Adolescence of Utena

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Adolescence of Utena movie poster

DirectorKunihiko Ikuhara
StudioJ.C.Staff
GenreDrama, romance, action, shoujo
Release year1999
Purchase DVDClick here to purchase from Amazon.

So as soon as I finished the trippy Revolutionary Girl Utena anime series, I turned my attention to the movie, known as Adolescence of Utena. And boy, did I leave even more confused than before.

Coming out two years after the anime series had run its course, we’re treated to a strange followup that the target audience probably didn’t know it wanted. In English-speaking countries, it was advertised as Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Movie. So you might think to yourself, “Wait, so is this movie going to continue off from the anti-climactic ending of the show? Oh, boy! I can’t wait to see this!”

And if you were one of these people, I apologize in advance.

 

Alternate Ohtori Academy

Adolescence of Utena movie Utena Tenjou

Adolescence of Utena begins with the first day of school for Utena Tenjou, where she befriends Wakaba Shinohara and explores the strangely designed Ohtori Academy.

Yep, you read that right: First day of school.

So, this movie would be a prequel, right? Actually, no. This movie has no connection to the plot of the anime series whatsoever. Adolescence of Utena is actually a loose adaptation, of both the anime and the manga series, that was treated as its own continuity.

…Tch! Well, damn it! And here, I thought we’re going to watch a movie based on the anime series!

Kidding aside, I’m confused to why Kunihiko Ikuhara decided to run with a rewritten story. Revolutionary Girl Utena was quite successful around the time it was released, which was what motivated the production of this movie. But presenting a new story with no connection to the anime is an extremely risky move that comes with a high chance of disappointing the target audience.

Now thankfully, Adolescence of Utena didn’t completely disappoint. It’s to the point where some fans would argue that the movie did a better job in conveying its themes than the anime series did. Still, I can’t deny that the movie dug up new pitfalls as a result of being its own story. Condensing the subtext of a 39-episode anime series into a 90-minute movie would be a bumpy ride for sure…

So, fair warning: I’m going to be making a LOT of comparisons between the anime series and the movie.

Adolescence of Utena movie roses

The most immediate issue with Adolescence of Utena is its unusual pacing. The movie places a larger emphasis on imagery, animation and sparse dialogue, sometimes without presenting the context of the motifs and symbols used throughout. Those who watched the anime series would already be familiar with these motifs and symbols. But for anyone who hadn’t seen a single episode of the series? This movie would make very little sense.

Adolescence of Utena takes a noticeably more surreal approach to its storytelling, much more so than the anime series. Suffice to say, the movie would be a trip to watch for both fans and newcomers. It’s THAT weird. It’s like David Lynch decided to direct an anime film, more specifically close to Mulholland Drive.

Adolescence of Utena movie childhood Utena Tenjou and Touga Kiryuu

And of course, the changes in character personalities, motivations and roles. One of the biggest culprits is the character Touga Kiryuu, who was president of the Student Council and a recurring antagonist in the anime series. The changes to his character in the movie are so significant that his antagonistic qualities are no longer present; instead, he takes a supporting role with a profound effect on Utena’s character development.

Adolescence of Utena movie Utena Tenjou

Speaking of which, Utena Tenjou is somewhat different from her anime series incarnation. In the movie, she lacks charisma and her more masculine traits were amplified; her hair was cut short to make her look more androgynous, she’s less friendly and more confrontational, she’s more soft-spoken and withdrawn, and her backstory was presented in a more vague fashion.

Her motive is quite different too. In the anime series, she cross-dressed in boy clothing to imitate the social construct of a “prince,” so that she may stand out in front of her peers as a sign of chivalry and nobility.

But in the movie, she mentioned about having “high goals.” It’s implied that she still aims to be a prince, albeit in a much more subtle manner. But she doesn’t really mention this, so this is one example where watching the anime series would’ve helped better with context.

And of course, our deuteragonist…

Adolescence of Utena movie Anthy Himemiya
Sweet angels have mercy!

Anthy Himemiya, is that really you? No freakin’ way.

Yeah, seems like Himemiya dolled herself up since the anime series. This was what she looked like previously.

Revolutionary Girl Utena anime Anthy Himemiya

Albeit, her series incarnation had a cute design, but she is absolutely gorgeous in this flick. But yeah, Himemiya is now less of a mysterious, quiet girl and more of a friendly lesbian. And no, I’m not kidding about that.

Adolescence of Utena movie Utena Tenjou and Anthy Himemiya kissing
Hot. Yuri. Action.

The movie loosely follows the plot of the anime series. Himemiya is the Rose Bride, a mysterious figure who grants the person she’s engaged to the power to “revolutionize the world.” And like the series, the movie is indirect about what this even means.

Utena Tenjou challenged Kyouichi Saionji (member of the Student Council) to a Duel after witnessing him abusing Himemiya. Utena won the Duel, thus giving her possession of the Rose Bride.

But the relationship dynamics are different this time around.

Adolescence of Utena movie Anthy Himemiya

In the anime series, Himemiya ends up being a close friend to Utena. While their relationship never extends beyond platonic, it’s implied that both have some love for each other.

In the movie, Himemiya is head-over-heels for Utena. After Utena won the Duel against Saionji, Himemiya displayed a pretty clear attraction to Utena. It’s to the point where they don’t really share a close friendship (in spite of the measures taken), but rather a forced romantic relationship. It’s definitely a sight to behold; previously calm and quirky Himemiya of all people romancing Utena.

The movie revealed that Utena was previously in a romantic relationship with Touga Kiryuu years back, and that she attended Ohtori Academy to reconcile their relationship. During the present events, she believed that Touga had fallen in love with Himemiya. So a hurt and jealous Utena confronted Himemiya and broke down in tears. In an attempt to comfort Utena, Himemiya danced with her against a starry background with roses floating on a dark water surface.

Adolescence of Utena movie Utena Tenjou and Anthy Himemiya dancing

And I’m not gonna lie. This is the best scene in the movie for me. Not only was the intent beautiful, but everything from the colors, the music, the animation and the surreal imagery are heartbreakingly beautiful. This is one of the most gorgeous things in an animated movie I’ve ever seen in my life.

 

The Plot Thickens

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But of course, the movie begins pushing its boundaries with erotic imagery of the female form.

After the dance scene, Utena wanted to befriend Himemiya properly and called for a more open and honest friendship. Himemiya complied, in probably the most literal fashion of the expression “no keeping secrets between us.”

Himemiya somehow got Utena to strip down (butt naked) for an art project in order “to capture the essence of her partner. No secrets between them.” And of course, Himemiya also stripped down to show Utena a mysterious hole in her chest.

So as you can see, Adolescence of Utena is subtle in some places but not so in others. Case in point: the relationship between the two female leads. It’s more openly romantic and sexual. The two just met and they were already exploring each other’s bodies. Their vibrant, shapely bodies.

Boobs.

Adolescence of Utena movie cow Nanami Kiryuu

But the strangeness doesn’t end there. For seemingly no reason, Nanami Kiryuu (as a cow) and Chu-Chu (Anthy’s pet monkey in the anime) make a cameo appearance without any story context, for a short bit of comedic relief. It’s bizarre to even see them in the movie to begin with. Neither of these characters are part of the main plot, but it’s like the movie only included them to acknowledge the anime series.

Why, though? If we’re expected to treat the movie as its own separate canon anyway, why draw any connection to the anime series at all?

Adolescence of Utena movie Juri Arisugawa

Adolescence of Utena briefly touched upon some of the subplots that were present in the anime series, such as Juri Arisugawa’s love for Shiori Takatsuki and Miki Kaoru’s rocky relationship with his sister Kozue. But because of the movie’s length, you barely get any context for what’s going on.

For example, in the anime series, Miki was a child prodigy extremely skilled in the piano. His sister Kozue was also skilled in the piano, but not as good at it or as confident in her skill. Despite that, Miki considered her to be very talented and the two were closer for it. But when Kozue decided to stop playing, Miki felt empty and desired for someone to fill that void. This caused the two siblings to drift apart, much to the dissent of Kozue. She loved her brother so dearly (possibly to the point of incest), that she began dating many guys in an attempt to make Miki jealous.

In the movie, however, we only saw Kozue once. She and Miki were bathing together, but Miki told her that they couldn’t be as close as they were when they were children. Kozue angrily held a sharp razor against her brother’s throat. And that’s it. The next time we see Miki, he was unharmed. But Kozue was nowhere to be found.

……….What the fuck was that about?

But this isn’t the only moment in the movie where a potential subplot stops dead in its tracks. The movie takes quite a bit of time in fleshing out Touga Kiryuu’s backstory, establishing him as more of a tragic character than the outright villain in the anime series. It was also implied that he had a sexual relationship with Shiori Takatsuki.

But the payoff for his short character arc? Uhhh…

Adolescence of Utena movie pink car Utena Tenjou

By the end, we have to sit through a bizarre climax with one of the goofiest (and entertaining) car chase scenes I’ve ever seen in my life.

And hint, hint… this shit gets crazy…

This movie… is such a doozy.

Adolescence of Utena movie nude Utena Tenjou and Anthy Himemiya

Adolescence of Utena is certainly a unique film. Just like with the anime series, the blend of art styles and smooth animations (complete with parallax scrolling for backgrounds) make way for a beautiful piece of art. The movie takes it even further with its higher budget and results in a truly gorgeous film. I’m not lying when I say that dance sequence is a true beauty to behold and may even leave tears in your eyes. As corny as that sounds, that short sequence is the best thing to come out of this movie. Not to mention that insane climax was fun to watch.

But the story is more incomprehensible than the anime series. I’m sorry. I know I made so many comparisons to the anime series, but I do feel that the plot and characterizations didn’t improve upon what the series had already established. It’s even more confusing that the movie was made for the fans, but the movie went with a different direction on its story. Was it because Ikuhara wasn’t satisfied with how the anime series was executed or did he want to present the story with the same characters in a different light?

Now, this is not to say that the movie is bad at all. Far from it. Its positives certainly outweigh the negatives.

As forced as it is, the romantic relationship between Utena and Anthy was heartfelt and genuine. And I’m not just saying this because boobs. Had the movie spent a little more time in developing their friendship (like in the anime series, again…), this relationship would be much stronger by the end. In a way, the movie compensated for the lack of a romantic relationship between Utena and Anthy in the anime series.

As for the themes and motifs present throughout the movie, I felt like the different character portrayals weakened some of them. For example, Utena taking on a more masculine appearance in the movie felt pointless. The movie didn’t portray her as a passionate girl seeking to challenge gender roles, but rather a lonely girl using a social construct to avoid the truth: that her Prince had died a long time ago and that she was just chasing down a phantom.

In a weird twist, Utena felt closer to being the damsel-in-distress here than Anthy Himemiya. After all, it was Himemiya who allowed Utena to move past her grief and eventually save her from destroying herself.

In fact, the themes of Adolescence of Utena seemed to be more centralized this time around. They focused on Utena maturing into a young adult; she had to overcome her traumatic childhood to find closure. And through closure, she must leave behind her childhood innocence and accept the world for what it is.

Likewise, Anthy Himemiya was a long-time victim of abuse. In order for Himemiya to move on, she must gain the courage to leave behind her old world and look forward to a brighter future. Perhaps this is why this incarnation of Himemiya fell in love with Utena. Utena is the key to this kind of inner strength. But to obtain it, both girls must support each other. They must form a bond build on trust, one that only a loving couple could have.

The “outside world” mentioned at the end is adulthood itself, and the car chase scene was the final obstacle standing between the girls and a brighter future. By leaving behind their past griefs, the girls succeeded. And together (as a couple), they decided to shape their own destinies.

Hence why this movie is called Adolescence of Utena. It’s written right on the tin. So with that said, I do think this movie passed with flying colors as an art film. It’s truly a visual marvel to behold. As a narrative, it could’ve been better in some areas.

I’ll admit that some of the allegories flew past my head and I probably neglected to talk about some of them. Regardless, it’s a must-watch for any anime fan. But keep in mind that you do need to watch the anime series in order to gain a deeper appreciation for the movie. Just like how Utena and Anthy are destined to be together, the anime series and the movie are meant to be watched together.

Adolescence of Utena

$4.98
Adolescence of Utena
8.4

STORY

7.0/10

CHARACTERS

7.5/10

ART & ANIMATION

10.0/10

SOUNDTRACK

9.0/10

Pros

  • Some of the best imagery and animation ever presented in an animated movie.
  • As forced as it is, the relationship between Utena and Anthy felt like genuine love.
  • Some of the themes and motifs from the anime series are still present here, albeit more centralized to be about adulthood.
  • A crazy, yet entertaining, climax.
  • Plenty of fan service, with some fully nude scenes and sexual tension.

Cons

  • The movie requires knowledge of the anime series to better understand the motifs and themes.
  • The characters have changed quite from the anime series, making them seem like different people.
  • Some plot threads and cameos go nowhere.
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