also Wakaba’s love interest; Juri Arisugawa, the beautiful high school freshman (which is 10th grade in Japan), captain of the Fencing club and secret LGBT, nicknamed “the Beautiful Leopard” for the color of her hair and undoubtedly, her attitude and power she has over any authority figure that stands in her way; Miki Kaoru, the youngest of all, is in 7th grade and a prodigy, not only academically but musically – he’s also a member of the Fencing club and a close friend of the stopwatch and his (of course) quite evil twin sister Kozue; and later, Nanami Kiryuu, the blonde, stuck-up, annoying, self-centered, brother-obsessed 7th grade kid sister of Touga, part of the Seitokai in his absence.
The Seitokai play a very important part of the story, because they are the ones who receive letters from The End of The World. The End of The World is the one who tells the Seitokai to duel.
Now for a little background information before I begin. Trust me. It’s better this way round.
Utena Anime Pass Notes
As a small child, a “prince” told Utena to keep her nobility and courage, and gave her a rose crest ring with the promise that they’d meet again. This encouraged Utena to grow up and become a prince just like the one she had met, in the hopes that they truly would meet again. At the beginning of the series, we’re not sure for how long Utena’s been attending Ohtori, but it’s safe to assume she transferred there at some point (most of the characters have never even heard of her before the events of the first episode, so it would be unrealistic to assume that she’d been going there since her preschool days). I’ll get back to the dueling in a moment, just let me clear some more things up first.
Wakaba writes a love letter to Saionji, her love interest, who ends up throwing it away out of distaste for Wakaba. But some klepto finds it in the trash can, posts it on the bulletin board for everyone to see, and laughs at it with, oh, say, half the school. Utena happens to see this and in protection of her friend finds this Saionji bastard and challenges him to a Kendo match. He’s now telling her to meet her in the forbidden forest behind the school. At this point it’s a smart idea to make note of the ring she wears on her finger.
Now it’s getting weirder, as all you can see is what appears to be the shadows of puppets against a rose crest wall. Take these funny girls and their antics seriously, because they know what’s going on and while they won’t come right out and tell you what’s happening, they can help you understand it a little better and are therefore a very, very vital part of the series.
She goes to the forest, opens the door and begins a seemingly tiring trip up the spiral staircase to the top, with amazing music and stunning visuals. Once she’s at the top you can see what she sees – a castle floating upside-down in the sky.
This, my friends, in the dueling arena. Here is where the duelists (who are, not surprisingly, the Seitokai – all of whom wear a ring similar to Utena’s) essentially sword fight to gain as their prize the Rose Bride. The one who is currently “engaged” to the Rose Bride? Saionji.
Everyone has a different reason for wanting the Rose Bride. But the way she herself explains it is that she is basically a key to getting into that castle in the sky, which seems to offer different things to different people. Hell, if you saw a castle floating upside-down in the sky you’d want to see what’s in there too.
I will summarize this astounding duel in two words: Utena wins.
Which means she’s now engaged to the Rose Bride; The nerdy, quiet, and kinda weird Anthy Himemiya. This girl has quite a story behind her, as everyone in this series does, but hers is the deepest and most bizarre of all.
Riddled with betrayal, manipulation, greed, and also enlightenment, love, a new way to look at the world, and even sadness, Utena is one of those series that you should be watching if you’re not, and you’re glad you watched if you did.
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