Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Adolescence of Utena

Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Adolescence of UtenaCreator: Chiho Saito
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781591165002
Released: November 2004
Original release: 1999

Revolutionary Girl Utena is one of my absolute favorite anime series. Despite that fact, I’ve never read any of the Revolutionary Girl Utena manga until now. I have no idea why that is. I love manga, and I love Revolutionary Girl Utena, so it would seem obvious that I should want read the Revolutionary Girl Utena manga. Maybe I was simply afraid that I would be disappointed by it. Turns out—at least with Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Adolescence of Utena—I probably shouldn’t have worried. The Adolescence of Utena manga by Chiho Saito is an alternate version of the animated film Adolescence of Utena which in turn is a retelling of sorts of the Revolutionary Girl Utena anime series. Saito’s The Adolescence of Utena was originally released in Japan in 1999, the same year as the film. In English it was first serialized in Animerica Extra, a shoujo-leaning monthly manga magazine published by Viz Media between 1998 and 2004, before the manga was collected and released as a single volume in 2004.

Utena Tenjou is a new student at the prestigious Ohtori Academy, known for its elegance, traditions, and ceremony. What she didn’t realize was that her ex-boyfriend Touga Kiryuu is also enrolled at the school and is president of the student council, no less. Two years ago he left her and, in response, Utena decided to take control of her life and become her own prince instead of waiting around for Touga or some other man to fill that role. But upon her arrival at Ohtori, Utena is quickly swept up in a mysterious series of duels between the members of the student council that will determine the fates of those who fight as well as the fate of a young woman named Anthy Himemiya, the Rose Bride. The winner of the duels earns the right to do whatever he or she desires with the Rose Bride, gaining the power to change and remake the world however is seen fit. All of those involved, even Utena herself, have tragic pasts and dark secrets, but Utena is the only one who is able to look beyond all of those and see Anthy as more than an object to be won.

I have always found it difficult to summarize Revolutionary Girl Utena or to adequately explain just how meaningful the series is to me. Revolutionary Girl Utena has a strange but powerful narrative with many, many layers to it. The same is true of The Adolescence of Utena manga; it just seems impossible for me to truly do the work justice. Although certainly more direct and straightforward than its film counterpart, the manga is still incredibly surreal and rife with symbolism. Almost nothing is exactly what it initially seems and almost everything is open to multiple interpretations and analyses. The imagery itself is very dreamlike—architecture that defies the laws of physics, floating castles, flurries of rose petals, gardens that shouldn’t be able to exist, and so on—but Saito captures it all beautifully. There is an ethereal quality to her artwork that suits The Adolescence of Utena remarkably well, whether the manga is meant to be a dream, purgatory, a metaphor, or something else entirely. Both the story and the art of The Adolescence of Utena are intensely psychological, deeply emotional, and highly sexually charged.

The Adolescence of Utena is in many ways a distillation of Revolutionary Girl Utena, crystallizing many of the original series’ themes into a single volume. I was actually rather impressed by how much Saito was able to retain and how complex the tale remained even in a condensed form. The manga will probably be appreciated most by those who are at least familiar with Revolutionary Girl Utena, but it also carries some significance and effectiveness as a separate work in its own right. The relationship between Utena and Anthy is absolutely key to the story as the manga explores love of different types—romantic, illicit, familial, sexual, and many others—as well the multitude of intersections between those types of love, both good and bad. And just as important as love is to The Adolescence of Utena, so are the feelings and emotions of despair and desperation as each of the characters, all of whom are broken or damaged, struggle in their own way to try to reclaim their lives and who they are. Much like the original Revolutionary Girl Utena, I found The Adolescence of Utena to be an exceptionally compelling work.

My Week in Manga: December 9-December 15, 2013

My News and Reviews

Last week I posted the first review in my new monthly review project, A Year of Yuri. This project will focus on comics and manga with yuri and lesbian themes. For this month’s review, I took a closer look at June Kim’s debut graphic novel 12 Days which was even better than I remembered it being. It’s a beautiful work that addresses the complexities of grief, family, love, and loss.

Also last week, I wrote a post that focused on how to find manga in libraries—Finding Manga: Library Love. The post is sort of a combination of two of my semi-regular features—Finding Manga and Library Love. (I’ve actually decided to retire Library Love, so the post was also a way for me to give the feature a nice send-off.) It’s a pretty long post; if you don’t feel like reading the whole thing, you can always just skip to the quick tips at the end.

As for interesting things found online: The Pew Research Center coincidentally posted its report on How Americans Value Public Libraries in Their Communities the same day I was expressing my own love of libraries; over at Geekscape, Kari Lane discussed yaoi with Jennifer LeBlanc, SuBLime’s editor; and Erica Friedman talked about some of the differences between the U.S. and Japanese comic book industries on Quora.

Quick Takes

Fake FurFake Fur by Satomi Yamagata. For a boys’ love manga, Fake Fur is surprisingly realistic in its portrayal of Yamashita—a young man who in high school is just starting to come to terms with his sexuality and homosexuality. The manga follows him as he becomes aware that he is in love with his close friend Kubo and how he handles the aftermath of that realization and his changing relationships. Fake Fur deals with both physical and romantic desire and how those two aspects of love can often be in conflict with each other. In some cases, sex and physical pleasure is used as a replacement for true affection. For Yamashita and several of the other characters in Fake Fur, this is something that is both comforting and heartbreaking. On the other hand, for better or for worse, physical intimacy can naturally lead to emotional intimacy. After all, a sexual relationship is still a relationship. In Fake Fur Yamashita and the others grapple with this, hoping to find love but also recognizing that there is more than one way to be close to another person.

Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 4Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 4 by Mitsuru Hattori. The covers for the English-language edition of the Sankarea manga tend to focus on the horror elements of the series. While that horror is certainly a part of Sankarea, I still see it as more of a romantic comedy than anything else. Granted, it is a very strange romantic comedy with even stranger characters. I like the series best when it’s focusing on the relationship between Chihiro and the recently zombified Rea, which has some interesting developments in this volume. For one, Rea continues to become more zombie-like, her cravings for flesh barely being held in check by her natural inhibitions. However, I was less impressed with the mostly unnecessary scene between Chihiro and Rea’s mother in which she drunkenly and nakedly propositions him. Apparently the volume’s fanservice quota needed to be met somehow. My favorite part of this volume was actually the side-comic “I Am Also…A Zombie…” which is told from the perspective of Chihiro’s pet cat (and zombie) Bub. Bub is the greatest.

Showa1Showa: A History of Japan, 1926-1939 by Shigeru Mizuki. Originally published in Japan as an eight-volume series, Drawn & Quarterly’s edition of Showa: A History of Japan is being released in four, two-volume omnibuses. Japan’s Showa era, corresponding to Emperor Hirohito’s reign, lasted from December 25, 1926 to January 7, 1989. In the introduction to the first volume of Showa, Frederik L Schodt describes the Showa era as one of “the most tumultuous, violent, and tragic” periods in Japan’s history. There are actually two intertwining stories contained in Mizuki’s Showa: the factual history of the country as a whole at that time and Mizuki’s personal history as someone who lived through it. Mizuki’s artwork also reflects these two different portrayals of the Showa era. The illustrations range from the highly detailed and realistic, based on news and photographs from that period, to the more free-form and cartoonish. Showa is an informative read. I’m personally more familiar with the late Showa era, so I appreciated being able to learn more about early Showa in such an engaging format.

The World Exists for Me, Volume 1The World Exists for Me, Volumes 1-2 written by Be-Papas and illustrated by Chiho Saito. The literal translation of the Japanese title for The World Exists for Me would actually be The World of S and M. Though I’m sure it was intentionally chosen, it’s a rather peculiar title for a rather peculiar manga. Only two volumes were ever published, but I get the feeling that The World Exists for Me was originally conceived of as a much longer work. The ending comes very suddenly and very little, if anything, is actually resolved. The series definitely had some potential—I found its use of time travel, destiny, and historical figures and events to be interesting—but the story never quite pulls together as something particularly coherent. It’s a bit of a mess, really. While it can be enjoyable, it doesn’t really make much sense at all. The World Exists for Me was developed by the same creators involved with the Revolutionary Girl Utena manga. Some similarities can be seen between the two series, but I much prefer Utena.