The story follows the fourteen year old Utena Tenjou, a tomboy orphan who is enrolled in the exclusive Ohtori Academy. Ohtori is a strange, strange little place, as Utena soon finds out. The Academy is ran by a mysterious organization referred to as the Ends of the World. This organization carries out its wishes by means of the Student Council, an elite group of the academy's best students and leaders. The members of the Student Council, Touga Kiryuu, Juri Arisugawa, Miki Kaoru, and Kyouichi Saionji, carry out duels in a secret fighting ground, the Rose Arena, in the hopes of winning the Rose Bride (Bara no Hana Yome) and the chance of revolutionizing the world. Utena understands precious little of the Student Council's obsession with revolutionizing the world, but she disapproves of the Council's treatment of the Rose Bride, a young woman called Anthy. Utena fights a duel with a Council member, Saionji, and becomes 'engaged' to Anthy. While being referred to as Utena sama is not Utena's particular cup o'tea, she views her new position as a chance to free Anthy from her past life as the Council member's servant and as an opportunity to become Anthy's friend and protector, her prince. Her naiveté and incomprehension of the Ohtori Academy's true ideals, though, lead Utena down a long, treacherous, delightfully nonsensical, and always entertaining path.
This hurt my head. All I saw originally was the first four episodes, and I wasn't paying a huge amount of attention to the show...and paid for it BIG time. This is seriously strange, but otherwise pretty darned good. I personally despise the uber-shoujo art style (what the *krunk* happened to her shoulders!??!) and the REALLY SUBTLE take on CLAMP's addiction with giant swords coming out of girls' chests is just wrong. The characters are interesting, if a little predictable at times, and the music is rather nice. If you can get past the really, REALLY wonky art (sorry ladies, no human is THAT thin) and not-so-subtle lesbian overtones (quiet Havoc) then I suggest you try this one out.
Available subbed or dubbed from Software Sculptors.
A handsome youth by the name of Tenjoh Utena transfers to the distinguished Ohtori Academy. But Utena's true identity is actually a girl, who due to a certain event from her past, has decided to live her life as a boy in order to fulfill the highest of ambitions. But at Ohtori Academy she meets none other than her old lover, Kiryuu Touga...upon his finger suspiciously shines the Mark of the Rose...
Because of her possessing the exact same ring, Utena is challenged by the student body vice president, Saionji Kyouichi, to a duel in the floating rose garden. The reason for this duel is none other than the acquisition of the "Rose Bride" Himemiya Anthy's hand, for with it comes the "power to revolutionize the world." The Mark of the Rose thus was but the mark of a duelist.
Enraged by the way in which Saionji treats Anthy as a mere object of conquest, Utena takes the sword that appears from Anthy's breast, and soundly defeats Saionji. But with this victory, Utena is now engaged to Anthy. That night, as Utena's bride, Anthy comes to Utena's room...
What will become of Utena as she is tangled in this game of battle?
What is the true identity of the End of the World, the secret society that moves the duelist pawns on the game board of war?
And who will obtain the power to "revolutionize the world?"
More importantly, WHO CARES!! A warning right now before I go any further, those of you who dislike shows with rampant themes of incest, lesbianism, people who turn into cars, and rather pathetic attempts at creating some deep meaning, leave now.
...What the hell are you people still doing here?? I'm trying to help you! Fine, but don't say I didn't warn you. Okay, so the lesbianism and incest themes aren't exactly new to those of you who watched the series, but since this was pegged as a new version of the Utena story, one does have to warn the newbies ahead of time about such things. As for the rest...all in good time.
Now, one would think that if you're going to write a retelling of a TV series, and were trying to draw in some new fans with it, you wouldn't include plot elements from the series without explanation...look at the Mosquiton TV series or the Escaflowne movie as examples of excellent alternate stories. Adolescence Mokushiroku, on the other hand, chooses to confuse the hell out of anyone new to the story by creating all the trappings of a new, totally unrelated story, but retains nearly all the vital elements of the latter half of the TV series..and NONE of it gets explained in the film. Don't understand the whole Akio-car thing? Too bad pal, cause they didn't feel like helping you out with that, or any other of the numerous TV references for that matter. Basically, elements and characters from the TV series are thrown in haphazardly (including a five minute cameo of the Nanami Cow, which was really one of the few actually enjoyable moments of the film), seemingly only to please the established fans. You're expected to already know who everyone is and what they're doing, except they're doing different things here...so none of it makes any goddamn sense.
As if that wasn't bad enough, they decide to throw EVERYONE for a loop, in the now infamous "race to the end of the world" film climax, complete with what Sean Gaffney rather comically referred to as the "lesbian luge". Yes, that is indeed the Utenamobile (Utena as a car...I dunno, I really just don't know) in the screenshot, about to embark on what is possibly the most incredibly pointless and outright absurd sequence since the painfully drawn out motorcycle chase in "Legend of the Gold of Babylon". What really baffles me are the choices of what to keep from the TV series and what to throw away...why in God's name did they keep the stupid explanatory duel with Saionji complete with (still) painful bullshit j-rock background music. The scene serves no real purpose for anyone...it just seems like nonsense to new viewers, and bores the heck out of veterans. In fact, the few duels we see are so pointless and uninteresting (not to mention being easily detached from the plot proper) that they really should have just been thrown out the window in favor of a new way of acquiring the Rose Bride.
Personally, I can't understand why this film received all the praise it has, as it feels like it was written by an inadequate fanfic author. All the subtle and deep psychological commentaries that others rave about are no more "subtle" or "psychological commentaries" than the End of Eva. There are numerous attempts to hint at the motivations and personal trials of the various characters, but for the most part the way in which they executed these attempts just end up silly and contrived. The entire scene of Akio's death is a perfect example of the director trying to get a reaction out of the audience by attempting (and failing) to use metaphor to give insight into Akio's and Anthy's characters...instead it just ended up absurd and mindless. They could have made the same points in a more believable/coherent manner, and certainly without trying so damned hard to be "deep". When I can tell that people are making something intentionally complicated and confusing in the hopes that the audience will think it's 'deep', I usually smell a rat...a rat being a lack of anything substantial below the surface, in this case. Sorry, Ikuhara, but you're not getting me to jump through any hoops.
Another extremely confusing choice is the messing around with the character personalities. Utena and Anthy have almost flipped sides (the whole Anthy-driving-the-Utenamobile or the famous dance scene being good examples of this), Touga and Akio have been completely stripped of any real character or usefulness in this film (Akio moreso than Touga...from delightfully evil bastard to a worthless and laughably pathetic twit), Jury has been made into the "Prince" of the school, Shiori is even more psychotic and annoying than in the TV series, Nanami is barely an afterthought, and even Saionji seemed subdued and flat. What exactly were they going for by taking all of the male cast and practically castrating them?
As for the visuals, there is one good thing about the movie, but like everything else, it's a mixed bag. While the production quality is exceptional, many design decisions just left me wondering what drugs they had been on at the time...someone please explain why they hired M.C. Escher as the school's architect? Another strange one is the obssession with stuff "flowing"...water, fabric, rose petals, they're all over the place and while I don't know what all that flowing around was supposed to accomplish, all it did was distract me and leave some people a little dizzy. Other than those wonky design choices, the art is really quite amazing. I just wish the narrative was a little less annoying and confusing.
The truly annoying part of the film, however, is the ending. Right at the finish, it finally makes sense, and they do at least a decent job of making things fairly clear...which leaves you wondering why the hell they didn't do that in the first place. Why? Because this is rather obviously a movie by Ikuhara, FOR Ikuhara. "Don't understand it? Too bad, it's my movie" is the kind of feeling I got after walking away from this film. Sure, making a movie for you is all well and good, but don't expect anyone else to be all that happy about it. Then again, if the popularity of End of Eva and Adolescence Mokushiroku are any indication, people love this sort of contrived bullshit. Maybe they'll start a trend!! Ah yes, I can see it now, shows and movies that make no sense whatsover, jump around from scene to scene, filling in the plot holes whenever they feel like, and the fans will lap it up like idiots...Kami-sama help us all.
Available subbed or dubbed from Software Sculptors.
The Utena Encyclopedia
End of the Innocence - Movie info