Archive for the Saitou Chiho Category


Retrospective of a Revolution – 20 Years of Shoujo Kakumei Utena

October 22nd, 2017

The manga for Shoujo Kakumei Utena premiered in June 1996 in Ciao magazine, Shogakukan’s popular magazine for girl’s manga. The anime followed on in 1997. Both were collaborative efforts with contributions from established manga artist Saitou Chiho and anime director Ikuhara Kunihiko, who was just off of a wildly popular season of Sailor Moon. These two, along with Hasegawa Shinya (animation supervisor for Neon Genesis Evangelion), writer Yōji Enokido, and producer Okuro Yuuichiro, collaborated as a team known as Be-Papas. Both anime and manga were produced simultaneously, but each treated the subject matter differently.

Now seems like a good time to look back at 20 years of Revolutionary Girl Utena.

Tenjou Utena is an idealist. She is a young woman who, like most young women, is looking for her prince. Who that prince is, and how she meets him again, is portrayed variably in every version of the story, but this basic idea is the plot that underlies all versions.

The base plot appeared on the surface to be a relatively straight-forward magical girl formula. A girl who desires to become a prince comes to a elite private school where she duels for the hand of the “Rose Bride.” The series included a magical transformation every week, and a duel for the hand of princess. It even included a comedic animal sidekick.  It was clearly a magical girl anime. However.

Utena wasn’t herself magical, like Moon Princess Tsukino Usagi (Sailor Moon) or a magic user like Yumeno Sally (Mahoutsukai Sally). She wasn’t given a magical item that suddenly gave her access to magical powers like Nonohara Himeko (Hime-chan no Ribon) or Hanasaki Momoko (Wedding Peach.) Utena is given (or finds, depending on the iteration) an item, and it does allow her access to a world in which magic exists, but she herself has no way to use the magic of her own volition. Instead, the magic would enter her when it needed to, to achieve an end only vaguely defined as “the power to revolutionize the world.”

When the series was running on Japanese TV and we were talking about it obsessively on the original Anilesbocon Mailing List (which was rendered defunct by Yahoo in 2001) the series was often spoken of as a subversion of a magical girl series. And certainly, one could see it as such. It takes the stock characters of any anime and manga set in a school, layers on a “purpose” that isn’t saving humanity, or making people happy, or even stealing back people’s precious belongings. That purpose is flatly stated to be a “revolution” – although what that meant to the world is never explained.

As we watched the series, there were some qualities that supported the subversion of a magical girl series perspective. In early magical girls anime and manga, the protagonists have simple female gender-role-assigned goals; becoming  a princess and marrying a prince primary among them. “Helping people” became “saving the earth” from dastardly baddies in later series. But who was Utena helping in her duels? Who was being saved?  This was not your typical magical girl series.

 

The Elements of a Revolution  

The writing in Revolutionary Girl Utena is not unique as such. Many anime use ancient or modern archetypes to populate a story. Anime is especially full of characters who are”types” rather than fully developed. However, the characters that populate Ohtori are not just “glasses guy” or “passive-aggressive girl,” they are, rather the kids you went to school with. (Admittedly, blown well out of proportion.) Kiryuu Touga, the elite athlete who didn’t care about the girls who fawned over him, Saionji Kyouichi the bully with the inferiority complex, Arisugawa Juri the cool girl that everyone loved, but no one could get close to, and Kaoru Miki, the lonely genius.  And you. You were the iconoclast. Of course you were. We all were. Doing our own thing, regardless of who liked and didn’t like us.

These are not literary archetypes. They are our archetypes.

And they are tied together by our quest in a kind of fractured fairtyale. We recognize the quest; it is the quest that lies under our own endeavors as young people – to be a hero…to do something noteworthy.  Utena is all the things we were and weren’t all at once. She is athletic and geeky and naive and cool and comfortable in her body in ways that we never were. She has the right to enter the duels and she gets to have the magic and the girl, something we probably couldn’t really imagine for ourselves. Not then…maybe not now.  But Utena could. She is Sir Gareth, taking on the noble and elite knights, putting up with their taunts and their derision until one day it was they who were challenging her. And losing. And in doing so, it freed them from their own prisons.  

The themes of Utena are the same themes of any fairytale. A prince comes to free the princess from her bondage. The prince engages in duels to posses to princess.  But, we’re supposed to understand that the rules of fairytales are not entirely applicable. That Utena, a girl, wants to be a “Prince,” i.e., that she wants the agency herself and not be rescued but to be the rescuer is presented as a flipping of the standard. On the cusp of the 21st century, female viewers asked “What’s so amazing about that?” Women had already spent a century fighting for agency. It didn’t seem particularly revolutionary itself.  

Revolutionary Girl Utena is all about prisons. Coffins, and relationships and schools that we wrap around ourselves to keep us from having to deal with the real world. Literal floating coffins populate the movie manga. Utena herself is found by Touga as a child laying in coffin in a church…and of course, Ohtori itself is presented in the shape of a keyhole Kofun tomb.

And the fairytale comes with a Greek chorus. The Shadow Girls provide commentary, gossip, insight and Macguffins in the form of news “extras.” Relevant, irrelevant, digression, derailment and diversion, they all ended up being meaningful…even the bits that made no sense.

The animation, like the writing, is full of references and homages to classic anime. Shades of Ryoko Ikeda’s Rose of Versailles and Oniisama E fill every space of the visual text and subtext when Arisugawa Juri (who looks like Miya-sama, but loves like Saint-Juste) and Utena duel for the Rose Bride. 

Symbols with no meaning, or fungible meaning, populate Ohtori. Invisible baseball games and trains punctuate Student Council meetings and animals take on a darker aspect when they show up merely to harass a single character. Symbols are frequently ambiguous, until they are the most straightforward of allegories: Utena as a car is literally the vehicle that Anthy uses to escape Ohtori. 

The animation is unusual, the character designs classical, the symbolism is surreal. And all of it is thrown together over a soundtrack that is it’s own character.

The music in Utena was once described to me as being “like a magical cookbook on acid.” There’s a lot of truth in this. Terahara Takaaki, working under his professional name as J.A. Seazer, set the duels to staccato-beat-backed rhythms, punctuated by lyrics that list metaphysical terms in an almost alchemical formula. The music can’t be ignored, and, indeed, is one of the defining characteristics of the anime. “Zettai Unmei Mokushiroku” is used in the television anime as the background to the weekly transformation scene and is the background for the even more extraordinary transformation of the movie, where “Rinbu Revolution,” which was the opening theme of the television series becomes the final race to freedom in the movie in what is an extraordinarily epic scene.

And then there was the sexuality of the characters. The online fandom was both stimulated and inspired by anime characters who appeared to be homo- or bisexual…or, in the case of Akio in the anime particularly, probably pansexual. The manga was more strictly heterosexual, but it still crossed lines of propriety. Not nearly as much as the anime in which we are forced to recognize Akio’s predilection for sexual abuse, incest, rape and generally using sex as a weapon against what we must understand to be underage characters. And how uncomfortable we all felt about that…even as people wrote fanfic of it. Sensuality and sexuality are presented as part and parcel of the characters’ interactions with one another in almost all the versions of the story. 

 

The Story of a Revolution Seen Through Five Lenses

Tenjou Utena, almost died as a young girl in an accident that killed her parents. A prince saved her. He kissed away her tears and gave her a ring. Keep your nobility, he told her, and it will bring us together. She decides that she, too, will become a Prince. At Ohtori Academy, this desire to be a Prince drives her to save a girl from being hurt by a boy and Utena ends up dueling the boy for the Rose Bride.

The television anime series used a palette of bright colors over an almost a drab world. The Student Council uniforms were military-informed, but color-coded to the character. As if we were being told that each member of the council was wholly unique and their position was not reproducible, it would disappear with them. The story does nothing to dissuade the viewer of that belief. Utena is presented as different from everyone else in the school, and different from the Student Council. The Council each carry a deep psychic wound of some kind. As adults it’s not hard to understand that it is the wound that is the specific quality that makes the character attractive to Akio. The nature of the wound and the way that wound allows him to manipulate the character is the driving force of both the television anime and the manga. 

Tenjou Utena has been receiving postcards from “her prince” every year on her birthday. Although she lives with her aunt, she is always looking for her Prince. When she realizes that the postcards make a photo of a location, she transfers to Ohtori Academy in order to find him. She finds that the ring she wears leads her into dueling for the Rose Bride. 

The television manga was as much about symbols of life and death as the anime, but the symbols lingered, heavier in their presence. Duels leading to coffins is not nearly as surreal as an invisible baseball game punctuating a fraught conversation, it’s more straightforward. The manga is more heterosexual, with less overt sexuality than the anime. But the coming-of-age fairytale remains centered around Utena, giving up looking for her prince, but never giving up on her princehood…and Anthy, the princess unable to even ask for rescue. It’s a simpler tale, for less mature audience than the anime, but the end moment has the same weight in both television anime and manga – the end of one epic and the beginning of another.

***

Enjoy today’s post? Subscribe to Okazu with Patreon!
Subcribe with Patreon

***

Utena has come to Ohtori Academy to look for her Prince, Touga. She sees him, but is unable to get close to him. She is drawn into duels with the Student Council and learns the secret of the Rose Bride. Together, she and the Rose Bride attempt to escape Ohtori. 

The Adolescence of Utena movie came at the end of the 1990’s, as anime was hitting a new peak of popularity in the United States.

The film was released in English with some fanfare – the director came to speak about it to fans and press, sponsored by Central Park Media, who had licensed it. The film was even shown at several Gay and Lesbian Film Festivals in the beginning of the 21st century. The movie took the basic elements of the plot, reshuffled them, and gave it a more – to western eyes, at least – overtly lesbian ending. The scale of the movie was…large. Vistas of the movie Ohtori needed the 70 millimeter film screenings to be properly seen. The school itself had been broken apart, with shifting pieces in real time; buildings and chalkboards, and the dueling ground – all stained with blood-red shadows – move around the characters, never still. The dueling ground itself is impossibly perched high above the school. The floating castle looms even larger and more menacingly than it ever has; not as a goal, as it was in the television anime, but as an enormous obstacle capable of crushing dreams flat.

The music was remixed and re-used in ways that didn’t contradict the original, so much as make it even more of a palpable presence in the story. “Rinbu Revolution” remained a song of defiance, but whose? In the television anime, one would assume it belonged to Utena, where in the movie, there’s no doubt at all that it is Anthy’s theme.

Utena comes to Ohtori to find her lost Prince and ends up dueling the Student Council in duels that center around the Rose Bride. But Ohtori is not what it seems. It is a tomb…and always has been. Utena and Anthy find their way out together.

The movie manga reshuffled the characters again, playing up the sexuality and the life and death refrain once more, but it ends with a scene borrowed from early 20th century Japanese girl’s literature, Yoshiya Nobuko’s Yaneura, no Nishojo, when Anthy offers her hand to Utena and say, “let’s go outside.” 

In both the television anime and manga, the end comes with Utena’s disappearance and Anthy leaving Ohtori to go find her. She doesn’t explain to her brother in the anime, because Anthy can see that Akio is trapped in his own game. In the television manga, Touga is the person to whom she explains.

“I…I have to go.”
“Go where?”
“To look for Lady Utena. When she and I meet once again…that is when this will begin.
The world…awaits the Power of Dios…
And that power begins with us…!”

And 20 years later, Touga has mostly forgotten this story. In the 20th anniversary manga, published in 2017, he and Saionji meet up and are invited to return to Ohtori. In the chairman’s rooms, their memories of Utena and Anthy are rekindled. But where – if anywhere – it will lead, we don’t yet know. The 20th anniversary manga is so far a single chapter, with a second chapter to come. Whether Touga, Saionji, Juri or Miki, or we, will ever see Utena and Anthy again is still unknown.

Utena’s princeliness, persistence and “nobility” weren’t the revolution. They were the catalysts that created the revolution. In anime, manga, television and movie, it becomes apparent that Utena is the power to grant the revolution.

Whether to look for Utena, to literally drive car-Utena or to walk hand in hand together, it becomes clear that the revolution itself is, in every version, the moment Anthy walks away from Ohtori. Only Utena had the ability to grant Anthy that power; the ability to leave the bondage of adolescence and enter the outside world.

Along with being a subversion of magical girl series in general it is easy to see Revolutionary Girl Utena as a subversion of every school drama every in anime and manga – and of adolescence itself.

 

Revolutionary Girl Utena Manga Deluxe Set is available from Viz Media.

Revolutionary Girl Utena Anime and Adolescence of Utena Movie are available from Nozomi/Rightstuff.

Send to Kindle




Revolutionary Girl Utena 20th Anniversary Manga: After the Revolution (少女革命ウテナ20年記念日新作)

August 13th, 2017

“I…I have to go.”
“Go where?”
“To look for Lady Utena. When she and I meet once again…that is when this will begin.
The world…awaits the Power of Dios…
And that power begins with us…!”

20 years have passed since the Revolutionary Girl Utena series began.

In “After the Revolution,” a new original chapter of Revolutionary Girl Utena 20th Anniversary Manga, (少女革命ウテナ20年記念日新作) from Saitou Chiho in Flowers magazine, 20 years have, indeed, passed.

If you recall, in both anime and manga, Tenjou Utena disappeared from Ohtori and with her, people’s memory of everything that had happened. Only Himemiya Anthy could remember her. And, in both versions, the end of the series came when Anthy – and the remainder of the magic at Ohtori – left to look for Utena, with complete confidence that she would find her.

20 years have passed.

We begin with Touga and Saionji. They are bidding against each other on a Picasso painting. They are rich, powerful men in this world, just as they were in Ohtori. But you and I remember how easily they were manipulated there. They do not. They haven’t changed. 20 years has not lessened Touga’s confidence or Saionji’s displeasure at coming in second.

Touga receives a letter – “Those concerned with the Revolution of the World should return to Ohtori.” And, of course Saionji has also received that letter. They enter the school with flashlights as thieves in the night. Two rich, sophisticated leaders of men, creeping around a closed school. What did we just say about “easily manipulated?”

20 years have passed. They remember nothing. Until the tower is struck by lightning and they share a dream of a girl in a coffin. They dream of a castle in the sky and dueling. They wake to find that they both had that dream, but have no idea what it means.

When Touga finds a picture of Anthy and Akio, he asks aloud who is this? And a voice says, “Me and my sister.” Akio, in his final battle uniform appears. “But,” Touga says, “you’re dead!” Akio confirms that he is indeed dead. And nonetheless wants to gain the power of Dios.

They break into the chairman’s room and find a picture of a naked Anthy. Akio provokes a fight, Saionji finds it in himself to remember his friendship with his rival and protects Touga. Touga and Akio duel….Remember again the phrase “easily manipulated.” Keep remembering it, because neither Touga nor Saiojni have. Touga slays the ghost and they see another picture, of two young women, laying together clothed, but intimately entwined.

And they start to remember. The power to revolutionize the world, the young woman who wanted to be a Prince and their friendship.

This chapter was perfect. This story cannot possibly begin with Utena and Anthy. It will, I hope, end with them. But it could not possible have begun with them. (I submit almost all my own fanfic as a corroborating witness. )

We’ll be getting a second chapter in the winter, and, if my guess is good, it will follow Juri and Miki as they remember. I hope so, at any rate.  But it still won’t follow Anthy and Utena. Not yet…maybe not ever. Their absence is the story.

Ratings:

Art – 9 I *have* mentioned that Saitou-sensei’s art is amazing.
Story – 9 Exactly what it needed to be
Characters 8 – No one will blame me that I still don’t give a shit about Touga and Saionji, right?
Yuri – 8 Did you not look at that picture and see what I saw?
Service – 3 Naked Anthy still a thing.

Overall – 9

The second thing I hope for from this story is a glimpse of Anthy and Utena 20 years later. I’m willing to wait as long as it takes. Thank you Saitou-sensei for this fantastic chapter and that gorgeous cover.

Send to Kindle




Revolutionary Girl Utena 20th Anniversary Manga in Flowers Magazine

July 28th, 2017

Back in May, we reported that Flowers Magazine would be running a Revolutionary Girl Utena chapter. Well, in honor of the 20th anniversary of this series, manga artist Saitou Chiho will be releasing a 60-page new, original chapter in the September issue of Flowers. The 20th Anniversary Facebook group has released a number of images from the magazine.

We know that this chapter is called “After the Revolution” (okay, yes, I squeed at that) and that there will be at least another chapter released this winter.

Thanks to YNN Correspondent Shannon L for sending along the news link and for reminding me to order the magazine! (I missed getting the first issue of the new Card Captor Sakura. boo….) You can order the magazine in print from Amazon JP (or other reputable JP vendor) or order it with a Japanese bookstore chain like Kinokuniya or Sanseido if you are in or near a city. Undoubtedly, if there are any extras, you may be able to get them on Amazon through a buyer, but it looks like Shogakukan is not a publisher that is embracing digital, yet. I’ll follow up with links and check back with you if it becomes available digitally.

You may remember I’ve commented that Saitou-sensei’s work has really hit extraordinary heights in her series, Torikaebaya. I cannot *wait* to see Utena and Anthy rendered with confident maturity. This cover is already pretty damn good. And they’ve also released this:

As soon as I get a copy, I’ll be sure to tell you how it is! (Oh please, oh please oh please be good….!)

Send to Kindle




Yuri Manga: Revolutionary Girl Utena, Volume 2 (English)

June 4th, 2017

The second volume of the Revolutionary Girl Utena Manga Complete Deluxe Box Set remains complex and uncomfortable right until an ending that was much better than I remembered it being.

The primary conflict in the final arc of the Revolutionary Girl Utena anime, appears to be between Utena and Akio. In the manga version, the Student Council has been set to the side, neutralized by Anthy in order to set Utena up for Akio. 

But, like the anime, something happens just as Anthy is set to betray Utena. She begins to believe that Utena can set her free. And here in the manga, that changes everything. Freedom changes Anthy in a way that gives one hope. (And inspires one to write fanfic.)

The art here at the end of the manga arc is strong and hyper-romantic, very suitable for the magazine it ran in, Flowers, I believe it was. I wish there was a color version of Utena-Dios, because you just know she looked amazing in her white and lavender Council uniform. ^_^ 

The complete set includes Juri’s sidestory, which sadly focuses on Ruka, rather than Shiori. And the final section of the collection covers the manga version of the Revolutionary Girl Utena Movie: Adolescence of Utena. This manga volume was the precise moment when I started understanding the literary roots of Yuri Manga and for that, I have a lot of fondness for the thing. The story focuses on two not-really-real relationships, Utena’s adoration of Touga and Anthy’s adoration of (an even more horrible than in the TV manga) Akio. But it ends with the same relationship the TV manga does – Utena and Anthy, finding healing and friendship and love in one another. No wonder we all wrote so much damn fanfic. ^_^ 

 The art of the movie manga has already leveled up significantly from the earliest chapters of the television series manga, and still holds up well enough to satisfy an older audience. The deluxe set wraps up with two short notes by manga artist Chiho Saito and director Ikuhara Kinihiko.

Ratings:

Art- 8 Solid, stylish, with moments of brilliance 
Story – 8 A much better ending than I remembered 
Characters – 8 Touga and Juri end up better than expected, Miki and Saionji suffer and Akio gets extra helpings of awful. Anthy is even more complex and interesting.
Service – 5 Creepy non-con seductions and slapping so…mostly violence against women’s autonomy, with a side of bullshitty consent issues.
Yuri- 7 Anthy and Utena 4ever. <3

I love that between the two Utena manga, anime and movie there are four unique versions of this story and each one ends centered around a relationship built on friendship and hope and love.

One last note – I’m pretty sure I have all the Utena artbooks, but there is a color image in this set that I have never seen before. I refer to it as the “Takarazuka” image, as Utena is wearing a feather back piece and both her and Anthy’s outfits are unusually sparkly. I like it a lot. ^_^ It’s yet another good reason to get this complete manga deluxe set!

Send to Kindle




Revolutionary Girl Utena Manga, Volume 1 (English)

May 10th, 2017

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.

Ratings:

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. ^_^

Send to Kindle