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Japanator Recommends: Revolutionary Girl Utena Pt. 1

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Surrealism is difficult to pull off properly in any genre or medium. Sure it's easy to slap some bizarre stuff next to a speaking character and say that it's surreal, but it rarely adds more to the final product. It usually takes away more than it puts in. Take Excel Saga for example. It's legendary for it's schizophrenic humor, but even as a fan of the show I can say that insanity can be overwhelming and is at times unwatchable.

That said, there are a couple of examples of shows that are beyond bizarre and still manage to tell a cohesive story. Revolutionary Girl Utena is one of these shows, but not without a couple of caveats. Hit the jump to find out why you should watch this excellent, if flawed classic by the director of multiple Sailor Moons and script writer for FLCL, Diebuster and Star Driver

 

Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Student Council Saga [DVD]
Studio: J.C Staff
Licensed by: Nozomi / Right Stuf
Release Date: June 7th, 2011
MSRP: $49.99

Revolutionary Girl Utena begins with a fairy tale, depicting a heroic prince saving a young girl. However, instead of growing up to become a pretty princess, the young girl strives to be more like her savior and become a prince. Thus are the off-kilter origins of Utena Tenjou, now a student at Ohtori Academy. Her heroic, tomboyish antics have her clash with a student council member. The result? The two have a duel in a seemingly impossible section of the school, with Utena winning and becoming the owner of Anthy Himemiya, the Rose Bride. The episodes included in this set depict her initial clashes with the various members of the Student Council, their attempts to win back Anthy and Utena's attempts to free Anthy of her destiny as the Rose Bride.

That right there was a quick synopsis that doesn't take into account the numerously strange things that go on in Ohtori. For one? There's a giant upside-down castle on the premises that Utena must climb every time she goes to duel. There was a kangaroo with boxing gloves that punched a little kid in the face. Oh, and did I mention the apple slicing, knife throwing, and mass balloon floating Student Council that does random things while they discuss their plans to bring about a world revolution? Then there are the silhouetted actresses that present short skits that are somewhat relevant to which ever situation Utena is put in. When put together with a multi-layered story, these antics elevate Revolutionary Girl Utena above many in its genre.

One of the more interesting bits about the show as a whole are the warped gender roles all over the place. There's the obvious Utena/Prince subversion, but the general androgyny of all of the Council members and a lot of the students add to the surreal quality of the whole thing. A strong/masculine female  as well as a diminutive/feminine male pianist in the Council stand out the most. The romantic inclinations between the people in the school also skew away from the norm. When I say that the pair with the brother/sister complex are as normal as you're going to get, I'm not kidding.

With all of the oddity comes a few problems. Foremost is the formula that's repeated almost ad nauseum. With small variations, just about every epsiode goes like this:

Utena starts out with a somewhat normal day with Anthy.

Member of student council interacts with her.

Tragic past revealed.

Council meets. Letter received from mysterious individual and the duel is announced.

Stock animation plays of Utena making her way to the battlefield.

The duelists fight. Utena pulls something out of her ass and wins.

Despite this, there are quite a few surprises, including the motivations behind several Council members. While the main man has typical desires for control and power, everybody else has their own reasons for fighting Utena over and over again. The set ends on a high note, preparing the show to enter much darker territory in the next arc.

My personal highlight in this set was any episode involving Nanami, who deserves a show of her own. She's easily the funniest character in the show and is often the source of the show's strangest moments. The above mentioned boxing kangaroo was in one of her episodes as well as a gag episode involving magical curry that makes people switch personalities. 

One of my other major problems when I first saw the show was the wildly inconsistent animation. Besides the opening and closing, the only solid bit of animation was Utena's stock climbing footage. Now, everything looks much sharper and bright, but there are still some occasional animation issues. To be fair, there is only so much you can do to improve a 39 episode show from 14 years ago. The sound has also been improved, making the varied soundtrack sound all the better. The acting is also pretty good, though I'm definitely not a fan of the dub. That said, it isn't absolutely offensive, so if you're dead set against reading subtitles and prefer the sound of English, it won't kill you.

I also have to point out the excellent job that Nozomi/Right Stuf has done with the set itself. The box has a pair of stylish drawings done with the characters in silhouette, resembling the intro fairy tale and the actresses in the show. While the DVDs have little on them besides the episodes, the set includes a nice booklet with character art and interviews about the remastering process. It's interesting and informative, appealing to old and new fans alike.

Despite some of its flaws, Revolutionary Girl Utena is an entertaining romp that revels in its surreal vibe. It never loses itself while it's being weird and is dramatically different from anything else out there. It looks and sounds great, being a marked improvement over its original DVD release, plus the packaging and extras are excellent. If you don't mind the formula that it repeatedly follows, it's definitely worth your scratch.

 

Score: 8.0


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Pedro Cortes
Pedro CortesAssociate Editor   gamer profile

Pedro Cortes has been known to swoon at the sight of a robot. This is understandable, as robots are pretty awesome. more + disclosures


 



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