Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Magical Revisited #1: Revolutionary Girl Utena

As mentioned in my Gundam article, I wanna go into reviewing movies and anime more in a deep way for those interested, and mostly to get myself back in the groove of analyzing visual medias for the purposes of historical or intellectual discussion. So what better thing for me to talk about in a large big amount of words that are complicated, then to discuss something I know a lot about: Magical Girl Shows. So with that I am going to start a series of deeply diving into Mahou Shoujo Shows you may or may not know. So grab your star wand and let's take a look at our first series that is said to be revolutionary

Remember that time you played with the boys at school and wished you could be cooler then them but still be a girl? I had these similar visions, especially when the boys at school would kick my lunch box and tell me that Sailor Moon was utterly stupid. Now of course, I wish I could have thrown some Tiara Magic in their face, but I really just wish I could have been induced with epic amounts of girl power at that point to teach them a lesson. But finally came a little unique show with a big pink haired girl with short shorts. This characters name is Utena, and she eventually became one of my favorite anime characters and Magical Girls. Utena is a series that one could either consider absolutely brilliant or absolutely .... what? But I can say I am on the brilliant spectrum with higher praise to add. 

Revolutionary Girl Utena is the story of a girl that discovers things about herself through going on a female oriented emotional journey, surrounded by castles and 80's music video style sequences. Utena is also the story of a girl who starts off as a princess and ends up a prince. No, this isn't the story of someone literally changing their gender or nor the one of a girl coming out of the closet, though many seem to automatically go in that direction, but Utena isn't meant for that. Utena is not straight forward and if it was, it truly would be put in a forgettable category.

Utena is a princess that is orphaned at a young age and is found by a prince who romances her with his charm, giving her a rose crested ring along with an incredible amount of inspiration, to the point where she dreams of being a prince, herself, someday - metaphorically. We go forward years later to where Utena is a teen, and is the infamous tomboy that all the girls at school idolize and the boys grow envy of. She stumbles upon, in her words, "a lovers quarle" between wallflower Anthy Himamiya and student council member Saionji Kyouichi, that gives her a trigger reaction to defend Anthy and brings her into a duel and thus further down the rabbit hole she goes.

Utena discovers the secret world of the Student Council, who fight eachother for the right to be engaged to The Rose Bride, a being that allows the partner to fight with the power of Diaos (Basically, the ultimate power in this universe). Once Utena wins the duel and gains Anthy's hidden power, she can become the prince she has always dreamed of and also learn the secrets of the prince that inspired her. The series begins to be sort of like a "Monster Of The Week" type, but evolves into something that was a game changer for its time. Instead of silly Villain speeches, we were given deep, metaphorical poems of a characters inner struggle, as confusing imagery surrounds them. 

One of my favorite aspects of Revolutionary Girl Utena is that it never truly takes itself seriously and knows that some aspects of it are so bizarre, but plays that up and has fun with it. The show even has itself a greek chorus, which few anime series had the guts to do (except for bold shows like Evangelion, which came out around the same year) This especially goes for Mahou Shoujo titles. There are some episodes that are pure silliness, but even with girls changing into giant cows and baseball only themes, these episodes were still entertaining. 

But when Revolutionary Girl Utena does take itself seriously, it makes it grand. The series can be easily split into 4 arcs: Student Council Saga, Black Rose Saga, Akio Ohtari Saga, and End of World Saga. Each of these more emotional and more serious then the other. From the story of student council member Miki and his sister, to the other brother and sister relationships (which there are many in the series), to the dramatic duel fights, and the sexual tension, there was always something new to look forward to in the series.

Though probably what could be easily said that attracted many age groups to Utena is that it was one of the first adult oriented magical girl series that took leaps and bounds over prior shows, even Sailor Moon. Prior, magical girl series would have sexual characters (one word for you: boobs), along with some gender bending and some relationship plot lines, even dabbled in sexual indenitity stories. But no show had ever had a story filled with insest, depression or a multitude of other adult dilemma before. These moments would leave an impression on viewers of any age, and give Utena the infamous legacy it now is remembered for.

Probably my favorite character in the series is Akio, brother of Anthy and would later be discovered to be a very important character near the end of the series. Akio was pretty, handsome and charming - but he also was the scum of the earth. He had no emotional attachment to people and threw them around like dolls for his pleasure, and for a 12 year old to see that in an animated series was eye opening. Prior, all characters in anime were either directly bad or directly good. But now I was experiencing individuals that had flaws and were neither evil or good, they were just themselves. 

I believe this is what makes Utena continues to drive cult anime fans to see it, even almost 20 years later. This series is full of flawed individuals, no one is a perfect example of a human being, and for a generation that was growing up on the dubbed edition of Sailor Moon, to which was edited to almost 50's house wife perfection, Utena was a gate way to what the real world could be like, similar to what Utena herself as a character was going through.

This is though what makes this more of a cult favorite than say Sailor Moon, because though this series is very influenced by a fairy tale setting, it isn't an escape when you get to the end and many of the images can go over the heads of viewers, which is unfortunate. This is why a lot of people look at the images from the theatrical version (Girls turning into cars, etc) and find themselves confused and upset that it isn't laid out for them, though art critics would state that the visuals are pretty obvious. I can honestly say that some of the scenes did initially make me giggle at a young age, but now I find them incredible and very striking. 

So should one watch Revolutionary Girl Utena with ease? No. Utena is not at all for the casual anime fan, especially as the series goes forward. But you can't ignore the cult like success and the influence that Utena has had on the anime industry and fandom all together, especially with it's evolution in the Magical Girl genre, taking it places it hadn't been before and would eventually move towards in the future. It is an incredible piece of art and should be viewed by those that want to see what gave Madoka a chance in the first place. For that, it's a mile stone and should be remembered for as long as art is treasured. 

Next Magical Revisited, we will throw a Clow Card and take a look into the magical girl series of creators CLAMP. (Cardcaptor Sakura and Magic Knight Rayearth




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