Nanami Takes Over: The ‘Revolutionary Girl Utena’ Rewatch, Part 6

Meanwhile, in an unrelated subplot …

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 6: “Take Care, Miss Nanami!” Directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara. Character designs by Chiho Saito. Be-Papas, 1997 (Nozomi Entertainment, 2011). Approx. 24 minutes. Rated “16+.”

Watch for free here.

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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.

#NotAllYouTubeVideos.

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.

Now with more images from Utena: Texts from Last Night.

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”

Musical Madness II: The ‘Revolutionary Girl Utena’ Rewatch, Part 5

Things continue getting freaky!

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 5: “The Sunlit Garden – Finale.” Directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara. Character designs by Chiho Saito. Be-Papas, 1997 (Nozomi Entertainment, 2011). Approx. 24 minutes. Rated “16+.”

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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.”

Miki fencing with Juri.

Continue reading “Musical Madness II: The ‘Revolutionary Girl Utena’ Rewatch, Part 5”

Musical Madness: The ‘Revolutionary Girl Utena’ Rewatch, Part 4

Things start to get freaky!

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 4: “The Sunlit Garden – Prelude.” Directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara. Character designs by Chiho Saito. Be-Papas, 1997 (Nozomi Entertainment, 2011). Approx. 24 minutes. Rated “16+.”

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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.

Yeah, I bet you’d like to explore Utena.

Continue reading “Musical Madness: The ‘Revolutionary Girl Utena’ Rewatch, Part 4”

‘Shugo Chara!’

Surprisingly sophisticated but unfortunately creepy.

Shugo Chara!, written and illustrated by Peach-Pit. Translated by Satsuki Yamashita. 12 vols. Kodansha Comics (New York): 2013 (2006). Rated T (ages 13+).

Shugo Chara!Shugo Chara! Doki, and Shugo Chara! Party!, directed by Kinji Yasuta. Satelight and TV Tokyo, 2007-2010. 127 episodes of 25 minutes (approx. 53 hours). Not rated. Available on Crunchyroll.

The Background

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.

The History

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!’”

Is ‘Sailor Moon R: The Movie’ Too Gay?

Featured image: Totally a real screenshot from the film and not some crazy cosplaying by GeshaPetrovich.

Sailor Moon R: The Movie, directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara. Screenplay by Sukehiro Tomita. Starring Kotono Mitsuishi, Aya Hisakawa, and Michie Tomizawa. Toei Animation, 1993. In limited release from Viz Media, 2017. Dubbed. Runtime 78 minutes. Rated PG.

We’ll get to the meaning of the deliberately provocative clickbait title of this review in a moment. But first, let’s cover the preliminaries.

So, I just saw Sailor Moon R: The Movie, the first North American theatrical release of a Sailor Moon film, courtesy of Viz Media, which now owns the North American distribution rights. The film originally came out in 1993 and runs a mere hour and eighteen minutes. I hope some other showings around the country are more successful than the one I attended, or Viz Media is going to go broke, and I don’t want them to go broke until they finish releasing the series. Continue reading “Is ‘Sailor Moon R: The Movie’ Too Gay?”

‘Magical Girl Raising Project’: The Final Verdict

It’s a bloody mess.

Magical Girl Raising Project, episode 11, “Server Down for Maintenance” and Episode 12, “File Not Found.” Directed by Hiroyuki Hashimoto. Studio Lerche. Produced by Genco (2016). Two episodes of 24 minutes (approx. 48 minutes). Rated PG-13. Available on Crunchyroll.

I was going to review this earlier in the week, but my Flash player kept crashing for some reason. Anyway, let’s get this over with so I can get back to injecting Sailor Moon S straight into my bloodstream. As I mentioned before, Magical Girl Raising Project gave me a hankering for Sailor Moon S, and then Viz Media turned around and supplied.

I’m a heroine addict, and these distribution companies are my dealers.

Here be spoilers. Since we’re talking about the two final episodes, I assume that’s obvious.

Continue reading “‘Magical Girl Raising Project’: The Final Verdict”

‘Sailor Moon Crystal,’ Season 3: The Final Verdict

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Crystal, Episodes 34 to 39. Toei Animation, 2016. Approx. 144 minutes. Available on Crunchyroll.

Viz Media has finally, after taking its sweet time, produced the full, uncensored release of the first half of Sailor Moon S, the 1990s anime series that roughly follows the third, “Infinity” arc of the Sailor Moon manga. So now seems to be a good time to finish up our review of the third season of Sailor Moon Crystal, which came out this year and follows the same arc.

Character design comparisons: manga, 1992 anime, and Sailor Moon Crystal, swiped from Impact Books.

I had previously been reviewing Sailor Moon Crystal an episode at a time, but I stopped because … well, frankly, I got bored. Hey, it’s not like anyone pays me for this. Continue reading “‘Sailor Moon Crystal,’ Season 3: The Final Verdict”

‘Magical Girl Raising Project,’ Episodes 9 and 10

Let’s get this trainwreck over with!

Magical Girl Raising Project, episode 9, “Notice of New Rules!” and Episode 10, “Super Hot! Back-to-Back Battle Events!” Directed by Hiroyuki Hashimoto. Studio Lerche. Produced by Genco (2016). Approx. 48 minutes. Rated PG-13. Available on Crunchyroll.

Spoilers throughout. Continue reading “‘Magical Girl Raising Project,’ Episodes 9 and 10”

‘Magical Girl Raising Project,’ Episodes 7 and 8

Magical Girl Raising Project, episode 7, “Up Your Friendship” and Episode 8, “Sudden Event in Session!” Directed by Hiroyuki Hashimoto. Studio Lerche. Produced by Genco (2016). Approx. 24 minutes. Rated PG-13. Available on Crunchyroll.

The first of these two episodes is entitled “Up Your Friendship!”

No, up yours, MGRP.

Okay, I gotta admit, my opinion of this thing has flipped once again. It took six whole episodes to get its momentum, but it’s finally picked up. Episode 7 is strong, and episode 8 is basically its second half. It’s good, because these episodes are mostly action, and as I said before, Magical Girl Raising Project works best when there’s fighting going on.

Also, it improves by toning down the ultraviolent gore, having apparently got that out of its system. It finds a balance somewhere between the bloodlessness of episodes 1-5 and the Evil Dead blood geysers of episode 6. It’s bloody, but not stupid-bloody.

Major spoilers from here out, since it’s impossible to discuss otherwise. Continue reading “‘Magical Girl Raising Project,’ Episodes 7 and 8”

‘Magical Girl Raising Project,’ Episode 6

Magical Girl Raising Project, episode 6, “Get the Super-Rare Items!” Directed by Hiroyuki Hashimoto. Studio Lerche. Produced by Genco (2016). Approx. 24 minutes. Rated PG-13. Available on Crunchyroll.

Screw you, Magical Girl Raising Project. Screw you and the talking animal mascot you rode in on.

The show, it appears, is not doing what I’d hoped, but is doing what I predicted. I now return to the opinion I formed initially in my review of the first episode.  Right now, at what I assume (?) is the midway point (and I’m well aware that I’m four episodes behind), I hate the show and just want to get it over with. I’m going to gird my loins, grit my teeth, and watch the whole thing—but only because it has “magical girl” in the title.

If I wanted a sneering, mean-spirited, blood-soaked, nihilistic magical girl story, I’d go read Magical Girl Apocalypse and at least get a few chuckles out of the deal. Magical Girl Raising Project doesn’t even provide the chuckles.

The last time I watched a magical girl anime this unpleasant, it was called Day Break Illusion, which, like our present offering, is an attempt to follow in the footsteps of Puella Magi Madoka MagicaDay Break Illusion at least has a tight structure: its creators clearly knew what their story needed, and they put the pieces together with workmanlike competence and efficiency. The result is respectable, if not exactly enjoyable.

Magical Girl Raising Project doesn’t even have that going for it. It is utterly undisciplined, and its scenes appear disjointed and random. This episode, which swerves into over-the-top gore, is an emotionless mess.

I’m glad I’m watching Revolutionary Girl Utena at the same time to remind myself that there are other, more intelligent ways to deconstruct or go “meta” with a genre. In fact, when I finish MGRP, I might go re-watch the perfection that is Princess Tutu to get the bitter taste out of my mouth.

Major spoilers after the break.

Continue reading “‘Magical Girl Raising Project,’ Episode 6”