Mark Watches ‘The Adolescence of Utena’

In The Adolescence of Utena, I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT TO SAY ANYMORE. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to finish Utena.

Trigger Warning: For discussion of incest, rape, and abuse/manipulation.

I think that you have to look at this film with a very open mind (and a lot of headcanons) in order to wrap one’s head about it. I went into The Adolescence of Utena with no spoilers. I thought that, given the ambiguous, open-ended conclusion to the series, that perhaps we’d see more of Anthy’s epic quest to go find Utena. And I like the idea that this is a literal manifestation of that.

Utena was always a surreal experience, but it’s important to note that multiple times, we saw how the very fabric of the universe (flanelette?) can be changed. Mikage was wiped out of the world, and Utena disappeared in the last episode. So why isn’t it possible that when Anthy insists that Utena is out in another world, she means it literally? What if she found another world where Utena re-entered Ohtori Academy, setting the Rose Bridge saga in motion again? What if that’s what Anthy meant when she explained why she and Utena were drawn to each other in this world? I mean, I love that because that means this film is their story of escape and love. They get out of this entire game (and into a dystopian world??? WHAT THE FUCK, WHY IS EVERYTHING SCORCHED) and they fall for one another. UNDENIABLY SO. THERE IS NO SUBTEXT HERE AT ALL. THIS IS THE BEST PART OF THE WHOLE MOVIE, Y’ALL.

This was an… interesting experience. I still want to stick to the alternate universe theory because it’s what makes this movie work for me. The story of the Rose Bride and her Prince is re-told again, almost as if Adolescence is a 90 minute summary of the series. But small details are altered along the way. The Shadow Play Girls run a radio show (though are still shown in shadow, interestingly); Akio is the chairman, but we find out that he’s actually been dead for a long time; the same goes for Touga, who isn’t an antagonist here, but Utena’s prince from her past. WHO WAS ALSO DEAD THE WHOLE TIME. And it’s how these details all criss-cross with one another that makes me feel like this is a parallel world. In a lot of multiverse fiction, you still get mirrored stories even if there are a lot of details similar between worlds. Even if there’s no Nemuro Memorial Hall, no Mikage or Mamiya, you can still see their personalities and themes in Akio and Touga. You still have a dueling arena, but it’s combined with the rose garden. You still have an obsession with stars, but it’s handed to Anthy, who uses it to seduce Utena willingly.

On top of Anthy’s consent being more obvious this time around, it’s clear that the movie was able to name things more blatantly instead of dealing with metaphor and surrealism. (Though it’s still heavy on that, don’t get me wrong!) There’s full nudity here; Utena and Anthy explore a very sexual relationship with one another. THEY KISS! And it’s not masked as friendship or anything. We learn that the Rose Bride is supposed to have sex with whomever she’s engaged to, which is super uncomfortable, but it’s not like Adolescence ignores that. Hell, Utena’s first duel against Saionji is largely based on Utena’s rejection of Saionji’s misogyny, and I’m pretty sure the movie depicts the fact that Anthy was repeatedly raped by her own brother. Then there’s Touga’s flashback, where we find out that he was raped and molested by his… foster parent? That wasn’t exactly clear to me who that was. Regardless, all of this stuff is spelled out much more clearly in the narrative. Is it given the same amount of time and care as the show? No, not really, but it’s due to the format.

And really, at times, Adolescence felt rushed and jumbled. We would jump from one scene to another with no apparent segues at all. Sometimes, a flashback would occur during a dream-like sequence during a duel. It was hard to keep track of things at times! As I said in the video, I think the main flaw of this movie is that it requires a pretty intense familiarity with the show in order to even remotely begin to understand it. Even then? WHAT. Why does Nanami only show up as a cow? What is that weird gator creature with Chu-Chu? Why is Shiori just straight-up evil? Who are the announcers during the car chase sequence?

Really, let’s just get to the part of this that I’m sure everyone loses their shit over. WAS UTENA TURNED INTO A CAR WHILE INSIDE A GIANT CAR WASH? She was, and while I loved that the escape focuses so much on Anthy rejecting her brother, I just… I gave up. I gave up trying to understand it. Maybe if you accept that the motif of cars in the show stood for sexual aggression, you could argue that the cars symbolize Anthy defying her brother’s desires and accepting her own sexuality. Maybe? I DON’T KNOW. I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING.

I’m glad I watched this because I don’t think I’ll ever have an experience like this again, holy shit. It doesn’t change my thoughts about the show, though. I adore Utena and Anthy and Miki and Juri and Chu-Chu and that massive cast of characters, and I’m so happy that I got to make my way through this challenging and rewarding universe! One day, I’d love to sit down and re-watch the whole thing to see how much I catch a second time around. Alas, I’m very busy these days. The next double feature project that follows this one will be the show Farscape.

The video for The Adolescence of Utena can be downloaded here for $1.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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