The Adolescence of Utena is a very difficult movie to understand on first watch. Some people may be quite thrown by it; one image that comes to mind immediately is when Utena actually transforms her body into a car.
If that first statement's a bit awkward to swallow, then you may have to read further to see whether or not this movie's for you. Then again, I've heard people say that Utena turning into a car was pretty cool.
It may be worth saying that this is a more strongly toned interpretation of the television series, much more mature, dark, and heavily symbolic. When I make the statement of mature, it's obviously not for the same audience as the television series. The theme of this movie challenges gender stereotypical roles and turns the overall story of Utena in a one shot, coming of age story through symbolic means. I would say that it's beautifully told, but perhaps more for engaging the mind and the unique visual representation rather than basic entertainment purposes. Think of Kate Chopin's novella "The Awakening", about a woman challenging her stereotypical role in society and, in the end, taking hold of that identity in only the way that she can express it best, free of confines. The Adolescence of Utena pretty much asserts the exact same thing, through visual means. Utena challenges her social identity as a woman and seeks breaking the bonds pressed upon her, and, if you can think of it on a serious note, seeks to bring Anthy out of that frame as well. Many of the same characters that are in the frame of the TV series are here to challenge or aid Utena as she makes this journey into her coming of age in an abstract representation.
In short, there is a definite, and beautifully told story here. It just takes a bit to see it. I would also argue that this isn't for young audiences based on not only the mature thematic, but also some nudity and sexually strong scenes peppered throughout the movie. Yet if you consider it all on a symbolic level, the movie is really gorgeous. The problem is that this may only be for that audience who grabs that sense of symbolism and can take it into proper context. That limits entertainment value on those who would most likely casually watch this movie and not go into it with any prior expectations or knowledge of the series.
If you think of nudity as a vehicle for showing vulnerability or freedom, whichever context it's used within, then that would be more appropriate to place in the scenes that are portrayed, even where it's not inherently obvious. The progression of Utena's maturity and the emotions conveyed in the film are quite smooth on most parts, but probably won't hit the viewer until the very end of the movie where it all seems to come together.
I would emphasize that this movie is not for all audiences, but if you have viewed the TV series and are looking for an additional, brilliantly though abstractly told rendition of that, I would highly recommend this movie. I'd also recommend it for those who want to read between the lines and are interested in some of the themes that I mentioned above.
For the time it was animated, the Adolescence of Utena does an excellent job. The movie relies on its visual imagery to convey the story within, so it would make sense that this aspect has to be strong in order to communicate it's point effectively. I loved the background cels and fluidity of the animation here. I'm not sure if I felt any differently about the character designs, which were quite different in modes from the TV series, but I think they were well represented on most points.
One of my favorite scenes in the movie, and one I remember the animation the most for was the dance scene between Anthy and Utena, just a beautiful scene between the characters on an animation standpoint, and that was perhaps, further emphasized by the backdrop and sequencing with the music in the background.
I've always been fond of the soundtrack for Utena, and the movie proves as equally strong as its predescessor in that department, bringing Masami Okui back for a few performances in the movie, including a new remix of "Rinbu Revolution" (which doesn't sound too different from the TV series opening, save for the slightly different arrangement) and perhaps my favorite theme of the movie "Toki ni Ai wa", a smooth, beautiful ballad with great piano accompaniment.
Some might also recognize the famliar battle theme of "Zettai Unmei Mokushioku", an edgier battled ready tone that might not suit all preferences, but at least, unlike the TV series, it's not played to tears.
The BGM is quite gorgeous when it's featured, but overall, I felt in retrospect that it was mostly minimalistic on the overall spectrum. Voice acting for both the Japanese work and English dub are quite good on both points. My own personal nod would go to Utena's Japanese VA, who did a great job in some of the more challengng scenes the movie had to offer.
The Adolescence of Utena is a very difficult movie to analyze on a character standpoint, because aside from Utena and Anthy, none of the characters undergo much change, and some of them aren't even featured for very long to have much of an impact. That's perhaps the difficulty of creating a animated film told primarily through symbolism, but surprisingly, it works rather well. Again, this is provided that you're actually reading between the lines a bit as you watch it. And unlike most stories that are told with characters as the vehicle to drive it, this is actually more of the story driving the characters, if you think about it in a reversal role. I was left with mixed feelings as to how to interpret whether or not the characters left any lasting impression on me aside from the main two. They didn't, but the story did, and perhaps that's the point and what the director/animator really wanted to come across in the overall interpretation.
If you're looking for characters that charm you, this wouldn't be a movie to engage your senses, quite frankly. Yet, it does such a good job with the technicalities behind the characters that I'm giving it a higher ranking on that note.
Utena persues her goal to "become a prince herself" and seek the prince, long ago, who gave her the duelist ring: she's a tomboy in every sense of the word and finds herself in the heart of the duelist battles on the part of the ring. Anthy is the subservient Rose Bride, abused and mangled on the part of that role and often watching her does give a sense of frustration. Yet she also serves a greater purpose when the movie's themes come to fruition, and in the end, while you may not like her character any more than when the movie began, at least you could understand what role she plays and how it call comes to port by the film's end.
The secondary characters play their roles accordingly, but are more of an illustration for the conflict rather than three-dimensional beings in themselves.
To emphasize further, the Adolescence of Utena is a difficult movie to recommend, but it made for a beautiful watch for me. Recommended for more mature audiences who have seen the series and want a different interpretation of it. Also recommended for those who want a solid movie told through symbolic qualities and a coming of age story that challenges gender stereotypes.
This movie truly is a masterpiece. No matter how many ways I look at it there is always something new to see; which is exactly what a multi-faceted masterpiece should be like. I have seen this movie about 15 times and everytime there were things I was noticing that I didn't before.
The animation is simply gorgeous in this Utena outing. It is even better than the TV series, being a movie it should be no surprise, which in my opinion was pretty amazing. The colours are vibrant, the backgrounds are beautifully detailed, the artwork is gorgeous (I bought the artbook for this movie and the artwork is brought to life amazingly well).
The character design is very accomplished and gives it the "get go" it needs in establishing itself. There is melancholy in everyone's eyes that I have not seen anywhere else before. Just a close up of a character's face tells a story of a thousand words and that's exactly what the movie needs as it aims for implied/symbolic rather than descriptive in its execution.
The sound is equally well-executed in this movie and the imagery that goes with it is breathtaking. Toki Ni Ai Wa is just amazing with the motif of floating roses. The music is a bit more dramatic than that of the TV series but when you see what goes on in the movie it is just impeccable.
Zettai Umnei Mokushiroku goes so well in the sequence it is that the scene does not feel disjointed or out of context. Instead it helps the flow of the story.
The story, seemingly random, is the most complex one I have seen as it explores so much in a short timeframe. It is even more complex than the series when you take its length into consideration.
You will have to rely on the placement of objects and the more direct symbolism (transformations, wounds, pace) to fully appreciate the story. In my eyes, that just makes it all the more unique and enthralling.
The characters are probably the only aspect that is sub par in comparison other elements the Utena movie just excels in.
Not to say that they are not wonderfully portrayed but to fully appreciate what they are going through; one must see the TV series. Because it is there that they are explored to their full extent. Here they are used as tools to drive the story forward as opposed to them being pushed forward. Overall though, they are still a majestic and solid cast that many anime wish they had. In addition they serve in pushing the story forward splendidly.
All in all watching Adolescence of Utena is an incredibly rich experience as it opens so many doors of possibilities. It is one with the most value and enjoyment since you have to see it more than once to comprehend the full story. And this movie is quite a ride no matter how many times it is viewed. Plus the American release is filled with amazing extras such as a director's commentary, art galleries, scripts, behind the scene featurette and they can definitely help in answering some questions you might have about it. I highly recommend it.
What I Liked: The set designs were interesting. Akio's demoted to the level of a truly pathetic kid. Costume designs are visually appealing and suit the aesthetic of the series.
What I Didn't: Everything else. Skit-show-like approach to character development meant that all of the main characters are just plain unrelateable and unlikeable. Utena herself just seems like a jerk-ass with very little reason to be a prince. (No-glasses) Anthy's demoted to Tart With A Heart. Akio's demoted to the level of a truly pathetic kid. Shiori's promoted to...uh...primary antagonist...? Why does sexuality seem to be the focus of all the characters? The car symbolism in the series, which was dumb in the first place, was taken up to eleven in this. Nudes everywhere why? The haphazard pace of the movie makes it incoherent and confusing.
Final Verdict: This retelling of the famous series of the same name is less a satisfying reimagining and more a convoluted arty-farty mess from start to finish. The characters aren't fleshed out beyond who they're sexually or romantically linked to making them unlikeable or just plain forgettable, the plot bulks under the copious amounts of symbolism that's crammed into it and ultimately it just feels like an uninspired art-for-the-sake-of-art shock piece. At least it's pretty - if you like female nudity and Art Nouveau-cross-Constructivist architecture.
First thing I'd say is that there's little point in watching this movie if you haven't watched the series before. And even after having watched the series, I'm quite conflicted about it. In my opinion, it's a bit of a let down. But there are plenty of other reviews glorifying it, so I guess it's a matter of personal taste.
I'll get the easy stuff out of the way. The artwork is very similar to the series, so quite beautiful. The characters are drawn in a slightly different way: faces seem rounder, eyes are bigger, Utena has short hair and a different uniform, Anthy has no glasses, etc. Ohtori Academy is different too, as well as the castle and the dueling arena. But the style is the same. And same goes for the music, some tracks are the same as the ones used in the series others are different, but it's the same kind of sound and they are all well-arranged and executed.
Story and characters. The story strikes me as being more convoluted and symbolic than the series - with much weirder things happening - and at the same time more straightforward and simple. What I probably mean is that in the movie it's only about Anthy and Utena, there's only one story and one message they want to get across. The protagonist this time round is actually Anthy. She's less submissive and passive, more outspoken and unrestrained. Anthy liberates herself via Utena (literally using her as a vehicle to escape). And the take on their relationship is unabashedly romantic this time. The other characters, while they were also present in the series (Jury, Miki, Sayonji, Touga, Shiori, Akio, Wakaba) are essentially irrelevant in themselves, they're only there to help or hinder Utena and Anthy. Utena this time round is a more troubled character, less self-confident. While Anthy has visible reactions and is capable of taking action.
In conclusion, I think the series had a better story and narrated it in a much better way. The characters too had more depth. But obviously you can't really compare 39 episodes to 90 minutes in terms of character development and complexity of the storyline. What I can say is that this movie is heavily symbolic, there are several nudity scenes and the main focus of the story is the love - not merely platonic - between Himemiya and Utena.
Adolescence of Utena has an interesting history behind it. Based on the 1997 classic anime series Revolutionary Girl Utena, Adolescence of Utena was an attempt by series director Kunihiko Ikuhara to re-vise the original series with less of the narrative restraints that were placed on him during production of the original series, this time condensing the story into a one and a half hour long movie as opposed to a series work. Despite believing that Utena would be his final project after his previous work with the Sailor Moon franchise, Ikuhara set out to re-tell the story in a different narrative style with a higher animation budget and almost no narrative restraints and the result was this movie; Adolescence of Utena.
Adolescence of Utena follows the same basic outline of the beginning of the original series; Utena Tenjou is a young student at the bizarre magical school known as Ohtori Academy who finds herself accidently enlisted in a series of duels for the mysterious entity known as the rose bride. The rose bride in question is another student, Anthy Himemiya, whom every student wishes to possess in order to open the castle of eternity floating above the school and have all their desires fulfilled.
While the animation present in Adolescence of Utena is fluid and well-presented, the eye-catcher is the art and visual direction. The original animated series had a heavy leaning towards theatre techniques such as shadow puppetry and Greek chorus as well as an extremely shoujo presentation. The film only amplifies this. The settings are lavish and rich with roses and beautifully designed castles, as the fairy-tale setting is ingrained into the narrative. The characters are unrealistically proportioned to fit the style of the narrative; beautiful costumes and extreme detail in the hair and eyes help to show the fantasy setting is a metaphorical one and not something that should be looked to for realism.
Many of the settings give the feeling of a staged production and, while alienating to some, it’s a style I’m personally very fond of. The final fifteen minutes in particular are impeccably staged and executed, with the colours leaping off the screen against a largely black backdrop and the animation moving at breakneck speed. Some design changes from the show are questionable (I'm not quite sure why Anthy and Akio are both lighter skinned, for example) but the animation is nonetheless excellent. The style is not for everyone but it is a stunning visual experience for those who are accustomed to it.
Also originating from the original series is the film’s composer, Shinkichi Mitsumune. The themes for the duels are filled with rock choruses set in back to orchestral themes and soulful ballads, with an additional wonderful use of the original series opening theme during the film’s climax.
While not quite on par with the original Japanese voice work, it’s also evident that the English dub voice acting has improved tremendously since the original show. The original series sported an abysmal English dub spawning from lack of experience and generally not understanding the source material in the slightest. In this movie however, it’s obvious that they’ve improved and the English dub is perfectly listenable, though I personally still prefer the original Japanese language track.
Story- Characters 7/10
It’s clear from the first five minutes alone of the film that it is intent on taking a different approach to the original series while still attempting to stay faithful to the concept. Therefore the film can be seen in two ways; as a standalone feature or an extension of the original source material.
As a standalone feature, Adolescence of Utena is a bizarre hit to the senses. While the focus is mainly on the relationship with Utena and Anthy as it should be, random parts of the film are spent with characters whom the viewer would have no idea who they were unless they watched the original show and even then, they’re not there for any kind of huge purpose and only really serve to either be a callback to the original show or to move the plot forward. Not only that, the film is completely and unabashedly ludicrous. Setting aside the infamous car scene, it’s clear that the film operating on no real world logic and is almost completely symbolic.
The complexity of the original series came from the fact that it was roughly around twenty smaller stories under the guise of one big story. The film, on the other hand, seeks to take one of those stories (in this case, the love between Utena and Anthy) and make it the main focus of the film (it was strongly suggested in the series but the film more or less cements Utena and Anthy as a romantic couple. I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume this was at Ikuhara’s insistence). As a result, the call-backs to the original series and single scenes with characters whom aren’t important to the plot really don’t feel necessary. The biggest example of this would be Anthy's brother Akio, who was the main villain of the original series but his presence here is merely laughable and he only serves to be a plot device for Anthy's story arc.
Despite this, the focus of the film mainly stays with the relationship between Utena and Anthy as it should and this is the film's greatest strength. Not unlike the original series, the film seeks to show the importance of growing up through sexual identity and gender and that struggle is shown beautifully through Anthy in particular. If the original series can be seen as Utena's coming-of-age story, this film can be taken as Anthy's chance to break out of the patriarchal world of Ohotri academy, with Utena becoming the literal vehicle to help her do so. A particularly beautiful scene between the two occurs in the rose garden, in which Anthy breaks the water pipe and the couple dance, unbothered by the restraints the world places upon them as the roses fall over the edge.
The film's best point is its final twenty minutes, with a powerful conclusion accompanied with brilliant stylistic animation and an extremely satisfactory ending to both Utena and Anthy's story arcs.
Adolescence of Utena may lack the depth and characterization of the original work and I'm not quite sure if as a film it fully holds itself together through random disconnected scenes and symbolism that completely abandons any pretense of realism.
Despite this, it's a fascinating and powerful individual story about adolescence pushed forward by two very strong main characters. I can't recommend it for those who aren't fans of Ikuhara (save for the recently released Yuri Kuma Arashi, this is probably him at his most unrestrained) or the original show but, for those who are, it's an extremely fun and interesting work to analyse.