Sunday, November 27, 2011

Forming a List (Anime, Part VI)

Continuing on with another title, another favourite of mine.

Revolutionary Girl Utena

Created by the Be-Papas group, including director Kunihiko Ikuhara (Sailor Moon S), scriptwriter Yoji Enokido (FLCL, RahXephon), animator Shinya Hasegawa (Sailor Moon SuperS), and manga artist Chiho Saito (Magnolia Waltz), Revolutionary Girl Utena (Utena) is the story of a girl, Utena Tenjou, who dresses in a boy's uniform and whose goal is to be a prince (who actively saves those in need). With roots in Tezuka's Princess Knight and Ikeda's Rose of Versailles, Be-Papas takes elements of these classic shows, blends them with new elements and makes their own creation.

Utena is drawn into mysterious duels between the student council members of her school, Ohtori Academy, for control over the passive Anthy Himemiya who tends to her rose garden. In the first story arc after Utena almost accidently wins control of Anthy, the other members of the student council fight her. And in turn, each of those characters is developed and their backgrounds and motivations revealed. The second arc introduces a rival group of duelists, the Black Rose Duelists, who try to win Anthy. This second group of duelists consist of secondary characters that we have already met, and who have close relationships with student council members that are ultimately unsatisfying in some aspect. Although the most formulaic arc, the second arc is one of my favourites because of the character development of characters that would normally be left in the shadows. The third and fourth arcs follow, taking the story forward in questioning who Utena wants to be and what the duels are being conducted for.

Utena is presented in a stylized surrealism -- Ohtori Academy is full of mysteries, shadow girls (literally shadow silhouettes on the walls who give commentary like a Greek chorus), a dueling arena with an upside down floating castle, repressed feelings and emotions -- it makes for a unique viewing experience.

The TV series was followed by a movie, The Adolescence of Utena, which is not a recap of the TV series, nor a retelling, but while set in a very different world (Ohtori Academy is even more surreal, with moving classrooms and stairwells) it resolves many of the unresolved story threads from the TV series.

Ikuhara's latest project is Mawaru Penguindrum, and it is facinating to watch for similar elements as appeared in Utena popping up, but in very different contexts. Penguindrum so far hasn't conveyed the same level of repression and melodrama, but it is a worthy successor to Utena in style.

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