The anime series Revolutionary Girl Utena is really hard to describe to people – but in the best way. What looks like just another shojo (basically, meant for girls) series is actually anything but that. Sure, in the end love and friendship do save the day to some degree, but in the long run it’s all just a complicated mess. It’s a coming of age tale that explores issues of roles not only in life (i.e., gender roles) but also within the fantasy genre itself. Many of the characters serve multiple roles, like Utena herself being a princess but wanting to serve the role of a prince and a certain damsel in distress also being a witch who has caused the whole complicated mess. In the end, it’s hard to interpret good and bad from the intents presented.
My favorite part of the series, however, was noticing the Buddhist influence throughout it. One character is inflicted with eternal pain and suffering until a revolution is brought. Utena may be the representation of the Mahayana Buddhist “vehicle” that aids people in transcending to the next plane and out of the painful cycle of death and rebirth.
And in the movie version, Utena literally becomes a vehicle.
Did I fail to mention that Utena is a surrealist enterprise? A character becomes a cow because of her fixation on being fashionable and later think she lays an egg because she’s reached the age to have done it for the first time. There’s a lot of meaning rolled into the series, forced and otherwise. It’s a deconstructionist’s/Gnostic’s/Buddhist’s playground series.