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:
A LAST WORD:
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?