Musical and Visual Storytelling in Revolutionary Girl Utena’s First Episode – Part 1

Revolutionary Girl Utena’s soundtrack is strong. This is apparent from the first episode, which opens with “The Sunlit Garden”. This calming song sets the idyllic fairy tale backdrop of the characters’ aspirations. In Miki’s arc, the song does a lot of work to romanticize Miki’s development.

But for now, it introduces the show, and tells us it is a show about fairy tales and childish innocence.

The show moves from this elaborately staged scene into Wakaba’s waiting scene. This short scene not only has no music, it also lacks any of the theatrics that RGU’s visuals are known for, and features plainer characters, not the colorful haired figures who fight in the duels.

 

Otori Pan

As the camera pans away from Wakaba, the music comes back. The song is “Academy Scarlet”. This regal theme accompanies a range of shots of various parts of the academy. The garden, the arena, the chairman’s tower. While the first thing we see of the school is a normal student going through her day, the next shot feels like it’s setting the stage for a hero fulfilling her destiny.

After the school’s layout is shown, we finally meet Utena. Just as the fairy tale said, she is a girl who acts as if she is a prince. The song closes off with Utena scoring a victory against her teacher.

While there is a sharp difference here between Musical Otori and Mundane Otori, the sound design is in no way disorienting. The song slides in before the horns start blaring. The pan from Wakaba’s view to the bird’s eye view is efficient enough that the scene change doesn’t seem all too stark unless you look into it. At this stage of the episode, the music and the atmosphere are at a complete match.

While Utena’s short basketball match doesn’t have a song to go with it, there is sound all the way through. There is the cheering of the girls in the crowd, the swoosh of the ball, and the chimes that play as Utena reaches it. These transition into “Jab Up Beauty”, an upbeat pop piece that would fit into any 90s sitcom.

From this scene and the ones before it, Utena is split between the atmosphere of the heroic fairy tale and the atmosphere of a 90s schoolyard sitcom. The two feed into each other, as they both represent childlike innocence.

The next scene introduces the series’ third face, the surreal drama. Saionji’s abusive treatment of Anthy is juxtaposed with Wakaba’s comedic treatment of Utena. An incongruity between soundtrack and story appears when the light-hearted schoolyard track “Campus Lyric”, that signifies how Wakaba and others see the council contradicts the way Utena and the viewers feel due to what they’ve just seen. In the shot that introduces Anthy by name, the red mark from Saionji’s slap is still visible.

After this scene comes the first interrupting switch. The upbeat “Campus Lyric” doesn’t even have time to finish before the foreboding “Legend” begins. This sinister song outlines the vague Student Council meeting. While their motives and proceedings are kept vague and theatric, the soundtrack implies that while they may not approve of Anthy’s harsh situation, Saionji isn’t the only one meant to serve as a villain in this fairy tale.

But more than what it does on its own, what it does in relation to the scene before it is notable. The Student Council cuts into Wakaba and Utena’s moment. They do not wait their turn, they do not start playing when the mood is right. The student council’s proceedings are of vital importance. When these meetings and this song show up in every episode after this one, it is to be expected. The Student Council meeting is the first part of RGU’s daily routine that we encounter, and the sound design makes sure you know it has to happen.

The meeting is fairly typical. The members throw around phrases and titles that the show has yet to define, everyone gets a moment of characterization, and the same song continues – it’s just another student council meeting, even when it’s your first. Then we cut to commercial – an elegant screen, and the only point in which the show’s other title is shown. “Utena La Fillette Revolutionnaire”. A more obvious part of the show’s regular routine.

To be continued.

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