Grant me the power to bring the world revolution!
A young girl’s parents die, and at their funeral, she is consoled by a prince. She’s so touched by the prince’s kindness and regal bearing that she vows one day to become a prince herself.
Normal girls would fall in love with the prince, right? But why love a prince when you can … be one?
Utena could come off as an ultra-weird anime, but like any anime with something to say, it frames itself too well to be confusing. It luxuriates in it’s own mythology. I don’t know, you just have to watch it.
The orphaned Utena grows up, goes to school, and insists on wearing a boy’s uniform to class. There are no rules against it! 45 seconds into the first episode, beats the boys at basketballs and makes the girls swoon. She’s well on her way to accomplishing her goal of being a prince. In fact, by episode 1, she already is a prince.
All of this is well and good but there are people in the world who can’t deal with Utena being a prince, and the rest of the series sees Utena fighting through unimaginable forces as well as high school gossipers. When she decides to save the Rose Bride and be the prince of the bride, almost everyone antagonizes her.
The Rose Bride belongs to the strongest duelist, who, in this case, is Utena. Nobody expects the winner of the bride to be a woman, but again, there are no rules against it.
I wanted to draw the moment in each Utena episode where Utena pulls the sword from the chest of Anthy, the Rose Bride. Why does the bride contain a sword in her chest? It represents both power and death, and pulling the sword out is only for the worthiest.
Stranger things have happened in the world of love and history, where Helen of Troy was the Face who Launched 1000 ships, Anthy’s body is capable of producing thousands of dueling swords. There is a sword inside of Anthy for as long as anyone wants to fight over her.
There are a lot of problems and painful moments confronted by Utena too, in the same way that Game of Thrones confronts skin-crawling themes like incest, abuse, death - Utena goes there. You know those quizzes online that are like “Which My Little Pony Character Are You?” and you’re pretty okay no matter what - if you get Twilight Sparkle or Fluttershy, it doesn’t matter, because both are pretty cool ponies.
You can’t do the '“Which Utena Character Are You” quiz without feeling extremely uncomfortable, in the same way as characters in Game of Thrones. Sure, Tyrion is the one cool guy, and Arya works well, but would we ever really want to be Jon Snow, Theon, Jaime? We all love Game of Thrones, but nobody wants to ‘be’ a character like Jaime Lannister in the same way they would be okay with being a character like Sam or Frodo. You’re Sam if you’re ever faithful, you’re Frodo if you’re okay with self-sacrifice, but who the fuck is okay with getting with their aunt? Who is okay with pushing a kid out a window? It’s somewhere nobody really wants to be. Utena feels that way, with characters who look cool on the outside and who are well acted and voiced, but most of them are absolute scum.
Utena isn’t the only good character in Utena, she’s just the only great one. You sort of only hope for and root for Utena and the Rose Bride, and everyone else kind of sucks and antagonizes or stands by.
Even if Utena Is The Best and Everyone Else Sucks, the question asked by the anime is still interesting. Why can’t girls be princes? Grant me the power to bring the world revolution. In some dream where I become a prince and I become a successful director like James Cameron, Utena will probably be my Battle Angel Alita. Even if it fails and nobody else likes it, I’d still do it.
Since we’re falling into a giant pipe dream, let’s talk about another anime and make some art about it.
Cowboy Bebop is an anime of creative freedom because it only has everything - hacker kids, sentient artist satellites, spaceships, a deadly love triangle. In between all of the serious stuff about crime and death and love, the directors take a mental siesta and produce an entire episode where everyone accidentally gets high on psychedelic mushrooms. Sounds a bit like life, actually.
In thinking about Cowboy Bebop, I wanted to make a recreation of this cell:
The anime works its own kind of special magic when you try to replicate these cells - you realize Spike’s feet are clubby boots and that his legs are way too long to be right in any anatomy book. But none of this matters, Cowboy Bebop doesn’t just have style, it has swagger. It has belief in itself.
It’s the right balance of funny and serious. I believe in Spike - Spike is driven to figure out a few things in life, but mostly he is driven by his next paycheck, and, well, food.