I have no doubt that this is part of the reason I began watching it years ago since I had just discovered Fingersmith, a made for TV movie based on the book by Sarah Waters. Fingersmith is an expertly crafted story whose central focus is the complex relationship and eventual romance between the two lead female characters and I was inspired to find more tales like it during my first year of University.
Besides the lesbian under (or over) tones, Fairytale tropes like castles, roses, horses and dueling feature throughout the intro, promising fantastical adventures. Given this opening discovering that the story takes place in a high school is rather disorienting.
A narrator explains that the main character,Utena, was raised out of grief by a prince, vowing to uphold the hope he gave her by making herself in his image. In other words, by becoming a prince. Hence the reason Utena attends what appears to be an extremely prestigious school in a boy's uniform (I love how short-shorts are apparently mandatory attire for the male students).
Our heroine then witnesses Anthy being physically abused by someone she assumes to be the woman's boyfriend (which is disturbing) but the attack is interrupted and we learn that all three figures (Anthy, Touga and Saionji) are members of the Student Council. Anthy is completely submissive in every scene and apparently no one likes her.
To avenge her friend Utena challenges Saionji to a duel. Little does she know that by challenging the current owner of the Rose Bride she enters herself into the game. One crucial point I've thus far neglected to mention is that participants in this game where rings with a rose crest. The prince that raises Utena out of grief gives her a ring identical to that of the duelists. This is how she is able to enter the forbidden arena at the back of the school to fight Saionji. The arena is located on the top of a dais raised high in the air and gotten to via a winding staircase. Above the arena floats an upside-down castle.
Future entries should not be as long since this episode establishes the setting. Nonetheless, I hope any who come across this entry enjoy it!
Images courtesy of http://ohtori.nu/