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Escape! From Adolescence

May 1, 2010

I think most fans of Utena agree that the most obvious theme of the series is the need to “grow up.” Each of the characters is “trapped” in their own immature, adolescent mindset, and most of them come to the conclusion at the end of the series that they need to man up and mature a little if they want to escape from the purgatory of their teenaged years.

Because, yeah, that awkward phase of life between dewy-eyed, innocent youth and adulthood is little more than a state of purgatory. You’re convinced that you have all the answers and can get along in life. You’re that punkassed brat that knows the adults in the world are wrong and that your viewpoint is the right way to go. We all went through that phase when we were that age (Or are going through that phase for you kiddies out there.). We desperately wanted to be adults because we knew we were already at that stage of development. The catch is that society didn’t believe that we were adults, and quite frankly society was right. There are laws put in place that “put us down.” We couldn’t vote. We couldn’t legally drink or smoke. We weren’t “legal.” We hated it and resented being limited, but despite our frustration “the man” was right.

That’s what Utena was hitting on. The series has a cast of characters who all believe they have the answers. They want to “crack the world’s shell” and “revolutionize the world.” They had stylized sword fights to claim the hand of the Rose Bride. They thought they knew how the world worked. They thought they had Dios/God on their side. They were a bunch of fucking idiots who were basically playing house when they were at an age where they should be worrying about their future. Utena realizes that her plight is meaningless, so she leaves the school. Anthy soon follows, realizing that playing the role of a trophy bride for a bunch of immature jocks and preps isn’t what she wants out of life. Even most of the Student Council characters realize that they’ve been fighting a futile battle, leaving only Akio to wallow in his stunted growth and refusal to escape from his adolescent purgatory.

As I was thinking about Angel Beats this week, I was starting to get that sort of vibe from that series as well. We’re looking at some sort of purgatory where kids are awaiting to be “erased.” We get a hint that one becomes “erased” if they come to a realization that they’ve fulfilled their role in that period of life. The leader of Girls Dead Monster finally plays the sort of song she wants. She rocks out and lets loose with her emotions in a way she’s never could before that moment. And with that release she got what she wanted and essentially moved on. Hinata almost had the same sort of moment of satori, but he found himself interrupted by a physical manifestation of adolescence. If it wasn’t for a young girl knocking him back down to “her level,” he’d have disappeared too.

That could be another way to tackle Angel Beats, other than the “OMGVIDEOGAME” angle I love to harp about.

Also, Tatami Galaxy is hitting on similar ideas, except it’s coming from a college-aged angle. College isn’t quite as limiting as high school, since you have a good number of freedoms alloted to you that you didn’t have when you were still a teen, but it’s just as much of a limiting force in one’s life if one becomes attached to that lifestyle. That could be what the main character is experiencing in that series. He’s stuck in this frat boy-like mode of rebellion and acting out, and each time he finds himself incapable of escaping from that mindset his world resets Groundhog Day styled to the beginning of college. He’s in a time loop purgatory much like Billy Murray’s character, and the only way to escape is to make the right decisions set forth by a seeming arbitrary but most likely correct third-party. And in both instances it looks to be that said decision is to develop some sort of emotional backbone and fess up to the girl they like. Only then can said characters escape their chronological hell.

So yeah, the current anime season has it’s fair share of “grow the fuck up” series. I think that’s a good trend.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 2, 2010 11:50 AM

    That’s a somewhat obvious but still very valid reading of Utena, though Utena actually “leaving” school is a matter of personal interpretation. There’s a lot going on in the last arc or so where this interpretation leaves blanks.

    Angel Beats transforming its focus into a coming of age would be pretty unexpected, considering Key’s history of writing exclusively emotional tragedy. Writers/directors/studios tend to specialize in only one style or theme that gets repeated throughout their works, but struggle to handle a complete tonal change. Maybe we’re trying to read meaning in Angel Beats where none was meant to be?

  2. May 2, 2010 3:19 PM

    A commentor said on a post I wrote about Angel Beats that the fighting against Tenshi was more about rebelling against the “man” (or “God”) than actually beating Tenshi or God themselves. I think the idea captures the kind of immaturity and ignorance you mentioned.

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