Revolutionary Girl Utena abounds with many exemplary female characters. Utena is the first example, she is courageous willing to defend her friends. Yet at the same time she is naive, she embodies the innocence*** that must be lost when coming of age. She really is pure-hearted and does not even notice the most obvious things going on literally under her nose such as the incestuous relationship between Anthy and her brother, Akio Ohtori whose dual nature is the Prince/Devil. I hate Akio because he came between Utena and Anthy. He is a bastard.
Anthy is dynamic in her own right and her being the ‘witch’ also makes her character even more interesting and complex. Supporting female characters include Juri Arisugawa who is an excellent fencer and the only female member of the Student Council in the beginning. She also duels for the ‘Rose Bride’. There is Nanami Kiryuu (image of her and brother on the left) who is the comic relief of the series. Her character is really bull-headed and she has a serious brother complex. Her older brother Touga Kiryuu is the Student Council President and to say she is in love with him will be an understatement. Nanami is also a drama queen and a bully who punishes anyone who she views as lower than her or who her brother pays attention to. She is a really silly character but can get serious when its time to, I love the way she easily occupies the role of the Student Council president when her brother is wounded and in a foul mood after his duel with Utena. Nanami is not a bad dueller herself and fights with two blades. Almost all the female characters fight in duels excluding Anthy because she is the Rose Bride. Another interesting point is that the sword used by the dueller has to be called forth from Anthy’s body.
The Student Council president Touga Kiryuu deserves special mention. He is Nanami’s older brother and the object of all her affection. He is a playboy and an expert manipulator who is always cold, calculating and is willing to use his own sister who loves him so dearly to reach his ends. In the progress of the series, he develops ‘feelings’ for Utena however he never accepts her for who she is and insists on seeing her in a stereotypical feminine role; as the woman who can never be a prince and still needs to be saved. In other words, he believes and tries to convince Utena that she can never be a Prince as she is a girl and that it is not her job to go around saving other people. Touga is portrayed differently in the TV anime and the anime movie though, in the movie his character is more sympathetic.
For the most part of the TV anime, Touga wants Utena to be a ‘normal girl’ presumably so he can play the part of her prince. At a point Touga convinces Utena to be a ‘normal girl’. After duelling with Touga and losing, Utena gets confused when Touga wins Himemiya from her. During this troubled time, Utena starts doubting herself and lets Touga’s words get to her. In that period, she attempts to be ‘normal’ by wearing girl’s uniform, she becomes submissive and lets Touga flirt with her in that disturbing playboy I-have-several-women-under-my-thumb manner. It is only with help from Wakaba who reacted so strongly to Utena’s change telling Utena that what is ‘normal’ for others does not have to be ‘normal’ for her and vice versa. Utena realises that girls uniform is not ‘normal’ for her, indeed the uniform was only a representation of what the others expect from a ‘normal girl’. Basically, after this incident, I saw Utena gain acceptance of herself (which is I believe important for even real life girls) and she challenges Touga in order to get Anthy back surprising both Touga and Anthy. Before Utena challenges him, Touga thinks she is coming to submit to him while Anthy is supposed to have moved on happily with her new possessor (a.k.a fiance). While the duel is taking place, Anthy (who watches all the duels) is touched to see the way Utena is willing to fight and defend herself against Touga that she [Anthy] weeps.
I also find what this anime has to say about relationships very interesting. We have a lot of suggested incestuous relationships in Miki Kaoru another member of the student council who plays the piano. He originally wants to win Anthy because he wants to regain the ‘rhythm that he lost’ when he was younger. When he was younger he used to play the piano with his sister and that time may be what he wants to return to. Also we have Nanami who has a great brother complex. She continuously insists that Touga is the only man for her yet when she discovers the relationship between Anthy and Akio she is disgusted. She confronts Utena saying ‘can you not see what is going on here?’ referring to the fact that Anthy and Akio are in an incestuous relationship yet Utena cannot see because she is not only clueless but innocent. Let us not forget Anthy and Akio’s horrible relationship, I am not sure but I believe it is hinted that the reason Anthy sleeps with her brother is to gain absolution or something. I don’t know to be honest, maybe it is what she thinks she deserves because, you know, she is the ‘witch’.
Saionji Kyouichi is another interesting character who is basically an abuser. When we first meet him, he is slapping Anthy for no reason. Yet he claims he loves her. He does not seem to stop hitting her, sometimes he talks to her trying to get her to see his point of view and when she doesn’t he hits her. Saionji is confusing, I think he’s seriously obsessed with Anthy and he is an odd character that wants to force his ‘love’ for Anthy on her. He wants to own her. I believe that Saionji’s character is there to showcase the kind of ‘love’ that should be avoided.
I also cannot believe I wrote this much without mentioning that Anthy and Utena come to love each other! This manga is classified as yuri after all, their love is obviously subtle but I like that it is ‘pure’ compared to the other sorts of relationships going around. They are my favourite couple in anime and I must also say that after watching Revolutionary Girl Utena, I have become an avid reader of yuri manga, I will hopefully talk about that in another post.
Whoever made it this far, well done! I hope I was able to convey the complexity and specialness of the anime/manga Revolutionary Girl Utena. I believe this anime should be required watching for all teenage girls mostly because I love its themes but also because I believe watching this anime helped be grow up. I know it seems a bit much to place this much importance on a cartoon but Revolutionary Girl Utena means that much to me. And I am definitely not alone in my appreciation for these series. Though it is a bit old (to me because it was made in the 90s), there are tons of resources online dedicated to Revolutionary Girl Utena. My favourite has to be Ohtori.nu (that site also has beautiful images and every single image of Utena and the rest is from that website) and I completely adore this forum that addresses the symbolism behind the series and this forum from the same site that tried to interpret the series. I think only those who have watched the series can fully understand though which is why you should watch it!
***Ultimately Revolutionary Girl Utena seems to suggest that innocence has no place in the big bad grown up world. Utena is the one who dies in the end while Anthy is able to start her life over again, this time with more independence. Anthy made the choice to leave her brother and the members of the Student Council who were still searching for the power to bring revolution to the world.