Kunihiko Ikuhara and staff episode and music commentary/discussion 1997-2011 on the anime 'Revolutionary Girl Utena'; discusses origins of ideas and meaning of themes, and video/audio remastering for the DVD box set.
7 Feb 2013–11 Sep 2017 finished certainty: log importance: 1
- Ikuhara episode commentary
- 1: “THE ROSE BRIDE” [Episode 1]
- 2: “FOR WHOM THE ROSE SMILES” [Episode 2]
- 3: “ON THE NIGHT OF THE BALL” [Episode 3]
- 4: “THE SUNLIT GARDEN—PRELUDE” [Episode 4]
- 5: “THE SUNLIT GARDEN—FINALE” [EPISODE 5]
- 6: “TAKE CARE, MISS NANAMI!” [EPISODE 6]
- 7: “UNFULFILLED JURY” [EPISODE 7]
- 8: “CURRIED HIGH TRIP” [EPISODE 8]
- 9: “THE CASTLE SAID TO HOLD ETERNITY” [EPISODE 9]
- 10: “NANAMI’S PRECIOUS THING” [EPISODE 10]
- 11: “GRACEFULLY CRUEL—THE ONE WHO PICKS THAT FLOWER” [EPISODE 11]
- 12: “FOR FRIENDSHIP, PERHAPS” [EPISODE 12]
- EPISODE 13
- EPISODE 14
- EPISODE 15
- EPISODE 16
- EPISODE 17
- EPISODE 18
- Episode 23: “The Terms of a Duelist”
- Episode 39: “Someday, Together, We’ll Shine”
- Rondo Revolution: Kunihiko Ikuhara’s Thoughts
- Ending Animation: The Making Of
- HD Video Remastering: Interview With The Staff
- 5.1 Audio Remastering: Interview With The Staff
- Revolutionary Girls: Girls’ Manga
- Laserdisc Liner Notes: From The Japanese Archives
- NOZOMI ENTERTAINMENT PRODUCTION STAFF
- External Links
The following materials were published in the 2011 Right Stuf boxset release of Revolutionary Girl Utena (1, 2, 3); they were produced at various dates from 1997 to 2011. (The booklets may also be included in the December 2017 Blu-ray box set.) Translation by Sarah Alys Lindholm (see Nozomi credits); transcribed by C.A.P November-December 2012.
DIRECTOR KUNIHIKO IKUHARA’S
EPISODE COMMENTARY: PART 1
During the process of getting from the plan to the production deal, I needed to convey the image of the show to a lot of stakeholders in a way that would be easy to understand.
So I made the written plan an “it’s something like this” type of thing. And in fact, it got the gist across, and I think it’s what got us a green light on the production.
However, when we finally entered the production stage, I was plagued with worry. Suddenly I was brooding over what the show’s originality really was. Style of expression is key in a TV series. A unique individuality. A mode no one has ever seen before. There was this pressure of “I have to make this a show with a special type of visual expression. That’s the only way people will want it.”
I decided to use “Absolute Destiny Apocalypse.” And that prompted a switch to flip in my mind. Within myself, I could sense that this would be a special show. But, it was hard to explain that “specialness” to the public during pre-production.
I talked about the story. I explained the characters. But no matter how bombastic I was, nobody understood me past the level of: “It sounds like an eccentric show.” So all throughput pre-production, I had these pangs of guilt, like I was deceiving someone.
The first episode was given sound at last. It was complete.
The impression of the first stakeholder to watch it was something along the lines of “Huh? What is this?”
“The bird fights its way out of the egg. The egg is the world. Who would be born must first destroy a world. The bird flies to God. That God’s name is Abraxas.”
When I was in middle school, my classmate T. recommended to me a book by Hesse.
He said, “Inside the book is everything about me.” I didn’t know what he was on about.
However, that particular quote stuck with me. One day long afterwards, T. and I met up again after not seeing each other for over a decade, and I brought it up.
“What was that, again?”
He didn’t even remember the book existed, let alone that he’d recommended it to me. To think he’d just forget “everything about himself”… I wonder if Hesse wasn’t needed in the world T. lived in after middle school. In which case, I wonder why I didn’t forget. I experimentally added another passage to Hesse’s:
If we don’t crack the world’s shell, we will die without being born.
Smash the world’s shell. For the revolution of the world.
Assistant Director Kaneko [Shingo] and I discussed Anthy’s character time and again because I was obsessed with the idea that whether or not it was “good”, nobody would want to watch a dark and depressing show. That cooking smock over gym clothes was the result of our conversations. And she finally turned fun…no, she turned into a mysterious girl (!).
Anthy is another Utena. In the initial stages of planning, I thought of the main character as someone who wants to be a prince, but at the same time also wanted to remain a princess. However, I decided to divide that personality into two different characters. What did “also want to remain a princess” mean? I would agonize over the expression of Anthy for the entire series.
The basic plot of this episode was ready quite soon after planning started. I believe the thinking was, “We need to bring the mood of Ms. Saito’s manga into this.” But the truth is, you don’t see clichéd plotlines like this in Ms. Saito’s manga. The way Touga [Kiryuu] approaches Utena is almost uncomfortably stereotypical shoujo, but thanks to that, we were able to strongly impress upon the audience that this was a “shoujo manga anime.” Given the story’s later development, episodes like this were absolutely necessary.
Production-wise, we were in disorder. In the background art meeting, we discover that the master layout drawing (the base sketches for the backgrounds) that were supposed to have been ready were more or less nonexistent. As the ashen-faced staff looked on, Mr. Kobayashi and I sketched like mad. It was an ordeal, but I think that, over the course of dealing with it, the two of us were able to achieve a consensus about the direction the art should take for the rest of the series.
“The Sunlit Garden” is a song about the world you can never get back; the nostalgic world you can never return to again. Its true meaning will become clear during the climax of the series.
I made such a radical departure in the second half of this that you might as well ask yourself, “Is this the same show?” I did it to solidify the positions of Nanami’s and Anthy’s characters, but by the storyboarding stage, Anthy was becoming even more of a mysterious girl (!). Meanwhile, Nanami [Kiryuu] became more of an entertaining girl.
Is that all right? Sure it’s all right.
I decided to operate according to the rule “Never give a character only one personality.” I didn’t want to reject “fun” on the grounds of “I can’t get this character to be uniformly consistent.”
Around that time in production, I read an interview with a certain pair of pop idols in a magazine I was thumbing through at the store.
“Our motto is ‘get hold of eternity.’ It’s a brilliantly glittering thing.”
I was a little surprised.
“Get hold of eternity” was such an abstract phrase, and yet for some reason, I readily accepted it. It was as if from that single phrase I could indirectly sense the details that shaped their personalities; the look of the place where they grew up; what they saw of current affairs on the TV news; the manga, anime, and popular songs that affected them. Call it the empathy between contemporaries, I guess.
When I brought it up with Enokido, who was doing the screenplays, he was onboard. Up until that point, we’d spent a lot of time arguing in the abstract about the spirit of the show, but I felt like it was a few words from these pop idols that got us to the heart of the matter.
At the same time, the process of producing this two-parter set of episodes brought home to me again that Utena is a story about the relationship between characters. When you get right down to it, this series is a story about the relationship between Utena and Anthy. So I decided to apply that same style to the stories of the supporting characters, too.
From then on, I would be very conscious of “get hold of eternity” and “a story about relationships” as key motifs of the show.
This episode originally went into production as “Episode 8.” It was “in production as Episode 8” during scripting, storyboarding, and even after animation started. But it got switched in the broadcast order with “Episode 6 (”Curried High Trip“, which broadcast as episode 8)”, because that episode fell behind schedule.
Because I always called this “Episode 8” during the production process, the impression stuck in my mind to this day is: “Curry is Ep 6; the kangaroo is Ep 8.”
It’s a comedic story, but it shows Nanami’s feelings for Touga. This wasn’t just about Nanami; it was also about how we’d present Touga. The original plan was to connect stories with a “Touga Episodes” theme: first in episode 8 we’d show Nanami’s feelings for Touga is a comedic way, then in episode 9 we’d show Touga in contrast with [Kyouichi] Saionji, then in episode 10 we’d show Touga using Nanami’s feeling for him, and finally in episode 11 we’d show Touga facing off against Utena.
I’d used a group of three identical characters before, in Sailor Moon S. It was strangely fun, so I tried sticking them in this show, too. The staff liked them, too (it was probably more like the staff found them convenient), so we turned them into semi-regular characters. It’s largely thanks to Ms. Hayashi, the animation director, that the production troubles weren’t reflected in the quality of the episode. I like how Touga looks so unnecessarily cool during the climax, when he defeats the kangaroo.
This story came together quickly as a “story about relationships.” “He” and “she” only appear within Jury’s memories. The ending in the final script is different than it was in the first draft. The endgame is still about getting a better idea of who Jury really is; that didn’t change. But the first draft ended on a “Could it be?” sort of a note. As the script was finalized, I decided to come right out and say, “She was in love with a girl.”
Jury’s story is “a metaphor of unrequited love.” If you watch it from that perspective, I think it’s an easy one for anybody to understand. Shiori’s design referenced the heroine of Ms. [Chiho] Saito’s short manga Himegoto no Natsu.1 It’s about a brother and sister entering a forbidden relationship; I enjoyed the total mismatch between the heroine’s sweet prettiness and the story’s bold development. I think we borrowed her looks because we wanted to hide something behind prettiness.
As I said before, this was planned as episode 6. We’d originally contracted an outside studio to do it, but a few days before ADR was supposed to start, it became clear that virtually none of the production was done. We hurriedly swapped it with episode 8 (broadcast episode 6) in the schedule. The whole series of knockabout insanity that got bandied back and forth there was traumatically intense.
I don’t want to assign blame and try anyone in absentia here, so I won’t say any more about it.
But if you were to ask me whether I hate the episode because of that fuss, I’d say no, not really. In fact, there are many parts of it that I’m quite fond of. I think the colossal effort the staff put in with their backs against the wall like that sublimated the episode’s cheapness into solid humor.
That scene when our heroines’ daily lives with their switched personalities are stung together with snapshots… I’ve thought for a long time that the audio mix was kind of thin there, but in this 5.1 remaster, it’s finally got nice, lively sound.
Which reminds me: What had me worried during production was this episode’s “climax.”
“Which scene is the climactic one?!”, I agonized.
Looking back on it now, maybe it was the part when Nanami slipped on the banana peel?
[And then, for Ep 9–12, Ikuhara begins to take a more philosophic turn to his comments… –C.A.P.]
“There was a little princess, and she was very sad for her mother and father had died…”
That’s a fragment of the myth that we tell in the prologue.
“Living on… It’s just making me sick.”
We lined up plot development and visuals suggestive of the series climax. Our goal was to “get viewers anticipating the series’ final scene.”
Utena saves Anthy.
Huh, so that’s what the story’s about.
But what does she saves Anthy from?
That’s the central issue.
Two boys discovered an unusual toy one day.
“You got hold of it, didn’t you?”
“That’s right, I have it now.”
That’s when the game began.
It often happens that a relationship becomes stifling because of a shared past. Even if you have no particular interest in a toy, when you find out he has it, you think, “I need it too.”
They say that in that world, only one princess is chosen.
When I was a child, the center of the party always seemed to sparkle.
I was always standing on the sidelines, gazing at that sparkle from afar. I thought the sidelines were my place. Surely I could never approach the center of the room.
But then, I was chosen! I touched that sparkle in the center of the room, and no mistake. Still, I know full well that it’s something that won’t last forever. The day the contract ends, I’ll turn into an “unchosen girl.”2
So I’ll go back to the sidelines again, eh?
–Smash the egg’s shell.
For the revolution of the world.
I tried to live true to myself.
“You’re just like an alien”, someone said to me one day. They must have been telling me, “You’re not normal.”
In other words, apparently “living true to yourself” means “living as an alien.” And so I became “an alien all alone in this world.”
There’s a certain natural law that goes, “To gain something, you must lose something.” There’s nobody in this world who gains everything. Otherwise, there would be people who could live forever.
That is something she is blind to.
That’s why she loses what’s important to her.
Why did she want to become a prince?
Who was it who wanted to become a princess?
Do you want to be chosen by someone, too?
Why did I join that battle (that game) in the first place?
Naturally, I would never forget that.
There’s no sense of reality to that memory.
Who was I, exactly?
“I’m saying this for your sake.” How many times did I hear that as a child?
An “adult” is not someone who has lived a certain number of years. We call someone who can exercise power an “adult.”
A prince isn’t “someone who looks cool”; nor, of course, is a prince “a girl who dresses as a boy.”
A “prince” is “someone who can exercise power.”
What is that power for?
Who is it for?
I stopped seeking to be sought after. That wasn’t being true to myself.
I want to become “someone who can exercise power.” I want to become a prince.
–For friendship, perhaps.
[The user Seen has now provided transcriptions of parts of the second chuck of Ikuhara’s Episode Commentaries, but for now, only transcribed episode 13–18. It should be noted that these notes are contained in the second DVD boxset, nowhere in the first. Unfortunately, the rest of the episodes inside the second booklet will have to be transcribed at a later date. –C.A.P.]
This is just between you and me, but when I was fourteen, I saw a UFO.
That UFO telepathically told me this prophecy:
“When you grow up, you will direct an anime about girls revolutionizing various things.”
Surely you jest.
“You must not tell anyone about me. If you ever do…”
Wh-What will happen to me?
“People will call you a sketchy guy.”3
I saw a certain horror movie when I was in middle school. There was a secret mortuary in an underground chamber, and the dead were electronically transmitted (!), still in their coffins, to the “other world”, where they were forced into slavery.4
The movie’s story was utterly absurd, but the division of the world into opposite poles of “living” and “dead” felt real to me, somehow.
Our world has been spoken of in bipolar fashion for ages.
In my student days, there was a popular book that compared the “affluent” with the “non-affluent”, and sorted everything into categories called “loaded” and “broke.” It was the bubble era, and the aim of the book was probably to get a laugh by saying “They call us wealthy, but our lifestyle’s practically in the trash can!”
But for some reason, I couldn’t laugh.
Years later, the phrase “the winning side” was popular in the media. I thought it was horrid. And sure enough, people started using the opposite phrase “the losing side” as a masochistic joke. I still couldn’t laugh, though.
One day, a girl I saw on TV said, “There are only two types of people in this world: the ones who are chosen and the ones who aren’t chosen.”
That gave me a start.
“To not be chosen is to die”, said the girl.5
I decided to try my hand at that.
The Black Rose arc.
This is something that happened quite a long time ago. I told a certain girl that I loved her, but she turned me down.
I’d thought there were good vibes between us.
To think that it was all in my head!
“I love my big brother”, she said.
…That’s a lie. That story was fiction.
The reason sexuality of 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:
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.
To tell you the truth, I didn’t know the “Dona Dona” song. While we were meeting about the plot, I heard someone on staff say, “This is ‘Dona Dona’ material, huh?”
I found the song and had a listen.
I decided to use it. Two versions of it, in fact.
Bring me a blanket, someone, and so-o-o-on…
I finally realized the truth.
To think that she loved me back! What a miracle! But…
“The loser in love is the one who lets their heart be ruled by it.”
Everyone’s adopted a provocative attitude toward someone of the opposite sex that they like at least once or twice, to get that person to notice them. So it’s okay if I do that.
This love will crumble if we touch. But when people don’t touch, the love eventually dies away.
That’s why I decided to keep your love prisoner. To make sure that you love me forever.
That game will make our love “eternal.” I’m sure of it.
We were “lovers lost from the beginning.”6
When I was a kid, I really liked Pink Lady too.
Someone asked me, “Who’s your favorite?”
I liked Mie, but for some reason I had the feeling that I shouldn’t say that, so I fudged and said “Well, I don’t really like one more than the other.”
The Candies got their big break with the song “Toshishita no Otoko no Ko (Younger Boy)”. It was a song where girls sang about a younger boy, “You drive me crazy, but I love you.”; that lyric made my heart go pitter-patter. It was just as if they were saying “I love you” to me!
Love and delusion are only separated by a very fine line.
[The episode 23 & 39 sections are taken from pastebins which don’t specify the source; I believe they’re part of these episode commentaries.]
The climactic duel scene. I agonized over the dialogue between Mikage and Utena, and over Akio’s dialogue in the last scene. I edited it over and over, right up until the eleventh hour, just before recording began.
The last scene. The original plan was for it to be Tokiko on the phone with Akio.
“Why hello, Tokiko. Have you thought about what I said? That’s right… about Professor Nemuro. He was lying to himself, clinging to his past with you.”
It was all an illusion that Mikage himself had created for his own sake.
“Yes… that dream that he let 100 boys die seems to be another lie he told himself to keep himself in the past. It’s just like magic isn’t it? Why do you suppose so many people believed a false rumor like that? Perhaps they wanted to believe…that miraculous power dwells within friends.”
The illusion Mikage wanted to see. Were the Black Rose Duelists people his illusion resonated with?
“While you cling to your memories, time stops. Perhaps that was the eternity he found, though… Yes… good idea. If you’ll come and fetch him, I imagine he’ll be released from the memories.”
Tokiko symbolized the lost “real time” and she said she would come for Mikage. The time had finally come for him to be released from his illusion of his lost time.
Was that really all right? I thought it over.
The story in episodes 11 and 12 about the dueling game. Episode 23 picks up where it left off in laying the groundwork for the final episode.
Wasn’t Mikage’s fate the same fate that Utena would eventually meet? In which case, shouldn’t it be crueler?
I tried making the person on the other end of the phone line Mikage himself.
“The path you must take is no longer prepared for you. Now graduate from this place.”
Those who reject that place are, conversely, rejected by it as well. This is the nature of systems: the moment you reject them, you are forced to realize they’re the very ground you’re standing on. Mikage noticed the trick behind the system, and he hurriedly attempted revisions. But the adult who’d created the system just said, “let’s not”, and unilaterally brought the curtain down. The system of illusion was finished. Mikage could no longer exist there. That’s why he disappeared from the memories of those who’d interacted with him.
People’s happiness or unhappiness shouldn’t be determined by struggles over the divide called the “Rose Bride”. Utena rejects the duel system.
In due course Utena will be rejected by the duel system and that place, and no longer be able to exist there. This foreshadows the final scene of the series.
There are two meanings to the Japanese word utena. One is “the calyx of a flower.” That’s also the meaning of the title, of course. the thing that supports the beautiful petals; the one with the noble heart. And the other meaning of utena is “tall tower or pedestal.” We translated his into a visual: the tower at the center of Ohtori Academy, the one with the Chairman’s room on the top floor. And the dueling arena located deep in the woods is the same.
In the early stages of production, when the story wasn’t firmly established yet, this was one of the aspects I most wanted to visualize and produce for the screen.
A world where demons roam. In its center, a tower called the “Tower of Revolution”. Whosoever can remain victorious in his battles against the demons can reach the pinnacle of the Tower of Revolution, and at the same time receive the power to revolutionize the world; the power that changes the rules of the world.
However, when he reaches the pinnacle, he learns the world’s governing laws.
He faces the ultimate choice: will he stay nobly, beautifully powerless? Or will he accept the ugliness into himself and gain absolute power?
He desired both.
Or rather, perhaps he couldn’t choose either.
His mind in anguish, he divided himself into two. His “noble heart”, and the “adult with absolute power”.
With one last wish that the day would come when someone would awaken him, the “noble heart” that had lost its body, in other words the prince, fell into a deep sleep.
Early on in the series’ conception, I kicked around the idea of placing something like the above at the heart of the story. Later, after several changes, it became the tale as you know it, but without a doubt, he did reach the pinnacle of the Tower of Revolution.
It was a place where “eternity” dwelled.
And “eternity” turned out to mean perpetual sleep.
The prince (Akio) who became an adult while in perpetual sleep lost something. What he lost was “the power to create an enjoyable future”.
Revolution means gaining “the power to imagine the future.”
The prince chose to sleep on, and the princess chose to wake up. At the top of that tall tower, the princess bid farewell to the prince. No—she wasn’t the princess any longer. She quit being a “person (thing) ruled by someone”. The victory bells rang, but there was no “tower (rule)” beyond them now. She’d learned where freedom lay. She crossed the threshold of that “Door of Revolution” which had always been closed to her before, and begun walking. The “girls’ revolution” lay in the girls’ future.
“Wait for me… Utena.”
The world (the stage) is free and wide.
There were several forks in the road to the theme song “Rondo - revolution”.
First I had X, the producer at the time, play me several demo melodies. One of them really felt like “the one”, so I decided on that one with X (naturally, the chosen one was the melody that would become “Rondo - revolution”, but we also released it separately later in a form close to that original one, under the title “Rose&release”).
Next, X set up a meeting for us with a certain lyricist at a restaurant in Shibuya. We explained the project, presenting Ms. Saito’s drawings, and the lyricist seemed really raring to go.
The lyrics that came back to us some days later didn’t sit well with me.
“They’re just not quite right…” X agreed, and fell silent.
Several days later, I got a phone call from X saying, “She says she wants to do it. I’ll have her call you, so stay put.” This phone call was how I found out that Ms. Okui would be singing the theme song. And that she would be singing the theme song. And that she would take charge of the lyrics herself, too. Right after X hung up, I got a phone call from Ms. Okui, and we ended up having a meeting.
I’ll dredge up my memories of that time period to write the rest of this story. This all happened a long time ago, though, so there will be some details I can’t remember.
I got a phone call from Ms. Okui.
We started our planning meeting on the spot, but production was still ongoing, for one thing, so in terms of the show’s content… I couldn’t tell her a lot of crucial things. Nevertheless, she’d thankfully read several of Ms. Saito’s works, so she already understood the “spirit of the work” very well.
That meant that in our meeting, we were able to focus on “what we’re trying to express” instead of on the story. By their very natures, there’s no way to perfectly reconcile “the world of song” and “the world of anime stories.” But I felt there ought to be a way to bring together the spirits of “song” and “anime.”
“I want you to think of this as a song that will play during the story’s last scene.”
That’s what I told her. Like I said, we hadn’t decided what the last scene would be yet. Still, I had a vague suspicion that it would depict a “parting.” At the time I didn’t have a concrete image of what kind it might be; there’s-
parting with a lover,
parting with a dear friend,
parting with a beloved sibling or
parting with the entire milieu in which
Those were my nebulous thoughts.
What could a person who’d lost all those things gain in the final scene…? It would be magnificent if that could be captured to a song… Surely the viewers who watched the series through the end would think, “I see, so the theme song was about this final scene” …
Some days later, I faxed her a note.
Even if the two of us are torn apart,
the time that we spent together
So I can change the world
I asked her if she could express something along those lines. And I also had the temerity to ask her to include a few keywords in the lyrics that expressed the world of the show:
“strip down to nothing at all”
“change the world”
Several days after that, the finished lyrics were faxed back to me. My “garden” and “revolution” suggestions in Japanese were there in English. I thought the show’s spirit was expressed brilliantly.
Above the lyrics was a note saying, “What should the title be?” (I think). I also think that “Take my revolution” was there as a provisional title. And in another display of temerity, I asked if she’d be willing to write the kanji for rinbu (“round dance”) but gloss it as “rondo” to arrive at a title of “rondorevolution.” She agreed, on the condition that we inset a hyphen and make it “Rondo - revolution.” (Or maybe the changes went like this: “Rondo - Take my revolution” → “Rondorevolu - tion” → “Rondo - revolution”.) I took my inspiration from Ms. Saito’s manga for the word “rondo.”
Later, even when production circumstances were harsh, this song really bolstered my spirits. This is only occurring to me in hindsight, but maybe it was able to express the “Utena” spirit so well because Ms. Okui and I were in very similar frames of mind at the time
…Nah. It was probably just the fruit of Ms. Okui’s talents.
Or on second thought, maybe it was X’s skill as a producer after all.
[Now for the first closing. The book I have actually has pictures of what Ikuhara’s about to talk about in the last paragraph, so there’s another reason to get those DVDs while you can… –C.A.P.]
The Revolutionary Girl Utena endings were divided into Season 1 (episodes 1–24) and Season 2 (episodes 25–38), with a final episode getting a scat version of the theme song “Rondo - revolution.”
The first season’s sequence had romantic visuals, with Utena in a dress dancing with Dios. Utena and Anthy give us glimpses of serious looks in their eyes, and in the latter half Anthy appears with Dios as well, in the exact same pose as Utena. The whole mood of it is mysterious; it makes you think, “This is no simple prince-and-princess romance.”
The ending theme song is “truth”. It’s performed by Ruka Yumi. You can see key art for this sequence on the next page. Shinya Hasegawa said that he put Hiroshi Nagahama in charge of it because his sharp style, with its striking silhouettes, would be a good fit for something with so little motion. Within beautiful animation that projects a noble impression; the main characters dance all dressed up. He’s directed them brilliantly.
And starting in episode 25, the staff made the ending theme song J.A. Caesar’s “Virtual Star Embryology”, and changed the visuals as well. Maki Uetani did the vocals. It was different from the choral pieces in the duel scenes, and the more piercing ring of the solo vocals was pleasing. Shinya Hasegawa, Yoko Kadokami, and Hiroshi Nagahama were in charge of the key animation for this sequence. Tall, thin visuals of Utena and the ornamentation behind her, drawn in black silhouette, climb up into the blue sky as if on an elevator. Partway through, cuts of Utena and Anthy holding roses come in, timed to the music, and then it’s silhouettes of the two standing facing each other, with Anthy in her bridal gear. At the end, birds soar up to the castle in the sky, scattering feathers, and rays of light break through the clouds. There’s also an “Akio Car version” of this second ending as well, which was on episode 33 of the TV broadcast. On the LD and VHS releases, episode 25 also had the Akio Car version, but on DVD it was only in episode 33. The theme song is the same, but the Akio Car shows up in the video, and no characters appear. It shows a scene of the Akio Car zooming along, switching from cut to cut in time with the song’s chorus, until it finally arrives at the dueling arena. It’s a playful arrangement that got people talking even at the time.
Also, apparently a humorous, cute ending featuring Chu-Chu was conceived during Season 2 production as well. The idea was to have close-up of Chu-Chu’s face that took up the whole screen, with Utena, Anthy, and the other main characters appearing inside his eyes. To the right are some rough storyboards drawn for that sequence by Shinya Hasegawa. Chu-Chu’s facial expression would change depending on which characters were in his eyes, so the visuals were very humorous, with anger and tears and everything else. If that ending sequence had been used, it probably would have been given a cute song, but if “Virtual Star Embryology” had been paired with that close-up of Chu-Chu, the peculiar mismatched feel of it would have surely surprised viewers.
[And that’s pretty much it for Ikuhara in the book, other than a passage from the LD notes. Now it’s time for a doozy: an interview with the people who were involved with the HD process. Lots of great Ikuhara stories in this, so we here go! –C.A.P.]
Master Editing/Online Editor
Let’s start off by talking about the production process for HD remastering. Revolutionary Girl Utena (hereafter referred to as “Utena”) was originally done on 16mm film, wasn’t it?
Ito: We convert that to the high-definition “HD” format, create new materials, and then process them to produce a new master. “HD remastering” means trying to raise the quality of the master by updating it to a new generation of media.
Please tell us what your impressions of Utena were when you converted the first materials.
Kaneda: The theatrical version of Utena was 35mm, and the TV version was 16mm. Given that this is an HD remaster, I think first off you can sense the difference in quality that comes from the difference in film type. Also, the old TV vision was created for broadcast, so only about 90% of the cel art is visible after fitting it to the TV frame. So if the rest of the cell had stuff in it that shouldn’t be there, it didn’t matter because nobody would see it anyway. But now we have full-display TVs, like LCD TVs for example, and everything is 100% visible. That meant that when we were first recording the HD type, how much of the frame to use became an issue. Ultimately, we ended up showing everything, since that was the director’s preference. And so the 10% that was never visible before got cleaned up and generally corrected, and now you can see the whole frame as it was originally drawn.
That’s something to be happy about. What about adjustments to the whole screen?
Knd: There were aspects of the look of that outer-space background in Utena and Anthy’s dance scene in the movie that didn’t fit the director’s image. He said it needed more depth, more profundity, so we altered the way we transferred the film. We tested three different categories of original film elements—positive film, negative film, and interpositive—and used the one that yielded the best image.
So he wanted to express more translucence and depth, then?
Kn: That was the one scene where we adjusted the parameters most minutely, to bring out the sense of translucence and depth. The director and I went through each individual cut together, with endless trial and error.
Did he have requests about the coloring of the characters, too?
K: As an example, Utena’s hair is pink, but there’s pink and then there’s pink. You have your reddish pinks, your yellowish pinks, and all that. For this project there was no order chart or other basis for color matching in the film, so we started by getting permission to examine actual cels of the main characters, and we decided to match those. The character that I especially felt had the most variation in her coloring was Anthy. Her skin was difficult. I think there were probably several different versions from the beginning. You see, it was a slightly different color each time. As we worked, we consciously worked to avoid letting those color variations make anything seem off within a given scene. For example, one part of a sequence of evening scenes abruptly had a more daylight sort of coloring, so we consulted the director: “Should we match this bit to the evening hues for continuity?” And then we adjusted the skin tones to fit the overall tonality.
Are the colors any more vivid than when we watched the show on TV?
K: None of the colors got drastically more vivid. After all, it’s not good to make them too far removed from the video you’ve seen up until now. They are sharper now, though. We’ve revised them to be clearer, so I think they’re easier on the eyes.
I see. And after that, you need to clean up any defects in the frame, right?
Takemura: In terms of order, first you have digital remastering, and then you set up filter parameters to do the denoising. You remove all of the noise and distortions in the frame. Then you bring this processed footage to the editing room and check it with the director.
But when we watch anime on TV, we don’t really think “Look at all that noise!”, do we?
It: Most of the anime shows made in recent times were produced digitally, so there isn’t any noise, but even though this Utena is a “digital remaster”, I think there’s bound to be a certain amount of noise in it, because the original materials were film. Still, I think this is far and away cleaner than the previous DVD release. It’s not even comparable. You see, that was a seriously mad dash to the finish.
Tkmr: To start with, I did about 100 corrections per episode.
Yamazaki: That was after my team cleaned up each cut, though. We’d remove the noise, cue and paste things from other places, and generally make it look clean. Ultimately, it’s almost like compositing work. Then we’d lay that back to tape again and check it with the director, at which point we’d receive additional corrections… (laughs)
I: Yamazaki would input the tape media to a nonlinear machine and work on it, and then Takemura would edit it on tape media, and that would become the final master.
Ymzk: You were saying that to start with the director check would yield about 100 corrections, but how many did he give you on the second half of the work?
Tk: About 300. Because after we’d done one full pass on the show, more corrections would come up during rechecking.
That sounds like a lot of revisions. Is that more than average?
All: Oh, yes… (laughter)
T: Basically you’re doing frame-by-frame recording of the cels, right? And when there’s lip flaps with layered cels, the noise you end up with ultimately stands out. That stays in the picture throughout.
I see. And I understand that when it came to pieces like the onscreen text put in during original video recording, you changed them to digital elements. Could you tell us what that means?
Ym: Things like the final “to be continued” and the eyecatchers weren’t on the film itself, so we recreated them. Then there were things like the rotating roses in the four corners of the screen.
In the TV broadcast the movement of the roses was jerky. Has that changed now that they’re been redone?
Y: We tried not to break the atmosphere the show’s had up until now. Out motto on this project has been, “Try to keep the image of the show as intact as possible.” Still, we did want the audience to feel like we’d done something, so we tried to get that to show through, but then it was like, “Mmm, no, that’s going too far.” The director and us tossed back and forth various opinions and ideas as we pinned down the right feel.
There are also some places where the key art is new, am I right? I’m told Mr. Shinya Hasegawa drew it.
T: That’s right. The new materials are static image data (the digital version of cel drawings), so they’re sparkling clean. We take them and blend them in with the texture of the old film. We input the new materials we receive to an editing system called “DS”, and then composite them while adding motion. In the final stage we add grain to make it fit in with the grittiness of the film.
Are there any other scenes that changed?
T: The eyecatch that says the show title is completely new in the HD version.
Y: The director was very respectful of the image of the original, so we did out best to work according to the goal of using original materials as much as possible, but this part apparently just didn’t fit the image… There were those silver plates in the four corners of the eyecatch, and the idea was broached that “Maybe these are just in the way”, so we took them out, and it really did look better. When you look closely, the red backgrounds that’s unfolded beneath the lettering is different in the pre- and post-commercial bumpers, too. The eyecatches took a ton of time, because in the beginning we had no idea what direction to go in. We couldn’t even begin to figure out how they’d given the letters those rolling motions back then. There’s a certain analog-style awkwardness there, as if it got done by coincidence. The idea was to trace that, but it was no easy thing to get that bit done digitally. Once we had the motion, our next problem was the texture. The original opening bumper had a yellow logo with a bit of gradation, and there was this sort of green bud thing rotating above it. It was quite a vivid eyecatch. But we were asked to make it all gray this time, and to give the texture a crystal-clear feel when the letters were finished unfurling. So we thought maybe we should make it metallic, and we experimented a lot with different textures, until finally we found that that just wasn’t the right direction to go in… But you know, the logo in the show’s opening sequence was a silvery, chic monotone. So we figured we might as well try spinning it that way, and then it was like, “This is it!” We could finally see the finish line ahead of us. Ultimately, we got eyecatches where silver is born from a slightly darkened screen, and then when the spotlight hits it, the red of the background rises up and the bud at the top gives off a pink shine. In the end, when the director finally told us “OK!”, there was applause. (laughs)
I: I can understand the director’s pickiness, since eyecatches are things that appear every episode. With proposed revisions like this, we had Takemura find the middle ground in terms of how we’d make this all hang together as a final work. He’s the one who had the most communication with the director.
What types of things would the director say to you, Mr. Takemura?
T: He’d say, “Do something about this part.” But Director Ikuhara isn’t someone who just says “Do something about this” and leaves it at that. He’s good enough to ask, “What options do we have for fixing this?” When I grope for a few answers and propose them, he’ll make a decision: “Okay, let’s use this method here.” He really listens to our suggestions and makes his decisions after taking them into account. It was the same way with the denoising. There were some cuts where we were like, “This is a tough one; it might not get clean”, but the director said, “That’s OK.” Well, when someone tells you that, you think, “I have to do something about this!”
And you had to synch up the timing, too, didn’t you?
T: You see, the film in use at the time was already gone. That meant the video and audio didn’t synch up, so we had to balance the accounts at both ends, so to speak. And the scenes in the duels when the prince descends—some episodes didn’t have anything that really fit, and we had to adjust them in editing.
I see. So all of you listened to the director’s various wishes and put them into practice.
Y: In the beginning I wasn’t directly discussing things with the director. But when things came to crisis point, he said “Let’s walk this path together”, or something along those lines. At first, I thought he meant we’d have a talk every week or something, but we started emailing back and forth on the principle that “That’s nowhere near enough!” And I’ll tell you something… he replies really quickly. During the eyecatch thing, I’d message him with “How about footage like this”, and immediately I’d get back something like “I want to see an example of this pattern, too.”
Could you all sense the director’s enthusiasm?
Y: Absolutely! If he’s like this with a remaster, I wonder what he’d be like if he decided to do something new.
I: His enthusiasm is amazing.
T: He’s a passionate person, isn’t he? We talked about various things in our spare moments on the job, and I can tell you one thing: he watches all kinds of stuff. I mean, if it’d been a week since you’d last gotten together, he’d tell you about this movie or that DVD that he’d seen in the meantime. I thought he must be trying to absorb into himself anything and everything good that might be out there.
I: Yes, he was always watching things with curiosity: “How did that scene in that show come out?”
T: Like, “That was beautiful, huh? How do you they did it? Can we do that too?”
He’d talk about those things even in the studio with you, then.
T: When he does checks, he has his eyes glued to the screen the whole time, and I think he concentrates pretty intensely, so he probably gets worn out. He’d spend over three hours on one episode of Utena, so we’d usually take a break after each one.
Mr. Kaneda, can you share any impressions of the director or happenings during production?
K: He’s picky down to the last detail. I only noticed this as I was working, but—you know how there were all those scenes of the Akio Car speeding away? There was a point when there were three people in the car, but in the speeding-away shot, only two people were there. We fixed things like that at his request. But fundamentally, even when we were redoing things, he would always say he wanted to faithfully convey the image of the original, from back when it was first made.
I: It seemed like he wanted to do the things he couldn’t do back in the day, the things he wished he’d done, the things he had a chance to do over now.
K: Yes. Basically he wanted to get it that much closer to perfection.
What about you, Mr. Yamazaki?
Y: I think I’ll just be repeating the other two, but in the studio with us he had a “Let’s do this as a team!” mentality, and that in turn made us think “I want to do something to make this good!” He keeps getting more and more of the people around him on his side. He has that kind of charm, I think. “Look how much love he gives to his works!”—that much was plain as day. And that’s exactly what makes us start thinking, “We’ve gotta do this thing!” This isn’t the nicest way of putting it, but there are sort of “hired director” types in this world, you know? He’s not like that at all. He’s the polar opposite. His type of director is rare these days.
I: He’s a man among men. Because he hates dishonesty and unreason. Can it be done or not? If not, he won’t do it. But if there’s a chance it can be done, he goes all the way with it.
Y: Before he decides whether something is possible or not, though, he’ll try various things. Right now we’re done with the show itself and we’re working on the DVD menus—and he refuses to compromise about them, too. For him this isn’t just about the work called “Utena”; right now he’s trying to create the work called “The Utena DVD Box Set.” That’s the sense I got.
That’s so true; I can see you’re all striving together as one to make “The Utena DVD Box Set” happen. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today.
For this DVD box set, the sound has been redone in 5.1, the format where you get sound out of six different speakers. Could I ask you to tell us about that process?
Yamada: In general, we didn’t re-record lines. Among other things, the actors’ voices will have changed after eleven years. The thing you’ll notice the most when you listen to the new audio mix is the sound quality. For example, in the sound sources of those days you got a lot of lip smacking and other mouth noises, so the first thing we did was a sort of cleanup to clear that stuff away phrase by phrase. And then we re-recorded just those lines where the nuance was off in the original.7 Places where the schedule constraints of the day meant that the actors had to record before the art was ready; things like that. I think the director felt frustration at the time, too. Other than that, since this is a 5.1 track, we needed sounds that could be heard out of the back speakers, not just the front. In terms of how we gave the mix a three-dimensional feel using this system, we added things like walla (crowd noises) to get sound with breadth. We did re-record those things. In 5.1, you can hear particularly clearly the sounds that give a sense of motion or positioning.
What are these six speakers that are used in 5.1?
Ymd: In front you have L,C, R (the left-front speaker, the center, and the right), and then there’s Ls and Rs (the left and right-rear speakers), and finally there’s the subwoofer, which does the low frequency sounds.
So, is the goal of switching to that format producing a “you’re right there with them” feeling? I know the sound in the duel scenes in more three-dimensional.
Mii: To begin with we had instructions from the director to make all the whining sounds, like the swooshing of the swords, surround. The original audio was always there comes from the front speakers, but new sounds we added in are coming from the rear as well. People with 5.1 setups at home with hear those new sounds coming from behind them. Those are newly recorded effects, but they appear in almost every episode.
Then you made new recordings of the sound effect-type things for this release. Do you get a different sense of presence when the “swooshes” are layered like that?
Yd: Yes. It packs more punch, and since you get the vwoosh coming in from behind when the swords are drawn, you feel like you’re in the middle of the action. The director was very particular about the action scenes. Also, there were some things that we altered drastically: the sound of the bells that ring before each duel, and the sound of the Akio Car. We were acting on the director’s instructions for those changes, and they’re quite different now.
What was the director’s image of the bells’ ringing like?
Mi: He basically wanted to broaden it. He wanted the audience to hear weighty sounds coming from the front and back. To tell you the truth, the new sound doesn’t match the visuals at all. You only really see four or five bells, but we put a huge number of them in the soundscape… The low booming sort of ring doesn’t catch your ear right by itself, so we put in higher sounds as well. There’s all kind of bells ringing that aren’t at all like the ones on the screen.
The choral songs start up in the duel scenes that follow, too, so that seems complex.
M: When you have music and SFX (sound effects) together, the SFX can easily be overwhelmed so that you can’t hear them. When the director listened to the SFX by themselves he said they sounded great, but when we combined them with the music they weren’t audible, so that was a difficult issue. What’s more, there would even be dialogue on top of that sometimes.
Y: What do you pull back? What do you bring out? And where? One constraint is that you really have to be able to hear the dialogue. In a situation where you want to bring out the dialogue and you also want people to hear the music, it becomes a matter of frequency. In terms of the duel scenes, the director was also particular about the part when the sword comes out of Anthy’s chest.
M: He had the image of the movie’s sword-drawing in his mind, and the movie was 5.1 in theaters, so the sound came in from back to front. But the TV series wasn’t made that way. It has SFX, but they’re almost entirely covered by the music and you can’t hear them. So, in the moment that the sword comes out of her chest, we’ve added a booming sound. There’s also light pouring forth in the video during that sequence, so we put in some “whoosh.”
I see you were very perfectionistic about the duel scenes.
M: This time around, the SFX can carry the scene by themselves, even without the music. That wasn’t possible during the TV series. And it’s one of the distinguishing features of 5.1, really.
The choral pieces continue all throughout the duel scenes, don’t they? And the lyrics are very significant, so I image it was difficult to blend them with the dialogue and the SFX for the swords.
Y: Director Ikuhara really wants the vocals to come through, you know? He wants the viewer to be able to hear all the lyrics. We changed the edit points of the songs a little, too. Things that weren’t tied together smoothly at the time can be edited smoothly now. In cases where the duels were shorter than the songs we cut up the songs to tie everything together, but where the editing was choppy before, we’ve now smoothed everything out. We’ve tried not to change the image of the original, but I think people who notice that kind of thing will know what I mean.
Do you bring down the song vocals a bit during the dialogue and bring them back up again when the characters are finished?
Y: That’s the way it was balanced during broadcast, actually. But with 5.1 you have a lot of speakers, so you distribute the sound in such a way as to making everything audible. For example, if the dialogue is hard to hear with just the center speaker, you put it in more speakers.
That makes sense. Moving on to the next thing, you mentioned that new audio was created for the Akio Car as well. How did you make that?
M: The original engine sounds were high-pitched. That’s not such a bad thing for a sports car, but the director said a lower sound would fit his vision better. He said that he’s also like to convey a real sense of riding in the car through a low roar while it was in motion. So first of all we made the engine noise itself lower, and then while people were riding in the car we had a continuous super-low drone in the subwoofer. That gives you an oomph, so you really feel the car.
Y: We were trying to reproduce the conditions of when you’re actually in a car. Like you’re feeling the vehicle’s vibrations.
Before the Akio Car comes into view, there’s a scene where he revs the engine, isn’t there?
M: He puts the key in, revs the engine once. The engine goes vroom, and then he revs it one more time. This whole engine sequence has been re-recorded from scratch. You see, the original sounds were never what the director had envisioned. Since we were redoing the show’s audio anyway, it was only right that we take advantage of the opportunity to re-record this part.
You’re giving it sounds that fit a specific mental image, rather than sounds that fit the type of car that appears in the show, right?
M: That’s right. It’s not realism. It’s a question of whether the sounds have the right image and feel good.
Y: We had comparatively more time on this release, so we would first put in sounds according to our own mental images, then get detailed instructions from Mr. Ikuhara, and then submit the fixed audio the following week. I’m told that for the TV series they had no time, so they always had to record the audio before the art was done. That meant there were parts where the timing didn’t fit, and we made it all fit this time.
M: Apparently there were times where the viewer would expect a sound and there wouldn’t be one, or where the engineers thought there’d be certain video going on and so they’d put their all into adding sound there, only to discover later that the video they expected wasn’t actually there. We’ve removed the effects from those places.
I hear the library scene in episode 4 really sounds like a library now.
M: The director wanted to have the sounds of chairs and footsteps and such—in other words, to have sounds that conveyed human movements without anyone speaking. At first, we designed the sound with a certain amount of soft but present crowd noise, like people mumbling to each other. But the director said, “That’s not right.” He wanted to have the audience feel the human presence not through people’s voices, but through the sounds of people moving.
Y: After all, you generally don’t talk in libraries, right? So we express people through coughs and things. The TV broadcast ended up having walla (crowd noise) in it.
There are also scenes with elephants and such; do those spots have more of a sense of presence now, too?
M: Yes. When physically large things appeared, we got the woofer going so that you’d have low sounds at floor level.
Oh, I see. I’ve heard that the director was also particular about the part in episode 6 when Nanami gets hit in the face with the ball.
M: Originally that had a manga-like sound, like a boing or a thwack. The director said “Maybe a realer noise would be more comedic to people now.” So we made it a much more painful sound.
Y: It took us a long time to get there, didn’t it?
M: There was the sound of the ball hitting, and that came from the rear speakers. Then we put it in the front ones as well, and then we added a bone-jarring noise.
Interesting. Speaking of sound, in the beginning of episode 9 when Saionji and Touga have a kendo match, there’s a strange, playful trick where the voices of female students seem to be coming out of the bamboo swords. How is that now?
M: We couldn’t really grok that at first. “Walla that makes it look like the swords are talking? What’s the deal with that?” But when we listened carefully, the swords really move in time with the girls saying hooray. Then we got it: “Oh! That actually is the swords talking!” So we adjusted the positioning of the sound. In the end, that’s the game he was playing, using the sound. The scene was originally created with that nuance, but the director wanted to pursue that even further in 5.1. He must have wanted to clearly express that nuance through the sound this time, since it might not have gotten across to the audience before.
Ah, I see. And in the Mikage episodes, the sounds in the confessional leave an impression.
Y: You could say that was when the sound effects really needed to step up to the plate. Low sounds… We were very particular about the sounds of the elevator, too.
M: When it starts or stops, it makes a jerky thump. And when it’s moving there’s the whine of a motor, but in 5.1 if we made the sound come in from the rear and spread, it was overwhelmed by the music. The director told us, “I can’t hear it from the front.” The tradeoff for spreading it was that it lost its core. So we cranked up that noise in the front speakers and spread it to the rear, giving it the same balance as the original broadcast. Also, we re-recorded the walla in those scenes. Because there was a drumming sound like someone kicking a tree there in the SFX, but the director said, “I want dialogue.”
Y: We rounded up dozens of men to retake those male moans.
M: Where they get out of the elevator and come into that room with the coffins, right?
Y: That was brutal work.
Listening to you talk about it, it sounds like a newly reborn, definitive version of the show. Well, to wrap up the interview, could you tell us your impressions of Director Ikuhara?
M: The director was more knowledgeable about audio than I expected. He has a 5.1 setup in his own home, and of course he watches all kinds of movies, so a lot of his instructions were very clear, which made things easy for us. He would tell us his vision: “I’d like to hear this sound from this direction in this way”; things like that. When we were doing the duel scenes we learned the director’s way of thinking, so after that we made everything accordingly.
Y: I’ve been privileged to work on three King Records shows: Neon Genesis Evangelion, Martian Successor Nadesico, and Revolutionary Girl Utena. Out of the three directors of those shows, Mr. Ikuhara is the closest to me in age, so he was easy for me to understand. In my mind, it’s easy to work with someone who grew up in the same age I did, and it’s more exciting. Because the anime and dramas that we watched as kids are the same, and I can see those elements popping up. So I ask him about it, and we both get pumped up talking about it: “I used to watch that one! Yeah, and this one!”
Ah, you understand the image he has of things.
Y: Right. If I say that to our young assistant, he doesn’t get it. There’s a deeper meaning there, though. (laughs) Also, you could say the director’s final word was a bit scary: he’d say “Well, I think this is my fault, but…”—and the re-recording would begin all over again. (laughs) But you know, it wasn’t okay to just give up. I could see his point, and think “Yeah, he’s right.”
M: Yes, hearing his opinions I could see how maybe we should try it again. On this project, I was fired up enough to want to give 100%, even 120%.
I’m very much looking forward to hearing the final audio.
Y: Even on normal TV speakers, there will be more sound than before, the dialogue will sound cleaner than before, and the music will have a different sense of presence, so I think you’ll be able to enjoy it in stereo as well.
M: But it’s even more awesome with a 5.1 setup, so I hope you’ll listen to it in 5.1 if possible.
This conversation has certainly made me want listen to it in 5.1. Thank you for speaking with me today.
There’s a type of anime which targets a “girl” audience, maybe through being based on shoujo manga, or maybe through having an outlook on the world that’s informed by a girl’s perspective. Originally, the main trends were titles based on popular shoujo manga, like Candy Candy and The Rose of Versailles, and magical girl titles, like Magical Princess Minky Momo and Magical Angel Creamy Mami. As a group, they were gentle works in which the subtleties of human emotion were depicted in details or dangers were escaped via the fantastical actions we call “magic.” And then, in 1992, Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon began, and the tides changed. Girls actively used their physical skills to defeat evil. Kunihiko Ikuhara, a Sailor Moon director, once commented that “Seeing girls be violent is pleasurable to viewers now.” Violence: what everyone had thought girls wanted to avoid at all costs up until then. It’s a world with very negative associations, but it’s true—in the show, Sailor Moon and the others punched and kicked their enemies. What’s most important, however, was not that our popular image of girls had fallen so low that we could see them as violent; it’s that even when they had action scenes like that, the heroines were still beautiful. That’s what inspired the girls’ longing;—even action scenes that only come across as violent with male heroes turn cute and cool when girls do them. Maybe that was what people intrinsically desired even more than fighting boys. And so there was no longer any need for a setup in which the girl is protected by the boy. In that situation, what Kunihiko Ikuhara created next was Revolutionary Girl Utena. It was a show that flew right in the face of the “prince fantasy” setup: the prince who saves the princess is a girl. The world of Utena was a logical extension of the fighting girls you saw in Sailor Moon: what you could call the consummated form of that world. And there was this theme that you fought the male prince as an outdated ideal.
Given these elements, some thought that Utena called into question the whole concept of a “women position in society = gender.” Something that shook up and overthrew the relationship between men and women. It’s true that underworld human relationship taboos are buried within Utena as something like a foundation for that reform—anomalous breeds of relationships like homosexuality and incest. It’s not difficult to interpret these things as reflecting psychologically uncertain times, when the types of relationships that follow preexisting rules are approaching their limits. Director Ikuhara’s work is often described as having similarities to the shoujo manga of the 1970s, and there was a similar shakeup in relationships then, too. There was Riyoko Ikeda, who drew females who dressed as males in Rose of Versailles and The Window of Orpheus, as well as manga artists like Keiko Takemiya and Moto Hagio, who drew boys in love with other boys. Keiko Takemiya has said that she drew same-sex love out of a desire to depict a pure form of love; those who harbor feelings strong enough even to overcome a lack of acknowledgment from anyone else need to invent their relationship. A relationship just for the two of them, a world with only the two of them. The invention of a new relationship is dramatic, and whether it comes to fruition or ruin, it’s backed by a mad romanticism. The readers are moved by the main characters’ attempts to break free of the strong, walled-in feeling that smothers them.
However, in truth the image of girls that Utena held wasn’t probed to the extreme in just a single direction like this. Anthy carried a heavy burden, but she frequently gave us glimpses of a temperament that was hard to pin down as either eccentric or venomous, and Utena was a lively girl who did what her feelings dictated. When faced with a prince her heart raced like a girl’s, and she enjoyed herself; she was very human. In that sense, she wasn’t “the anti-man”, and though she loved Anthy, she wasn’t a lesbian. She wasn’t a symbol formed from gender ideology: she was freer. Humans are multifaceted beings. And Utena and Anthy were filled with complex human nature like that. Their characterization had breadth. Viewers were heartened and alarmed in turn by the various facets of Utena and her friends, and that was what made them so entertaining and so rich in nuance.
What is the fun of shoujo manga, really? “It’s adorned with beautiful things”, “It depicts expressions of emotion in detail”, “It pursues human relationships.” Women look at people with sharp eyes. The masterpieces of shoujo manga are those works that have a narratively which can withstand their power to stare right through people. Utena had such elements. For instance, take Miki and Kozue’s sibling relationship: the longing for lost memories, and the strong desire for the one you love to care for you even when sullied. And then you have the sad relationship between Jury, who seals away her impossible love and therefore becomes unable to escape, and Ruka, who merely wishes to free his beloved’s heart without seeking anything in return. Utena brilliantly portrayed the type of story shoujo manga has pursued, the type that depicts delicate emotions. And on top of that, Kunihiko Ikuhara added a new pleasure sought after by girls. No matter how deeply you’re troubled, no matter how much your heart is stirred, the climax of those feelings is decided with a duel. As he’d once said about Sailor Moon, “It wasn’t the romance that was such a hit with girls; it was the part where the main characters used their sure-fire techniques to defeat their enemies.” This time he made the final catharsis for all the sublimated emotional turmoil the brandishing of swords in a duel. He took the highlight scene that up until now shoujo manga had enlivened with dramatic staging and beautiful dialogue, and he changed it to the beautiful yet cool action called the “duel”. There viewers had the fun of engrossing themselves in the profound psychological portrayals girls have been reading for many years now, combined with the newly discovered pleasure of battle. This was quite the dramatic invention in its own right. Surely this acrobatic turnabout is the true thrill of Utena, and a crowning achievement of conclusively portraying a revolutionary image of girls while plumbing the depths of shoujo manga in an orthodox way.
When the packaged release of Revolutionary Girl Utena first began, DVDs didn’t yet exist. VHS and LaserDiscs (LD) were put out. LDs in particular were large and packed real visual impact, and the booklets enclosed were well worth seeing as well. Those printed extras were composed of written contributions from the staff, interviews, reprints of original materials from Animage (Tokuma Shoten Ltd.), etc. And just like the worldview of the show itself, the staff’s ways of viewing Utena were brimming with surprise and mystery. It was high-voltage content. Yuichirou Oguro, a member of the original creators, BE-PAPAS, served as editor himself. One of the prime sources of this richness of content was the fact that he personally saw to the magazine material and the structure of the linear notes. Here, we’ll convey the essence of those LD liner notes to you through select excerpts.
ORIGINAL STORY, DIRECTOR
KUNIHIKO IKUHARA - [BE-PAPAS]
While I was preparing Revolutionary Girl Utena, I thought about a lot of things. One of them was “Romanticism.” That was because I wanted to make this show a show brimming with that spirit of Romantic adventure. But what is Romance, exactly? What’s the difference between the Romantic and the romantic?8 For example, say there’s a boy standing in the batter’s box at an amateur baseball game. That boy can only see the ball the pitcher throws. To him, in that moment the one thing with absolute value is hitting that ball. You could go so far as to say that the ball he’s pitched is his world. For him, to hit that ball is to make a stand against the world. He swings the bat, and hits a home run. At that instant, he can feel a euphoria that goes all the way to his core. And that’s because he’s just made a stand against the world and come out victorious. I think that feeling of core-deep rapture must be what we mean by “Romance.” Thinking something’s kind of wonderful, or feeling your heart pound—those things aren’t Romance. A euphoria so intense it can’t be compared to anything else, being deeply moved by something you consider the most magnificent thing in this world—that’s Romance. Perhaps Romance means making a stand against your personal “world.” When that boy reaches adulthood, he’ll find out that getting a home run isn’t the most magnificent thing in this world. And then even when he hits a home run in an amateur baseball game, he won’t be able to feel moved so deeply. That’s how people lose Romance as they age. Of course, I’m sure there are girls out there who have Romance, and romantic boys, too. Still, it’s boys who are most suited to “the courage to make a stand against the world.”
I think Romance probably belongs to boys. And romance belongs to girls. Utena Tenjou, the heroine of Revolutionary Girl Utena, is a girl who wears boys’ clothes. She boldly challenges a love with a wonderful man, her own destiny, and the world itself. She’s a character who has at the same time both the romance of a girl and the Romance of a boy. That’s why Utena cross-dresses, to capture a boy’s Romance while remaining a girl. To make a stand against the world.
Yoji Enokido – [BE-PAPAS]
So what is this show’s scenario driving at?
Aw, come on, don’t ask me that. I’ll blush. The cage may be one that you can slip out of one day without even knowing. However, the moment comes when, quite by chance, you notice the existence of that “labyrinth.” There comes a time when you realize you’ve lost sight of the path you must take, and now you’re lost. Maybe it’s when you happen to visit an old building, and you see the light filtering in through its skylight. Or maybe it’s when you hear a cicada chirping in the woods one summer at dusk. There comes a time when you feel something the word “nostalgia” alone can’t encompass; something heartrending that you feel throughout your whole body. “Ah, that’s right, I remember this sensation. It’s nice, isn’t it…” It’s not like you want to board a time machine and go back to your past, but you do long to savor past pleasures one more time, to experience them vicariously. No, that’s not right. What I want to say here isn’t that there are moments when you wish for something like that; it’s that the yearning to vicariously re-experience those times from your past is present in all humans on a fundamental level. That there are moments when you become aware of that fact. Our philosophy of love, our ideal of the future—I wonder if those things aren’t largely rooted in that “yearning for vicarious experience”; if that yearning isn’t another factor besides the genetic information coded into us from birth. Setting aside the question of whether that’s most properly called a learned motive, a desire for the sense of omnipotence we once had, or something we can write off more simply with the word “sentiment”, the point is that there comes a time when it’s brought home to you that the “yearning for vicarious experience” is something you have within your own heart as well—a force almost like gravity. “The same tone as my little sister’s…” Miki blurts in a whisper. “That sunlit garden… I’ve found it. My ‘shining thing.’” And we instinctively know that it’s dangerous. There’s nothing inherently wrong with sentimentality, of course. Sentimentality is a tool that can, and should, be used. However, because humans are fundamentally beings which live into the future, if we are ruled by sentiment, we lose the momentum to keep flowing forward and become stagnant. That’s why we this a “labyrinth.” By the way, labyrinths are symbols of growth and death. After being hurt emotionally, people often set off on journeys into a labyrinth-esque device. The labyrinth of the mind has no physical form, so it’s hard to grasp with the senses. And so you “solve” the problem by synchronizing your mental labyrinth with a visible one: you wander across a physical distance or through a physical course, and if your wound heals you’ve reached the center. But when a man arrives at the center of a labyrinth, he is no longer the man he was before he entered. Growth means the death of the person you were up until that point. The labyrinth called “life” has no physical form, either. Out “way of life”, known as “creation”, can perhaps be thought of as the formalization of the unseen into the easily understood.
So what is it you want to portray, exactly?
Miki’s lament of “Why can’t I find someone to be my ‘shining thing’?” Miki Kaoru’s “shining thing” symbolizes the desire for vicarious experience, of course. The white house on the hill, the greener grass on the other side the hill, and the castle in the sky. It’s not just limited to the desire for vicarious experience—the motif of “the happiness on the other side” comes up over and over again in Revolutionary Girl Utena. For some reason, we almost never depict a “sample” of happiness itself. Even the “Utena” in the title isn’t the flower itself: it’s the calyx9 on which the flower rests.
The “shining thing”, the desire to vicariously re-experience times past. I don’t wish to gainsay that. (That sunlit garden is too beautiful for me to gainsay it all.) I don’t wish to merely show off its beauty either, though. (If you’re simply ruled by sentimentality, you can’t even maintain the capacity to truly experience beauty.) Perhaps all I’ve really done here is to briefly point out the theme within the story of “The Sunlit Garden”, and this whole piece of writing has been nothing but an étude I’m playing in preparation for a story I have yet to write. The sight of someone who is aware that he is being ruled by sentimentality toward the past even as it is ruling him, and who in time matures into effectively wielding such sentiment as a tool in his arsenal, and the framework of this world, which is set up to let that happen—I’m sure that’s what I want to portray. It’s what I feel I should portray. The fact that we’re loved by the world. The fact that that we can still love the world. Because when you get right down to it, I think what I ought to convey through this form called screenwriting is a love letter. (Actually, I think all creative works should be love letters.) And the “most important thing” about a love letter isn’t its style of expression, so we mustn’t commit the folly of striving for technical superiority to the exclusion of all else. (Technique alone won’t make you eloquent. You need passion! Passion!) Not that anybody ever kindly tells me “Your lack of perfection is your strength.” (laughs)
Shinya Hasegawa – [BE-PAPAS]
As I’m writing this, there are only two months left on the production of Utena.
We’re running out of money fast, so you’d think I’d operating at peak voltage, but I’m actually awfully composed; in fact, in my ninth year as an animator I’m working more calmly than I ever have before.
Back in the day, I felt a sense of exhilaration and accomplishment at each new thing, under each set of circumstances: when my name first appeared on television as an in-between animator, when I learned key animation techniques by example, when I took part in a video or theatrical project, and then when I became an “Animation Director”, when my illustrations were published in magazines or products… But that lasted only about three years. After you’ve more or less experienced all the stages, you can better imagine the future. In due course you come to see what you couldn’t see before. I felt my interests (or motivations) shift based on trends going on around me, my own position, and closely fought battles there.
In terms of my character design job for Utena, I didn’t have much interest in the results themselves.
The issue is what shall I make the designs like, can I make them, what should I do in order to make them, how do I use them effectively once they’re made…? It’s boring if you’re just sitting there making them and that’s all. What I’m after isn’t the colored celluloid film or the print; it’s the process associated with those things.
As an analogy, sakè is nothing but a potent fuel to propel you to the result of getting drunk and making a scene, but it’s only when you drink it calmly and with self-control that you can first sense the “depth” of sakè that encompasses its subtle flavor, its aroma, and the process of its production.
I don’t really have any intention of going on about the final results; I’m sure I’d just end up grumbling, and at myself not least of all. I don’t let feelings that things didn’t go as well as I wanted turn into pessimism; they’re my driving force for my next go-round.
I might not be able to get the results I want for a while, but I think that’s just fine.
Because when I reach that point, it’ll all be over.
Yuichirou Oguro – [BE-PAPAS]
BE-PAPAS is a planning and story conception group that Kunihiko Ikuhara brought together to create Revolutionary Girl Utena. It’s made up of five people: leader Kunihiko Ikuhara, Chiho Saito, Yoji Enokido, Shinya Hasegawa, and me, Yuichirou Oguro.
Right now I’d like to talk about the planning of this show as well as its distinctive flavor.
The basic concept of Revolutionary Girl Utena is “a romantic action show starring a pretty girl who wears boys’ clothes.” There’s also the element of “Takarazuka style.”
_Revolutionary Girl Utena’_s planning began when Director Ikuhara saw an illustration by Ms. Saito in a book store and fell in love at first sight. Wouldn’t a pretty-girl action show that made the most of Ms. Saito’s romantic quality as a manga artist be interesting? Director Ikuhara and I immediately asked Ms. Chiho for her cooperation in planning the project.
To show off the brilliant mood of Ms. Saito’s manga to its greatest advantage, the main character become “a pretty girl who dresses as a boy.” The decision to make it a “school show” was settled early on, too. Ideas like the “Rose Bride” and the “duels” came much later.
After Ms. Saito joined us, the plans kind of fluctuated—okay, more like jolted back and forth enough to give a man whiplash—for a while, and then the story and setup were largely settled. In other words, the planning was finished.
Ms. Saito’s manga serialization started up, the TV broadcast deal was closed, and the real production work started at last.
During the planning stage, Director Ikuhara had devoted his passion to finding the best way to bring the world of Chiho Saito’s work to life in anime form, but at this point he started really adding his own flavor to the show. The stage-like layout, the shadow girls, J.A. Caesar’s choral songs, and all the rest. With the injection of this Ikuhara flavor, the show further expanded in leaps and bounds.
Now that the manga and anime have been both started up, Ms. Saito has been pulling Revolutionary Girl Utena in a more romantic direction, and Director Ikuhara has been pulling it in the direction of his own tastes. And even as he aids both of them in their tug-of-war, Yoji Enokido incorporates his tastes as well. It’s fair to say that the basic flavor of Revolutionary Girl Utena is formed from the individual personalities of those three people: Ikuhara, Saito, and Enokido.
The interesting thing is that Kunihiko Ikuhara is both “original creator” and “director.”
In other words, he planned Revolutionary Girl Utena as a “Takarazuka-style romantic story”,10 and now that production has started up, he’s taken that “Takarazuka-style romantic story” as the base text, directed it, and steadily fleshed out the show.
Around the time we started planning Revolutionary Girl Utena, he and I had a conversation about how perhaps the most interesting works had “an element of mismatch, but in a good way.” If it’s a mismatch for Ms. Saito to draw a pretty-girl action piece with eccentric costuming, it’s certainly also a mismatch for Director Ikuhara to direct a “Chiho Saito romantic action piece.”
We’re doing that on purpose.
In Revolutionary Girl Utena, Director Ikuhara deliberately set up a twofold mismatch and then made a success out of it. It’s the kind of elaborate strategy you’d expect from the villain of a full-blown detective novel.
That twofold mismatch is what produces the Revolutionary Girl Utena anime’s mysterious flavor.
Composer & Lyricist of the Choral Pieces
A dim place somehow steeped in mystery; the perfect sort of place for mysterious Chinamen to make backroom deals in. That’s the sort of place Dynasty, the cafè by the east exit of Shinjuku Station, was. In December of 1996, I [J.A. Caesar] met with a young executive producer from King Records there. His name was Mr. [Toshimichi] Otsuki.11
Otsuki: The director insists that he needs your music, so here I am, and—the truth is, our anime Revolutionary Girl Utena airs this coming April, and we’d like to ask you to do the music for it. Well, the music for the main character Utena’s duel scenes. What do you think? Naturally, we’ve already chosen some theatrical pieces of yours that we’re familiar with to use: “Absolute Destiny Apocalypse”, “Seal Spell”, “The Paleozoic Era within the Body”, “Angel Creation, Namely Light”…
Apparently the whole thing was already planned out in the director’s mind.
So, what’s this director’s name?
Otsk: Oh, of course. It’s Director Kunihiko Ikuhara. The same Director Ikuhara from Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon.
I’m a Sailor Moon fan myself, actually.
Still, I’m sure the conventional thing would be to put together the scenes, the stories, the backgrounds, and all of that, and create music that fits the image. So why would he want to use my choral works for theater, which are already done, and moreover have entirely different themes?
O: Director Ikuhara tells me he agonized over that as well—but I believe he found something in your songs that would let them over come those obstacles. He says, “Right now I’m the only one who can use Caesar’s songs, and I think this is the perfect chance to unleash his songs on our present era. I’m placing a bet here. I want to create the work this way in order to create something new, something you might call experimental anime.” Please, I entreat you to support us.
I close my eyes—I was sensing now the same “overthrowing of myself” that I’d sensed when I met Shuji Terayama. A record of somewhere, a technique into the past. A means of trying to set a trap of imaginative power directed at a society ruled by unavoidable inevitability and locked in conflict with inexorability. A gambler’s dramaturgy. And above all else, a dramatization with an aleatory structure… Wagner and Ludwig II… Wagner and Nietzsche… Once upon a time, in a place far, far, away, there lived me… a strategy of new intellect… revolution… U-ten-a…
They say that music that’s left the nest to stand on its own two feet shall meet many new friends, heal more than one heart, uplift, and sometimes even become a living human being. It was in my apartment late that night that I realized this was equivalent to the meaning of “animate”, the root of the world “animation.” Animate: to breathe life into, to invigorate. to uplift. lively. vivid. brisk…
Animation and music: androgynous Revolutionary Girl Utena and “Absolute Destiny Apocalypse”: androgynous
Suddenly, I found myself remembering these words: “Cruel and wild works signify a release from all injunctions.”
[Taken from an anonymous pastebin.]
Ikuhara: In the beginning, the Shadow Girls scenes stuck out like a sore thumb, but at this point, it’s like the other scenes are the surreal ones.
Saito: It’s true, the Shadow Girls scenes seem almost heart-warming somehow. It’s shocking what we humans can get used to… The pointing fingers towards the end of the second section of the show [episode 20] were interesting, too.
Ikuhara: Weren’t they just?
Saito: Was there some meaning to them?
Ikuhara: Oh yes. We’re using an epoch-making technique there. (laughs) Ordinarily, viewers sense for themselves what about the show is interesting and why, but with those fingers, the production team is also supplementing their understanding, “This is the interesting part!”
Saito: So that’s the deal… (laughs) I thought maybe there was some really profound significance to them, like they were clues to unraveling a mystery, or something.
Ikuhara: They have intrinsic significance too, naturally.
Saito: Really? Okay, then why were there more cats outside the window?
Ikuhara: Well, you see, that first cat met a pretty young thing and fell in love. And then, time went by, and children came.
Saito: So those things are indicating the passage of time, then?
Ikuhara: You’re as sharp as ever. (laughs) All of them have something to do with the passage of time, yes.
Saito: Was “time” the theme of the Black Rose arc then?
Ikuhara: Hmmm… It wasn’t a theme exactly, but “time” is quite central to this show as a whole. “Memory” and “time”.
Saito: All right, then, what’s the theme of this final third?
Ikuhara: Cars. (laughs)
Saito: Really? Cars are seriously the theme? (laughs)
Ikuhara: But of course. The sports car Akio Ohtori drives is the theme. Isn’t that why we’re doing this interview while we go on a drive?
Saito: What are you symbolizing with the sports car? Men? Authority?
Ikuhara: You see, when I was a child, there was something called the “supercar boom”12. Which might explain why even now, to me, cars like that gratify childlike desires in the adult world. That’s the kind of thing they look like to me. When you grow up, there are fewer and fewer “toys”. During childhood you want plastic model robots and stuff, but once you grow up, there are fewer and fewer objects of desire like that, right? Sure, maybe you think “I want a house” or something, but that’s not quite the same thing as wanting a toy. The image I personally have of cars is that they’re more or less exactly “adults’ toys”.
Saito: Huh. And what does it mean for Ohtori to drive one?
Ikuhara: That’s about status. In the end, toys are things you can buy because you’ve got the breathing room to do so. People who own high-status brands of cars exemplify the symbol of the “adult with breathing room”. That’s one aspect of it.
Saito: Adult fun, adult toys.
Ikuhara: Right. It makes you think “he’s really living large”. …
Executive Producer: Shawne Kleckner
Producer: Kris Kleckner
Assistant Producer: David Olsen
Translator: Sarah Alys Lindholm
Editors: David Olsen and Lisa Cooper
Design: Greg Hillsman
Is this title correct? Neither Wikipedia nor Google list any manga that seems to correspond to this title or plot description. –Editor↩︎
See also Mawaru Penguindrum. –_Editor.↩︎
Ikuhara has told at least two other versions of this UFO story: in one, it also warns him to stop being a stalker after being turned down by the girl he liked and in another, it interrupts a radio program to question him on whether diamonds, canned peaches, and beautiful memories are eternal. –Editor.↩︎
Some of the dialogue for this release was freshly re-recorded by Tomoko Kawakami. The staff all thought, “We probably won’t get the same voice she had back in the day”, but she stunned everyone around her with a voice that sounded exactly the same.↩︎
In Japan the distinction between “Romance” as the genre of lone heroes, wild nature, and grand adventure and “romance” as the genre of love stories still exists to a greater degree than it does in the US, though of course there’s overlap between the two. A story like One Piece is romantic in the sense that it’s a sweeping story about a grand adventure in nature, and a story like His and Her Circumstances is romantic in the sense that it’s about love and human relationships. The former is associated with boys and the latter with girls.↩︎
This is a reference to the Japanese meaning behind Utena’s name, that being “calyx.”↩︎
Otsuki remains at King Records and was closely involved in the origin of Neon Genesis Evangelion 2 years before as well. –Editor.↩︎
The “supercar price boom of 1987 to 1990”? –Editor.↩︎