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I had promised... I forget if it was [personal profile] misstopia or [personal profile] haremstress, or both, a big rec post about SKU at some point; so there it is!

Revolutionary Girl Utena, aka Shoujo Kakumei Utena or SKU for short, is a series from the mid-nineties. It exists in both manga and anime form; and there also was an animated movie adaption made in 1999; but i mostly want to talk about the animated series which is, IMHO, the best and more interesting form the story takes. It was directed by Ikuhara, which at that point was mostly known for working a lot on Sailor Moon; and comports 39 episodes organised in 4 narrative arcs of unequal size.

The Story

Tenjou Utena is a 14 year old girl enrolled at the Ohtori Academy. When she was a young child and after just losing her parents, she remembers meeting a Prince who saved her and gave her a ring to remember him by. She was so impressed by him that she decided to herself become a Prince as well as cherishing the ring in the hope of meeting him again. Thus motivated, Utena grows up as an impressively athletic girl who values noble qualities and straightforwardness; and she always wears a male uniform in high school to the annoyance of her teacher and to the boosting of her popularity amongst other girls.
One day, in order to defend her best friend who just got her heart broken by a jerk, she ends up involved in a duel against a member of the Student School on a very weird duel arena that exists in the Forest behind the school and under an upside down castle floating in the sky. It just so happens that every members of the Student Council wear the exact same ring that was given to her by her Prince, which marks them as Duellists in an elaborate game organised by a mysterious letters writer naming themselves The End of the World where the Victor receive a young girl, Himemiya Anthy, as their Bride for as long as they keep winning; and has a shot at winning the vaguely defined Power to Revolutionise the World. By the way, the current Victor needs not bring a sword to the duel, they can just magically bring forth the Sword of Dios from inside the body of Anthy. Because Anthy is cruelly abused by her initial Victor, and appears to submit to it meekly as per the rules of the game, Utena ends up participating in those games in order to protect her as, one by one, each member of the Student Council challenge her.


Utena in what everyone calls a male school uniform even though it looks nothing like what the guys wear in this highschool

Utena after the transformation sequence - it just adds a few fioritures

Anthy in her school uniform, tending the roses in the birdcage greenhouse.

Anthy in full Rose Bride regalia

Every Magical Girl series must have a cute animal mascot. SKU has Chuu-Chuu, probably the least cute animal mascot in the entire world. He's also mostly useless apart from comedy relief, but he's Anthy's friend.

The Student Council, colour coded for your convenience: Greenhair is Saionji a jerk with hidden depth, Redhair is Touga a manipulative playboy, Orangehair is Juri a fierce and overwhelmingly competent woman with secret wounds, Bluehair is Miki an earnest and repressed genius boy. Cliches, but they all get deconstructed.

Nanami, Touga's young and adoring sister. She's introduced as the bitchy queen bee of the highschool, and then she gets deconstructed. (Notice a pattern?)

Utena with her best friend Wakaba, a cheerful girl with bad taste in men.

That Jerk Saionji slapping Anthy. Anthy gets slapped a lot in this story, I'm afraid, but it really has a purpose so bear with it; and her status as a Designated Victim gets decons-EVERYONE: STOP SAYING THAT WORD!

Utena challenging That Jerk Saionji

One Ring to Rule Them All and in the Roses Bind them XD

Have you heard? Have you heard? Every single episode gets interrupted by the Shadow Girls who make a comedy skit shedding obscure light on the themes of the episode and making bad puns (shadow girls shedding obscure light, get it?). Basically they serve as a Greek Chorus injecting even more weirdness in SKU.

The byzantine Ohtori Campus. Note the Astronomy Tower shaped like a penis; and the forest in the back.

The Student Council in reunion. Nothing is too pompous for the Ohtori campus. Also roses, roses everywhere.

The duelling area, very tiny underneath the massive upside down 3D castle in the air. WTF!!

Ready for the duel: Anthy puts a Rose on the shirt of each Duelist : the goal of the Duel is to cut down the one of your opponent.

Utena meeting her Prince as a young child, as she remembers it. The black silhouettes in coloured hair motif is used at various place in the story, emphasizing the mythological aspect of memories.

More Black Silhouettes! Also it looks cool.

The cast of characters. I like this pic because you see all their different kinds of swords.

The official art for this series is sometimes ridiculously sensual in presentation. But pretty!

The OP is also very cool


From so many mysteries and intriguing weird stuff happening in the first episode, the story progresses slowly, developing its cast of characters and adding even more mysteries as well as sneaky hints and revelations that makes you wonder more. It ups the ante in term of mysteries and weird shit during the second arc which also add a few more characters and clarifies much of what is happening metaphorically. The third and fourth arc resolve the stories getting even more weird, fast-paced and riveting. The ending is one of the most awesome ending I've ever seen in any series. It doesn't spell out everything, is fairly mindfucked and leaves you to draw your own conclusion on many aspects of the plot; but in terms of metaphors is a splendid apotheosis.


SKU has a pretty fucking awesome cast of characters. It builds them slowly, dedicating at least one episode to developing every one of them, including some of the most secondary or tertiary ones; and builds their psychology in a lot of interesting and meaningful ways. Every Duelist fights for reasons which can be rooted to an episode in their past history; and "the power to revolutionise the world" represents something specific and personnal for every one of them. Utena is also a great heroine; brave, determined, oblivious and sometimes self-deluded. All the antagonists are fairly interesting and have complex reasons for acting as they do. As the story develops; the characters also struggle to grow up, which is another of the main theme of the series, and some of the most surprisingly multi-layered characters are those who seemed the most parodic and one-note at first, such as Nanami and Saionji (whom I both adore despite their jerk-ness).

My favourite character in the series is Anthy, for reasons which are not obvious at all when you first start watching the series. She's one of the most complex and subversive character in any story I've ever seen in term of the role she plays in the story and her own unique personality which includes a very quirky and sometimes malicious sense of humour. So pay very close attention to her and bear with her initial weak damsel in distress role.


Following from such interesting characters, their relationship are very intriguing and multi-layered. Many relationships have a dark and complex aspect, with a lot of power play and jealousy to them, but there's also a few genuine and very cute friendships, like Utena with Wakaba; or Juri and Miki.

SKU builds both a romantic/sexual text and subtext between most of the characters in the series; resulting in a very high amount of pairings you may care to ship. The text includes both lesbian and gay relationships, btw; and the subtext includes many more of them. The text also includes incestual relationship between siblings (you could say incest is one of the motif of the series, actually). Also, you have to consider that given the age of the characters, it's the bit upsetting how many of them have sex. However this is mostly treated for the sake of the feminist thematics.

Genderfuck & Feminism & Fairytales Deconstruction

SKU is my favourite feminist text. It's feminism qualities are very much rooted in elements of Fairy Tales deconstruction and the way it plays with males and female roles in most fairytales; specially in their romanticised Disney & (Magical) Shoujo versions. Here we have a heroine who isn't content to play Princess saved by the Prince : her admiration for Princely qualities actually drive her to become a prince herself. The deconstruction only starts there; as almost every characters and relationships in the story comment on the dysfunctionally of relationships built up on unequal power. Overall it builds a story which is thematically profound, resonant, stark and empowering at the same time - one that you probably want to watch more than once to get all the nuances of the metaphores.

Surrealism & Mindfuck & Crack

There is a lot of weirdness in SKU; and they only increase as the story continues, with some excellent surrealistic moments. This is used to both create a very unique and dreamy atmosphere, fitting to the way the story tackles archetypes and the role they play in people's imagination; and it also occasionally used for great comedy moment. I'm talking EPIC CRACK there. You will never again see elephants in quite the same light. I love talking about how deep SKU is, but it's also frequently hilarious.

Production values

Sadly the series shows its age in terms of animation and consistency of art in general; but it's obviously pretty good for the budget it had. While the duels are more interesting as psychological combats than as action sequence, they do manage a few cool moves at times. The character design is fairly idiosyncratic (people are ridiculously tall and well developed for the supposed age of characters) in a way that's pretty much hit or miss. I wasn't very fond of it when I started watching, but when you get into; it's fairly entrancing. The art for the background in general and the very impressive campus is pretty brilliant though. Also awesome is the soundtrack; including the very unique sounding Duelling chorus songs.
Another thing that SKU does a lot is the use of repetitive sequences that you'll see every few episodes. While they were obviously done for the sake of economy; they also have a thematic purpose and their rituality introduce to the realm of archetypes.

Yeah so
No, seriously, this series is awesome. If you haven't watched it yet, you totally should now.

Last time I checked, all the episodes were available at [profile] anime_downloads and there are many other ways to get it.


Date: 2012-05-03 08:15 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
The duels are, if not ritualistic, mptrehoaical it's clearer later when the ten-ton weight of metaphor hits you. Ban'yuu Inryouku (J.A. Seazer's unit who sings the duel choruses) serves a similar function to the Greek chorus (offering highly allegorical commentary in song form seriously, when you get a chance, try to pay attention to the lyrics, especially on a repeat watching); of course, the shadow girls serve a similar function, offering allegory in even more obtuse terms.And (in contrast with Kadian) I think the duels had some of the best moments of the series the duels are fairly meaningless without the events that surround them, but the duels are always where the events of the current mini-arc come to a head. That's not to say that some of the duels aren't utterly pointless (and you'll see some of them soom). In terms of them being hacked in , well, Utena was hilariously low-budget.Also I still don't know why shoujo overtones or magical girl transformation is some kind of damning criticism or pejorative term but I'm not blessed with excess testosterone.


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