The Adolescence of Utena

So of course we could debate up and down whether this is a retelling or a sequel.  And of course we’d have to get into the possibility that’s half of one and half of the other.  And of course our in the final analysis we’ll probably take sides based on whether we prefer how this ends to how the anime ended.  If we loved the anime end, then we’ll probably call this an (inferior) retelling.  If we loved the movie end then this will likely be a (necessary) sequel.  But then when we’re done debating we’ll realize it is what it is and be done with it.

For what it’s worth, I like the idea of this being a retelling morphing into a sequel, along the lines of an inverted Evangelion pattern.  A popular way to see the End of Evangelion film is as a retelling of certain events in the series from an outside perspective (as opposed to the original perspective from Shinji’s POV) followed by a sequel of new events.  Well, let me think of the Utena film as a retelling of certain events in the series from Anthy’s POV (as opposed to the original perspective from the outside) followed by a sequel of new events (namely, the automobile escape etc).

That way we can explain why Akio is so dopey in the movie, plus we can get a (funny) notion of all the stuff that Anthy was thinking/daydreaming about as she stood there watching the duelists fight over her in the series.

OK, the interpretation doesn’t make much sense, but I like it!!

How about this one: the TV series ends and the Student Council fellows are trying to cope with the changes.  Touga is too proud to just accept what happened, so he re-imagines the whole adventure with him as the real prince who sacrificed himself so that Utena (and Anthy) could advance…and now his spirit lurks in the shadows with a rose in his hand a smile on his face.  But of course in his mind he saved the drowning Juri, and as a reward he gets to sleep with Shiori so he’s as cool a ghost prince as they come.

Whatever.  Let me bring up a couple of other points on the film:

As I’m reading the manga right now too (more than halfway done) I can tell you that I agree with all of those fans who say the film shows a weird mixture of anime and manga.  Since the manga had been completed after the anime finished and just before the movie came out, I wonder if the creators’ ideal audience was fans who had consumed both of the versions.

If you believe the mangaka Chiho Saito, and I’m not exactly sure if I do or not, she started the manga with a very imperfect vision of what Ikuhara (who she puts as the real mastermind of the project) wanted to do.  So she actually was quite shocked when the anime began to air (about halfway through the manga, maybe?) and realized she hadn’t really understood what the story was all about.  In the manga, Utena wears a pink jacket.  When the anime was in production, Ikuhara supposedly asked Saito whether she thought Utena should have a red or a black jacket.  Saito was upset that pink was already out of the question (!) but she politely sided with red.  Ikuhara then said “We’ll go with black”.  Again, all of this needs to be taken with a grain of salt, but there’s a lot of divergence in the various versions, that’s for sure.

Carnal love between Anthy and Utena is of course another huge point.  After all sorts of little scenes, insinuations and innuendos, the TV series seemingly quashes the “yuri” aspect with two quotes in the last few episodes, one from each character.  In episode 37 Juri mentions Utena’s love for Anthy.  But Utena counters that her love for Anthy is not at all like Juri’s love for Shiori.  In episode 39 Anthy tells Utena that she can’t be her prince because she is a girl.  I think the two quotes together are pretty good evidence that we are being told not to think too much of an Anthy x Utena romance.

The film has it differently, obviously.  But this is not to say that Anthy and Utena are specifically lesbian in the film either.  They simply are open to all sorts of possibilities like Touga has always been, for example.

Utena transforming into a car!!  How awesome was that!!  Now, I listened to Ikuhara’s commentary and he says he’s been asked lots of times if the car that has a “Kozue” license plate on it is also a transformed Kozue.  He says it is, that both Kozue and Utena transforms into cars but that he cannot tell us why because it will just narrow the possibilities of the show…or something.  Hmm…Shiori turns into a car later on too.

According to Ikuhara, Utena “goes asleep” when she becomes a car, like a reverse Sleeping Beauty.  I prefer the idea that she has become auto-mobile, as a first step toward leaving Ohtori Academy.  And then her advantage over Shiori and Kozue is that they don’t have an Anthy driving them to that goal.  The proof of their “friendship” would lie then in the fact that Anthy can “drive” Utena without doing violence to her will, in Evangelion terms, they have a 400% synchro rate at this point.

One of the most satisfying things about this film is Saionji’s throwaway comment that he will try to seduce Anthy again once they’ve all met on the outside, because it signals that they will all try to grow up and leave Ohtori.  I was a bit saddened by the Student Council remaining behind at the end of the anime.


My friend pointed out to me how Russians keep saying Chuchu is a ripoff from Soviet animated character Cheburashka (who happens to be well-known in Japan, to the point where Japanese remakes of the originalhave been made).  At first I was inclined to think maybe there was some vague influence, but when I saw the crocodile rival in this film I realized this was a blatant “tribute”, since Cheburashka’s best friend is a crocodile called Gena.  And then I read that Cheburashka originally lived in the jungle, but one day he found a crate of oranges, ate all of them, fell asleep inside and then ends up in the civilized world.  That’s Chuchu!!

I wish Ikuhara would have mentioned the influence in his commentary…I guess he’s scared Cheburashka will come bite him for not sending a couple of oranges his way.  You can see the orange scene a couple of minutes into the video below:


After watching the film a second time I think it’s best to see this as a standalone story, neither a retelling of the TV series nor a sequel.  What do you think?

~ by Haloed Bane on May 7, 2011.

11 Responses to “The Adolescence of Utena”

  1. I treat the movie as a complementary piece to the TV series, having its own different story. I think the TV series is much more complete, though, so I wouldn’t recommend just the movie to other people.


    • I would watch Utenaformers any day!! Saionji is a helicopter!! Nanami is one of the beasts!!

      You’re right about a fundamental thing: if I say that the film is standalone, that implies that people can go and watch the film and enjoy it thoroughly and never bother with the TV series. And that’s just not true.

  2. I’m with your last word. My mind breaks trying to reconcile it with the TV series. I haven’t read the manga yet, but to attempt to reconcile the three may prove too much for me.

    But let me say this:

    We wonder (and we can’t help but wonder) how Utena TV would look like if it had a bigger budget.

    I think the film doesn’t answer this question at all.

    It’s because it changed so many things that it barely resembles the TV show… the changes it made have less to do with having more money to spend and more for other considerations (creative leaps etc.).

    …and so I still wonder.

    • We wonder, but I almost rather be left wondering. I’m watching the 2nd Rebuild film and am honestly going: “why didn’t they just leave this alone!!”

      If you want to get even more confused… the manga is 4 volumes, right? But there’s a fifth volume which is a manga version of the film!!

      So you have TV series, film, manga series, manga/film volume. It’s total chaos!!

      • Can I comment on myself? I just finished Rebuild 2.22 and it’s actually totally awesome. Must…post…on…this…

  3. But but but anthy is just so sexy in the movie ;_; I still like the movie better, probably because it’s so pretty and completely blew my mind away that time. I think the series could have been tigther personally, and didn’t like the black rose arc too much as well.

    Anyway, I recently completed Panty/Stocking and couldn’t help but think of deleuze…

    you know, about anarchy, about libido as a desiring machine, empty body that has no desire but only the need, cancerous body that has caught itself in an endlessly same repetition chained under the rrrrrruuuuurrrrres~, and of course the healthy productive full body. I doubt Hiroyuki read anything about Deleuze, even if he has I don’t think he would try animating something based on it, but perhaps there’s something similar in how he sees ourselves and society, like how can we use this anarchy to bring forth our desires to shatter the forces and rrrrrruuuurrres that chains us up. But then again, after that wtf ending maybe there’s no point trying to analyse the show but to simply have fun.

    • Hmmm…I guess we’ll never be fighting over ladies then, good. I’ll take anime Anthy over film Anthy any day. Film Utena over anime Utena though.

      Oh yeah, P&S is definitely into that Deleuzian vibe. I’m sure Hiroyuki is into some artist or writer who’s into some artist or writer who’s….into Deleuze. I don’t think you can do art in the 21st century without receiving Deleuze’s influence (or one of his eminent French colleagues’) in one way or another.

  4. I kept saying “I don’t like it” every 10 minutes as I was watching the movie. For the first hour after finishing it I tried to pretend it never happened. I guess I am conservative by nature. Now I’ve already watched it 2.5 times and the more I am pondering over it the more I am inclined to think this is the direct sequel, rather than a retelling or an alternative timeline, whether I like it or not. So many things point at it, I just can’t ignore those.

    • Please elaborate 🙂

      • Well, Anthy looks just the same she looks in the last scene where she is leaving the academy. She’s put off her glasses and disguise for good (which does not mean she is wearing no mask now). Akio is the past. Utena possesses the power of Dios from the start – the duel with Jury just makes it apparent (and personally I think her awkward masculine look in the beginning of the film is due to that too). Utena echoes Akio’s words from ep. 38 “There has been no prince in the first place”. I took Jury’s story about the drowning girl in the TV series to be a side comment on Utena’s fate, but here it has grown into the whole storyline.

        All this links the film to the last few episodes of the TV-series. Also, we find all characters pretty much where we’ve left them, and the déjà vu thing starts from the very first scene, where I am startled by Utena’s asking Wakaba “What’s your name?” For a split second, Wakaba looks surprised too 🙂 The world around the characters is different though. In the TV-series, the academy was the cozy limbo, now Utena starts from hell. Some milestone scenes are replayed for her, quite half-heartedly at that, as if just to remind her what she is here for. Of course it has to be Saionji who fights Utena first – apart from Mikage, he is the only guy who’s ever put his whole heart into fighting Utena, so that’s his job 😀 Miki does not duel at all, predictably. As to Jury, darn, she is wearing that locket again! But I choose to be optimistic – Shiori may believe she is in control, but for all we know, this time Jury may be hiding Utena’s portrait in it 😉

        It beats me why Touga is so white and fluffy this time around. Reading manga does not help at all, even though he does get special treatment there. (Maybe I’m reading the wrong manga?!) So, with a little stretch of imagination, my take is that after her Thermopylian victory Utena is reborn (I guess a student of the Ohtori Academy is capable of that) and starts on her quest again. How Touga made it out of the academy is beyond me, but if Ruka can be in and out so can he – and he said he wanted to protect Utena at the end of the TV series, so this time he is Utena’s conductor to this world, where she is to meet Anthy again.

        I don’t know why it feels like hell, the sky is as blue as ever. Maybe because Shiori is the main manipulator here and totally enjoys herself? Anyway, it is a dead world, suspended in the air, timeless, dreamlike and depressing. I love the nightmarish ambiguity of the scene where Kanae is weeping over Akio’s body – is it a funeral or exhumation? Though it’s not so bad since being more unpleasant the place gives the student council a better motivation to try and get out of it. And I absolutely welcome the outside world where Saionji really seduce Anthy! An awesome last line for Saionji.

        So yeah, I can’t say I prefer the movie ending (I am puzzled over so many things in it!), but for now I do see it as the sequel and the end of the story.

        • Ohhh, I see. I hadn’t looked at it from this angle at all. It makes sense.

          Mangaka Chiho Saito loves Touga, so it looks like she got her way in the movie!

          All of these questions revolve around the drowning incident. I guess what I say is SPOILERIFIC for the manga, but here it goes:

          In the manga Utena almost drowns and is saved by the Prince.

          In the anime, Juri SAYS her sister almost drowned, was saved by a boy who ended up drowning himself.

          In the movie, Juri almost drowns and is saved by Touga (who’s out with Utena) and Touga ends up drowning himself.

          SO, could it be that the movie is telling us that Juri was lying in the anime (whether deliberately or not, maybe she repressed it?). Maybe Touga’s always been dead…I don’t know. And so the movie may be a sequel that reveals much.

          The other thing that needs to be clarified is Shiori’s position when Touga and Utena were a couple. Was this a love triangle? Was she just longing for Touga from afar?

          Kanae weeping over Akio is the exhumation, I think.

          BTW, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but Juri is still in love with Shiori. She always will. Except in the manga 😉

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