The anime series is divided into four story arcs, in each of which Utena comes to face a different challenge at Ohtori Academy. In all of them, Utena must defend her title as the owner of the Rose Bride, with the intention of protecting Anthy. The duels almost always occur when someone with the Rose Crest ring challenges the current Engaged, though the Engaged may challenge other Duelists as well. No refusal is accepted. The matches occur in the dueling arena, a large, high platform in the academy’s outskirts, which is only open to duelists. The Rose Bride pins roses to the Duelists’ jackets. They then sword fight until one duelist wins by knocking away the opponent’s rose with his or her blade.
(The story arc names below link to more details than given here as well as the episodes.)
- Student Council Saga
- Episodes 1 to 13. This first part of the series introduces Utena, Anthy and most of the main characters. It depicts how Utena ends up winning the Rose Bride, and her initial duels against the Student Council members. They in turn insist for various reasons on fighting in order to defeat Utena and win Anthy in order to gain the power to revolutionize the world.
- Black Rose Saga
- Episodes 14 to 24. After repelling the Student Council’s attempts to take Anthy, Utena faces another obstacle, Souji Mikage. Disguised as a genius 18-year-old school counselor, he uses his powers of persuasion and knowledge of psychology to put people under his control by coaxing them to confide their deepest hostilities and fears. Almost always, these people are students whose problems stem from conflict with Utena, Anthy and the Student Council. He then sends them, wearing black Rose Crest rings on their fingers and frozen, black roses on their chests to fight Utena. This arc also introduces Akio Ohtori.
- Akio Ohtori Saga
- Episodes 25 to 33. After solving the Mikage situation, Utena must fight rematches against the Student Council, whose members attain new abilities upon meeting Akio. At the same time, she finds herself the target of Akio’s seduction, creating a rift between her and Anthy.
- Apocalypse Saga
- Episodes 34 to 39. As the conflict escalates, the dark secrets of the duels and Akio and Anthy’s true intentions behind them are unveiled, and Utena confronts Akio in a final duel to free Anthy from his influence.
A movie, Adolescence of Utena, was released in theatres in 1999. A number of stage productions based on the franchise were also produced in the mid-1990s, including the “Comédie Musicale Utena la fillette révolutionnaire”, staged by an all-female Takarazuka-style cast.
The main character is Utena Tenjou, a tomboyish teenage girl who was so impressed by a kind prince in her childhood that she decided to become a prince herself, expressed in her manner of dress and personality. She attends Ohtori Academy, where she meets a student named Anthy Himemiya, a girl who is in an abusive relationship with another student. Utena fights to protect Anthy and is pulled into a series of sword duels with the members of the Student Council. Anthy is referred to as the “Rose Bride” and is given to the winner of each duel. It is said that the winner of the tournament will receive a mysterious “power to revolutionize the world”, and the current champion is constantly challenged for the right to possess the Rose Bride.