Revolutionary Girl Utena

Review covers the full series

Tomboys don't often get a lead role in a series.

Or at least, not tomboys in the traditional sense. If you counted Lara Croft as a tomboy then anime, comics, manga and video games would all be full of them.

But anyway, Revolutionary Girl Utena features a tomboy - and a tomboy in the original sense - as its titular character. Utena has a strong personality, hates anything she sees as an injustice, is always quick to stand up for people and doesn't like the thought of being dependent on someone else.

Utena is trying to find a man whom she met as a child. Following a clue, Utena asks to be enrolled at the Ohtori Private Academy, hoping that she will find him there.

The academy is dominated by its student council, who when not trying to chat up Utena (which seems to become one of the two main driving forces behind the plot) are all engaged in a strange dueling game (which is the other driving force).

Whoever comes out on top in the duels gets both the honour of holding a special sword, and being "engaged" to Anthy - a mysterious girl who is very subservient to whoever the current champion is.

Of course, neither being chatted up by annoying council members, nor men dueling over a woman's heart is to Utena's liking. Cue fireworks as she tries to take on the student council, and stick up for the people she feels are being mistreated (including Anthy).

As a result of the way the duels effect the storyline, Revolutionary Girl Utena is guilty of using the “villain of the week” formula; where one character has a go at ousting Utena only to mellow out somewhat later after their plotline is done.

I don't mean that as a criticism though, as in this case I thought it helped both the character development and the plot. That most of the characters are not placed squarely in the “good” or “bad” camp, and have both light and dark sides to their personalities, makes them all more interesting.

In fact I felt that the characterisation was really good in this Manga. All of the main characters are really interesting, and there is a lot of subtle and not so subtle humour in the way that they all interact.

Okay, enough praise, are there any gripes? Well, I hate to be a bit picky, but what's the deal with making a black character (i.e. Anthy) so subservient to everyone? Yes, okay, I've read the series so I know her background story now, but that still doesn't explain why the writers made her black and everyone else white. I'm not sure if they were being intentionally racist here, but if a movie or a video game can pick up slack for this sort of thing then I don't see why a manga shouldn't.

If you see the characters for who they are then this won't spoil your enjoyment of the series. But one thing that I feel might is the ending.

Or rather, not the ending. While it was somewhat confusing, it was also quite touching. Despite having been pitted against pretty much everyone in the main cast at one point or another, Utena still ends up making a selfless choice and "frees" everyone from the rut their lives had entered into.

To be honest, that's what I liked about Utena's character. She sees a difference between right and wrong, and won't stop until everyone else does too.

And the ending certainly wasn't rushed or unplanned. As the series progresses it becomes very obvious that there is someone manipulating events towards a goal. However, as by this point several of the main cast have tried to deceive Utena for various reasons, we're never 100% sure who is behind what and to what ends.

Yet when I did find out who was pulling the strings and why, I could look back through the book with the benefit of hindsight and see who had done what and how it all came together.

That all sounds great, so what's my problem with it? Well, from about the 4th book onwards the mystical aspects of the story take over. This is bad for two reasons:

Firstly, this completely stops the sitcom that was Utena, and the other character's interactions with her. This was the series' bread and butter and it was what made the series good in the first place.

Secondly, various made-up-on-the-spot magics and pseudo-sciences are invoked at the ending; making it a little difficult to read. Which is a shame because up until the last couple of books the writing was very consistent in explaining the rules behind how Revolutionary Girl Utena's world worked, and then sticking to them without randomly inventing more.

To sum my complaint up, I didn't feel that how the story ended had much to do with what made the story enjoyable originally.

But please don't let that put you off, as I only mention it because I thought that the story was so good in the first place. Revolutionary Girl Utena is a very good read and if reading a shojo Manga doesn't embarrass you then I'd recommend checking it out.