The most common criticism I hear about Utena is how repetitive it is.
I had a terrible first experience with the show. We were watching it at an Anime club and it was on before Read or Die, the show I really wanted to watch. I mean, I had nothing against Utena, it was just weird, and not like weird good. Random cars, shirtless dudes, and abstract stuff everywhere. Normally that is a recipe for love, yet I had a hard time finding the through line to see what inspired such mess.
Then I came back the next week. Wait, what? Did they realize they put on the same exact episode? No, I definitely saw this part. The really pretty dude is talking to the other dude and trying to get him to sword fight Utena. Wait, now they are shirtless and one of them is on top of the hood of his car. Yeah, totally remember this one. By week three I found the repetition horrible, not lazy. By week four it was hilarious, and I loved every second of it. The shift was sudden and shocking to even me.
The Breakdown of nearly every episode
A) Talk about character X.
B) Character X is inspired/forced/seduced to fight Utena.
C) Shadow girls perform a quick play with variable amounts of connection to the current issue.
C) Character X loses fight to Utena.
D) Everyone is better off for it.
Conclusion: Wonderful. We've all watched repetition in plenty of other works (Hellgirl, for instance,) yet here it seamlessly builds one of the best ensembles I have ever seen. The pool of characters is only so large, and the show is divided into story cycles of duels. The duelists come in, have an entire episode where the character's complexity is centerstage, and then, "Bam!" right back to the background. By the time the rotation has completed, the plot has moved onto a new arc, which will reinspire the characters to once more duel Utena (For example, to kill the rose bride, instead of possess her.) Each character gets their chance at the helm not once, not twice, but three times. But the end of the story the mere inclusion of their graphics on screen drips with depth.
Of course, I'm not saying that emotional investment is entirely forsaken, otherwise we'd probably consider it more of a lecture than entertainment. Once expectation has been established, then... then you can destroy your audience. For an entire arc we watched was Akio, the beautiful headmaster seduced one person after another... yet, for whatever reason... it shocked me when it happened to Utena.
Schedule of Content:
Sunday: The Music of Utena
Monday: Digging Deeper: Repetition in Utena
Tuesday: Hot, Steamy Pictures
Wednesday: Profile Through Pictures: Akio Ohtori