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HOLY SHIT PEOPLE, IT'S NOT BAD ENOUGH WE'RE GETTING AN UTENA EXHIBITION RIGHT NOW

THEY. ARE. MAKING. A. NEW. MUSICAL. NEXT. YEAR. START LOSING YOUR SHIT RIGHT NOW

#1 | Back to Top08-19-2016 09:37:24 PM

sharnii
Pharaoh of Phanstuff
From: Melbourne Australia
Registered: 08-10-2008
Posts: 2416
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SKU as a 'true story' or 'archetypal myth' of Transformation

I was sharing the main thematic story of SKU to a dear friend who's never watched it.

She was moved and inspired ... and pointed out to me that SKU ends with Transformation. She shared how she dislikes and doesn't gel with stories that end with simplistic Violence (aka good guy kills bad guy, and now everything will be better).

That theme of violence doesn't feel true to her. When the good guy kills the bad guy things are not magically better, and deeper problems are often revealed. Also the good guy and the bad guy are never so simple as that: if we look deep enough and accept ourselves entirely, there is a hero and a villain inside every one of us.

Whereas the theme of transformation has a deep truth to it. Stories of myths or transformation perpetuate themself with a staying-power, and inspire us beyond words.

Your whole world can be changed. Break apart, and crumble into nothingness. Through dying you can be reborn. And step through the prison gates into the unknown freedom of a whole new world and way of being!

This has repeatedly been my life experience.

And as I shared SKU with my friend and took in her reaction, I realised that this is why SKU has so much power as a story for me (and perhaps for other people such as yourselves). It captures the 'hero's journey' into complete and utter transformation. Including compassion for the supposed enemy/betrayer (Anthy) who turns out to need compassion the most. Through forgiveness that she doesn't deserve. Because the hero turns out in some ways be a villain and betrayer herself. And when Utena revolutionises the world by prying open Anthy's coffin and deadness into actually 'meeting each other for the first time' as real people and not just projected illusions ...

... everything changes. The world blows up, falls apart, spins out of control. The castle of eternity (and illusions) - our deepest desires and expectations which can perhaps never be met in the form we expected but can be met in new bold ways through utter transformation - is gone ...

... and the story of the world as we knew it, and the person that we were, ends. Forever. We are not the only one to change. As our inner world changes (the way we see everything including ourselves) our outer world begins to match up. Just as when Anthy walks through the school the day after the final battle we see that every character has experienced transformation in the relationships that were around their deepest desires. These characters didn't even have to change consciously. The chosen change of the ones who woke up and opened their eyes (Utena seeing the true situation finally; Anthy waking up in her coffin) has a flow on affect in the outside world, and in other people.

This is true when we undergo massive transformation in our personal lives, and waking up into greater self-awareness and consciousness.

... and we step through Ohtori's gates into a whole new world, the 'real' world, not knowing at all what it will bring, but having a new deepest desire that it will bring reuniting of that one moment when two people touched at their core, without illusions, without projections, without pride ... true connection that we all crave ...

... and a new story begins. It could be anything!

Transformation. Hard-won. Unsought. Everything was sacrficed to achieve this becoming. Worth it. etc-love

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#2 | Back to Top08-21-2016 03:19:00 PM

airetam
Wakaba Wrangler
Registered: 07-02-2016
Posts: 13

Re: SKU as a 'true story' or 'archetypal myth' of Transformation

You bring up a lot of terrific points about how different approaches towards storytelling can impact the audience in certain ways.  I don't know if this is a coincidence or a pattern that alludes to a cultural perspective, but I have found that Japanese works or works inspired by Eastern philosophies tend to use themes of transformation more often than Western works.  The whole concept of good and evil as binary, as well as the idea that a villain must be killed if the hero is to be victorious, seems very ingrained in storytelling from Western sources.  This is a very generalized and simplistic view, but there's some truth to it IMO.  My educated guess on why the emphasis is placed on themes of violence is because of how storytelling in the West evolved alongside religion's rise to power in medieval Europe and beforehand.   

I was one of those people who actually liked LOST's ending because of its use of transformation.  I guess an example of both transformation and violence might be Star Wars' Return of the Jedi or Gladiator.  Yeah, I think Gladiator pulls it off better.  I think this whole violence theme has a ton to do with the comic book movie phase of Hollywood.  It's black and white morality, the good guy triumphs over evil and all is well and good.  It's simple, predicable, escapist, "feel good" Kool-Aide that offers assurance and comfort in the face of the increasingly complex and morally grey reality of the world.  At least that's how I look at it sometimes. 

Back to RGU, I have no idea how you managed to break down the main thematic story of the show.  What did you tell your friend about it?  How did you explain it?  And has she watched it yet?  I need tips because I would like to introduce RGU to a friend who's not big fan of fantasy though she loves Twin Peaks.   

sharnii wrote:

That theme of violence doesn't feel true to her. When the good guy kills the bad guy things are not magically better, and deeper problems are often revealed. Also the good guy and the bad guy are never so simple as that: if we look deep enough and accept ourselves entirely, there is a hero and a villain inside every one of us.  Whereas the theme of transformation has a deep truth to it.

You just told the story of The Legend of Korra with these few lines. But no really, general YA fiction in particular deals so much with themes of transformation which is one of the main reasons why it probably even appeals outside of its intended demographic.  What are some other strong examples of fiction that uses themes of transformation over violence?  All that's coming to mind right now are Miyazaki's films.

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#3 | Back to Top08-22-2016 01:50:26 AM

barafubuki
Touga Topper
Registered: 05-13-2016
Posts: 56

Re: SKU as a 'true story' or 'archetypal myth' of Transformation

Loving this thread.

What are some other strong examples of fiction that uses themes of transformation over violence?  All that's coming to mind right now are Miyazaki's films.

The Little Prince Opera? I just adore the relationship with the pilot and his internal dialogue with his younger self. But it is a Man vs. Nature kind of story (conquering the desert), but at the same time, it parallels his struggles navigating a world of adults he grew up into. He has to relearn lessons from his childhood self before he can leave the desert.

Also, Casshern, though often quite violent, has a resolution which speaks to what I believe you are referring to. I'm sure there are many more examples. I also enjoy these kinds of shows, and I do think you see these kinds of themes more often in foreign media and art house films than in Hollywood.

Last edited by barafubuki (08-22-2016 01:58:05 AM)

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#4 | Back to Top09-11-2016 04:14:34 PM

airetam
Wakaba Wrangler
Registered: 07-02-2016
Posts: 13

Re: SKU as a 'true story' or 'archetypal myth' of Transformation

The Little Prince Opera sounds like a great story!  Thanks for the suggestion.  Just this year Netflix released an animated film version fyi.

Thinking on it some more, I guess transformation is such an internal process that it lends itself far more better to a written medium than a visual one.  Visual storytelling is mostly about external processes, so something like transformation requires more effort and innovation to portray.  Also, perhaps it requires more from its audience... so I guess it could be considered niche?  I just don't know enough about this to really make a solid guess on anything.  But is does interest me a lot.  Would you count 127 Hours as a transformation themed story?  I'm brainstorming for more examples. 

Could RGU be considered transcendentalist in some of its themes?  Google took me on a trip and I wound up researching transcendentalism in literature and made some parallels with RGU.  From my understanding, transcendental themes are closely related to romanticism but center more on nature, civil disobedience, self-reliance, the conflict between individuality and conformity, and the ideal of spirituality and awakening.  Again this is what I could make sense of; transcendentalism is really confusing. 

The nature theme is a bit harder to come by in RGU but I can see it as more the isolation of nature almost.  Like Utena and Anthy's dorm in arcs 1 & 2 being so far away from the rest of the campus, or how the ending could be interpreted as Utena returning to nature (aka outside of Ohtori and back to her homeland).  Even the dueling arena begins in a forest but then extends away from it - could signify how the duels and everything attached to it are negative and an anathema or at the very least, something unnatural that grew out of something natural.  Yeah...um, well, civil disobedience, self-reliance, and the conflict between individuality and conformity are all self-explanatory, and spiritual awakening could be the whole idea behind all the different levels and instances of transformation throughout the series and the ending.  It's interesting and if anyone knows some stuff about this (aka all you brilliant English majors out there) help me out please!

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#5 | Back to Top09-12-2016 12:05:54 AM

Decrescent Daytripper
Best Disney Princess
Registered: 04-09-2007
Posts: 2788

Re: SKU as a 'true story' or 'archetypal myth' of Transformation

I think SKU, like it's general contemporaries (Eva being one) owes a lot to the late 70s/early 80s influx of German and French self-exploratory fictions and philosophies that made up a big chunk of the staff's youth and formative experiences with entertainment. Simultaneously, it's a throwback to anime of that era, which was infused with the ideas and tropes of those French and German works. Therese and Isabelle. Demian. Journey to the East. Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. All that stuff about piercing veils and personal responsibility. Cycles and spirals. The necessity of impossible things and the easy pleasures of self-deception. Rose of Versailles, Ideon, Captain Harlock, Urusei Yatsura and so much of the 49ers/Year 24' seminal works were drenched in the stuff. Late 19th Century European mysticism revived by mid-Century antagonism to ennui and filtered, years later, through Japan's "children who don't know war" feeling out a fugue of internationalism getting its own revivalist period in the mid to late 90s.

I do think it's the big blank spaces in Utena, the unexplained or inexplicable, that gives it both its staying power and its grand resonance on so many levels. I think, if it was a "tighter" or more controlled work, we'd run out of things or its ability to comment or illuminate would be so great reduced we'd all get bored of it by now. It's staying power and its charge, going back to "archetypes" and myths, and mono-myths, is in how much we can, individually and culturally, bring into it with us and plug into the gaps.


My Brain is the Wakaba and Shiori Funtime Hour. With limited commercial interruption.

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#6 | Back to Top09-12-2016 04:47:44 AM

barafubuki
Touga Topper
Registered: 05-13-2016
Posts: 56

Re: SKU as a 'true story' or 'archetypal myth' of Transformation

I saw the French animated Little Prince. Wasn't a fan of that adaptation. It wasn't bad, but I think the opera captured the original story so much better. It pretty much told a brand new story using metaphors that were similar to the book. Jamie Caliri's segments were, in my opinion, the best part of that film. (But I've always been a Caliri fan...)

As I recall, the transcendentalist movement was heavily influenced by both Hinduism and Unitarian [Universalism?]. So I can see how Utena might resonate a little with that.

Last edited by barafubuki (09-12-2016 05:33:16 AM)

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