Utena is one of the legends among recent anime, a series that is just so out there that it’s a masterpiece. Tvtropes calls it the shojo counterpart to Neon Genesis Evangelion (which is high praise, also means it’s mindscrews are on par with NGE’s which is also saying something). So, between watching Star Driver (which some people have dubbed it's spiritual successor) and seeing people talk about the similarities, to seeing people freak out when Right Stuf relicensed it, plus having a spare pink wig and thinking Utena would be fun to cosplay, it seemed like the perfect time to try out this mindf*ck of an anime.
Revolutionary Girl Utena
Summary: A long time ago, Utena Tenjou’s parents died and she was horribly depressed and wished to die. But she was saved by a mysterious prince on a white horse who inspired her so much that she wanted to become a prince as well. Now, guided just by the rose ring he left her, she has entered Otori Academy and finds herself tangled up in a series of duels for ownership of the Rose Bride and the mysterious power “to revolutionize the world.”
The Good: Back in high school I had to read a lot of deep, adult books that had tons of symbolism that I couldn’t understand until my teacher explicitly explained it and even then half of it didn't make any sense. So the fact that almost all of the copious amounts of symbolism in this show is just there for the sake of symbolism with no meaning besides what the fans attach to it, that both cracks me up and helped make me love the show.* All the plays inside the show that half-explain the show, the clip episodes that help explain the show, heck the duels themselves are highly symbolic. The show really isn’t about the actual duels but rather the situations surrounding them (much like Star Driver) and really uses this to flesh out the entire cast. Instead of having "winning the duels" as the characters goals, the duels become a means, an explanation, and a release for their goals and this works rather well, especially since this is a heavily character-driven plot.
The Bad: I’m still not quite sure what to make of the ending here. Oh sure I get what happened, but how exactly it happened and why, I think I need to go look up some fan theories on it. Beyond that, in retrospect the hundred duelists arc seems a bit superfluous (okay, I didn’t quite understand that arc, might need to look up more on that as well) plot wise. I can't think of anyway to trim down the series to a 26 episode series instead without losing something but in retrospect I just don't feel like that arc was horribly important.
The Art: The original art for the series sadly isn’t that impressive, at least to my eyes which are used to more CGI art. However, the remastered episodes, holy cow do they look niiiiiiice! They get rid of the weird glow in a lot of scenes, brighten up the colors, sharpen the lines, and get rid of the camera shake that I’ve seen in other old shows as well. It must’ve been a lot of work but it was well worth it, can’t wait to get the new DVDs! I also liked all the stock footage here, despite how out of date it looks, because it’s so dramatic and, like everything else, just adds to the overall strangeness of the show. So, while the original release of the show doesn't look exceptional, the remastered version looks great, but the reused footage will probably bother some people.
The Music: There isn’t just a lot of visual symbolism that makes no sense in this show, almost none of the insert songs make any sense. There’s a new one for each duel (so at least a dozen total, apparently the soundtrack for this series is huge) and the lyrics sometimes make a bit of sense about the fight at hand but mostly they add another layer of strangeness to the show. I love the opening song to death and prefer the second ending to the first one (I also think it has better graphics) but the song for opening the dueling arena really steals the show.
Sorry if the review sounds a bit weird, most of it was already written but I still had to touch it up and I'm feeling a bit out of it now, stupid cold. Just need to hold out a little longer, see the banff movie and then I can crash for the night, geeze, and it's going to be a long weekend too.
*I now lovingly call the show “Symbolism: THE ANIME” And yes I know that some of it does actually mean something but when the creators themselves admit they lost track of all the symbolism they threw in, I just don't worry about it as much.