laceblade: Juri of Utena anime in middle school uniform; Shiori's hand covers her eyes. (Utena: Juri eyes covered)
laceblade ([personal profile] laceblade) wrote2012-05-27 07:53 am

Utena: The Revolution Continues

Panel Description: Fifteen years ago, the anime series Revolutionary Girl Utena was released into the wild. Utena rapidly became the poster child for feminist anime fans in the U.S., a role that she continues to play today. This anime asks the same basic question posed by Joanna Russ's The Female Man: Do you want to be a girl or do you want to be human? It encourages us to question a society in which we cannot be both. Let's talk about RGU and its contributions to our own lives and to feminist discourse. We'll also touch on other anime series that approach the same topics, though perhaps without the same zest and creativity as RGU does.
Saturday, 1-2:15pm
Twitter Hash-Tag: #FeministUtena
Panelists: JoSelle Vanderhooft (moderator), Jackie Lee (me), Jude McLaughlin, Kelly Peterson

I uh, took these notes while on the panel! So the notes about what I said aren't very good and the transcript is definitely incomplete because I sometimes needed to not type in order to listen better.
There were about 12 people in this audience; the panel was held in Conference Room 4.

JV & the audience noted that there were many good panels scheduled in this time slot!

JV: This year is Utena [the series]’s 15th anniversary. (The panel description was read out loud.) A panel about Utena could go anywhere and last forever. I love the show, it was the first anime I ever watched at age 19, I was catching it on fansubs, and then MediaBlasters tapes. It had a weird dub but I liked the show, hooked. I want to talk about shows influenced by Utena, and Muwaru Penguindrum.

JM: I found it at an anime store, which was kind of illicitly renting fansubs. I'm [personal profile] heavenscalyx – I have posts with fanfic recs, also have a fanfic! Currently writing original fiction, which is ongoing.

JL: I'm laceblade, [ profile] mystickeeper Uhh, I like anime, and Utena is my favorite series of all-time, I think.

KP: I found Utena through my gaming group. Duelists were MCs in an amber campaign (I am probably mauling these terms, as I am not a gamer). After being shown the opening sequence, I started with the movie! (laughter) Utena is not my all-time favorite, but it is my favorite to discuss. I started going to cons at the 10-year anniversary of Utena panels. There's so much to talk about, I think that an Utena panel should happen at every con.

JV: It's one of the best series of all time.

KP: It's worth discussing, there are so many ambiguities and multiple theories.

JV: Saoinji is one of my favorite characters. Certain characters, I like them more or less as my own life changes. I like Nanami a lot, too. As for the panel, I don’t like to have us talk and then take questions at the end; I like to play off the audience. Want to go with that model. Is that okay with everyone?
(assent from audience and other panelists)

JV: Does anyone know some of the cultural influences and how feminism progressed in Japan? Utena is not something that our culture created (the panelists were all from the US, I believe; none of us were of Japanese descent).

JM: I know a bit about culture that led up to it. Takarazuka is a location in Japan, and has a style of theater that is done all by women actors. The women who play male characters study to make their voices very deep, and they hold themselves with like, their hands on their hips, etc. The actors who play women characters keep their elbows tucked in, and it's very different. You can see these katas being played out in the show by the way the characters hold themselves, particularly Utena and Anthy. Their body language draws on the theatrical tradition.

AUD: Geisha quarters. Kabuki = all male theater. Geisha were similar – they were actors and singers. Kabuki was called "Oh, like Shakespeare!" by outsiders. The geisha took on roles because they were all women, and outsiders said they were whores. In Japanese folklore – crossdressing is a sign of resistance and has been for centuries.

JV: The director of the series really wanted to work with the series composer. He wanted music of the 1960s/70s, when there were lots of feminist changes.

Me: I think that Rose of Versailles was very much an influence on this, too.

JV: (I did not write down what she said!)

Me: For audience members who haven't seen it, Rose of Versailles takes place during the French Revolution, Marie Antoinette is a main character. Oscar is the protagonist, whose father wanted a boy and raises her as one. She ends up being like, the captain of the guard and is assigned to protect Marie Antoinette.

JM: Rose of Versailles saved the Takarazuka, part of what propelled their success.
Oniisama e also influenced Utena.

AUD member: Princess Knight/Ribbon Knight influenced it, too. Written by Osamu Tezuka. Princess Knight is about a girl born with a man's heart. Due to political reasons, she dresses like a man and acts like one, (plot description). Tezuka was in love with a woman who trained for takarazuka, and died. Princess Knight was written for her, it was the ultimate takarazuka role of a lifetime.

JV: Turning back to the panel description, this question of, do you want to be a girl or human? Do you want to have agency? = do you want to be human? Depending on how you view the ending tells you how optimistic you feel about women/power/etc.

KP: Explaining Nanami episodes to other people is fun; I rewatched the series for this panel. Another question posed by the series is, do you want to be a princess or a witch? If you're not loved just to be loved, then the only other option is to be the witch. Anthy’s only choice. This gets subverted by Juri. She has her own agency/etc. She is obsessed with her appearance/etc., though. She’s the only duelist who Utena never beats, she has to give it up.

JV: Juri I never liked.

KP: Juri's reasons for dueling in the manga version of the series were different. She does things for love of Touga, didn’t like that version of her as much for that.

JM: I identified with Juri.

Me: Juri is my favorite!

JV: I don’t find it (her) relevant/compelling.
The Western equivalent of the "princess or witch" choice is = virgin or whore. Anthy is defined by her sexuality, while Utena by a sexual ambiguity that is very platonic/contained. You can watch the series and interpret their relationship as a very close friendship. You can also see movie as retelling or conclusion.

JM: Utena is sexually clueless.

JV: She's innocent, which is why she falls prey to Akio. Doesn’t have life experience.

KP: She’s in middle school!

JV: They always feel older to me. Utena feels 16, others = 17-20.

JM: General aging of anime. 14-year-olds not portrayed as such, not awkward or etc.

Me: Except in Evangelion.... (laughter)

JV: There are hints of time functioning in a different way. Akio’s done this with these people over and over.

AUD: Agency. Twist at the end. You think of Utena as powerful/feminist. She’s fundamentally powerless, can’t change situation she’s in, but she can. Anthy chooses to submit to her brother. Utena has to build it up with failures. No concept of forces she’s dealing with. Her defiance comes off as very juvenile. Twist...resolved w/her leaving, has the strength. It’s an impotence struggle.

JM: She’s trying to rescue someone, but the lesson is, you can’t rescue anyone.

AUD: Arc of first season = trying to free Anthy, what she thinks Anthy wants (freedom). My friends and I say it's like she’s stuck in second wave feminism and needs to move to third wave.

AUD: The car thing [from the movie] is fascinating. It’s a symbolic message – freedom through appropriation of masculinity. The car looks like a uterus, then phallic. Disliked that, as a trans woman.

AUD: Lot of people at Ohtori who turn into cars. Utena, Wakaba, Shiori, Kozoe – all women.

Me: I'd kind of like to talk about princes....Utena wants to be one, Dios represents this prince of the past who's ideal, Akio is the prince of now/the future, and he's pretty Machiavellian.

JV: The show is about how the men in it don’t make good princes.
Utena louses to Touga (~episode 11), gets slapped by a girl (is this Wakaba?), takes her identity back.

AUD: We've done a drinking game for slapping in RGU.

JV: I hope nobody had to go to the hospital!

Me: I like that Utena wants to find Dios, but doesn’t let it take her agency, she wants to BE a prince.

AUD: Black Rose Saga! Theme of abuse of psychology, abuse of the role of the therapist to turn people into something that you project on to them instead of releasing them.

JM: Unsettling theme.

AUD: As a trans woman, there’s a history of that – idea of reparative therapy, where therapists can become villains. Role of them doing something for the wrong reasons.

JV: Doesn’t plan the suggestion, just keeps pushing at them to talk more. Not necessarily holding a dialogue, then enables them when it gets to the right point. I like the [Black Rose] saga for so many reasons. It develops all the characters a lot more. Their shadow sides. Shadow self of each duelist. Wakaba and Saionji. All duelists except one are women, (except Nanami). Gender binary. Very much a shadow side. Really love this arc.

JM: One of the theories is that the Black Rose duelists are dead after this arc, or Kanae is dead.

JV: We see everyone afterward, they seem to be doing okay.

JM: Except Kanae. There's a brief glimpse of Akio and Anthy feeding popping apples into her mouth.

JV: Kanae felt controlled. Persephone/Hades. Seems like she’s killed. Most that Mikage talks. Mikage is a shadow side to Utena, he wants his Rose Bride, he’s trying to be Utena/the prince.

AUD: Episode w/subversion of that. Character is too good/innocent to be turned in that way.

AUD: Also doesn’t have duelist to draw a sword from.

AUD: Akio kept Mikage around to create more duelists.

JV: Partner says it’s filler arc.

JM: It’s the next step in the series.

JV: Her confronting what could be worst in her.

KP: Saionji’s hakama is a dress-profile.

JV: Different ways to be a woman. Juri wears pants, but femme. Nanami femme, wears trousers on student council. Both ways can be different and are strong.
Utena has influenced a lot of other shows. Or shows that influenced Utena. I highly recommend is Mai Otome. Magical girl mech. Can only be an Otome if queer, or abstain from having sex with guys.

Muwaru Penguindrum, Ikuhara's new series (director of Utena).

AUD: Princess Tutu and Utena: In both, the school is its own world, none of the normal rules apply.

KP: Also the attention to animals.

KP: Ahiru (protagonist of Princess Tutu) is pre-pubescent. Her love is pure.

AUD: Madoka Magica. Deconstruction of mahou shoujo shows and breaking them down.

AUD: Princess Tutu never walks, always does ballet.

AUD: Very hard to walk normally when wearing ballet shows!

JM: Erica Friedman suggested Nanoha and Tutu. No successor because the market has changed. Anime is made for young kids and men in Japan these days. Women in Japan are consuming manga and light novels.

JV: Strawberry Panic.

AUD: Was it a critique/mockery of the things it plays on, or was it sincere? IE: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was parody, but then it was sincere because it had a good writer.

AUD: Twelve Kingdoms is one of the best deconstructive animes. Grim, deconstructs magical world things completely. Interesting things done there. Hard to get through because no humor relief.

AUD: Moto Hagio (manga-ka). She writes hard SF manga. Genetic engineering experiments. Gender = difficult/impossible to determine, can change. What happens when it does change? [There were a few comments about gender here that I didn't write down because I was having trouble parsing what was meant].

AUD: Hourou Mousuko. Dealing with a kid who is dealing with gender dysphoria. Anime picks up after the first story arc of the manga. They fill in gaps w/flashbacks.

Me: I just finished this, it was so great! Available on Crunchyroll...the manga is out in the US, but the anime is not.

JV: How has Utena influenced your own life?

JM: In 1999, I identified most with Anthy. I had just left an abusive relationship. Everything she went through, I could identify with really heavily. Utena has been therapy for me.

JV: I identified with Saionji at first, after his initial introduction. I've felt overshadowed by friends, wanted something eternal/fixed.

Me: I guess for me, I really just identify with Utena and the theme of being your own can do your own thing, but like, nobody's going to save you, and you're either going to get your own shit done or not. Maybe along the way you can save someone else or try to...just, the agency of being your own prince is appealing to me.
(to JM) I have a friend who had a similar viewing experience, with Anthy's storyline.

KP: I had to learn how to be a woman in a man’s world. Naval deployment, how to be taken seriously. It ended up not working out for me.

AUD: Second arc was beyond “yay!” to being, “This is about me.” It’s about all the people who aren’t protagonists. Second string prince, second string rose bride trying to become the protagonists, preying on everyone’s feelings of inadequacy.

JV: Wakaba and Utena grow apart, Utena makes no effort to repair that.

AUD: I watched Utena in January 2010. At the end, I had a breakdown from the end of it, it just happened. A year later, I watched Strawberry Panic. At the end of it, I had to stop watching before final ending. There were other things that happened that day, but it was then my decision to transition, Utena/etc. Breaking the gender rule.

JM: Simoun (anime series). Everyone’s a woman until they decide to become a man. If they do decide, then their body changes over time.
Haibane Renmei. No actual lesbians, but lots of love between women, and it can change the world.

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