“The path before you has been prepared.”
Ah, Revolutionary Girl Utena – a show which I sincerely wish had had the same level of animation budgeting as its movie counterpart did. However, even if it did, there is one fact that wouldn’t have changed – the sheer amount of recycled animation. Utena entering the dueling arena, Utena drawing the sword of Dios from Anthy (later, the reverse), Mikage’s interactions with Mamiya and the Black Rose duelists, the intro piece about Utena meeting a prince as a child… the list is fairly exhaustive. But if there was a budgetary change, why wouldn’t they have tried to mix this up a little bit more?
Recycled animation in Revolutionary Girl Utena has a two-fold, arguably three-fold, purpose; firstly, it did help save money on the budget. Secondly, Ikuhara could very well have been quietly mocking other mahou shoujo-type shows (granted, Utena really doesn’t fit into this category), such as his earlier efforts on Sailor Moon. But most importantly, the repetition of animation served the larger purpose of symbolism within the show.
Utena is a show which thrives on symbolism; in all the anime I’ve ever watched, and I have seen quite a bit, I’ve never had a show leave me as frequently befuddled as Utena (the only exception I can think of is Cat Soup or Angel Egg, and I’m not entirely convinced that either was supposed to make sense anyway). Utena is the perfect show for a re-watch, since the sheer amount of layers it possesses means that every viewing leaves one with a slightly different perspective and understanding – one will miss things they caught in an earlier viewing while discovering things they missed their first time round, lending a slightly different flavor.
As such, we can’t really take the recycled animation at face value, e.g. as a move made purely for economic reasons.
I used the title ‘Empty Movement’ because it comes from the second Utena ED, Virtual Star Embryology (this also happens to be Saionji’s second duel chorus). Its a good way of encapsulating the way that the recycled scenes eventually come across to us as – we view them so many times, they become devoid of meaning. If we watch them at all, as opposed to fast-forwarding through, we watch it on auto-pilot, since their significance has been stripped away by our multiple viewings of it.
This is exactly how we’re supposed to feel about them, because this is how Anthy essentially views the entire process. Up until the very end, Anthy views Utena’s presence in her world as just another duelist playing at being a prince, a person who is ultimately going to fail, re-starting the whole thing once again. Once upon a time, Anthy probably did have some hope of the proceedings having results, but repetition has led her to believe that there really is no chance for any resolution. So she simply goes through the motions, not expecting there to ever be a different result; this is why Akio is so shocked when Anthy walks away at the end after he speaks of beginning the duelist game once again. Anthy has come to realize that she doesn’t have to endure the endless cycle, that there was a meaning in the repetitious actions of Utena’s tenure at Ohtori.
I would tell you that the next time you’re about to fast-forward through Zettai Unmei Mokushiroku you should take notice of the purpose of the recycled animation… except, all things considered, that would actually ruin it’s purpose, wouldn’t it?