How to Start a Series: Revolutionary Girl Utena

Revolutionary Girl Utena is one of those concoctions, like Neon Genesis, that is sometimes so deep it seems like the creators outsmarted themselves trying to show themselves how smart they were. I mean, seriously … all that baroque art and shadow puppets and all the guys have that great hair and seriously, WTF?

But you know, maybe not. You know they laid it all out for us right in the first episode, right?

Sure did. Watch me now … nothin’ up my sleeve … PRESTO!

Utena Tenjou is revolutionary because of her disregard for gender role stereotypes, right? Right at the beginning the announcer describes her as a princess (female gender role) who wants to be a prince (male gender role). She whups the boys at basketball and wins sword duels on nothing more than raw talent – remember, at the start it’s Saionji who has the Bride and the sword – but when the boys (especially Akio) ask her for dates, out on dates with boys she goes!

You can even see it in her appearance. There’s a big fuss about her wearing a boy’s uniform at school, but she doesn’t. She wears a boy’s JACKET (male role). She wears makeup and looks like she spends a month at the hairdresser every week (female role). And at a school where boys wear trousers and girls wear dresses, she wears hot pants (neither role).

So Utena’s in the middle. She should be. The show revolves around her, and her status crossing gender roles sticks her right on that spot.

Utena Tenjou her own self

But in the first episode they introduce us not only to Utena, but to five key characters that show you where the show is going. In alphabetical order (because I don’t want to give it away) they are


Now let’s look at them from the standpoint of traditional gender role stereotypes.

No, wait a minute. I said “Stereotypes.” I didn’t say this was right or the way it was supposed to be. I don’t advocate any of this crap except for smacking Saionji upside the head. There’s a boy that needs some respect beaten into his sexist pig ass.

Now let’s look at them from the standpoint of traditional gender role stereotypes. There are a zillion of them: Men are supposed to be (physically) strong and women weak; men tall and women short; men stoical and women emotional and so on. Note that Utena breaks at least two of those since she is tall and whups the boys at hoops.

Stereotypically, men are supposed to be dominant and women submissive.

And as soon as we lay that out, we can see them arranged in order, right?

Saionji is so into dominance that he is obnoxious, a classic case of toxic masculinity
Touga has a lot of it in him, but even he is offended by Saionji. He’s “typical.”
Utena is somewhere around the middle, off on her own. She wants nothing to do with dominance, and can’t be submissive
Wakaba is a “girly girl,” a little shrill, a little flighty, but she doesn’t take a lot of crap
Anthy is unhealthily submissive to the point that when Saionji hits her she says it’s not a problem

So now it’s a clear as day: They’re telling us we’re going to look at gender role stereotypes and blow them up. We’re going to free the oppressed and punish the oppressors. We’re going to make everyone equal before this series is done.

And, you know, that’s exactly what happens. They put it to you right there in the first episode and thirty-nine episodes later that’s right where we end up: the dominance structure is destroyed and Anthy is free. Viva la revolution!

I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.

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