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Anime News Network asked Gio & Yasha to write an article about Utena, Empty Movement, and they totally called us superfans, omg. Think of it as a belated Valentine's to Utena, its fandom, and the excellent friendships we've made along the way. 20 Years of Utena Fandom with the Ultimate Superfans!!!

#1 | Back to Top07-06-2011 09:34:04 PM

thepopeami
Wakaba Wrangler
Registered: 07-04-2010
Posts: 11

An Idealist Interpretation of Revolutionary Girl Utena

An Idealist Interpretation of Revolutionary Girl Utena

Dear Ohtori Academy,

Last year I submitted an essay to this forum entitled "a Platonic Interpretation of Revolutionary Girl Utena". However, after reflecting upon some of the theoretical difficulties of this former essay, I decided to substantially revise, clarify and expand its content. This slightly longer essay is the magnificent result. You may download the full-length illustrated PDF version of this essay from Google documents (below). I would appreciate it if, in the future, this essay were included in the essay archive on the main webpage. A beautiful new webpage needs beautiful essays. I eagerly anticipate your comments.

Chu...

Sincerely,
Ryan Haecker


*SPOILERS*

Introduction to the Setting of the Ohtori Academy

"Revolutionary Girl Utena" is a shōjo, or 'magical girl', animated series which presents the adventures of a tomboyish girl, Utena Tenjou and her ambition to become a prince. The series is set at the prestigious Ohtori Academy for teenage students.  The Ohtori Academy is apparently ruled by a Student Council of tremendous authority and self-importance, whose five select members wear a rose-seal ring and are uniquely permitted to enter the forbidden forest dueling arena. The Student Council is directed by a succession of letters mailed from the mysterious "End of the World", whose millenarian instructions are said will soon bring about the about the "World Revolution". The Academy is richly decorated in French fantasy-gothic architecture, stained-glass windows, and accompanied by grandiose organ music. French ornament, letters and Empire-style costumes are continually employed throughout the series, lending the Academy a classical north-European motif (at one point in the series, a teacher mentions there is a sister-school in the Netherlands). The geographic dislocation of this foreign occidental design hints at the spacio-temporal dislocation of the setting. Through a baffling variety of surreal psychosexual imagery and supernatural occurrences "Revolutionary Girl Utena" continuously destabilizes a coherent or literal interpretation of the characters and themes. For this reason, "Revolutionary Girl Utena" has been described as an example of a post-modernist fairy-tale.

Due to these complexities any explanation of the plot will require an allegorical interpretation of the series which examines the metaphysical significance of the imagery and storytelling. However because of the uncertainty of the show's internal cosmology and metaphysics, interpretations of "Revolutionary Girl Utena" often vary tremendously. Therefore to give a definite basis for an allegorical interpretation of the imagery, setting, plot, characters and themes of "Revolutionary Girl Utena", this essay will illustrate the cosmology and metaphysics through the philosophy of idealism. Idealism maintains that what is real is known to the mind principally through ideas regardless of the persistence of mind-independent entities. Mind-independent phenomena are unknown to the mind and thereby unreal. Idealism therefore collapses the subjective-objective distinction of empirical realism which supposes there to persist a real world existing beyond the mind's knowledge and experience. For idealism, all reality, objectivity and actuality are reduced to ideas which are simultaneously created and beheld by and for the self-conscious mind, or the transcendental ego.

In the first episode, the show's pink-haired protagonist Utena Tenjou ascends the winding staircase of the schools’ forbidden dueling arena and is shocked to discover an immense inverted and rotating castle in the sky above. This castle is the object of all of the character's aspirations. It is the place where the Prince lives, which holds eternity, and grants the power to bring miracles and happiness forever and ever. Yet Utena’s dueling opponent, Saionji, tells Utena that this is merely "a trick of the lights". This brief comment warns the audience that much of what Utena, and by extension the audience, witnesses through Utena's perspective is an unreal illusion whose extent is never definitively disclosed. The surrealism of the show derives from this feature: truth and illusion, fantasy and reality continuously interweave and interpenetrate throughout the setting. The chairman of the Ohtori Academy, Akio Ohtori, lives in an immense Gothic tower which dominates the skyline of the Academy and the sea-side town below.  The chariman's room houses an enormous astronomical observatory and is furnished with only few items, with the prominent exception of a large planetarium projector. In the final episode, the chairman reveals that, unbeknownst to the students, he been using his planetarium to create illusions of many fantastic settings and events throughout the series. He exclaimed "I shall now reveal reality to you... The end of the World"! It may be therefore be interpreted that much of what occurs in "Revolutionary Girl Utena" had been fabricated and coordinated by Akio, who had worked behind the scenes as the puppet master of an unreal and illusory cosmos.

In Plato's famed "Allegory of the Cave", Socrates describes to his friends how much of what people commonly experience in the ‘real’ world is merely an illusion similar to shadow-puppetry. Socrates describes how the philosopher who comes to know the eternal Forms of Goodness and Beauty thereby ascends from their naïve appreciation of shadows in the darkness of a cave to the sunlit world above. This ascent from the cave of illusions to the sunlit world of the ‘real’ world is an allegory of esoteric philosophic initiation from false to real knowledge, and from youthful ignorance to aged wisdom. In "Revolutionary Girl Utena" the casts' drama of the self-discovery is mirrored in Utena's growing awareness of the unreality of the Ohtori academy and the source of illusions emanating from the chairman's tower. The characters of "Revolutionary Girl Utena" are continually immersed in the idyllic childhood illusions of the Ohtori Academy, whose imagery had been constructed for them by the chairman Akio. From the heights of his tower he had, like Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon, observed and presumably manipulated everything which had occurred in the Academy. The presumed omnipresence of the chairman introduces an interpretive difficulty as the audience, like Utena, remains perpetually uncertain as to how to distinguish between real and illusory events.

The Ohtori Academy appears as a fashionable and pleasant setting for adolescent social life with a pristine hill-top college decorated in French fantasy-gothic ornament. A wide variety of students are represented who are uniformed strictly according to their sex in bright colors: boys wear green suits with black ties while girls wear short green skirts with white blouses and red bows. Apart from the dorms, classrooms and gymnasiums, the Academy is dominated by two gigantic structures with clear psychosexual symbolism which announce the principle themes of the series: the immense tower of Akio's planetarium observatory and the gargantuan forest-mound which houses the forbidden dueling arena. The function of these structures, one as creative and the other as romantically climactic, neatly corresponds to their respective psycho-sexual imagery. The forbidden dueling arena is the sight of each episode's epee sword duel whose victor is rewarded with the possession of "the Rose Bride". These duels are decided when one duelist cuts the rose affixed to their opponent's breast. The steel swords are a recurring phallic symbol in the show, while the roses are recurring uterine symbols. Prior to the duels the opponents’ swords are magically pulled from the breast of the duelists thereby becoming a steely manifestation of their heartfelt agony and desire. The duels of these swords therefore represent the trials of courtship, the agonies  self-disclosure and the contests of love. Their loss represents, often with melodramatic trauma, romantic rejection and humiliation. The "Rose Bride" is the trophy awarded to the champion duelist and a personal embodiment of the fulfillment of romance and the procreative potential of Woman's womb. The aspiration of a variety of characters to win these duels and possess the Rose Bride therefore represents their desire to gain mastery over their assorted romances. Yet throughout the series Utena continues to miraculously win these duels so long as she fights on behalf of the Rose Bride with chaste, altruistic and unromantic intentions.

You may download the full-length illustrated PDF version of the essay at GoogleDocuments:
Chu...

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#2 | Back to Top07-07-2011 08:32:11 AM

KaleMarsh
High Tripper
From: Washington, DC
Registered: 06-13-2011
Posts: 245

Re: An Idealist Interpretation of Revolutionary Girl Utena

No fair!  I want to read it right away, but I'm at work.  This looks really promising.

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#3 | Back to Top07-07-2011 08:55:13 PM

thepopeami
Wakaba Wrangler
Registered: 07-04-2010
Posts: 11

Re: An Idealist Interpretation of Revolutionary Girl Utena

Thank you. I eagerly anticipate your responses.

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#4 | Back to Top07-08-2011 02:12:19 AM

satyreyes
no, definitely no cons
From: New Orleans, Louisiana
Registered: 10-16-2006
Posts: 10327
Website

Re: An Idealist Interpretation of Revolutionary Girl Utena

Moved to the SKU forum.  emot-keke

I haven't read the full essay, since I'm a little busy with the last two weeks of my master's program, but I love the connection of the planetarium to the Panopticon, if only for irony's sake: the campus is a prison built for Akio, not for the students school-freud  Definitely a case of the inmates taking over the asylum.

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#5 | Back to Top07-09-2011 03:09:26 AM

Aelanie
Black Rosarian
Registered: 02-04-2009
Posts: 373

Re: An Idealist Interpretation of Revolutionary Girl Utena

In the interests of civility, I will keep my comments brief.

I never have much patience with overly elaborate "Theories of Everything" that attempt to spin Utena into the deeply intricate, all-pervasive philosophical musing it was never intended to be. Your essay was no exception, and I sincerely hope that you regard this as an interesting thought experiment rather than a serious interpretation of the work.

To be blunt, I find this essay little more than an ideological engine through which to establish deeply stereotypical heteronormative and gender-normative roles between Dios/Akio and Anthy, and Utena and Touga. Among other statements, your comments on "biological determinism" and the hackneyed "pains of all women" suggest to me that at bottom you hold some extremely old-fashioned ideas about the sexes, and this is no more strongly evident than in your complete dismissal of any romantic elements between Utena and Anthy.

That is all I had best say. However, in fairness it must be pointed out that no "platonic" explanation of Utena and Anthy's relationship could or would ever satisfy me.

Last edited by Aelanie (07-09-2011 03:11:52 AM)

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#6 | Back to Top07-09-2011 07:39:31 AM

thepopeami
Wakaba Wrangler
Registered: 07-04-2010
Posts: 11

Re: An Idealist Interpretation of Revolutionary Girl Utena

Aelanie: I am disappointed that you did not appreciate the essay. No, I didn't find there to be any 'romantic element' between Utena and Anthy. Although the series is certainly rich in suggestive imagery, there seemed to be little evidence for a 'romantic' relation between these characters. Especially in consideration of the disappearance of Utena in the final episode, I interpreted the two characters to be two aspects of the Platonic Idea of Womanhood.

Why is it that you dislike "Theories of Everything"? I wonder how audiences might come to any conclusions about an animated series without an expansive theoretical interpretation of a show's themes and symbolism. As I described in the opening of the essay, "Revolutionary Girl Utena" presents audiences with a gauntlet of interpretive difficulties which, it seems, no partial interpretation of the surface appearances could overcome. For this reason, my essay is directed towards a subsurface investigation into the unifying cosmology and metaphysics of the series. Did you find the essay's attempt to describe the internal cosmology and metaphysics of "Revolutionary Girl Utena", through the philosophy of Plato and Idealism, to be somehow practically unachievable, theoretically problematic or methodologically unsound? Perhaps your criticisms of the essay might be related to your expressed distaste for Platonism.

Although I hope that this essay will be a significant contribution to interpretions of "Revolutionary Girl Utena", it was was certainly not intended to exclude or efface other interpretations of "Revolutionary Girl Utena" through any total, complete or exhaustive analysis of the show's themes and symbolism. Such a project would indeed be beyond the scope of a mere 25 page essay, and is perhaps best represented by the extensive collection of essays within this website.

Last edited by thepopeami (07-09-2011 04:28:28 PM)

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#7 | Back to Top07-09-2011 09:12:22 PM

KaleMarsh
High Tripper
From: Washington, DC
Registered: 06-13-2011
Posts: 245

Re: An Idealist Interpretation of Revolutionary Girl Utena

Hello.  First of all, thank you for this.  It's very well-written, and it kept me engaged throughout.  Now for my very brief and poorly organized notes that are mostly transcribed from the notepad I had open while I read.  All comments are meant to be constructive and in support of this project.

I like the idea of Akio and Anthy being complete abstracts, especially in this supernatural sense in which you've presented them.  Being the extreme polar sides of any binary is to be completely inhuman.

Also, the idea of Dios being "the beginning" is the best explanation for his name.  Woman brings about her own suffering, also very biblical.  I'm not sure if I quite follow your argument about Akio's response to Utena questioning his relationship with Anthy.  It doesn't quite seem to fit, and it's one of your weaker arguments.

The paragraph beginning with this line.  "In her dreams Utena is told by Dios that "He[the Prince] is now 'End of the World'"."  Seems out of order.  It would serve better before the discussion of Plato's two person human.

"Touga is repeatedly presented as the male equivalent of Utena Tenjou's princely nobility."  Here's hoping you convince me.  EDIT: You did.

It's excellent that you point out that Touga is mortal.  He is a purely human character, and his selflessness is evidence of this.  Great!  I love it.

I'm not sure if I'm ever convinced that Utena duels for Anthy in episode 13.  She charges after Touga after anouncing that normal isn't her, so I always assume she does it for herself.  She's still quite selfish, and doesn't understand friendship.  Plus, Anthy has no faith in her yet either, so there isn't much of a frienship to fight for.  Not to say that your interpretation isn't valid.  I'm just suggesting that a line or two of evidence to support your perception would be welcome here.

This is really small, but your use of semi-colons at times is confusing.  "her romantic longing to be the object of a man’s affection; a Princess; is" seems like a comma would make more sense in the place of those semi-colons.

At times, I do think you do too much to force your Platonic archetypes onto characters.  I think I can buy your characterization of Touga as a symbol of mortal men, but I've never heard of a prince woman archetype.  Perhaps I'm missing the traditional words, or you aren't trying to convey something traditional at all, but something of your own making that you need to define.  Either way, perhaps some fleshing out would help.  (Also, is homeliness supposed to be associated with sexuality of women?  And if Anthy is the form of womanhood, why are there things in Utena that she doesn't represent, but that are still representative of women?  This yin-yang section is a bit of mess.)

EDIT: The above confusion is clarified a bit better at the end when you discuss how Anthy and Utena have joined to become one archetype, but I still think it would benefit this essay to have it outlined and defined earlier.  Having a clear definition of what exactly a princely archetype is for women (ambition to contend with men in the professional arena, perhaps?) would be a good start.  It's no easy task.  Utena herself struggles with the definition throughout the course of the series.

Your essay hinges a lot on the idea of sisterhood and the conflict between being a prince and being a part of this sisterhood.  Yet you claim that Utena's princely ambitions are a part of womanhood.  There seems to be a conflict within your own terminology.  I'm sorry to keep hammering at this, but this was the most hand-wavy and confusing part of your framework, and I really think another short paragraph would fix it.

I like that you point out that Utena cannot be herself without Anthy in episode 13.  In my mind, Utena has still defined prince as "a person who saves princesses."  She cannot be herself without a princess.  You've attempted to take this further.  I am not sure if it has been completely defined yet.

I don't have a problem with your dismissal of Utena and Anthy's relationship as fraternal, as I think it isn't the point, but perhaps some concessions to the hints should be made anyway, since it doesn't so much interfere with your point.  I know.  Eyeroll.

When Anthy stabs Utena in the back, it's through the stomach.  Possibly the uterus.  Your discussion of the sword coming through the heart when its drawn and the swords sheathed in Anthy as the rose-uterus drew this to my attention.  Perhaps it's worth note in the context of this essay.  Is Anthy reminding Utena of her sexual identity in this way, as well as verbally?

The quick nod to the appearance of the modern seems out of place since you haven't really only mentioned it in the end.  Is the time frame really so relevant to what you're trying to say?  If so, talk a bit more about setting early on.  You describe it as fantastical, but not archaic.

That said, here are some short after-thoughts.

In The Republic, Plato claims that women are merely lesser men, and should be allowed to do the same jobs as men.  Where does this fit into your idea of Anthy and Akio as Platonic forms, if at all?  Is this the aspect contained within Utena?

You mention that, from The Symposium, there are two people that have two female bodies.  Would you say that Utena and Anthy actually form this coupling at the end?  Or are Anthy and Utena half half people?

To summarize, I enjoyed reading this, but I think the main tasks of this project that you should consider are as follows--

1. Define your definition of the form of Womanhood to include Utena briefly when you first introduce Anthy so that the fragmentation doesn't come as a disconcerting surprise.

2. Define the woman-prince archetype which Utena embodies more thoroughly.

3. I haven't mentioned this yet because I think it's slightly impossible, but explain why you think Utena has given up on princelyness at the end.  Is it just that she is focused on Anthy and nothing else, including princelyness?  Does this finally allow her to become a prince, despite her gender?

Thanks!  I expected a bit more Plato, but I was still very pleased overall.  It is extremely gendered, as Aelanie said, but I think that's completely valid (also realistic in the context of today's world), all things considered.

Last edited by KaleMarsh (07-09-2011 09:13:29 PM)

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#8 | Back to Top07-09-2011 10:32:05 PM

thepopeami
Wakaba Wrangler
Registered: 07-04-2010
Posts: 11

Re: An Idealist Interpretation of Revolutionary Girl Utena

KaleMarsh wrote:

"I'm not sure if I quite follow your argument about Akio's response to Utena questioning his relationship with Anthy.  It doesn't quite seem to fit, and it's one of your weaker arguments."

I admit that the exposition of this thought was quite brief. Many of the most delightful and humorous scenes in Revolutionary Girl Utena result from an ironic circumstance which is not apparent to the characters yet might be appreciated by an audience attentive to the themes and imagery. I believe that the scene, in Episode 38, in which Utena implicitly accuses Akio and Anthy of incest is one such scene. The humor in this scene is the result of the ironic comparison between the disgust and moral outrage which Utena (and indeed the audience) felt towards Akio and Anthy's incestuous relations and the casualness with which, when they are explicitly confronted with this, Akio dismisses these relations as merely a common-place routine. An audience which believes that Akio and Anthy are merely a mortal brother and sister couple would find this dismissal of the quite universal taboo of incest incomprehensible. But under the hypothesis that Akio and Anthy are superhuman Ideas whose coupling is ideally and supernaturally necessary for the continued procreation of the sexes, Akio's dismissal would, from his and our perspective, appear entirely comprehensible and consistent. Additionally, throughout the final two episodes there is little evidence given that Utena clearly understands the nature of Akio and Anthy. Her heroic and dramatic role need not require her to do so at the conclusion of the series, any more than in the preceding story-arcs. Finally, the conception of Ideas procreating is not, to my knowledge, a strictly Platonic one. Rather, it has its origins in loosely-inspired Platonic gnosticism. Here is an excerpt from New Advent:

Chu...
"Valentinus, who taught first at Alexandria and then at Rome (c. A.D. 160), elaborated a system of sexual duality in the process of emanation; a long series of male and female pairs of personified ideas is employed to bridge over the distance from the unknown God to this present world."

KaleMarsh wrote:

"I'm not sure if I'm ever convinced that Utena duels for Anthy in episode 13.  She charges after Touga after anouncing that normal isn't her, so I always assume she does it for herself.  She's still quite selfish, and doesn't understand friendship.  Plus, Anthy has no faith in her yet either, so there isn't much of a frienship to fight for."

My conclusion that Utena had fought for Anthy in episode 13 followed from my supposition that for Utena to become normal she would be required to abandon her "princely" role with Anthy as her "bride", and return to school wearing the standard uniform without her former place in the dueling tournament. Throughout this unique episode Utena and her fellow students struggle with the astonishment and surrealism of the hitherto consistent theme of Utena's cross-dressing heroics. Anthy had been the counterpart of Utena's persona, as the "prince", without whom Utena finds herself, not merely unwilling, but existentially unable to continue attending the Ohtoric Academy. Thus, I believe, she fights Touga in this episode for both herself and Anthy so as to reclaim her princely persona and restore Anthy to her side as her Rose Bride.

KaleMarsh wrote:

"Perhaps I'm missing the traditional words, or you aren't trying to convey something traditional at all, but something of your own making that you need to define.  Either way, perhaps some fleshing out would help."

Yes certainly. I think I would like to revise and clarify these points in the future.

KaleMarsh wrote:

"Yet you claim that Utena's princely ambitions are a part of womanhood.  There seems to be a conflict within your own terminology."

Yes. I see now that this does seem to be an apparent conflict; namely, if 'princely' is held to refer to a masculine characteristic then it seems to be a characteristic opposed to the feminine sisterhood, or the community of women. The confusion on this point is entirely my fault for not offering a subtler distinction between  'princely', in the sense of a masculine aristocratic role, and 'princely', in the sense of an aristocratic disposition which seeks to achieve its freedom, self-actualization and autonomy. In the later paragraphs, in which this confusion arises, I had intended to refer to the latter, more abstract, disposition towards self-actualization rather than the distinctly masculine social role of the prince.

KaleMarsh wrote:

"but perhaps some concessions to the hints should be made anyway, since it doesn't so much interfere with your point."

Could you more specifically describe these 'hints' which indicate, to you and Aelanie, that there was a more-than-merely-fraternal relationship between Anthy and Utena? I understand that the series is saturated with suggestive imagery, but all of this, to my understanding, merely reinforces the theme of their friendship rather than hints at an erotic relationship, which if it is implicit is never made explicit to the audience. Additionally I should mention that in episode 37 Utena has a conversation with Juri about the distinction between Juri's relationship with Shiori and Utena's relationship with Anthy. She makes it plain to the audience that, whereas Juri's relationship with Shiori is homosexual, hers is "pure"; which I took to mean that their friendship was non-erotic and merely fraternal.

KaleMarsh wrote:

"When Anthy stabs Utena in the back, it's through the stomach.  Possibly the uterus.  Your discussion of the sword coming through the heart when its drawn and the swords sheathed in Anthy as the rose-uterus drew this to my attention.  Perhaps it's worth note in the context of this essay.  Is Anthy reminding Utena of her sexual identity in this way, as well as verbally?"

I had honestly not noticed this implication of Anthy's sword thrust. It certainly would seem to, as you say, remind Utena of her sexual identity. I would like to expand the discussion of the sword draws in a later revision as these scenes are, under my interpretation, key transitions which signify the increasing potency of the swords and duels in the series.

Your comments on Plato are quite helpful and if I am to use Platonic concepts it would be, as you described, advisable to include more content about Plato's thoughts on women and eroticism. Thank you your thoughtful and detailed response. These are very good points and, as a result, I once again feel the need revise this essay to satisfy these explanatory and theoretical inadequacies which you've so helpfully described. I hope to improve upon the essay regarding the points which you specified.

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#9 | Back to Top07-10-2011 08:38:49 AM

KaleMarsh
High Tripper
From: Washington, DC
Registered: 06-13-2011
Posts: 245

Re: An Idealist Interpretation of Revolutionary Girl Utena

thepopeami wrote:

...An audience which believes that Akio and Anthy are merely a mortal brother and sister couple would find this dismissal of the quite universal taboo of incest incomprehensible. But under the hypothesis that Akio and Anthy are superhuman Ideas whose coupling is ideally and supernaturally necessary for the continued procreation of the sexes, Akio's dismissal would, from his and our perspective, appear entirely comprehensible and consistent...

This argument is much more fleshed out.  It seems you are not using this example so much as evidence to explain your idea, but that you are using your idea to explain a potentially perplexing scene in the anime.  This works.

thepopeami wrote:

Anthy had been the counterpart of Utena's persona, as the "prince", without whom Utena finds herself, not merely unwilling, but existentially unable to continue attending the Ohtoric Academy.

I suppose I still don't consider this as "doing it for her friendship," but ultimately the result and the point is the same, so I'm just splitting hairs.

thepopeami wrote:

freedom, self-actualization and autonomy

It is helpful to have this spelled out, as small as it is.

thepopeami wrote:

Could you more specifically describe these 'hints' which indicate, to you and Aelanie, that there was a more-than-merely-fraternal relationship between Anthy and Utena? I understand that the series is saturated with suggestive imagery, but all of this, to my understanding, merely reinforces the theme of their friendship rather than hints at an erotic relationship, which if it is implicit is never made explicit to the audience. Additionally I should mention that in episode 37 Utena has a conversation with Juri about the distinction between Juri's relationship with Shiori and Utena's relationship with Anthy. She makes it plain to the audience that, whereas Juri's relationship with Shiori is homosexual, hers is "pure"; which I took to mean that their friendship was non-erotic and merely fraternal.

A lot of it is implicit.  Much of it is inherent in the supposed bride-prince relationship.  I am not the best to argue for this point since I agree with you, but some interpretations have even taken Utena's attack on Akio for incest and easy acceptance of his answer as evidence that she's acknowledging her own jealousy with "are you any worse?"  The conversation with Juri could be seen as a conversation regarding the way their affections are returned.  Personally, I just saw it as the typical adolescent "We'll make it; you won't."  I also don't quite think Utena gets that Juri sexualizes Shiori at all.  The biggest thing is the movie.  It shows evidence that it at least crossed the minds of the creators, if nothing else.

Overall, the essay is quite good, so hopefully the revisions you're facing aren't to daunting.

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#10 | Back to Top07-10-2011 09:12:10 AM

thepopeami
Wakaba Wrangler
Registered: 07-04-2010
Posts: 11

Re: An Idealist Interpretation of Revolutionary Girl Utena

KaleMarsh wrote:

A lot of it is implicit.  Much of it is inherent in the supposed bride-prince relationship.  I am not the best to argue for this point since I agree with you, but some interpretations have even taken Utena's attack on Akio for incest and easy acceptance of his answer as evidence that she's acknowledging her own jealousy with "are you any worse?"  The conversation with Juri could be seen as a conversation regarding the way their affections are returned.  Personally, I just saw it as the typical adolescent "We'll make it; you won't."  I also don't quite think Utena gets that Juri sexualizes Shiori at all.  The biggest thing is the movie.  It shows evidence that it at least crossed the minds of the creators, if nothing else.

During this scene in episode 39, the scene in which Utena had first kissed Akio in his red convertible is displayed to her. This had led me to believe that Akio's counter-accusation "are you any worse" was directed, not towards an erotic relationship between Utena and Anthy, but rather towards Utena's erotic relationship with Akio, who is in the series is engaged to Kanae Ohtori. Thus the accusation is of tempting Akio into adultery rather than either incest or homosexuality. I understand that the movie is more explicit regarding the relationship between Utena and Anthy. My essay strictly focused on the televised series. While the movie may, as you say, offer evidence of the creative intent, it nonetheless falls outside the domain of this essay's subject.

KaleMarsh wrote:

Overall, the essay is quite good, so hopefully the revisions you're facing aren't to daunting.

Thank you for your contributions. I hope to have the time to cheerfully revise it later in the Summer.

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#11 | Back to Top07-10-2011 07:12:00 PM

Aelanie
Black Rosarian
Registered: 02-04-2009
Posts: 373

Re: An Idealist Interpretation of Revolutionary Girl Utena

The statements made here reveal a willful lack of research into the background of Utena. The element of romance between Utena and Anthy did not merely "cross the minds" of the creators. It was one of the central concepts that Ikuhara had intended to include all along, so much so that he and manga artist Saito Chiho clashed heavily over it. I quote from the commentary of the CPM discs, which were recorded specifically for that release:

[Director and Creator Ikuhara Kunihiko's Remarks]
[Manga Artist Saito Chiho's Remarks]
[Moderator's Remarks]

-----

"This series is very popular among people who are gay. What's your opinion towards that?"

"Gay people all over the world like this series."
"Really? You want to say that so definitively?"
"I mean when I say around the world..."
"It's true that there're various types of couple pairings, but you can also say that there aren't any really. I guess there are many different ways to read between the lines."
"This series is the only series of its kind. Hm, how do I explain what I'm trying to say? There're tons of anime with [homosexual] eroticism, but...I'm pretty sure there isn't another anime that tells the story of two girls so innocently. In that respect I think it's popular because this is the only one that does that."

"Was that your intention from the beginning?"

"Yes. I didn't tell Ms. Saito but I was planning on it."
"Initially I wasn't told anything about that. He asked me to draw something where the two were close, so I drew a piece where the two were next to each other looking rather friendly. He was extremely happy. I had no idea in the beginning what he was thinking but...I figured it out at the end that his goal was to make me draw the two girls looking friendly."
"In the beginning, I brought it up lightheartedly during a meeting...she got really angry and said, 'If that's the case, I'm out!' I realized it was something I wasn't supposed to say and I decided to keep it to myself."
"No, that wasn't it. If I recall correctly... We started a debate about how we should make it more entertaining for girls. We were on a workshop trip and the debate turned into a fight. Mr. Ikuhara wouldn't give any consideration about enjoyment for girls. As a professional manga artist, I couldn't offer such a joyless story to the target audience. We had this huge clash of opinions, which created a lot of friction between us."
"When that happened, the entire Utena project was almost scrapped. It was such a big fight, the entire project was in jeopardy. It was such a painful fight I got carried into the hospital the day after."

[Long digression about not getting any work done during the workshop trip.]

"...That's because Ms. Saito vetoed my idea from the get-go about Anthy and Utena being lovey-dovey. I was too shocked to do work. She said, 'I quit if you're taking that route!' I figured I'd have to hide it from her because I was gonna do it anyway."
"Really? You decided that after such an internal struggle?"
"It was such a struggle."

Unfortunately, Saito Chiho's scrutiny was able to prevent Ikuhara from being as explicit with this aspect as he would've liked in the television series - although as you see, he maintains that he "did it anyway", and thus that their relationship in the series is meant to be taken as such.

(In any case, he got his way with the movie, which I pity you for not having yet seen, for I consider it to be the true apex of what Utena as a franchise is trying to say. When you do, I have some character examinations of my own I'd be pleased to share with you.)

Thanks to interviews and commentaries with Ikuhara, we know a very great deal about what Utena was intended to be, and this is the problem with "Theories of Everything". Utena is not and was never intended to be an intricate, multi-faceted and self-consistent treatise on philosophy or mythology or any other esoteric topic. It does of course have a powerful and impactful statement to make on the human condition, but this is not something that is reflected in every phrase and scene, ply the metaphorical shoehorn though you may.

On the contrary, a large amount of what ignorant fans deem to be deep symbolism and allegory was included by Ikuhara on a whim. To wit, on the significance of the second duel sequence with the elevator, when asked as to its meaning: "I just thought audiences would be bored with the old one by now."

Also, the duel songs, which so many brains have feverishly analyzed in relation to the show's content, were not even written for the show itself. Composer J. A. Seazer wrote most of them decades before, and they, like the show itself, possess no complex unified meaning.

As others have done in the past, you may well invoke Death of the Author, and say to me that the work exists as a subject of interpretation independent of its creators. I can only reply that I personally have no interest in that endeavor, because I know for a fact that the things the creators intended were exactly what I would've wanted them to intend. For me, what Ikuhara designed Utena to be is precisely what I would have it be.

I invite both of you, and anyone else who has not done so, to spend some time improving your knowledge of the origins of the franchise - and if you are not so fortunate as to own the source material yourself,  Chu....

Last edited by Aelanie (07-10-2011 08:33:10 PM)

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#12 | Back to Top07-10-2011 09:30:49 PM

KaleMarsh
High Tripper
From: Washington, DC
Registered: 06-13-2011
Posts: 245

Re: An Idealist Interpretation of Revolutionary Girl Utena

Thank you, Aelanie.  I actually was aware of the fight between Ikuhara and Saito, and that Ikuhara had intended to make the relationship more romantic, but not that he had intended to make it more explicit.  I think I like the Utena series better because of the constraint imposed by Saito.  Not because I don't like homosexuality in my media, but because I think that some of the subtlety is quite masterful and allows for many different interpretations.

(Also, I find non-romantic relationships between any two character more interesting as a general rule, but that is less important.)

That said, I am inclined to "death-of-the-author."  I get more than my fair share of enjoyment out of [over]analyzing entertainment meant for my consumption.  Besides, even if the pieces in the duels were not written for them (I never thought they were), their placement is perhaps even more interesting.

In conclusion, I'll continue to be interested in information about the series' creation, but I'll never hold Ikuhara's intent above my own interpretations, even if I really respect and enjoy his work on several levels.

Last edited by KaleMarsh (07-10-2011 09:37:05 PM)

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#13 | Back to Top07-11-2011 11:54:41 AM

Aine Silveria
Pumpkin Bride
From: Allegan, MI
Registered: 11-03-2006
Posts: 2098

Re: An Idealist Interpretation of Revolutionary Girl Utena

KaleMarsh wrote:

In conclusion, I'll continue to be interested in information about the series' creation, but I'll never hold Ikuhara's intent above my own interpretations, even if I really respect and enjoy his work on several levels.

I find it rather cocky of you to think that your observations count for more than the artist's intent. In some ways, I can see your point. My own personal experiences lead me to believe different things than anyone else, usually anyway. However, I also believe that if one truly wanted to observe anything and interpret it in a valid manner in a scholarly setting, one must take authorial/artistic intent into account. It's one of the first things I learned in high school english classes. Just because I personally prefer that Romeo & Juliet didn't have sex, doesn't mean that's what Shakespeare intended, and I have to take that into account when analyzing it. Ikuhara intended these girls to have a romantic relationship. Whether it came through clearly or not, such an authorial bias ought to at least tint your perceptions and interpretations. That you willfully decide to take authorial intent and throw it out the window makes me very disinclined to even skim your analysis.


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#14 | Back to Top07-11-2011 04:37:09 PM

KaleMarsh
High Tripper
From: Washington, DC
Registered: 06-13-2011
Posts: 245

Re: An Idealist Interpretation of Revolutionary Girl Utena

It isn't cocky.  I never said I like my interpretation better than his, just that I don't hold his above my own.  That might be cocky from your perspective, but I'm certainly not hurting anyone.  When is analyzing something without the lens of author intent a crime?  There is enough in Utena, from my perspective, that it's impossible to address everything.  And what about the artists who purposefully don't comment on their work?  Should we not analyze it at all because it's pointless without their input?

I also never said I felt inclined to throw his intention out the window.  I said I'll continue to research information on it because I enjoy reading different perspectives on something I really like.  I'll also continue to extrapolate on things he didn't originally envision because I think it's fun, even if it might seem like a waste of time to other people.

Speaking of taking author intent and throwing it out the window, Ikuhara very clearly did the same thing with the original creator of the concept.  By insisting on a romantic relationship between Anthy and Utena, he ignored Saito's intent in creating her characters, causing her a great deal of distress.

Do I think they should have gone her route?  No.  It's better with vague hints than it is without them.  If Utena and Anthy said "Let's be just friends forever and never even hold hands," I'd like it less because there would be less to think about.  The ambiguous nature of their relationship is refreshing.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter to me at all whether Anthy and Utena hook up or want to hook up or have contemplated what the other would look like naked.  I can see them getting involved or not, and I used to think that that's the way it was supposed to be to keep the audience from labeling their relationship.  I don't think there's a single thing in this show that I'm more apathetic about, including the lunches Wakaba prepares.  That isn't why I watch the series, and I don't think it has a whole lot to do with why thepopeami wrote the essay featured in the thread.  If it's important to you, then I'm glad.  Fans of this series tend to be pretty cool, so whatever brought you here is great.

What I really want to know is why are we discussing this here when the romantic relationship, or lack thereof, between Anthy and Utena barely has anything to do with this essay?  How did we get here?

By the way, thepopeami has said nothing about wanting to intentionally disregard Ikuhara's intent, and it's his essay, so don't decide whether or not to read his piece based upon my words.  Thanks.

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#15 | Back to Top07-11-2011 06:26:43 PM

Aelanie
Black Rosarian
Registered: 02-04-2009
Posts: 373

Re: An Idealist Interpretation of Revolutionary Girl Utena

KaleMarsh wrote:

Speaking of taking author intent and throwing it out the window, Ikuhara very clearly did the same thing with the original creator of the concept.  By insisting on a romantic relationship between Anthy and Utena, he ignored Saito's intent in creating her characters, causing her a great deal of distress.

You are once again displaying your ignorance. Saito Chiho did not create Utena or its characters, and was in fact one of the last individuals to be brought aboard the project. Her manga was developed concurrently, at the same time as the anime series. Thus, the series is not an adaptation of the manga, as the uninformed are all too quick to assume. Both works were born from the same original concept, which was always Ikuhara's vision first and foremost.

If anything, one could accuse her of not honoring the spirit of Ikuhara's ideas, as her manga took a decidedly different (and far more pedestrian) path for no better reason than because Saito was preoccupied with commercial success. By her own admission, her goal was to make the manga a commercially viable, mainstream shoujo work, and was quite willing to deviate from the spirit of the original premise in order to achieve that.

Last edited by Aelanie (07-11-2011 07:00:38 PM)

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#16 | Back to Top07-11-2011 07:58:31 PM

KaleMarsh
High Tripper
From: Washington, DC
Registered: 06-13-2011
Posts: 245

Re: An Idealist Interpretation of Revolutionary Girl Utena

Your attitude toward me is pretty dismissive.  I'm grateful for the information anyway, so thank you.  I must have done something along the way to offend you, which wasn't the intention.  You've been pretty dismissive from the get-go though.

You're right.  I did assume, largely because the first original run date was for the manga.  Ikuhara did, however, want her on the project, or he would not have bothered.  He also didn't prevent the manga from taking a different direction, which I think shows he is either apathetic toward or appreciates other interpretations.  I respect that a lot.

Whether or not Ikuhara intended for the project to contain a romantic relationship, it comes through on the screen as ambiguous, and I like it that way.  That means I'm also completely on-board with your interpretation.  I suppose we're left to disagree, but there have been more civil debates about this in other threads, in which you have participated, so I'm not sure why the attitude toward interpret-ability is negative here.  In my mind, slamming interpretation beyond the information you can read removes all the enjoyment I get from watching Utena.  I'm honestly curious.  What do you like about it?

But, again, thank you for the information.  I'll stop cluttering the thread.

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#17 | Back to Top07-11-2011 08:23:57 PM

Aine Silveria
Pumpkin Bride
From: Allegan, MI
Registered: 11-03-2006
Posts: 2098

Re: An Idealist Interpretation of Revolutionary Girl Utena

KaleMarsh wrote:

What I really want to know is why are we discussing this here when the romantic relationship, or lack thereof, between Anthy and Utena barely has anything to do with this essay?  How did we get here?

By the way, thepopeami has said nothing about wanting to intentionally disregard Ikuhara's intent, and it's his essay, so don't decide whether or not to read his piece based upon my words.  Thanks.

Ah. Well, perhaps one should not speak so as to confuse people as to whom the piece was written by. Given just how much posting you've done in the thread, and how defensive you've been of the writing, I completely assumed you were the author, and never even looked at who posted the thread originally. I stand corrected and apologize for assuming.


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#18 | Back to Top07-11-2011 08:31:31 PM

artemis88
Mikage Mistruster
Registered: 05-05-2011
Posts: 66

Re: An Idealist Interpretation of Revolutionary Girl Utena

Aelanie wrote:

However, in fairness it must be pointed out that no "platonic" explanation of Utena and Anthy's relationship could or would ever satisfy me.

Agreed !!!! 10000000%

In my opinion, dismissing the obvious romantic love between them rips the entire story apart.

Last edited by artemis88 (07-11-2011 08:33:09 PM)

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#19 | Back to Top07-11-2011 10:50:42 PM

Malacoda
Sunlit Gardener (Finale)
Registered: 07-26-2009
Posts: 180

Re: An Idealist Interpretation of Revolutionary Girl Utena

Aelanie wrote:

Saito Chiho did not create Utena or its characters, and was in fact one of the last individuals to be brought aboard the project. Her manga was developed concurrently, at the same time as the anime series.

I hate to derail this thread even more but...

Saito did create the Utena manga before she joined up with the Be-Papas, so characters that appeared in that first volume are technically her creations. However, they vastly differ in personality and (in some cases) actual design. For example, Anthy has a white dress in the manga instead of the red we usual associate with her. She also has a much less witch-like personality In my opinion, the only semi-consistent characters from adaptation to adaptation are Wakaba and Utena (two characters originally created by Saito).

In addition, the Be-papas are a group. While we may say "Ikuhara this" or "Ikuhara that", Revolutionary Girl Utena isn't 100% undiluted Ikuhara.


As for something on topic! I enjoyed reading your essay thepopeami! I don't think I understood all of it (and as I type this message, an unread copy of Five Great Dialogues is mocking me). There's one thing that that bothered me though...

When characters refer to the "End of the World", the ends relate more to edges and limit than to starts and finishes. The phrase used in the original Japanese is 世界の果て romanized Sekai no hate. It makes the most sense as End of the World, but Boundary of the World could still be a viable but less direct and catchy translation. So, while I don't disagree with you that Dios could be the first man/creator of the world, Dios being the Beginning of the World because Akio is the Ends of the World doesn't make much sense.

ETA: Of course, my Japanese is sketchy at best so I could very well be wrong.

Last edited by Malacoda (07-11-2011 11:16:33 PM)

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#20 | Back to Top07-11-2011 11:44:26 PM

thepopeami
Wakaba Wrangler
Registered: 07-04-2010
Posts: 11

Re: An Idealist Interpretation of Revolutionary Girl Utena

Malacoda wrote:

As for something on topic! I enjoyed reading your essay thepopeami! I don't think I understood all of it (and as I type this message, an unread copy of Five Great Dialogues is mocking me). There's one thing that that bothered me though...

When characters refer to the "End of the World", the ends relate more to edges and limit than to starts and finishes. The phrase used in the original Japanese is 世界の果て romanized Sekai no hate. It makes the most sense as End of the World, but Boundary of the World could still be a viable but less direct and catchy translation. So, while I don't disagree with you that Dios could be the first man/creator of the world, Dios being the Beginning of the World because Akio is the Ends of the World doesn't make much sense.

Thank you for your kind compliments. I mentioned earlier to KaleMarsh that, although some familiarity would philosophic terms and concepts would be helpful, I don't believe that knowledge of the Platonic dialogs (of which there are over two dozen!) should be required to read my essay.

This is surely helpful a helpful semantic hint which I had not hitherto been aware of. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. In my defense, I should mention that a boundary may mark the 'end' of a spatial domain just as the conclusion marks the 'end' of a linear or temporal sequence. Thus, I suspect the definition which you have provided would be compatible with the former analysis of "End of the World" as a boundary in both of these senses; as a temporal conclusion and a spatial domain-limit.

I wish to revise this essay again in the future. I hope it will be a welcome and fruitful exercise in clarifying and explaining concepts in an essay format. I am sure these criticisms will benefit my work.

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#21 | Back to Top07-11-2011 11:58:22 PM

Aelanie
Black Rosarian
Registered: 02-04-2009
Posts: 373

Re: An Idealist Interpretation of Revolutionary Girl Utena

Malacoda wrote:

Saito did create the Utena manga before she joined up with the Be-Papas, so characters that appeared in that first volume are technically her creations.

I'm afraid you're incorrect. Everything ever said or written on the subject makes clear that Ikuhara recruited her for the project he already had in motion, and that both the anime and the manga were developed from the same original concept the Be-Papas started with.

That, in fact, was the entire point of the Utena project. Ikuhara had been frustrated with his lack of control while working on Sailor Moon, and the Utena project was developed so that he could have the creative freedom he desired. This would not have been the case if Utena had been a manga adaptation as you claim.

In Ikuhara's own words (Animerica Magazine Interview, 2001):

I worked on Sailor Moon, so from my entry into the field through the Sailor Moon years, I had always worked on presenting other peoples' projects. Utena was the first time that I could present my own work.

This is also confirmed by Saito Chiho's own account of her recruitment into Be-Papas, which appears in the booklet of the American movie soundtrack release. As I don't think this material appears elsewhere, I will transcribe Saito's own description of the event:

"It was four years ago. They were already waiting for me in the middle of a room with a wonderful night view. A handsome looking leader in a red shirt suddenly offered me a temptation, "We want you to be our accomplice." A sturdy looking young man and another young man with intellectual eyes urged me to make a decision to follow the other young man's request by saying, "You need to do the world revolution." In spite of my lack of careful consideration, my response to their request was, "Please let me be in your group." The young man whom I thought to have intellectual eyes joyously started to jump around the room saying, "hop, hop!" The leader fell off from the chair, and the sturdy looking young man started to laugh loudly. That's the night in a French restaurant inside a skyscraper in Shinjuku when I became a member of Be-Papas and the starting point of a full-scaled UTENA. I long for that moment now."

Another source follows:

A biographical piece written by Claire Samuels for The Black Rose Blooms, one of the Central Park Media DVD releases, summarizes:

In 1982, Chiho Saito won a contest for new manga artists held by publishing giant Shogakukan. The company published her debut title Ken to Mademoiselle ("The Sword and the Mademoiselle"). Since then, more than 60 collected volumes of her work have been published and more than 10 million copies have been sold.

Famed anime director Kunikiko Ikuhara (Sailor Moon) was impressed by her work on the manga serial Kanon. He picked her up to help design the look and feel of his new Revolutionary Girl Utena project, and to write and draw the manga version.

Wikipedia:

The manga Revolutionary Girl Utena was written by Be-Papas and illustrated by Chiho Saito.

ANN Encyclopedia article on the manga version:

Story: Be-Papas
Art: Chiho Saito

I could go on. You are correct that there is sometimes too much emphasis on Ikuhara, but he is unarguably the architect of the entire project and had the final say - on the anime, at least.

Last edited by Aelanie (07-12-2011 03:46:25 AM)

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#22 | Back to Top07-12-2011 01:19:44 PM

Malacoda
Sunlit Gardener (Finale)
Registered: 07-26-2009
Posts: 180

Re: An Idealist Interpretation of Revolutionary Girl Utena

thepopeami, I look forward for your revisions then. emot-smile

Aelanie, a short "Mala, it seems like your sources are wrong. Here's some sources with correct information" would have sufficed. emot-tongue

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#23 | Back to Top07-12-2011 11:02:32 PM

Aelanie
Black Rosarian
Registered: 02-04-2009
Posts: 373

Re: An Idealist Interpretation of Revolutionary Girl Utena

Malacoda wrote:

Aelanie, a short "Mala, it seems like your sources are wrong. Here's some sources with correct information" would have sufficed. emot-tongue

Consulting the available resources before attempting to correct me with false information would also have sufficed. However, since it seems you couldn't be bothered to fact-check your assertions, I went to the effort of placing the facts here for the edification of all.

If I seem to display a lack of civility, please understand the position. The Utena fandom is rampant with people who hold forth confidently on what they think they know about the franchise yet have not actually done the research. This willful ignorance has generated a persistent and self-perpetuating flow of popular misinformation on the project, a flow that circulates endlessly and continuously throughout the internet.

"Continuing circulation, infinitely everlasting!
A single organic mechanism!
A single perpetual motion machine!
Ahh, it is empty movement!!"

- Virtual Star Hasseigaku

Don't allow yourselves to be a part of the mechanism that perpetuates this empty movement. If Utena is something you love, go the trouble of learning everything about it that can be learned.

"I want to keep on smashing lies apart."
- Truth

This is my ethos, and I won't apologize for my vigor in following it whenever and wherever I can.

Last edited by Aelanie (07-12-2011 11:12:49 PM)

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