9. Tenjo Utena
I’ve written on the series Shojo Kakumei Utena a few times on this blog. Even after about 10 years, there are so many things to pluck out of its marvelously intricate and bizarre universe.
(Art by Eastwood Wong)
Utena is a feminist darling, covered pretty thoroughly over the years by academics and fans alike. But following specifically through the narrative of my holiday countdown, Utena stands out for obvious reasons.
All of the other characters in the show are obsessed with their unfulfilled or lost childhood dreams. It is their longing that drives them to fight under the legend that the winner will be granted a miracle inside the Castle of Eternity. Specifically, they want to return to an Eternal Childhood: a world forever blooming with roses and fairytales, without complications, expectations, disappointments, unfairness, loss, hardship, and death.
Utena sort of follows this model too. A vague childhood memory of a “prince on a white horse” and a mysterious ring he leaves behind has lead Utena to the Ohtori Academy. But Utena is not passively following this unfulfilled fantasy per se. Rather, the memory actively transforms her. As the opening sequence famously notes, she was so impressed by this prince that she…well, became a prince herself.
This is much deeper than manipulating the old anime cliche of gender-bending. What this means is, Utena succeeds even when the fantasy ultimately collapses and the castle (literally) crumbles. Whereas all of the other characters are paralyzed at the reality that their starry eyed dreams were merely an impossible illusion, Utena can drive forward because she was never beholden to those long-past fantasies. She is driven by her own high ideals and princely character.
Of course, she does have a few setbacks in the show but ultimately remembers to put herself before fantasy:
(Fan art upper right by endice)
Utena’s message is similar to Sarah from the film Labyrinth: fantasy is not necessarily irresponsible escapism but can drive and shape your character, values, and personal strength. I’d like to learn to be okay with the disappointments of the world. I’d like to welcome The End of the World, specifically that of the immature and weak, because I know I can be strong on my own two feet.
For much more shallow reasons, I love Utena because she is super hot, pink-haired, sword-wielding, athletic, and can wield the power of god. Seriously, could any one else make fencing seem cool? I have been run down with the stomach flu (twice in a month!) and lately I’m like, yeah, I’d like to be stronger all around in 2016.