February 11, 2008
I only recently got the whole Revolutionary Girl Utena series. For a long time, I had only the last two thirds. But I got the first 13 episodes and was finally able to re-watch it. Before I started watching it again, I was afraid it wouldn’t mean as much to me now. It had been at least two years since I saw it last. And though I haven’t personally changed much in that time, I was still afraid it wouldn’t resonate with me the same way. And I was right in a sense, but I severely underestimated the series.
If anything, it means more to me now than it did the first time I watched it. I don’t know why that is. Perhaps, because the series inspired my writing. The furthest I’ve ever gotten in any of my attempts at writing a novel is one where the initial basis for writing the novel was based on a thought that I had when watching the series the first time (and yes I'm still making, admittedly slow, progress). The only real resemblance to the Utena story is that there is a woman who is engaged to the champion of a series of duels, and that the winner is another woman. Or it could be that this time I watched it with the inherently superior Japanese language track instead of the inconsistent English dub (I’ll cover that in more depth in a moment). It could simply be that knowing where the whole thing was heading, being aware of how marvelous the last several episodes of the series were, allowed me to overlook the flaws that irritated me in the initial viewing. Likely, it is a combination of all these things. Because I know the last was certainly a factor.
The first time I watched the series I watched the English language dub, being decidedly neutral on the issue of whether or not the subtitled versions of animes are inherently superior to the dubbed version. Yes, I tend to watch the dubbed language tracks, but that is simply because it is the initial setting, and I usually just don’t care. But Utena, well Utena has the most psychotically uneven dub I think I’ve ever heard. Rachel Lillis, Crispin Freeman, and Josh Mosby, voices of Utena, Touga, and Akio respectively, do fairly decent jobs. They’re a little hit-and-miss at times; they occasionally come off a little flat. But overall I have no major complaints with their performances. Most of the others come off rather flat overall with a few exceptions (the voice of Wakaba is usually solid). But Jimmy Zoppi and Sharon Becker are both maddening, but for different reasons. I said the dub was probably the most uneven I’ve ever heard, and Jimmy Zoppi as Miki is the very embodiment of that insanity. In a space of five lines, he can deliver one perfectly, one solid, two flat, and one simply awful. It is maddening. Sharon Becker as Anthy on the other hand, is just terrible throughout. Admittedly, it is a difficult part but Fuchizaki Yuriko put in an absolutely remarkable performance. Especially when one considers the difficulty of the part.
Now I think I need to find the Movie to see how I would like it seen a second time. The first time, well, I didn’t like it. I don’t think that would change if I watched it again, but it would be interesting to confirm. At first, I was very impressed. It changed the story, but it didn’t bother me. It was interesting, and I have no problems with alternate retellings (as long as they are good). I did not like the change from Utena and Anthy being very close friends in the series to being lovers in the movie. I thought their relationship in the series was one of the strongest things about it. But that change alone wasn’t enough to drive me away. What drove me away, ultimately, was the end, when Utena turned into a car. It was too jarring; too absurd. That is why I don’t think another viewing will change my opinion on the movie. My issues with the series were in the main body of the series. The ending (as in the last six, or so, episodes) was powerful and moving. While with the Movie, the ending was the problem. I know it turns sour for me in the end.
The series still has it’s flaws even in the second viewing. The Nanami episodes are just stupid. I find myself skipping each of them. And the reused animation each time Utena enters the dueling arena grows irritating (at least the first animation. I never grew quite so irritated when it switched to the elevator up, perhaps because it isn’t repeated for as long), as does the reused telling of the story of the ‘princess.’ I don’t mind the story being retold a few times given its importance, but it is far too frequent. Other things that bothered me the first time I watched it, didn’t bother me as much the second. The Black Rose saga, I felt carried on too long the first time, and seeing the end of the Black Rose saga made me feel it was pointless. But the second time, having seen it, I think it does add something to the show. It gives a greater sense of menace to the series, that serves it well when it carries further on. Another thing that bothered me the first time that didn’t effect me as severely the second time was Touga’s bisexuality and his relationship with Akio. I felt that they seemed out of character initially. I don’t feel quite the same way now.
And now, having seen the show again, and this time with the proper language track, two points that I loved before mean even more to me now. Anthy’s line of, “You can’t be my prince because you’re a girl,” and the action before it, may be my single favorite moment in all the anime, maybe all of the television and movies, that I’ve seen. And now that I got to see it again without the voice actress marring the scene (how did it mean anything to me before?), it is only that much better. And the scene where Anthy and Utena are talking after Utena pulls Anthy back onto the roof…simply amazing now that I have heard it the way it is supposed to be delivered (damn you again Sharon Becker for being so bad that the scene has more meaning for me when I can’t even understand the words).
The strange thing is that now that I have seen it again and I have again basked in its brilliance, I want to rework it. I want to take that beautiful story and change it. I adore the series, but I keep thinking now that, as brilliant as it was, I can make it better. Not because it was flawed. It wasn’t, not severely. Oh, sure, I would cut Nanami episodes with the cow bell and the egg, and the one she thinks someone is trying to kill her. And since my re-imagining would be live action, I could cut the repeated entrance sequences to the dueling arena. I can’t even explain why I want to change a masterpiece. There are several shows I liked, liked far less than this one. Then there are ones with great initial ideas, but poor execution that could be improved upon. Why didn’t I ever feel this urge to change them, to rework them, and bring out the brilliance of the initial concept? No it is this story. This one that was re-imagined multiple times already, as a great manga, again as a brilliant series, and again as an ultimately disappointing movie. And it is the series, I want to redo in my own way. Not the one that I was disappointed in. But the one that I marvel at. Why does it fill me with this urge? Do I just know that ultimately I could never do anything this amazing completely on my own? Do I just want to touch the brilliance of the minds behind this show? Or do I actually believe, in some ultimately optimistic part of myself inside of the realist, that I could bring this fabulous story to others who would never otherwise encounter it? Or is this just the flaw in being someone with aspirations of being a writer? Can anyone answer this question for me?
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