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  • Metamorphosis of the Japanese Girl:The Girl, the Hyper-Girl, and the Battling Beauty
  • Mari Kotani (bio)

In the 1980s Miyasako Chizuru coined the term chô-shôjo, or "Hyper-Girl," to conceptualize the emergence of a new kind of girl in manga and anime, one with powers and attributes beyond those of prior shôjo figures. Since then, Girls and Hyper-Girls have continued to transform, and I would like to trace some of those changes, especially in the context of the anime series Revolutionary Girl Utena (Shôjo kakumei utena), which presents not only a revolutionary girl but also revolutionizes the Japanese Girl.

Revolutionary Girl Utena

Tokyo's Channel 12 broadcast Revolutionary Girl Utena for thirty-nine weeks, from April 2 through December 24, 1997. The series followed the popular manga series written by a woman artist, Saitô Chiho, who collaborated with the artists at the studio collective Be-Papas and with the director Ikuhara Kunihiko, known for his previous work on the anime series Sailor Moon.

In the television version, the heroine is a fourteen-year-old girl, Tenjô Utena. Utena continues to cherish the memory of her encounter with a [End Page 162] prince, who offered her consolation when she lost both her parents (Figure 1). When she enters a private middle school, Ohtori Gakuen (an alternate romanization of "Ôtori Gakuen"), she hopes that she might once again meet the prince there. Naturally, given such a setup, viewers might well expect a variation on the Cinderella story. Yet, as the story advances, Utena adopts a male school uniform, complete with short pants. While instructors at the school try to dissuade her, their protests are in vain (Figure 2). Utena insists on male attire, and viewers who expected Utena's story to conform to that of a helpless girl seeking her prince charming may well feel betrayed.

Whence Utena's insistence on male attire?

The answer is simple. Utena wishes to become a prince, which (interestingly enough) is not exactly the same as being a boy (in case anyone might think she desires to be a boy). In fact, when Utena duels with Saionji Kyôichi, he (Saionji) notices her breasts and expresses his surprise that Utena is a girl. Utena retorts that she never said she wasn't a girl. Her adoption of male garb could be called cross-dressing, for she is seen as a boy, yet she does not take herself as one. She is a girl prince.

Now, on the surface, Utena's middle school, Ohtori Gakuen, is just another prep school for rich kids. Yet it turns out that members of the student council control the school. Only members of this elite group are eligible to become duelists. An unseen person known only as "End of the World" chooses students to serve as council members and duelists, and this status allows them to challenge and battle one another. Students enter duels to compete for Himemiya Anthy, the Rose Bride, who holds the secret of the power to revolutionize the world. It is this power that duelists seek.

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Figure 1.

Tenjô Utena Utena in Revolutionary Girl Utena.

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Figure 2.

Revolutionary Girl Utena.

When Utena enters this rigidly hierarchical school society, she is clearly an outsider. Moreover, her goals are entirely different from the other duelists. [End Page 163] Her aim is not to fight and gain the Rose Bride. Yet, to achieve her goals, she must enter into the world of duels, which amounts to a transgression of the school's hierarchies. In the end, Utena proves victorious, insofar as she defeats all the other student duelists. She never defeats Ohtori Akio, however, the school headmaster who becomes Utena's most dangerous opponent in the series' final episodes.

What is important is her status as an outsider, or an other. It is this status that allows her to unravel the school's mysterious hierarchies.


Fights in this series appear highly ritualized. As a world apart, the battleground becomes an object of intense curiosity and interest. Only duelists may enter the battleground, which truly stands apart from the school...


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