Revolutionary Girl Power

Yes, this is a regular shot in the show, not just a one time occurrence.

Yes, this is a regular shot in the show, not just a one time occurrence.

“Once upon a time, years and years ago… there was a little princess, and she was very sad, for her mother and father had died. Before the princess appeared a traveling prince riding upon a white horse. He had a regal bearing and a kind smile. The prince wrapped the princess in a rose-scented embrace and gently wiped the tears from her eyes. ‘Little one,’ he said, ‘who bears up alone in such deep sorrow. Never lose that strength or nobility, even when you grow up. I give you this to remember this day. We will meet again. This ring will lead you to me, one day.’ Perhaps the ring the prince gave her was an engagement ring. This was all well and good, but so impressed was she by him that the princess vowed to become a prince herself one day. But was that really such a good idea?”

This is how the wonderful show Revolutionary Girl Utena begins. Sounds like a fairy tale, right? It is, but it’s such a feminist fairy tale. This show takes a lot of traditional fairy tale tropes and completely deconstructs them. I’m going to try and discuss it without giving away too many spoilers, but it’s hard to do, so there will be some.

First off, it completely rewrites the concepts of the Prince, Damsel in Distress, and Witch characters we see in many fairy tales. For one, our protagonist is a female, and she wants to be a Prince. And throughout the show, even up at the very end, we hear various male characters telling her “you’re just a girl, you can’t do anything like that.” And Utena generally proves them wrong. Our Damsel in Distress is Anthy, and she is the Rose Bride, engaged to whichever duelist wins. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, this show is basically Magical Girl meets Martial Arts Competition. The various main characters duel each other with swords for the right to possess the Rose Bride and gain the power to revolutionize the world. Well, most of them, that is.

The duel from the very first episode.

The duel from the very first episode.

Utena fights to protect Anthy from this antiquated system, and is constantly trying to help Anthy become a survivor and a person rather than just a victim and the Rose Bride. When we first meet Anthy, we see one of the other duelists, her current engaged, hitting her. Utena doesn’t approve of this, but it’s not this that leads her to become a duelist. She stumbles into it by accident trying to punish someone for hurting her friend. That someone is Saionji, the captain of the school’s kendo team and the current engaged. Utena beats him, and then she becomes engaged to Anthy, and things develop from there.

The two become one hell of a couple. In the show, it’s more subtle, but still there. Just look at the bed in the top picture. About halfway in the show, they trade in a bunk bed for that, where they sleep facing one another and holding hands. In the movie, their relationship is far less subtle. And the queerness doesn’t stop there. Utena is a massive tomboy, to the point that in the movie, she has her hair cut short and is initially believed to be a boy. Part of this is because she always wears the boy’s uniform (in both versions). She’s such a tomboy, that the first real dialog of the first episode (after the bit about the princess becoming a prince) is between some girls, and when one asks the other what she’s doing, the response is “waiting for my boyfriend.” The first girl responds with “Oh? She’s already left.”

Yeah, it's queer.

Yeah, it’s queer.

The next scene, and our first real introduction to Utena, we hear all the girls oohing and aahing over Utena, as she plays basketball against the entire boys team and beats them. One of the guys asks her to join, and she responds with “I’m a GIRL! I’d be embarrassed to get all covered with smelly boys’ sweat!” He responds that she’s already so much like a boy, and she tells him “would you quit insulting me?” Yes, she’s still a victim of societal standards of what it means to be a male or a female even while she fights those very standards. In other words, she’s a realistic character, and a realistic feminist. And most definitely a cis queer girl, rather than a trans man.

All in all though, the story of the show is about coming of age, and coming to terms with yourself. Initially, we see her saying that she wants a guy, but as time goes on, this seems to be less and less true, even while she won’t say her true feelings to Anthy. And there’s a number of episodes dedicated solely to a single bit of growing up, little side story ones. For example, there’s one episode that is an entire symbolic story about a girl getting her first period. We see her freaking out, thinking everyone will think she’s a weirdo or some kind of alien or something.

Oh yeah, that’s another thing. This show is WAY symbolism heavy. Like, Neon Genesis Evangelion heavy on symbolism. In fact, think of this as a cross between NGE and Sailor Moon. Not a far leap, because it’s actually made by the same guy who did Sailor Moon. And the symbolism and mind screw are so heavy that the movie (which takes it up to eleven) has the fan nickname of “End of Utena,” after the OTHER symbolism heavy mindscrew movie. Some of the stuff in this show is so obscure or random that even the fans are left scratching their heads, debating about the meanings behind the symbolism.

Yeah, this happens.  While they're falling no less.

Yeah, this happens. While they’re falling no less.

Taking things a step further, all of the characters are depicted as realistic humans. There is no “the heroes are attractive and the villains are ugly,” no black and white morality system, etc. The entire cast is relatively attractive, and the entire cast (including our protagonist) are a bunch of selfish jerkasses. Everyone has their own agenda, everyone tries to manipulate someone else, and everyone has their positive points too. Oh, and everyone is probably bi. That explains why Utena’s still trying to decide between Anthy and guys late in the story. But we see the two forming a relationship even early on. One of the first episodes has the two of them dancing together. Ballroom dancing, not nightclub dancing. It’s a great show. Go watch it. Now.

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One response to “Revolutionary Girl Power

  1. Pingback: I Dream of Utena | Transendent Lives

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