Revolutionary Architecture of Utena: Adolescence Apocalypse
February 2, 2009
See here for those interested in coburn‘s commentary on the architecture of Revolutionary Girl Utena. And this is me stealing ideas helping out by doing the same for Utena: Adolescence Apocalypse (the film version). Like the Northern Tribe of Avatar, Ohtori Academy (school that Utena attends) is a fusion of various aesthetics and ideas, integrated beautifully together to become something original. I’d also like to take this opportunity to announce my immense love for the film. Utena the TV series was great, but watching this was something very spirtiual for me (haha…). Anyway, let’s begin with the opening shots.
Watching the awesomely impressive opening of Ohtori Academy may remind one of Tatlin’s Tower (drawing on the top left) and other Constructivism drawings. They were the impossible architecture, were never built, only existing in drawings and models of infinitely smaller scale. And here’s something interesting. One of the key idea in Constructivism was symbolising revolution of ideas that is expressed structurally by their choice of materials, and spacially by movement through internal volume. Hardly a coincidence considering Utena thematically. The director Ikuharu understands well that anime is not a painting (unfortunate case of Iblard Jikan), and creates this extraordinary sense of movement and construction in the opening shot, as our eyes follow the magnificient array of decorations embeded on colossal steel arc in dynamic rhythm, completely captured by its music. Amazing. We are also never shown the actual ground in which Ohtori Academy stand on so we can only imagine the insurmountable height of these futuristic structures. It is separated from the earthly elements, existing in itself. It’s a very romantic and dreamlike notion.
A more subtle, but just as interesting element one might observe here is Deconstructivism. All there is to know is that Deconstructivism is characterised by displacing and deforming of surface and volume in an unpredictable manner. Basically it’s all those weird angles, shapes and strange looking windows you see in contemporary buildings (above). The philosophy behind Deconstructivism I’m not so wild about, but take a closer look at the building on the left. It takes the typical white cubical modernist gallery and ‘deconstructs’ it using abstract geometries, subverting the functional aspects of modernist simplicity. I wonder if Ohtori Academy too has subverted elite schools with impressive history (Oxford, Cambridge) by deconstructing those walls, windows and bays.
And of course, you can’t miss the elegant influence of Art Nouveau (those curvy forms) not only in setting, but also in character design, animation, and…everywhere. Those graceful arcs of steel is one example. Some more below. O I just love them. Also interesting to note that many buildings of Art Nouveau movement endorsed wrought iron (material that is traditional seen as industrial, lifeless) to create organic, ‘growing’ feel. I think it works well on toning down the mechanical side, and upping the elegance level of Ohtori Academy.
Also fascinating it is to find the more private domains (above), which seem to be frozen, still, eternal and without desiring change. This works exceptionally against more ‘public’ spaces that are always moving. The platforms, ramps and stairs are always in motion, going somewhere, controlling where people should go (like below).
And I won’t go into how surreal and bizarre the whole setting feels like. The screencap gallery speaks for itself. Special mention goes to the floating garden. One of the most beautiful places you’ll find in anime.
So what does this all mean? That is perhaps better left unsaid. My wish is for more people to watch this wonderful film. Even if you don’t feel like watching 39 original episodes (although I highly recommend it), the movie is not a sequel and is perfectly watchable without any background knowledge (although familiarity might help…I guess the lesson here is drop everything and watch Utena ^_^). Hopefully these background knowledge and observation may prove helpful, and you can find what this mysterious fairy tale world means to you. After all, setting is just one of many, many great things about Utena: Adolescence Apocalypse. I will however recommend this very insightful commentary by Wabi Sabi.