Forum - View topic
EP. REVIEW: Revolutionary Girl Utena


Goto page Previous    Next

Note: this is the discussion thread for this article

Anime News Network Forum Index -> Site-related -> Talkback
View previous topic :: View next topic  
Author Message
Aylinn



Joined: 18 Nov 2006
Posts: 1673
PostPosted: Tue May 02, 2017 1:51 pm Reply with quote
Quote:
I don't expect to retroactively rewrite the show or Japan's social attitude towards race-- although the idea that Japanese people are isolated from these questions and conflicts is misguided, I think. 

They may not be totally isolated, but they may be rather exotic to them, which makes things only slightly better. Japan is pretty homogeneous country and as I too was raised and live in a homogeneous country, I can assure that it would not be easy for me to tackle racial issues such as the treatment of brown and black women when all of the people you see on the street are of the same color most of the time and you can go for days without seeing anyone with a different skin colors even in the big cities. In small towns you can go for years without seeing anyone with a different skin color. Most people are exposed to them thanks to TV or if they happen to go on vacations to another country and that is pretty much it. If additionally most of those people don’t speak your language or/and you don’t speak their language it makes things even more difficult.

Tackling such issues with consideration for someone who has very little contact with the problem would demand a good deal of research. Sure it might have been nice if Ikuhara had done it or the idea that making Anthy’s skin color darker without proper treatment may be insensitive to someone crossed his mind, but when it is a problem that is rather exotic where you live, I would not be surprised if it never crossed his mind.

That’s why I think Ikuhara can be given some slack here. Had Anthy been an inconsiderate portrayal of some Korean or Chinese girl or had Utena been an American cartoon, it would be a different kettle of fish.
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message My Anime My Manga
whiskeyii



Joined: 29 May 2013
Posts: 1364
PostPosted: Tue May 02, 2017 9:10 pm Reply with quote
Alexis.Anagram wrote:


Ohhhhkay. I don't know if I have the patience to unpack this really, really loaded commentary but suffice to say I am not comforted by the notion that this show presents its racially coded characters as potentially not even human. At this point it's worth directing some attention to what Shay Guy mentioned: the bindi is a culturally and religiously specific artifact, which means that it is representative of a people and their belief systems. So again, it sounds like the show is just adopting racial imagery carelessly, without putting thought into how this actually speaks to and impacts people: but from what I've been led to believe, this show is not just another thoughtless cartoon, as it consciously leads with its visual symbolism.

Well, does Anthy not look different from the rest of the cast? The show visually others her and it's obviously deliberate. It's problematic, especially when taken in context with her role and dynamic with other characters in the early episodes, because from the sounds of it there's no justification for it in terms of her character or her personal story: the creatives just wanted something "different." That's pretty racist.



So, I don't know if I can do much to allay your fears, but I do want to provide some extra context. When Cryssoberyl says that the only two brown folks in the show are hinted as not being human, they mean it in a mythical sense. And I'm probably doing a horrendous job of explaining it without delving into spoilers, but I don't mean that they're an Aunt Jemima "Mammy" concept or "Mystic Wiseperson" or any culturally significant Black/Brown stereotype, but rather that the two dark-skinned characters are both fully realized personas as well as emblematic of particular ideals, just like the rest of the cast; Utena, while she has her own wants, ideals, personality, etc., is a representation of purity and nobility, as well as an example of what happens when those ideas are examined from another angle (and I am trying so, so hard to be light on spoilers here). I think it's worth noting that the particular symbols that Anthy and "that other guy" represent are the ones the show tries to tackle head-on, but that representation is not an extension of their skin color.

As to your second point, in that Anthy and "that other guy" are color coded in such a way that makes them stand out, well, yes. That's very much the case, and yeah, you could stretch it to say it's a strong brand of exoticism at play here. However, I do think the way Anthy in particular is treated by the general populace is an extension of her "otherness"; I think the terrible way people in general tend to treat Anthy is very much justified in their minds in part because of how very different she looks. Anthy being viewed as "different", from the way she acts, to the way she looks, is central to her story arc and the formation of her character. But to be truthful, the quasi-Hindu symbolism surrounding Anthy and "that other guy" have about as much weight as Evangelion throwing in religious names; it's done seemingly more for "Rule of Cool" than anything else. I don't think it's intended to be racist, but I can certainly see why any person of color would roll their eyes hard at that. For better or worse, the use of the bindi is pretty much the only throwaway symbol in this show.

TL;DR: I do agree Anthy's design has elements of problematic exoticism in it, but I do also think her design ties into many of the themes that revolve around her in particular. That said, I wouldn't be at all surprised by that not sitting well at all with other viewers, and I can certainly see where they're coming from.

EDIT: I'm a dummy because I somehow totally missed that you said you'd (maybe-sorta-probably?) still watch the show just to see what actually happens, and I hope you get some enjoyment out of it, but I think it'd be interesting to see Utena approached from an intersectional point of view; I think it's one of the few approaches that hasn't been tried with this show.
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message
Alexis.Anagram



Joined: 26 Jan 2011
Posts: 140
Location: Mishopshno
PostPosted: Fri May 05, 2017 12:36 am Reply with quote
Aylinn wrote:
That’s why I think Ikuhara can be given some slack here. Had Anthy been an inconsiderate portrayal of some Korean or Chinese girl or had Utena been an American cartoon, it would be a different kettle of fish.

Again, I do think I understand what you're pointing to here at least in general, and I appreciate your perspective quite a lot-- as someone who is multicultural and exists in a multicultural setting, it's important for me to be reminded that it isn't a global fact of society. Again, though, I think it's worth considering that simply because dialogue on race and culture has not been widely disseminated in step with mainstream(?) Japanese coverage, that does not mean it is not relevant to Japanese society or, certainly, that the discussion has not been occurring at all. Just as your latter statement brings to mind the troubled and highly politicized status of Chinese and, especially, Korean immigrants and Korean-Japanese nationals, the Indigenous Ainu continue to struggle for recognition and realization of their own cultural space in a social context which is perhaps even less readily equipped to accommodate that kind of relational shift as a result of its relative homogeneity than the comparatively culturally fluid landscape of the Western world. I think that actively favoring the dominant narrative in spite of that is a conscious choice; I'll refrain from speculating on Ikuhara's personal level of awareness with reference to the caveats I have already provided on that front, but I think we can retain a stated comprehension as to the specific level of cultural awareness which accompanied this story's inception while also fostering a meaningful confrontation of the manner in which we as a collective community talk about this show as a standard of the medium: this story which has been cited consistently as a model of boundary-shattering representation. Like, Jacob had this to say in the first set of these classic reviews:

Jacob Chapman wrote:
If you've ever felt lonely, misunderstood, or like the only broken person in a society you couldn't relate to (especially if it's because of your gender or sexuality), Utena is a story for you


So what does the universal you do when such a story actually reinforces those ingrained feelings of being misunderstood, broken, disadvantaged, and above all else, othered in society? I don't evaluate the racial and cultural tension I encounter in my life as divorced from my experiences as a queer and feminine person so when I come into contact with stories and situations which instigate reflection on the one, both carry equal weight: if either is not accommodated, what solace does that bring me? Utena doesn't necessarily have to speak to everyone, but how do we reconcile its virtues as an empowering gender study with its deficits in seriously acknowledging the manner in which it imposes racial stereotypes for those of us who have to contend with both factors as they pertain to the composition of our whole identity?

whiskeyii wrote:

rather that the two dark-skinned characters are both fully realized personas as well as emblematic of particular ideals, just like the rest of the cast

I appreciate your clarification!

whiskeyii wrote:
However, I do think the way Anthy in particular is treated by the general populace is an extension of her "otherness"; I think the terrible way people in general tend to treat Anthy is very much justified in their minds in part because of how very different she looks. Anthy being viewed as "different", from the way she acts, to the way she looks, is central to her story arc and the formation of her character.

Sure, I can see this, but unfortunately it doesn't clarify my fundamental issue with her portrayal: what does it mean to Anthy to be the person she is, given her heritage and how that informs her status in society? The show (what I've seen of it) doesn't seem to offer a conceptual point of reference for this, even as it pretty early on sets up an array of references for a gender-conscious reading of her character. Meanwhile, centering others' perceptions of her is another use of race for the wrong reason: it denies her agency in establishing her own cultural voice and thus endlessly victimizes her as a person who is acted upon; her race, like her gender, becomes another aspect of her social alienation, but, it would seem, without the essential recognition that these distinct attributes nevertheless work in collusion to ground her internal and external experience of self and therefore each demands meaningful resolution.

whiskeyii wrote:
But to be truthful, the quasi-Hindu symbolism surrounding Anthy and "that other guy" have about as much weight as Evangelion throwing in religious names; it's done seemingly more for "Rule of Cool" than anything else. I don't think it's intended to be racist, but I can certainly see why any person of color would roll their eyes hard at that. For better or worse, the use of the bindi is pretty much the only throwaway symbol in this show.

Except that Evangelion was playing with universal symbols which have been exported via imperialist doctrine and which are reflective of an essentially privileged religious class, so the manner in which it calls upon and bends those symbols is generally understood to have no bearing on the actual practitioners of Christianity and Catholicism. Hinduism is not nearly so well established as a familiar spiritual philosophy and that contributes to a lack of cultural security for its practitioners outside of the religion's regions of origin. I also want to highlight your suggestion that the bindi is the "only throwaway" symbol in this show as I think that speaks profoundly to the source of my frustration: the one explicit, culturally charged symbol among all these gendered metaphors is the one applied carelessly and without thought to its potential to impact the viewer. Is that acceptable? Why?

whiskeyii wrote:
I think it'd be interesting to see Utena approached from an intersectional point of view; I think it's one of the few approaches that hasn't been tried with this show.

Me too, I sure wish someone with more qualifications than myself would take a stab at it! Laughing
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message
JacobC
ANN Assistant Editor


Joined: 15 Jan 2008
Posts: 3423
Location: SoCal
PostPosted: Fri May 05, 2017 1:40 am Reply with quote
The next review is goin' up tomorrow morning, but before then, I can make an attempt to address the concerns over the choice of Anthy's race in a spoiler-free manner.

Anthy was not made dark-skinned because of her role as a servile character/object. (She was made female for that reason, hurr hurr.) This will become more obvious when we meet her brother later, whose maleness gives him a very different position in this game. Then of course, there's the third dark-skinned character, Dios, who is an entirely different ball of wax.

However, Anthy, her brother, and the prince are the only dark-skinned characters for arguably exoticism-based reasons (since the choice of their race is deliberate in service of making a point despite the show not being interested in commenting on race). The show does want you to see Anthy, her brother, and the prince as unique to the rest of the cast (for spoilery reasons), and they used dark skin to indicate that.

There's certainly reasons to take issue with this, but for what it's worth, the show treats the difference in skin color as thematic color symbolism along the lines of the student council members' differing hair colors rather than cultural "tokenism." (Anthy has the bindi for an important story reason, but it's not because she's not "from India." So I'm not saying that the choice of race couldn't be an issue for some viewers, but it is an issue separate from traditional tokenism.)

If the greatest concern is character complexity, that Anthy is being treated as an "object" around which other characters' arcs revolve, then don't worry. Anthy has an arc equal in complexity to all the other characters, and her role as an object starts getting taken apart as early as episodes 4 and 5, which I have a big ole review about going up soon. Hope that answers some concerns! Very Happy
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website My Anime
Zhou-BR



Joined: 28 Feb 2008
Posts: 723
PostPosted: Fri May 05, 2017 2:11 pm Reply with quote
About Miki's stopwatch, I really wish I had a link to support this, but I remember reading somewhere that it was an inside joke about a member of the staff (maybe it was head writer Enokido, maybe it was Ikuhara himself) who compulsively recited and timed every single line in the script with a stopwatch in order to ensure the episode wouldn't go over its allotted running time.
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message
JacobC
ANN Assistant Editor


Joined: 15 Jan 2008
Posts: 3423
Location: SoCal
PostPosted: Fri May 05, 2017 2:14 pm Reply with quote
Zhou-BR wrote:
About Miki's stopwatch, I really wish I had a link to support this, but I remember reading somewhere that it was an inside joke about a member of the staff (maybe it was head writer Enokido, maybe it was Ikuhara himself) who compulsively recited and timed every single line in the script with a stopwatch in order to ensure the episode wouldn't go over its alotted running time.


It was Ikuhara, during the episode commentary for the finale. In context, it's definitely just another of many "trolling" responses he's given to the question. Not that there isn't some truth to it, maybe Ikuhara did obsessively time lines, but that's probably not the reason the stopwatch is written in there, given how it's used in the show.
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website My Anime
Zhou-BR



Joined: 28 Feb 2008
Posts: 723
PostPosted: Fri May 05, 2017 2:27 pm Reply with quote
JacobC wrote:
It was Ikuhara, during the episode commentary for the finale. In context, it's definitely just another of many "trolling" responses he's given to the question. Not that there isn't some truth to it, maybe Ikuhara did obsessively time lines, but that's probably not the reason the stopwatch is written in there, given how it's used in the show.


Oh, yeah, it was from the commentary track. Thanks. I never thought of the possibility that it was just another of Ikuhara's trolling answers, probably because it made sense to me that he'd come up with a running joke only staffers would get, but somehow works for us because of how odd and seemingly random it is.
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message
Zin5ki
SubscriberSubscriber


Joined: 06 Jan 2008
Posts: 5412
Location: London, UK
PostPosted: Fri May 05, 2017 2:31 pm Reply with quote
What took me by surprise in Miki's arc was not so much that his regrets spawned infatuation and then a strange mix of sympathy and chauvinism—for this was all foretold by the start of episode four—but instead that there was a smattering of glimpses at Anthy's emerging character traits despite the focus lying elsewhere. Her collection of pets, her flick-book doodling and most importantly her open support for Utena during the duel all chipped away at the cold, stolid exoticism of her presentation hitherto. While she's still being woefully objectified, we can foresee what she might be as an independent agent once her shackles are removed, assuming this is the direction in which we're heading.

In anticipation for some big revelations ahead, I think it was mentioned last week how we should assume that all is not as it seems in these early stages. Given the morally lucid tale we've just seen about the perils of nostalgia and idolising, I wish to think we can nonetheless treat the surface-level story with some earnest now. There are themes aplenty, and notwithstanding the intrusions of a certain stopwatch it is quite a breeze to grasp them, so it'd be a pity to keep our interpretations of plot points held in abeyance. The episodes are too enjoyable for that, surely!
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website My Anime My Manga
Grungehamster



Joined: 27 Feb 2015
Posts: 41
PostPosted: Fri May 05, 2017 2:45 pm Reply with quote
There is something I noticed in episode 5 that I've never seen any commentary on: we know that the Student Council members are the subject of fierce gossip (as seen at the very start of the episode during Juri and Miki's fencing practice). We are also aware that Utena has a devoted cadre of female fans and attracted quite a bit of male respect for her athletic ability. As the show makes clear later on these are Important People™ and as a result they are lodestones the mostly anonymous (aside of Wakaba and Nanami's gang) people ultimately revolve around.

So what happened in Episode 5 before the Shadow Play? The most popular girl in 8th grade just revealed she has been spending time with a tutor. The most popular boy in 7th grade comes in revealing he is the tutor she has been spending time with. Boy offers girl a white rose and asks her to meet him after classes in the place students are forbidden to go. If you were one of those minor characters in the classroom, how would you have reacted?

I do wish the series did give a Greek chorus treatment to the conflict between Utena and the Student Council simply because from the outside looking in it may not be seen as antagonistic as it really is. I know it isn't necessary, but it would be amusing. The only hurdle I could see is Anthy: we've already established that her interactions with the Student Council has resulted in her gaining a reputation of "ruining boys" (Saionji and Miki both so far). Is the fact that Utena is spending time with the most popular boys in school in secluded places going to have her branded the way it does Anthy, and if not why not?
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message
Shay Guy



Joined: 03 Jul 2009
Posts: 725
PostPosted: Fri May 05, 2017 4:59 pm Reply with quote
I think I saw a theory somewhere that Kozue's memory is playing tricks on her too, and while she may not have been Miki's equal even before she fell out of practice, she was nowhere near as talentless as she remembers. It's an interesting spin; she wouldn't be the only character with a sour-grapes complex.

I don't remember the bit about misremembering her hair, but the context of seeing other women in his life as Anthy puts a later scene with him into a new perspective too. (Not to mention... well, we'll get to that at the end of the Black Rose Saga.)

(Now for a whole bunch of review quotes, so apologies in advance...)

Quote:
(On that note, his stopwatch does serve an obvious literal purpose; as the council secretary, he uses it to take the minutes of each meeting!)

I've never had to take minutes, but I imagine a regular watch would be more convenient. Smile

Quote:
He's a flawless student who even skipped grades on his way to the top of the class

I must've forgotten this -- I was under the impression he was the same age and grade as Nanami. (Who might have a crush on him under all that ONII-SAMAAA~ complex?)

Quote:
Clearly, elegant duelists like Juri and Touga have put childish ideas behind them

I'm sure that's what they think about themselves, at least.

Quote:
So even though Miki considers the duels barbaric at first, even arguing for their dissolution

Quite conspicuously only adopting this viewpoint after he hears it from Utena, and using her words.

Quote:
Despite his defeat, Miki still hasn't gotten a clue by the end of episode 5

I have to wonder how he rationalizes the way the duel ended, or if he's even trying to explain it to himself instead of shoving it into the back of his head.

Quote:
Since Nanami made her debut as a largely threatening presence, these episodes go out of their way to reinforce her appeal as comic relief for future episodes, which also goes a long way in making the most antagonistic member of Utena's cast more likable.

Nanam E. Kiryuute and the Rose Runner are definitely more entertaining than the traditional shojo-manga-villainess dynamic of episode 3.
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message
Grungehamster



Joined: 27 Feb 2015
Posts: 41
PostPosted: Fri May 05, 2017 5:26 pm Reply with quote
Shay Guy wrote:

I must've forgotten this -- I was under the impression he was the same age and grade as Nanami. (Who might have a crush on him under all that ONII-SAMAAA~ complex?)


It is really vague: the episodes explicitly say he's actually doing college coursework but he always addresses Utena as Tenjou-senpai. To be fair it falls VERY low on the list of things that are vague or confusing in this show.

Also happened to stumble on your own reaction thread on this series; enjoying it so far.
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message
Alan45
Village ElderVillage Elder


Joined: 25 Aug 2010
Posts: 7466
Location: Virginia
PostPosted: Fri May 05, 2017 7:28 pm Reply with quote
Shay Guy wrote:
Quote:
I've never had to take minutes, but I imagine a regular watch would be more convenient.


I'm reasonably sure that was intended as a pun. I have taken minutes of a meeting and it is just a record of the issues discussed and the decisions made. They have little to do with specific times.
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message My Anime My Manga
JacobC
ANN Assistant Editor


Joined: 15 Jan 2008
Posts: 3423
Location: SoCal
PostPosted: Fri May 05, 2017 8:46 pm Reply with quote
Alan45 wrote:
Shay Guy wrote:
Quote:
I've never had to take minutes, but I imagine a regular watch would be more convenient.


I'm reasonably sure that was intended as a pun. I have taken minutes of a meeting and it is just a record of the issues discussed and the decisions made. They have little to do with specific times.


Yeah, it was just a joke. Taking minutes with a stopwatch would indeed be horribly inconvenient. Laughing
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website My Anime
Alexis.Anagram



Joined: 26 Jan 2011
Posts: 140
Location: Mishopshno
PostPosted: Sat May 06, 2017 1:16 am Reply with quote
@ JacobC: Thanks for making the attempt! FWIW your take on the issue is approximately as comforting and alarming as the other perspectives folks have been considerate enough to offer here: I'm still wary about concentrating on the creative team's intentions with the character because I think that places undue preference on what they want the audience to think of the story, and while I can see the value of that approach (your reviews are really excellent!) when it's applied in a rigidly singular fashion it sort of undermines the capacity of an audience to adopt a critical stance which considers a more inclusive context than that originally envisioned. Where these critical questions of racial and intersectional representation are concerned, I feel like it's important to challenge and avoid complacency. But what more can be said at this point: I'll watch the darn thing and see if Ikuhara's intentions bear out. spoiler[nopunintended]
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message
Cryssoberyl



Joined: 17 Jan 2009
Posts: 223
PostPosted: Sat May 06, 2017 5:10 am Reply with quote
Zin5ki wrote:
and most importantly her open support for Utena during the duel all chipped away at the cold, stolid exoticism of her presentation hitherto.


Remember that moment, and be careful to observe how it never happens again. It was a calculated action, perfectly timed to achieve a calculated effect. You'll understand it much more when Anthy's nature and motivations become clearer.

Quote:
I wish to think we can nonetheless treat the surface-level story with some earnest[sic] now.


I would say not. At all. However, feel free to fall willingly into a false sense of security; that is precisely what the show wants from you right now. It will make what comes later all the more effective.
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message
Display posts from previous:   
Reply to topic    Anime News Network Forum Index -> Site-related -> Talkback All times are GMT - 5 Hours
Goto page Previous    Next
Page 10 of 14

 


Powered by phpBB © 2001, 2005 phpBB Group