Adolescence Apocalypse: The movie that retells the postmodernist fairy tale
Fairy tales can be retold in various ways and Revolutionary Girl Utena (RGU) is no exception to this rule. Rather, it uses this rule to thematically and inter-contextually bind its various narratives - meaning that the manga, anime series, movie and movie manga along with the other media helps highlight certain aspects of the show or extend/expand their meanings.
The movie of RGU is called Revolutionary Girl Utena: Adolescence Apocalypse (1999). Thetitle itself possesses a very intense signifier "apocalypse" as if something is meant to end. Apocalyptic themes in literature carry biblical weight and also science fiction explorations.
The show shows that even adolescence that seep into one's psyche and impede them from moving further in life. In the movie, as well the other media, it is not Utena' desire to be a prince that is childish or impossible - she is already a prince - however, it is the type of prince and what prince hood entails can be an adolescent dream that needs to be removed if one can move on in life.
In the anime series end, Anthy chastises Akio with venom, saying he can stay in this distorted world of Ohtori Academy and be a pretend prince but she is leaving.
Utena had disappeared from the world and no one seems to remember her name or who she was and what she did aside certain snippets. However, Utena did revolutionize the world; you will see all the characters that Utena interacted with has been able to move on in life because she has somehow inspired them to get out of their own personal strife.
This solidified Utena as the new prince of the world - the one who was able to touch the hearts of others and help them become better versions of themselves.It is highly different than the interventionist sort of prince that Dios was, who just rescued people and rescuing people doesn't always save them.
That may seem antithetical but it is the truth. People require their own agency and autonomy, and Utena realized this by the end. She knew she had to liberate Anthy from the thousand swords of hatred and create an impetus in her to seek her own freedom.
The steps outside Anthy takes, leaving behind Ohtori, is a start of a new era and also the end of something. Anthy's bondage is over and she is able to, with her own two feet, leave the academy and Akio. Utena was able to inspire Anthy to leave, with her love and dedication, but Anthy had to do it herself.
In Adolescence Apocalypse, certain elements had been reversed. Anthy is still a Rose Bride and Utena is a duellist vying to become a prince but their reasons are somewhat different than the original anime series and manga. In the movie and movie manga, a line echoes that is tantamount to the movie's core: Anyone who has noble aspirations can become a prince.
This means that a person is a prince when they possess something noble in them. In the movie, Utena is a very reserved and somewhat bitter individual. She also possesses a more masculine design, where even Saionji during their first duel, mistakes her for a boy and she exasperatedly states she has never stated she was a boy.
Utena seemed to have lost people in her life and because she felt relying on others would ultimately get her hurt she decides to be a prince. Anthy, on the other hand, seems to be more in charge of the duel games because she inherently wants to replace Akio.
Whereas, Utena shows more masculine qualities such as aggression, direct anger and even a light flirtatiousness, Anthy is the opposite now, she is the more outspoken one, acts very seductive and also attempts to know more about other people.
People have different views about the movie: some people love the retelling while others find that it lacks the complexity of the series. Both sides are right, the movie runs for a limited time so it cannot add all the arcs that the anime series had.
It had also cut out characters and changes the origin story of Utena. It made characters like Saionji, Juri and Shiori dispel some of their complexities to become just side characters. So, their annoyance is validated. On the other hand, the movie and movie manga shows the overt tones of Utena and Anthy's romantic relationship with some explicit scenes.
It also shows the vulnerability of Utena and Anthy's strength to be a force of nature to be reckoned with. Visually, it uses more vibrant colours than the anime series and the surrealism is more open with buildings moving as Utena walks in them. The shadow girls are also back and they directly involve themselves into Utena and Anthy's lives.
The origin story of Adolescence Apocalypse actually reads a very ambiguous character in the anime and manga series differently, that is Touga Kiryuu. In the manga and anime series, Touga was an incorrigible playboy who acted like a knight in shining armor but in actuality was very selfish and mean. He used people, even his best friend Saionji, whom he belittled for having genuine feelings of friendship for him. In the anime series, Touga once manipulates Utena into believing he is Dios.
This makes Utena lose a duel to him, meaning Anthy becomes Touga's Rose Bride. Utena is so distraught by the loss that she starts wearing the girl's uniform and becomes passive as a doll. Wakaba is disturbed by Utena's obvious depression and during this time Touga attempts to "romance" Utena by touching her shoulders inappropriately whilst asking her out.
Wakaba is infuriated and tells Utena, when she says she is a girl that this is normal, that this is not normal for her. And that one loss doesn't cement who she is. Utena fights and beats Touga in her girl's uniform showing that Utena is not merely her clothes or her bond with Dios.
The loss spirals Touga into depression because he cannot understand how he lost even with the sword of Dios and all the power he had from the Rose Bride. Touga is so used to subjugating his opponents but never has been subjugated himself.
Throughout the series, Touga is shown to be a complicated character, whose actions are never justified by Saito Chho, but is shown to be, like Akio, acting to what society wants him to be. He tries to change in the series because he genuinely starts loving Utena but in the end, he fails to understand her and himself. So, their love was never to be.
In Adolescence Apocalypse, Touga is truly Utena's childhood prince, who seemingly had abandoned her. Utena is surprised but somewhat angered seeing him in Ohtori Academy.
He also wears greys and black and not his red and white knightly uniform. When Utena and Touga have a brief conversation, Touga hands Utena the ring with rose signet, telling her that the ring brought him to the academy.
Anthy is surprised to see that Utena possesses such a ring and while they have a scuffle over it in the rose garden, Saionji appears and the first duel commences.
Anthy breaks the rule of the game by kissing Utena and giving her the sword of Dios. When Utena transforms in Adolescence Apocalypse, her hair flows out (which seemingly was pinned up) and her school uniform drastically changes to give her a sophisticated androgynous look.
Even Anthy's Rose Bride outfit is more glamorous and seems to show her more expressive nature. Their hair types have also been reversed: it is now Anthy who has the straight hair and doesn't wear glasses anymore or keep her hair tied up but Utena who does and has wavy hair.
Anthy tries to slightly seduce Utena but Utena gets annoyed by her advances. Utena then notices that Touga and Anthy has a relationship, which may be sexual in nature. When asking Touga about it he pretty much wants to say it is none of her business.
In one of the most beautiful scenes in the movie, Utena follows Anthy out at night to her rose garden. Utena questions Anthy about how she knows Touga and Anthy teases her a bit for having feelings for him. It backfires, because Utena is furious beyond measure and she grabs Anthy and throws her to the ground.
She keeps on saying that perhaps Touga left her because of Anthy and then fury turns to tears of despair. Anthy is shown to really care about Utena and caresses her because she can relate to losing someone - she did lose her brother Akio/Dios. Utena then sadly states: "There is no prince." Not knowing she is one. And, Anthy herself is also showing the noble aspirations to be one.
In Adolescence Apocalypse, Anthy works both as princess and witch along with being a prince. Utena also works in multiple facets as well so it highlights that definitions in fairy tales are not set in stone. Anthy consoles Utena but then she enigmatically takes an axe. She cuts off the water line of the garden that effects the school's power system or that section of it. The whole garden is flooded with water and reflects the stars.
Utena gets up and she sees Anthy looking at her. They slow dance in a platform full of roses and water. The director, Kunihiko Ikuhara, stated that water has a lot of significance in the movie. In many ways, it aids the transformations happening in the script both in positive and negative ways. One can drown in water and even be cleansed by it.
Anthy's origins in Adolescence Apocalypse is more or less the same.
She was called a witch when she tried to save Dios. Then Akio actually stabs her - a wound she shows Utena later on, where her heart is supposed to be. It seems Akio wanted to rape Anthy and drugged her. Yet, he is shocked when he realizes that Anthy was aware of his intentions. Anthy wants to accept Akio the way he is, a fallen prince, a non-perfect being. This enrages Akio so he stabs her and accidentally kills himself.
This past is shown to the viewers via the shadow girls. When Utena finally beats Juri in a duel, the school unearths Akio's body, which Anthy had hid in the rose garden. Anthy runs away and Utena chases after her. Anthy wanted to replace the prince of the academy but Utena makes her realize she doesn't need a prince or an academy to justify her existence.
In the anime series, there is a character called Souji Mikage or Professor Nemuro, who acts like a counselor but then tricks people into becoming duelists to fight Utena. The elevator in those scenes, is used as a surreal confessional box. The movie carries this theme over. Utena goes into an elevator.
In an adjacent one, Touga appears and says to Utena he is truly overjoyed to see her and wished she can stay in Ohtori Academy. An aspect of Tougas's past that could not be animated in the series is shown here, Touga was raped by his foster father, Mr. Kiryuu, as a child, making him become manipulative and detached as he grew up.
In the movie, he becomes caring because he met Utena as a child and their friendship and young love rejuvenated his hopes. However, one day, a girl is who is hinted to be a young Juri, falls into a lake. Utena starts screaming and Touga goes to rescue her but in the process, drowns and dies.
Thus, the Touga Utena was seeing in Adolescence Apocalypse was a ghost, only being able to be seen by Anthy, Juri and Utena herself. Utena tearfully says he was her childhood prince and kisses him goodbye as his elevator fills with water and he swims away. His duty being done in releasing Utena from the guilt she felt from his death.
In the climatic scenes, of the movie (not movie manga), Utena turns into car, a literal vehicle to the outside world, Anthy drives the car and then they both beat Akio, who comes along to imprison them. They scream "Give us the power to revolutionize the world." And they save themselves. As I mentioned before, in the movie manga show they wake up and walk out of the planetarium. So, the movie is more overt about Utena and Anthy ending up as a couple.
The retelling was way to show that the genuine love that Anthy and Utena have for each other, in both its fused platonic and romantic forms, shapes heavily the narrative and also breaks fairy tale tropes. The apocalypse of adolescence is accepting one's vulnerability and redefining what it means to be a princess, witch or prince.
If one wants more information on RGU I highly suggest that they visit the site Empty Movement. It is filled with essays, character descriptions, various images and more of the Utena franchise. The site is over 12+ years old and has been around the internet for almost as long as the show has been aired.
This article will be continued next week.
The writer is a copy editor at
The Asian Age