Friday, January 27, 2012

Video Backlog: Zettai Unmei Mokushiroku

“Revolutionary Girl Utena”
Publisher: Nozomi Entertainment (Right Stuf, USA)
Format: Region 1 DVD, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue with optional English dub and English Subtitles
Length: 39 Episodes x 24 minutes
Production Date: 1997
Currently in Print (as of writing): Yes

I don’t think I can add much to what has already been written about this series, so I’m just going to blab on about my experience and thoughts of the show for a couple of paragraphs. In one of the interviews contained within the three box sets in this handsome reissue, director and co-creator Kunihiko Ikuhara was asked why there was still a strong fanbase for the nearly 15 years on. The answer is of course that there seriously is nothing like the show out there. Not now, nor back in 1997. I suppose you could suggest that “Utena” is the shoujo answer to “Evangelion”. That’s probably a fair assessment, look at the symbolism, the teen angst, the pain of growing up etc., but it’s certainly far more surreal and humorous than “Eva”. This is the third time I have watched the show the entire way through. The first was via Software Sculpture’s subtitled VHS box set of the first 13 episodes and the rest by way of VHS fansubs in 1999. The second was via CPM’s DVDs in 2008. The show was screened here in Australia on the now defunct ABC digital “teenage” digital channel Fly TV as “Ursula’s Kiss” around 2002 or a bit later, which used the same dub as the CPM tapes and discs. Nozomi/Right Stuf have used the recent remastered version which appeared on a Japanese DVD box set a couple of years back. The audio has been remixed for 5.1 set ups and the opening and closing credit text as well as the title card text seem to have been redone. But it’s pretty minor and doesn’t distract.

While the show certainly looks like it’s been influenced by Takarazuka theatre, magical girl anime, “Princess Knight” and certainly “Rose of Versailles”, the liner notes seems to suggest “The Three Musketeers” as a major influence as well as general theatre productions. While I loved the drama as well as the humour and surrealism of the show, I think the way the show is tightly structured is its major downfall. Officially there are four arcs to this show; Student Council Saga, Black Rose Saga, Akio Ohtori Saga and the End of World Saga. The episodes of the first three generally follow a certain pattern; we are introduced to a character and are shown their backstory which includes some sort of event which has coloured their personality, they wilfully or are coerced into duelling Utena (usually after something tips them over the edge), the Shadow Girls perform a play which is in some way connected to the events of the episode, the character duels Utena amid over the top symbolism and finally Utena wins and the character is changed. Sure, there are some very interesting elements to all of this such as the different songs for each duel, but there is a predictability to it all. Not helping this is the reused animation in the duels and the lead up to them. However despite the minor problems with the show, it’s still one of the best anime of that era. 9.5 out of 10.

“Revolutionary Girl Utena Adolescence Apocalypse (Adolescence of Utena)”
Publisher: Nozomi Entertainment (Right Stuf, USA)
Format: Region 1 DVD, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue with optional English dub and English Subtitles
Length: 85 minutes
Production Date: 1999
Currently in Print (as of writing): Yes

The movie version, released less than a year and a half after the TV series finished, is pretty much an 85 minute condensation of the show. The themes and plot are pretty much the same. It’s just the journey there which is quite different. The first noticeable difference is in the character designs for a couple of the cast. Utena Tenjou is now a new student to the school and has short hair and a more masculine uniform than the TV series. Anthy Himemiya has been redesigned almost beyond recognition. The other major character change is Akio Ohtori. His relationship to Anthy and the other characters is essentially the same as such, except he’s much younger here and for some reason another voice actor has taken his role. Touga Kiryuu’s role has changed too. In the film he’s actually Utena’s former boyfriend. The biggest disappointment is the fact Nanami and Chu Chu have been relegated to a mere (albeit quite surreal) cameo. They provided the TV series with the majority of its humour. The other strange element to the film is the truncating of the duels. There’s only two here, the second is only partly shown. While the relationship between Anthy and Utena was pretty much platonic in the TV series, here it is explicitly shown to be a sexual one. I think this strengthens the film’s story. The reasoning behind Anthy and Utena’s desperation to leave together is much stronger. However the actual realisation that there is something wrong in the wold they live in and the decision to leave are not handled very well. It’s like Utena had just decided on a whim. The concluding car chase sequence is pretty good, but quite nonsensical. Yes it’s a movie full of surrealism but can we just have a bit of logic to what is happening?

I recall about a decade ago that a local LGBT group had contacted me to promote their screening of the film (the club I used to run had previously played in the film in late 2000). As this film was created by heterosexual men and women and targeted mostly to a heterosexual female and male crossover audience, I really wondered what in hell they made of the film. I recall another screening, done by another anime club I was helping out, of Shonnen Ai and Yaoi material. They invited some sort of LGBT group along and essentially they laughed at how the relationships were depicted. It makes sense because that material is an idealised version of gay male relationships made specifically for heterosexual women. Hence my curiosity of how lesbians would view this film. So in conclusion, the film is a pretty good adaptation of the TV series material. There are little hints here and there of all the arcs from the TV series. At 85 minutes, I think the film is a little too short. It truncates too much of the show. If it was say 15 minutes longer and showed the reasoning behind Utena’s declaration to leave the world of the school, I think it would have made the film a lot better. Some additional scenes explaining or at least putting the cars into context wouldn’t have gone astray either. At the very least the film looks dead gorgeous, especially considering it’s a cel film with very little CG animation. The scene where Anthy and Utena dance on the flooded duelling arena is one of the most beautiful sequences of any anime film of the period. And just as a side note, this film was screened in Japanese cinemas with the forgettable “Cyberteam in Akihabara” film. 8.5 out of 10.

Remaining Backlog: 27 months (it's much easier this way than listing the number of discs).

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