Manga Reviews

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Revolutionary Girl Utena

Revolutionary Girl Utena
Manga by Chiho Saito, Story by Be-PaPas
5 Volumes

Licensed by Viz

Topic: Surreal romance/adventure.
Warnings: Contains suggestions of homosexuality (which are stronger in the TV and movie versions) but nothing explicit.

When Utena was six, her parents died. In despair, she was drawn to a canal and fell toward the dark waters, but was rescued by a mysterious man who dried her tears, spoke words of comfort and gave her a ring. He told her, "we will meet again if you do not lose your noble heart." Utenawas so impressed that she decides to become a prince herself! At school she pursues many activities and wears a boy's uniform ­ in pink. Following clues left by her unknown rescuer, she enrolls in the exclusive Ohtori Academy.

When she defends the honor of a friend, Utena is drawn into a series of duels which take place under a floating upside-down castle. There, other people wearing rings (like the one she was given) are following instructions from "World's End," seeking "the power to revolutionize the world." Although Utena would like to remove herself from the duels, she feels increasingly protective of the "Rose Bride" a powerful yet passive girl who is "engaged" to whoever is the current champion. In addition, the duels may be the path to finding her mysterious prince. But if Utena is becoming a prince herself, will they be partners, or rivals?

Many aspects of "Revolutionary Girl Utena" range from the slightly odd to the totally bizarre, yet (to me, at least) it all works together in a sort of dream-logic where everything seems reasonable, even though you might have a hard time explaining just what is going on. This also makes it extremely difficult to describe the plot in any coherent way. But even though the events are often bizarre, the characters are strongly realized and behave in believable ways.

Utena's opponents are frequently unpleasant, manipulative and dangerous, but they all have their reasons for acting the way they do, no one is simply mean for the sake of being mean. Although there are many points of humor, the overall tone is fairly serious, and the stakes are high. One common problem with stories of this type is that when the "mystery" is revealed at the end, it may not live up to what the reader had been imagining. Here Utena does not disappoint - ­ the ending manages to be surprising, yet consistent with what leads up to it, and satisfying while still leaving some things unexplained.

Utena probably will not appeal to everyone, but if you like romance, strong female characters, and a story that freely bends the rules of reality, you should definitely give it a try.

Note: There are manga, anime TV series, and movie versions of Revolutionary Girl Utena. Each tells basically the same story, but in very different ways. The TV anime is my personal favorite, but each has good qualities. If you enjoy one, I recommend checking out the others as well.

Rating: 8.0/10.0
Reviewed submitted by Forrest


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