When it first burst onto the R1 anime scene over a decade
ago (on VHS) Revolutionary Girl Utena was
a strange and very different show.
Taking the trappings of a magical girl show and twisting the
around to make it nearly unrecognizable, the show gained a lot of
critics and fans. Now the good people
from The Right Stuf! have started to rerelease the unconventional and
story from a newly restored print. How
does the show stack up after all these years?
While it's not as ground breaking today as it was when it first
the program is still a surreal adventure that is totally unique but
When Utena Tenjou was a child both of her parents died.
She was distraught and miserable until a prince
stumbled upon her. He said "Never loose
that strength or nobility, even when you grow up" and gave her a ring
rose seal on it. He said that the ring
would one day lead Utena back to him, and she hasn't taken it off since.
She was so inspired by the prince's words that Utena decided
that she wanted to be a prince herself.
Now, years later, she's attending Ohtori Academy
but dresses in a boy's uniform, and her best girl friend keeps
love for the butch Utena.
One day Utena sees a member of the student council, Saionji,
slapping and berating his girlfriend, Anthy Himemiya.
Utena runs to the protection of the young and
charming Anthy but Saionji just laughs when she tries to interfere. It turns out that Anthy is his betrothed, and
the only way Utena can stop him from mistreating her is to 'win' the
girl in a
That evening Utena travels to a walled off section of the
campus and is able to open the forbidding gate because of her rose ring. Climbing to the top of a long spiral
staircase she reaches a dueling platform with a large city floating,
above it. Here she learns of the
duels. Certain members of the student
council are duelist, following written instructions they receive from
of the World" they compete in a series of sword fights to try to win
Bride, Anthy. Whomever has the bride at
the end will win the power to "revolutionize the world."
Whatever that may mean.
In this first arc of 12 episodes, Utena wins Anthy, who them
moves in with her since they are then engaged to be married, and takes
the cooking and cleaning. Utena firmly
believes that Anthy can do whatever she wants, and tries to get the
to make friends and chart her own course, but the Rose Bride isn't sure
she wants that. There are several other
duelist who yearn to "revolutionize the world" however and Utena has
to keep her skills up if she hopes to keep Anthy for herself.
What, at first glance, appears to be a standard anime show
is actually much more than that. Unconventional,
cryptic, and symbolic, Revolutionary Girl
Utena looks a lot like a typical magic girl show at first (the
first gained fame with Sailor Moon)
is actually much deeper and deals with topics not covered in many
animated or not. Gender roles are a big
part of the show, as Utena dresses as a boy and wants to be a prince,
doesn't want to be a man... she still retains her femininity and is very
caring. Homosexuality, incest, and
androgyny are also
themes for the show, though the show isn't just
about sexual roles.
There is a lot of symbolism too, and to make sure that
people catch it, many scenes are repeated.
This is one of the shows biggest flaws.
Sure it does save money, but where as many magical girl shows
repeat a quick transformation scene, Utena
has several different scenes that are repeated time and time again. Anthy's releasing of the sword and the
duelists getting ready to battle, the student council member in the
most of all, Utena climbing up to the dueling platform.
These are long sequences too, and while I
really liked them (and the music) the first few times they were played,
watching the shows one after the other makes these grow old fast.
This isn't a show for everyone. There are
a lot of utterly bizarre sections
that will leave a lot of viewers scratching their heads.
Each episode is interrupted in the middle,
for example, by a pair of characters who talk in riddles and are only
there shadows. They tell a little story
that is semi-related to the theme of that episode.
Whereas I loved their surreal and sometimes
comic intermissions, I can definitely see many people thinking "what
The first 12 episodes, which contain the first story arc,
arrive on three DVDs, each in its own slimcase.
These three cases, along with a booklet about the series, are
a black slipcase with a nice red illustrated front.
It's quite attractive and fits the series.
Viewers have the choice of watching the show with the
original Japanese 2.0 soundtrack, a new 5.1 Japanese track, or a stereo
track. I viewed this with the 5.1 audio
and found it excellent. The sound was
nice and crisp with good use made of the whole soundstage, especially
the dueling scenes. I spot checked the
other tracks and while they seemed fine, the 5.1 audio is definitely
the way to
go. (And as one who had to choose between
an English 5.1 and Japanese 2.0 soundtracks that have been
I was happy to see the original language track get the extra
attention.) There are optional English
subtitles as well
as a 'signs only' option.
The newly restored 4:3 image looks very good as well.
Originally created on 16 mm film and restored
in HD, the lines are tight, the colors are bright and the overall image
excellent. Aliasing, something that
traditionally mars animation, is absent and the same can be said for
compression artifacts. My only complaint
is that this series isn't being releasing on Blu-ray.
The set includes a clean opening and closing and several
promotional TV spots for the restored DVDs and CD boxed set. There's
also a very nice 48 page booklet
Definitely not your ordinary anime show, Revolutionary
Girl Utena is a strange
yet compelling program and one that's definitely worth checking out. The newly restored video makes this an easy
one to give a highly recommended
rating to, but only for those who are looking for something a bit
off the beaten path.