Welcome to From the Mouths of Babes
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. I do not recall where I obtained these scans, as they've been on my computer for a century. Because this article was published after the first one on the site from Animerica Extra, the opening recaps a lot of the content from that first interview. [page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4]

Chiho Saito and Kunihiko Ikuhara

Manga artist Chiho Saito and director Kunihiko Ikuhara answer our questions about reality, fantasy, and feminism in Revolutionary Girl Utena.

Interview by Julie Davis and Bill Flanagan

   At Anime Expo 2000 in Anaheim, California, manga artist Chiho Saito and director Kunihiko Ikuhara met with an audience of American anime fans. It wasn’t the first time either creator had visited an anime convention in the U.A., but this was certainly the largest crowd to see them so far, and the convention boasted two things that set their appearance apart from any other—the U.S. premiere of the Utena movie, Adolescence of Utena, and the announcement that the Revolutionary Girl Utena manga would soon be published in English in the pages of Animerica Extra.

   As the director of both Sailor Moon and Revolutionary Girl Utena, Ikuhara's work was a known quantity to the convention crowd, but Saito was more of a mystery. Hand-picked by Ikuhara for the Utena project, Saito was key to creating the style and look for the Utena series through her manga version of the story, and also in the early stages of the design process. As members of the "Be-Papas" team, Saito and Ikuhara worked on the designs for Utena's characters and settings together, faxing their ideas back and forth until the perfect result was achieved.

    "It took a very long time," Saito said."I'd make a drawing and fax it over and Mr. Ikuhara would make corrections and fax it 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 okay!" she laughed. "Of all the manga I've drawn, I've never had to do so much work on character design."

   Saito first became a manga artist by winning one of Shogakukan's monthly contests for new artists. Since her debit title, 1982's Ken to Mademoiselle ("The Sword and the Mademoiselle"), Saito has published more than 60 volumes of manga, including the five-volume Utena series and a manga adaptation of the Utena movie. In retrospect, it's hard to see how Utena could have been done by anyone else; Saito's work has never shied away from controversial subjects, and Utena's exploration of gender roles reflects some of her own feelings on feminism.

   "I've read quite a few books on philosophy, and I was wondering about my future," she said. "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 cam 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?"

   Ikuhara agreed. "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."

   As a director on the Sailor Moon TV series and movies, Ikuhara had already been dealing with such issues for some time. But with Utena, Ikuhara was able to go to another plane altogether, to a place beyond reality—even beyond the superheroic reality of Sailor Moon. Utena's world is something more like a stage, or nightmare—a Dali-esque vision that could be happening inside the characters' heads, or could be happening on a metaphorical's really for the viewer to decide.

   Complicating the issue even further, Utena's own reality has more than one plane to it as well. Contrary to most anime series based on a bestselling manga, there is actually quite a bit of difference between the Revolutionary Girl Utena manga and the anime series. For one thing, although the entire Utena project had been developed with the anime in mind, since Saito had to begin drawing the manga before the anime series went into production, early in the process she was often forced to come up with her own visualizations for the story points that the anime eventually portrayed in a totally different manner.

   Saito described her creation of the manga as being one that got its inspiration largely through her own confusion about what exactly she was supposed to show, and Ikuhara's own vague answers to her questions. After trying several approaches, she 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," she laughed. "Eventually, when I say the animation, I finally realized that it was a projection of a world that is, in fact, inside the characters' minds, and that's what Mr. Ikuhara wanted all along."


Animerica: You have a lot of sword imagery in your work. How did that theme come about?

Saito: When I was young, I watched The Three Musketeers

Animerica: The animated version?

Saito: No, the movies with Michael York and Charlton Heston, and I became a big fan. But before my manga stories were accepted at Shogakukan, I drew high-school dramas. Soon my editors came back to me telling me to draw the things that I liked, so I started to write Three Musketeers-style stories, and that one became my debut story.

Animerica: What made you first want to become a manga artist?

Saito: In grade school, I started wondering just what I would like to do and I decided back then that I wanted to draw manga. So through junior high and high school until my debut, I concentrated single-mindedly on becoming a manga artist.

Animerica: What are your inspirations?

Saito: Movies...and music. Those two are my main inspirations.

Animerica: What kind of music?

Chiho Saito Mini-Bio
Birthplace: Kodaira, Tokyo
Birthdate: 29 June
Blood Type: Type B
Star Sign: Cancer
Kunihiko Ikuhara Mini-Bio
Birthplace: Kanagawa, Japan
Birthdate: 21 December
Blood Type: Type A
Star Sign: Sagittarius

Saito: The best music for me is instrumentals without lyrics—that brings images to my mind that I can use. While I'm listening to the music, I can see the images, just like a movie.

Animerica: And what composers do you like?

Saito: Ryuichi Sakamoto and Wagner are special favorites.

Animerica: Had you not become a manga artist, what would you have liked to do?

Saito: From childhood, I was always very interested in ballet. In junior-high school, I worked on the school plays—not as an actor, but as one who built and designed the sets. I always wanted to design sets.

Animerica: In many of your scenes, and especially in the animated version of Utena, there seems to be a theatrical influence, like Broadway musicals.

Saito: There is a very large influence. When choosing colors, I love strong, primary colors, like a spotlight is shining on the characters.

Animerica: Have you seen a lot of ballet on stage?

Saito: I have, and I still follow it closely. Earlier, when I came to the U.S., I went to the Met to see an opera...

Animerica: Which opera was that?

Saito: Oh, that was Cinderella.

Animerica: Mr. Ikuhara, have there been any theatrical influences on you?

Ikuhara: There are plenty, but it's a long story...

Animerica: Well, for example, what kind of theater did you follow?

Ikuhara: In Japan in the seventies, there was a famous man that I admired, an actor and writer by the name of Shuji Terayama. He was about as highly regarded as Yukio Mishima. I went to see his plays, and I was shocked! Mostly by the work of the man who was the music composer and stage director for those plays, J.A. Seazer. This was in my student days, so that means that I've been wanting to work with J.A. Seazer for nearly 20 years. I worked on Sailor Moon, so from my entry into the field through the Sailor Moon years, I had always worked on presenting other peoples' projects. Utena was the first time that I could present my own work. I wanted to use the people I most respected—the people I always wanted to work with. With that in mind, I asked J.A. Seazer to compose Utena's music. And for that reason, Utena has a very close relationship with stage performances.

Animerica: Was that how Be-Papas came about? You gathered all the people you respected to be a part?

Ikuhara: Exactly.

Animerica: Was Utena a story that originated with you, Mr. Ikuhara, or...

Ikuhara: Everybody in Be-Papas gathered together to create it.

Animerica: Akio seems to have a seductive, villainous personality. In opposition to that, Dios never says a word. Does that mean that a good man should just shut up?

Saito: [LAUGHS] That's not really what I was trying to aim at. [LAUGHS] Dios isn't so much of a real human being, but an ideal. But does that mean that you don't like Akio because he's a villain?

Animerica: [LAUGHS] No, of course we like him. When translating, the dialogue of a villain can be the most fun to script.

Saito: I think so, too. I just love writing villains.

Animerica: In the manga of Utena, there's the prologue, but after she enters Ohtori Academy, she only leaves it once. We know better than to ask the meaning of it, but can you let us in on your thoughts with regards to that scene?

Saito: All I can say is that scene is a very important part of the overall theme.

Animerica: The theme of leaving your own personal world? The movie seems to feature that theme as well. Especially in the final scenes where the castle starts to destroy the world. What was the thought behind this? Was it like the cars—just another image you wanted to see on screen? [LAUGHS]

Ikuhara: [LAUGHS] The castle may have been a phantom object, but everything that it destroys may also be phantom objects.

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

Ikuhara: In Japan, there is a novel Mamoru Nagano (Five Star Stories) and I are working on, Schell Bullet, and just before I came to the U.S., I just completed work on a CD.

Animerica: A drama disc?

Ikuhara: No, I sang on it. My picture's on the jacket, and when I get back to Japan, I'll start promoting its release.

Animerica: Have you ever been in a band?

Ikuhara: No, this is a new experience.

Animerica: At one point, Ms. Saito, you mentioned that you read a lot of books. Which books did you read?

Saito: Philosophy books. Books that ponder the idea that the world is actually an illusion.

Animerica: And did you draw any conclusions? Do you believe in an objective universe?

Saito: When I was a child, I thought the world was a solid place—I was living in it, and all I did was experience the existing world. But later on I realized that there were people in authority that were trying to change the world according to their own desires. This is true not only in a small world like a household, but also true in as large an entity as society. Those authorities can alter the world's ethics and morals, and use them as their tools. So, at that point I realized that morality was altered by those in authority, I felt released.Since the restrictions on me as a woman were imposed by people rather than the universe, I realized I didn't have to be restricted by them. So as a human being, I will do what I need to do to pursue happiness regardless of others' restrictions—it's in the pursuit that I became a contented person. I can't act however I want, because I have to communicate with other people and interact with society, but if you take other people into account, you can find your own way to happiness.

Animerica: Mr. Ikuhara, what do you think of America?

Ikuhara: Recently I went to a movie festival in Europe, and I realized there were a lot of people who looked to America as a world leader. So if you want your works to be seen by the world, you have to pass it through America. With my next work, if everything goes well, I'll have America strongly in mind.

Adolescence of Utena
   The Revolutionary Girl Utena movie debuted in theaters in Japan in 1999. It's not a sequel, but actually a totally different take on the story. Rather than the fusion-fashion sense Utena shows in the TV series, Utena's cropped hair, hat, and pantsuit cause her classmates to mistake her for a boy at first. Additionally, Utena already has a history with Touga—they'd previously met, and became lovers, before the school year began. But as Utena becomes involved in the Duels and gains Anthy for the "Rose Bride," she begins to struggle to understand her true feelings for Touga...and for Anthy as well. The movie's ending is a bizarre collection of images that could be seen as allegorical, of evidence of a fantastic inner life, or simply symbols for an individual's struggle to find their place in society. "I'd lilke the viewer to decides," Ikuhara said.
   To complicate things further, Saito's manga version is even different from the movie, with a story that's decidedly more mature in content. The relationships between the characters is made even more explicitly clear.

Animerica: You're not thinking of Schell Bullet...

Ikuhara: Maybe it'll be Schell Bullet, or other works that I'm considering. It should be a movie that will have the biggest projection values that I've worked on yet.

Animerica: When you say you'll have America in mind, what would be the difference?

Ikuhara: With Utena, it went to the theaters in Japan, than after some time it was brought to America. I'd like to change that.

Animerica: So this time, it would be a simultaneous release?

Ikuhara: Or possibly, show it in America first.

The Music of Utena
   An element of Utena that especially stands out to first-time viewers is the music, particularly the songs that accompany the Duels. Operatic, yet weirdly hardcore, like thrash rock sung by divas, the music heightens the sense of unreality in the series, and signals transitions from the seemingly "normal" world of the Academy to the surrealist world of the Duels.

Animerica: So you're talking about release dates, and not necessarily about American tastes...

Ikuhara: When I say that I have America in mind, I mean primarily two things: the first is budget. When you think America, you're thinking big budget. The other is morals. When you aim a production at America, you have to consider the accepted world morality. That's what I would like to make the theme of the production.

Be Papas
   Revolutionary Girl Utena is not the product of one mind, but a collaborative project—the key staff behind its creation are anime series director and writer Kunihiko Ikuhara, manga artist Chiho Saito, scriptwriter Yoji Enokido, and episode director Shingo Kaneko.

Look for the first installment of Chiho Saito's Revolutionary Girl Utena manga in Animerica Extra Vol.4, No.1, on sale now!

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.