Watching Utena, Watching Ourselves(?)

Still wandering.

Well, looks like I’m on a Revolutionary Girl Utena kick… I do finally have a connection speed that’s fast enough for me to have caught up with Yumeiro Patissiere (so, uh, the villain is now Henrei-sensei? talk about a 180), and Shiki (if I try to convey my feelings about it in words, I’d make no sense at all). I also watched one of the more recent episodes of Uraboku, but I don’t really care enough to bother to catch up on that completely, so… I also am at the point where I’m not entirely sure of what time zone I’m in any more, so, well, there you have it.I’ll post about Shiki when I’ve got more of a head for it.

Anyway, RGU.

One of the things I think that is interesting in watching RGU is in what it can tell us about ourselves. I think in this, too, there is a reason for returning to it time and again, because a person changes over time, and so their reactions to the show and their opinions and theories about it are bound to shift with the passage of time. I think the show is also one which one comes to appreciate the more they watch it, from a combination of both the average maturation process for the viewer, and in the sheer amount of layers one can peel away at in the narrative.

The first time I watched RGU, I didn’t watch all of it – I was watching it dubbed on the Anime Network’s on-demand programming, but stopped when I realized that they decided to skip an episode since it concerned Juri’s feelings for Shiori (fun fact!: the Anime Network also cut the scene where Utena and Anthy kiss at the end of Adolescence Apocalypse). How maddening! Here they were, showing stuff like Gantz uncut, and they took out an entire episode because a girl spends it pining over another girl. So, y’know, boobs and gore = ok, but girl having a picture of another girl in her locket = bad bad bad.

However, I digress – the important fact is that I didn’t get to see the entire thing in my first viewing. I also, it is worth mentioning, first found RGU through the manga, not the anime. This is important since it lead to the fact that I initially identified with Utena in the proceedings; it seemed to me I’d finally found a female character who was sort of like me, what with her aspirations to princeliness combined with the obvious fact that she was very much a girl. I’d been confounded by what seemed to me that one could not have the two coexist – either you got to be masculine and strong, or feminine and unassuming. So I found myself fairly excited with Utena as a character, since she was able to be a girl and yet be the prince.

Of course, my understanding of this also reflected my own lack of maturity, as Utena ultimately realizes that you can’t really be a prince, regardless of gender – take a gander at Akio to see what happens to princes. But, hey, at fourteen and with only about half the picture, I identified with Utena wholeheartedly.

Skip a few years and let me get my hands on the DVD’s – complete with subs, hell yeah. Yeah, maybe I stopped identifying with Utena, having noticed that her personal quest to be a prince is misguided and that she herself is fairly naive, but I’d moved onto identifying with Juri, which itself reveals things as well. Specifically, I had that too-common hang-up of the modern teenager (a redundant phrase, really, since the concept of ‘teenager’ is of fairly recent vintage) – everything is soooooo traaaagiccccc! I exaggerate a little bit, but I felt I could relate to her misery borne of her crush on her friend, Shiori. But I also perceived her as being very good at being aloof, something I approved of at the time, so I admired that as well.

I’ll note, though, that the ages at which I identified with the two synced up fairly well – fourteen and sixteen, respectively. And they did reflect a slight progression, as Juri is certainly more mature than Utena is, although she still has a bit of growing to do herself.

Now? I don’t identify with any of the characters. Over the past few years, I’ve felt mildly puzzled over the fact that although I loved RGU, I had no desire to cosplay as any of the characters in it, not even when I was getting all excited for my first ‘real’ anime con. Here was my favorite show, but I didn’t want to go play dress up as any of the folks in it! What was wrong with this picture?

Duhhh, I’m an adult now. Or, at the least, not a teenager. Of course I didn’t want to, I didn’t really feel much currently in common with them! Sure, I can say that I understand some of their hang-ups and quirks having gone through adolescence somewhat recently myself, but I’ve moved past that. I may have more maturing to do even now, but the kinds of things I worry about and which make me feel insecure are not things that were on my radar at that age.

Of course, one of the fun things about RGU is how much the adults themselves have failed to mature themselves. Akio is, really, ridiculous, playing around with the lives of kids all the time and refusing to accept the fact that he is no longer the noble Dios. Mikage couldn’t – or wouldn’t – leave because he got stuck in the past. Mrs. Ohtori is screwing around with her daughter’s fiancee. The teacher who always yells at Utena doesn’t really have enough characterization to draw any conclusions from, whereas Miki’s music teacher is apparently a pedophile. The only adult who seems to have gotten over being a sixteen year old is Tokiko, and she’s also the only one who left Ohtori and moved on with her life. Her present self is also only in one episode.

I still really love RGU, even if I don’t feel myself identifying with any of the characters in it. And I find it very interesting to look back on my progression of identification – perhaps if I’d started watching it younger I would’ve found common ground with someone such as Miki or lesser-seen characters such as Mari (I do have some very, very dim recollection of maybe identifying with manga!Miki, but that would’ve been about ten years ago now, so I really can’t say one way or the other).

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4 Responses to Watching Utena, Watching Ourselves(?)

  1. I’ll always be able to relate to Akio, Toga, and Tsuchiya… because we’re always and forever alpha male Casanovas.

    You know it

    • adaywithoutme says:

      Ruka is such an interesting case. He is of that Casanova-type, but he never gets mentioned with Akio or Touga – I tend to think it either has to do with his screen-time, or the fact that while he behaves in some ways similarly to how they do, he does so with purer intent. If anything, he is one of the folks in the show who actually comes close to that princely ideal, although his less than savory methods hold him back a bit (curiously, too, is that Juri herself is a strong candidate for being a prince).

      Of course, even without all of that, the fact that his appearance was modeled after Ikuhara himself is enough to be cause for discussion.

  2. Aile says:

    “The only adult who seems to have gotten over being a sixteen year old is Tokiko, and she’s also the only one who left Ohtori and moved on with her life. Her present self is also only in one episode.”

    Well, that’s kinda the point, isn’t it ? As you’ve discussed in earlier entries, Ohtori IS the nuthouse. You wouldn’t be there (in the show, in Ohtori, long enough, with a major-ish speaking role) if you weren’t all kinds of fucked up. Another example I can think from the top of my head is that Onion dude, he seemed pretty chill – in fact he was pretty much told by Mikage “lol gtfo normalfag”. I liked that the show kept the exact (meta/physical) nature of Ohtori vague, apparently trusting its viewers enough to figure out for themselves it’s something like purgatory or Sartre’s waiting room or whatever (or maybe I’m wrong about that) without driving this point home via too much contrast by sane/outsideworld. The way I tend to think of it, the show is a succession of case studies. “Monster-Of-The-Week” is here “Mental Disorder-Of-The-Week”, and the monsters everyone had to battle were the ones inside their heads. Evangelion (yeah I don’t know why I always relate back to it with Utena), while having actual monsters, pretty much worked the same for me, as the abstract Angels were basically just devices to draw out and deepen the specific fuckedupness of everyone involved. Somebody with too much psychology education and/or too little life could probably diagnose each character and make a nice chart. Hell, the whole “Black Rose”-arc couldn’t have made it clearer if they had a fucking therapy couch in that goddamn elevator.

    Don’t know about “identification”. I watched both shows probably around the same age as you (15ish), but my opinion (above) was pretty much set from the first viewing. Nobody there for “positive identification”, as in “hey this character operates in an effective/successfull/rational way and I want to emulate that”, but oh boy negative identification ahoy, “wow you’re a really good example of what not to do and think”. Well, I guess you learn something from that too, as it makes you reflect on what/why specifically you judge that way (or maybe even recognize and work on the same faults within yourself). And as for “identification” as it is most commonly understood (this character is just like meee), there was also none. Because I’m a fucking snowflake. With a unique kind of crazy.

    PS: first try at posting sober. Still rambling as fuck.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      Have you ever seen the original Demotivators? They have one with a snowflake pictures which says something along the lines of “You’re special. Just like everyone else.” I figure you’d get a laugh out of that.

      Again, my original viewing of RGU was extremely curtailed – I think I got through the first story arc, and Utena looks fairly good throughout that, particularly at the end after she kicks Touga’s ass. And manga!Utena’s flaws aren’t as readily apparent, which I had part of prior to seeing any of the anime version.

      I don’t think my identification with Juri was exactly… positive. It was more like, “Oh, hey, you’re torturing yourself over having a crush on your friend? Me too!!!!!” Yeah, I did think she was cool, but it was all very much tangled up with the fact that her self-loathing was something I recognized.

      Thinking on it, if anything I think Tokiko is the only one I could possibly ID with at all these days; I recently attended a party with former classmates of mine and all I could think at the end of the night was, “Holy crap, you’re all insane, it isn’t 2004 any more, get the fuck over it.” Which is basically what Tokiko says to Mikage, haha.

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