Diary of an Anime Lived: Revolutionizing a World

utena-sword

Seizing my own revolution.

A continuance of the Diary of an Anime Lived series. Pictures taken from Empty Movement.

What I’m about to discuss is actually something I have never discussed with anyone. Also, contains some spoilers.

Growing up, I had a bit of a complicated time as regards gender and gender roles within society. I wasn’t confused on my own part about whether I was a girl or a boy (definitely a girl) ever; instead, I had a hard time working out exactly how to be a girl when the messages of my society were overwhelmingly one of girls being passive types who wore pink all the time. I’m sure someone will disagree with me on the notion that American society still hews fairly closely to gender roles of the past, but the fact remains that there is a lot of reinforcement of those gender roles when it comes to the messages sent to young girls.

So, really, the issue for me was this – I was a girl, yes… but I wanted to be strong. I wanted to be tough. But my society was making it clear to me that in order to be both of those, I had to be a boy. So I spent a good deal of my early years wishing I was a boy, because then I could be a tough person… and I could also pursue my childhood dream, which was to be a professional baseball player.

Once I got past the age of my mother basically exclusively dressing me, I began to shift over into a fairly masculine way of dressing (although my hair remained pretty long). I found puberty to be fairly painful, as while I was trying to come across as strong as possible, and therefore as masculine as possible, I suddenly was dealing with having breasts and having a period. I was quite honestly in denial about the whole menstruation thing for a solid six months. And I hated my breasts; I kept wishing they’d stop growing so I could stay pretty flat. I was so thoroughly uncomfortable with my body that I showered in a bathing suit throughout all of middle school.

But the fact remained that I was a girl, and that, honestly, I didn’t actually want to be a boy, I just wanted what I saw as the benefits of being a boy.

And into this equation came Revolutionary Girl Utena.

Originally, I read RGU’s manga first. The manga is pretty different from the TV series, as the manga itself is fairly straight-up shoujo overall. But Utena is still the girl who wants to be a prince, and manages to be both obviously (and happily) female while at the same time being a strong heroine who protects people. Its fairly important to remember, though, that it is this iteration of RGU that I had first contact with, though, since I came away from it with none of the understanding the TV series. This meant that I could want to be or emulate Utena, which I could not do once I finished the TV series. But more on that later.

Utena of the manga seemed to have it all – she was a fighter, she was tough, she was cute and definitely female, and she could protect someone. I found myself absolutely captivated – here was a girl who had the benefits of being a guy! And she was still a girl!

It was if a veil had been lifted from me. I could love jeans and miniskirts. I could be a military cadet but still paint my nails. These are all superficial in a sense, but its indicative of the overall fact that I didn’t have to ditch being a girl in order to be a strong person physically.

I like to think of Utena as giving me the ability to carve out my own personal take on being a girl. Fuck what society thought, I was going to do it my way.

But the RGU manga also gave me this weird hang-up about trying to be a prince, which ultimately was solved when I watched the anime a few years later and realized that my conception of being a prince, like Utena’s initial conception, was seriously flawed. I tried to act as a prince to some of my more wayward friends in the sense of someone saving another. But one of RGU’s messages was that you can’t truly save another person; they have to save themselves. You can certainly enable them to take that step forward to save themselves, but you can’t do it for them. Utena shows Anthy that she doesn’t have be trapped in her brother’s eternal sadistic game, and so Anthy is able to leave Ohtori behind even though Utena herself is gone. I personally really like the movie version of this message, as Utena literally turns into a car which Anthy uses to escape from the brilliant birdcage that is Ohtori Academy.

I figured myself out a lot because of RGU. It gave me an example of a strong girl that allowed me to take the first steps into emotional maturity, and then later showed me that my approach to others was in need of change. It revolutionized my world. And because of all that, it probably is my favorite anime series of all time.

utena-clothes-falling-off

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22 Responses to Diary of an Anime Lived: Revolutionizing a World

  1. digitalboy says:

    Brilliant post. I hope that people really understand how hard I’m sure it was for you to write this. You might not think much of it from an outside perspective, but when I think about whether or not I’d be willing to discuss the finer details of my own gender confusion, I get really uneasy. You have a lot of balls putting this out here! (erm… a lot of ovearies? I’m joking, joking)

    Puberty drove me, too, to realize more and more as time went by that I could less and less pass for a girl (people all thought I was one until I was about 14, and then it was right when I stopped looking like one that I started wishing I was.) It was only when I started to really look at the world more and ralize that men’s place in society could be whatever the fuck I wannted it to be that I stopped caring about wanting to be a woman.

    Looking at straight porn also helped. Honestly. For a long time, I would only look at lesbian porn. It was when I made he transition that, well, everything else transition, and I grew a fucking neckbeard and let myself go with weight, lol.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      Honestly, in writing this post I really for the first time actually thought through my experience relating to gender. I’ve always honestly been aware of the fact that Utena gave me an example of how one can be both female and strong, but it isn’t something I’ve ever really analyzed until now. It was hard to write, I’ll admit, but it was kind of liberating, too. And ‘admitting’ it to people is certainly a factor in that; I’m not sure I would’ve felt as good after writing it if I’d just kept it on my hard-drive, since that would’ve just… neuroticized it, if that makes any sense? Which isn’t to say my strong negative reaction to puberty was perfectly normal, but instead that it would’ve made it seem like something I should be ashamed about.

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  3. Kiri says:

    Very nice post and I echo what digitalboy said about it taking a lot of guts to post stuff like this.

    I’m still in denial.

    Sometimes I wonder if our interests draw out the gender confusion that seems to be so prevalent, or maybe its prevalent in everyone and we’re just more willing to let it out because we see odd gender shenanigans in our media of choice all the damn time.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      I think instead of us being willing to mention it because we see it in our medium of choice its more that because we already belong in a subculture of sorts we’re more likely to notice it and be willing to acknowledge it? Because we’re already seen as outside the norm in most situations, so looking at something like that in ourselves doesn’t really make us run the risk of becoming ‘weird’ like it would for someone who isn’t already marked aside as ‘other’.

      I have to admit in my case, though, that I prefer to term ‘gender role confusion’ as opposed to ‘gender confusion’ since I wasn’t confused about whether I was a boy or a girl – I was confused as to what I could do as a girl versus what I could do if I’d been a boy.

  4. k says:

    Very nicely written I like it. It felt direct and personal, as if you are talking to me directly. The points that you made are interesting to read and the article flowed very nicely. A non stop read, it really grabbed my interest. Before I read this piece, I can not see how RGU is a good anime considering how I dropped it because I can’t stand all the filers of the first half. After I finished reading this piece, however, I can definitely see how it is good from the point that it is something that teenage girls can really relate to and learn from. I will definitely be checking out the manga.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      I have to be honest – RGU really doesn’t have that much filler, with the exception of maybe three of the Nanami episodes. I think some of the earlier stuff can come off as filler, but if you watch the entire thing through to the end, you’ll be able to see how important everything from the beginning actually was.

    • digitalboy says:

      Don’t read the manga, it came after the anime and is only there to cash in on the anime’s success. The anime is a true classic and one of the best anime ever made. WATCH IT!

      • adaywithoutme says:

        Actually, the manga predates the anime by about a year. However, both the manga and anime were conceived of as an idea at the same time by the creative group the BePapas – Chiho Saito came up with the character designs, though, when she drew up the first sketches for the manga. She was disappointed that they changed the colors of Utena and Anthy’s outfits for the anime version, as both had worn shades of pink in the manga; additionally, Utena was originally a blonde!

        As for which is better… I do like the TV series much more, but I also enjoyed the manga.

  5. Baka-Raptor says:

    You could probably still play for the Red Sox, since they suck so much.

  6. I fail. I fail at everything.

    I read the post and spoiled myself (UR FAULT IT WAS TOO GUD NOT 2 RID).

    I haven’t seen Utena yet, hence the spoilage.

    And I never thought you’re a girl.

    On the one hand I just simply fail; on the other hand you wrote in a rather strong masculine voice that didn’t played into the stereotypes of male writing — I mean this in a good way: you write well (that’s the bottom line)… and on yet ANOTHER hand (that’s my secret power, I have multiple hands of consideration; pretty GAR huh?)what you’re trying to do is awesome and it’s been done.

    My mother in law is the first woman to graduate from the Defense Academy of the Philippines. She’s a retired General and is still in public office serving in a high capacity. Her daughter, my wife is also a captain at JAG, and is a lawyer who kicks ass taking bad guys down. They’re both lady-like too, which speaks of a triumph in our very latin-Catholic macho society. Ganbatte!

    • adaywithoutme says:

      Well, I was actually spoiled on Utena myself before watching the anime… but, honestly, I don’t think it in any way diminished the experience. While the ending is very powerful, knowing it and not knowing the intervening events really doesn’t spoil you too much, ultimately.

      I have to admit that the fact that you thought I was a guy this whole time amuses me intensely.

      That’s really, really, really cool about your wife and your mother-in-law. Especially for your mother-in-law – I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to be the first woman to enter into a military institution; even now its sometimes frustrating as a female within the military despite the fact that we’ve been kicking around in the regular ranks since the 1970’s.

    • digitalboy says:

      being spoiled for Utena doesn’t really matter, it’s all esoteric anyway.

      • adaywithoutme says:

        *looks seriously into the distant while striking a GAR-ish pose* It’s not the destination that counts, but the journey…

  7. AngelSora says:

    This is an amazing article that took a lot of guts to write. I definitely can relate both to RGU and to this. I was always the girl who loved playing with the guys. I went through stages where sometime I would love to dress up like a girl and then others where I dressed up as a boy. Being surrounded by three other sisters (definitely girly-girls) who needed to have a man by their side 24/7, I felt a bit out of place. I felt like I needed a guy with me like them. My thoughts started to change though towards the end of high school and was solidified in the one year I went to college. But the catalyst that helped me that one year was RGU. I am very glad I stumbled upon it.

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  11. Janette says:

    Baka-Raptor linked me here after I wrote about Wandering Son reminding me how much I hated my body when I hit puberty. I knew I was a girl, and I knew what being girl would mean. I, to this day, act more masculine.

    I’m, uh, feeling really shy, and this post is over a year old, but I just wanted to say you weren’t the only one. I ended up reading Utena and watching it in 8th grade, and that helped me get back on my feet and regain a lot of my confidence.

    So, um, I’m sorry to have bothered you. That’s all.

  12. A lot of of what you assert happens to be supprisingly precise and it makes me wonder the reason why I hadn’t looked at this with this light previously. Your article really did switch the light on for me as far as this specific subject goes. Nonetheless there is 1 point I am not too comfy with and while I make an effort to reconcile that with the actual central theme of your issue, allow me observe what all the rest of the subscribers have to point out.Well done.

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