A Revolution in Me: Discovering Revolutionary Girl Utena

utena shadow puppets WTF is going on here

[NO SPOILERS, BUT IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN AT LEAST A FEW EPISODES, YOU PROBABLY WON’T GET THIS POST ANYWAY SORRY]

I’ve looked for a bunch of angles to take this show on, and I’ve found something both authentic and powerful given how strongly I feel about this show even after watching only five episodes. What’s this revolution? A sexual one of course! Utena after all is a girl who met a dashing prince once upon a time, but instead of wanting to meet or marry that prince one day, she wanted to be one herself! Here is a post of dubious epiphanies. First, a dubious exchange from the comments section of a post on Tokyo Magnitude 8.0:

tj han

July 18, 2009 at 2:25 am […] girls suck indeed in real life. They all behave like little spoilt princesses, and the ones who are actually good basically think too much like guys and are more interested in being career women lol.

To which I replied,

ghostlightning

July 18, 2009 at 1:07 pm Yeah, I’m totally gay for my wife.

So I was totally kidding. Right? Right? But I already said that Mai Waifu is GAR. Also, I could draw a pattern from my own anime waifu list. Who do I find? Balsa, Kihel Heim and Diana Soriel, Kanna, Cornelia vi Britannia, etc etc. Not exactly the most moe of lists. Also my wife has more degrees than I do, is an attorney, a public servant, and a soldier to boot. Next to her I’m practically Arararararararagi stuttering my own name.

These women, are masculine. Not in looks, but in behavior. In before feminism and political correctness. These characters do look like women, but the way they wield power is not feminine. There is enough femininity in them to make them appeal to manly men, but they out-man many characters in their own shows/manga.

So what does that tell me about myself? I like the superficial veneer of womanly charms, feminine physical softness and appearance. But am thoroughly homodesirous about everything else. Now this is not an easy thing for me to deal with, obviously. It doesn’t feel true, despite the apparent overwhelming indicators. So am I just denying something here? This post isn’t about that discovery. It’s about this:

Tenjou Utena does very little for me.

I would think that she fits the profile to a T, making allowances for her age. Sure she dresses in a masculine way, but she’s got curves and pink hair. Her short skirt is very flattering as well. So what gives? I took note of my feelings as I watch the five episodes I got through. I wasn’t warming up to her even if I was totally blown away by her show. I mean, I really am digging this, and everything about it.

If I didn’t find myself rooting for her, who was I rooting for? I certainly did not form any strong attachments with her dueling counterparts. Saionji is scum, and Miki is weak. I think I did want Utena to win when she dueled with them.

But but but…

But but but…

A nagging feeling: I also want Utena to lose. Not to Saionji, not to Miki, not even to the fabulous Touga Kiryuu who is just the worst kind of guy. Who did I want Utena to lose to, and why?

I want to beat Utena myself.

What? I’m a viewer! I’m not a character in this show! How could this possibly work out?

utena shadow puppets ghostlightning wants the rose bride for himself

Huh? What Rose Bride?

The way the Student Council works is that there is The Rose Bride, Himemiya Anthy who is automatically engaged to whomever is the current duel winner. There’s a problem here somewhere…

utena shadow puppets ghostlightning shameful disgraceful old

Well, fine. But let’s put that aside for the moment. There’s something else that concerns me here. If I’m outwardly attracted to powerful women (but not Utena!), then what’s this business with Anthy? Is it possible that this politically correct, feminism-friendly mien is a closet desire for a yamato nadeshiko, Maria Clara woman (Maria Clara is the Madonna in the Madonna|Whore binary)?

Am I *gasp* inauthentic?

And if Revolutionary Girl Utena is showing me up, revealing this less than savory bit about myself, then what do I do about it? I certainly did not spend 9 units of gender studies (almost a minor degree LOL) just to remain chauvinist. But is it as simple as this however?

Can I frame it as since I take on Utena as a rival, an equal, in the pursuit of the Rose Bride, am I not acknowledging her power as a full person? Do I necessarily deny her femininity by my willingness to fight her? Or am I sub-categorizing females between those I fight, and those I (can not) fuck.

utena shadow puppets ghostlightning is gonna get homing lasered by sybilant

Heh. I’ve got the best and most understanding waifu evar, you gossipy shadow puppets can’t worry me. I’m not as updated in gender theory, and I admit I haven’t paid any attention to it at all for years. But I think I’m going to watch this show and learn lots along the way. Animekritik already gets the ball rolling.

Further Reading

Here’s an excellent post that puts mine into perspective: Revolutionizing a World (A Day Without Me 2009/08/25)

The first post that made me consider this show for real, a remembering love kind of thing (Lbrevis 2008/11/18)

If you don’t have enough reasons to start this show, the architecture is a revolutionary marvel in anime (coburn 2009/01/25) (gaguri 2009/02/02)

The Longcoat introduces us to the show with a lot of screencaps. Be whelmed! (The Longcoat 2009/09/16)

How I enjoyed starting this show best, via an Absolute Beginning Apocalypse (otou-san 2009/09/14)

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
This entry was posted in analysis, first impressions, Revolutionary Girl Utena and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

40 Responses to A Revolution in Me: Discovering Revolutionary Girl Utena

  1. I feel you on this strongly bro.

    I, too, noticed that the women I like are not the most feminine. I like androgynous girls, too, especially ones who smoke, ride motorbikes, and kick ass. I want to see girls who use guns and swords, and girls who take shit from no one. I like independent women with ambitions and dreams who want to take on the world. So much do I want the woman to be the man, that I like lesbian girls more than straight ones!!!

    And yet, the girls I like are still cute. They still have weaknesses. They still have a need for someone. Everyone has a need for someone, it’s in their nature, no matter how independent and badass they are, and I, too, have that need. Maybe I see myself as an independent badass in search of independent badasses? Tied together only by our need for another person? Never in each-other’s way, but always together?

    I also have this fascination with motherhood. I have this unblinking desire to be a parent and yet, truly, I do not want to be a father figure, but more of a motherly one. I want to raise a child, to be the one it comes to. I have…….. a HOUSEWIFE FANTASY.

    I, too, did not find Utena attractive, mentally, and I know why. It’s because Utena is just a kid. She only flounders through the larger beginning part of the series, and you gradually discover it’s because she honestly doesn’t know what she’s doing with her life. She, too, is weak, flawed, and hard to like.

    It’s only when she starts to develop that you will sart rooting for her.

    • Hehehe. I can’t get over your housewife fantasy oh LOL. Women have been kicking ass at work AND spanking ass at home for decades now. You needn’t be a stay-at-home dad, not that there’s anything essentially wrong with that.

  2. The Longcoat says:

    HUZZAH! A round of drinks on me, boys! I just got publicity from the frikin’ Ghostlightning!

    Thanks 😀

    I have to agree with you on this. I am a sucker for strong women; I think Spike Spiegel put it best, “I love a woman who can kick my ass!” If Nagato wasn’t secretly a badass alien who can hack the physics of the universe, I wouldn’t pay any attention to her for the moe. Gundam W’s Noin, Ergo Proxy’s Re-l, Sky Crawlers’ Kusanagi, and the more recent titular Canaan, are all prime examples of my preference for the opposite gender (Your wife sounds like she’d fit in the Badass category, good for you).

    However, similar to what you’re describing, I just cannot connect with Utena. I feel like it would be a rush to spend a day at the coffee shop with any of the aforementioned characters, but Utena just doesn’t have “it”. Maybe it’s the uncool character design (pink hair? Pink hair!? YOU GOTTA HAVE BLUE HAIR!!!), maybe it’s her lack of niceness to Anthy (so far I’m up to ep 3), or maybe it’s the fact that she’s got a pretentious attitude of, “I am superior, my views are most enlightened, fuck anyone who disagrees.” Really, I’m starting to feel Utena is the non-psychotic, friendlier version of Haruhi Suzumiya. She’s definitely unique, but she isn’t cool, and she distances the audience from connecting with her.

    The show is totally awesome though. New revelation today: Many of Utena’s characters are apparently written to fall into Jungian Archetypes of psychology. Carl Jung was a friend of Hermann Hesse’s (the Demian guy,)and similarly had an obsession with Gnostic mythos and ideas, having written letters about the subject with great enthusiasm. I’ll try to work it into one of my Utena posts when I have more information. I don’t really know a lot about Jungian psychology studies.

    • Pshaw. I link liberally. It was bound to happen.

      I would really like to see that Jungian archetype breakdown, but for starters – given her superior attitude (even if a non-invasive one), what’s Utena’s?

  3. Skribulous says:

    Well, at least your RL waifu is not into politics.

    I for one am looking forward to the inevitable trainwreck when she gets wind of this. Unless she’s an Utena fan. Or would the flames be even higher?…

  4. G says:

    Utena doesn’t wear a skirt. She wears a boys uniform shirt and bicycle shorts.

  5. Baka-Raptor says:

    I want to beat Utena myself.

    What? I’m a viewer! I’m not a character in this show! How could this possibly work out?

    It’s not that complicated. I beat up anime characters all the time. In fact, I find it hard to avoid. Sometimes I’ll be walking around town, minding my own business, when all of a sudden some character I hate gets all up in my face.

    I’d offer to beat up Utena for you, but that’d get me engaged to the Rose Bridge. No thanks. Furthermore, my beatings are so sparkly and graced with rose petals that women are irresistibly drawn to me afterward, and there aren’t any female characters at least 18 years old on Utena I’d want a piece of.

    Just finished watching the show a few days ago. I counted only two characters in the entire show I don’t actively dislike: Utena and Jury. And those two could definitely use a beating. The moral of the story is that you can like a story without liking the characters.

  6. LostMarbles says:

    These women, are masculine. Not in looks, but in behavior. In before feminism and political correctness.

    Did you really have to bait me with that one?

    These women aren’t masculine, they’re strong/powerful/confident/noble/etc. I guess in most cultures that’s the same as being masculine, but these qualities aren’t essentially masculine. And that, if my interpretation of Utena isn’t too coloured by my feminist agenda, is one of the points. Utena doesn’t want to become a man or act like a man; she wants to be a prince, which tshe doesn’t see as an essentially male role.

    I’ll leave it at that because any in depth discussion of gender roles in Utena have to involve spoilers for the last arc of the anime.

    With regards to Anthy, I highly suggest that you rewatch the first couple of episodes after you finish the show. It definitely adds a lot of depth to her actions and demeanor.

    • Not that my chauvinism is inexcusable, pardon me. Masculine is still a useful tag for such adjectives for the reasons you mention. The real problem I see is when opinions like tj han’s if taken seriously, prevail: that to consider it wrong for females to act masculine and males to act feminine (and I don’t mean the antonyms of the adjectives you enumerated).

      Utena wanting to be a prince, and not a strong, courageous, confident, noble, princess in a dress (i.e. Diana Soriel) doesn’t upset/revolutionize the mascline/feminine dichotomy but does speak to how a woman can beat men at ‘their own games’.

      P.S. I’m no essentialist, just lazy sometimes.

    • Etrangere says:

      Utena is a feminist text, you can’t have an opinion too coloured by feminism when interpreting it!!

      However this
      Utena doesn’t want to become a man or act like a man; she wants to be a prince, which tshe doesn’t see as an essentially male role.
      Is the main problematic of the series. Utena wants to be a Prince, a rescuer of damsels in distress. However everyone in Utena’s world is just like ghostlightning, they understand qualities like courage, badassery, determination and will to play the rescuer role as manly qualities. And they keep telling Utena so. And Utena, despite their intention of being a Prince, isn’t always able to see it as not an essentially male role.

  7. OGT says:

    I’m busting out my popcorn for what happens when you get about halfway through the Black Rose arc and into the Apocalypse arc. That’s gonna be AWESOME.

    • animekritik says:

      without spoiling anything, could you tell us which episodes form which arc? i’m up to ep 10 now.

      • OGT says:

        Basically, from episode 20 on, you’re going to get progressively more and more confused. This is normal. (also episode 20 is my favorite episode, and duel, and duel song, ever)

        In fact if you’re not just kind of sitting and staring at the screen with a glazed-over and confused expression on your face for the entire third Apocalypse arc, I am going to have to seriously question your sanity.

        Not to scare you or anything. Utena is one of my all-time favorite series and I love it to death and I’ve seen it three times and I more or less understand it now and I still do that for the last few episodes.

      • kadian1364 says:

        It’ll be really obvious. Like, the Black Rose arc has black roses, LOL. And then the Apcalypse arc is when your head explodes.

      • kadian1364 says:

        Or you could think of the 39 episodes split up into roughly 3 even Sagas, as my DVD sets do. I mean, if you’ve ever seen Sailor Moon, she gets a new transformation and special attack each new season; Utena’s superficially the same. The structure of the duels and episodes can be neatly categorized into which arcs they appear in.

        And are you guys really going 1 episode per week? Going that slow for something as immensely thought provoking as Utena would drive me crazy.

        • Arana says:

          Actually, there are four uneven storyarcs.
          The Student Council Arc (Seitokai hen) – ep 1-13
          The Black Rose Saga (Kurobara hen) – ep 14-24
          The Akio Arc (Akio hen) – ep 25-33
          The Apocalypse Arc (Mokushiroku hen) – ep 34-39

          But yeah, it’s really easy to tell them apart as you watch, at least the first three.

          Also, I need to mention that episode 20 is one of my favorites as well.

  8. animekritik says:

    maybe this is a case of the ol’ “grass is greener on the other side”. As in, I have GAR wife but it’d be so nice to have a moe wife…If you had a moe wife, then you’d be: ah, GAR is so awesome….

  9. animewriter says:

    Wow, you finally got around to Utena, when you finish the series I would like to read your opinion of how you thought Utena’s battle against gender expectations turned out.

    As, for real life women who act manly, you can have them to yourself. A couple of years ago I dated a woman who was really into being competitive in guy things, and while I found it attractive for the first couple of weeks, I soon grew tired of having to compete with my GF all the time. I found out that I wanted a woman who acted like a traditional woman and not a woman who wanted to be one of the boys.

  10. gaguri says:

    Oh wait til you watch the movie…in the movie, Anthy is just sooooo sassy and delicious, more fitting of the title ‘rose bride’. Longer hair, more assertive, plenty of sexual innuendos…

  11. 2DT says:

    I agree (partially– I really don’t want to raise children) with Digitalboy. Rather than invoking thorny subjects like the Virgin/Whore binary, I think you simply recognize that Utena has a bit of growing up to do. At this point, after all, she’s still just looking for some charming prince figure who waltzed in and then out of her life as a kid.

    I appreciated the humor value of those screencaps, but they must have taken you forever and a half. I feel for you.

    • Aha! You can actually extend that as a metaphor for any -ist movements against the ‘center.’

      In this case, feminists – who, may need a bit more growing up. The center didn’t become the center overnight.

      They were indeed a bitch to do for someone like me (low craft skill, inability to use programs and tools, etc.), so thanks!

  12. DonKangolJones says:

    You have NO idea how happy I am to see you write about this show. I’ll try not to be too much of a fanboy responding these posts.

    I can kind of understand you feeling a little ashamed for not rooting for Utena. I had my moments where I seriously wanted her to lose myself. But it wasn’t for Anthy. No! No! Not her, there was always something creepy about her to me. Seeing the punishment she took, I knew that no woman would stand for that unless there was something deeply disturbed in her psyche (or it was part of some sexual fetish, I doubt that point though).

    I think the reason I didn’t want her to win was because the mostly manly fibers of my being couldn’t stand to see men over powered by her so completely. It was this righteous attitude I perceived her to have that made me want to see her lose. I guess that helped me to understand the Council members. Not completely though, because they’re all kind of f*cked up.

    • I think the reason I didn’t want her to win was because the mostly manly fibers of my being couldn’t stand to see men over powered by her so completely. It was this righteous attitude I perceived her to have that made me want to see her lose.

      Man that’s raw and true feeling. If there’s one thing I’m kind of proud of in making this blog is how people can be raw here, fearless like.

      I’m not saying that your reasons are righteous, as much as I’m not saying mine are. I do think that we are not wrong to have these feelings, being men. I for one certainly do not think that my wife is an inferior human being to me just because she is a woman. Her need for love, or for me is not from a position of weakness or privation. She gets this, and gets this about me… which is why I feel free to write posts like this one.

  13. Caddy C says:

    Hello! Thanks for linking me to your post! Utena is really high on my list to watch, but I haven’t seen it yet so I’ve sortof skimmed the comments to avoid spoilers.

    I think the main issue I would take with your approach to Utena’s characteristics has already been stated – that being strong/competitive/athletic is necessarily male, not female. I think that starting off with this premise is problematic, but not unusual. Our culture (actually, I don’t know where you’re from, but I’m guessing it’s a Western country?) preaches that exact dichotomy: male = strong, female = emotional/weak. It’s so ingrained in us that to break out of it is really difficult, but there is no earthly reason why women being strong can’t also be women.

    Also, I don’t think the fact that you want to fight Utena is all that weird, necessarily … ? Would you feel weird about wanting to beat a male character instead of rooting for him? Then again, since I haven’t seen the show, this could be totally off base. So I wouldn’t go around beating yourself up for not desiring Utena, who is a strong woman!

    Anyways, I’m sorry for the meandering comment! I will hopefully watch Utena soon and have more of an informed opinion on the matter! But, I think just the fact that you are willing to watch Utena and think critically about your reactions to it speaks volumes about your level of maturity and self-awareness.

    • Thanks for dropping by ^_^

      I’m from the Philippines, a predominantly Christian (mostly Catholic) country by way of Spain, so the predominant culture is very macho.

      I don’t ascribe such traits as essential qualities. Rather, I merely find them useful by way of correlation and frequency. Now we can argue that this leads to some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy that ends up marginalizing women, but I don’t think that it’s a big deal.

      I don’t want to act with such obsessive care (as if to walk on eggshells) because it only makes women seem fragile; or worse, handicapped.

      Here’s what I think:

      Anyone can say untruths, but it is up to the individual to act insulted. And to me, being insulted is the pastime of the weak. The strong|weak social construct for the male|female one is easily deconstructed enough. It isn’t a necessary truth, only useful as a contingent one.

      Thanks again for dropping by and for your patience and understanding.

  14. Ilaria says:

    Seriously, when I read the word “waifu” I laughed like a loon. It’s just a funny word. 😄

    It’s awesome to see such a discussion about Utena, and it’s so interesting to hear masculine takes on her epic girl-boy power. All I can say is that at the beginning I found her to be a personification of the girl I wanted to be in high school. Physical prowess doesn’t compromise her femininity, she makes her eccentricities into originalities, and she attracts considering attention from males and females alike without losing her individuality or her focus. Things get much more complicated later on in the series (and maybe you’ve seen the whole thing now), but I actually liked her (and Juri, particularly) so it’s fascinating to hear that she inspires simultaneous fandom and manly self-preservation responses for some of you!

    Anyway, thanks for the insight (and the new vocab: waifu!!! LOL!)

    • Oh goodness I apologize for the late response. I was writing my next Utena post only now and I saw your comment.

      I think some of your points will be discussed on the next post, which concerns authenticity — particularly of Utena’s character. I’ve been taking my time and have only completed the student council arc.

      I hope you look out for it in the next few weeks ^_^

  15. Pingback: Victory and Authenticity in the Student Council Saga of Revolutionary Girl Utena « We Remember Love

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