Musical and Visual Storytelling in Revolutionary Girl Utena’s First Episode – Part 2

After the commercial break, Utena and Wakaba have an unscored conversation before Wakaba’s note to Saionji is found. At this point “Invisible Roses” starts playing. It’s a fitting song choice, another example of a scene with conventional sound.

The next daily occurrence in the show is the shadow play. Rather than merely interrupt Utena’s challenge to Saionji, the shadow girls use it to set themselves up. “Aliens from the Planet Kashira” is used to highlight Utena’s new involvement with the duels. Functionally, this seems the same as an interruption, since the scene transition happens during a break in the track, but the fact the two scenes use the same song sells the new background. The scene is a perfect burst of tension. It adds to the already high stack of questions while being in line with the fairy tale motifs.

And here comes the most jarring shift. Utena’s ring unlocks the door to the arena. Chimes and synths underscore the mystical experience of our hero being exposed to this curious new area.

And it’s replaced with the drums, bells, and guitar of “Zettai Unmei Mokushiroku”. In future episodes, Zettai Unmei Mokushiroku plays from the moment the gate starts opening. But in this one, it interrupts a more mystical, atmospheric accompanying track.

When you hear Zettai Unmei Mokushiroku, you know you’re going to be hearing it again. It inherently feels like a recording, an out-of-era template our heroine has been thrown into. The setpiece is visually brilliant, but tells very little of the overall story. While ZUM is largely considered to be Utena’s magical girl “transformation sequence”, this first episode cuts that part out – she’s new to this after all.

Instead, Anthy’s introduction comes under a less overpowering string track. While for the most part Anthy’s role in the duels plays into the mysticism and spectacle, for the first episode it’s more “just another day on the job”. It’s also a highlight of how awful Anthy’s job is. Her integration into the stair climbing sequence is one way Anty’s position gets romanticized and normalized in the framing the more that Utena gets involved in the duels.

The black background and mystical sounds of the Sword of Dios sequence, on the other hand, take a similar tone to the stair-climbing scene from earlier. They too are established as routine and ritual, as opposed to the unique personal interactions taking place in between.

When? Where? Who? Which kicks off, and this is the only time that song appears in the series. Every duel in this series has a unique song, as opposed to the build-up which is all the same. Most series have a couple of go-to fight songs, but in Utena each battle is fundamentally different, even if the physical actions start to look the same after a while. They’re all the type of upbeat music you could watch a fight to, but with the same ritualistic tone that the preparation songs use. The first episode doesn’t establish whether the duel songs will stay the same or not; for now it seems like another part of the fairy tale, but as the show goes on we see the ways the duels touch the characters in real life.

Then the story ends as it began, with the Sunlit Garden. Just as Utena met her loving prince at the beginning of the episode, in a happy fairy tale (if you forgot the death of her parents), such begins the cheerful fairy tale of Revolutionary Girl Utena: Utena and Anthy’s time together engaged.

While a lot of the more twisted elements of the show are not apparent from the first episode, you can see that a lot of decisions in the episode set those punches up. The generic yet emotional nature of the duels, the upbeat way Utena’s encounters with Dios and Anthy are portrayed in spite of their troubling realities, and that hanging question: Was Utena’s choice really such a good idea?

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