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Saturday, May 9, 2009

Finding Adolescence Of Utena

Adolescence of Utena opens with a scene we’ve seen countless times in the TV-Series (Well, probably about 39 times to be exact.) We once again see the Duelling Arena, but this time in glorious animation, the kind you can only get on a movie’s budget.

The most noticeable difference between the movie and the series versions of Utena is the animation. The original had some great designs, both in its characters and in the architecture of the huge Academy it takes place in. Still, the difference between the TV and movie’s look is light and day. Not to be-little the look of the original but it was still working with the limitations of a TV budget, which meant lots of re-used animation, every single episode.

The animation and design in the movie is like nothing I’ve seen in anime before. The bright colour scheme almost hurt my eyes, and is a big change from the occasionally muted colours of the TV, the characters are also unique, with designs which take cues from 70’s shoujo, with long flowing hair, saucer pan eyes and intricate clothing (Uniforms with what I guess is a very European style.) The designs in Adolescence are similar to the ones in the TV-Series, but ramped up to 11. In the movie Utena is more boyish, Anthy is sexier and similarly the architecture of Ohtori Academy is even more distorted, more exaggerated and even detailed. Unlike most anime, in Adolescence Of Utena in every frame something is moving, and something is happening, and this goes for the backgrounds as well. The Ohtori Academy literally shifts, and movies and spirals around the students in almost every scene.

Adolescence is technically a remake, but works far better if you’ve already seen the series than alone. The animation is breathtaking on its own, but many of these visual cues are even more meaningful after seeing the TV Series (and how it ended.) In fact, on its own the movie really isn’t anything special. I showed it to my brother to test this (He had never seen any of, or heard of Utena before.) but the movie moves too fast, with little exposition or explanation of who the characters are for him to really grasp what was going on. Taken on its own Adolescence of Utena is just a very odd little film with some beautiful animation and imagery, but a nonsensical and seemingly random plot; as my brother shouted when he finished watching it “MAJOR MINDFUCK.”

So, Adolescence of Utena is a film for the fans. Taken with previous knowledge of the series the movie works well as a deeper exploration of the characters we’ve already come to know. It doesn’t really work as a remake, it’s not an easy watch without prior knowledge, but it does work as a sequel.

In a way, the ending of the TV series is so obscure, and the movie so surreal, that maybe it could be taken as a sequel. (Albeit, a very loose one.) The most obvious evidence for this are the characters, each one slightly different from their portrayal in the series, but perhaps slightly fitting if they were taken to be the characters they became at the end of the series. Let me give an example.

1. Anthy Himemiya
For most of the series Himemiya is polite and extremely submissive. Suffocated by her brother she play’s the role of a motherly figure who lives to do whatever the person she’s engaged to tells her to. It’s only at the end of the series when Utena grants her revolution that she breaks out of this demure role, finally leaving her brother and becoming her own person.

This fits in well with the Anthy we are introduced to in the movie. Like at the end of the TV series she’s become much more liberated, more sexually aggressive and even looks like she does at the end of the series, long flowing hair and no glasses; wide innocent eyes. In a way, she’s even able to stand up to her brother in the film, with holding the key to his car from him, and causing him to go mad, killing himself.

2. Akio “The Prince”
Since I made my hate for this character obvious in the last post, it goes without saying that I was extremely happy when he got what he deserved at the end of the series, Utena rejecting him as a prince, and Anthy finally being granted revolution and walking out on him.

Again, the version of Akio we see in the movie fits this nicely. He’s not in the movie for very long (In fact, he’s dead before the film even starts.) But what we do see of him is a demasculated version of what we saw before, not only in his design (looking much younger than he did in the series, far less intimidating, more of a typical bishounen character.) He’s no longer as sexually aggressive as he was, now resorting to drugging his sister, and when his sinful deed is revealed he’s sent into a panic. He doesn’t even have his big red car anymore, and his huge tower is decaying.

3. Utena Tenjou
Utena is the hardest character to compare because her fate at the end of the series is not explicitly stated. However, the series ends with her thinking she has failed to save Anthy or become the prince, when in fact she has managed to do just that.
The movie begins with her wrapped in guilt over her past, and haunted by her memories. The only difference however, is that the guilt she feels is completely un-related to the one she feels in the series.

So, if Utena is intended to be a sequel to the series rather than a loose retelling, where does it fit in? That’s hard to say. Adolescence Of Utena is set in a world where reality and fantasy are one in the same. It’s hard to be sure what exactly is real in the film and what’s just a dream, or a fragmented memory. Still, at the end of the series Anthy says something to Akio before walking out on him, when Akio remarks that the school is already forgetting utena, Anthy tells him that Utena is merely on a different plain than him, one he is unable to reach. Perhaps Adolescence of Utena is how Anthy finally re-unites with Utena, this time saving Utena from the prince, and granting the world revolution together, helping Utena to get over her guilt, and together, ascending to “a world without roads.”