Thursday, 19 July 2012

Revolution: Duncan reviews Shōjo Kakumei Utena

Part Three - "The Akio Car Arc"

While researching this review (on Wikipedia, naturally - this is the blog of a cat made from socks, not an academic paper), I found that Revolutionary Girl Utena is usually divided into four story arcs, the first two of which I covered in my previous reviews. Personally, I would be happy enough to divide it into three because, while there is a very clear dividing line at the start and end of "The Black Rose Saga" separating it from the storylines that precede and follow it, I think the third and fourth 'official' arcs do not have a distinct boundary.

I have finally decided to split my review into four parts, corresponding with the usual four arcs, because I wrote up to the end of the third arc back in March and then left this post in draft form since then. Part Four will follow if and when I get round to writing it up.

In "The Akio Car Arc," Anthy's brother Akio emerges as the principal antagonist for the remainder of the series. He manipulates Saionji, Miki, Ruka (the boy from Jury's love triangle, and also a great fencer), Jury and Nanami into further duels with Utena, after first giving them a ride in his car.

The car is symbolic of the threshold between childhood/adolescence and adulthood, and goes with Akio's title of "End of the World" (referring to the "World" of Childhood). Once they have ridden in Akio's car they are - symbolically - adults, and are ready to face the still adolescent Utena.

One of the things that particularly impressed me about the series is that it justifies the ages of the principal characters, rather than the protagonists being adolescents simply because that is the age group of the target audience. The duelists have to be adolescents because... adults wouldn't act like that. It is probably not a coincidence that Neon Genesis Evangelion is the only other TV series (that I know of) which does this, and in both cases it adds strength to the series.

So is it really possible for something as simple as a 'magic' car ride to rid them of all their childhood hangups and emotional baggage, and allow them entry into the world of adults (represented by Akio)? Of course not.  They are all manipulated by Akio, fooled into thinking that one last duel with Utena Tenjou will solve all their problems and give them what they want.

The storyline involving Nanami is particularly well done, because it manages to turn her from the bullying comic-relief that we, the audience, can love to hate and laugh at when things go against her (which they inevitably do), into a genuinely pitiable character whom we cannot help but feel sorry for when her world is turned upside down by Akio's machinations.

Jury's plotline also has a strong conclusion, which I feel it ties in with themes of the series as a whole, and which are only obvious from the point of view of having seen the entire story. In brief - I see Jury as a failed Utena, whose betrayal by the one she was closest to has made her jaded and unable to move on emotionally. Utena has yet to face the same trial at this point in the series so I will say no more, though I may return to the comparison between their characters in the final part of my series review.

Utena wins all these duels, of course. But just when it looks as though there is only Touga and Akio for her still to fight and overcome, the series takes a different direction. This is "The End of the World Saga," and it begins when Akio seduces Utena - who is still completely oblivious that Akio is "End of the World" or even that he is involved with the Rose Bride duels at all.

After this... it gets weird.

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