So, for reasons that are complicated and boring and not entirely
unrelated to a reflexive pushback against yet another attempt to get me to watch A:TLA (which I DO want to watch one day, but the last time he pushed it, I went and watched the entirety of Gargoyles instead, so basically his insistence and my YOU'RE NOT MY DAD! childishness is leading to some rather interesting education in 90s animated telly), I finally watched Revolutionary Girl Utena.
Which people have basically been telling me to watch since I discovered I adored Martian Successor: Nadesico (another 90s anime) but was sort of hovering somewhere towards the lower end of my "to do" list of media because I have a complicated relationship with anime. I want to love it. I feel like I should love it. It's an endless supply of amazing, complicated fantasy/sci fi stories, without the same kind of budget limitations because they're animated, that tell complete season-long stories, so I don't have to cry when it inevitably jumps the shark, and the fact it's animated doesn't bug me at all.
That said, I find a lot of the tropes and stock characters really distracting and sometimes straight-up gross. Some of that I overcome through immersion in the series, particularly if it plays its surreal hyperreality sections well in the context of the narrative (Nadesico with its crew-of-misfits humour, Utena with its straight up magic realism). It's always tricky calling out things you find offensive (or even empowering) across cultural lines, not cus other cultures should get a pass at treating people badly, but because you lack context
. While trying to work out some of my thoughts on this, I read a couple of really interesting articles about the way Western audiences interpret anime. One I found particularly fascinating was the fact that some of the Magical Girl series that are touted in the West as being strongly feminist are, in Japan, primarily aimed at adult men who fetishize the cuteness and even infantilisation of the main characters. Another complicated and fascinating area was the way characters that are commonly interpreted in the West as transgender or genderqueer would in Japan be interpreted as an assault on brutally rigid gender roles
rather than cisnormative identities.
And like, how do you navigate that? From my uneducated position, I don't see that there's much conflict between a kid in Britain watching Utena and seeing someone affirmatively genderqueer and a kid in Japan watching it and seeing a girl assert her identity as female through nontraditional means. But I think it gets more complicated if you know something may have an actively negative connotation in its original context, even if that context is invisible to you before it's pointed out? Fortunately, I don't believe Utena is not one of those series that is misogynistic in its original context - or at least, not in the ways I outline above. But as we'll get to, there are things about it that leave me slightly uneasy, as well as things I think are completely fascinating.
It's essentially impossible to talk about, well, anything without spoilers, so if you plan to watch it and are strictly spoiler avoidant, it's probably best to skip the upcoming cut. However, I will do my best to keep this at a "review" level of spoilers for those interested in reading on. ( Minor spoilers + discussion of statutory rape follows. )
I think...if you have tried watching anime before and the format isn't your thing, then this won't be either. But if you have watched it before or if you haven't and want to some, give this a shot.
The last thing I'll say is that if you watch this, for the love of god
, watch the subbed not the dubbed version. I am not usually picky about that kind of thing. I often watch the dubs even when I know they're sorta shoddy and just deal with the not-so-amazing voice actors because I'm lazy. I'm a terrible person and I mutilate art.
But in this case, please, please, please
do not do that. I actually went back and rewatched
the episodes I did watch dubbed when I realised what a terrible mistake I was making. The problem is that Anthy, a pivotal character, whose emotional arc completely depends on being able to tell whether she means what she's saying or she's faking it via her tone of voice, is voiced by an awful
voice actress. I don't know if she's just plain bad or had weird direction or what, but she acts like a cheerful, vacant Stepford Wife the entire time
. Like during explosively personal, painful scenes, she's like...Barney the Dinosauring, "I'm sorry! I caused you so much pain! Silly old me!" Argh.
Just...for your own sanity, use the sub.
Also, I have discovered that Welcome to Night Vale and Revolutionary Girl Utena make the most beautiful mashups. I am completely obsessed with the perfection of this tumblr
. It honestly makes me feel like I understand RG:U better. Which...probably tells you something about its storytelling style.
It has been too long since I posted, and now this post is also too long. So I bid you all sweet dreams.