Pinched directly from the pages of a Manga comic by Chiho Saito, Revolutionary Girl Utena follows the strange adventures of a girl arriving in a bizarre new school academy.
She meets the ‘Rose Bride’ Anthy, although doesn’t understand the title. They become close, but Utena then discovers she must duel (with swords) for the hand of the Rose Bride and the winner of a series of duels becomes The Prince and can claim the Rose Bride. However, there are others wishing to claim her and the prize is not going to be easy to attain.
There’s more after this but I want to be careful to not give anything away, particularly as the film takes a radical turn around two thirds of the way which just lends further to the confusion regarding the whole thing.
|"I feel the Middle Ages within myself... "|
There are certainly some magnificent moments of animation here, with breathtaking visuals and extraordinary movement, but overall the film’s story is just too strange to grasp in full. There’s even a murder mystery thrown in, plus car chases amid the swordfights. Not to mention the facts regarding whose side anyone is on and when they lose a swordfight do they die or what?
Still, there are a lot of clues to the strange goings on and what they all mean. The roaming architecture of the academy lends the feeling of unreality to the schoolyard, perhaps tipping us off that everything isn’t quite what it seems. The overall film is generally metaphor about the changing of teenagers into adults and the world they must break into. While the theory seems okay, the visuals are just a tad too indecipherable for the average film viewer to grab, in my opinion. I certainly had troubles.
With the teen theme in mind, there are also plenty of titillating moments of girl on girl action that will no doubt appeal to some, but this seems sorta baked in and unexplained and feels like using a general lowest common denominator to grab the audience. Nudity is portrayed relatively cleanly though without hair or nipples, which kinda makes the nudes look like Barbie™ figures making out. Again, most of this is titillating and hints at the nudity without actually showing anything, making it easier to get itself onto telly perhaps.
Overall I found it a bit sleep inducing and not as exciting as it appeared to be at first. While the visuals are quite awesome in the backgrounds and moving architectural backdrops, the animation is good but the usual brand of cheap-looking with minimal movement and still figures. Lip synch is non-existent (as usual), but that’s okay; we’ve not come to expect anything else. Character design seems just a shade too angular though and the faces and hair are reminiscent of the classical animé looks we’ve seen in Sailor Moon and the like (and it’s actually by the same director of said animation).
Hardcore fans may find something to drool over here, but I found the overall film exceptionally average story-wise and animation-wise, even if the Gothic backgrounds were a real stand out feature.
Well, it’s a faultless presentation, no doubt. As noted, the film looks fantastic in its 1.78:1 anamorphically enhanced delivery which rich, bold colour and no oversaturation. The very stylised architecture embodies a Gothic dreamscape throughout that lends a hypnotic quality to the storyline, which unfortunately isn’t as strong. A car crash during a race looks absolutely sensational, having been constructed beautifully to create the illusion of high speeds and proving to be the highlight of the animation here for me. It comes late in the film though and I’d pretty much given up caring by then.
Naturally blacks look fine and so does the shadow detail, while flesh is also quite deliberate. Created in 1997, I think portions of this program have been made digitally whilst some appear to be cel-like in nature. I couldn’t detect any cel artefacts (nor film artefacts) so I’d be happy to be mistaken there. Overall, it’s beautiful to look at, no question.
Delivered in Dolby Digital stereo like the majority of its brethren, Utena still comes across perfectly clearly dialogue-wise. The English version I watched was a followable dialogue (if not story) but did differ quite a bit from the Japanese subtitles. This isn’t a rare thing though. The differences in language just do that but it’s generally the same story allover.
Music is fine but unremarkable. While it has its share of overdramatics, there are some pretty neat choral moments with Japanese singers. However, this theme gets tired pretty quickly and even borders on annoying by the end. Sound effects are pretty cool, with plenty of swordplay and car noises sounding crystalline throughout. These contribute volumes to the understanding and fullness of the story, but again aren’t really enough to save it.
Perhaps there’s something here for the real animé junkies, I dunno. There are some really quite beautiful backgrounds and stylized movements, plus some decent animation at times, but the story just found me a little bereft and in need of some saleable answers.
However, there are an unusually large collection of extras adding weight to the mass here, so fans of something a little different might find the risk worthwhile. I found the story a bit too weighted in metaphor though, without any real explanations and this created an overall uninteresting final work.