Story/Art: Chiho Saito
Original Concept: Be Papas
Translation: Lillian Olsen
What They Say
The classic shojo manga that redefined the genre. The classic manga returns in a deluxe box set! Hardcover editions of Revolutionary Girl Utena and The Adolescence of Utena are included in this two-volume collectors’ set with exclusive color pages and poster.
Once upon a time, a little girl was rescued by a prince. That girl then grows up to be strong and courageous as she awaits his return. To defend a friend’s honor, she challenges a brute to a duel and wins. She is entrusted with the SWORD OF DIOS and the Rose Bride, who is the key to finding her elusive prince. But this won’t end like a fairy tale. Because Utena has the power to REVOLUTIONIZE the world.
So, to start off with, it needs to be said that this is a simply stunning release on a physical level, and is probably one of the best you’re likely to ever see in terms of English manga releases. The set is split into two plus sized hardcover books, placed together in a box. The box itself is nice and sturdy rather than some flimsy bit of paper, and feels solid. The outer box itself goes for a classy black with gold-trim look, with a limited number of imagery on the outside, which looks wonderful. The books inside continue that similar setup for the spines to match, and then have a nice hefty use of flower imagery for the covers, with the fronts having solid enough images of Utena with one of the main men from the story. I will say that it’s a bit of a shame that neither went with Anthy alongside Utena instead as she’s more crucial to the story than either of them, but it’s a minor gripe. And speaking of which, there is also an included poster with the two girls, which is nice.
It’s a nice image and I’d of course argue its intentions are nowhere near such things, but be warned that it does look rather risqué, and may cause a raised eyebrow or two from someone not in the know looking at it. Anyway, the books themselves are of impeccable quality, with nice thick, glossy hardcovers, sewn binding, and even paper that feels higher quality than pretty much anything else manga is ever printed on. In addition, there are a myriad of color pages included for bonuses, as well as some extra chapters and character profiles. The text largely reads smoothly, though there are a few oddities, especially early on (the most noticeable being the use of the term “Mr. Licky-lick” in the initial chapter, which may well be down to the original text rather than the translation, but still looks rather awkward regardless.) Sound effects are translated in stylized text, and honorifics are not used. In total, in terms of physical build, this all ends up to an absolute top of the line book that just feels high-quality, and one that couldn’t come with a higher recommendation in that regard.
The art, sadly, I can’t be quite as enthusiastic about. The biggest issue is that there’s just a bit of roughness to it overall, from the limbs looking a tad overly lanky now and again, to occasionally off features, and even some questionable composition and layouts. The action is also a tad on the weak side as far as such things go, and duels just generally feel a bit on the underwhelming side throughout. That’s certainly not to say that it’s BAD, though, and even this roughness does have a bit of charm to it. It’s just not ideal, I’d say. And of course, it still has the absolutely impeccable designs shared with its anime counterpart, as well as some similarly fantastic imagery (which I’d argue is a step down from what the anime presents, but taken on its own, it’s still great). Backgrounds also appear with moderate frequency, and run the range from solid to stunning. Ultimately, I’d say this all adds up to a book that looks good and has plenty of strong points, but definitely has its share of visual weaknesses as well.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
We open on perhaps the most interesting bit of the manga for readers who have already experienced the anime: a bit focused on Utena’s past before attending Ohtori. We join her and her friend Kaido, and learn that Utena sees herself as a prince and sticks to her own style rather than trying to act “properly” girly. As things progress, we learn that this is because Utena herself was rescued by a “prince” when she almost died as a child. She unsurprisingly wants desperately to meet this mysterious stranger again, but it also influenced her to take on and want to emulate his nobility, leading to her current self. Utena then meets Aoi Wakaohji, a man who works with her aunt, and she thinks that he must be her prince. From there, things keep on flowing as she eventually learns that he’s together with her aforementioned aunt, which crushes her, of course. But it turns out there’s more going on there, as she’s been left with a mysterious message from her real prince luring her to Ohtori. And then finally, we end on a rather touching parting between Kaido and Utena before moving onto the main story. It’s nothing too amazing, but it’s a nice little compact tale which touches on a lot of the important points of the series in a compressed manner while also mixing in some unique elements that don’t pop up elsewhere.
Kicking into the actual meat of the series, we join Utena at Ohtori, where she’s attending school and just trying to be her princely self. But she soon finds all is not well in the school, as one of the student council members, Saionji, is abusing his girlfriend, Anthy Himemiya. The following chain of events lead to Utena dueling against the abuser, but things go far beyond what she ever expected, with it being a battle in otherworldly scenery, and when she wins, Anthy in turn becomes HER “Rose Bride”! And on top of all that, this is part of a series of duels between select duelists in order to obtain the power to revolutionize the world! What follows should be quite familiar to fans of the anime, as Utena duels each council member in turn, learning more about both them and Anthy in the process. And this is the section I have to say will be the most disappointing to fans of the anime, as it’s cut down compared to that in such a way that it just flat out guts Miki and Juri as characters. Their rough character traits are still there, but without a proper arc, they just feel empty, and it honestly makes this section in general feel a tad half-baked, likely even if you’ve never touched the anime. Touga’s also not as great here either, but he at least does have a solid arc with some nice moments. Oh, and we end the first half on some blatantly goofy side-stories, which aim for a just plain silly tone. They’re fortunately well done enough that they make for a nice change of pace, though, and are still plenty enjoyable.
In the back half, Anthy’s brother, Akio, makes his big move to take control of the duels and the power behind them, as well as Utena herself. As it turns out, he’s Utena’s prince, and that in turn attracts her to him, despite how ill advised that is with him being the big bad of the series. This is honestly a fairly interesting part of what’s on offer here, as it takes things to a pretty bad place with Utena rather illogically falling hard for him and acting against what she knows is best… but it’s important to set up what comes later, and does make it feel stronger when she inevitably overcomes this. So it’s kind of frustrating, but in a way that’s understandable and intentional. And fortunately, it does indeed overcome this to conclude in a great, empowering manner, bringing a close to Utena’s arc by having her truly become the prince rather than chasing after the one from her past.
Next up, we get two short side stories that quite frankly just seem to be jammed in to try to offer parts of what the anime did that weren’t covered in the series proper. They’re not awful, but they’re so compressed and out of place that there’s just ultimately kind of pointless. And finally, we end on an adaptation of the movie, the Adolescence of Utena. It’s a neat little variant take on the series, and has some interesting twists, so it’s certainly not a disappointing addition to what’s on offer here.
This is a product with one very important question of that’ll likely determine its worth to you: have you seen the anime or not? It’s actually, as far as I know, a work that was made concurrently with the original anime, and as a result, they DO diverge. And yet ultimately, there’s an awful lot of shared DNA there that makes it hard not to compare them. Sadly, I’d say that this version of the story does come up short in the end, as it covers many of the same events, but in a more compressed fashion. And that means that in turn, most of the side characters just plain don’t get the development they did there, and feel somewhat empty and shallow as a result. There are some interesting tweaks here and there that could still be of interest, and there’s something to be said for cutting out the repetition the anime had in a variety of ways, but I’d still say it’s a hard sell for most people who have viewed the anime as a result of that simplification. For those new to the story, though, the core is absolutely still there, and it’s plenty worth a read, even if it may not be the best form of the tale. There’s still a lot of that great stuff at play here, and speaking solely on the work itself, it’s still quite enjoyable and well put together. So in the end, I’d say if you’re a heavy enough fan to be sold solely on the tweaks despite the drawbacks, if you’re a newcomer, or if you’re just someone who wants a stunningly put together box set, then go ahead and give this a look. But otherwise, it may be worth a little trepidation before taking the dive, if only because I’d say the anime definitely tackles the same story better.
Content Grade: A-
Art Grade: B
Packaging Grade: A+
Text/Translation Grade: B+
Age Rating: 16+
Released By: Viz Media
Release Date: April 11th, 2017