It’s not uncommon in the anime industry for popular franchises to have a movie release that tries to summarize the original manga or TV story into a 90 minute timeslot. It’s also not too rare of a sight for UK anime companies to release the same movie instead of the longer-winding TV series to test waters on what the market for that said franchise is like. This happened for CLAMP’s X series in the past and, more recently, Revolutionary Girl Utena the Movie, released by MVM in 2008. Currently there are no plans to release the 39 episode TV series in the UK, but is the movie worth checking out for its own merits?
Revolutionary Girl Utena the Movie (also known as Adolescence of Utena in Japan) stars Utena Tenjou who seems to have taken a liking to dressing up like a boy, including the short hair. For one reason or another she finds herself at Ohtori Academy where not only does she find her long lost friend Touga as a student there, but she also gets caught in the duels taking place. The purpose of the duels is to win the possession of Anthy; a young woman known as the ‘Rose Bride’, who apparently has magical powers that she can bestow to the one who owns her. As Utena arrives, she witnesses the current owner of the Rose Bride named Saionji being abusive towards Anthy and challenges him to a duel. With Utena’s victory, Anthy becomes engaged to her and the 2 develop a relationship like no other.
Whatever you do, don’t watch this movie whilst drunk, high, ill or expecting a straight-forward telling story; similar to the likes of Silent Hill this film is drenched in symbolism from start till finish and will most likely frighten or confuse those who watch this film suffering from the mentioned conditions. It’s very post-modern, surreal at the best of times and there are plenty of elements that are open to interpretation. This film is meant to be watched multiple times to grasp the story in full. You should be able to handle simpler aspects of the plot upon first watch, but you won’t escape the feeling that there’s something going on you don’t quite understand. This film will be embrace by those longing for mature storytelling or at least something unlike anything else they’ve encounter before.
If the ‘magical girl’ tag that the film is given throws you off it, don’t be fooled. It may have flowing hair from females, beautiful men, a transformation sequence of sorts and the director of Sailor Moon behind it, but don’t think it’s just flowers and ‘the power of love conquers all’ – that’s what it wants you to think! The normal staples for the magical girl genre such as repetitive attack sequences and romance are either not here or completely turned on its head. Similar to the likes of Princess Tutu this franchise is a lot deeper and thoughtful than it’s competitors, with decent amount of action to keep the boys happy and grace to cater for the girls without carrying the guilty preasure card that most magical girl anime tend to come with.
After researching on various sites I’ve come to learn that certain plot elements and character behaviours are altered from the original source material; Utena takes on an introvert personality, Anthy is more sexually aggressive and Touga is stripped of his ‘bad boy’ persona. I obviously can’t say if these changes are an improvement or not, but the story seems to flow with these drastic changes and the movie is still well loved amongst the Utena fans. This proves that the alterations were thought out and gives a new dynamic to the story without alienating its core audience.
The animation is gorgeous; although the character designs might not be to everyone’s tastes you can’t deny the beautiful work gone into the backgrounds, imagery, and striking choreography. I was especially taken aback by the scene where Utena pulls out the sword from Anthy’s chest, it’s the kind of scene that most magical girl anime can only dream about. Music is also a delight with plenty of vocal tracks re-arranged from the TV series for the film and nicely composed score with great use of pianos, electric guitars and choral singing. English dub is surprisingly enjoyable as well with the voice of Utena (Rachael Lillis) showing Utena’s wide range of emotions from timid around Anthy to her aggressive nature in battles quite well.
DVD extras include a healthy selection of Director’s commentary, behind the scene featurette, gallery and original Japanese trailers and TV spots with the film in 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio.
Taking everything into account, the movie keeps you gripped from start to finish; whether you understand what’s happening on screen or not, you’ll still find much to like on the visual side as well as the few moments of clarity to keep you entertained until the end credits. Or if worst comes to worst, you and your mates can have a laugh at the random things the film throws at you such as naked-ness and humans turning into cars (seriously).
The film might have left me gasping at its beauty, as well as demanding answers on what the ending was all about, but it’s definitely worth checking out as it’s currently the only version of this story in UK stores. I’m hoping that the recent re-license of the TV series in America will hint at UK retailers to pick it up, but for now, enjoy this weird yet stunning ride.