Chatty AF 200: Revolutionary Girl Utena Watchalong – Part 1 (WITH TRANSCRIPT)

By: Anime Feminist February 4, 20240 Comments

We’re celebrating 200 episodes! And what better way than for mega Utena fan Vrai to talk Cy and Chiaki through their very first viewing of the series?


Episode Information

Date Recorded: October 29th, 2023
Hosts: Vrai, Cy, Chiaki

Episode Breakdown

0:00:00 Intros
0:04:02 Past experience
0:10:08 Utena in modern culture
0:12:26 Series info
0:17:55 Favorite character
0:19:20 Sub vs Dub
0:25:18 Abuse of Anthy
0:32:30 Saionji
0:35:31 Incest
0:41:53 Learning how to watch Utena
0:46:44 Experience with Ikuhara
0:50:32 Utena’s gender and sexuality
0:56:47 Outro

Further Reading

Empty Movement

Series Content Warnings List (with spoilers)

Vrai’s Utena Episode Analyses (with spoilers)

Dear Brother Watchalong

VRAI: Hello, and welcome to episode 200 of Chatty AF: The Anime Feminist Podcast. Holy shit, I can’t believe we’ve recorded that many! My name is Vrai Kaiser. I’m a managing content editor at Anime Feminist. I am sometimes on Bluesky @writervrai. The internet is a, you know, dumpster fire. What can you do?

And with me today for this very special episode are Cypress and Chiaki!

CY: Hi, I’m your Rose Bride, who’s secretly a dude, Cypress.

VRAI: [Chuckles]

CY: I’m not secretly a dude; I just am a dude. And I am an editor here at Anime Feminist. You can find me on the Bluesky and on the bird app @pixelatedlenses. Not on much of them these days, but I’m trying to get back on there.

CHIAKI: Okay, well, I am Chiaki Hirai, one of the editors at AniFem. And you can find me at @GorogoroMia on Twitter, @terrible.moe on Bluesky, and @chiaki747 on Cohost! I am a mess of different stuff right now, so have fun with that.

VRAI: [Chuckles] And these two very special, talented individuals are here with me today because, you know, for our 100th episode we talked about Evangelion and it felt like we needed to do something even bigger and shinier for our 200th episode. Folks who’ve been longtime listeners or readers, as well (thank you), may remember that for our very second episode ever we did an Utena retrospective, just a general overview of the series as a spoilercast with me and Dee and Caitlin. But we’ve never done it as a watchalong because it’s hard to find people in our sphere of anime criticism who haven’t seen it already and are coming to it with fresh eyes. But—

CHIAKI: And also willing to watch it.

VRAI: Yes, also that!

CY: [Laughs]

VRAI: You know what? I would like everyone to tip their hats in the comments because Chiaki has given up her claim to the longest-running bit by finally agreeing to watch Utena. Cy was just one of, I think, a very common story of they have not yet gotten around to it. Thank you, both of you, so much!

CY: Yeah! I’m glad I finally get to get around to it.

VRAI: Yay! I also love that this is right after… You two both watched Dear Brother before this. Which, that’s going to be such a great help to you!

CHIAKI: Mm-hm.

CY: Oh, yeah. Yeah. [Chuckles] Yeah.

VRAI: Sorry, Chiaki, I cut you off.

CHIAKI: No, no, I’m just saying, you know, man, it’s so unfortunate because that was my best bit, of just constantly saying, “Oh, I’ve never watched Utena and I have no intention of ever watching Utena and I don’t want to watch Utena, and also I’ve already watched Utena just through everyone else talking about Utena. I don’t need to watch Utena!”

CY: Sorry you have to give up your wonderful sense of humor around this show.

CHIAKI: Ugh, it’s fine.

VRAI: Truly it is a sacrifice, and I only had to badger you about it a little bit. So, you really do have thanks from the bottom of my heart, because where else was I going to find somebody else who hadn’t seen it yet, that also we would want to talk to?

[Laughter]

CY: Oh, my God! Brutal. Brutal.

VRAI: That was meaner than I meant it to be.

[Chuckling]

CY: It’s funny.

VRAI: But yeah. So, I guess… What are your two’s experience with the show just from, like… What did you know about it before we started watching it for this?

CY: Pink hair. Anthy is Indian in Japanese. Roses. You know what, I think that’s shockingly it. I didn’t really know a lot about this. I know it’s every queer person’s favorite show, so I just felt really left out. But I did not know a lot about it, honestly.

VRAI: It’s one of those shows that I think is so ubiquitous among a certain community that it can be really intimidating, which I think is partly why I wanted to come back to it in this format. Which, for folks at home, this is going to be a newbie-friendly discussion. It’ll probably be about six parts, including the movie. But we won’t be discussing anything outside of the episodes we’re discussing per episode, which today is 1 through 12, just to get the student council saga out in a brick and leave us more time to get into the heavier later material. But this is designed to be a safe discussion place for folks who have heard about Utena and just haven’t, for whatever reason, had the time to get around to it but have wanted to. So, you know, if you’ve already seen all of it, please be respectful of that in the comments, especially because this is a series that has pretty significant late-game spoilers.

I also, as we’re going along, want to… I’m going to include in the comments, the show notes, a pretty significant trigger warnings list that somebody on Tumblr put together for this show because it gets real heavy and, you know, folks want to have an idea ahead of time before they get into that. And I also want to give a shoutout to Empty Movement, a.k.a. ohtori.nu, which is the oldest Utena fan site on the web and, I think, probably one of the oldest traditional fan sites that’s still running. It’s been around for 20 years, and they have accrued just a breathtaking amount of resources and documents and interviews having to do with Utena and, to a lesser extent, some of Ikuhara’s other works. It’s an incredible resource, and I really can’t thank the lovely duo who runs the site enough for what they do.

CY: That’s really cool.

VRAI: It’s a great site.

CY: Because, I’ll be honest, that’s also why I haven’t watched Utena, is people are very passionate. And look, I love passion. I respect it. But it can be something of a block to getting in a series, because if it gets hyped up too much, it kind of affects your expectations, right? And I think that’s part of why I avoided Utena kind of on gut instinct. I was like, well, I don’t want to go into it and then be like, “Oh, it’s mid!”

[Chuckles]

CY: And then get smeared like a fly on a windshield across the internet. Thankfully, I don’t think it’s mid.

VRAI: Yay!

CHIAKI: Oh, good.

VRAI: Yeah! Chiaki, remaining silent about her opinion.

[Laughter]

CHIAKI: Well, I mean, okay, here’s the thing. You know, y’all have been telling me to watch Utena so many times, so I finally picked it up, and I wasn’t expecting it to be about eight guys at a temple in Japan. You know, and it was surprisingly recent, so I’m surprised everyone’s seen it. Like, 2019. That’s, like, a really recent show.

VRAI: You are sending people on a Google rabbit hole that will not have satisfactory results, but I support you.

CHIAKI: Hey, you know what? Namu Amida Butsu! -Utena- is an okay show.

VRAI: It had a—

CHIAKI: Don’t know where the car comes in. I’m guessing there’s, like, a tie-in with transforming girls?

[Chuckling]

CHIAKI: I’m not sure. But… um…

VRAI: Keep watching; you’ll find out.

CHIAKI: Okay. But I mean, I did watch Vermeil in Gold, and that’s basically the same thing, too, right?

VRAI: [Exhales long and creaky] They certainly do reference—

CHIAKI: Yeah, you thought you were gonna be in control of this podcast. No, I can play with you.

VRAI: [crosstalk] No, I love that you do not. I love.

CHIAKI: [Laughs]

VRAI: I mean, so many shows across the world have referenced Utena in the 20-plus years since it came out that you could do this, conceivably, for every single episode that we do! So, frankly, I support you and your dedication.

CY: I will also chime in that I regret to inform people I call it the Villainess walk instead of the Utena walk from the opening because I saw it first in I’m in Love with the Villainess. You know, when they’re walking towards the school and there’s a crowd of people in the opening? Sorry for that.

VRAI: [crosstalk] Ah, yes. Events occur in the order in which I perceive them. I understand.

CY: [Chuckles] Feel real bad about that one. I was like, “Oops! Gotta reframe my mind!”

VRAI: It’s fine. [Chuckles]

CHIAKI: But yeah, as far as my expectations go, I feel like I’ve watched and read and seen enough discourse that I feel like I have a good feel on what the show is going to be like, what to expect from it. I know the tropes. But it is something that I’m seeing in its sequence that it was meant to be shown for the first time, in the context of all those funny clips and GIFs I see online. They are now being put into context.

CY: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

VRAI: I’m gonna be very interested in your takes as we go forward because I think Utena is in an interesting place now culturally, where a lot of what it is doing as a show is responding both to fairy tales, including Western fairy tales, but also to the tropes of classic anime and particularly classic shoujo. You know, the first episode includes, shot for shot, a reference to Kaoru playing basketball in Dear Brother with Utena. That kind of thing. And so—

CY: It’s so good.

VRAI: It’s really good! And a lot of those themes are going to come back up under a critical lens. And I think having that really enriches this show, but also, you know, now we are in… 2024 it’ll be when it comes out, sweet Jesus—

CY: [Laughs]

VRAI: —where now there’s a whole successive generation of shows that people who grew up watching Utena have made, being influenced by it and moving forward from it, an entire generation. Like, you mentioned… I’m In Love with the Villainess includes several Utena shots. You know, Steven Universe is just one great, big love letter to Utena. There’s a lot of stuff.

CHIAKI: Don’t forget Vermeil in Gold.

VRAI: Yes. Of course. How could I possibly, for even one minute?

Ah… I…

[Chuckling]

VRAI: God damn! You’re too good at throwing me off of my shit! Peter can cut all this! [Laughs]

But before we get into… So, to set folks’ expectations at home, this is gonna be kind of a vibes-based episode. You know, in order to keep this series to a manageable length, we decided to put all of the student council episodes in one, just because they tend to be the most on their face. But because that’s also simultaneously a lot to cover, we’re just gonna kind of bounce around and talk general vibes.

But before I loose folks into that, I will give people who are new or people who are familiar with Utena but might not know a lot about the background sort of a potted history of production background stuff. So, Revolutionary Girl Utena was the premiere original series by now-famous auteur director Kunihiko Ikuhara. It aired from April to December 1997 and was created by the production group Be-Papas, which is the pen name that was collectively made for the series composer, the head animator, the director, and then the writer, producer, and the artist of the simultaneous manga release, Chiho Saito. And I don’t have— This is the first time I have seen it, but I fully cop to that I might just not be aware of other times where this has happened: it is an Ikuhara thing to partner with usually a woman mangaka and have a simultaneous release of a manga version of whatever story he’s doing that’s kind of like a distinctive AU version of the story, where it’s the same concept but goes in a different direction.

CY: Okay!

CHIAKI: Yep. Yup, he’s done it for at least most of them that I know of.

VRAI: Yeah. Yeah, Utena was the first one. There’s one for Penguindrum. Yurikuma Arashi is extremely different from the anime. Sarazanmai has a spinoff prequel manga, but it doesn’t really have a proper anime AU version. It just has a light novel, so that one was a little bit different.

CHIAKI: No, there is a manga version, but it was more of a gag thing.

VRAI: Yeah, yeah, Reo and Mabu. There was Reo and Mabu, which was sort of, kind of a daily-life prequel thing. And then there was an anthology, but I don’t think there was ever a proper manga adaptation of the anime. So, that was interesting.

Before this… And we might touch on the manga later. It’s a little bit controversial. I think there has been reassessment of it in recent years, but because Chiho Saito was always, I think, vocally savvy about expectations of the manga industry and how likely the central romance was to be censored, the way she talked about it kind of reflected that, compared to Ikuhara and especially Adolescence. But she’s definitely warmed up to talking about Utena and Anthy as a couple since then, and I think that’s caused people to reassess some stuff about the manga, which is very different.

Before this, Ikuhara was best known as the co-director of Sailor Moon. He worked as an episode director on the first season, stepped into the head director position for R, S, and Super S. Sort of famously, he would joke about wanting to kill off Mamoru constantly. And so, he finally—

CY: [Laughs] Wait a second! He wanted to kill him off? That’s so funny.

VRAI: He fucking hated having to focus on Tuxedo Mask!

CY: That’s a man after my own heart.

VRAI: Uh-huh! Uh-huh! And so, then he went on to create a series about… well, this, a series centered around the search for a lost prince. Does he even exist? The Utena staff shares a lot of crossover with folks from Sailor Moon because Ikuhara seems to be the source— Like with a lot of auteurs, he carries a lot of staff from production to production. You’ll see folks from Sailor Moon and from Utena later that will be on his future projects. Interestingly, there’s a lot of Gunbuster reunion on Utena as well, from when he worked on that. There’s also a lot of names from Evangelion, which had aired the year before. And of course, Ikuhara and Hideaki Anno are friendly, themselves. Ikuhara was famously a source of inspiration for Kaworu Nagisa’s character. Which, you know, the jokes are endless. Uh… Yeah, no, okay, we’re going to stop now because I can just do— I don’t know if y’all know this: I like Utena a lot.

CY: I was gonna say, you say specifically in our notes, “Do not let Vrai spout factoids. This will go on all day.”

VRAI: [Chuckles]

CY: We’re stopping you now.

VRAI: Yeah. Yeah. We already mentioned that Dear Brother will be a series to think of. If you’ve not seen that, by the way, you really, really should, or at least go back and check out our other watchalong podcast, because it’s a really, really good classic shoujo series and really influential proto-yuri series. It’s a big deal.

CY: [crosstalk] God, it’s so good. It’s so good.

VRAI: It’s so good!

CY: It’s so good.

CHIAKI: I appreciated it.

VRAI: Another thing to keep in mind as you’re watching along at home is that Ikuhara cites Belladonna of Sadness, which just got rescued by Discotek, as the reason he became an animator. So, there are a lot of explicitly feminist influences going into Utena, even at the time that it was made. That is very much percolating in the production of this series. It’s not just that it’s a series that was reassessed later and people were like, “Wow, there’s a lot of gender in here!”

[Chuckling]

CY: This baby can hold so much gender!

VRAI: Mm-hm!

CHIAKI: It can hold a lot of things!

VRAI: Yep! Yes. Alright, so, I guess to get started, do you all have a favorite character so far?

CY: I really like Nanami.

VRAI: Oh, yes, my baby girl!

CY: Because she is a hot mess. And I love her so much! She’s just messy! She’s gloriously messy, and she’s a really good juxtaposition against Anthy, who’s my other baby girl. Like, protect Anthy at all costs. Worthy at all costs.

VRAI: Without exaggeration, I think Anthy is one of the greatest characters in anime and maybe one of the greatest characters in literature.

CY: No, wholeheartedly agree.

VRAI: [crosstalk] She’s truly a superb literary figure. Uh-huh.

CHIAKI: Mm-hm.

CY: Yeah.

VRAI: She’s fucking great.

CHIAKI: So, I mean, okay, I will say Nanami was a long-running favorite for me for this arc, until the very end, when—

VRAI: Oh, until the kitten?

CHIAKI: Yeah! Yeah.

CY: Oh, God, yeah!

CHIAKI: Then I was, like, slam-dunking her into the trash right there. I was like, “Fuck you!”

VRAI: No, that’s fair.

CHIAKI: Yeah. I mean, I guess Miki? I guess? I don’t know.

CY: He’s a good softboy.

CHIAKI: Yeah, he’s a good softboy. He’s a good softboy.

CY: With a tragic past, because he got measles.

[Chuckling]

VRAI: Ah, it was really sad. He got sick so hard it traumatized his sister for life.

CY: Which, I want to say, I’m watching the dub…

VRAI: Why! [Obscured by laughter] You have to stop!

[Laughter]

CY: [Cackles] You cannot stop me!

VRAI: Rest of [obscured by crosstalk], you have to stop!

CY: You cannot stop me!

VRAI: You will have a bad time! It’s a bad dub!

CY: Oh, it’s so bad! It’s so bad!

VRAI: I’m literally begging you.

CY: [crosstalk] The voice actress of Misty is Utena, and they mispronounce her name all the time, and it’s so good. It’s so bad.

VRAI: Genuinely, as this gets more serious, you are going to have a terrible time if you do not switch over to the sub cast.

CHIAKI: [Groaning] Oh…

CY: [Laughs]

CHIAKI: Oh, boy.

CY: Well, I’m—

VRAI: On my knees!

CY: I’m going with what Crunchyroll provided me. Which, by the way, want to call Crunchyroll out for being super ableist; the dub does not have subtitles.

CHIAKI: I mean, okay, you can turn on the Japanese track, and it will have English subtitles!

CY: Wait, it wasn’t showing— Okay, anyway, we’re going to talk about this off mic, about how it wasn’t showing me the Japanese when I went to click.

CHIAKI: Oh, my God.

CY: But I watched this first arc in English, and let me tell you, it’s a riot. [Chuckles] Oho-ho-ho!

VRAI: Yeah, listen, listen, I love that you love to watch dubs, because I don’t always default towards them, but this was a Central Park Media dub and it is—

CY: Oh, it’s bad.

VRAI: —famously nightmarish!

CY: Oh, it’s bad-bad. [Chuckles]

VRAI: Although Crispin Freeman as Touga is pretty good.

CY: It’s my garbage and I am rolling around in it like a raccoon, it’s so bad! [Chuckles mischievously]

CHIAKI: [crosstalk] Oh, dear.

VRAI: Oh, wait, wait, wait. It’s not worth watching the whole arc in English, but I will say also that Dan Green as Mikage is shockingly good in the next arc! Which is rude. But yeah. Which, by the way, other interesting story about this is that the release schedule of this series in English was really weird, in that these first 12 episodes were released on tape in 1998, you know, the year after it had aired in Japan, but because of weirdness with the rights, the US did not get the next two arcs for another four years.

CY: Fucking brutal! [Laughs] Sorry, I shouldn’t be laughing so viciously about that, but like, wow! Could you imagine?

VRAI: Yeah, I mean, sort of, in that I watched the show as a teenager during the brief hiccup where it was unlicensed, because it went out of print and all the DVDs got super expensive in 2009, when Central Park Media went under, and then it got rescued by Nozomi, who did the really, really nice box sets in 2011. And so, I started watching it in 2009, and it was at that point so hard to find that I was watching it on really just virus-riddled websites with Spanish subtitles, and that was the point at which my Spanish was strongest and I was maybe reading at a fourth-grade level.

CY: That is… [Chuckles] That sure is something! Oh, my God, that’s so funny.

CHIAKI: You know, that’s dedication right there.

CY: That’s the word I wanted.

CHIAKI: Yeah. By the way, by the way, just as a shout out… We don’t keep track of each other as much these days anymore, but I’m watching this series on DVD, the Nozomi DVDs, because a friend of mine found out I didn’t watch Utena and was vehemently saying I won’t, that she literally gave me the Nozomi box set and told me to watch them. And they have collected dust on my bookshelf for years, like four years, and I am finally using them. So, thank you.

VRAI: And now they’re out of date! Actually, not that it matters to you, but the very nice Blu-ray sets that came out a couple of years ago, of which I have the very fancy $250 box that has recreation rose crest rings (I’m very normal) … They have slightly updated subtitles, just in a couple of places, including one pretty late in the game that we will talk about when we get there. But you waited so long! [Chuckles]

CHIAKI: It’s fine. I’m not paying attention to the subtitles anyway.

VRAI: [Chuckles]

CY: Yeah, just like I’m watching the dub, Chiaki’s doing her own thing, too.

VRAI: Cy, why?

[Laughter]

VRAI: Chiaki, they officially just managed to trounce your entire bit, your entire troll bit. Holy shit!

CY: And you know me: I’ma stick with it! I’ma stick with it, everyone!

VRAI: Please don’t! I’m begging you!

CY: [crosstalk] I’m gonna be watching this dub to the end!

CHIAKI: [Laughs]

VRAI: I’m literally begging you!

CY: Oh. I’ma watch this dub to the end!

VRAI: Please, Jesus Christ on a cracker! Don’t!

CY: I’ma be sobbing, have totally out-of-context thoughts. Oh, I can’t wait. It’s gonna be great.

VRAI: Oh my God. I’m going to beg you off of camera not to do this! Please!

CY: [Laughs]

VRAI: Please! Jesus H. Christ!

CY: Don’t we have to move on to favorite characters for you, Vrai? Did you say who you like?

VRAI: No, I don’t! And we can’t move on, we can’t move on because now I have to get into the story where Crispin Freeman had to tell the dubbing crew that Juri was a lesbian because they couldn’t figure out what her deal was. That’s the people who were dubbing this show!

CHIAKI: [Grunts in exclamation]

CY: [Laughs]

CHIAKI: [Grunts in exclamation]

CY: Yeah. It’s really funny in the dub because they cannot get Utena’s last name right. And I don’t think it’s a hard last name to pronounce.

VRAI: No! Tenjou is pretty easy!

CY: Yeah. Oh, you want to know what they call it in the dub?

VRAI: [Reluctant] I do.

CY: Tenju! You know, good ol’ Tenju! [Laughs] It’s so bad!

VRAI: You do this to hurt me.

CY: It’s so bad, it’s so funny.

VRAI: Oh, God! Oh…

CY: Really made me laugh at times when I was like, “I don’t think I should be laughing!” [Chuckles] Like “Anthy’s going through it; I don’t think I should be laughing!”

VRAI: Yeah! Yeah, do we want to… So I feel like that’s one of the biggest barriers for younger viewers that I’ve seen talked about. Just the sheer amount of physical abuse Anthy gets early on is pretty brutal!

CY: Oh, my God. I mean, should we drop some trigger warnings at this point?

VRAI: Like I said, there will be… I’ll drop the complete list.

CY: Yeah, Anthy is… And okay, before I went into the series, I just thought Anthy was really dark skinned. I did not know that Anthy was also presumably mixed race, because she has a Japanese last name. And it’s really… um… I don’t know that I necessarily have all my thoughts in a row because I’m still so new to the series, but it’s really jarring seeing a mixed-race Indian girl getting just smacked around constantly and having to smile through it. It is… wow! Like, Anthy, sweetie, can we take you to the school counselor, please? Because it’s rough.

VRAI: Look, there are no… There are no teachers in this school.

CY: Nope. Not a single one.

VRAI: [crosstalk] Well, that’s not true; there’s one. You see her in the first episode, and that’s it.

CHIAKI: Well, actually, no, no, no, there was one, like, teaching.

CY: Yeah. And there’s whatever teacher keeps letting the animals escape.

CHIAKI: And that one.

VRAI: [Chuckles]

CY: Like, Jesus, why do you have a kangaroo at the school?

CHIAKI: I mean, didn’t your high school have a kangaroo?

CY: No! No, Chiaki, I went to school in Texas. We had cows. Get it right! Get it right!

CHIAKI: [crosstalk] Oh, good point. Good point.

VRAI: [Chuckles]

CY: Also, there’s definitely no teacher, because Nanami should not have been able to go to India like that. Anyway, Chiaki?

[Chuckling]

CHIAKI: I mean, kids just go to international trips whenever they want. That’s just normal. Yeah, I don’t know! Every time Anthy gets pushed around, gets slapped around… The premise of her character being the Bride and kind of pushing herself onto Utena because she won the duel initially… I was like, “Okay, this is a trope. Okay, whatever. It’s fine. I hope she develops as a character.” And for the most part, whenever it comes to the point where she has to trade powers, become somebody else’s Rose Bride, or question her place as Rose Bride, I am constantly like, “How are you so set in this? Holy fuck! How can you stand around and take it?” I was tearing my hair out. So, yeah.

VRAI: Yeah, she can be… She is a character, I think, that it is common and fair to be frustrated with when you’re watching the show for the first time.

CY: Yeah. Well, and it’s interesting because I really sympathized and empathized with her, because Anthy is not only… She’s a Rose Bride, right? She’s the literal vessel for them in, probably, multiple ways, but definitely for the sword. It really shook me when I saw them pull a sword out of her chest. I was like, “Them fightin’ titties!”

[Chuckling]

CY: I was just like, “Whoa! Oh, my God! Anthy really is being used!” But I did also… at some points I was like, “Girl, all you have to do is walk away. You can just turn and walk away.” But I think, also, it’s kind of the reality that people in abusive relationships can’t. It takes a lot. But I also did… I just kinda wanted to gently shake her and be like, “Anthy, come on, girl! Come on! Just cook your bad curry.”

VRAI: Which is kind of what Utena is trying to do for most of this first arc. So you’re like, “I’m gonna fix you and get you friends and these things that you’ve never tried to do before, and then you’ll be fine!”

CY: It’s so sweet [obscured by crosstalk].

CHIAKI: [crosstalk] I really identify with her for that.

VRAI: Honestly, Utena is… She’s not my favorite character, but I do like her a lot because I really see a lot of myself in her, and I think a lot of people… the kind of person who’s maybe drawn to this show maybe does, because she’s got a good heart and she wants to do the right thing and she’s sort of oblivious to other perspectives beyond her own because she’s a teenager, so she just kind of charges into what she has assessed to be the correct answer to a situation she’s discovered.

CY: Mm-hm. Yeah, that’s kinda how she gets into this whole situation in the first place. She’s just like, “I’m gonna do right!” And the next thing you know, she’s going up the tallest staircase to ever staircase.

VRAI: Nobody—nobody—stock-footages like Utena does.

CY: Oh, but it’s beautiful. They got her parallaxing up those stairs, and I was like, “You know what? You get it, girl. You parallax up those stairs.” Love it for her. Queen! [Chuckles]

VRAI: So good. So good.

CY: So good. It’s so good. And then she gets [obscured by crosstalk].

VRAI: [crosstalk] I genuinely love the repetition in Utena. It’s just… You know, maybe I’ve just grown attached. “Stockholm syndrome” is a discredited term, but that’s the… you know. I like the song!

CY: Oh, I love the song! I love it! Ah!

CHIAKI: Just so we’re clear, just so we’re clear, I mean, I’m watching this with my girlfriends right now. We’re doing our own watchalong off on the side here as I’m watching this. And my girlfriend was telling me that they were putting the staircase song on repeat while they were working on their Masters. So…

VRAI: Yeah!

CHIAKI: It’s good.

CY: It’s a good song! Like, I’m gonna start walking in the grocery store to that. I’m gonna defeat those groceries! It’s a really good song to set the moment. It really amps you up, like Utena’s gonna go… She’s gonna go fight! It’s great!

VRAI: Yeah, listen, “Zettai Unmei Mokushiroku” is songs of all time. Which, are you watching the episode previews?

CY: Is that directed at me or at Chiaki?

VRAI: Just generally. Just generally.

CHIAKI: Yeah, I am.

CY: Yeah.

VRAI: Because I know that I have skipped them for shows, but this is one of those series where there are interesting little factoids in there, including… like, they’ve got cute banter during the next-episode previews. But also, Anthy always ends hers with the “Absolute Destiny Apocalypse,” so it’s relevant. I will actually throw what has to be a baffling, incomprehensible statement at both of you now, in that one of my favorite characters is Saionji, actually!

CY: Okay! Um…

CHIAKI: [crosstalk] No, that’s fair. I can see it. I can see him becoming a thing.

CY: [Chuckles] I’m glad that only one of us made a snap judgment about Vrai.

VRAI: Listen, it’s fine, it’s fair, and I accept this.

CY: Yeah, because I mean—

VRAI: [crosstalk] He’s horrible!

CY: I was gonna say, he’s, um… he’s not a nice person.

VRAI: No, he’s a horrible misogynist.

CHIAKI: Oh, yeah, no, I hate him. I hate him passionately and I think he sucks. He should have stayed a monkey!

[Chuckling]

CY: Oh, my God. Okay, so you said that. Can we talk about that episode real quick, please?

CHIAKI: [Laughs]

VRAI: We can.

CY: [crosstalk] We’re talking vibes. We’re talking vibes! So, Nanami does her fucking Eat, Pray, Love for this curry powder! And there it— Okay, I’m not gonna lie. So, in the dub, any time someone in India talks, um…

VRAI: [crosstalk] Oh, God.

CY: We can surmise what they sound like, right? We can all guess. But also, I kept dying of laughter because that elephant gag!

VRAI: It’s good! It’s funny!

CY: When the elephants are surfing! [Laughs] So good!

VRAI: Both of you have seen Sailor Moon, yeah?

CY: No.

VRAI: [Gasps]

CHIAKI: Oh, yeah?

VRAI: [agonized] Ah!

CHIAKI: Is our episode 300 watchalong gonna be forcing Cy to watch all of Sailor Moon?

VRAI: Fucking maybe, if that’s how I have to do it! I was gonna say, for folks at home, one of the really prominent episodes that Ikuhara was an episode director for, before he stepped into the series director role, is the Rhett Butler episode. So he’s really, really good at wacky animal comedy.

CY: Oh, my God. Wait. I said, “Oh, my God,” like I understood, but I don’t. Is it an elephant? Is Rhett Butler the elephant?

VRAI: No, Rhett Butler is an adorable fat cat.

CY: Oh, my God, yay. No, the animal comedy was delightful and very enjoyable, all for it to come to the fact that the curry powder was at the school; it was just Anthy’s cooking. Which I love. It’s so goofy.

VRAI: I think that the relationship between Anthy and Nanami is one of the most interesting things to watch as the show goes along, honestly. It’s my favorite.

CY: Yeah! Though Nanami is mean to Anthy.

VRAI: She’s horrible! Yes!

CY: That dress she gave her? Like, girl, how are you gonna give her a dress that dissolves? Rude.

VRAI: [crosstalk] Because she’s horrible!

CHIAKI: Yeah, I mean, that, I expected as “Okay, that’s pretty typical in terms of villainous, horrible bullying things.” Right?

VRAI: Yeah.

CY: I don’t like that I keep feeling like she’s gonna kiss her brother. Nanami, that is, not Anthy. I don’t know, maybe Anthy’s gon’ kiss her brother, too. Who knows?

VRAI: Who knows!

CHIAKI: Who knows.

CY: But I don’t like that Nanami has big “I want to make out with my brother” vibes. It’s very uncomfy.

VRAI: Oh, yeah, listen, the incest— The weird brother-complex sister-complex stuff, because Miki’s got that with his twin, too, is not going to go away!

CY: No! [Snickers] No!

VRAI: Because Dear Brother is a major influence on this show!

CY: I— Oh, yeah.

CHIAKI: Mm-hm!

VRAI: [Laughs]

CY: Oh, no. Okay, yeah, it all makes sense. Never mind, I’m cool with it.

VRAI: And to be fair, I will reassure you that this show is doing that on— Like the stuff with Anthy being notably darker than the rest of the cast and being, really, the school punching bag, it’s doing this kind of uncomfortable incest stuff with an eye towards critique and examination. But that doesn’t mean it’s not uncomfortable to sit through early on, and I get that.

CY: Okay. Okay. As long as there’s no… I call it doing the Queen Victoria, where you marry your first cousin, or the Queen Elizabeth if you want to be savvy and do, like, your third. And I’m just slowly… there’s a slow, creeping fear that I’m gonna open an episode and the title’s gonna be like “Nanami Gets It on with Her Brother!” and I’m gonna be like, “I gotta watch this for the podcast, though!” [Chuckles] She’s very into her brother in a way that I, as an only child, hope that no one’s into their brother like that.

VRAI: Yeah. So, the thing I find— As somebody who has much older brothers, I’ve always had an especially resentful relationship to the brother complex trope because— I think it’s something that appeals to people— Actually, so the Utena box sets have this amazing little booklet with it that has director commentary for each episode. And there’s one for one of the Miki episodes that talks about Ikuhara sort of musing on incest in anime as this thing where you’re drawn to somebody who will never leave you and is like— I’ll find that quote for the next episode. But you know, it’s somebody who understands you completely from a young age and is sort of bound to you in a certain way and doesn’t have that “fear of the unknown” element, but is also dependent on you or you’re dependent on them, right? So, as this theoretical relationship dynamic, I can sort of see how it appeals to people who don’t have actual siblings. But as somebody who does and who, honestly, really hero-worshipped my older brothers as a kid, I really fucking resent it because there was a time when I was starting to watch anime and I was like 12 and I was like, “Oh, no! Oh, no! Is there something…?” And I resent it for that!

CY: And it kinda takes away from what I feel like the show’s gonna probably try to do with Nanami, because I did think it’s interesting that she got to fight! I kinda wasn’t expecting that. She’s a vicious little thing, too.

VRAI: [fond] Yeah, she is!

CY: I love her. Once again, school counselor, where are you? [Chuckles]

VRAI: Nowhere.

CY: These children are suffering.

VRAI: Okay, never mind.

CHIAKI: [crosstalk] I’m sorry, I can’t get over the whole cat thing.

VRAI: I actually did— Ah, I knew I had it on hand. I actually have the little bit of prose, and it’s from an episode next arc but it’s still relevant. So, the creator commentary for that episode is: “The reason sexuality is so often expressed in brother–sister relationships in the world of fiction is probably because there’s the illusion that ‘blood relationships are eternal.’ It’s the dream of the ‘eternal lover.’ Continuing with the lie,” you know, where he’s talking about this girl he supposedly liked who turned him down because she loved her brother, “I tried pathetically, refusing to back down. I couldn’t accept it. ‘But you’re brother and sister!’ She declared that she was ‘not a woman.’ Then she said, ‘My brother isn’t a man.’ So what are you exactly? ‘My brother’s body is a part of me, and my body is a part of him,’ she said.”

So, this idea of someone you’ve always known that’s just like another part of yourself is, I think, that fictional appeal of it, which I think is interesting, because it does really crop up in transgressive fiction a lot.

CY: Mm-hm. And I think that kind of recontextualizes it, because I was very uncomfortable with it but this does seem like the kind of show that’s about to assess a lot of things, because like you said with Anthy, it is really— I would say, even though I sense that it’s gonna get a lot worse for her, it’s kind of borderline toeing the edge of disturbing, right now, that she’s being mistreated so much and has such a severe lack of personality and humanity. But I don’t feel like that’s where it’s going to end, and I can find comfort in that.

VRAI: Yeah. And one of my favorite clips in this batch of episode is the study session. I think it is maybe one of the best scenes in the entire first arc, and it’s such a sign that Anthy’s a troll, actually. She’s amazing. [Chuckles]

CY: It’s so incredibly funny.

CHIAKI: Who keeps a mongoose?

CY: And I love that it’s a mongoose specifically, right? So, the snake just gets eaten. It just gets eaten! And I love the octopus balloon. That’s great.

VRAI: The house for your snails!

CY: Yeah! And everyone’s like, “Ah. Yeah, that’s so Anthy.” [Chuckles] It’s so funny. Yeah, there’s some really good comedic bits, which is great because I sense that it’s gonna stop being quite as slapsticky as the story goes on.

VRAI: You sense correctly, yes! Actually— Excepting my judgment about psychology being terrible, I do want to ask what you guys think of the episode with the flashback, where he and Touga met Utena as a little kid. Because I love that episode.

CHIAKI: It does set a lot of those things up. And I can understand Saionji’s motivation… like, to do things, I guess! I still don’t think he should be a toxic piece of shit, per se.

VRAI: No, he’s horrible!

CHIAKI: But yeah, I mean, that was a moment where I kind of realized, like, “Oh, Touga’s… I mean, I knew Touga was a piece of shit, too, but Touga’s a piece of shit!” right then and there. Right?

VRAI: Yeah, I think there’s something about Utena that’s really interesting, and will definitely occur again and more as the show goes on, where it sort of teaches the viewer how to watch it. So, the first enemy is Saionji and he is this paper misogynist, right? He hits women and he loudly declares them to be property and he makes fun of Wakaba, who I love and is darling. You know, he’s a really easily identifiable villain, right? And then we move on into Miki, who sort of deifies Anthy and doesn’t really see her as a person. She’s like a replacement for the sister-shaped hole in his life. But he’s not seeing her as a person, and that’s a misogyny in a different way. And then you have Juri’s internalized misogyny, and you have Touga, who is this manipulator who is hiding behind the guise of being pro-woman. Which, a lot of people get confused by the line about him declaring himself a feminist. My understanding is that in Japan, particularly in the ‘90s, “feminisuto” as a loanword is more about being chivalrous towards women. So it’s not as we would put the understanding on that word.

CHIAKI: Yeah.

VRAI: So, the arc is about building and going from really obvious, easy-to-identify misogyny to these myriad other subtle forms of it. And I think it’s really smart and clever writing.

CY: Yeah, I do feel like there’s a lot of table-setting being done because you kinda get your starter pack of what villainy can look like. But it’s pretty clear that, like, don’t expect villainy to look like this always.

VRAI: Mm-hm. Yeah, very much so. And as the show goes on, it becomes increasingly emphasized that these are children, all of them, even 17-year-old Touga.

CY: Yeah, that’s what struck me. Okay, so, I thought Utena was at least, like, a high schooler. She’s in middle school?

VRAI: She is 14 years old!

CY: And so, that really threw me. I was like, oh, my God, this really is just children embroiled in some strange battle with this really… First of all, someone’s got the budget for that arena.

[Chuckling]

CY: It really hits differently when you know that they’re kids, like kid-kids.

VRAI: It’s a show like— Not every show. This isn’t always true in anime, obviously, but I think there are definitely high school anime where it gets away from “Oh, you’re young! And stupid because you’re young!”

CHIAKI: But yeah, you know, you kinda do the math sometimes, like with Miki’s sister and Touga.

VRAI: Yeah!

CHIAKI: And I was screaming! I was screaming!

CY: [Chuckles]

CHIAKI: I was like, “Well, that happened. Okay, well, that’s— Wait, hold on a sec. They’re in middle school. They’re in middle…!”

CY: It really adds a lot of context when you remember that they are middle schoolers.

VRAI: It’s three years, but it’s a particularly big three years.

CY: Yeah.

CHIAKI: [woeful] Why?

VRAI: Well, don’t worry. We will have a chance to come back to the sort of secondary cast, as it were, next time around.

CHIAKI: Uh-huh. By the way, Vrai, is Utena gonna be of age to be able to drive a car when she turns into a car?

VRAI: Well, listen, this is all about, you know, breaking rules and [obscured by crosstalk].

CHIAKI: [Chuckles]

CY: [crosstalk] Yeah, and if you become a car, you don’t have to have a license to drive yourself, Chiaki.

VRAI: Duh.

CHIAKI: [Sighs] That’s true.

VRAI: Oh! I actually do have one last relevant question, just to table-set for you and for the audience at home. What experience do you all have with Ikuhara otherwise?

CY: This is my first show!

CHIAKI: Oh, no.

VRAI: [crosstalk] I know!

CY: [Laughs]

VRAI: You’ve not watched Sailor Moon either!

CY: Yeah, this is my first one, baby! [Laughs] I did see a clip, though, recently, of the opening of Yurikuma Arashi. Wowzers! Are they doing cunnilingus?

VRAI: They sure are.

CY: Wow!

CHIAKI: [Laughs]

CY: Wow! Wow, wow, wow.

CHIAKI: [Obscured by crosstalk]

CY: [crosstalk] Wow, wow!

VRAI: Listen, listen, we can stock that away for a future episode.

CY: They are licking the dew off that lily, if y’all know what I mean. Like, Jesus Christ! So, clearly I’m gonna watch more. [Chuckles] Clearly this is not my end with it.

VRAI: But you also… You haven’t seen Sarazanmai either, right? Because that was the one that’s been airing in the post-streaming era.

CY: Yeah, that’s the buttballs one, right? The kappas? [Chuckles]

VRAI: Yes, it sure is! It is the buttball anime.

CY: I have not seen that.

CHIAKI: It’s about concepts and shit.

CY: Yeah, I haven’t seen it.

VRAI: And Chiaki, is Sarazanmai the only one of his you’ve seen, am I right?

CHIAKI: Well, okay, so, if you’re talking technicality, I have watched most of Sailor Moon, so I have seen his episodes, especially including R. Right?

VRAI: Yeah. Especially the R movie. That one was a huge trial run for a lot of stuff he does in Utena and, as I understand, Penguindrum.

CHIAKI: And I mean, I haven’t watched Yurikuma Arashi but I did watch Sarazanmai. I actually haven’t watched Penguindrum either.

VRAI: Neither have I! High-five.

CY: Same!

VRAI: [crosstalk] I’ve been saving it for the podcast.

CHIAKI: Yeah, high-five. That is definitely my “Oh, it’s on my list but I can never find time to actually sit down and watch it” kind of thing.

VRAI: Right. Yeah, yeah, so that’s… I don’t know, that’s exciting to me because he’s one of those guys that really has his set of pet tropes that you can sort of trace across works. So, not having that as a cheat sheet I think will be interesting and fun as we discuss other episodes.

CHIAKI: Actually, I’ve seen enough of osmosis with Penguindrum and through Sarazanmai that I kinda get what his tropes are at this point.

VRAI: Yeah, I think you are much more prepared, as it were.

CY: Yeah, because a lot of this watch is interestingly… for me, it’s comparing it a lot to where I’ve seen these things in American media, specifically. And it is really interesting seeing how many people were influenced—nay, traumatized—by Utena.

VRAI: [Laughs] It’s beautiful!

CY: It’s so good! It’s so good.

VRAI: I’m so happy you’re excited about it. I really am. I’m delighted.

CY: I’m so jazzed. I am going to go to sleep again tonight just thinking about climbing infinite stairs.

[Chuckling]

CHIAKI: That’s a nightmare.

CY: [crosstalk] And looking at the camera with a really serious face.

VRAI: Were there any subjects—

CHIAKI: Ugh, climbing stairs?

VRAI: Ugh, couldn’t be me. Were there any topics from this first batch that you wanted to hit on before we close up for the episode? You know, this has been a little bit broad and scattershot, but I think that’s kind of the only way to begin in a series that is structured the way Utena is.

CY: I’d like to touch a little on Utena’s gender, because—

VRAI: Oh, so much gender!

CY: That was really interesting to me. So, from just looking, I was like, okay, Utena… You know, before I even went in, I was like, Utena kinda looks like… now, today, we might say he/him lesbian vibes. But it’s really interesting watching the dub because every once in a while Utena will just be like, “I should get a boyfriend,” and I’m like, “Should you? Should you? Should you?”

CHIAKI: I don’t think she says that, really, in the Japanese?

CY: Okay, so I’ve gotta switch, okay.

VRAI: Well, her recurring line in the sub is that, you know, “I’m just an ordinary girl,” basically, with that connotation of “I should get a boyfriend.” I think that’s built into the line.

CY: They have her outright saying, “I should just get a boyfriend,” which feels different, right? Because I look at Utena and I think there’s no way this person is straight; they just don’t realize it yet. But the dub really wants you to believe that she’s het right now! [Chuckles]

VRAI: [Chuckles]

CHIAKI: [deadpan] I mean, you know, she’s definitely a heterosexual, right?

VRAI: [deadpan] Oh, she’s so heterosexual. My God, the heterosexuality on this girl.

CY: Well, this is gonna be the worst watch ever!

[Chuckling]

VRAI: No, but I really do think Utena’s character is interesting in that thing that I think a lot of queer kids go through, where you’re obviously flagging as queer to observers but you aren’t ready to face the sheer amount of shit you’re about to get, so you pretend that you are normative still. And I think she goes through the lip service of that, like a lot, a lot, despite the fact that she likes the princely aesthetic.

CY: She really reminds me— So, I went to a high school in a district where we had standardized dress. And it wasn’t a uniform in the traditional sense, is always how they spun it. It was just like, “You know, it’ll equalize everybody and make everyone feel like we’re all from the same socioeconomic status,” which is, you know, BS. And so, one of the things I would do to bend the rules was I would wear neckties and do these things that, now that I know that I’m transmasc, are really obvious to me what I was doing. But I would also skirt the uniform rules and I would also be like, “Well, in the handbook there’s nothing saying I can’t do that.” And there’s even a scene at the beginning where she says, like, “Oh, handbook doesn’t say I can’t wear a men’s uniform.”

VRAI: Which she’s not! She’s wearing little bike shorts and I love that for her!

CY: I was gonna say, Utena’s got bike shorts and a fancy jacket. And even when she transforms, there’s just a little ruffle on the jacket, but the bike shorts? Those stay. And it’s so funny, though, because I was like… Maybe this is the perspective of having been queer most of my life, but I was like, I don’t know how anyone could look at this character and think, “Oh. She’s never thought about smooching a girl!” But also, and this might be— I don’t know if people do trans readings of Utena. I’m sure that they do. Utena does not also seem cis to me. And I don’t know if that’s going to play out, because I think this is the wrong era for that, but that one’s also interesting.

VRAI: Yeah, I think… She’s got a lot of gender, I think is fair to say. And we didn’t really talk a lot about it, but the amount of deliberate theatricality of the show is a lot of… Utena is very much defining herself by this prince that she met as a child and the narrative of being… You know, she is trying to become the prince, but she’s also still thinking about her future in terms of the role of girls in a fairy tale. You know, she’s a perfectly normal girl.

CHIAKI: I mean, there is always that question that trans folks sometimes ask themselves. In my case it’s like, “Do I want to date her or do I want to be her?”

VRAI: Yup.

CY: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah, so it’ll be interesting to see if my perspective on what’s being said about that changes. I’m sure it will. We are so in the “new” zone with this show. And I’m thrilled. I’m thrilled for the next arc.

VRAI: Yeah, I’m very excited because… Black Rose is a set of episodes people have trouble with, for a long time that people were like, “Oh, you can skip this arc.” You fucking can’t. You cannot!

CHIAKI: Okay, Vrai. I believe you.

CY: So if I can’t skip it, can I watch it dubbed?

VRAI: No!

CY: [mischievous] Can I watch it dubbed?

CHIAKI: I don’t think so.

VRAI: [crosstalk] No! Not even to appreciate Dan Green. [Chuckles]

CHIAKI: Okay, how about just the episodes with Dan Green, then?

VRAI: No, that’s all of them!

CY: [Laughs]

VRAI: He plays the major antagonist!

CY: Aw.

CHIAKI: Oh.

VRAI: Also, another fun thing to… as a preview for the next set of episodes, Touga’s voice actor was extremely ill and was unable to record for a big chunk of the middle arc, so he’s just not there.

CY: Wow!

CHIAKI: [echoing in singsong] He’s just not there.

VRAI: It’s fun. Production details are fun.

CHIAKI: It’s kinda like Luke Skywalker—I mean, um… what’s his name?

CY: Do you mean Mark Hamill?

CHIAKI: Mark Hamill—that guy—getting into a car accident—

CY: Oh, no!

CHIAKI: —before Empire Strikes Back.

CY: Oh, that’s sad.

CHIAKI: That’s why they fucked him up at the beginning of the movie.

CY: They just matched him in real life? That’s so funny.

VRAI: [crosstalk] The more you know!

Alright. For folks at home who are watching along with us, next episode we will be watching episodes 13 through 20. So, not quite all of Black Rose, but it’s gonna start getting so dense that I think we are gonna want to dial in for a more focused discussion.

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Thank you so much for coming along with us on this one, folks. Please share your thoughts in the comments. I think this is going to be a really, really fun discussion. And until next time, remember—

CY: Break the world’s shell!

VRAI: There you go. You got it!

CHIAKI: Maybe I’ll switch over to the dub for the next arc.

VRAI: Why?!

CY: Join me! Join me! [Chuckles]

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