Revolutionary Girl Utena: After the Revolution Review
After the Revolution is true to its name, and therefore takes place after the events of the series, therefore I will be spoiling the ending to the anime to discuss this book. Also, despite not being canon, the manga has a few elements from the movie, Adolescence of Utena, so it’s highly recommended that you finish both before attempting to read this book, or this review.
In 2018, the anime version of Revolutionary Girl Utena turned 20 years old, and so the author of the original manga version, Chiho Saito, was approached with an idea to make a new manga. In the afterword of the book, Chiho Saito admits that she struggled to come up with a fully-fleshed story at first, but after bouncing ideas off the editorial department, she eventually came up with three short stories centred around the student council members. The afterword isn’t shy about the fact that there was, apparently, a lot of trial and error with the stories, with pushback on whether the audience would want to see older versions of the characters, and not changing their designs too much. Despite a quote from him in the last pages of the book, there’s no word on whether the original creator, Kunihiko Ikuhara, had a hand in or even approved of this new story. So, what does life after the revolution look like for our favourite characters?
The first story centres on Touga and Saionji, both now adult men who happen to be buying expensive art for their clients, when they suddenly get an invite to come back to Ohtori Academy, as a ‘secret room’ containing the former deceased chairman, Akio Ohtori’s, art collection is waiting to be found. As the pair investigate his private chambers, they’re surprised to find Akio’s ghost, who says that the one who can find his greatest painting – The Revolution – will be granted his entire collection, and something more…
This story has the closest ties to the academy and the main villain Akio, which isn’t surprising considering that both Touga and Saionji spent the most time with Akio, outside of the main female characters Utena and Anthy, of course. This story is the strongest as it plays a lot more into the symbolism and metaphors that Kunihiko Ikuhara is known for, twisting them into new ways. It’s fascinating how Touga’s memory and perception of Utena has changed in this volume; instead of Touga seeing Utena as the one girl he cannot have (someone who he could not convince to leave her coffin and also one who does not seek out his affections) she now symbolises the one person who was able to get herself out of the coffin, who sought out her own freedom with no one’s help or permission. This expands across the manga as Utena is effectively taking the place of Akio and showing up within everyone’s duels. But instead of playing her opponents by bestowing temporary power on them, only to ultimately grant his revolution alone, like Akio did, Utena appears before them and empowers the character to seek out the source of their pain and grant their revolutions, not hers. It’s a brilliant move and one that feels the most satisfying in the first story, as Touga and Saionji’s relationship has always been the one most captivating to discover with all the subtext unfolding as the series goes on.
The second short story is about Juri, now a professional fencer and in the finals for the Olympics, when she’s suddenly haunted by the face of Shiori’s/her manager’s former boyfriend, Ruka. As Juri starts to doubt herself, and considers retiring, a familiar duelling ground comes to life before her once more.
It should be noted here, that the manga and anime of Revolutionary Girl Utena are not one and the same. Nanami was never in the manga version, so her alpha bitch attitude and popular girl status were given to Juri, who also in turn showed a lot more interest in Touga, rather than Shiori. In this manga however, which it’s apparently trying to cater for anime and manga fans, play it both ways; she is still in love with Shiori, like in the anime, but is far more forthcoming with her emotions and frustrations in this manga, whereas in the anime she kept a lot more things close to her chest (in the case of her precious locket, quite literally). As a result, this story doesn’t really feel like a continuation of her character, but more of a re-tread of her arc but in a new context; the ‘boy saving girl and eventually drowning’ story that featured heavily in the movie is re-used here, now with Ruka being the prince in question. Ruka was an interesting addition in the anime as he came late into the story, and played off Shiori and Juri very well, before disappearing again as soon as he appeared, so I like that he’s come back here, but he’s more of a shadow, or a symbol than anything. On the surface, it should have worked, but the framing of the revolution Juri has makes it seem like it’s all thanks to a boy that she’s able to find the strength within herself to continue on, which feels disingenuous to her character and what the original story was about.
The final story revolves around the twins Miki and Kozue; when Touga calls Miki and says that he saw Miki play his famous piano piece at a party last night, Miki is confused, as he was never there. When he goes to visit his sister, who has been in a coma for the past few years, he discovers that Kozue is not only sleep walking but also playing the very piece that they used to play long ago.
As much as I am fond of Miki as a character, I cannot say that I particularly enjoyed this story. There was a lot of incest subtext to Miki and Kozue’s relationship, but it was always framed as a toxic relationship and one that they seemed to have worked through (mostly) by the end of the series. This story however not only makes the subtext now full-on text, but it now frames it as a tragic love story and tries to give it a happier ending? There are hints on the page that Kozue’s love stems from the fact that in this timeline, they lost their parents young and therefore her unhealthy way of dealing with it became an erroneous love for Miki, but still overall the story baffled me more than anything.
The last few pages are then dedicated to Utena and Anthy, but it’s not a story or a flash forward to their futures after the revolution, but merely their kid versions finding each other and embracing for a (admittedly lovely) final shot. It’s a disappointment as I think a mini story of the two finally finding each other as adults, would have been a lovely one shot for fans who followed and fell in love with their characters for the past 20 years. Sadly, it’s not meant to be.
Chiho Saito also provides the art for the book, and despite a large gap between when she first drew these characters and when this book came out, she illustrates them very clearly and delivers some beautifully detailed art in between each chapter. There are some really nice panels, such as child Utena dancing on piano keys during the song the twins perform together towards the end, which has a lovely whimsical charm to it.
The way that After the Revolution sells itself, from the cover art to the blurb on the back, is quite different to what we eventually get. From the back and forth of story edits that apparently Chiho Saito went through, it seems to have resulted in static characters that mostly re-tread arcs they should have moved on from as teens, like the editors themselves who did not think fans wanted to see the characters change too much from what we know and love. The book has some nice imagery and story beats, but potential to be great isn’t the same as being great. Overall, it’s a nice experiment, but not what all fans are going to be expecting for the series’ 20th anniversary.