[Translator’s Note: Hi, I’m Jennifer Hina. I did my best to translate this article and I want to say a couple of things about this first. This dialogue is a transcript in a magazine. That means that the original words were spoken, not written, and a lot of ideas were left up to intonation and gesture to get across the rest of the meaning. Which means that even in the original Japanese, the language was confusing and often wavered between philosophical essay-style and completely crude and casual. I did my best to capture the meaning behind his words in a way that could be understood in English, while keeping the mood of the piece. If something doesn’t make any sense, keep in mind that it probably made even less sense in the original Japanese version. Blatant additions to the text are in brackets. Parenthesis and ellipses are as they are in the original. There were no paragraphs separations so be prepared for long chunks of text. And yes, there is a way to say LOL in Japanese.]
Magazine: Kikan S, 29th issue, January 1st, 2010
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Article: “Shojo Kakumei Utena [Revolutionary Girl Utena],” with Ikuhara, Kunihiko who directed Utena and Sailor Moon. Page 29.
Interviewer: This time, being as the theme of this issue is crossing the border between men and women, I’d like to ask about Utena which is the definition of this theme. Before Utena, Bishojo Senshi Sailor Moon (hereon “Sailor Moon”) left a huge impression. Ikuhara says that Sailor Moon is special, not so much for its love story, but for its female lead being a deadly fighter and bringing down her enemies. Before that, I believe the role of heroines was mostly to be saved by the men. But in Sailor Moon, women take on the role of a fighting figure, which really had an impact on the female audience. Why don’t you start with how girl’s anime came to that point.
Ikuhara: Although it’s just a subculture, I think more and more girls like that kind of story. From the time of “Mahou Tsukai Sally [Witch Sally]” a power not of this world, the “Power of God” could be used to change the world. Girls like that kind of absolute power. On the male side, boys aspire to “Gekko Kamen” or “Superman,” which in my opinion are along the same lines of the ones for girls. And then there’s “Ribon no Kishi [Ribbon Knight],” which I think is the first of this kind. Becoming a prince, wearing men’s clothes, these have meaning is society, don’t they. They say that one has acquired the ability to have political power. In the past, it was difficult for women to enter mainstream society, so social power was equivalent to being Superman; an unbelievable daydream. That’s why they fantasized about wearing men’s clothes, it meant the existence of the ability to use power in society. It was just one dream. That anime came out around the mid 60's. Girls who grew up watching that next turned to “Rose of Versailles.” It was a little more realistic. The story was about a female main character who obtained social power by wearing men’s clothes. The original comic was really popular in the early 70s. In ‘73 the Asamayama incident happened. In 1970 the US-Japan Security Treaty was signed and it ended the student demonstrations. There were those who couldn’t accept that, which led to the armed Asamayama incident. It is just a suspicion of mine, but I believe Ms. Ikeda might have been rooting for the demonstrators. Like those in the student demonstrations, I got the feeling she had fantasized about, “What’s a meaningful way to die?” Like how Takakura, Ken’s Yakuza movies fascinated people (LOL). But that wasn’t just a fantasy. Writing RoV was a way to let out all the frustration that could no longer be expressed through the demonstrations. When people get together, the social structure changes. It becomes a man’s society by default. I think if a woman wants to use her social power, she must throw away her femininity first. That point of sexual ambiguity is what made RoV so interesting.
Interviewer: I see. So the "fighting woman" is a woman who can restrain her femininity. Then what about the anime that came after that?
Ikuhara: Before Sailor Moon there was Cutie Honey. It also had a big impact. I think it had the first fighter girl as a main character. The concept for Cutie Honey was along the same lines as Witch Sally-chan but also like a “Bond Girl.” It wasn’t like anything that came before. She was a lot like Bannai, Tarao since she wore a disguise, only sexy, like 007. Until then, that sex appeal hadn’t been exploited.
Interviewer: So girls like that?
Ikuhara: They just want to try it. Usually, and I thought this at the time of Sailor Moon, these things are all made from the male perspective. They feel like, “I like Bond Girls!” but the main character is always just 007. The girls are just accompanying Bond. The idea of one of those accomplices AS the main character might have been thrown out. In the time of Barbie dolls, there were two different perspectives: “I want to be Barbie” and “I want to have Barbie.” The girls thought, “I want to be Barbie,” and the boys thought, “I want Barbie to be mine.” In the same context, I feel that Cutie Honey is a girl boys want to have. After that came “Majoukko Meg-chan [Little Witch Meg].” We kept thinking, “Why is she so dang sexy?” I had no idea but the staff and I concluded that it’s because she really takes after Cutie Honey. Even her expressions are similar. The thing she adds to take the sexiness further is becoming a weapon. This isn’t sexiness for consumerism. Instead, she perplexes men and takes advantage over them. She is in fact a girl, but where normal girls have a social handicap, Meg-chan determinedly figures a way in. This becomes her winning and losing point. This is both a good and very uncommon characteristic. But after that, the element disappeared from the anime scene. After that the thing that sticks out in my mind is the most impressive, “Candy Candy.” It takes a lot of lines from Takarazuka’s Elisabeth. Like “unhappy,” “tragic,”. . . (LOL) The story was amazing. It was about a prince. It was a really amazing story but it had a really passive, Confucian perspective on women. She had to hide her true self. I wondered why that was so popular. This is strictly my own opinion, but at the time, Japan had been enjoying an economic bubble for a long time. When people have a lot of money, instead of outright frustrated characters, a little more conservative females are better. As for the story, instead of focusing on unhappiness, they focuses on unluckiness. The main character in Elisabeth is perfect. She is all royalty, but even though she’s a princess she suffers from bad circumstances time and again. I think girls are into that kind of story. Maybe we can call it “a passive stance against my fate.” “Shokoujou Sara” was also the “predestined princess” type. It seems that girls really like the idea of “fate.” As for the reason why, if women try to use social power they are asking for a lot of trouble and hardship. The finer points have been debated, but basically when the moment women finally get that higher status comes, becoming the same as men, finding the power of the man-dominated society, it has a huge impact. That’s why people like it so much, from my point of view. That kind of thing gives a subconscious imprint. From this came the idea that however terrible a situation you might find yourself in, you want to cry out and watch the social structure be violently shaken by your cries. They want to use their power “crying out” to shake up society. I think “Candy Candy” really upheld this idea. That’s the extraordinary princess type.
Interviewer: I see. So those girls were thinking about how to get their own power.
Ikuhara: After that, in front of girls on TV, was Ramu-chan (a character from “Uru Hoshi Yatsura”) and Creamy Mami (the lead from Mahou no Tenshi Creamy Mami), right? Ramu-chan was made for boys but I think she had an impact on girls, too. The reason she was liked so much was, as with Meg-chan, the sexy fighter aspect. Because of the attractiveness of Bond Girls, people were saying, “Big boobs are the way to go! Your work is nothing without them!” But being that the original creator was a woman, Takahashi, Rumiko, it was different from that. It was incredibly interesting. Another thing is that wishes like, “I want to change into something else” or “I want to grow up” have been stated since ancient times. But I think in a woman’s world when they grow up there weren’t many who thought, “What will I be when I grown up?” They thought, “Oh, now I’m a lady.” If they said, “And then what?” there wasn’t a very fun answer. At the end of that road comes, “Well look now I’m a mom.” So what can young ladies do? To answer that, Creamy Mami became a singer. That was one step up. To the point where even boys were screaming for her.
Interviewer: Oh I see now. She was the image of the bright future of an adult. And also after making Sailor Moon, I think the situation for girls was also changing. But when you started Utena, about doing romance, you thought something like, "Idealism is for girls," right? Idealism is something amazing and powerful or something worth taking a stand in the world for. With that sense of idealism, you said it rather suits boys. But Utena, as a main character, wasn't a boy. Why was that?
Ikuhara: I believe that kind of sense, something like "the power to see your dreams," that we call "Idealism" is a very masculine way of thinking. On the other hand, the way women see their dreams is "Romantic." That implies that the ability to envision their dreams is high. When compared to nowadays, people say wanting to go on an action adventure is idealism but romance is also the power to SEE that dream. Like, "I want to be there!"
Interviewer: You're right about nowadays. You were saying you wanted to mix "Idealism" and "Romance" and put that into a character. Having done that, plus the image of a person who wants to change the world, did you think that a girl would better fit that role than a man?
Ikuhara: The problem is about how to change. If I put this into comic terms, it’s something like, “I want marvelous change!” For girls, it’s the ability to change marvelously. For guys, I guess it’s all about having awesome weapons. For the time that they’re into that, isn’t it a little like favoring fascism? But for girls, it’s the marvelous change that does it.
Interviewer: So then you didn't want to just chose some aspects of a girl and have her behave according to those. Tenjou, Utena wears a men's uniform but sheâ€™s still very much a girl.
Ikuhara: Yes. The thing I was interested in was keeping her feminine silhouette and leaving the lines of her body visible. That is her “special” characteristic, since it might be rude of me to call it a handicap. Well more importantly, while keeping her special feminine characteristics, she does her best to gain a man’s social power. Utena takes the best traits of both genders.
Interviewer: How did you decide on Utena's clothing style?
Ikuhara: I was pondering over what she should wear for a really long time. I thought why not start with a men’s uniform? When I thought m ore deeply on that, I realized I would have to throw out all aspects of her femininity in doing that. ‘Cause if she appears to be manly by wearing such clothes, the girlish traits don’t stand out at all. That’s the direction I chose. I wanted somehow, by some means, to keep her from being cute.
The inspiration for Jury was simple. Because it’s Oscar. That was a simple way to go but why was I going to use a character design from the seventies now? I didn’t want this to become a parody of RoV. I wondered about what to do. In the end I came to this conclusion: She isn’t wearing man’s clothes, she is cosplaying! In short, a character who doesn’t want to throw away her femininity but still doesn’t want to be seen in girly things ends up wearing men’s clothes. That’s how her design ended up. I talked about this with Ms. Saitou (the [Utena] comic artist Saitou, Chiho) and Hasegawa (the character designer Hasegawa, Shinya). In the end they agreed with me that this was indeed cosplay.
Interviewer: About that, as you said before, women who wear boys clothes don’t have to hide their feminine personalities, so they don’t have to be like Oscar either, right? Because of their “possessing strength” and “possessing purity” they don’t need to hide their femininity.
Ikuhara: That's right. I think this sense came after Sailor Moon. As Sailor Moon made the first impact, which was taken further by the subsequent Creamy Mami, the idea that women can use her femininity as a weapon came about. And those characters made everyone aware of it. To us creators, that is. I think these are the feelings of the original creator [of Sailor Moon], Ms. Takeuchi, Naoko, and I believe she did it intentionally. Us guys, when we first heard this, were like, "What the heck is this?" No matter what, her ideas always fall short of Cutie Honey's impact. And also it didn't have the easy understandability of Mahou Tsukai Sally. It's not that she was a magic user, it was just. . . hm, like a cheap doujinshi, [Fan made comics]. In doujinshi heroes, like Sailor Moon, have already been so overdone. That in itself didn't make it special. The story itself is 70's style. Sailor Moon had an irritating boyfriend and she was some kind of destined princess. That's such an old concept. But the thing that was new about it was that being a woman did not present a handicap! Even the characters in the story recognized her advantage as a woman. Until it came out, nothing else had had any greater impact.
Interviewer: So your kind of characters, like Haruka and Michiru, are strong and independent.
Ikuhara: Well even more than those, Utena. That’s why in Utena, I compare Jury and Utena. If I put Jury in simple terms, she is in the “Oscar” role. She feels handicapped by her femininity.
Interviewer: That’s right. She feels she doesn’t deserve love from another girl. But Utena and Anthy aren’t like that. If I describe Utena further, those two were originally the same character, weren’t they?
Ikuhara: Yes, in the beginning they were one character. It’s simply the idea of Princess Safeia from Ribon no Kishi. She is a princess and at the same time a prince. I took that good idea from there. I had decided on a main character who’s “femininity was not a handicap.” But I felt something strange somewhere in me, and the staff did too. Is that really what she is? We didn’t know if “handicap” was a good word to use or not. It conjured such a narrow image but because she was a woman she achieved contentment and status without even being aware of it. And she had an obsessive “Princess” sidekick. As Utena approached being, “A character who doesn’t hide her happiness and femininity” the other character’s problems stood out sharply. It became the kind of story where everyone pretends not to notice her standing out. Instead of throwing out that idea, I thought it would be more interesting to leave it there on purpose. So we made a character who was saying, “Wow I’m so lucky to be a girl” and another who kept going, “Being a girl is so much trouble.” I really thought this kind of character would be at the peak of interest for the times.
Interviewer: If we go through Anthy’s story, we can say she had elements of a witch. She’s not 100% just a princess. She has a prince and acts like a princess but she also has elements of a witch thrown in, doesn’t she.
Ikuhara: Yes. It’s like, with [the musical] Elisabeth being the defining example, the question, How do I get a position in society? How do I reach the goal of, “I am happy”? The end goal, however, results in the princess sort of being caged. But if she just cries out, someone will listen. I think that’s a very strong image. “If I’m in trouble, why not try crying out.” I think that in itself is not a bad thing at all.
Interviewer: So in that way Anthy symbolizes that kind of girl.
Ikuhara: Utena’s comic artist, Saitou, left me with a really strong impression. I was completely sucked into that world. Saitou’s comic contains a lot of erotic images but it wasn’t uncomfortable. Whatever it was, in the end pretty much everything worked out to an advantage. I really think that’s amazing. Oh?! Erotic images are a good thing?! (LOL)
Interviewer: So in the end, you gave up the idea of giving Anthy princess characteristics. It sounds like you’re asking where does a princess stand in all of this if the “girl’s revolution” is entwined in the problem of “freedom.”
Ikuhara: About Anthy being freed, most reviewers saw the story as being, “The release of Anthy’s heart.” That in itself is not a bad thing, even though some would disagree. On one hand, a story about a woman with the characteristics of a loving man or prince who helps Anthy evolve emotionally is interesting if you think about it. Like a protective, “I’ll take care of you,” kind of guy. Instead of the Elisabethan idea of achieving happiness by reaching that man’s status, having a boy who takes you out to karaoke is a much better idea. (LOL) It doesn’t have to be a rich guy, it’s just that it’s nice if there’s someone there who shares the same interests.
Interviewer: I see. If you had a "fantasy prince" who bestowed your every desire, you'd be free to do nothing for yourself.
Ikuhara: How do you say it... Having the same image of happiness is very important. On the other hand, if someone says, “this is happiness” it’s kind of having a mentor. You follow him to get happiness on his side. But a man who’s like, “I’m not sure where happiness is but let’s find it together!” is better. I don’t think parents, teachers, and other kinds of mentors can just show us a model of what happiness is. Their kind of happiness model is no longer the same model for our generation. In which case we ask, “So, what do I do?” And a person who answers, “I’m not really sure how to find happiness, and I’m not sure where this will lead us, but let’s try finding just one flower blooming in a world just the two of us can see.” [Reference to the song, “Sekaini hitotsu dake no hana”]
Interviewer: So that means this has nothing to do with taking a social stance.
Ikuhara: I still don’t understand this entirely, but it’s like the elements of a prince and princess are mixed. Like the dream of getting to wear a beautiful dress will never fade. But then you tear open the front of your dress to reveal battle armor and a sword comes out. I think that’s the kind of image [Utena] has. I am a great achiever who is a princess! Like that. So what’s the image from there. . . Probably, “I’m the one who’s important.” Like shows from the 1960's (and not only then, but I think every year after the war) [there was the idea that] one person should sacrifice themselves as a martyr for “the public” in order to save the world. An example of this type of story is “Uchuu senkan Yamato” [Spaceship Yamato]. They repressed their individuality for the public. It’s a story about one character who was against the power of the public and had anti-government aspirations. It became popular in its own time. I think this is a good explanation for why girls do cosplay of guys and dress like guys. Even though this has nothing to do with what the producers put in to shows. Today’s androgynous styles and cosplayers are, well if I put it simply. . . It’s not that the public oppressed girl’s individuality, in this more modern world, I think there’s another expression that I can use. That’s right, it’s KY [a slang term in Japanese for oblivious or ununderstandable]. Cosplayers are halfway afraid of other people thinking they’re KY, but on the other hand, it’s very important for them to cosplay. Just like the love they have for their family. I’m having trouble putting this in to words, but I think it’s like “The New Thing to Cherish” maybe. . .
Interviewer: When you're making a show you always think about how it fits the time period, don't you.
Ikuhara: Well basically, I can’t say I deny it. That being said, people nowadays prefer the idea of fostering their own close communities and the development of this kind of story is really interesting. One day, all the rules suddenly change and the story begins. Maybe this started with “Battle Royale.” I think this is a real story for young people these days. Right after all the rules change, one must go find one’s niche on one’s own. But first one must also find one’s enemies. That ability to find a group has nothing to do with being a man or a woman. It’s just about a hero, right? So it doesn’t matter if it’s a woman or androgynous character. Like Sailor Moon, I think this [hero] becomes the central focus of the story. Protecting the world pretty much doesn’t matter. The story is centered on protecting your small group. That’s how I feel.
Interviewer: So like the world according to you has changed. . . Your work is always about people living in their time coming back to the present.
Ikuhara: With that definition, as Utena or as Anthy, the image of a prince, the image of a princess, the image of happiness, it’s about both sides having both sides. Don’t worry about which one is making more progress. I suppose, if I put it in common words, the idea is, “I found the flower of happiness on my own.” Don’t concern yourself with their relationship. As two people, their single core is held up by their feelings and friendship. I think this might be the part of the show that will never get old.
Interviewer: I see. The two of them are finding that kind of thing [happiness] together.
Ikuhara: If you put down Utena as simply being a matter of love, then it doesn't have that depth to it. Or if you put it down as simply a story of dueling.
Interviewer: So what exactly does "Revolution" mean to girls?
Ikuhara: I think it’s “Happiness.” If you replace that word with “Revolution.” It’s “Revolution of Happiness.” With the image of that like, “You, being just the way you are, I accept you entirely.” Everyone is seeking that kind of miracle partner. That in itself allows Utena into the yuri [lesbian love] genre. In this world, it’s eat or be eaten. Now us guys can see the world more clearly. But young people are struck by worries about what others think about them and are afraid of not being accepted. If we go as far as to say, “Be original!” to a young person, then people today they may even end up fearing those words. The more we have individuality, the more we can’t help worrying if anyone understands us. Because then you are different from me by default. So the more distinctly different we are from other people, the more they can’t understand us, but if we don’t stand up for ourselves and be an individual, we will be eaten in this world of natural selection. That kind of impasse. . . But if one makes some kind of relationship to join forces in such a world, “I have a bond with you, just the way you are, which makes me feel an extraordinary feeling,” then that person has achieved a tiny community to belong to and can only become stronger from there. I believe it is with that iconic image in mind that a lot of yuri and sexually ambiguous shows have gained popularity. Utena also stands at the gateway to those things and those themes in it can be easily understood.
Interviewer: I see. With Utena and Anthyâ€™s relationship.
Ikuhara: Yeah. If I deny the individuality in you then “I am different.” It’s not that, “I am this strong” but that, “I accept you and everything about you for what you are.” I feel that the current generation is searching for that kind of magical relationship.
Interviewer: If you were to produce something else, would you make use of that orientation?
Ikuhara: Hummm. Well if I make something too objectively, I'm not sure if it would be very interesting would it. I have to make a story based on intuition!
Interviewer: Well I'm looking forward to working with you again. Thank you for coming today.
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