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 12-December 18, 2011

My News and Reviews

Not much news from me here this week. I posted Library Love, Part 8 in which I provide some quick takes of manga that I’ve been reading and borrowing from the library. I also posted my review of Ninja Attack!: True Tales of Assassins, Samurai, and Outlaws. It’s another really fantastic book from the authors of Yokai Attack!: The Japanese Monster Survival Guide. Definitely recommended.

And because I like lists, I thought I’d share a few that I’ve come across recently. Graphic Novel Reporter has posted their Holiday 2011 Gift Guide. Unfortunately, not a lot of manga on that one. However, No Flying No Tights revealed their Must Have Manga for Teens not too long ago. It’s a very nice list. You should check it out. And finally, Deb Aoki of Manga has posted the Top 25 Most Anticipated Manga of 2012. There’s some really great stuff coming out next year that I’m very excited about.

Oh! December’s Manga Moveable Feast, featuring Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon, is next week! Sean Gaffney over at A Case Suitable for Treatment will be hosting.

Quick Takes

Chi’s Sweet Home, Volume 7 by Konami Kanata. I really do love Chi’s Sweet Home. Sometimes you just need to read something cute and fluffy and Chi more than fits the bill. Kanata’s color illustrations are simply lovely to behold, too. The seventh volume of the series finds Chi mostly settled into her new home, although she still gets lost wandering around on adventures if she’s not paying attention. She’s determined to befriend Cocchi, regardless of what the other kitten wants. Kanata perfectly captures the lovingly antagonistic relationship that I’ve seen with my own cats. The seventh volume also features an adorable goldfish, which I’ll admit made me very happy.

Drifters, Volume 1 by Kohta Hirano. If there’s one thing that Hirano does well, it’s create highly entertaining manga. Granted, Drifters doesn’t have a lot of substance and there are a lot of things that don’t make sense yet, but I still had a tremendous amount of fun reading it. Hirano’s artwork is bold and bombastic, perfectly fitting his nearly insane characters and the over-the-top and constant action. However, some of the fight sequences can be a little difficult to follow. Drifters will probably work best for readers who are already familiar with the historical figures presented in the story (as well as some of their personal quirks) since not much background information is given. Their character designs are pretty great regardless, though.

From Eroica with Love, Volumes 1-4 by Yasuko Aoike. The first volume of From Eroica with Love is rough, with a quickly (and fortunately) abandoned plot dealing with a group of psychic teenagers. Get past that and the series turns into something really special. Earl Dorian Red Gloria is not only fabulously flamboyant, he is also the internationally infamous art thief Eroica. Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach is the ever rigid and reserved NATO officer who somehow always happens to be the one having to deal with Eroica. They are great on their own, but the series best when Klaus and Eroica are sharing the stage together. The constant harassing (on Klaus’ part) and flirting (on Eroica’s) are endlessly entertaining.

Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Apocalypse Saga directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara. The third and final of the Revolutionary Girl Utena boxsets from Nozomi, The Apocalypse Saga consists of episodes twenty-five through thirty-nine of the anime series, the movie The Adolescence of Utena, and a disc full of extras. The series is surreal and difficult for me to adequately describe, but it is incredibly engaging and compelling. It really is a tremendous series. Frequently it makes my heart ache as I get caught up in the story. As for the movie, it is a very odd interpretation of an already strange tale which probably won’t make much sense at all unless you’ve seen the series. And even then, it’ll probably still make you wonder.

My Week in Manga: August 8-August 14, 2011

My News and Reviews

Last week I posted two reviews, neither one of which were for manga. I reviewed Book Girl and the Famished Spirit, the second volume in Mizuki Nomura’s Book Girl light novel series. I didn’t enjoy it quite as well as the first volume, but I still love the series’ premise of a literature eating yōkai. I also reviewed Christopher Ross’ memoir/travelogue/biography thingy (it’s a little difficult to classify) Mishima’s Sword: Travels in Search of a Samurai Legend. It’s an interesting read and I’d recommended it to anyone interested in Yukio Mishima or in Japanese swords and swordsmanship.

The Fumi Yoshinaga Manga Moveable Feast starts today! This month the Feast will be co-hosted by Kristin Bomba of Comic Attack and Linda Yau of Animemiz’s Scribblings. Yoshinaga is one of the darlings of the manga blogging community so there should be plenty of great submissions. As for me, I’ll be reviewing the third volume of Ōoku: The Inner Chambers, which may possibly be my favorite Yoshinaga series. At least at the moment. If I had at all been paying attention, I would have also read a bunch of Yoshinaga manga for this post’s quick takes section. Anyway, that was my original intention. The Feast somehow snuck up on me this time around. My bad. So, I’ll all make sure to do it for next week’s quick takes instead.

Also of note: Experiments in Manga’s one-year anniversary is coming up in a few days!

Quick Takes

Adamo Anthology, Volume 1: Strange Love by Various. 2010 saw the publication of several independent original-English boys’ love collections, Adamo Anthology among them. The first volume collects four stories and four pin-up illustrations with the theme of “strange love.” Each story has some sort of supernatural element or other oddity to the featured couple’s relationship—psychics and psychopaths, a kidnapped rookie cop, haunted guitars, a musician who’s shut himself away from the world. Each artist has a distinctive style and its nice to see the variety in the stories and illustrations. The pinups are fun, too. I haven’t heard anything about a second Adamo Anthology yet, but if there ever is one I’ll be picking it up.

Chi’s Sweet Home, Volume 4-6 by Konami Kanata. I’ll admit it, I love Chi’s Sweet Home. Admittedly, I like cats and people who like cats are probably the people who will find this series most appealing. Kanata seems to have anthropomorphized Chi a bit more in these volumes than in the previous ones, but she is still primarily very cat like. I was already familiar with some of these chapters since they were the basis of some of the Chi’s Sweet Home: Chi’s New Address anime episodes, but they were still delightfully charming. I am impressed that Kanata has been able to come up with so many adventures for Chi without becoming too repetitive. Although, if you’ve read any of Chi’s Sweet Home, you pretty much know what to expect by now.

Chobits, Omnibus 1-2 (equivalent to Volumes 1-8) by CLAMP. Chobits was my introduction to CLAMP and I’m quite fond of the series. Granted, I’m a sucker for android stories. To be honest, there’s a fair amount of pandering in Chobits, particularly early on in the series. The fanservice does show up throughout the series, though. To some extent, the fanservice actually serves to further the story as the characters struggle to understand concepts of love, desire, loneliness, and what it means to be human. I like Hideki, the protagonist of the series. As just about every character mentions (much to his dismay), he’s a good guy. Chobits has nice art, an engaging story, and likeable characters.

Color of Rage written by Kazuo Koike and illustrated by Seisaku Kano. Something just doesn’t sit right with me about Color of Rage. It’s as though a blaxploitation film has been crossed with a manga about feudal Japan. It’s not necessarily a bad combination, but Color of Rage just doesn’t quite pull it off. The characters frequently liken slavery in the United States to Japan’s caste system, but the comparison is oversimplified and therefore unconvincing. King, one of the escaped slaves, doesn’t really convince me, either. His motivations and actions seem inconsistent even though he is intended to be the more honorable of the two. Kano’s gekiga-style illustrations work well for the story, although the action sequences can be somewhat difficult to follow.

Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Black Rose Saga directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara. The second of Nozomi’s Revolutionary Girl Utena box sets, The Black Rose Saga collects episodes thirteen through twenty-four of the series. This is my first time watching Revolutionary Girl Utena and I’m still loving it. Sure, the reuse of animation sequences is noticeable and the duels in The Black Rose Saga are somewhat repetitive because of it. Also, The Black Rose Saga introduces new characters and plot complications rather suddenly. But the psychological elements in the series are tremendous and frequently heartbreaking. The Ohtori Academy is one awfully strange place to go to school.

Samurai Champloo, Episodes 16-26 directed by Shinichirō Watanabe. I love this series so much. There’s not much filler in Samurai Champloo and every episode contains some plot or character developments. A few of the episodes are more silly than anything else, but even the silly episodes aren’t wasted. Although humor can be found in each installment, Samurai Champloo handles serious moments and plot arcs well, too. Sometimes the contrast between the serious and the silly can be a little odd, but it works for me. Occasionally the animation in Samurai Champloo can be a little shaky, but for the most part the quality is consistently high and visually appealing. I think Samurai Champloo is a great series. It’s got a great soundtrack, too.

My Week in Manga: June 20-June 26, 2011

My News and Reviews

Last week was the Wild Adapter Manga Moveable Feast, hosted by Manga Bookshelf. I was already very fond of Kazuya Minekura’s Wild Adapter and so was very excited to read everyone’s contributions. In addition to a few comments about the series as a whole in last week’s My Week in Manga, I also reviewed the first volume and posted some random musings about mahjong in relation to the series—Random Musings: Mahjong, Kubota, and Wild Adapter. I was very pleased with how well my mahjong post seemed to go over. Next month’s Manga Moveable Feast will feature Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket and will be hosted by David Welsh at The Manga Curmudgeon.

And briefly, for a much better and complete look at the manga Hot Gimmick which I provide a quick take for below, see Jason Thompson’s recent House of 1000 Manga column: Hot Gimmick.

Quick Takes

Isle of Forbidden Love by Duo Brand. I’ve only read one other Duo Brand manga, but I tend to like their artwork. Isle of Forbidden Love is a nice but not outstanding one shot. I found the science fiction trappings, creating a legitimate excuse to mix Edo period Japan and firearms, to be much more interesting than the boys’ love elements. The romance itself felt too rushed to me to be realistic and I wasn’t convinced by how quickly the characters fall for each other. But other than that, I did like the story as a whole. The omake included are pretty great, too, especially the three “On the Edge” segments where Duo Brand discuss their sword and spear fetishes and how they like to incorporate them into their works.

Hanako and the Terror of Allegory, Volume 1 by Sakae Esuno. I’m a fan of Japanese folklore and urban legends and so am always interested in manga that explore them in some way, which is how I found out about Hanako and the Terror of Allegory. And with a title like that, I couldn’t pass up opportunity to give the series a try. The first volume features stories about the man with an axe under the bed, the slit mouthed woman, and the human-faced fish. I like the concept of the series where allegories and legends literally haunt people and Esuno does some interesting things with it. I particularly like Detective Aso. He’s completely fed up with investigating these strange cases and happens to be haunted himself. Also, he has an impressive porn collection.

Hayate X Blade, Omnibus 2 (equivalent to Volumes 4-6) by Shizuru Hayashiya. I’m really enjoying this series and hope that Seven Seas is able to license more of Hayate X Blade. It’s fun and goofy, plus, you know, it has cute girls and sword fighting. I appreciate the fact that there are so many unique and individual characters and that they all get a chance to shine. With such a large cast, there is plenty of opportunity for craziness and drama. Each pair of sisters-in-arms have their own issues to work out. The only thing that disappoints me about the omnibus collections is that the excellent translation and editors’ notes from the individual volumes are not included for some reason.

Hot Gimmick, Omnibus 1 (equivalent to Volumes 1-3) by Miki Aihara. Holy cow, Hot Gimmick is one extraordinarily twisted but addictive manga series. I’ve seen it described as a bodice-ripper in manga form and from what I’ve seen so far that seems to be pretty accurate. Poor Hatsumi is surrounded by utter assholes who only want to use her as a means to an end. Every once in awhile it seems like they might redeem themselves, but no, they’re still assholes. Even when she gets up the courage to stand up for herself it never works out for her. The only decent guy in her life seems to be her older brother, but that relationship has some complications to it as well. If only she hadn’t agreed to buy that pregnancy test for her younger sister…

Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Student Council Saga directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara. The Student Council Saga is the first of three boxed sets to be released by Nozomi and consists of the first twelve episodes of the Revolutionary Girl Utena anime. I had never seen the anime before but I have absolutely fallen in love with this series. It’s surreal and strange, but also extremely compelling. It is also frequently hilarious and always dramatic. There’s a lot plot-wise that hasn’t been explained, and I don’t know if it ever will be, but I don’t care. I can’t wait for the next box set, The Black Rose Saga, to be released. Revolutionary Girl Utena has easily become one of my favorite anime series.