Created By: Chiho Saito, Be-Papas
Directed By: Kunihiko Ikuhara
Studio: J.C. Staff
Audio: English, Japanese
Format: Blu-Ray Collector’s Edition
Classification: 15 (BBFC)
Licensed By: Anime Limited
Release Date: Part One (20th July 2020), Part Two (17th August 2020), Part Three (14th September 2020)
Once there was a young girl, so full of sorrow from the death of her parents that all she wished to do was hide away from the World. She was saved and lifted from the depths of her despair by a travelling Prince sitting upon a white horse. His words brought her a new strength, one that she has carried with her all her life up until this moment. Now that little girl called Utena aspires to be just like her Prince and vows to help those in need. Our spirited young Utena now attends a prestigious academy for the children of wealthy families. Within these grounds she finds herself in the centre of a secret battle for the Rose Bride and the opportunity to Revolutionize the World – but what does it all mean?
Revolutionary Girl Utena first debuted back in 1996 as a Shójo manga and through its widespread success, it is still regarded by critics as a highly influential work in the genre. This is all happening at the same time that both Cardcaptor Sakura and Vampire Game also first began serialization in Japanese manga magazines, and while Sailor Moon was beginning to end it’s run. Prior to watching this show, I had never seen Revolutionary Girl Utena before, so I went into it for the first time 24 years after its initial release into the World. To me, this seemed to have been aimed as a more ‘artsy film’ with multiple layers of hidden themes and social issues it wanted to address – such as gender inequality and the idea to invoke a sense of grand purpose into its viewers to go out there and make a positive change in the World. It certainly wasn’t the series I was expecting to watch, but it did create a number of complex characters, as well as some strong female roles – with Anthy Himemiya being just a damsel in distress.
So this series follows just a single high school year for Utena, a strong and athletic student who prefers breaking the accepted gender stereotypes simply by her attitude to life, her attire and ability to excel at most sports. Even without having picked up a sword before, she bests even the most skilled fencing and kendo students in her school. With her strong will and determined outlook on life, even without knowing the full facts regarding these secretive battles for the Rose Bride – Utena risks everything to free this unusually obedient girl named Anthy.
Even after watching the entire show and follow up film, I am still almost left none the wiser as to what the entire point was of winning the Rose Bride and gaining the ability to ‘Revolutionize the World’. We see no glimpse of the World really outside the school, just the many mysteries within and the idea that Anthy is perhaps a witch. This school exists almost like it lives in its own dimension, it isn’t until you watch the film does it become more apparent. It is certainly not a show I would recommend to many people, as there is just so much hidden context involved – it simply leaves more questions than any coherent answers.
Character-wise, we do get a number of interesting individuals. Anthy however is entirely different when it comes to the anime series and the film, as she has a severe personality transplant between both. This also applies to some conflicting plot elements when it comes to comparing the series with the film, as well as the added element of human to machine transformation when it comes to the films finale. Was it needed? Definitely not, but of course its for ‘artistic interpretation’ as to the underlying conclusion to the film and the fate of Utena and Anthy.
Regarding characters, we have an interesting bunch including the tom-boy Utena, the helpless damsel in distress is Anthy, we also have a pair of twins, some twisted siblings, arrogant student council members and an unrequited love in what could have been a yuri relationship. It had the set up for an interesting anime, but I don’t think it stands well in today’s standards. I found it much more confusing than what it probably was meant to be.
It’s not really about a great love story, sure Utena wishes to meet her Prince once again. Perhaps more to say thank you for giving her a reason to live after the sudden deaths of both her parents. Overall we have a good number of dueling fights, which was basically one each episode. So if you enjoy fencing, well you’ll at least appreciate this anime some bit. In the series they use the same animation over and over when it comes to Utena entering the arena and the beginning of each duel. There is quite a bit of repeated footage throughout the show and it does get a bit stale after a number of episodes as opponents tend to repeat themselves again. For a show that came out in 1997, it is probably the best known for being the leading shójo of that decade. For me though, that title will always belong to Cardcaptor Sakura.
Both this 39 episode anime and the film were both produced by J.C. Staff, the same studio that also brought us Azumanga Daioh, Familiar of Zero, Toradora and Maid Sama! ‘Utena’ also shared the same director throughout the franchise with Kunihiko Ikuhara, who is mostly known as directly perhaps the majority of the Sailor Moon anime franchise. Following a dispute with Toei Animation over what little creative control he had on directing Sailor Moon, Ikuhara left the studio and with a number of established animators, creators and producers they set up their own creative group called Be-Papas. The group’s only work included this Revolutionary Girl Utena series and the film. For the time it came out, the animation was quite good, very nice to look at and some good character designs. It also isn’t very often that we see anime characters of different skin colour featuring as well. So that was a welcome surprise. The repeated scenes however were a big let down. The music accompaniment however was the saving factor in those scenes.
Bonus Features Include:
- Part 1 comes packed in a rigid case, which holds 3 BluRay discs containing episodes 1-12 of ‘The Student Council saga’. It will also come with a 34x40cm poster and 5 art cards.
- Part 2 is also housed in a rigid case, comes with a 34x40cm poster and 5 art cards. The 3 BluRay discs contain episodes 13-24 of ‘The Black Rose Saga’.
- Part 3 comes packed in a rigid case, with a 34x40cm poster, 5 art cars and 4 BluRay discs containing the final episodes: 25-39 of ‘The Apocalypse Saga’ and the ‘Revolutionary Girl Utena Movie’.
Revolutionary Girl Utena was originally created by the Be-Papas team that I mentioned earlier, which consists of the director from the anime and film. This well known romantic, fantasy shójo is both penned and illustrated by Chiho Saito. Although it ended in just five volumes, it first appeared in 1996 and has been published in English by Viz Media. This anime series was also released soon after, with a total of 39 episodes just a year later in 1997. Thanks to the team over at Anime Limited, they are giving it an impressive BluRay Collector’s Edition release. Set to come out in three parts, with the last containing the final episodes and the 1999 movie: ‘Adolescence of Utena’. In the same year, a single manga volume was released to coincide with the film release. The franchise did not end there, as it also got a video game release on the Sega Saturn in 1998 with the game: ‘Story of the Someday Revolution’, another single volume manga called ‘After the Revolution’ which came out only in 2017 also got the Viz Media treatment. And last but not least, Revolutionary Girl Utena had 5 live stage show adaptations!
Clearly there are still many die hard fans out there for the series, as even after first debuting in 1996, the last stage play only came out last year in 2019! For original fans of the show, now is the perfect time to get your hands on a BluRay release, with Anime Limited doing it justice. However I don’t see many new fans coming to the franchise who only got into anime after the mid 2000’s. This collection is clearly more aimed at the ‘original fans’. It’s just not a show for me unfortunately.