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.
Utena Tenjou has just arrived at the prestigious Ohtori Academy, and not long after her arrival, she receives "the mark of the rose" and becomes a duelist. She is then thrust into a series of battles with other duelists to win her friend Anthy, who is known the Rose Bride. The winning duelist will not only receive Anthy, but also the revolutionary power that she holds! Utena must now do everything she can to protect Anthy while trying to figure out the secrets behind Ohtori Academy and the Rose Bride before it’s too late.
I tend to be a fan of slice of life, dramatic and romantic series, but my palette is open to different series of a plethora of genres. I love watching series that engage my senses and imagination, and as a writer, I always appreciate a good story with a great cast of characters. I love when people give feedback on my reviews, because it helps me see things in a different lens, so I encourage you to converse with me if you have any questions, commentary or just want to chat about a series. ^_^