Thursday, December 5, 2013

Inspiring Series: Shoujo Kakumei Utena (Revolutionary Girl Utena)

Shoujo Kakumei Utena (Revolutionary Girl Utena) is my favorite anime, bar none.

If you haven't seen it, you're totally missing out, and I could talk about the series for hours, but this blog is about fashion and not about fangirling. Most of the time. Sometimes they coincide. Right now is one of those cases, so I hope you will forgive me my fangirling moment.
A quick overview of the series for those of you unfamiliar with it.

Utena consists of:
  • A five-volume manga; though chronologically the first version (serialization began in mid-to-late 1996), the manga and the anime were simultaneous projects.
  • A 39-episode anime series that aired in 1997 from April to December; considered the "core" canon.
  • A Sega Saturn game set in the middle of the anime's first arc, Four Days in Ohtori: Itsuka Kakumeisareru Monogatari; it's a Visual Novel featuring two new characters — the New Transfer Student player character you name yourself, and a Femme Fatale villain named Chigusa Sanjouin — and was never released outside of Japan.
  • An original animated feature film, released in 1999; considered an alternate continuity to the original series (and discussed in better detail below).
  • A single-volume manga based on the animated feature; considered yet another alternate continuity, as it diverges from the movie's story.
  • A pair of light novels — one that focuses on Miki, the other on Saionji — published in 1998; perhaps the most obscure part of the Utena canon, these light novels make up another alternate continuity (though they bear the closest resemblance to the original manga).*
Is your head spinning yet?

Okay, on to the basic story that makes up these disparate parts. On the day of her parents' funeral, seven-year-old Utena Tenjou meets a prince on a white horse. The prince gives Utena a signet ring and says it will one day lead her back to him. Utena, inspired by his actions and presence, decides that she will become a prince. Seven years later, Utena follows the prince's trail to the exclusive Ohtori Academy. There, after defending her friend's honor, Utena becomes enmeshed in a swordfighting tournament with the members of the Ohtori Student Council. All these duels come with the promise of an ultimate prize: the power to revolutionize the world.

The series builds, deconstructs, hints at, averts, and dances around a wealth of fairy tale and shoujo anime tropes with references to philosophy, literature, art, Takurazuka, Noh theater plays, fairy tales, and more. And this goes for the look of the series as well.

Referencing art from Bernini:

To Gerhard Marcks

To Manet:

and many others, the visuals are an art major's dream. And, with other visual influences ranging from traditional Japanese theater

to Art Nouveau

and many things in between, it's just a darn pretty show. The way that the show plays with light and shadow, with fairy tale images, and with color is rich enough that you could analyze the visual rhetoric as easily as you analyze the symbols and plot.

What does all of this mean for clothing?

Rather a lot of inspiration, that's what.

And, as part of an epic rewatch of the series, I created several outfits inspired by the visuals of the show and the characters therein.

Shoujo Kakumei Utena: Kashira Kashira

This outfit is inspired by some of the most confusing (and, in my opinion, interesting) characters in the show: the shadow girls.

The silhouetted nature of the shadow girls is a really fun and striking look to play with. I chose brown to play up the warm colors of their segments, and the stained glass to emulate the roses in the backdrop.

The giant bow is my homage to A-ko (the shadow girls are named A-ko, B-ko, and C-ko). I'm not really a fan of the head eating bows as a rule, but this is a special occasion.

Shoujo Kakumei Utena: Empty Movement

Just to show that inspiration doesn't just come from characters, this outfit is inspired by the second ascent to the duel platform and the second end theme. In other words, it is inspired by the elevator.

The cagelike look is a major part of the elevator's imagery, so I stuck with at as a central motif. Everything, therefore, is pulling from that image. The shoes and the barrette also reinforce the open and intricate black silhouettes formed by the elevator.

I also added a duelist's rose crest ring to the outfit because... well, because the elevator is the entrance to the dueling arena. And also because I do enjoy series memorabilia.

SKU: The Rose Bride


Anthy is the damsel in distress of the series. She's the maiden in need of rescue (though that rescue, I must note, doesn't come from the traditional source). I could go on and on about her character and the different ways she could be interpreted. But I won't.

The look from this outfit is inspired by her rose bride outfit. I couldn't find a decent seafoam addition, so I just stuck with the central shade of red. The skirt is Poison de l'Amour from Baby The Stars Shine Bright, which I chose because of its rose motif for the rose bride, and because of its tower motif for her status as the maiden.

Shoujo Kakumei Utena: Futasu No Watashi

And finally, Utena herself!

I would have really liked to have this as a kodona outfit (naturally), but I couldn't find a good picture of knickerbockers in red. Instead, I used the same skirt Anthy's outfit featured in order to reinforce their relationship both to each other and to the mysterious prince who has influenced both of their lives. However, rich red pants would be a better choice.

Everything else is inspired by her actual otufit. Fancy epaulettes, military look, ruffly shirt, princely shoes. And, because my girl is a duelist, her "parasol" (actually an umbrella) is a sword.

If you haven't seen Utena, I highly recommend giving it a try. If you don't like it, my heart won't be broken (you won't be the first), but I hope you'll see where my inspiration for these sets came from.

All of the images from Utena (c) Be-Papas. I found them via The Utena Gallery at Empty Movement.

* This explanation, possibly the clearest I've seen of the many different narrative forms Utena has taken, is direct from the Utena TVtropes page.


  1. I've been meaning to watch Utena for ages, I'm sure I'm missing something very important. I should really do it soon - especially since it quotes my favourite painting at some point!
    By the way, the outfits you created are so beautiful, so classic-lolita inspired :) you really have excellent taste.

    1. I really enjoy Utena, but it was... difficult... the first time I watched it. It took me a while to appreciate the show the way I do now.

      *blushes* Thank you so much.