on March 19, 2000
When I saw the first volume at the video store, I was skeptical, but I'm glad I tried it. All though it seems marketed towards girls (with the pink boxes and all) it's good and interesting material no matter who you are. The plot is wonderful and strange, in fact, it's unlike anything I've ever seen. Anime has become a collection of cliches, with the most successful anime those which put those cliches together the best rather than being original (aka Escaflowne).
While a lot of the standard anime conventions are in here, there is a lot of new stuff, too. Most of the characters are based around personalities rather than a single character trait & a contrived tragic past (like we have in most anime). You won't find the "spiky-haired, blonde & boisterous martial-artist" or the "bouncy, big-busted, schoolgirl-packing-heavy-weaponry" here. Although many of the male characters have the stereotypical long-haired, slender, Girl's Anime appearance, they're all much more deeply characterized, and the heroine does not bubble over them like in most girl's anime-in fact, they seem to be the anathema of her tastes. Utena's character is almost an ideal-she's strong, smart, tough, and righteous, but without being preachy or melodramatic, and is not bubble-headed or overly-effiminate as most anime heroines tend to be. She's a true tomboy (again, not the contrived idea of a tomboy present in most anime),and she is presented in a matter-of-fact way that makes her much more real than most "perfect" heroes. Unlike most supposedly strong anime heroines, she does not slobber over the various pretty-boys, or act as though having a boyfriend for the big dance is a matter of life or death. In fact, she doesn't concern herself with these things at all.
The plots are well done and reasonable, though the main plot of the "End of the World" seems to get lost for a few episodes, and it instead becomes a social commentary and a satire (especially the episodes involving Nanami), but I didn't mind. From what I've seen so far, Utena gets involved in a weird plot involving the Student Council, where challengers duel to possess the "Rose Bride" (the duels are not fought for blood-to win you must knock off a rose pinned to your opponent's chest), and the final victor is destined to receive some great power. Fans of gritty, dark stories, or the mindless, derivitive blood-and-breast anime that so many seem to think is the pinnacle of animation may not like it, the story is pure romance (Romance as in idealistic fantasy, not as in love and relationships), a sort of modern fairy tale. Think Don Quixote over Sailor Moon. One note, though, the lyrics of the battle themes have the most ridiculous lyrics I've ever heard, anywhere. Even worse than Escaflowne's one-lyric songs. Absolute Destiny Apocalypse plays every time Utena prepares for a duel, and each battle has it's own laughably bad song. The beginning and ending themes are really good, though-the lyrics of the opening song actually make sense (again, unlike most anime). Also, I know everyone else is denying it, but I'm telling you there is a very subtle but very strong and clear homosexual subcontext to the story. No, I don't think the characters are gay, but it's definitely suggested a LOT, and very blatantly at that. This may just be fan-service, though-homosexual themes are very popular among girls anime.