Nerding Day: Revolutionary Girl Utena 🌭

Sean has promised me that this won’t be one of our public columns, so I feel safe admitting this only to you, our loyal patrons: I have always wanted to be a magical girl. 

I want to spin around as pop music plays, yelling random entries from a bootleg thesaurus while spotlights explode out of my head and my clothes disappear piece by piece, to be replaced by heart-themed armor which leaves nothing to the imagination. I want to defeat a giant robot snake with the power of love. I want to join my soul together with all of my friends to fire a huge pink spirit arrow into the moon, which has become sentient and wants to destroy romance. I want to do all of these things, but I have no idea how to start. 

So on this Nerding Day, in which we unabashedly engage in our twerpiest fantasies, I’m going to watch magical girl anime and try to learn how to unlock the Transcendably Mule Pluto Kick that I know lies within me. 

We’ll start with Revolutionary Girl Utena, because just the title makes me laugh. It sounds like you translated ‘pro-life terrorist’ into Chinese and back. As we can see from the opening credits, this show, like most magical girl anime, is about two middle-school girls almost kissing and spinning around in roses.

I don’t mean to freak out any of our proudly square readers, but I think this show might be a little gay. Of course, this being Japan in the 1990s, they couldn’t outright say that. To get across the message that homosexuality is natural, they couldn’t just show two Fiona Apple fans making out in the back of a minivan — they had to write an epic about tweens pulling phallic objects out of the black holes in their foreheads to unlock interdimensional portals shaped like vaginas. We basically wouldn’t have anime if Japan just let gay people hold hands on TV, so I guess… thank you for the oppression? 

Let’s see if you can spot the main character of this show:

Oh, is it the only girl with hot pink hair? The girl whose outfit is 1400 times more ornate than anyone around them? The girl whose introduction is framed by baroque ironwork and giant spinning flowers? If you’re ten inches taller than everyone around you, dressed in a complicated outfit and sporting a bright pink mohawk, congratulations: You are the main character of an anime. 

Or you’re… Seanbaby?! Shit, I just realized I’m the inept sidekick in Seanbaby’s anime.

I’d better put down all these dishes before I’m surprised by a half-naked lady and fall out a window. 

So anyway, that’s our main character, Utena, and she’s facing off against the most dire of villains… the student council. You know how student councils are: A bunch of petty, pedantic teenagers LARPing bureaucracy. Always tweaking the theme of the school dance and receiving letters from the apocalypse telling them to break the egg of the world:

“Yeah, hey that’s awesome Chris — but for today’s meeting I think we’re gonna backburner the request from Armageddon to C-section the Earth Chicken, and really focus on getting Monster put back in the vending machine by the gym.”

Here’s the president of the student council, a man far prettier than any of the women in this show, introducing himself in a perfectly acceptable manner:

If one of your wishes goes terribly awry and you find yourself trapped in an anime while Fabio’s disappointing son introduces himself as a “totally normal boy,” you need to take several steps back, because he is about to turn into a winged robot knight cursed by Aphrodite to fly into a rage at the sight of panties — and also look down: you are now wearing panties and they are visible.

Instead of denying A.V. club an Oculus Quest, this student council spends their afterschool hours having sword fights in the abandoned forest arena behind the school.

Behind my school there was a dumpster where kids smoked cigarettes because they weren’t getting enough attention at home, but the alternate universe forest arena with the spiral staircase to a cloud platform that hosts battles under the inverted sky casino seems like a pretty sweet place to burn a Lucky Strike, too.

Whenever somebody ascends those stairs in Utena, the craziest fucking music you have ever heard starts playing. And listen: I am familiar with anime. I get that the songs are wacky. I am telling you this is not that. This is a Girl Group backed by the Trans-Siberian orchestra, singing lyrics written by Danzig’s increasingly terrified translator as Glenn tries to argue his way out of a Japanese prison.

This isn’t one of my wacky ‘I’ve swapped the subtitle file’ experiments. The subtitles on this show are great. That means this band is saying exactly what they mean to say:

I should specify that these aren’t all lyrics from one super insane ballad. It’s the same band playing a different, exponentially more crazy song every single episode.  

There are 39 episodes of Revolutionary Girl Utena. Damn near 40 songs where Japanese opera singers try to read a Welsh science textbook with every third word removed. It is a staggering accomplishment in lunacy.

And it’s even weirder because these songs pulled from the Hellraiser dimension’s Top 40 Station accompany very brief, boring sword fights that always play out the same way. A shy girl appears dressed like a member of the Rhythm Nation:

Our heroine pulls a sword from the exploding sun between her tits:

And then she fights a member of the student council, exchanging catty banter as a news ticker tuned to a raving hobo crawls above them.

Utena inevitability gets in trouble, at which point a ghost prince comes down from the space castle to merge with her soul while the Japanese Evanescence describes their trip to Seaworld:

Then Utena powers up and slices off her opponent’s flower, which is how you win a fight in the Budding Lesbian’s Fencing School For Lunatics.

Oh, and it turns out that all these duels are for ownership of the shy girl with the sword-tits. Yes, as is the way with all afterschool activities in Japan, we were competing for the deed to a young girl’s sexual agency this whole time.

Somewhere between the Upside Down Space Castle and the Apocalypse Chick, I have lost the metaphor. Is this a sub/dom thing? Is it about the commoditization of women? I don’t know. But I do know that the shy girl is basically just a storage bin for slaps. 

And nobody slaps like anime. The characters spend most of the runtime of this show just palming her smile halfway across the room. Every once in a while somebody steps up to suggest that this demure, quiet, book of a girl is perhaps not the best place to practice your open-handed fighting technique:

But let’s see how Saionji feels about that:

And it just wouldn’t be a magical girl anime without a cute animal companion to break up the screaming and visual metaphors for genitals. Unfortunately, Utena has Chu-Chu:

Look at this piece of shit. This is the avatar that catfishing child predators use in chat rooms when they want a challenge. 

His fucking scribble eyes speak only of darkness. Madness. Apocalyptic ammonia. Bensonite. I understand what those crazy songs are about — they’re trying to describe how hard Chu-Chu should go fuck himself and they’re running up against the limits of human language. 

His old-man eyebrows and rosy cheeks are how anime artists depict naughty uncle touches.

Eat shit forever, Chu-chu. Devour feces in the baptism of the universe. We need new words of hate! Unspool the birth certificate fuck backwards on the resolution! God damn it!