Monday, January 12, 2004

Jessica said, in a comment below,
I keep waiting on a unified, nifty box set for Utena. I want it to be horribly, titty pink, like the Barbie color. It'd be great if it had glittery sparkles on it, too, or maybe that metallic overlay stuff.

Barbie is, at best, a secondary market for the doll-fancier version of the drag queen. Its primary market is still prepubescent little girls. I thought that the early marketing by CPM of Utena was too pink-innocent-girlie in the first place. (I thought that they should have tried aiming it at the Zena Warrior Princess crowd, even though that market was a tad butch for Utena) The new DVDs have a much more neutral affect, and I think that's for the best. Having finished watching the DVDs, I now recognize that I was overstating Utena's transgressiveness, but that doesn't mean that it isn't still too mature for the pink-preteen-girly-squeal! demographic that a pink-heavy box would appeal to.

[Jesus, could I possibly squeeze more bad grammar into a paragraph than the above example? If any of my grade-school English teachers are dead, they're rolling in their graves e'en now.]

Anyways, my impression from the first time I watched Utena through, was that the show morphed from a slightly racy, eccentric magical girl show into something a great deal darker and polymorphously freaky. To a certain extent, that was an artifact of shock and projection. Now that I've seen the show through for a second time, I recognize that it's not quite as wild as I thought it was. Yes, the symbolism is still there, but then there's symbolism and subtext in all sorts of otherwise-whitebread material. Utena just made more of a deal about it in the actual text itself, and then hammered home the point with a lot of silly gratuitous bishounen beefcake which, upon reviewing, was closer to Tiger Beat than Playgirl.

That being said, we are talking about a show whose themes are the incest taboo and gender roles. Gender roles by itself isn't anything to get excited about. But Utena's sister-complex freakout take on gender roleplaying results in some damnably hinky material. It's a rare teen-audience-show in which the explicitly homosexual elements are the least transgressive and disturbing, but Utena manages to do it.

Of course, Utena's wilful trampling of the distinctions between homosocial and homosexual norms is nothing new to anyone who might have encountered any amount of fanfiction, so maybe I'm being a bit blas̩ here. Shock of the new and all that. But the rampant incest-romance elements РAkio-Anthy, and their two precursor-echos, Miki & his sister Kaori, and Touga & Nanami Рseem to put that issue firmly in the fore. Furthermore, the mythology of the Prince, a world of princesses and the witch-sibling seems to place the incest taboo at the heart of heterosexual romance, which is a damned strange way to look at the world, if you ask me. Looking at the ending in that light, it seems to suggest that homosexual romance is a broken solution to the sibling-incest-taboo problem.

Now, don't get me wrong. It's a brilliantly written and executed demonstration of this thesis. It's the theme itself that strikes me as bashit crazy. It's a solution in search of a problem. Of course, this could be my cultural conditioning speaking. Many anime and manga creators seem to be much more obsessed with the sibling incest taboo than your average American artist. Americans would seem to care more about the parental incest taboo. I don't think I've seen anything on that subject from any anime or manga creator outside of outright pornography, come to think of it.

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