A few years ago, we had the 15th anniversary re-release of the Revolutionary Girl Utena anime from Nozomi/RightStuff, and this year we have the Revolutionary Girl Utena Manga Complete Deluxe Box Set from Viz Media! And what a deluxe set it is.
This two-volume set of all 6 volumes of the manga (5 for the TV series, one for the movie) drawn by Saito Chiho, in collaboration with Be-Papas, comes in a black box that provides a similar kind of gravitas that the anime packaging provided, with beautiful rose-themed design work in both black glossy on black matte and in color.
Volume 1 has the pink color theme of the first of the anime arcs, a nice nod to an established color scheme.
Each volume comes with color page inserts from the magazine run and covers of the manga. The collection also includes a poster of Anthy and Utena, suitable for any Yuri fan and guaranteed to have you singing Rinbu Revolution as soon as you see it.
Unlike most manga series that come out at the same time as an anime, the Revolutionary Girl Utena manga is not a literal rendering of the anime at all, but a separate tale, using the same characters and elements that existed in the anime. The rose sigil, the dueling ground, Akio’s car, the planetarium projector all exist here, as they did in the anime. But they do not necessarily mean (or not mean) the same things. Where the anime went for visual effect, the manga relies on shoujo manga tropes of emotional relationships, complications and manipulation.
Compared to the anime, the manga is short, tight, and deeply complicated. When we meet her, Tenjou Utena is very apparently a very young, immature girl with a dream of a Prince that has extremely tenuous roots in reality. It becomes quickly apparent that everything around Utena has extremely tenuous roots in reality. And, when Utena arrives at Ohtori Academy, this does not change.
Where, in the anime, we spend a lot of time with the Student Council, here in the manga they swiftly take a second seat to Ohtori Akio. In the anime, Akio is insidious and horrible, here he is overtly manipulative and power hungry. His honesty about his desires for power and his use of Utena to that end doesn’t make him any less loathsome. What is significantly different is the character of Touga who appeared to be manipulated almost until the very end of the anime here defects to Utena’s side and acts in part as a Greek Chorus, explaining the whims of the gods, and part as a Virgil to Utena’s Dante.
Speaking of shoujo tropes, the relationships portrayed in the manga are almost all toxic. Non-consensual kisses and slapping are common. There is a lot of slapping in these 3 volumes. A lot. Even when it doesn’t really serve any function, or move the story forward. By the time Saionji hauls off on Anthy the last time, in the bonus curry explosion chapter, you can be forgiven for thinking Anthy wouldn’t mind seeing them all dead.
Art- 8 Good, solid, sensual, beautiful but compared to her current outstanding work in Torikaebaya it’s almost simplistic.
Story – 7 Uncomfortable making, weird, and still, strangely hopeful.
Characters – 7 Not as fully developed as in the anime. Everyone seems slightly more delusional.
Service – 5 Creepy non-con seductions and slapping so…mostly violence against women’s autonomy
Yuri- 1 Only if you’re reading anything into Anthy and Utena’s relationship which, as of yet, has not developed beyond lies.
Overall – 8 for content , 9 for presentation
It’s equally as uncomfortable as the anime, although in different ways. I like that Akio is more overtly horrible, but am sad that it’s at the loss of fully developed Student Council.
When I read this series the first time back in 1998 or so, when I remember that it was very difficult for me to read the word “hyou” (leopard) for the longest time. Yes, I know there is a leopard on the page. I wanted to find a official translation…and couldn’t. It moved me to buy my first Japanese dictionary. ^_^