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Gio's Note: This interview was published in Animerica Extra, a magazine released in the United States meant to be equated with Newtype in Japan. It was scanned and posted on the In the Rose Garden forums by Alexa. [page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4]

Chiho Saito and Kunihiko Ikuhara

By Julie Davis and Bill Flanagan

Name: Chiho Saito
Birthplace: Kodaira, Tokyo
Bloodtype: B
Birthdate: June 29

We at Viz received confirmation that Revolutionary Girl Utena was to run in the pages of Animerica Extra only a few hours before we met legendary manga artist Chiho Saito and the director of the Utena anime series, Kunihiko Ikuhara. Although their Anime Expo 2000 schedules were full to begin with, they were gracious enough to grant us a few moments to discuss their impressions of Utena, America, philosophy, and other assorted facts.

Animerica Extra: Ms. Saito, how did you become a manga artist?

Saito: Shogakukan (my Japanese publisher) has a contest every month for new artists. One time, I decided to enter into one of these, and I won!

Animerica Extra: When you are coming up with the characters and settings for Utena, does one person originate them, then another member of Be-Papas add ideas?

Ikuhara: Actually Ms. Saito and I did character designs going back-and-forth by fax. I'm not very good at drawing, so I had to rely on Ms. Saito. (laughs)

Saito: It took a very long time, and we were faxing designs back and forth. I'd make a drawing and fax it over, and Mr. Ikuhara would make corrections and fax is back. That included everything: hairstyles, uniforms, all sorts of things like that. It took so much time and so many drawings to get the final OK! (laughs) Of all the manga I've drawn, I've never had to do so much work on character design.

Animerica Extra: With all of the platforms and other stage-like devices in the series, one gets the feeling that it's not a real place. What it seems is that the place is actually something in the characters' heads.

Saito: I started the manga about a year before the TV series came out, and while I was working on the structure of the manga, I would ask Mr. Ikuhara time and time again, "What kind of work is this supposed to be!?" From the start, I thought it may be just another Sailor Moon. (laughs) No, that wasn't right. Umm, maybe it's a fantasy? I asked, time and time again, "Who are Anthy and Akio? What type of people are they? What sort of dimension do they come from? What kind of world are they living in?" (laughs) And when the replies came back, his answers were so difficult to follow, I couldn't really make out the meaning. So it became time to draw the manga, and I just went ahead and started writing the story as if it were a fantasy. And well into the manga series, the TV series started, and I realized just how wrong I was. (laughs) Eventually, when I saw the animation, I finally realized that it was a projection of a world that is, in fact, inside the character's minds, and that's what Mr. Ikuhara wanted all along.

Animerica Extra: I noticed that Utena is very aggressive and Anthy very passive. Do you consider the internal struggle between those two aspects of the psyche to be a theme of Utena?

Saito: I think it's a very large part of it. I've read quite a few books on philosophy, and I was wondering about my future. I realized that if I don't free myself, I can't do what I hope to do in the future. When I started working with Mr. Ikuhara, that question came up as well. It turned out that everyone, including the screenwriter, had read many of the same books, and everyone had approximately the same outlook. This philosophical viewpoint became a part of the basic setting of the story. The theme became one of:what struggles do women go through in their search for happiness? Because the manga was aimed at a very young age, it's very difficult to present that philosophy directly, so I had to write these themes in a roundabout manner. When I drew the movie-adaptation manga, it was in a magazine aimed at an older audience, and I could tell the story in a straighter fashion. I think probably the movie portrays the themes in an even more direct fashion than my movie manga.

Animerica Extra: It seems that there are many roles that are explores, and stereotypes broken in the Utena series. Particularly with regards to gender roles. Was it your intent to break accepted standards in sexual and gender roles?

Saito: I wasn't trying to do anything specific with male or female sexuality. It's more a matter of whether one human loves another human.

Animerica Extra: In the past there were such manga as Osamu Tezuka's Ribon no Kishi (Princess Knight) and Riyoko Ikeda's Rose of Versailles. Do you consider Utena a further step in that theme?

Saito: The image of what is female seems to be evolving from Princess Knight, to Rose of Versailles, and on through Utena. During Rose of Versailles, the main character would not only wear men's clothes, she also had a male mindset. And in the setting, it was considered a problem if a woman tried to advance herself in society. This was the world of Rose of Versailles. But now with Utena, the main character wears a male uniform--but it isn't really a male uniform, is it? It's just the clothes that Utena likes. She's not bound by the same male/female conventions that previous characters may have been bound by. I don't think that society has changed all that much, but in modern manga, a person is all allowed to follow her own path.

Animerica Extra: No, it isn't a man's uniform. The male characters wear nothing like it...

Ikuhara: During the Rose of Versailles, by wearing the uniform, (Oscar) his her own body line--her own femininity. But now, times have changed. Even though it's not yet a world where all women are free, this costume might allow her the chance to be a "woman." We're trying to envision a world where a woman can decide what she does with her own body. Utena decided to show off her own beautiful legs. She's comfortable with her own beauty. That's the type of world we were trying to portray.

Saito: We tried to make a costume that showed how beautiful a woman can be.

Animerica Extra: So how much do you think society has advanced?

Saito: It's not necessarily true that women are gaining a stronger place in society. It's possible that they don't have a stronger position at all. But at the very least, it seems that now is a time when a woman can decide how to show the world her own feminine beauty and be proud of it.

Animerica Extra: Saionji and Chu-chu exchanged minds in one of the Utena short stories. Did they ever switch back?

Saito: (laughs) That's a secret.

Animerica Extra: Oh, sorry.

Animerica Extra: What do you think of America?

Saito: From the time I was very young to when I was about 17 years old, I lived close to an American military base. The area was filled with Americans, and there were four or five hourses in my neighborhood where American families lived. From childhood, I was always playing with American children. So when I come to America, I remember my childhood, and I'm hit with a bout of nostalgia. I'm told that when I played with my American friends as a child, I spoke English, but in the intervening years, I forgot everything I knew! (laughs) Right now, I'm trying to teach myself English again. I'd love to be able to talk to my fans in English. I love to talk to Americans, and since my manga is coming out, I can speak to Americans through my manga. That makes me very happy.

Animerica Extra: If you get fan mail, would you like us to send it directly to you?

Saito: Yes, very much.

Animerica Extra: So what are the projects you're working on at the moment?

Saito: I'm developing a new series, but we haven't decided on a name... I'm sorry, it's too early to say anything about it yet.

Animerica Extra: Finally, is there anything in particular you'd like to say to the American fans?

Ikuhara: Now that Utena's coming out, I'd like to see a lot more Chiho Saito comics come out, too. I'd like to see Americans reading them.

Animerica Extra: Thank you both very much for your time.

Ikuhara: Thank you.

Shoujo Kakumei Utena (Revolutionary Girl Utena) is © Kunihiko Ikuhara, Chiho Saito, Shogakukan and bePapas/TV Tokyo and/or their respective copyright holders. The US release of the Revolutionary Girl Utena series and movie was © Central Park Media and now belongs to Right Stuf. The US release of the Utena manga is © VIZ. The various sources used in this site are noted where their content is presented. Don't sue us, seriously. Blood. Stone.