Episode Reviewed In: Episode #
Alternate Titles: Ursula’s Kiss, Utena, Girl Revolution Utena, Shoujo Kakumei Utena (少女革命ウテナ)
Original Japanese Release Date: 1997
Episode Length/Run-time: 39 Episodes
When Utena Tenjou was a young girl her parents died and during her despair a prince on a white horse gave her a ring, telling her to never lose her nobility and strength. She was so impressed by him that she decided to become a prince herself and dresses as a boy at her school, Ohtori Academy. One day she observes what seems to be a lovers quarrel involving Anthe Himemiya and Saonji, a member of the student council. When she approaches Saonji she is swept into a world of duels because of her ring surrounding Anthe, the “rose bride” and the power to revolutionize the world. What these duels are, who the mysterious letter sender known as “End of the World” is, and Utena’s place in it all remains a mystery.
How to make this review not a small novel will be a mystery for me. It’s no secret that this is likely my personal favorite anime of all time. But, even if this wasn’t the case this anime is so full of symbolism, story, and general “WTF?” that it’ll be hard to keep this review short(er). But, here goes nothing…
The anime is, foremost, a Shoujo anime. Despite having its share of action in the duels and sometimes hostile relationships between the characters the anime is primarily relationship driven. Utena’s role is similar to what the main character of a Shounen anime would be. Strong, determined, kind-hearted, yet naïve in a way that often times will land her or those she cares about into trouble. Despite this she retains her femininity often times through the affections of other masculine characters. However, to say it is “relationship driven” is well, an understatement. The relationships in Utena are so jacked that it’s one of the hardest things to follow. To illustrate this or perhaps help some confusion I made a relationship map of the most basic of relationships, and even then there are some question marks.
The series is broken up into three arcs. The first arc is about 12 episodes and this is the “Rose Bride” arc. This sets up the characters, world and the duels. As this arc ends the world is thrown into chaos through the second arc the “Black Rose” arc, about another 12 episodes. This arc brings forward sub characters to duel Utena for Anthy’s hand. The final arc is the “Apocalypse Saga” where the conclusions of the series are drawn.
This series could’ve done fine without the Black Rose arc and duelists. They do bring out backstories for each of the characters, and provide some further detail on the story, but beyond that they’re next to filler, making the series even more episodic. And the series is pretty episodic to begin with. The other problem with this arc is things begin to get really cracked out and crazy (dueling on convertibles anyone?).
The ending is complex, and is something most people debate. That’s one thing I love, this series is steeped in symbolism and every person can have an equally valid interpretation of it.
It is mature content which I wouldn’t recommend for younger viewers. Otherwise, I personally recommend this series as a favorite that everyone checks out.