Revolutionary Girl Utena

Alt title: Shoujo Kakumei Utena

Vol: 5; Ch: 28
1996 - 1998
3.617 out of 5 from 403 votes
Rank #23,467
Revolutionary Girl Utena

When Utena Tenjou was very little her parents died, and a prince comforted her in her time of loss, giving her a ring with a rose seal. He so impressed her that she decided to become a prince herself one day. Now, Utena is a teenager at Ohtori Academy who's athletic and notorious for dressing in a boy's uniform. When a member of the Student Council humiliates a friend of hers Utena challenges him to a duel, and he accepts only when he sees she possesses a rose seal ring. She soon discovers that this is no normal duel - it's a bizarre and ritualistic battle that the Student Council regularly conducts. In fact when she wins, Utena finds to her considerable chagrin that she gets to have Anthy Himemiya, a rather docile student, as her 'Rose Bride'. If she wants to keep Anthy she'll have to win more duels against members of the Student Council and others. What is the ultimate purpose of these duels and Anthy's role as the Rose Bride?

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Revolutionary Girl: Utena, the manga and the anime, were conceived by the same creative group Be-Papas, with clear direction from Ikuhara in the series's themes and Saito's art for the imagery. Unfortunately, the manga uses a much more direct form of storytelling, has a black and white narrative, frequently tells rather than shows, a far cry from the rich symbolism and surrealist storytelling in the anime. The themes of trauma, queer identity, entitlement, grooming, and cycles of abuse are mostly neutered or removed entirely. Some poor narrative choices are manga-specific as well, such as the introduction of Utena's aunt, make little sense and are disconnected from the central story. So how was the anime a masterpiece and possibly the best ever created while the manga is a hollow shell, barely a shadow of the themes and storytelling present in the adaptation? The manga, published in Ciao, was clearly was written for a young audience, blending poorly with the mature and dark themes of Utena, as well as its complex storytelling. Ciao, which is by far the most popular shoujo publication, skews for a  preteen audience, and unlike its competitor Ribon, rarely contains stories that appeal to an older audience. Although the reach of Ciao's audience may have contributed to Revolutionary Girl: Utena's longevity, it also lead to editorial censorship of LGBT themes and likely some of the darker themes. In many ways, it's the Kids Bop version of the same story. More adult and controversial themes are removed, and the story mostly tells, rather than shows. Also, the moral ambiguity of Utena herself feels like it's entirely ripped away. Utena's chat with Akio at the end of the series summarizes to Akio stating he's entirely evil and has snuffed out any light within him, which we all known is excellent villain writing. This leads Utena to promise to save Anthy from all the pain she's gone through, completing removing the moral ambiguity of Utena projecting her whims on Anthy. Akio also tells Utena that Anthy had no agency, she was entirely at the whim of Akio, which completely neuters Anthy's character arc. Central to her growth was how she's integral for most of the story to Akio's twisted games, removing the potential for her own growth and deciding to be free of his influence. The one redeeming quality is the beauty of Chiho Saito's art. Although Saito's stories may not be particularly good, her artwork is jawdroppingly beautiful and a stunning example the aesthetics in shoujo manga during the 90s. Revolutionary Girl: Utena may not be worth reading, but it is  gorgeous to look at.

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