DVD Review: Adolescence of Utena


Adolescence of Utena

The Apocalypse Saga

Right Stuf / Nozomi




In the Revolutionary Girl Utena TV series, the ‘prince’ the ideal.  The prince is the one with the power to change the world.  While everyone fights to find the prince,  Utena also seeks to become him; a distinction which leads inevitably to the climax of the series.  In the movie, the prince is more explicitly cast as an obstacle.  The hope that someone will come to fix everything prevents one from taking action to help themselves.

The Adolescence of Utena is an alternate universe retelling of the Utena TV series, condensing a 39 episode series into an 85 minute movie.  The significant cut in run time is at least partially compensated for by an increase in pitch.  In the series, it is said that Utena wears a boy’s uniform, though no boy is ever seen wearing that highly feminine outfit; in the movie, she wears a true ‘boy’s uniform,’ complete with pants and a hat covering her short hair.  She dresses so boy-like that she is even mistaken for a boy.

In the TV series, Anthy, the Rose Bride, seemed like a sister-wife in a Mormon compound.  She was controlled and kept subservient by her society, but was still her own person (to and extent) and there was at least a veneer of innocence over the situation.  In the movie, she’s more like a desperate drug addict being passes from dealer to dealer, each using her as they wish, while Anthy does everything she can to pleasure them, lest her source of contentment dry up.

There are some great dramatic moments, especially involving Utena and Touga; but within the context of the movie itself, the characters (and their relationships) are not developed far enough to give the emotional scenes the punch they deserve.

All the comedy of the series has been excised, except for a short homage video in the middle of the movie.  I can’t imagine that the homage makes any sense to those that haven’t seen the TV series.  In fact, I’d probably say that of the movie as a whole.  It’s probably watchable for the uninitiated, as it features simplified characters and a more straight-forward plot, but it would come off as very strange, and the many casual references to the TV series would be lost on them.

The climax of the film (which lasts upwards of 30 minutes) is highly controversial.  Without going into much detail, the resolution of the movie is presented entirely as a metaphor.  It’s similar to the ending of the Neon Genesis Evangelion TV series, in that shifts its focus entirely on to the characters, and away from the plot.  How much you like it depends on what aspect of the series you enjoy the most.

Adolescence of Utena is far more successful than most alternate compilation movies, due mostly to its laser focus on the core elements of the series.  The changes made from the plot of the TV series retain the impact of the original, while doing a beautiful job of defying the audiences expectations.

I’m not sure how it would fare for people unfamiliar with the TV series, but seeing as it is only available in a box set with the TV series, that’s kind of a moot point.

The DVD is in anamorphic widescreen, with Japanese and English audio and a director’s commentary.

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