Revolutionary Girl Utena

Japanese Title: Shoujo Kakumei Utena
Also Known As: Utena
Genre: Drama
Format: 39 Episodes
Allegiance: JC Staff
Director: Ikuhara Kunihiko
Vintage: 1997
Intelligence Agency Report by: Lady Sage
Once upon a time, there was a little princess who was very sad because her parents had died. She was comforted by a prince on a white horse, who gave her a rose seal ring, promising that it would lead her to him someday. The little princess was so impressed, she swore to become a prince herself. Years later, Tenjou Utena is famed at Ohtori Academy for her chivalrous ways. However, when she challenges the student council to defend her best friend, she finds herself sucked into a complex conspiracy that could be the key to her past…

Field Agent Report by: Lady Sage 
Overall 9.25

From the opening narration, Utena establishes itself with a fairy tale-like atmosphere and storyline, with a hint of mahou shoujo. And despite elements of both, it is so much more: it is a twisted psychological drama that intentionally subverts both genres and, what’s more, pure art.

Frankly, it is a series unlike any other. The angular, stylized art takes some getting used to, but it is lovely and completely unique, while still distinctively shoujo. Every bit of imagery, no matter how bizarre, has some sort meaning behind it, every character has a symbolic or archetypal function, and even the music has some underlying meaning, with plenty of aural motifs. Despite an slight sense of formula from episode to episode in each saga, there’s really no telling what will happen, especially as the series nears the conclusion, which is neither neat and tidy nor obnoxiously open-ended; it is, in fact, perfect for this sort of series.

Of course, such a psychological series would be nothing without great seiyuu work, and Utena delivers. The cast has several heavy hitters, all of whom are at their finest. Every character is extremely complex, and there is not a single subpar performance in the bunch. It’s impossible to pick out a single standout performance, simply because they are all equal in their excellence.

That is not to say Utena is without its flaws. It is clearly low-budget, as while the art looks lovely, the animation is fairly limited and chock-full of reused cels. However, even the reused cels are used as properly as possible. For example, while the two-minute segment that repeats itself before each duel will definitely grate on more than a few viewers, they lend the duels a certain ceremonial feel the helps as much as it hinders. There are a few filler episodes as well that deal with Nanami, easily the most irritating and extraneous character.

Be warned: Utena is not for everyone. It’s a mind trip and a half, a warped fairy tale that revels in its own bizarre nature. Some may grow weary of the bizarre imagery and blatant symbolism, or may simply find themselves unable to follow the subtle foreshadowing and get lost in the peculiar plot. But for those that find it to their taste and go for the whole ride, the greatest pot of gold is at the end of the rainbow.