“Revolutionary Girl Utena” Transgresses Gender and Sexuality

Ever since I started writing about anime for Autostraddle, Revolutionary Girl Utena has been one of the most requested anime for me to review or discuss. At first, I assumed it was just because it was a popular, mainstream anime series with some yuri (lesbian) themes, as the main two female characters appear to be in love with each other. But then, as I looked more into it, I found out that — at least in the series itself — the two girls never actually get together or explicitly admit their feelings. Okay, so why do lesbians who love anime love Revolutionary Girl Utena so much? I had to find out.

When I watched it myself, it immediately became apparent to me why this show has so much to offer transgressive and queer women – not just women who love other women, but women who defy society’s rules about gender and sexuality in any way. Many fans of Utena are quick to point out that the show should not be reduced to just being about the relationship between Utena Tenjou and Anthy Himemiya, and in a way, they’re right: but not because Utena isn’t queer. It’s because everything about this series is queer.

For a quick plot summary: Utena Tenjou is a junior high student at the mysterious Ohtori Academy, where students compete in duels in order to win the hand of Anthy Himemiya, the “Rose Bride.” Why do they do it? No one really knows (and they won’t until the end of the series), but students can only participate as Duelists if they are a part of the Student Council, who wear rose rings to signify their membership. That is, until Utena comes along, who has her own rose ring that she received from a prince long ago, who saved her and promised that the ring would lead her back to him one day. Instead of being a princess, Utena has decided she wants to become a prince herself, and dresses in boys’ clothes and focuses on saving people.

This is how she gets drawn into the Dueling system at Ohtori. Her friend Wakaba is publicly insulted when a boy she likes rejects her; said boy happens to be Saionji, the current Dueling champion and ruler of Anthy, who is forced to do whatever her fiancé(e) commands as long as she is engaged to them. Saionji challenges Utena to a duel, which she wins – making her Anthy’s current “master,” although Utena is bothered by her obedience (which is also far more complicated than it seems). The other Duelists begin challenging Utena for her title and Anthy’s hand, dictated by vague letters from someone calling themselves “End of the World” – and Utena’s life gets considerably more complicated.

The series defies gender roles at every turn — and much of that has to do with the heroine, Utena Tenjou, herself. Growing up during the “Disney Renaissance,” I always felt like I was the rare girl who didn’t want to be a princess. I didn’t want to be saved by some boy; I wanted power and influence for myself. I wanted to do the saving. Utena does a lot to play with the common tropes of fairy tales, including what makes a “prince” vs. a “princess.” Utena is a princess who wants to be a prince, who dresses like a boy and is better at solving problems with her sword than with emotional manipulation, who wants to save people as a prince rather than “be saved” as a princess. She is every bit the heroine I wish I had as a youngster who was far from the girliest girl on the playground, and reminds me of why it was characters like Mulan — not only powerful and capable, but also, at-odds with traditional femininity — who resonated the most with me.

The “weaponized femininity” of the magical girl genre is something that gets a lot of credit in anime feminist circles; I also have written about how important Sailor Moon was to me as a young feminist. But the truth is, the world we live in is one that overwhelmingly favors so-called masculine qualities like assertiveness and leadership, where fights are won with a sword or a gun rather than a magical rainbow wand or the power of dance. And even without society’s expectations, some girls are going to possess masculine qualities. As a woman on the autism spectrum, society’s emphasis on “feminine traits” is alienating to me, because my brain chemistry means I’ll never be traditionally feminine in behavior anyway. I’ll never be someone who is naturally good at reading people and at being nurturing. I’ll always be better at constructing a good argument than “killing with kindness.” And the fact of the matter is that, while having some masculine personality traits can get women to the top in privileged fields like the business world or academia, overall, women are still not allowed to truly defy their gender roles. (Heck, even Utena herself, while being masculine in personality and goals, is still traditionally feminine in appearance other than her choice to wear the boy’s uniform. She has long, pink hair and she is conventionally attractive.)

That’s why I wish Utena had come to me when I was younger, still unsure of my sexuality and unsure of how much I could embrace my more masculine qualities in a society that was continually telling me I had to be more feminine not only to be attractive to boys, but to be valuable at all. Even the nerdy awkward girl characters I loved in media rarely stayed that way for long, eventually becoming more socially-adept and “normal” and finding a guy to love them. Utena, however, stays awkward and masculine throughout the series; she’s still inexplicably popular and adored by the student body in spite of this, though it’s mainly the female student body in her case. The guys, especially her dueling opponents like Touga and Saionji, are initially threatened by her and don’t know what to make of her. Even if their opinions eventually change, the guys still desire to mold her into something more socially acceptable and easier for them to control.

This being anime, the guys still, of course, have long, colorful hair

This being anime, the guys have their own long, colorful hair – via ghostlightning.wordpress.com

That being said, I should note that it’s doing the male characters of Utena a disservice to dismiss them as mere straw misogynists; Touga in particular is incredibly complicated in his own special way, and one of my personal favorite characters in the series. Every single duelist has their own struggle to overcome that is tied into growing-up, family and sexuality, probably the three main themes in a series that is overflowing with them. This is part of why the plodding, episodic exposition of the “Student Council” arc (the first 13 episodes of the series) makes perfect sense once you’ve watched the entire show, because in fact, you do need that much set-up to understand these rich, multi-faceted characters and what exactly keeps each of them fighting.

Which brings me to another character who is relatable and instrumental for queer girls in the series, Juri Arisugawa — and not just because she is explicitly queer herself. Juri’s crush on her (ostensibly) straight friend Shiori, and losing Shiori to a boy, has hurt her irreparably, and formed the basis of Juri’s unsentimental, cynical attitude in the series. In her analysis of the character, anime reviewer JesuOtaku writes:

Love is an ugly word for Juri. Her unrequited feelings for a straight woman are a part of herself she can’t change, and isn’t ashamed of, but would be perceived with scorn and condescension from the world around her and worse, the object of her affections. Utena’s childhood dreams of becoming a noble prince who loves and protects the weak are insulting to Juri. That’s not how the world works, [she thinks]. You don’t get to change who you are or how you feel or how the world sees either of those things. Love is a weakness for others to hold against you. Nobility is an illusion for those who’ve never faced hurt and hardship. Hide your weaknesses, bolster your strengths, and earn your right to command the perceptions of those around you. Protection can only be offered in a world where no one knows you’re flawed, weak and hurting.

Obviously, that’s kind of a messed-up way to see the world; Juri’s been forced by trauma (because Shiori didn’t just reject her, but is remarkably good at twisting the knife) to grow up too fast, something a lot of characters do in Utena, in different ways. But the particular way that Juri’s been forced into cynicism by life is one that is particularly relatable to queer people. Every teenager struggling with their sexuality and hormones experiences the fear of rejection, the fear of what would happen if the person you adore not only doesn’t share your feelings, but makes a mockery of them. But the stakes are particularly high for queer people, because we face not only rejection from our love interests but from society at large, and society has particularly cruel ways of twisting that knife by denying us equal rights and continually reminding us that we are the Other and not to be trusted. Even from our individual object of affection, the mockery we’re potentially opening ourselves up to by being honest about our feelings, goes much deeper than simply being about an individual crush. It’s about our sexuality as a whole.

Juri (left) and her undoing, Shiori - via ohtori.nu

Juri (left) and her undoing, Shiori – via ohtori.nu

Utena herself, of course, struggles with her feelings for Anthy in her own way, and in a way that shows how much queer girls are dealing with a double-edged sword when it comes to traditional gender roles. She wants to be herself — her more-masculine-than-feminine self — but she also wants to be accepted by her peers. And loving a girl just makes her different in a further way. It was yet another thing I related to with her, as so much of what kept me closeted as a teenager was “I’m already a weirdo in every other way, do I have to be weird in this way as well?” Being into boys — as she clearly is as well — allows her to be normal. But so much of what the boys want out of her is at odds with who she really is and wants to become.

It says so much that I’ve been talking for so long about these themes, and yet only scratched the surface of what there is to discuss here. Revolutionary Girl Utena is one of the best anime for people who love to analyze media, tear it apart and work out its kinks, as all of these ideas are buried under layers and layers of symbolism and allegory. It’s not the show for those who like their media to be clear and explain things to them. It’s also not something I would recommend to those who are triggered by depictions of sexuality involving dubious consent, as there are quite a few examples of this later in the series, including involving incestuous pairings. While the actual sex isn’t shown on-screen (since this is a shoujo series, aimed at teenage girls), and it’s not excused or romanticized, the emotions and reactions of the characters involved are portrayed quite explicitly, and thus those could possibly be (and are likely intended to be) upsetting.

If neither of those keep you away, however, Revolutionary Girl Utena is pretty essential viewing for the feminist, queer media consumer who wants to learn more about the anime genre. It is the sort of show that will keep you thinking about it for days after you finish it, both because it so often defies explanation, and because what you do understand resonates so clearly with the queer girl experience.

How to watch it: If you’re in the U.S., the English dub of Revolutionary Girl Utena was recently uploaded in full to Hulu. However, this is a series that even people who love dubbed anime recommend be watched in Japanese with subtitles. For that, you’ll have to scour some not-so-savory corners of the Internet, or buy the DVDs on Amazon.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

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Rose is a 25-year-old Detroit native currently living in Austin, TX, where she is working on her Ph.D. in musicology. Besides Autostraddle, she works as a streaming reviewer for Anime News Network.

Rose has written 69 articles for us.


  1. Thank you so much for looking at such a deep, thought provoking and totally gay series. I just started watching it and I’m hooked.

    • It’s actually my second favorite. (The top spot goes to the first Fullmetal Alchemist anime – not a very original choice, I know, but it just holds a very special place in my heart.) I adored it, and can’t wait to watch it 5,000 more times and analyze every aspect to within an inch of its life.

      And that’s an aspect I didn’t get to convey as much in my review, but: along with being a great feminist and queer anime, it’s also a great show for TV geeks. There’s so much to analyze and discuss, because every scene is loaded with endless layers of symbolism and metaphor, and it deals with so many interesting ideas about growing up, fairy tales, gender roles, family relationships and 1,000 other things.

  2. Oh, Can you take a look at Aoi Hana or Wandering son. Aoi Hana is a yuri anime that breaks a lot of Yuri tropes and Wandering Son is two transgender middle schoolers as they explore their gender identity and try to make sense of growing up. They’re both by the same writer, who is straight, but my god, Does she get it perfect.

    • another +1 for Aoi Hana. I think it’s the best depiction of a typical yuri/shoujo-ai anime where the plot really revolves around the evolution of the character’s feelings.

    • I’m hoping to cover more anime that is of-interest to queer women if there’s enough interest. Both of those series are already on my list of to-watch ones, though (as is Simoun, Liz’s recommendation below).

    • I’m also wondering if there’s any interest in talking about Attack on Titan; even though it’s far from a yuri or shoujo-ai series, I just think that it’s a pretty big deal that the most popular anime/manga series of 2013 has an implied queer female romance in it where both characters are fleshed-out and portrayed respectfully. (Although this applies more to the manga than the anime at this point, since the anime hasn’t covered the more Ymir- and Christa-heavy chapters yet.)

      • In the anime, there is a passing mention of Christa being in love with Ymir but nothing ever comes of it, sadly. I’m not sure about the manga. I love an indepth look at queer themes in manga and anime since I’m a huge nerd. XD

        • Yeah, I know the anime has the scene where Ymir runs up to Christa with “If we survive let’s get married!” and hugs her, but the manga has had more time to expand on their relationship and each of their backstories, and it’s made clearer that Christa returns Ymir’s feelings to at least a certain extent.

          The manga also implies that a certain male character is queer, though I won’t say anything more about that because MAJOR SPOILER.

      • YES to SnK!

        Although my favourite characters are a blend between Mikasa, Hanji Zoe and Levi, Ymir and Christa’s relationship just gives me a whole lot of feels…

        I’ve also noticed that the mandarin yuri-based forums are similarly enamored and seem to have mentioned a substantial amount of Ymir and Christa doujinshi popping up in Japan…

        (Side note, I am a huge fan of Hiromu Arakawa and FMA! Now zealously following Silver Spoon~)

  3. Oh, and how about Simoun? It’s a fantasy series where all the world is female and at the age of 15 they must choose which gender to be. The Simoun pilots are all young women who suddenly find themselves caught up in a war with a rival kingdom (which forces all it’s citizens to become male from the moment their born via hormones). Sorry to post so much.

  4. I really love how this show is explained, and your point of view on it is really informative and insightful to not only SKU but it’s themes. Thanks for writing it :) I hope it turns on many people to Utena.

  5. Thanks for doing this piece. Utena has always been pretty near and dear to my heart. As it happened for me, I grew up watching Sailor Moon and about the time where the US started displaying Haruka and Michiru as “cousins”, I had begun to get into actual subs and realized that they were actually lovers and not the incestuous excuse for homosexual erasure that the American version was trying to put out. This was also around the time that I started having those doubts about my own sexuality, so when I learned about anime depicting actual lesbian relationships and somehow landed on Revolutionary Girl Utena… Well, let’s just say it did a lot for my self-esteem.

    Like you, I can also totally relate with Utena’s feelings of wanting to do the saving instead of being saved. I used to love the Princess Bride, but not because I thought Cary Elwes was attractive… I wanted to BE the Dread Pirate Roberts. I was always running around with a cape and a sword, imagining I was saving the princess. But at the same time, I am not trans, I’m not even butch… I’m somewhere between tomboy and femme, and sometimes this gets lost in our community. Because my personality is like such a typical top, I felt a real pressure in the beginning of my baby gay phase to present myself as more butch. But it never felt genuine and it actually took me longer than I care to admit to realize that it’s okay to be kinda “girly” and be a lesbian. Sure, dudebros might doubt me at bars, but that’s really the extent of it. I think atypical presentations like this are important and I have to say… it’s been along time since I’ve seen Utena and your article has already got my gears turning in a thoughtful way, and for that, I thank you. :)

    • Yeah, I should clarify that I’m not necessarily butch in presentation either. (I’d probably classify myself as “futch” since I feel like I’m in the middle – I’m femme-of-center by queer standards, but I don’t really feel comfortable calling myself “femme” since I very rarely wear make-up and never wear skirts, dresses or heels, and I’m not big on “expressing myself” through my clothing.) I just feel like in terms of personality traits and ways of looking in the world, I’m more masculine than feminine, which I think is a combination of my neurotype (the “being on the autism spectrum” that I mentioned in the article), my upbringing and just my personality and interests. And I’ve noticed a trend in online feminism lately, probably inspired by difference feminism, of seeing upholding traditionally “feminine” personality traits as an essential feminist goal, and while I agree to a certain extent I find a lot of how it plays out in execution to be very alienating to more masculine women – whether in appearance or personality – and more importantly, being made in a vacuum that ignores that society doesn’t really allow women to be “like men”, anyway. Women are encouraged to be assertive in certain very privileged fields like business and academia (and hardly anywhere else), but still not to the extent that they pose real threats to male power. And they’re certainly still expected to dress femmey or they’re seen as “unprofessional.” Men are still very threatened by women who act or look “like men” in any meaningful way.

      (And obligatory comment that I know that butch women can be nurturing and compassionate and such in personality, too. But that’s my point. Any big deviation from gender roles is threatening; it doesn’t have to be across the board.)

      I haven’t seen The Princess Bride in the longest time, so I can’t remember much from it. But yeah; I was always the one girl who whenever other girls wanted to play princess, I wanted to be the queen. Or even the king! I can’t say with the Disney movies I watched that I identified with any of the princes since they were usually pretty one-note female fantasies, but I definitely didn’t like the idea of being rescued by a guy and getting married and living “happily ever after” in being pampered by a man and nothing else. It’s funny because given the awful relationship I had with my stepmother, I was probably perfectly disposed to overidentify with characters like Cinderella, but I wanted to escape my stepmom myself, not to be whisked away by some guy because of a shoe. (That’s also probably why I seem to be one of the few women my age who is into cartoons and media who doesn’t have any sort of special nostalgic relationship with Disney. Except for Mulan, of course.)

      • I totally get the qualms with identifying with the “femme” title. My older sister is this sort of hyperfemme-pretty-in-pink-princess type who forever held the bar higher than I could ever even care to reach. I personally like to think of myself as “practical femme”… Meaning, I have a lot of attributes of your stereotypical female (shopping, clothes, sensitive, make-up) but I draw the line at things that I find to be restrictive, such as: high heels and skirts. Like, in the event of a zombie apocalypse, good luck with those heels(Or more realistically, maybe outrunning a rapist or something)… And skirts? Well, I just don’t like to sit like a proper lady and I don’t want to have to worry about exposing my crotch to the world. Ya know? These things seem impractical to me, but of course, to each their own…

        But on the topic of masculine alienation, I have no answer for that other than it’s complicated. Growing up, I felt like I was never femme enough, so I sort of ended up living on the masculine spectrum… then I realized that this wasn’t true to me either because I really longed to wear tighter clothes from the girl’s section. Gosh, the last time I was at Pac Sun, some well-meaning lesbian that was hitting on me kept trying to show me clothes from the guy’s section and I had to remind her several times that I preferred women’s clothes despite the fact that I WAS wearing all women’s clothes at the time (but sort of tomboyish, I guess). It was odd… But I guess I share your frustrations because at the end of the day, isn’t one of the basic points of feminism that there shouldn’t be one single way to be a woman? That we should all feel the freedom to be comfortable in whatever particular quantity of masculine to feminine we happen to possess?

        And since you brought it up, I didn’t identify with Disney princesses either. Pippi Longstocking was my hero and she was definitely a more masculine type character. I mean, she was a pirate…

        • To be fair, high heels actually can be pretty useful in a violent situation. They make good weapons–especially stilettos.

        • Lol, that is a fair point! But I also think the best choice would be to get away if possible.

  6. Utena was paramount in my gay awakening.

    I remember going to Blockbuster and walking down their anime aisle and I saw Utena’s pretty pink hair holding a sword with fire in her turquoise eyes. I thought it was going to be a cheesy but awesome Sailor Moon (which is another part of my gay awakening ~*~*~Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune~*~*~) replica BUT OMG IT WAS AMAZING!!

    It changed my life!

    I also love Fullmetal Alchemist too :D

  7. Yay, Utena! It’s long been one of my favorites. I kind of fell into it a round about way– the author of the programming language I was using at the time recommended it in a speech– but once I found it I was hooked. The hard part is convincing getting my friends to share my enthusiasm. =D It’s either too-anime for my non-anime-fan friends, or it’s too complicated and weird to my anime-fan friends.

    +1 to Aoi Hana, Wandering Son and SImoun

    I actually think there’s a lot of room for interesting queer readings of Lain, Haibane Renmei and the deeply under appreciated NieA_7 too.

    • Yeah, the thing about Revolutionary Girl Utena is that, while I would highly recommend it to non-anime-fans for its queer themes, its weirdness means I don’t think it would make sense as an anime “gateway drug” otherwise. (Although at least a lot of the tropes it deconstructs are general fairy-tale tropes and not just shoujo ones – unlike something like Evangelion or Puella Magi Madoka Magica, which are deconstructions of their particular genres of anime (shounen/mecha and magical girls, respectively) and so that aspect of those series won’t make much sense to people who don’t watch a lot of anime.)

      In terms of “gateway drugs” to non-anime-fan friends I usually recommend something like FMA or Cowboy Bebop or, for my classical musician buddies, Princess Tutu. But I think RGU would be accessible to any queer woman who doesn’t mind media that breaks your brain a bit – assuming one can get past the first arc, with its slower pacing and the fact that it initially seems like a more typical shoujo series.

    • I totally forgot about Lain. That anime will forever be my number 1 in terms of amazing art and music. But yeah… she definitely had a bit of the gay for Arisu.

  8. Thanks so much for doing a piece about Utena. I do believe it tops all other series as my favorite, and you excellently laid out many of the reasons why.

    The Utena movie is interesting, as well! It condenses the story down and tells it from a markedly different viewpoint, and is also quite fun to analyze. If you have time between all the other series to review, you might take a gander at it.

    • Yeah, I might see if I can talk about the movie separately, which I haven’t seen yet. I saw a lot of people in the re-blogs of the Tumblr post saying “you need to talk about the movie!” and oh yeah, I definitely do, especially since I know they actually do get together in it. But since the film is a separate continuity (rather than a finale/sequel like End of Evangelion*), I felt like the TV series could be discussed on its own.

      *ETA: And so I’ve officially achieved the Anime Godwin for this comment thread.

  9. Utena was the first queer manga that I read, and it helped me through a tough time in my life. I’m so glad you did an article about the anime.

    • How is the manga in comparison to the anime? I’ve mostly heard negative things, especially in terms of the queer elements – like that it downplays the queerness of Utena and Anthy’s relationship, and it makes Juri straight and in love with Touga (really?!?!?) who treats her even worse than Shiori does in the anime. And that the manga-ka had made some homophobic comments. But people seem to have good things to say about it in the comments here, so I was wondering what you thought.

      • The manga is very different, and not in a good way. Whereas the television series attempted to de-fang the fairy-tale tropes, the manga is sort of complicit with them.

        Also, I did want to note that while Utena and Anthy’s relationship isn’t completely explicit in the TV series, It’s quite explicit in the film, which is an alternate re-telling of the story.

  10. I remember when i first started reading the manga and how i felt inspired to be the prince not the princess. My sister brought me all the dvds because she knew I loved the idea of what Utena was presenting. It’s a must for any queer loving girl

  11. The Utena film, Adolescence Apocalypse/The Adolescence of Utena is a must-watch for me every year. As I grow older, I realise how transcendental the themes are that I find myself in that film year after year.

    Firstly as a young gay woman thinking that the movie was a metaphorical representation of sexuality and then years later as an adult considering how those very self-same scenes meant something differently. It’s the beauty of the thing, its total and complete universality.

    Although the movie is said to be seriously cryptic and wtf :P

    Skimming through the comments, Aoi Hana should be on your must-READ rather than must-watch. It starts slow but it’s possibly artistically one of the finest pieces of literature I’ve encountered. Simple single lines can punch you right the gut. It helps a lot that the mangaka is a total lit-nerd and loves and respects books and plays enough that it becomes part of her drawings.

    Octave is another one you should read if only because it’s the first manga I’ve seen actually tackle a growing relationship between two women and its ups and downs.

    • Reading Aoi Hana gives me too many painful feels. I literally just want to shake Ah-chan half of the time because I’m so well acquainted with that person who just doesn’t understand themselves. Oh, High School… I was very much on the other side of that situation. It’s a pretty emotional journey, but I do think it’s worth it in the end.

      But while it’s a close race, Sasameki Koto and Girlfriends will always be ranked slightly higher for me. Octave is also great though!

    • Oh man, these threads make me so happy in part because they bring out all these recommendations. And I totally agree, the art style combined with the story for Aoi Hana works really well for the manga. I have yet to see any of the anime, so I’ve no idea how it compares.
      Along with Girlfriends, by the same author is that one (series of) short(s) in Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink about Nana and Hitomi; both of them do a pretty good job of charting highschool queer relationships (though a bit romanticised, let’s be honest. Love that fluff though)
      And, yeah, Octave! Its hard to find many manga that look at relationships beyond high school age, so I really enjoyed it for that.

      • NanaxHitomi from Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink are actually my FAVORITE couple. I just bought the legit translation from Amazon:
        I’d read the scanlations before and I mean nothing against them, but this was a REALLY good version and very affordable. It’s still available online in some places, but I wanted to actually support Seven Seas making actual yuri available in English. Btw, they also translated Girlfriends. :)

        Morinaga Milk is so fluffy.. her work is a secret addiction. But I think what I like about her works is that you never have to question her characters’ gayness. They are certainly never just “playing at” love between girls and she makes it clear by the end that they honestly desire each other.

        Next up, I really hope they start making Morishima Akiko’s work available. Her office lady stories or the 20-Year-Old-Girl x 30-Year-Old-Maiden sets are so hilarious and adorable. It’s also so refreshing to have stories about actual adults (and Hanjuku Joshi aside) she writes a lot of them. She also writes a lot of legitimate lesbians, which is also refreshing. First times are great, but I like to see something a little beyond that as well.


        • Oh oh, and before anyone takes what I said wrong… I didn’t mean “legitimate lesbians” as a dig against bisexual girls. I just meant a woman who has already realized her feelings for girls and doesn’t have to follow the whole “omg, I want to kiss her… BUT SHE’S A GIRL” trope that’s so common in yuri manga. And for the record, she’s had a few “legitimate bisexual” girls in some stories as well.

        • It’s okay, as a bisexual I get what you mean; I feel like yuri (and, for that matter, yaoi) portrays the “doubt about your sexuality” stuff in a really fake way. Like it’s one thing to have your character be worried about moral condemnation or being too “weird” in the eyes of society (the latter being more of a thing compared to the former in Japan, from what I understand). But so many characters act like they’ve NEVER REMOTELY CONSIDERED that homosexuality could even be a THING at all.

          And plus, whether one is gay or bi, it’s really nice to see some representation of queer characters who are already comfortable in their sexualities. Coming-out stories have their value and place, but they’re way too much of the media narrative about being queer, on both sides of the Pacific.

  12. All my feels for Utena. And Juri. I really identified with her story because I was the girl rebuffed and then abused by the straight girls in my high school.

  13. I remember watching RGU when I was 13 and in the middle of my insufferable weeaboo phase. (The only reason I never wore a Naruto headband to school is because I couldn’t afford one, thank god.) I wish it had been a little bit more accessible. The gender stuff really resonated with me, but I wasn’t able to follow when things started getting crazy bonkers.

    • Can you clarify? I actually rather enjoyed the Strawberry Panic anime, other than the Kaname bullshit. The manga is a different story, but I think that’s as much or more the fact that it was unfinished as the fact that it played into some truly obnoxious yuri tropes (like the “tournament” and all that).

      • Mainly the Kaname Bullshit made yell at the scream. The novels are totally different but then the novels have Yaya doing crazy bullshit (seriously, someone needs to explain that No means no to this chicks) The anime is a guilty pleasure for me, I seriously love Aname and Hikari.

        • I agree about Amane and Hikari. They seem to be less popular among the various Strawberry Panic couples, compared to Shizuma/Nagisa or whomever else, but they were actually my favorite. (I mean, who wouldn’t want to date Amane though? *swoons*)

  14. The history behind Strawberry panic itself is interesting since it started as nothing then a magazine poll to pair up the cast (who didn’t even have backstories then) and then the writer would make stories based on the fan pairings.

    • Yeah, I’d heard about that. Which makes it interesting that the fandom seems to dislike Amane/Hikari.

      And also, explains why the manga’s relationships seemed to come out of nowhere, while they got more development in the anime.

  15. You know how much impact this show has? I watched it ten years ago with my first girlfriend (who was quite the Anime Fan) and I am still overjoyed to find an article about it here,now.
    In my opinion, the show manages to be sometimes trippy and surreal, and yet not lose its footing, and it still makes sense,especially in the end.
    It’s like a look into someone’s mind, and while I might have started watching it for the Girl with a sword and her betrothed premise, it’s stuck with me, because it turned out, that it was more of a psychoanalysis of well, Anthy,and that whole package, and the symbolism and trippyness really came together to form a bigger picture.

  16. ANALYSIS OF UTENA : Anthy epitomizes women’s condition and Akio embodies the ambivalent role of men in the submission of women. At first Anthy and Akio were siblings caring for eachother, they were the original man and woman. Then Anthy has been sacrificed by the world: it is the condition of women defined by pain that we have for instance in the Bible. Akio is both the prince who wants to save the woman but he is also her tyrrant and he is abusing her. The fact that he considers himself a prince makes him blind to the fact that he is actually the one hurting her (this is the condition of men being unaware of their role in the submition of women and the violence against women that they are perpetuating without even being aware of it). Anthy is in denial and does as she is bid by her brother/master(just like women have failed to rebel against opression and are in some case also perpetrating violence against other women, for example excision is done by women who have also been excised). Anthy needs the help of a selfless prince who turns out to be a princess ! Utena embodies female solidarity: she doesn’t fall into the trap of jalousy like the other characters are, she is generous and wants to save Anthy, that’s her goal. Utena represents women’s rights movements, feminists standing up and joining together to fight. In the end Utena never existed on her own, she was a part of Anthy, a part that never gave up even if Akio wanted her to be a princess and not a prince (that is to say a passive object and not an active subject). Akio wanted to repress the rebellion in Utena but in vain. Utena represents change, change that is possible and dormant in every girl’s heart, even the most hurt. And what about Dios? Dios is the ideal man who is motivating Utena: because there is no point saving women if men are lost. Dios represents the hope that men will also turn against the perversion of Akio (the male domination). Utena la fillette révolutionnaire is a beautiful feminist tale where women learn rhat friendship will free them and that there is still hope in some men who are also fighting against male domination (Dios).

    • In the 15 years since I first watched Utena, this analysis by Rose was the most spot-on, accurate, insightful thing I’ve read about the series.

      30 seconds later I scrolled down to near the bottom, and that analysis was dethroned.

      Roxane, your take on this series is what I plan to use to coax a friend of mine into watching the series (forgive me my plagerism!) She is into feminist literature, and prefers cinema with heavy use of allegory and metaphor, and even watches a lot of cartoons… but she won’t watch this, because “Anime is all porn and blowing stuff up.” Sigh… Anyway, my own thoughts on the ending were in line with how you saw the show, but I couldn’t quite fit all the pieces into place. Thank you for your comments, and your analysis!

  17. Actually, despite the fact that sexuality obviously plays a part in this whole anime, I don’t think it is meant to be such an important aspect. As I have seen the director put it, the main reason he chose to make Utena and Anthy’s relationship a bit more than friendship is because he wanted to represent that these people (all the main characters really) were part of a minority (which he shows in other ways as well, literally referring to them sometimes in the show as special people). It deals with gender roles, and as a show that literally represents all of adolescence, that’s important, but I think one of the best parts of this show is that sexuality really isn’t questioned or discussed (ignoring the time Touga tells Nanami only boy-girl relationships are okay, obviously to screw with her a little). It’s woven seamlessly into the fabric of the show, and one of the main things is it’s never a plot point or an explanation for character development. There are bigger issues in this anime that get ignored a lot because people get so excited over the tomboy who can still be pretty or the manly man prince thing who sleeps with everything and has super long hair. But thank you for focusing on what I think is a totally unique part of this fantastic anime!

  18. This is actually one of the Animes where I have the least sympathy for the stereotypical Dub haters. It has none of the censorship you find in DiC Sailor Moon or occasionally Pokemon.

    The Dub is awesome, all the themes you mentioned in this post and more come off perfectly, regardless of how well the dubers understood them.

    Non of the acting is Bad, but it at times Narmy but that to me fits the bizzareness of the story perfectly.

    Utena is the same voice actress who Dubed Misty and various other Pokemon characters, yet I took me while to put my finger who she was because the role is very different.

    Taouga is the same voice actor who did Jeremiah Gutwald of Code Geass, and I as usual love how Hammy and over the top he is, it’s a perfect voice for deconstruct a Knight in shining armor.

    Saionji’s dub actor seems to me to be going for a young Vincent Price vibe. Maybe that’s just me but I love it.

    Shiori is perhaps the best however, her voice is able to be capture the complexities of her character brilliantly. And that her role is expanded in the movie makes it even better.

    But I suppose to an extent that’s just the advantage of not having seen the Japanese first and constantly comparing. I still haven’t seen the Sub, Anime is a visual Medium so I prefer my enjoyment of visuals to not be distracted by reading. I have watched plenty of Subs when ti’s the only option however, like RoV.

    I will say this, it’s important to see the Series before the Movie. The Movie is purely a commentary (sometimes elf Parody) on the Series, much of it will no work if you don’t already know the fuller story.

    And see the movie in the same version you saw the series, it won’t give right if it’s not the same voices you recognize from the series. I point this out because the Sub is easier to find online for the movie then the series.

  19. Hi. This is a great website and I’m really enjoying dropping in for the conversation.

    I do want to point out that in many ways, the movie “Adolescence” is as much a sequel to the manga as to the movie. For instance, Utena’s “love” for Touka is present only in the manga, and the theme of drowning is most thoroughly explicated in the manga.

    I just finished watching both the anime and movie. They were both excellent. I was left scratching my head by what seemed to be, for me, a pretty heavily leveraged load of yuri in the movie, as opposed to the TV series., where it was implicitly emerging from friendship.

    I’m a straight guy with six gay women in my family, including a sister and former sister-in-law. Most of them use pieces of cultural materialist feminist theory, secondary or tertiary, to cope, and I’m honored with the “you’re different” distinction. Despite the fact that the creator/director obviously loathes his gender, I was impressed by his creation of Touga and Micki, two interesting straight male characters. It’s different from the current “Lesbians Bears” series, where men outside the liminal state of the court are pleasantly absent.

  20. Just a warning, DON’T CLICK ON THE JESUOTAKU LINK. The website it takes you to gives you a weird message about a virus, and it’s hard to get off the webpage.

  21. I was suddenly okay with the idea of telling my dad that I liked girls sooooo many years ago now, back when I was just 14 (I’m 27 now) after watching the Revolutionary Girl Utena movie. It blew my mind, and I showed my dad, we talked about it, he bought me the whole series and we watched it together. Blew his mind, too! Not that my mind was much better, but in a good way. This show helped a lot in my coming out process and I thank you so much for such a perfect analysis of how deep and wonderful this show is.

  22. This review falls into the category of “but there is so much more!” for me. Utena is very progressive in the way it deals with sexuality and that is one of the things I love about it. But Utena does so much more then just deal with sexuality. This often happens with any show that is sexually progressive, when the show is amazing AND sexually progressive, and people just forget that the show is also just plain GOOD. Amazing, even. For me, a show has to do more than just be sexually progressive, and while Utena is a culturally important show that deals with sexuality and love in an amazing way, it also has a great story, deep, realistic characters dealing with adolescents, and adulthood, and what it means to grow up and it is amazing. The same thing happens to Steven Universe as well. I know that some people will accuse me of being homophobic, but I’m not. I have always been pro gay, and I think that it is wonderful that Utena helped the LGBT community and is so culturally important in it (and to me), but that isn’t the only thing that makes it good. Utena has so, so, so much more, and I am disappointed that this review didn’t focus on it at all, because that is what makes it so important as a sexually progressive show. It has realistic, believable characters so it’s progressiveness doesn’t go to waste, and if Utena was a bad show, it wouldn’t really matter how progressive it is, since it wouldn’t be portrayed well. But it does portray it well, which makes it so much more meaningful.

  23. I know you most likely won’t see this comment, but I don’t think Utena is lesbian. I think she does feel strongly for Anthy but she definately was sexually attracted to Akio. It’s either this or I’m misinterpreting that line. She’s a very masculine female but is straight.

    A side note, I’m male, and I never wanted to be the prince. I always wanted to be the villain, and thought they were way cooler (gender was pretty much irrelevant to me). The princes were always lame to me and I thought that most of the heroes, prince or princess, were stupid.

    Except Akio. I do NOT want to be Akio, non-existent God no.

    • I know your comment was not directed to me, but I felt I had to say something. First of all, labeling people by a very binary “straight/ lesbian” is to ignore a whole spectrum of sexuality, of which bisexuality is a very common element of.

      But if you must label things in such a stark manner, I question how you can reach the conclusion she’s straight. Yes, she had intercourse with Akio, but did she ever pursue him? For crying out loud, she was contemplating the next day’s lunch while lying with him.

      Now, compare that scene to the one from the end of Utena: The Movie. Riding the skeleton of a motorcycle into the sunset, naked, limbs entwined, with one of the most passionate and real kisses I’ve seen not just in anime, but all of filmdom? Please…

  24. This article is excellent but pretty old now; Jacob (aka JesuOtaku) is trans and uses he/him pronouns now, someone should consider editing the article to reflect that.

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