Revolutionary Girl Utena
It would be easy, considering the small number of shojo titles available in the US, for someone to think that all anime for girls and young women are "magical" stories where someone gets special powers to do good and battle evil. Sailor Moon certainly fits into this category, and there are plenty of these style shows around. Revolutionary Girl Utena is completely shojo and yet completely different from the "magical girl" shows, and I for one am thankful. It has been a long time since a show has drawn me in from the very beginning, but Utena shows the signs of a great show right from the start.
The background is very simple...a long time ago, Utena lost her parents, and a young prince (who remains unidentified) comforted her, giving her a ring with a rose crest as a reminder that they would one day meet again. Utena was so shaped by this meeting that she determined to become a prince herself. Thus, at school she breaks all the rules by appearing in a standard male uniform, rather than the "sailor dress" all the other girls wear. She's quite the talk of the school, but she quickly finds out about a dark secret society based around the school's student counsel. They all have the same signet ring as she, and as we watch, mystery upon mystery compounds. Are the students of the rose crest going to bring revolution to the world? No one knows.
The first four episodes are interesting and rather compelling. For a TV series, the artwork is right on. The visual look is great, if just a little unique, and the animation is particularly clean on the DVD. The soundtrack is one of the best I've heard in a long, long time--watching the OP/ED is enjoyable every single time. The story itself is not very clear yet, but the mystery is all part of it, and it pulls you back in for more. Through all this is a bit of romance and a lot of dueling, which is a draw for a male audience as well. Even with all the plotlines being introduced that will eventually need to get resolved, the show doesn't take itself too seriously, and the humor brings a sense of levity to the proceedings. It is a unusual show in that there is a lot of gender-bending going on...a lot of the male characters look and sound somewhat female, and Utena herself dresses like a boy. This is not all that surprising considering that many shojo comic books follow these patterns, but it's rare to find it in an anime series (especially in America). Those who are uncomfortable with such subjects might want to steer clear, but it's not a sexual thing so far in the series, so there's not really a need for alarm.
I am taken with Utena...it is an entertaining, well-animated show that could attract lots of viewers regardless of gender, despite that it leans very heavily on its shojo origins. I will be excited to watch the rest of the first two DVDs that are available, and suggest at least giving it a try. It's a lot more original than most of the anime available on the shelves today--finding a copy to try out is certainly worth the effort.
Revolutionary Girl Utena Vol. 1 -- mild violence, mild gender confusion -- A