Revolutionary Architecture of Utena: Adolescence Apocalypse

February 2, 2009

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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.

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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.

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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.

There are also lot more of these buildings that seem to have been 'displaced'. They seem to be frozen, stopped from construction. Verge of being in completion, yet never reaching that state. We see what is there, but we also notice what is not there. What is it becoming? What is missing that it can not become? Ohtori is as elusive as it is beautiful.

There are also lot more of these buildings that seem to have been 'displaced'. They seem to be frozen, stopped from construction. Verge of being in completion, yet never reaching that state. We see what is there, but we also notice what is not there. What is it becoming? What is missing that it can not become? Ohtori is as elusive as it is beautiful.

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.

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Another example. Also absolutely love the postmodern touch on the steel columns.

Another example. Also absolutely love the postmodern touch on the steel columns. And normally you'd expect fencing or bars to stop people falling over high stairs. To recall coburn's words, these are "architecture of the drawing board", like the flawlessly white masonry immune to weathering. Closer to ideal than flawed reality

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).

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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.

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Final thoughts

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.

If only more yuri anime were like this, I would become a yuri fan JUST LIKE THAT

If only more yuri anime were like this, I would become yuri fan in a second

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14 Responses to “Revolutionary Architecture of Utena: Adolescence Apocalypse”

  1. animekritik Says:

    The architecture of the two ladies was particularly interesting. Seriously though, I’m seeing Art Nouveau all over the place now (the backgrounds for Maria Holic’s character intros, even Imperial Boy’s awesome art)..art nouveau’s still nouveau!

  2. gaguri Says:

    It’s not surprising really, its aesthetic is timelessly elegant. In this case though, it was easier for me to make the comparison because there are many real life examples of iron/steel buildings that looked similar.

  3. Kitsune Says:

    Great architecture – thank you for mentioning this 🙂

    Christopher Alexander wrote some interesting books on the subject 🙂

  4. gaguri Says:

    I first became aware of that idea through my lecturer, who probably was more influenced by Deleuze than C. Alexander. But hey, as long as they’re talking about the same thing 😀


  5. Just watched this tonight (straight after finishing the series proper), so was able to read this post (finally). I’m entirely architecturallly illiterate, so it’s fascinating to see which styles (and underlying philosophies) Adolescence Apocalypse was drawing on.

    (I loved the floating rose garden-square too.)

  6. gaguri Says:

    Oh very nice, but I hope you had enough stamina to go through last few Utena episodes (which were intense) AND the movie (which was mind blowing for me x_x).

    And glad to hear the post proved somewhat fascinating! Some people might find it pretentious that anime creators would go so ‘ridiculously far’ in their anime, although I personally think they should be drawing inspirations from other real life buildings, especially if setting is to play as important role as Utena, and turning those inspirations into your own like the director has here. Pardon me for rambling on, few days ago I had a not so pleasant read of another blog post that ridiculed some pseudo-intelligent bloggers analyzing what is not there and its sour taste still lingers.

    Of course, that does not mean you need such background knowledge to appreciate the film. I’m sure everyone was amazed by such an extraordinary movement in the opening shot, of those grand, graceful steel arcs, and sensing its movement towards something, revolution of something. I still think its interesting to identify its possible source of inspiration though, and I suppose that’s where I come in ^_^b


  7. It did take a bit of effort, and I’ll probably have to go back and revisit the movie at some point, but I think I made it through okay! As far as I can see, putting thought into anime architecture can never really be a bad thing, and it ought to enrich whatever’s being drawn for those who recognise it. I can testify that Adolescence Apocalypse‘s architecture can still work for the ignorant, though, as I was certainly entranced by the chaotically moving platforms at the beginning.

    As for ‘pseudo-intelligent’ blogging, even at its most irrelevant and pretentious, it’s not exactly hurting anyone, and I imagine a lot of it is done for fun. I certainly only write a post if I find it (in some loose sense) amusing.

  8. gaguri Says:

    Exactly my sentiments ^^

  9. coburn Says:

    Now that I’ve got and watched the DVD, I can actually read this post. As you indicated, this film is quite marvellous. Anyway, on topic, I think your points about movement and the lack of visible ground are excellent.

    In the series, I was somewhat caught between the feeling that each wonderful location was somehow unreal and the fact that Ohtori seemed so solid and so welcoming. I knew where buildings were in relation to one another, there was a sense of space, of a physical realm surrounding the centres of action. Here we’re either caught amidst empty motion or totally away from the rest in those fantasy gardens.

    The other thing that struck me was the movement into the ‘outside’, because visually the world beyond the academy seems to have very different connotations in the film. Menace rather than mediocrity. I’m sure that difference relates in a way to the contrasting aesthetics of the different academies.

  10. gaguri Says:

    I like your observation of the second paragraph, that is an interesting difference, and perhaps Ikuhara changed that aspect in his movie to better fit his vision of what Ohtori should be. Anyway, glad to hear more and more people are watching this fabulous movie!


  11. […] to start this show, the architecture is a revolutionary marvel in anime (coburn 2009/01/25) (gaguri […]

  12. ayame Says:

    Reading your article about Bakemonogatari and mention of frames as well as an article about Magical Madoka’s (recent anime) use of glass, I was wondering if the same thoughts can be applied in some of the last screenshots (see the pool for example and the hall)

  13. Whitney B. Says:

    Loved this post! I just learned about the Glasgow Four in my Architecture course, and I couldn’t help but think of Utena when seeing the repeated rose themes that pop up. Thought you might like to know.

    I can totally see where you’re coming from with the Nouveau. There is a very earthy way about how the architecture moves and seems to have a mind of its own. Matches perfectly with the idea of an architecture meant to embrace nature.

    Here’s a picture of a piece inspired by the Glasgow Four’s original works. I love how it matches the framing from the show. 🙂


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