As a new girl in an exclusive academy, Utena Tenjou is an enigma. Dressed as a Prince, she carries a ring that allows her to take part in the secretive duels that take place high above the campus. The prize for victory is ownership of the Rose Bride, a young woman named Anthy Himemiya, whose sometimes vacant expression and submissive personality make her equally mysterious.
This movie condenses the 3-series strong original, and in doing so moves the plot around somewhat to accommodate the truncated runtime. This has the usual unpleasant effect of making certain scenes or commentaries totally incomprehensible to anyone who hasn't seen the original run, and given that it hasn't been released in the UK, that's going to be most of you.
The English dub is half-hearted and almost painful to listen to (as a reviewer I almost always watch the dub just to be able to comment on it) but this is one of the very few times I've been genuinely taken aback by the lack of commitment from the actors. Whoever directed the English vocal cast needs a hard slap, it's just awful.
What Utena does well is mostly visual, with a flair for dramatic angles, moving landscapes and artistic layouts. It's a fairy tale in anime form, and whilst the narrative makes no real sense, the backdrop to this David Lynch-style incomprehensibility is never anything short of stunning.
Another noteworthy addition is the subtitles for backing tracks, which allows you to understand the themes of each battle. It's a nice touch and shouldn't be overlooked.
Also of note is the prolonged sexual overtones of the movie. I'm not a prude, but I found the use of sexual submissiveness and lesbianism a bit much, probably because it made absolutely no sense. Characters jump in and out of bed, seemingly hallucinating whilst doing so, and no emotional attachment is made to any of it. Frankly it left me rather cold.
Now I'm sure Utena fans will probably moan that I'm missing the symbolism or the clever twists in fairytale dynamics that Utena plays with, but frankly I gave up caring half way through. The problem is that the film's flaws can't be papered over, and what you're left with is a curious and bizarre mix of visual splendour, fractured dialogue and puzzling storytelling, enacted by a cast whose motivations are baffling at best. It's a frustrating experience all round, and something for fans of the show, who may have a more complete understanding, only.