So as of late, my partner and I have been fairly obsessed with Mawaru Penguindrum. However, I had never seen Ikuhara’s previous work, Revolutionary Girl Utena. I’ve been told by several people that I’m doing a great disservice to myself by not having watched it, so I’ve taken it upon myself to get up to speed by watching it with Emily and a few friends on skype.
The first cour passed in all of its riveting grandeur, what with shadowy societies, secret duels, and copious symbolism all set along a high school backdrop. But as we finished up the first story arc known as the Student Council Arc, the episode following did an interesting thing with regards to recapping all of the events thus far:
Friendship. Choice. Reason. Love. Adoration. Conviction. Self. I did not know that all of the duels that had occurred were given proper names, and thus with this little bit of added context I was given an entirely new framework with which to view this series. This show, at least where the first arc is concerned, is about the self-actualization of Utena Tenjou.
The Hierarchy of Needs is a theory of psychology that was created by Abraham Maslow. He talked about how every person has this innate desire to realize their full potential, but that in order to do so, they have to fulfill certain more basic needs before being able to achieve what he calls Self-Actualization. The most basic needs are things like breathing, food, water, sleep, then the next level includes things like safety and shelter. You can fulfill the higher needs while neglecting a few more basic ones, but it’s incredibly difficult to do so. Once you do achieve these higher echelons, then you become the end result of all of the potential that you are. You are the best possible you that you can be. The Student Council Arc was the story about how Utena achieved her own self-actualization through the various duels she participated in.
Specifically, I feel that the duels involving Friendship, Love, & Adoration belong to the tier regarding love and belonging. Whereas Choice, Reason, & Conviction I feel belong to the tier regarding esteem. We can assume that she’s met all of her physiological and safety needs since she is going to a rather prestigious school. The duels aren’t perfectly in line, and, spoiler alert, she doesn’t win all of them, but the duel that ends the arc was the duel called Self. When she wins that, she achieves that which Maslow describes and becomes fully human, a person capable of spontaneity, creativity, and real regard for others.
But with her actualization, she becomes an individual who’s come into the notice of the Black Rose Society and another organization known only as the End of the World. They see her, they consider her, she is a known factor now. From here on out, I feel that either she’s being cultivated by End of the World, or else she’s being deconstructed by the Black Rose Society. But I can only sit back and watch as the characters delve deeper.