Generally speaking, the Adolescence of Utena film is not the ideal way to be introduced to Utena. It throws you right into the deep end with no explanations of plot or characters, so knowledge of the series is almost a must. (Though the film does shuffle a few things around when compared to the series.) Plus, the film is highly abstract so there is little to grab on to to get your bearings.
Adolescence of Utena opening titles
Music: “Rose Is Rain – Rose Egg Rebirth Record” by J.A. Seazer
And yet, about twenty years ago, this was how I found my way into the world of Utena. I had no idea who these characters were or what was going on, but I was completely drawn in to the visuals, the music, the symbolism and metaphors. Everything changed for me after watching Adolescence of Utena, at least as far as what I came to expect from anime.
I was still a relatively new anime fan at the time, and I had never seen anything like this, which was pretty much an art film based on the primary themes of the Revolutionary Girl Utena series, which I had not seen yet. The whole series wasn’t even licensed in North America at the time! After being completely captivated by the film, I soon got the first arc on DVD, which was all that was available at the time. At last I knew who these characters were and had a more concrete idea of what was going on. A few years later, the remaining arcs were finally licensed for release in North America, and I could finally learn the whole story of Utena. Like the film, it sunk its claws into me and never let go, and once I watched the film again after seeing the whole series, everything fell into place.
In broadest terms, Revolutionary Girl Utena is about challenging the conventions of, well… everything, in order to discover yourself. There is actually quite a lot more to it, and the series goes into much more depth with many more characters to explore these themes, but the film distills it all into nearly an hour and a half of pure, concentrated symbolism. In the end, changing my perceptions of anime was not the most profound effect that Adolescence of Utena, and in turn Revolutionary Girl Utena, had on me. More importantly, I learned more about myself as well.
Utena is a series and film that I carry with myself to this day, and has become a part of me. For that, I am ever grateful to Adolescence of Utena for bringing revolution to my world.