The Atmosphere of Adolescence in Revolutionary Girl Utena


Here I am, sitting around, salivating over the prospect of the first Revolutionary Girl Utena box that Nozomi is releasing. I pre-ordered while hyperventilating, and you should, too, because apparently you will get something cool if you pre-order each set. It’s also only $30 now to pre-order, while the usual price will be $50, so, yeah, go snag it, ok? Especially if you haven’t seen it yet! Or especially if you have! I saw two of the re-mastered episodes ripped (and raw, because I’m obsessive like that), and the upgrade in visual quality is noticeable and definitely worth checking out. Not to mention the fact that, by all accounts, the quality of the release overall is basically amazing. Pat on the back to Nozomi.

Granted, even if the quality of the box and physical components were terrible, I’d still probably be high-fiving the folks at Nozomi just because they re-licensed the thing, period. RGU may be a classic and it may be something everyone should watch, but let’s face it: with all that pink it is a tough sell for the American market. Stupid American market.

Anyway, with all the UTENA UTENA UTENA that is shrieking around as of late, and my own obsessive refreshing of the order page for my own box (and Twin Spica Volume Seven!), I have been expending a lot of thought upon the series in the past few weeks. For the most part, it hasn’t been terribly interesting or thoughtful, limited largely to me staring at the page and imagining the feel of the thing in my hands, but today some actual coherence crept in, along with some intro/retrospection.

Back in the past, I was part of the boards at Empty Movement, a.k.a. the best RGU website ever, a.k.a. that website I always grab my RGU images from (but I always say so and I never hotlink!). On these boards, we explicated upon every angle of RGU endlessly; no detail went untouched. It was a beautiful place. And we loved RGU to pieces.

However, there was one thing we criticized RGU for: it’s depiction of children and adolescents. Quite simply, we felt it wasn’t realistic as to how they behave. And, at the time, I agreed wholeheartedly – come on! Juri’s supposed to be sixteen? Yeah right! No sixteen year old acts like that!

Or so I believed at the time. It was a regrettable error in a largely excellent piece. But it was an error nevertheless.

But now…?

Looking back, RGU actually does do a good job in depicting the behavior of its young cast. It also does an excellent job in portraying the atmosphere of adolescence, which is what gave rise to my mistaken perception in the first place. On first glance, the way the main characters act doesn’t look like how teenagers act, because to an uncritical, adult eye the characters here behave too much like adults would. However, given a second look…

It’s fairly perfect. Often, what teenagers do adults consider to be stupid, pointless, and petty. Their dramas look lesser – they look more like melodrama. But to a teenager? These things are huge, and with good reason – it is their daily life, after all. Juri seems too serious and regal at first because she is a teenager, but this is how her peers view her. More importantly, this is how she views her own problems and issues, as being of major importance and possessing major ramifications. Touga views himself as a major playboy and manipulator, and so do those around him, because in the microcosm of Ohtori and adolescence, he is a major playboy and his machinations are big. That this is a big-fish-in-a-small-pond instance becomes clearer as his own efforts begin to run up against Akio’s, an adult; compared to Akio, Touga is minor league.

I mention these two because they come across as the characters with the most “grand” visions of themselves. Juri has a lot of self-loathing issues, but at the same time she is well-aware of how her peers view her and is granted a sense of importance from that. She may hate herself, but that doesn’t reduce the fact that she is the tragic heroine in her mind, ultimately; she’s made quite the art out of suffering. The other characters also take themselves very seriously, but their additional behaviors code much more easily as adolescent – take Nanami, for instance, or Miki.

I say this, too, with the ability to look back myself and admit that I identified pretty heavily with Juri when I was her age. Which is, honestly, in retrospect a bit embarrassing, but it is true. It also shouldn’t really be embarrassing, because in the industrialized world we all go through this sort of thing, although the actual seriousness of our worries does vary a bit (which is to say, the kid from the family on food stamps probably has worries that are a bit more important than, say, the kid from the family that owns the country club).

Oh, RGU – you did it so well that you almost had me thinking you had flubbed it. Best show ever. Now if only my box of the Student Council Arc would magically appear in my hands…

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7 Responses to The Atmosphere of Adolescence in Revolutionary Girl Utena

  1. Mira says:

    Reading this made me want to rewatch Utena. /sighs dreamily

    • A Day Without Me says:

      I’ve got the first boxset of the remaster sitting on my shelf, and today is finally the first chance I have time to watch it…!

  2. Yes, as a teenager I would take things WAY more seriously. Looking back oh wau almost everything would be so lame if I felt or acted on them today…

    But that makes everything awesome too.

    It makes every old hat kind of thing the most important thing… because to the adolescent and inexperienced… they just are.

    It all boils down to how the narrative presents it. And I don’t need to wax anything about RGU’s presentation at this point.

    • A Day Without Me says:

      If there is anything I’d be willing to hear people wax endlessly about, it is RGU. And particularly if it is going to be you waxing about it.

  3. Aorii says:

    Completely agree on that, Utena definitely takes a bit of hindsight to digest. It simply feels like one of those shows that the more one thinks to their past, the more one can appreciate it~ being timely may even be its greatest virtue.

  4. kadian1364 says:

    Age is just a number, especially in anime. I’m much more concerned if the characters have emotional complexity, self-awareness, and believable motivations than if stray facts like age correlate to reality. Now hair color is another thing entirely.

  5. Vucub Caquix says:

    Oh man, I finally got around to reading your post (I kept it unread in my feed) and I just gotta say that I’m now super excited to watch this with Emily once we’re finished with Mushishi. I get the feeling that we’ll probably have several colloquia over the course of watching it.

    You wanna watch with us when we get to it? You don’t have to hop in for every episode, just whichever ones you may be awake and available for. (Also: check out our new blog uguu we put you on the blogroll uguu)

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