A Proper Introduction Through an Anime Recommendation

So I haven’t been using this blog yet (although I really should have been) mostly because I got so frustrated with the technical settings (especially with my KyouSaya background pretty much being…well…not representative of me anymore and also not looking as attractive on my blog as I would like it to be). But I finally said, oh what the hell, might as well use this to post something.

Some of you who are friends with me on Facebook, follow me on Tumblr or see me on Youtube/GooglePlus know that I have literally two passions in life right now: Anime and Existentialism. I am a huge fan of Puella Magi Madoka Magica and consider it to be my number one anime of all time. So when I post stuff on this blog, the likelihood that I will be talking about and discussing that one particular series and its many counterparts in the anime fanbase lore or within its own franchise metacontinuity.

But just because I want to get my words out there, I’m going to start with talking about another series that I absolutely LOVE, possibly even more than Madoka in some respects. That of course is the series heavily referenced throughout the entirety of this blog.

REVOLUTIONARY. GIRL. UTENA.

Here is my Facebook note in which I tried to talk about that series with my friends on Facebook and Tumblr in a desperate attempt to convince them to watch it, or continue to provoke discussion with some of my friends who had already seen it but weren’t fans of it like I am.

Feel free to ask ANY questions or provide any commentary after reading this post if you have something to contribute, especially from those who have seen Utena and have their own thoughts about it they’d like to share.

 

How to Convince People to Watch Revolutionary Girl Utena

Warning: Spoilers for the ending and last two arcs, as well as heavy mentions of some of the contextual themes and elements/scenarios/characters within the show. Proceed with caution. Also, you are not required to read the entire thing unless you’re completely sold on watching the series or listening/reading what I have to say about it.

If you are not intrigued or interested in viewing it before the end of the first arc, at least make sure you have watched the entire arc before you drop it. This is a long series of 39 episodes, and in my opinion, as long as you’re patient and willing to stay for everything it offers, that length is well spent and worth your time and investment. If you’re wondering when the show becomes more like Madoka Magica and Eva…episode 14 is your answer. By that point, if you’ve watched that far along, you’ll want to continue. It gets darker, weirder and crazier from there. There’s also A LOT of similarities between RGU and Rebellion in terms of themes and narrative style, including outright references to the TV series and movie themselves. I guess you could watch the movie instead, although it’s sort of an alternate retelling/ambiguous continuation and has SOME references to the series that you may be lost on if you aren’t able to get through it. Especially since the movie intentionally alters some important events and characters from the show. And I have a love and hate relationship with it on some very high levels, but that’s neither here nor there.

I can understand why certain things in the first arc would be turnoff. It is a shoujo anime after all, but it is much darker and complex than it appears on the surface. I refuse to spoil anything, but I will tell you, all of your opinions about the show regarding romance, annoying female characters, frivolity and any other complaints about the show you may have will COMPLETELY DISAPPEAR by the end of the first arc.

Urobuchi, why do you do this to me?

Urobuchi, why do you do this to me? It’s a reference to this:

Patience is a virtue in watching this show, especially since the first twelve episodes are like watching the first three of Madoka Magica. It does not spoon-feed anything to you, it has a lot of symbolism and layers of themes and visual cues. The entire thing is a complete puzzle. Each arc is its own story until the final episodes, when everything comes together. It’s pretty much written with the full intention of being as subtle about its true nature as possible. There is so much irony and foreshadowing within its narrative that unless you realize how prevalent it is for everything that’s going on or where to look for it, you really won’t get it.

A magical butterfly of death and rebirth. It's so symbolic guys.

A magical butterfly of death and rebirth. It’s so symbolic guys.

But all of your gripes with the show will go away as you watch, because as the show starts to get darker and more intense, all of those concepts get brutally deconstructed despite how much I hate that word I used it anyway in such a way where the lines between reality and fantasy completely start to disappear, as well as what you are supposed to take as comedy and what you are supposed to take seriously.

Did she just pull the sword out of the Duelist's chest?! Isn't it the other way around or something...oh nevermind.

Did she just pull the sword out of the Duelist’s chest?! Isn’t it the other way around or something…oh nevermind.

Pay attention to those Shadow Girls and the duels. Read the lyrics to each of the duel songs. As the show gets darker, you laugh less at what the girls are doing and saying because you know the truth. As the duels become more intense, the lyrics have darker undertones that actually describe/develop the character Utena is dueling. Those episodes with that really annoying blonde and her brother? Those get darker as well. Comedically speaking, but they also develop her character up to the point where they finally give you an episode that is diametrically opposite to everything else centered around her you have seen before.

I know that feel, Nanami.

I know that feel, Nanami.

If I were to even so much as hint the parallels within Madoka and Eva to Utena and vice versa, I would legitimately spoil the entire anime for you, even without giving major details. The one thing you must keep in mind while watching this show is that EVERYTHING is relevant to the plot, EVERYTHING is symbolic and you cannot watch this show and expect to understand it/enjoy it if you are not being 100% patient and 100% paying attention to everything that’s going on. It’s impossible. Believe me, I’ve tried it.

Oh Shinbo...

Oh Shinbo…

Also, DO NOT touch the manga and movie until you’ve finished the series. They will literally do nothing to resolve your personal issues with the show, because the manga is PURE shoujo and the movie is…like watching Rebuild of Evangelion instead of NGE. Trust me on this. You’ll thank me later.

I can be perfectly honest with you, comparing Utena and Anthy to Madoka and Homura not only spoils RGU AND Rebellion, it also makes the non-canon PMMM yuri/shoujo-ai pairing Sayaka x Homura canon (people who know how the ship would work based on their personalities and what makes it plausible would understand WHY I said this, whether or not they have seen the entirety of RGU and know about every detail of Utena and Anthy’s relationship and personalities). I’m not elaborating on that now, lol.

My friend made this for me. Moemura is the Lily Bride. Be afraid, be very very afraid.  Grant them the power to bring the WORLD REBELLION!

My friend made this for me. Moemura is the Lily Bride. Be afraid, be very very afraid.
Grant them the power to bring the WORLD REBELLION!

 

Revolutionary Girl Utena is pretty much what happens when you take the same people who worked on Neon Genesis Evangelion and Sailor Moon and try to make a shoujo anime out of it. Without RGU, Madoka Magica literally doesn’t exist.

I will admit, it’s a very hard show for some people to watch. For one, they have to get used to the fact that it’s from 1997, but its art style from the late 70s (it’s heavily inspired by the works of Riyoko Ikeda including Rose of Versailles and Oniisama e so that is completely on purpose). The first 12 episodes do not give you a full impression of what the show actually is and have a very weird mix of comedy and drama. It’s not until after the first arc that they get into the main plot, and there’s 39 episodes in all. It also deals with a lot of themes regarding gender, sexuality, society, incest, psychosexual and Freudian taboos, various philosophies and even common classical theatre and fairy tale tropes.

It is very complex and very deceiving. It has a lot of layers. It is filled to the brim with symbolism and allusions and allegories and metaphors. Each arc is its own separate story until the very end of the show where all of the the themes and events come together. It is not graphic or fanservicy in its sexual and violent content, but it does have some very disturbing imagery and subtext regarding its themes, especially those of homosexuality and incest. It’s very hard to watch this show and expect to have everything spoon-fed to you. It just won’t happen. You gotta be patient with it. And I really hate spoiling it for people too.

But if ever there was an anime or even work of fiction out there that more accurately portrayed the human experience in both a positive and negative light, that challenged and rebelled against reality while understanding its own sense of fantasy, that was completely self-aware of how its narrative was structured and how many risks were being taken, that gave people the opportunity to truly have creative control and a vision in what they wanted to create. Where every element: plot, characterization, music, setting, themes, execution, etc was meticulously thought out and developed so that you could watch the entire show and notice that the creators really loved this show enough to pay that much attention to detail and truly create something that was directly attuned to their own personal desires and thoughts. And you literally FEEL that when you watch it.

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, there’s no way that you can get people to watch it if they aren’t interested in any of the things that I’ve described above. But if there’s one thing about Utena that I love which I feel like I need to tell anyone who will listen: YOU. WILL. NEVER. FORGET. IT OR. STOP. THINKING ABOUT IT.

Dat snazzy eyecatch.

Dat snazzy eyecatch.

Once you’ve seen RGU, it’s there for the rest of your life. That’s all I have to say. The rest is up to your own judgement.

“Are you willing to obtain the power of miracles?”

This guy knows what's real and what's an illusion of memory.

This guy knows what’s real and what’s an illusion of memory.

And here is something somebody I talked to once who was a fan of Madoka, Eva and Utena said to me:

“I sometimes feel like the only reason EVA and “Sailor Moon” managed to avoid this fate is because they’re getting rebooted. I guess to some extent, I can’t blame the youngsters for this because it’s inevitable that this would happen to older shows as the times pass. I’m not as well-versed in some of the old classics of the late 70s and early 80s as I feel I should be, for example, because I was a child of the 90s. But it makes me feel like time is passing me by nonetheless. “Utena” is also this very… strange, idiosyncratic show.

It’s not the only “feminist anime” out there but the way it approaches its subject material is so “in-your-face” and so stylized that I find many kids who have grown up steeped in post-90s culture can’t appreciate its presentation. I’m fond of saying that “there isn’t a single decent male in the entire show” and that “there isn’t even one truly honest straight relationship in this show, either.”

The fact that it’s even more confusing than EVA does not help because it’s just so difficult to understand what is really going on. You can’t like this show without being willing to think and grasp at it – there are so many layers to what’s happening and the show doesn’t go out of its way to reveal its secrets. So it’s old, and it’s difficult to comprehend, and that’s why I don’t get *too* angry at the younglings for not understanding the reference.

But I will point out where it came from, and tell them that it was one of the shows that changed anime forever… and that if they really want to understand anime, it’s in their interest to go and look it up.”
I gotta say, I was really hoping that Mawaru-Penguindrum (since I know some of you have seen it first) would do this too, but even if it is an anime by Kunihiko Ikuhara, Penguindrum is NOT the same kind of experience as Utena or Madoka Magica. Although I see that it is apparently really popular and people like us want to hope that PMMM, Kill la Kill, Penguindrum and even Akuma no Riddle (possibly, not likely) will garner interest in the shows that really made the industry matter in their day even more than Eva and Cowboy Bebop did…but it simply doesn’t happen.

Anno and Ikuhara have both confessed that Eva and Utena may not have ever existed if it wasn’t for their mutual friendship and desire to create an anime that reflected who they are as people and what they wanted the world to become and truly be seen through the eyes of people like them. To think that such works of fiction exist which have not only determined the legacy of these creators but also THEIR ENTIRE LIVES is a testament to the fact that creative individuality and passion for creating incomprehensible art which saves an individual from despair or humility is one of the few most beautiful things about being human. I love these shows because they were made by humans and ARE human.

The Gift That Keeps on Giving: Revolutionary Girl Utena and the Be Papas Diaspora That uh, Revolutionized Anime (From Goldfish Warning, from Evangelion, to FLCL, to Princess Tutu, to Mawaru Penguindrum) | We Remember Love

I cannot force anyone who doesn’t want to watch Utena into viewing it to see why it is truly one of the greatest anime of all time, but I truly believe anyone who does have the pleasure of seeing it will have fulfilled a void in their own lives they never even knew they had.

I found Revolutionary Girl Utena through Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Neon Genesis Evangelion. If the latter two didn’t exist, I don’t know where I’d be in my life. Utena has truly revolutionized my world and made me a better human being for it. My only desire in life is to be able to create something just as magnificent as Kunihiko Ikuhara’s magnum opus, or at least shout its glory for all of Eternity to embrace.

A Cruel Witch's Thesis. Thanks to you two, I found Shitsurakuen.

A Cruel Witch’s Thesis. Thanks to you two, I found Shitsurakuen.

While having its flaws in the way of animation, SKU is a character driven show with its strength supported by its characters’ high fleshed-out levels. Focusing only on presentation in the characters’ personality/emotions, I feel that SKU is nearly unmatched by any other anime over the past decade or so (except of course, Madoka, Rebuild of Evangelion, Penguindrum and TTGL).
I really loved the characters too. I found something just so compelling about them, and there’s no way I could pick favorites. It was scary, I felt a sense of nostalgia I didn’t understand when I met people like Utena, Anthy, Nanami, Miki, Juri, Saionji, Touga, Shiori and even Souji Mikage. And the list does not stop there.

Have you fallen in love at first sight? Good for you, you're on your way to becoming an Utena fan lol.

Have you fallen in love at first sight? Good for you, you’re on your way to becoming an Utena fan lol.

Although I honestly haven’t seen enough classic anime or even read enough classical literature (this series is so metafictional it HURTS) to compare it to practically everything, I can confidently say that it is currently my second favorite anime of all time AND one of the greatest works of fiction I have EVER been exposed to.

Utena was an unforgettable experience. I think my only beef with it was that some characters could have been a bit more fleshed out even if keeping them simple was somewhat Ikuni’s intention. My other problem is that I think I didn’t get to enjoy it as much as I wanted because I had only first seen it at this stage in my life but still many other shows it may have had a lot of influence on without me knowing it. In some ways, I think I would have been more satisfied if I had seen it earlier in my life, especially before some of the series I mentioned.

Nevertheless, my love for the series has never died in all the time since I’ve watched it. I went out and got the Nozomi remastered DVD boxsets, 110 dollars (the third bought as a Channukah present from my Aunt and Uncle) well fucking spent. I also love the movie, despite it being so absurd and experimental at times, and how it has a tendency to deconstruct itself where you know you’re watching Utena but sometimes it’s like…wow. But I’ve got a whole bunch of thoughts on the movie alone which are kind of a separate story, so I won’t get into that.

But it is definitely worth a rewatch, and I have been recommending it to many different people. It really is just a fabulous series everyone should see even if it wouldn’t usually be your cup of tea. I even got some fabulous recommendations which compelled me to watch it.

As a side note, I think there were probably a good amount of the psychological and philosophical aspects I missed the first time around, so I’ll have to go back to those with some friends/supplementary material who would know how to enlighten me. And I thought Evangelion and Lain took Freud and Jung for a tailspin. No, Jung is in Akio’s car probably cringing over the fact and saying, my theories have been turned into existential mindscrew by eccentric Japanese innovators in escapist mediums, HELP!!!!!! –All of that is probably being said in one of the cemetery’s Akio mentioned and the frigging coffin of reality Saionji says we occupy.

I have to say though, I really loved the duel songs and the imagery/symbolism (OMFG THE FUCKING SYMBOLISM HOLY FUCKING SHIT YES). And I’ve been obsessed with Zettai Unmei Mokushiroku for goddess knows how long, but you already know that and I’ve already said that.


But now to discuss what my own personal experience and perspective with the show was, starting from something I wrote on the EvaGeeks forum (I’m not a member but I did make an account I don’t use, lol) not twenty minutes before I completed the final episode in February 2013 (SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT, READ AT YOUR OWN RISK):

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