Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Movie
In a loose retelling of the Revolutionary Girl Utena TV series, Utena Tenjou arrives at Ohtori Academy, only to be immediately swept up in a series of duels for the hand of the 'Rose Bride', Anthy Himemiya who has a secret power. At the same time, Utena reunites with Touga Kiryuu, a friend from her childhood who seems to know all about the duels. Utena must discover those secrets for herself, before the power that rules Ohtori claims her and her friends.
Revolutionary Girl Utena has been a series that has become one of my favorites and for good reason. The world is rich visually and laced with a allegorical fantasy story of social conservatism and resistance of society, and also of the backlash of said defiance. The series cannot be pinned down or completely explained—due to its heavy symbolism—it can only be experienced emotionally, and its ideas and their (supposed) meanings can only be hypothesized.
I decided to watch the film but was apprehensive because of fellow-fans of the series who have made it their goal to heap stones upon it. Fans have made several complaints concerning the film; two of the most common are that the story was changed too much and that the film makes even less sense than the series. To be fair, it is, after all, a retelling—and after viewing the film, I sympathize with their misgivings about the anime, since it is not nearly as well done as the series—but does it deserve as much of the unfavorable judgment it is given?
Visually speaking, this film is an amazing mixture of surreal backdrops and archetypal anime aesthetic. This is an anime that was crafted by artisans that know how to effectively meld computer shading with traditional hand-drawn animation. One scene that stands out the most in the film is when Ohtori Academy is being explored by our pinked-haired heroine, Utena Tenjou. The school itself is displayed by a vast array of moving platforms held together by sloping arches and pillars. Perhaps such a scene is used as symbolism for Utena's adjustment to a new environment and everything to her seems so Topsy-turvy. Then again, considering that this is an anime directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara—who is known for utilizing surrealism—one can never completely tell. The characters—on the technical side of things—are wispy creatures with long limbs and eyes that resemble colorful pools of emotion. Everyone is drawn in lissome fashion with statuesque bodies and a visual style that is distinctly European. The manner in which the cast is designed is a direct homage to the anime classic, The Rose of Versailles and Utena herself bears some resemblance to Osamu Tezuka's gender bending heroine of the manga Princess Knight. Even though the story of this film makes little-to-no sense, it is pretty enough just to look at it and enjoy it on its visual merits alone.
However, a good anime cannot thrive off of visuals alone, but needs plot and character-development for it to be worthwhile viewing material. This film does make some attempt to develop the characters within the story, but it changes so much of the personalities and motives of certain characters from the source material, that it pushes away fans of the original series. Combine that, with the sheer eccentric and disorienting nature of the story and you get a volatile combination that shoots the film in the foot by preventing the attraction of new fans to the original series. One notable change in terms of characterization is that Akio Ohtori, Anthy's brother and main antagonist. In the series, he is a suave, shrewd, and seductive beefcake that always provides a little 'something' for the female fans of the anime. But in the film he is barely shown at all, and when he is, he is inept and dies a rather pointless—albeit unintentionally—hilarious death.
The relationship between Utena and her dark-skinned 'Rose Bride', Anthy Himemiya, has taken a 'interesting' twist in the movie as well. In Revolutionary Girl Utena, Utena and Anthy were close and there were times that the relationship between the two could be taken toward the realm of lesbianism, but it never did. In the film, however, this idea was brought to the viewer full-throttle and it kind of ruins the predeceasing series character development. In the series, Utena's desire to protect Anthy was not out of any sense of lesbian attraction toward her, but because she wanted to emulate the prince she admired as a child and be noble and strong like him. Ikuhara has a penchant for making some of his characters get involved in homosexual relationships, as he has stated in interviews, but some things are best left alone.
The final thing that makes a lot of fans, and non-fans alike, scratch their heads in discombobulation is the final scene which involves a car. I will not explain this. Trust me, it must be seen to be believed.
The music of this film as well as the series are a strong point, featuring some very impressive chorus pieces and strong orchestral works. One piece that resonates the most with me is called The Revelation of Absolute Destiny with Universal Gravitation. That mouthful of a title has become the centerpiece theme of the Revolutionary Girl Utena soundtrack. It is one the catchiest chorale pieces, and I regularly find myself humming it on a regular basis, chanting along with the lyrics (Zettai! Unmei! Mokushiroku!). The mixture of hypnotic melodies and cryptic lyrics make the soundtrack of this film fascinatingly ambiguous.
Is this a bad film? No. Is this a good film? Its hard to say. But in its own way it is a fascinating film, but in order to appreciate it in any sort of way, one must separate it from its predecessor and enjoy it for what it is. What saves this film the most is the fact that the DVD comes with commentary from Ikuhara himself and is required listening for anyone trying to even slightly grasp what is going on. Its worth watching, even if it is just for the eye-candy.
A befuddled work of metaphysical and allegorical anime that excels in visual beauty. The Adolescence of Utena can be a cause of frustration for fans, but it has enough fascinating themes to make it worth viewing at least once. This highly symbolic anime garners three weak stars. Take away a star if you like your anime to have a more coherent plot. — Dallas Marshall
Recommended Audience: Teens and up, due to nudity, adult situations and lots of mature themes. Those under the age of fifteen probably couldn't follow the nuances of the story anyway.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD (Viewed in Japanese with English Subtitles)
Review Status: Full (1/1)
Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Movie © 1999 Be-Papas / Chiho Saito / Shogakukan / Shoukaku Iinkai / TV Tokyo
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