I wanted my first Series of the Month to be something special so I looked at loads of different series that I have. In the end though I always came back to Utena. It’s not really a favourite of mine, but it has a special feel to it that i’ve not found very often. Please leave comments on the manga itself as well, it is my hope to turn these posts into a discussion on the series, rather than just my take on it. Please do get involved and talk about why you love or hate the series 😀
Title: Revolutionary Girl Utena
By: Chiho Saito (Story & Art) Be-Papas (Original Creator)
Original Run: January 1997 – March 1998
To Rescue the Fair Prince-To-Be
One day, a little girl learns that her parents have died. The grade-school-age girl wanders the rain-soaked streets of her hometown with no distinct purpose. Drenched in rainwater and tears, she find herself by a river and throws herself in. Suddenly a man appears–her prince–and he rescues her, banishes her tears, and tells her to grow up strong and noble. From then on she strives to grow up to be a prince just like him!
Utena is one of the few series that has named volumes rather than simple volume numbers. The names are all gardening related, and are:
Volume 01 – To Till
Volume 02 – To Plant
Volume 03 – To Sprout
Volume 04 – To Bud
Volume 05 – To Blossom
There was an aditional volume called Revolutionary Girl Utena – The Adolesence of Utena, but I am not including it in this post as I feel it is a seperate one shot/re-telling.
Juri Arisugawa is the only girl among the student council, and, after Utena, my favourit character. She’s a good looking, strong willed and capable girl. Though, her personality means she’s feared by both students and teachers.
Her personality is pretty well defined, though sadly her motivations arent really explained an explored until the side stories in the extras of volume five. I think this could have made the character all the more interesting if it had been worked into the main story. This is especially true because of the love aspect, between Ruka (the previous fencing captain who only makes an appearance in the extra) and Kiryuu.
The anger she directs towards Utena before their duel is a little over the top, and while the reasons for it make sense. It’s not until the extra story is brought in that her real feelings and personality comes to light.
Sadly, she is one of the characters that changes the least over the course of the series. This is because despite being a member of the student council, and one of the duelists, she isn’t a lead character. In fact after her duel with utena she all but disappeares from the series, only making brief appearances, though important ones.
I loved her character design, traditional rich girl/spoiled brat, but without all the emo just that goes with it. Though, if they’d added more emo stuff to her she’d have been to much hehe.
Miki Kaoru is the character I hated the most. Nothing about this character was needed and it feels like he’s nothing but an extra used to build up Utena more. His personality is pretty well developed, though he has several flaws that I didn’t like. Firstly, his personality itself. I hate this type of character, the soft, weak but obsessive character really rubs me the wrong way. It’s almost like he’s a stalker with the way he is.
I was also disapointed with the way his love of Utena just sprang up. You literally turn the page and there it is. No hints or build up, and no explanation. However his saving grace was his twin sister, I loved how Saito introduces and uses her in the build up to Miki and Utena’s duel. Sadly like Juri he dosen’t grow all that much, and he dosent appeare much after the duel. When he returns in the final volume it’s like the whole situation with his sister didn’t happen. While this was probably due to space constraints, I did find it spoiled him a bit, since it pretty much reset the character.
His actual character design wasn’t to bad however. Like the rest of the characters in this series I liked the feel of the character designs. His was soft, yet refined and consistent. Though I have to admit it didn’t quite fit his personality, also like Juris he’s on the fencing team and is also one of the stars of the team. And this does fit his some what soft feel.
Touga Kiryuu, the council president and one of the main(ish) characters. From the start of the series right upto the end he’s one of the characters I had the hardest time judging. His personality was perfectly blended, a womaniser but almost chivalrous knight feel, matched with his samurai, cut everything down to get his goals feel. As I was reading through the series again I noticed that in a lot of ways he reminds me of James Bond, not the gizmos and stuff, but Bond’s personality.
He’s also one of the characters that appears most frequently, and changes the most. The changes he goes through aren’t anything really special at first, but they’re the pebble that starts the avalance. I liked how he changed because at first he wasn’t a ‘human’ character. However over the course of the volumes he became more human, and likeable. At the end of the series he was probably one of my most favourite characters.
Kyouichi Saionji is the only character I hated, but loved as well. His personality was pretty much apparent from start. He’s aggressive, possesive and initially a really bad guy. I liked his character design and even, if i’m honest, his bad boy boy attitude. The way he carries on in this series is pretty generic bad boy, but it’s done really well. He dosen’t change much over the course of the series, but we do get a lot of insights into how his personality came about and why he acts the way he does.
Utena Tenjou our lead character, and by far my favourit. From the outset Utena is a strong and capable character. Her personality is perfect, tom boy with a hint of femmininity. Her actual character design is perfect as well, though she is a bit skinny for my liking. Weirdly I also felt she was one of those that didn’t really change much, rather as the series progresses she becomes more firm in her personality, more resolved. While this is certainly a change, it’s not a huge personality change.
Anthy Himemiya is the character that changes the most over the series. The changes though aren’t obvious, rather they’re slow and subtle until the end, when the changes suddenly rise up. I like the way this is handled, and the way it mixes well with her personality.
She starts off as a robot, with no real personality, but over the course of the volumes it slowly changes. We see her becoming more and more human. At first this is because it’s what Utena tells her to do, but later it feels like it’s what she wants. The end personality we get is a total reverse of her initial character.
Design wise she is also the character I loved the most. Her princess styled atmospher and designs work really well with her personality. This is especially true since we don’t get to see her in anything but casual and muted clothing. Yet she still pulls off the vibe. And the times she is in full regalia it’s stunning.
Akio Ohtori is weird. After reading it through everal times I still can’t decide whether I like him or not. He makes Saionji look like a saint with his domineering personality. Character design wise I do like him though, he has the whole prince of darkness vibe to him, which is good considering the role he plays 😀
the basic story of Utena is a simple story of love and betrayal, with no real embelishments, yet that’s why it can be so good. Simple stories can be made into excellent stories if they’re worked right. Utena is simply about a young girl wanting to become like the man who saved her, and the journey she takes to get there.
During the journey she has to overcome both trials from outside, within, and betrayal by those she was closest to.
This series is generally considered to be either Yuri or Shojo-Ai, but to be honest I found it to be firmly in the Shojo genre, it’s a pure love story. Sure it has the elements of a yuri series, especially with Utena and Anthy’s relationship. However at the same time it dosen’t show itself to be yuri. In fact it shows itself to be a true love story between a man and a woman.
At the very end of volume five the truth is revealed when Utena says she’ll kill the man she loves so as Anthy can go free.
Reading the series through I also got the feeling that the story was about the bond of friendship between Utena and Anthy. How it starts from nothing and grows into a full blown very close friendship. Not the sort of relationship that croses into a sexual one, but rather a very strong friendship.
At the beginning of the post I said this is one of the few short series that actually worked for me. This is very true, while it’s a fast paced series everything was really well wrapped up in the end with no lingering questions.
Yet at the same time it’s also true that the series could easily have been spread over more volumes. So what would they have included? For the answer to that you just need to read the extras, especially the ones in volume five that include a new duelist in the form of Juri’s original love interest and former captain of the fencing club.
Then of course there’s the whole Black Rose side story, which was made into a whole arc in the anime. This could easily have gone for another three or four volumes. Yet as it stands it still works, and still feels great.
The first print run was abysmal, I have a set of the first run and it has some of the worst translations ive read in manga, and to make matters worse it was flipped!!
The second print run had a slightly modified translation but was pretty much the same as the first. Sadly this means all the ‘Lord’ and ‘Lady’ titles are in there. This really dosen’t fit the setting, school kids just don’t go around calling each other lord or lady.
The -sama sufix that gets translated as lord or lady, is just a formal mode of address, depending on how and and the context of it’s useage. In a series like Utena I doubt it means lord or lady.
There are also some inconsistencies with the names, especially Utena’s. Several times I came accros her being called Tenou rather than as Tenjou. Though considering this is one of Viz’s earlier releases it’s to be expected.
I’m hoping that it gets the Viz big treatment, and that they fix the translation and names.
Despite it’s age, this is a series that is well worth getting and enjoying.