What's entertainment?

*This is entertainment. (I was led to this site by old man Comics Journal Message Board, who offered me candy and a very nice video of Brigitte Bardot that you should watch too upon review of the linked thread)

*I was searching through the manga section of my local chain bookstore, when I stumbled across a new packaging of Viz’s “Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Adolescence of Utena” by writer/artist Chiho Saito, a 1999 one-volume 'alternate understanding' (that's the best I can put it) of the rest of the “Revolutionary Girl Utena” multimedia empire, including a 39-episode television anime series from 1997, a five-volume manga series (also by Saito) from 1997-98, and a 1999 animated feature, also titled “The Adolescence of Utena”. Each of these projects are similar to yet different from one another, masterminded by a creative consortium known as the Be-Papas (featuring Saito herself as well as anime director Kunihiko Ikuhara among the membership).

I’ve seen the first 13 episodes of the Utena TV series, which provided some fascinating shoujo-style antics, as the title heroine enrolls in Ohtori Academy, the world’s strangest boarding school (essentially a kingdom onto itself), having declared herself a ‘prince’ in homage to the dashing royal who saved her life when she was little. Utena dresses in boy’s clothing, becomes a very popular girl among both genders, and eventually becomes mixed up with ‘duels’, crazy swordfights against members of the sinister Student Council for the servitude of the Rose Bride, an ultra-meek girl named Anthy who can produce a magical sword from her torso for dueling purposes. Utena is disgusted at such rampant misogyny and wants only to liberate Anthy, but things get very complicated indeed as typical school concerns get pumped up to the level of world-changing events (as so many of them seem to be for teenagers). It’s a genuinely compelling series, and almost hyper-aware of shoujo history, which it liberally plays off of (the seminal 1972 manga “The Rose of Versailles” presides over the happenings as a key influence, or so I‘ve been told). Whenever I make a joke about ‘revolutionizing the world’, it’s in homage to this show; such a declaration is part of the mysterious mission of the Student Council. One of these days I’ll get to see the rest of it.

Fortunately, I didn’t need to see the rest of it to take in the “Adolescence of Utena” movie, which had to be one of the weirdest feature films ever struck from a popular comics/television source (and I‘m counting the “End of Evangelion” movie, the success of which probably made a project of this caliber possible). The film was also directed by Ikuhara, far away from his days as director of “Sailor Moon” (he‘s currently mixed up with “FLCL“ director Kazuya Tsurumaki on the staff of “Gunbuster 2”). It can absolutely be enjoyed alone, but if you happen to have seen any other pieces of the Utena puzzle the film plays nasty tricks on you, switching character personalities around, making villains suddenly sympathetic, and eventually jettisoning all but the skeleton of the television series’ plot. The film is essentially a parable for growing into adulthood (as the title suggests), with Ohtori Academy representing the conformist world of youth. And a seductive world it is, dotted with churning clock tower gears and rose petals and lovely school uniforms. It’s also packed with erotic atmosphere, though there’s little actual nudity, and it won’t be spoiling too much to reveal that the subtext inherent in the masculine-clad Utena taking Anthy as her ‘bride’ in the television series strides out to center stage. Also, at one point a character transforms into a hot pink Barbie’s Dream Car GoBot and a friend literally drives her out to confront someone’s ex-boyfriend and/or brother who’s also an apocalyptic ruler or something, and in the end teenage sex saves the world by making it irrelevant. It’s that kind of movie. You should probably rent it.

So I’m curious to see how the manga handles it. The back cover promises a ‘loose’ adaptation, which only ties it to the Utena status quo of merrily contradicting every other slice of the pie.