Once upon a time, there was a little princess. Alone and saddened by the death of her parents, she met a prince. A prince that slid her a ring, and told her that one day they would meet again and that ring would be the key. The young Princess was so impressed by the Prince, that she longed to become a Prince herself.
Utena Tenjou attends Ohtori Academy, she wears a male uniform and presents as very masculine. She says it’s because she wants to be a prince that saves princesses. After a match with the basketball team, she’s walking through the school and discovers the gardens.
Where she sees Anthy Himemiya watering the flowers. She catches the smell of roses on the air and thinks about how the smell of roses always makes her think of the past.
As she observes the gardens and Anthy, she sees a man with green hair come over and start arguing with her. She thinks it’s a lovers quarrel at first until he strikes her across the face. He’s about to strike her again when a man with red hair comes over and stops him.
These are two members of the student council.Kyouichi Saionji and Touga Kiryuu, the vice-president and president of the student council.
We see a student council meeting in which the rest of the council confronts Saionji for his abusive behavior of ‘His Bride’, and says that the student council is under the power of ‘End of the World’ and they would surely not like how Anthy is being treated.
He tells them to keep their noses out of it, that him and his bride are nothing but a pair of love birds. She backs him up and says she will do anything that he desires. He says if they are truly concerned, they can follow proper protocol and duel for her.
Utena and her friend Wakaba are hanging out for the day when they come upon a large gathering of students. A love letter has been publically tacked up on the board. The letter was one that Wakaba had sent to Saionji, creating a personal vendetta for Utena against him.
She challenges him to a duel, as the Kendo team captain. With no idea of the deeper implications of what she’s done. The student council had been told another duelist would be coming, so he thinks that she is it and agrees to her terms.
She goes to attend the duel in the forest at first, she is confused but walks with more confidence as it seems she’s been invited inside for the duel. She ascends to a large dueling platform, over it towers a large upside down castle floating over it.
Saionji questions why she wears the rose seal, despite not being in the student council and then orders Anthy to prepare them for the duel. She brings over two roses, one green and one white and places them in the pockets of Utena and Saionji. The green on Saionji, the white on Utena.
She wishes Utena luck and gets struck by Saionji for it. Utena still has no real clue what’s going on, but she doesn’t feel good about it.
The duel begins, Saionji gets a real sword from within Anthy. How can Utena with her bamboo stick be expected to keep up? Well at first she does, but then a phantom of the prince appears over her and she strikes back even with a bamboo practice sword.
Winning the duel. Defeating Saionji and winning herself the Rose Bride. After the end of the duel, Anthy comes and says that from that day forward, she belongs to Utena and that’s where the episode ends.
Revolutionary Girl Utena is a beautiful anime. The animation, while rather old looking [understandable as it was first aired in 1997.] is very solid and gorgeous to look at. It makes masterful use of shadow puppetry and color to give itself a very distinct style.
The high point of the series for me though is it’s music. The soundtrack for Utena would rank up in my top 10 anime soundtracks of all time. The piano piece ‘The Sunlit Garden’ is a particular favorite of mine to relax too. The theme that plays as Utena ascends to the dueling arena in each episode ‘Absolute Destiny Apocalypse’ has always pumped me up.The characters in Utena are all also unique and I am looking forward to a chance to discuss them. This episode focused largely on Utena herself, and wasn’t a character focused episode. So I’ll hold off on character focused thoughts until we reach their respective episodes.
I am very happy this was requested and I feel honored to be able to share it with Oki! Stay tuned for her thoughts.
Episode 1 of Revolutionary Girl Utena is an important piece of anime media. There is no better anime for people who enjoy media like I do: Sailor Moon, Madoka Magica, Rose of Versailles, Shoujo Anime, even Shounen – Utena was a rare gem about a female protagonist whose determination and unique vision for the future made her an icon for generations to come. Utena’s stunning visuals and distinct character design are recognizable even remastered, and it goes without saying I’m excited to talk about it.
What makes Episode 1 unique is that it showcases the beginning of the shounen formula while creating Utena’s identity: not a person who identifies as male, but simply a girl who wants to become a prince. Utena claimed ‘male’ uniforms as something she would simply wear while remaining a female character in her own right. She is not a ‘boy’, she doesn’t need to be understood as such. She simply does everything a boy can do, even claims a title that is masculine, without needing to be anything other than what she is.
Utena’s actions in episode one mark an important distinction: Utena is a noble protagonist from the beginning. When the story begins Utena is friends with several girls at school and notices the despicable behavior of a male classmate, Saionji. When he treats her friend’s emotions for him like a game, and after witnessing him slapping another classmate, Utena challenges him to a duel. While Saionji accepts this duel and begins the storyline, Utena never meant it as a duel for what she has actually begun: a duel for the engagement of the Rose Bride.
I have always admired Utena because she has faults on her own. She didn’t show up for her friend at the beginning of the episode and she wasn’t the one to save Anthy, but when the chips were down the feelings of the people she loved mattered. Utena’s episode one established a pattern: Utena beats the awful Saionji and will no doubt have to fight others for the Rose Bride. . . someone she did not even realize she was fighting for. From here on out we as viewers must watch her find her reasoning, see how she might understand this mysterious Rose Bride, and watch her fight in a battle she can’t even comprehend.
Join Midnight and I for this Readers Request period and join me next week for. . . one of my least favorite episodes in the series! Well, you can’t win them all.