Revolutionary Girl Utena Collector’s Edition III Blu Ray Review (Part 1)
Remember last time when I expressed my concern that Revolutionary Girl Utena might disappear up its own rear end in the next arc? Thankfully that hasn’t quite happened, but boy does this show like to make its viewers work that much harder to parse what is actually going on, over and above the overwrought emotional teenage drama and stylised visuals.
This final blu-ray volume delves into some deep, dark and distressing territory, so if discussion about sexual/emotional abuse, incest and rape is likely to upset you, perhaps this isn’t the article for you.
At a grand 460 minutes, this volume is significantly meatier than the previous two — that’s because while they each comprised 12 episodes, this contains the final 15 episodes plus the subsequent theatrical movie. Due to the extreme density of subject matter, I’ll discuss the first of this set’s two main arcs here, and leave the second arc and the movie for their own articles (forthcoming as soon as I can reduce my brain’s setting from “fried” to “I can maybe write words coherently now.”)
The Akio Ohtori Saga (Contains detailed spoilers for episodes 25–33)
Technically this arc started with episode 24 in the last set, but that was a relatively inconsequential clip show. The story starts proper in episode 25 with the return of previously disgraced Saionji, who is manipulated by creepy shirtless T-posing shonen-ai duo Touga and Akio into dueling against Utena yet again. This marks the first appearance of Akio’s bright red hot rod “sex car”, a not-so-subtle allusion to the way Akio controls his targets using the superficial trappings of adulthood while arresting their emotional development and twisting their desires to fit his own. The car is very prominent in this arc, popping up in every episode, crashing through walls, poking up vertically (phallically?) through the floor during the duels… Basically if a character takes a ride in Akio’s car, they have somehow been violated… or at least used by him. Although he was creepy before, Akio certainly crosses the line here into out-and-out antagonism.
It’s clear that Akio wants to possess the power of Dios for himself, and the presence of Utena as some kind of blemish-less “Prince” is an obstacle to his plans. In the previous arc, he manipulated Nemuro and his Black Rose duelists to attack Utena via targeting his sister (and Utena’s “Rose Bride”) Anthy. Now he (and sometimes Touga) whisper in the ears of various characters to make them choose their own replacement Rose Brides to challenge Utena and Anthy as mirrored duos. Even mild-mannered Miki is drawn into Akio’s web, and his sister Kozue becomes his “Bride”… because of course she does. There’s not a single untwisted sibling relationship in this show.
Horrible character Shiori makes a reappearance (the purple-haired girl that ginger goddess Juri inexplicably loves… I mean she’s trash…) only to be manipulated by Juri’s former mentor Ruka and used as his “Bride” then discarded when he loses the duel. Ruka is another hateful and manipulative male who forces himself on Juri with an unwanted kiss. He knows full well she likes girls (particularly Shiori) but does it anyway. Thankfully she draws blood from biting his lip, but seriously, dude… Consent is a thing? Anyway somehow Ruka becomes Juri’s “Bride” in the next duel. I guess the “Bride” title is non-gender specific, much like Utena’s “Prince” identity.
Even mostly-absurd-comedy character Nanami is manipulated into dueling, with her brother as support. I say support, but Touga acts like such an incredible asshole to his sister. Nanami idolises him, and gains social status due to him — once he rejects her, she loses her confidence, her friends, her place in society, exposing how broken and insecure she really is. Nanami doesn’t truly lust after her brother — but he mercilessly teases and provokes her, stepping over lines she knows should never be crossed, because she witnesses something terrible involving the third, most twisted brother-sister relationship in the entire show and realises she could never act the same way with Touga.
Yes, via Nanami we finally get visual confirmation of what we had suspected… Akio doesn’t just emotionally control his sister, he regularly fucks her too. On his sofa. In the observatory/living room next door to the bedroom he insisted Anthy and Utena now share. As a presumably long-term sufferer of this abuse, Anthy seems powerless to resist — yet her relationship with Utena seems to bring her happiness. Akio wants to subvert and break that — he can’t stand his sister — his possession — giving herself emotionally to anyone else. Anthy also gives Utena strength, and after she loses the Sword of Dios, Anthy is able to pull a sword of Utena’s own strength directly from Utena’s heart. The other duelists in this arc also have their swords drawn by their “Brides”, in a twisted parody of the mutual trust and friendship shared by Utena and Anthy. No wonder they all lose, and no wonder Akio wants to disrupt their relationship.
Moving Utena (and Anthy) into his residence was only the first part of Akio’s plan. He begins to relentlessly pursue her — little touches, caresses, smiles. He gently nurses her injured ankle while a sinister Anthy watches from the background, her eyes hidden by her glasses’ reflection. He kisses her, and Utena is conflicted — this man is engaged, not to mention the fact he’s an adult — not just any adult, but one in authority over her and her entire school. But Utena is a teenage girl, innocent and emotionally immature. She doesn’t know how to handle this attention from a man she clearly idolises. She doesn’t notice how creepy his relationship with his sister is, nor does she realise how complicit the abused Anthy is in helping Akio to also abuse Utena.
All this culminates in the extremely upsetting episode 33. Initially it appears to be nothing but another clip show — we’re shown recaps of this arc’s fights interspersed with Akio in his Sex Car speaking to the Shadow Girls (who have returned in their UFO and now apparently run a radio show) and a first-person perspective of Utena in a hotel room, acting quite unlike her usual self. There’s a building sense of wrongness, of dread here. Why is Utena so fixated on weird little details about food preparation? Why does she seem so nervous and ill-at-ease? Where is the usually confident, breezy girl we all love? Why did Anthy send her to deliver a bouquet of flowers to Akio? We understand only too late when we see Utena, obviously naked, in bed, her hand grasped by Akio’s. Afterwards we see her in his car — remember what I said it symbolised earlier? Utena looks simultaneously older, but also sadder.
It took me a couple of watches of this episode to truly understand what had just happened. My daughter was much quicker than me at picking up the subtext and expressed her vociferous disgust at Akio’s behaviour. Sometimes with these character designs it’s a little difficult to remember that these are middle-school children. Not even in high school. Utena is 14 years old. No matter if Utena apparently consented (which I would argue from the context she did not offer explicit consent and when she tried to talk to Akio he ignored her and kept pressing onwards) the fact that he is an adult makes this statutory rape.
Akio is not just an adulterer (he’s already pretty much discarded his fiancé by now, plus it’s clear he also fucked her mother), he’s not just a sister-fucker, he’s a rapist. And it’s not only limited to girls either — it’s clear from several scenes that he has been sexually intimate with Touga too — they’re both shirtless on a bed in previous episodes. Touga was sexually abused by his foster father (after basically being sold into sexual slavery by his biological parents) so Akio uses this broken boy to manipulate others. Akio is basically Satan, and he has used his magnetic allure to try and tarnish Utena’s valorous prince identity.
It’s been a while since a piece of fiction made me feel so physically sick because of a character, and Utena managed it with merely subtext and hints, blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cuts and the heartbreaking facial expression of a young girl who knows what she is doing is wrong, what is being done to her is wrong, but feels powerless to escape the path she finds herself on. Akio weaponises her guilt at sleeping with an engaged man to make her feel responsible for her own rape. What a bastard.
I’ve commented before that often Utena seems more like a supporting character in her own show — which is fine when the other characters are as colourful and complex as they are in this show. What makes Revolutionary Girl Utena so enduring though, is how it subverts previously concrete gendered expectations of female characters. Akio is desperate to squash Utena down, to make her a compliant little feminine girl, to rob her of her princely agency. In the next arc, finally, we’ll see our main girl seize her own destiny separate from any adults’ and from any man’s machinations. As soon as I’ve gathered my thoughts on it, I’ll try to do it justice in my next article.
Revolutionary Girl Utena Part 3: The Apocalypse Saga Collector’s Edition Blu-ray
Series Director: Kunihiko Ikuhara
Production Studio: JC Staff
Original Japanese TV broadcast: Sept. 17th 1997 — Dec. 24th 1997
UK Blu-ray release: Sept. 14th 2020
Runtime: 460 minutes (episodes 25–39, movie)
Video: 1080p pillarboxed 4:3 ratio
Audio: Japanese with English subtitles, English dub
Distributor: Anime Limited
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