The Disease of the Ideal: Utena Tenjou

To offset the eye candy of MCM, I thought it would be neat to start Women Crush Wednesday. Not “crush” as in they’re cutesy but because these women are “crushing” it in anime. Crushing it, Killing it, or a more hip way to say it:  they “slay“. This blog series will look at female characters that are inspirational, unique, strong, and independent among many many other characteristics.

The first woman that I want to feature is one of my all time favorites. Utena Tenjou from the classic anime: Revolutionary Girl Utena.utena-small

Utena was a young girl when a travelling prince came along and consoled her at the funeral of her parents, he gives her a ring and tells her that they’ll meet again and the ring will lead her to him.  Typically the princess is often depicted as a damsel in distress and then falls in love with the prince and the story starts there. However, this is not how this story goes. Utena is so impressed by the prince that she vows to become a prince herself one day.

In her pursuit to become a prince first Utena breaks down gender roles. When we meet Utena again after her encounter with the prince, shes now a highschooler strolling through Ohtori Academy, wearing a boys’ uniform.. She gets reprimanded for not being ladylike because she doesn’t wear the girls’ uniform, but she argues there are no rules that say a girl can’t dress like a boy.

Utena represents the prince/knight in shining armor trope at her school. She garners attention from both sexes at her school. Girls swoon over her and boys recruit her to be on their basketball team. She refutes them because she’s a girl; the boys argue that she acts like a boy and dresses like a boy, so what’s the difference?  She insists that shes a girl, but wears the uniform to be princely, and declares that she wants to be a prince that saves the princess. So she’s usually quick to right wrongs, which may sometimes be misguided and she never strays from her path of being nobel and brave – because that’s what a prince embodies. It may look like she’s confused but due to her ambiguity to identify herself to either a male or a female, I find Utena to be androgynous which makes her so amazing. She’s just who she wants to be, she doesn’t want or need the label.

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Without going too much into the story, Utena accidentally becomes Duelist among the student council and wins Anthy, the “Rose Bride”. Though Anthy is considered to be a prize and objectified by the student council, Utena strives to protect her which further blows up her ideal to be act like a prince and save Anthy. Over time and after numerous duels, Utena struggles with her nobility and eventually has to confront her own hypocrisy concerning this “prince” ideal. There is also a lot of alluding to the relationship between Utena and Anthy, that it’s much more than just friendship which is another fantastic layer to this anime.

After losing a duel, her prince ideal comes crashing down on her, and it is a devastating blow to her character; she becomes unhinged and slips into damsel in distress mode where she is easily manipulated by the prince that saved her at the beginning of the story. This prince tries to convince her to be his princess, but Utena eventually snaps out of it, and revives her to protect and save  save Anthy once and for all, which shocks the prince.

Utena represents a coming of age story; a story that challenges the ideals of fairy tales, gender, sexuality and identity.  Utena at the center of it all, struggling against the world and more importtnatly against herself as she tries to carve out her own identity.

Revolutionary girl Utena is an incredibly deep piece that could be analyzed even further. It is a highly metaphysical, surreal allegorical series. I don’t think I’ve done Utena enough justice in this post. But I tried!