A logical step for the young fan of anime is this series from the creator of the popular crossover hit Sailor Moon. The story line skews slightly older, not for its violence but for its complexity. The theme is modern myt... more »hology, not intergalactic warfare, so it's more interesting and less violent than in Sailor Moon. And less bubble-headed. Our heroine, Utena, is admired by classmates who share Sailor Moon's giddy hysterics, but Utena herself is solid, noble, and strong. Saved by a prince as a child, Utena dresses in the men's uniform of the expansive Ohtori Academy. Her goal is to be prince, and in this introductory disc (seven episodes, nearly three hours of material), she shows signs of becoming one. The scheming student council allows her into the mysterious forest arena, where she wins a sword duel (not played for blood) and wins the devoted loyalty of Anthy, the mysterious Rose Bride. They become a team, discovering the riddles of the arena forest and fending off challengers (while excelling in classes to boot). While some Westerners may read far too much into the sexual politics of the series, it's very old-fashioned at its core: Utena's affections are girded toward a duelist who just may be the prince who saved her years before. Some mild domestic violence and oddly subtitled songs ("Absolute Destroy Apocalyptic," "Paleozoic Era in the Flies") will ruffle some parents, but for ages 9 and up it's engaging entertainment. Utena delivers for girls what Star Wars did for boys: a never-ending series of adventures that one can imagine themselves in, whether daydreaming or playing in the backyard. The DVD comes in both subtitled and dubbed formats. --Doug Thomas« less
"Utena is a strange, strange story. At its simplest, it is a fairy tale set on its head: the heroine, Utena, is a girl who wants to be the prince after being rescued by a prince when she was a little girl. Her goal leads her to Ohtori Academy, where she finds herself drawn into a series of sword duels for possession of the Rose Bride, another girl at the school. If that sounds odd, it is, but it's really the least bid of weirdness. For example, the wonderful soundtrack shifts between light classical and rock opera (for the duels). A castle hangs upside down from inside a building. Wild animals pop up unexpectedly all over the place. The whole thing is surreal; even the characters' eyes are drawn in a style which, by anime conventions, suggests they are dreaming or hallucinating.This first disc contains 7 episodes (out of a total of 39, of which 13 are translated into English as of November, 2000). The stories introduce the characters and establish the initial paths of the conflicts between them--the basic question being, why do these people want possession of the Rose Bride? The characters are interesting, the stories are unusual and fresh, and the English voice acting (if you're watching the dub) is well-done for all the major characters. One thing to watch out for: the disc proclaims "From the director of Sailor Moon." In Japan, the audience for Utena and Sailor Moon might overlap; such is probably not the case in the US. The themes in Utena are much more adult than most would want to have pre-teen girls watching, including domestic violence and hints (at least in this disc) of homosexuality. There is no nudity here, but there are some rather suggestive scenes."
From light & fluffy to dark & sinister...I loved this show!!
Steven Myers | 03/26/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"One of the most intricately written animes I've ever watched; one of the most fun comedies I've ever enjoyed; one of the most intriguing horror stories I've ever experienced; one of the most captivating depictions of evil I've ever seen! By the time the hidden truth behind the plot is revealed, the story has grown to almost epic proportions. It's not just about good or evil *people* ... it's about Good or Evil itself!A Junior High girl finds herself being drawn ever deeper into a strange series of ritual Duels for possession of the mysterious "Rose Bride." Whoever is engaged to the Bride, it is said, will inherit "The Power Of Miracles, the Power To Revolutionize the World." Motivated by a dimly remembered childhood meeting of fate with a strange Prince, Utena fights to protect the Bride from those who would use (abuse) her for their own pleasure or goals. But Utena doesn't accurately remember what really happened between her and her Prince, and some of the Student Council know more than they pretend...One of the challenges of watching this show is trying to figure out what it's all about. The writers string the viewer along, tantalyzing the audience with a wonderfully surreal fantasy-like Academic Academy where the rules are never quite explained, but everything is just like the modern world ... almost.From floating castles and magical swords to swirling roses and burning coffins, from secret societies and mysterious benefactors to forbidden forests and lost loves, nothing is what it seems, and the list of who you think you can trust grows shorter, and shorter, and shorter...The questions continue to mount, almost relentlessly, while the writers refuse to give away any information. Eventually, viewers must learn to take this world at face value and have faith that all will be explained in the end.Viewers who do so will not be disappointed. The payoff is powerful ... and startling! The ending was worth every trial encountered in reaching it! Rarely have I been so surprised by the "surprises." I couldn't see it coming ... any of it! It was shocking, and incredible. It was absolutely great!Let us all just hope that the currently released tapes sell well enough that episodes #14 through #39 (the end) get liscensed and released soon. It would be awful for those who get their anime solely from American sources to be cut off at episode #13! The show hasn't even gotten dark yet at that point!It is easy to be put off by the stylized setting or character designs. It is easy to look at the character desings & dismiss this show as being "fluffy." It is easy to watch the first few episodes and believe this show is for children, girls, or fans of the "magical girl" genre. This would be a mistake.This is a mature, almost frightenly accurate examination of what it takes to break people ... to bring out their darkest motives and convince them to sell their soul. I have seen a room full of adults roll with laughter, cheer with elation and shiver with horror at this show. I loved it, but by the end, I felt like I was trapped inside "The Screwtape Letters," & couldn't get out!One caveat: Because the dialogue is so meticulously crafted, because the precise wording and double-meanings are so critical, it is more important with this show than with most animes to have an accurate *translation,* as opposed to a *paraphrase.* I have seen both the sub and dub now, and since the subtitled version is predominantly a translation, and the dubbed version is, unfortunately, more of a paraphrase, it matters more with this show than with most that the viewer be aware that the English is not always an entirely faithful adaptation of the original, and that some meaning (sometimes quite a bit) will be lost."
A Real Sleeper Hit
Mark Q Jee | USA | 03/20/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"When I saw the first volume at the video store, I was skeptical, but I'm glad I tried it. All though it seems marketed towards girls (with the pink boxes and all) it's good and interesting material no matter who you are. The plot is wonderful and strange, in fact, it's unlike anything I've ever seen. Anime has become a collection of cliches, with the most successful anime those which put those cliches together the best rather than being original (aka Escaflowne). While a lot of the standard anime conventions are in here, there is a lot of new stuff, too. Most of the characters are based around personalities rather than a single character trait & a contrived tragic past (like we have in most anime). You won't find the "spiky-haired, blonde & boisterous martial-artist" or the "bouncy, big-busted, schoolgirl-packing-heavy-weaponry" here. Although many of the male characters have the stereotypical long-haired, slender, Girl's Anime appearance, they're all much more deeply characterized, and the heroine does not bubble over them like in most girl's anime-in fact, they seem to be the anathema of her tastes. Utena's character is almost an ideal-she's strong, smart, tough, and righteous, but without being preachy or melodramatic, and is not bubble-headed or overly-effiminate as most anime heroines tend to be. She's a true tomboy (again, not the contrived idea of a tomboy present in most anime),and she is presented in a matter-of-fact way that makes her much more real than most "perfect" heroes. Unlike most supposedly strong anime heroines, she does not slobber over the various pretty-boys, or act as though having a boyfriend for the big dance is a matter of life or death. In fact, she doesn't concern herself with these things at all.The plots are well done and reasonable, though the main plot of the "End of the World" seems to get lost for a few episodes, and it instead becomes a social commentary and a satire (especially the episodes involving Nanami), but I didn't mind. From what I've seen so far, Utena gets involved in a weird plot involving the Student Council, where challengers duel to possess the "Rose Bride" (the duels are not fought for blood-to win you must knock off a rose pinned to your opponent's chest), and the final victor is destined to receive some great power. Fans of gritty, dark stories, or the mindless, derivitive blood-and-breast anime that so many seem to think is the pinnacle of animation may not like it, the story is pure romance (Romance as in idealistic fantasy, not as in love and relationships), a sort of modern fairy tale. Think Don Quixote over Sailor Moon. One note, though, the lyrics of the battle themes have the most ridiculous lyrics I've ever heard, anywhere. Even worse than Escaflowne's one-lyric songs. Absolute Destiny Apocalypse plays every time Utena prepares for a duel, and each battle has it's own laughably bad song. The beginning and ending themes are really good, though-the lyrics of the opening song actually make sense (again, unlike most anime). Also, I know everyone else is denying it, but I'm telling you there is a very subtle but very strong and clear homosexual subcontext to the story. No, I don't think the characters are gay, but it's definitely suggested a LOT, and very blatantly at that. This may just be fan-service, though-homosexual themes are very popular among girls anime."
*contains some spoilers*
Mark Q Jee | 01/08/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It begins like a fairy tale about a sad princess. . .It was Christmas 99 that I got the Utena boxed set with all four English dubbed episodes. I didn't fall in love with it immediately. At first, I was just pleased with the boxes. Pink! My favorite color! The unfamiliar pink-haired girl with a sword struck no particular chord of enthusiasm for me. I came home to Kentucky with my newly acquired anime for Fourth of July to visit my harpy of a biological mom (she lives in KY, my psuedo dad lives in CA) and I tried watching with my sister, Loretta who's first comment was "Are those girls lesbians? I'm not watching any lezzie shows with you." Well, she fell asleep after the first episode, making critical comments all the way. I couldn't even enjoy the anime for her. So, I tried watching it with my best friend of seven years and spirit sister Samantha.And we both loved it and bonded together nicely while watching it. She laughed in her particular Samantha way and asked "So? What's the deal? Whoever knocks a rose of the other person's [chest] first wins?" It WAS pretty weird. Later, we did some Wakaba-Utena impersonating by jumping on one another's back and crying "UTENA! UTENA, my love!!!!!" giggling hysterically. While in CA I recorded all the Utena episodes and sent them to my friend Samantha. So... it's sort of like `our' anime. Her boyfriend and her have Slayers as `their' anime. Well, people can have a specific song that is theirs... why not having a `couplet anime`? Hah! I just invented that term. The opening theme song makes me happy just to hear it. Later, as my appreciation for the Utena series matured- I visited anime turnpike and looked at *all* of the Utena dedicated websites. . . among those was one called "Through a Rose colored Lens" that had wonderful poetry about the series... and another site with a gorgeous mini-video of the song by Natalie Ambruglia called Torn with Utena imagery flashing as the song went along...(both sites are dead now) it took you through the whole series, the music and lyrics bringing sad and sweet emphasis to the images. So, I felt for Utena and her Prince. Isn't every girl looking for her Prince? Someone to make us feel whole and give us love and strength. Utena's search for her prince.... the loss of her innocence to Akio and the final betrayal of her... are perhaps things you can relate to your own life. Do you wish a prince on a white horse would come and save you from something hard you've had to endure, kiss away your tears and give you a noble spirit and a purpose? If you knew you'd meet him again someday, would you want to be just like him..... Or like Jury, have you loved a person who could feel nothing for you in return? Perhaps, like Nanami, everything feels tragic to you and you get carried away in your own crazy imagination only to appear bizarre and comical to others? Or perhaps.... like Anthi, you are quiet, submissive, scared to be yourself and desire secretly to have an Utena of your own to bring you `revolution.' If anyone you've loved dearly has died then you know what the little girl with pink hair weeping inside a coffin next to her parents coffins felt like. To lose things - to need something eternal. "If everything dies what is the point of living?" You might have asked yourself. You will keep watching, just as I did, to find out an answer.... if there is one at all... Utena answers some questions by playing out and giving a catharsis of those fears... Utena after all - mighty, noble, strong prince and fragile young girl with a sensitive soul all in one- may remind you of your own clashing identities. Her gender does not define her as a person. Maybe she is someone you can look to in your own life when faced with a difficult problem.... A role model.... What would you do if you did everything in a `noble' way? The romance of being a `prince' to someone and saving them endears itself to me in a way no other anime could.The human suffering of Ohtori academy and the complex nature of Utena herself, with her pink hair representing her immaturity and her old, mature soul seemingly still full of idealism after such hardships in a less than perfect world became somewhat of a mantra in my own life. Things are hard now, I could say, but no matter what someone can still live a noble life. No one can strip you of your own nobility if you have it deep inside of you. This idea, though not down-to-earth and a little naive is something beautiful to hold on to in a violent, scary world full of uncertainties. So if Utena is immature to believe in the innocence of the world.... then maybe we could all stand to remain a little `immature' as a Dios or a Utena, even after all the Shioris and Akios have had their way with us.That's why I love Utena. Hearing her story brought me my own revolution. . . the beautiful music of the opening and ending songs is a great comfort. ^_^"
Junipertree | Nelson, BC Canada | 09/04/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"When I first picked up this series at a local video store, I expected it to be some cheesy, melodramatic shojo (girls') anime. Was I ever wrong.Utena, superficially, is the story of a determined young girl who goes through many trials for the sake of her friend, the Rose Bride, Anthy Himemiya. Underneath all that it is a heavily symbolic story about the balance between masculinity and femininity and humanity's struggle against its own flaws.Utena is directed by Ikuhara, who also did Sailor Moon - but be warned, Utena is nothing like Sailor Moon. While the anime is still lighter than the original manga, it deals with controversial subjects such as incest, rape, and lesbianism. Young children can watch Utena without fear, as it contains no nudity or violence whatsoever, but a ten-year-old simply won't get the complexity of plot in Utena, which was written for teenagers.Ikuhara's handling of Utena is superb: the music, the animation and the voices are great - but the English pronounciations are still awful (Utena TenjOH, people, not Tenjoo). Utena is a geart watch even for guys; you can't call yourself an otaku if you don't see it!"