Revolutionary Girl Utena
|Revolutionary Girl Utena|
(Shōjo Kakumei Utena)
|Illustrated by||Chiho Saito|
|Original run||May 2, 1996 – March 20, 1998|
|Anime television series|
|Written by||Yōji Enokido|
|Original network||TV Tokyo|
|Original run||April 2, 1997 – December 24, 1997|
|Adolescence of Utena|
|Written by||Chiho Saito|
|Magazine||Bessatsu Shōjo Comic Special|
|Original run||May 5, 1999 – September 5, 1999|
|Adolescence of Utena|
|Directed by||Kunihiko Ikuhara|
|Written by||Yōji Enokido|
|Released||August 14, 1999|
|Story of the Someday Revolution|
|After the Revolution|
|Written by||Chiho Saito|
|Imprint||Flower Comics Alpha|
|Original run||July 28, 2017 – March 28, 2018|
Revolutionary Girl Utena (Japanese: 少女革命ウテナ, Hepburn: Shōjo Kakumei Utena, lit. Girls' Revolution Utena) is a series created by Be-Papas, an artist collective founded by Kunihiko Ikuhara. The primary entries in the series include a 1996 manga written by Chiho Saito, a 1997 anime television series directed by Ikuhara, and Adolescence of Utena, a 1999 feature film.
The series follows Utena Tenjou, an orphaned teenage girl who expresses her childhood desire to be a prince through her strong-willed personality and tomboyish manner of dress. She finds herself drawn into a series of sword duels to win the hand of Anthy Himemiya, a mysterious girl known as the "Rose Bride" who possesses the "power to revolutionize the world".
Revolutionary Girl Utena has received widespread critical acclaim. The series has spawned a range of spin-off and adapted media, including a light novel series, a video game, and multiple stage musicals.
After the death of her parents, Utena Tenjou was given a rose-engraved signet ring by a traveling prince. The prince promised Utena that they would one day meet again; inspired by his noble demeanor, Utena decided to one day become a prince herself. Years later, Utena's search for the prince leads her to Ohtori Academy, where she enrolls as a student. She finds herself drawn into a dueling tournament with the school's Student Council, whose members wear signet rings identical to Utena's. Victors of the duel become engaged to Anthy Himemiya, a mysterious girl known as the "Rose Bride" who possesses the "power to revolutionize the world". Utena emerges victorious; forced to defend her position as the Rose Bride's fiancée, she decides to remain in the tournament in order to protect Anthy from the other duelists. As Utena and Anthy grow closer, she learns that Anthy is connected to "End of the World," the mysterious organizer of the duels.
Revolutionary Girl Utena is a surrealist story that makes heavy use of allegory and symbolism, with many aspects of its plot revealed indirectly or in a manner that is open to audience interpretation. The anime series is divided into four story arcs, in each of which Utena comes to face a different challenge at Ohtori Academy:
- Student Council Saga (episodes 1–13)
- Utena faces the members of the Student Council, who challenge Utena on orders from End of the World.
- Black Rose Saga (episodes 14–23)
- Utena faces Souji Mikage, a prodigy who uses his powers of persuasion and knowledge of psychology to manipulate others into becoming duelists who seek to kill Anthy.
- Akio Ohtori Saga (episodes 24–33)
- End of the World is revealed as Akio Ohtori, the school's chairman and Anthy's brother. Upon meeting Akio, the Student Council members gain new abilities and face Utena in rematches. Utena finds herself the target of Akio's seduction, creating a rift between her and Anthy.
- Apocalypse Saga (episodes 34–39)
- Akio reveals himself as Utena's prince, and is confronted by Utena in a final duel to free Anthy from his influence.
This section needs additional citations for verification. (November 2019)
The Utena franchise was conceived by Be-Papas, a production group composed of talents from various corners of the manga and anime universe. Most notably, the 39-episode Revolutionary Girl Utena TV series was created by some of the same production staff responsible for Sailor Moon, including writer and director Kunihiko Ikuhara. Ikuhara was already well known for his role in the production of Sailor Moon, including his contributions to the highly acclaimed third season, Sailor Moon S. When working on Utena, Ikuhara was unsure if he would be fit for the role as producer and worried about the financial risk involved. Believing it may be the last show he ever worked on, Ikuhara set out to make Utena the pinnacle of his work. The member of Be-Papas responsible for the manga version of Utena was Chiho Saito, a well-established shōjo manga author. Though she and the other members of Be-Papas discussed concepts together, Saito had little influence on the direction of the anime, and faced a great deal more scrutiny by publishers to censor the LGBT themes in the content of the manga. She went through 4 editors during the production of the manga due to this, despite it being far more tame than the television series.
Ikuhara did not conceive of the idea for the movie, Adolescence of Utena, until watching the final episodes of the television series on broadcast TV. Once again, Be-Papas convened to discuss concepts, and Saito would go on to create a manga adaptation of the film. The film can be interpreted either as the end of the story initiated by the TV series, or as a condensed retelling with the same themes and characters, although it goes in a very different direction. Its structure is in many ways parallel to that of the series, but the roles of the leads are subtly switched. If the television series riffs on themes from theater and mythology, it could be said that the movie riffs on themes from the series. Familiarity with the television series is assumed, and the movie version is even more visually bizarre than the original Utena, enough so that it earned the good-natured nickname "The End of Utena," after the similarly abstract but much less cheerful The End of Evangelion.
Another incarnation of Utena came in the form of a number of one-shot theatrical productions. The Takarazuka-style "Musical Shōjo Kakumei Utena," also known as "Comédie Musicale Utena la fillette révolutionnaire," played in 1997, and the second disc of Shōjo Kakumei Utena OST 5, Engage Toi a Mes Contes (Engage With My Stories), contains many of the songs from this musical. At Animazement '00, Ikuhara was said to be working on a later musical, "Shōjo Kakumei Utena, Makai Tensei Mokushiroku hen, Reijin Nirvana Raiga," with the theatrical group Gesshoku Kageki Dan.
Revolutionary Girl Utena has been described as a postmodern fairy tale and a deconstruction of the shōjo manga and magical girl genres, relying heavily on metaphor and symbolism, with surreal and psychological themes. It has been noted for its queer and feminist themes, with its focus on deconstructing gender norms and heteronormativity.
Utena has been compared to Neon Genesis Evangelion, with both shows having been aired in the late-1990s, with Ikuhara and Evangelion creator Hideaki Anno being close friends, and with both shows sharing thematic and stylistic similarities.
Influences on Utena
Riyoko Ikeda's The Rose of Versailles has often been speculated as an established source of inspiration for the visual style of Utena. Scenes involving sliding mirrors and unsupported staircases appear during character introspections in The Rose of Versailles, while in Utena very similar scenes are part of the surreal landscape. However, director Ikuhara has denied this on several occasions, including the director's commentary on the final DVD Finale of the American release.
Ikuhara cites prolific playwright, poet, and director Shūji Terayama as a major influence. Terayama was a long-time collaborator with J. A. Seazer, who wrote the music for his plays. Ikuhara worked with Seazer for the most well-known music of Utena. He has stated that the concept for Revolutionary Girl Utena came from his "End of the World"-themed Sailor Moon Super S: The Movie. His original ideas for the film were not used, as he left the project prematurely.
Color schemes and filters are some of the show's most extensively used symbols. Yellow imagery and framing appear in depictions of nostalgia, idealism, and emotional turbulence. Orange imagery appears almost invariably during scenes of confrontation or during the episode's rising action. Similarly, the color red is used liberally throughout the series to symbolize the ambition or emotional intensity of the characters.
The Revolutionary Girl Utena manga series was written by Be-Papas and illustrated by Chiho Saito. It began serialization in the June 1996 issue of Shogakukan's monthly shōjo manga magazine Ciao. The series ended in 1998, with five tankōbon volumes being released. It was licensed for an English-language release in North America by Viz Media in 2000, first serialized in Viz's manga magazine Animerica Extra and later published in five trade paperback volumes (with a sixth for the alternative retelling, Adolescence of Utena) from 2003 to 2004. Viz re-released the series in a two-volume hardcover box set on April 11, 2017.
On May 20, 2017, Shogakukan announced that a new chapter of the manga would be published in the September issue of its monthly josei manga magazine Flowers. Two more chapters were published in the March and May 2018 issues, depicting the lives of the primary cast 20 years after the events of the original series. Shogakukan collected all three chapters into a single tankōbon volume under the title Revolutionary Girl Utena: After the Revolution on May 10, 2018. An English-language translation of After the Revolution was published by Viz Media on October 6, 2020.
Anime television series
The anime series of Revolutionary Girl Utena was produced by the Japanese animation studio J.C.Staff and directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara. The series aired between April 2, 1997, and December 24, 1997, on TV Tokyo in Japan and spanned 39 episodes.
A Revolutionary Girl Utena feature film, Adolescence of Utena, was released in theaters in Japan on August 14, 1999. The film is a compressed re-telling of the story of the television series, though with significant differences in plot execution (for example, the relationship between Utena and Anthy is rendered as overtly romantic) and with heightened thematic content. The film occupies an ambiguous place in the broader Utena canon, and has been alternately interpreted by critics as a stand-alone adaptation of the anime and manga that exists in its own continuity, and as a sequel that is contiguous with the events of the anime series.
In 2001, Central Park Media released the film as Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Movie on VHS and DVD. In 2007, Funimation acquired broadcasting for Adolescence of Utena and aired the film on Funimation Channel. Following Central Park Media's dissolution in 2009, North American distribution rights for the film have been held by Right Stuf since 2010.
Avant-garde composer and theater director J. A. Seazer composed the song "Zettai Unmei Mokushiroku" (絶対運命黙示録, "Absolute Destiny: Apocalypse"), which is repeated every time Utena ascends to the dueling arena, and the choral rock pieces played during the duels. Ikuhara has said that, despite objections to the dueling choruses on the part of his BePapas collaborators and sponsors, Seazer's music "sealed the fate of the project" and was well received. The texture of the chorus is primarily monophonic, although there is some homophony within the inner voices of the chorus. The melody of the chorus is written in transposed Aeolian mode or natural minor. The melody does not use a major five chord at the cadence which is usually the norm for minor mode; it uses a minor five chord instead. The lyrics that often appear to be little more than themed words strung together.
The rest of the score was composed by Shinkichi Mitsumune, and is largely orchestral in character, though it often features significant jazz influences. One notable song is "The Sunlit Garden" a recurring duet piano piece which plays during nostalgic scenes. Mitsumune also handled the arrangement of the first eight duel choruses.
The soundtrack of Adolescence of Utena is similar in style to the series, containing a mixture of orchestral pieces and choral rock. Masami Okui's track, the J-pop ballad "Toki ni Ai wa" ("At Times Love Is..."), is however atypical of the series' sound.
Five stage productions of Revolutionary Girl Utena have been produced. The first musical in the series, Revolutionary Girl Utena, the Musical Comedy, features an all-female Takarazuka-style cast. A new musical adaptation was announced in November 2017 as part of a commemoration project to mark the 20th anniversary of the Revolutionary Girl Utena anime. The musical, Revolutionary Girl Utena: Bud of the White Rose, was staged in 2018 and adapts the Student Council Saga from the original anime. A sequel adapting the Black Rose Saga, Revolutionary Girl Utena: Blooming Rose of Deepest Black, was staged in 2019, with the cast and director of Bud of the White Rose reprising their roles.
|Title||Original run||Venue||Creatives||Primary Cast||Ref.|
|Revolutionary Girl Utena, the Musical Comedy (Comédie Musicale Utena La Fillette Révolutionnaire)||December 17 – 29, 1997||Hakuhinkan Theater, Tokyo||
|Revolutionary Girl Utena Hell Rebirth Apocalypse: Advent of the Nirvanic Beauty (少女革命ウテナ魔界転生黙示録編～麗人ニルヴァーナ来駕～)||May 26 – June 1, 1999||Zamza Asagaya Theater, Tokyo||
|Revolutionary Girl Utena: Choros Imaginary Living Body (少女革命ウテナ～コロス幻想生命体～)||September 30 – October 1, 2000||Amagasaki Piccolo Theater Center Hall, Hyōgo||
|Revolutionary Girl Utena: Bud of the White Rose (ミュージカル「少女革命ウテナ～白き薔薇の)||March 8 – 18, 2018||CBGK Shibugeki!!, Tokyo||
|Revolutionary Girl Utena: Blooming Rose of Deepest Black (少女革命ウテナ～深く綻ぶ黒薔薇の～)||June 29 – July 7, 2019||Theatre G-Rosso, Tokyo||
Two light novels written by Ichirō Ōkouchi with illustrations by Chiho Saito, Revolutionary Girl Utena: Twin Saplings (少女革命ウテナ〈1〉- 蒼の双樹) and Revolutionary Girl Utena: Verdant Hopes (少女革命ウテナ〈2〉- 翠の思い) were published by Shogakukan in 1997 and 1998, respectively. The non-canonical novels expand on material from the television series, with Twin Saplings focusing on the first five episodes of the series and Verdant Hopes focusing on Wakaba's Black Rose character arc.
A video game, Shōjo Kakumei Utena: Itsuka Kakumeisareru Monogatari (少女革命ウテナ いつか革命される物語, Revolutionary Girl Utena: Story of the Someday Revolution), was developed and published by Sega for the Sega Saturn in 1998. A visual novel with dating sim elements, the game tells an original story about the player character (voiced by Kaoru Fujino), a transfer student at Ohtori Academy. The voice cast of the anime series reprise their roles for Story of the Someday Revolution. Though the game was never officially published outside of Japan, a fan translation was released in 2015.
Enoki Films USA acquired North American licensing rights for Revolutionary Girl Utena in 1997. The company produced a proof of concept for potential distributors that localized the series for Western audiences, giving the characters English names and re-titling the series Ursula's Kiss. However, the American distributor, Central Park Media, chose to use the original title and character names. The dubbed and subbed versions were released to VHS in 1998 by Central Park Media under their Software Sculptors label. There were a total of four releases each containing either three or four episodes. These same episodes were released to two bilingual DVD volumes in 1999 with six or seven episodes each. These DVDs were known as the Rose Collection. However, after releasing the first 13 episodes to VHS and DVD, Central Park Media had difficulties licensing the remaining 26 episodes and the dub was put on hiatus despite the show's popularity. After settling all legal issues, they released the remaining 26 episodes of the anime series to bilingual DVDs in 2002 and 2003, though the show's popularity had declined in the years since. The entire series was later sold in the form of three DVD box sets.
With the complete shutdown of Central Park Media in 2009, the distribution rights to the series were put up for liquidation. At Anime Expo 2010, Right Stuf Inc. announced that they have rescued the Utena TV series and subsequently re-released the series in three remastered sets in 2011. The anime is also being distributed in Australia for the first time by the anime distributor Hanabee.
King Records released two Blu-ray box sets of Utena in Japan with HD remastered video in 2013, subsequently getting a three volume release in the United States by Right Stuf. In 2018, Right Stuf released the Blu-ray version of the series under their Nozomi Entertainment label, with edits made to the subtitle script, as it announced in early 2017. The limited edition box set included two rose crest rings and a large book of production notes, interviews, and artwork. In 2020, three equivalent Blu-ray volumes to Right Stuf's prior US version saw a limited collector's edition release in the UK by Anime Limited. Complete sets including repackaged Right Stuf rings and a book were limited to eighty units, with a further hundred sets sold without the rings and book.
Hawaii-based TV station KIKU aired the Central Park Media-licensed version of the series during the January/March and July/August periods of 2007. Back in 2006, Funimation had previously acquired broadcast rights for Revolutionary Girl Utena from Enoki Films USA and aired it on their channel, the Funimation Channel (now operates as a streaming service since 2016), multiple times. Comcast's Anime Selects on Demand also showed episodes of the first and second season for a brief period. It also aired on Sci-Fi Channel for a short time. Anime Network on Demand began streaming the series on VOD on August 6, 2009.
Revolutionary Girl Utena won "Best TV Animation Award" at Animation Kobe in 1997. Mike Toole of Anime News Network named Revolutionary Girl Utena as one of the most important anime of the 1990s, alongside Serial Experiments Lain, Cowboy Bebop, and Trigun.
Some reviewers stated that the series "explores a range of themes from feminism to queer topics to deconstructing the prince fairytale genre." Others said that Utena and Anthy had one of the best LGBTQ+ relationships in anime and that while the show isn't for first-time anime viewers, others said it bends the "boundaries of reality and science fiction," with a storyline about punishing and emotional obstacles in the lives of characters. Pride.com called the series "groundbreaking" for having bisexual female leads, has a "sympathetic lesbian storyline," and its influence on later works like Steven Universe.
Influence and legacy
Revolutionary Girl Utena has been argued to be a major influence on series in the 2000s, Steven Universe, and Steven Universe Future. It has also been said that the series influenced the work of ND Stevenson.
Rebecca Sugar watched the show, distributed in the U.S. by Central Park Media, who released it in 1998, 2002 and 2003. The show strongly influenced Sugar, who would themselves impact LGBTQ+ animation in the 2010s through their work on Adventure Time and Steven Universe. In a July 2017 interview with Shamus Kelly of Den of Geek, Sugar described how the show affected them:
[Utena] was an epiphany for me. The way that it plays with the semiotics of gender. I was a bisexual teenager watching a show like Utena. It was stunning, I related to it in a way that I had never really felt before and it really stuck with me... I love that she (Utena) decides that after being saved by a prince that she wants to be a prince, It's great!... (Utena) is so extreme that it's funny. That was a huge influence on me as well, that something could be so dramatic and so, beautiful, but also wacky... Akio will flip onto the front of the car, or the way that (the student council members) want to shatter the world. It's so extreme that it's powerful and almost even funny, it's really exciting... I saw them [the Takarazuka Revue] do Guys and Dolls, which is one of the greatest things I have ever seen. And there's huge, huge Takarazuka theater influence to Steven Universe, I feel like I got a chance to see some of the deepest source material for that whole genre, and it was hugely inspiring.
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Noelle Stevenson has not spoken as much about Utena's influence her body of work, but has clearly acknowledged the series in the form of crossover fanart from a 2018 Twitch stream with her future wife Molly Ostertag and Owl House creator Dana Terrace.
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- Clements, J. and H. McCarthy. The Anime Encyclopedia: A Guide to Japanese Animation Since 1917. New York: Stone Bridge Press (2001)
- Lyons, Michelle. Revolutionary Girl Utena: Book 1. Guardians of Order (2004)
- Official websites
- Revolutionary Girl Utena at J.C.Staff (in Japanese)
- Revolutionary Girl Utena at Starchild (in Japanese)
- Revolutionary Girl Utena Stage Musical official website
- Utena/Ursula's Kiss at Enoki Films
- Articles and information