The bird is fighting its way out of the egg. The egg is the world. Whoever wishes to be born must destroy a world. The bird is flying to God. The god is named Abraxas.
—Herman Hesse, Demian
Revolutionary Girl Utena, episode 9: “The Castle Said to Hold Eternity.” Directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara. Character designs by Chiho Saito. Be-Papas, 1997 (Nozomi Entertainment, 2011). Approx. 24 minutes. Rated “16+.”
In this episode, after two weeks of filler, we return to the main plot. The first story arc, known as the “Student Council Saga,” is drawing rapidly to its conclusion. In this episode, the basics of the show’s underlying mystery are laid before us, though that might not be obvious to someone who hasn’t already watched the whole show through.
Saionji returns. He’s still something of a joke character, but he plays an important role in this episode. We now learn that there’s more to Saionji’s obsession with Anthy than had at first been apparent.
Les filles magiques de la France sont les meilleures filles magiques, non?
Miraculous Ladybug (a.k.a. Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir). Directed by Thomas Astruc. Written by Fred Lenoir, Matthieu Choquet, et al. Zagtoon, Method Animation, and Toei Animation, 2015-2016. 26 episodes of 22 minutes (approx. 9.5 hours). Rated TV-Y7.
For over a decade, probably the most successful magical girl title from outside Japan has been the Italian cartoon Winx Club, a dungeon-punkish hot mess that’s like a cross between Harry Potter, Tinkerbell, and Sailor Moon. But within the last few years, France has gotten into the act with at least two strong contenders, LoliRock and Miraculous Ladybug. We’ll discuss the former some other time, but we’ll discuss the latter right now. A French magical girl cartoon rendered in CGI, Miraculous Ladybug is known in some countries (including the U.S.) under the more cumbersome title of Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir.
Seriously, anime? We just had one of the best episodes in the series, but with episode 8, “Curried High Trip,” we’re right back to … that’s right, another filler episode starring Nanami. That means two out of the last three episodes have been Nanami-focused filler.
Even worse, “Curried High Trip” is based on the Freaky Friday premise, which was already more than played out by the time this episode aired. Fortunately, the next episode will be a major plot-mover.
Revolutionary Girl Utena is famous for being dense, convoluted, and kinky. I knew all that before going in, but I was unaware before I sat down to watch it that it is also extremely goofy. This is one of the goofy episodes. The story of “Curried High Trip” appears entirely gratuitous, though it does at least highlight one possible angle of interpretation, and it also emphasizes an important plot detail.
Actually, I’m kidding. I don’t think this show ever managed to do anything I didn’t see coming, but that’s mostly because I’d already watched a number of its successors by the time I saw it.
By the way, the image at the top of this post is official artwork. While I was searching for an eyecatch for this post, I happened to run into the blog Fairy Princess Witch, which features a group of girls who try to replicate the image. They don’t have the poses quite right, but it’s some dang fine cosplaying:
Episode 7 is, hands down, one of the best episodes in Revolutionary Girl Utena. The first two episodes were very tight, but episode 3 was blah, and after that the show dinked around for a while. With episode 7, “Unfulfilled Jury,” it gets its game face back on. In addition to being one of the best paced and plotted episodes, it has one of the best sword duels. It also begins in earnest the use of bizarre and symbolic imagery that will become the show’s hallmark. Continue reading “Did Not See That Coming: The ‘Revolutionary Girl Utena’ Rewatch, Part 7”
A reader helpfully points out that Nozomi Entertainment has uploaded Revolutionary Girl Utena to YouTube. When I first started this series of essays, I named some places you can acquire the show, but I didn’t think to check YouTube. I tend to forget that not all videos there are pirated.
Anyway, I am continuing to watch the series from my enormously expensive collector’s edition DVD set, which is as luxurious and decadent as the anime it contains. But if you’d like to watch along with me without investing so much cash, you can now see the dub, free and legal, online. I’ll be posting the link to the YouTube video under the episode credits from now on.
This same reader makes an interesting comment:
On principle I object to stories that use symbolism as an excuse for ridiculous, poor, or perverse writing. If a story cannot stand up as an independent narrative it has no business obfuscating its shortcomings with allegories and parables. Art naturally embodies some aspect of reality. Every piece symbolizes something. Better that your symbols should be simple rather than convoluted.
Intricate meta-narratives can become great rewards for those who are apt to analyzing them, but the primary plot ought not to suffer for their sake. I shouldn’t need an essay to understand your unpainted canvas, and I should not need a documentary-length series of videos to understand what happened during End of Evangelion.
I’ve only seen up to episode eleven of Revolutionary Girl Utena, but those episodes do hold up as a narrative, despite some remarkable plot contrivances. I’m afraid to finish the series, unfortunately, since I suspect the train will drift off the rails as the series nears its end.
His opinion is similar to mine. I’m typically unimpressed with stories that use opacity to create the illusion of depth.
Some years ago, I loaned my set of Neon Genesis Evangelion to a friend who happened to be studying feng shui. She later contacted me excitedly to tell me that one of the characters in the show had objects on her desk arranged in such a way as to represent, symbolically, the characters’ interpersonal relationships. This is something I, and probably a lot of viewers, never would have picked up on, and that’s fine. I certainly don’t mind storytellers throwing in some esoterica like that. It can lend a story a certain richness even if it goes over most people’s heads.
But that is no excuse for failing to present a coherent narrative. Evangelion is rich with imaginative imagery, but it never gets down to the business of explaining basic elements of its plot, such as what Lilith is, or what the Lance of Longinus is, or what the hell is going on. Partly, it suffered because the creators didn’t husband their meager resources, choosing to blow their wad on boob jiggle in the early episodes so they had to subject us to torturous still frames in the later ones, like that infamous minutes-long elevator ride, or that nightstand. (Sweet Madoka, the nightstand! If I never again hear a dialogue about creative places to insert pills, I can die a happy man.) But even more than that, Evangelion suffered because director Hideaki Anno gave up on storytelling and turned the show into his personal psychotherapy session.
I stated in the beginning that Revolutionary Girl Utena out-Evangelions Evangelion, partly because it handles Evangelion‘s themes and postmodern techniques much more competently, but also because it accomplishes something Evangelion flubbed: It has a coherent plot with a beginning, middle, and end. That’s not to say that some parts aren’t opaque or that there aren’t unresolved plot threads, or that the show isn’t decidedly undisciplined. It’s definitely not perfect. But it has an intelligible storyline, and it manages to conserve its puny budget enough that it resorts to relatively few painful animation shortcuts.
Evangelion attempted something it couldn’t quite pull off. Building on that, Utena successfully pulls it off, albeit in haphazard fashion. I might also add that Princess Tutu, usually considered Utena’s spiritual successor, uses the same techniques, but employs them in a much more disciplined manner and entirely avoids the pitfalls of its predecessors. Continue reading “Nanami Takes Over: The ‘Revolutionary Girl Utena’ Rewatch, Part 6”
Although the main plot of this show still eludes us (and will continue to do so until the third and final arc), this fifth episode represents a sea change in Revolutionary Girl Utena because it is the first episode to reveal what we’re really in for.
In the episode previous, we met Miki, another member of the student council. A mere middle school freshman, Miki is a child prodigy, a highly skilled fencer, pianist, and math student. He also has the hots for Anthy, whom he calls his “shining thing.”
Yeesh, haven’t done one of these in a while. My schedule these days is packed, but it occurs to me that I might be able to do so much as watch a single episode of a beloved anime on a semi-daily basis and discuss the same, so I’ve decided to continue our series on Revolutionary Girl Utena, the ultimate in LSD-fueled self-important mahou shoujo anime. Once again, I find myself sitting up late at night with one hand around a Captain Morgan Cannonblast and another hand hovering over the Print Screen button.
I have got to change my life.
Anyway, yes, it is indeed time once again to explore Revolutionary Girl Utena.
In the midst of Revolutionary Girl Utena, Kunihiko Ikuhara’s magnum opus, there are a number of screwball gag episodes dedicated to the side character Nanami, a spoiled rich girl who laughs inappropriately, a requisite character in shoujo anime. In one of the most fascinating of these gag episodes, Nanami awakens one morning to find an Easter egg in her bed. Convinced that she must have laid it, she first tries, from embarrassment, to hide its existence, but on account of some misunderstood conversations, she eventually comes to the conclusion that egg-laying is normal for girls. In keeping with the coming-of-age theme of magical girl shows in general and Utena in particular, the egg becomes over the course of the episode a multivalent symbol by turns representing puberty, menstruation, childbirth, and child-rearing.
This one-off episode apparently became the inspiration for another whole magical girl franchise, Shugo Chara!, by Banri Sendo and Shibuko Ebara, the two-woman manga-ka team known collectively as Peach-Pit. They got their start with works aimed primarily at a male audience: the little-known harem comedy Prism Palette, the raunchy magical girlfriend series DearS (which is sort of like Chobits with more bondage), and an action series called Zombie-Loan. In the U.S., probably their most famous title is Rozen Maiden, an unusually classy harem series that’s something like a cross between Pinocchio and Highlander with a veneer of Gothic horror. It’s spawned Internet memes and a modest cult following.
Shugo Chara! was Peach-Pit’s 2006 foray into shoujo manga, appearing in Nakayoshi, a magazine aimed primarily at girls aged nine to fifteen. This same magazine has hosted such titles as Sailor Moon, Sugar Sugar Rune, Saint Tail, and various adaptations of the Pretty Cure franchise. So it’s a magical girl powerhouse. Continue reading “‘Shugo Chara!’”
Sailor Moon S: Part 1 (Season 3). Directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara et al. Written by Sukehiro Tomita et al. Story by Naoko Takeuchi. Starring Kotono Mitsuishi, Michie Tomizawa, and Aya Hisakawa. Toei Animation, 1994-1995. North American re-release by Viz Media and Warner Bros., 2016. 19 episodes of 25 minutes (approx. 475 minutes). Rated TV-14.
Long have I desired to discuss Sailor Moon S with you, mostly because I get to write the word “Uranus” over and over again. I highly recommend that you take every sentence in this essay containing the word “Uranus” and read it aloud, preferably in the presence of someone who doesn’t know the context. Continue reading “Anime Review: ‘Sailor Moon S,’ Part 1”
This may be the greatest Batman movie ever made. And heaven knows a lot of them have been made.
Although it comes from before my time, I grew up watching the Batman television series from the ’60s, starring Adam West. As a small child, I thought the show was hysterically funny. I would sit in front of the TV and laugh my head off, and my father assures me that his cousins used to do the same thing when he was a kid, watching it in its original run.
I was in grade school when Tim Burton directed Batman starring Michael Keaton. When that movie came out, Batman was suddenly all the rage. Every kid at my school was in to Batman, except for me. I didn’t care for this new, bloody, violent, brooding vision, even if it was closer to the spirit of the source material. The Batman I loved was bright and colorful and happy, with really, really cheesy acting. Continue reading “Review: ‘The LEGO Batman Movie’”