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Duel 21 -- Vermin
Or: Yeah, Touga Has Had, Like, Two Lines In Nine Episodes But That Doesn’t Mean He Can’t Get A Sword Pulled Out Of Him

I know I’ve been rallying against praising Ikuhara and Ikuhara alone for the creation of this series, but at the same time, he’s also the one with his name all over everything. It’s not a coincidence, for example, that Nanami’s three cohorts are named Aiko, Keiko, and Yuuko, or I-ko, K-ko, and U-ko if you follow the Shadow Girls’ lead. The other ones are a bit less obvious, though, so maybe it’d be worth it to talk about the other ways people find Kunihiko Ikuhara in this series because it’s not just cute acronyms like that one.

The first character I’ve seen described as an Ikuhara avatar is actually a representation of someone else already: Chu-chu. On paper, this makes sense. In addition to frequently acting as a stand-in for Anthy, he’s also the series mascot animal, so it makes sense that he’d provide the occasional commentary on behalf of the director. This can make some interpretations of his actions interesting, especially regarding earlier in the series when things aren’t otherwise as ambiguous.

On the other hand, I also kind of feel this particular read is mostly used to excuse some of the more out-there things Chu-chu does in those early episodes -- things I never thought really needed explaining outside of “he’s a silly monkey.” I could easily be wrong on this, of course; I could have missed the connections that point to Ikuhara injecting himself while looking for the other.

Fortunately, the other major insert has actual dialog. Throughout this entire arc, Akio Ohtori has been opining on the relationship problems Utena brings him, scenes that, so far, have occurred just before Utena goes off to duel someone with a Black Rose. Narratively, these are to bring Utena closer to Akio to set up where this next arc is going, but given the nature of the conversation, it’s easy to read these as the author preaching to the audience as well.

But even then, some of the comments Akio makes are a little weird? Like, just last episode, Akio comments about Wakaba suddenly feeling special as if it must be only temporary, as if Wakaba was doomed to come crashing back down simply by her nature. Of course, the nature of that particular situation means that Saionji was probably always going to leave, an action that would have consequences no matter what, but using this “Akio as the director’s commentary” lens would mean that such statements can’t only be about the work itself.

As a last little throwaway, the three recurring triplets Yamada, Tanaka, and Suzuki (and yes, I did have to look up those names) are apparently based on people Ikuhara knows, and they show up from time to time in his other works. It’s not a direct avatar, but at least this one has been confirmed by the creators.

In case it’s not clear by this point, I’m not exactly convinced by the lines of reasoning. Both Chu-chu and Akio have significant arguments in their favor, but also, I’m not confident they track all the way through. Revolutionary Girl Utena says a lot of things, but I’m not sure this is one of them.


Keiko is the one the episode focuses on. Anthy tries to clear that up near the end of the episode, though her more important point, and the one that really needs to be focused on, comes just after. “If it's for someone you love, how you feel about others doesn't matter. You keep lying to yourself for as long as it takes,” she says. And even given the context of the episode it’s in it’s a little sad -- Keiko can’t express herself to Touga out of fear of retribution from Nanami -- but also, given who is saying it, and given what they were also told to do this episode, it also provides a glimpse into Anthy’s perspective. It’s definitely something to keep in mind as the arc comes to a close.

All that, of course, is entirely separate from the main story of the episode, which wonders just how Nanami’s posse can put up with the abuse she lays on them. Who do they love and desire to be close to? The episode even comes with its own flashback to how they first met at the entrance ceremony. I couldn’t tell you why Nanami then focuses her efforts on ruining Keiko, though perhaps the intent there is that it could have happened to any of the three, and Keiko was just the one that got lucky spotting Touga in the rain.

But this means it’s also unclear if the other two have come to their own conclusions regarding Nanami’s treatment towards them. The flashback shows them together even before Nanami, and right after meeting her is when they form their friendship pact, but they don’t exactly get time to explore their own feelings like Keiko does. And Keiko, again, chooses to ignore her happiness in favor of a blissful lie, one that’s going to come crashing down on someone sooner or later.

Yes, I say this with knowledge of future events, but also it seems inevitable anyways, doesn’t it? By giving people normally under Nanami’s thumb even a hint more personality, it also shines a light on her own actions. Her possessiveness of Touga was already weird, but unlike coming after an uninterested Utena, now she is actively denying other people who would otherwise like to court.

Next time: The show increases in symbolic imagery to the point of self-parody.

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Edited by radio414

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Duel 22 -- Nemuro Memorial Hall
Or: Literally Pointing Out The Symbolism With A Literal Pointer Finger

I put off talking directly about Revolutionary Girl Utena’s manga for a while now for two reasons. The first, and largest reason is that the manga is long enough that I wouldn’t feel justified talking about it in a single post, but also doing a sequence of posts means getting a bit more nitty-gritty with the plot (It’s not a lot different from the anime, but it is different enough to comment on more than the few posts I’ve already done on the subject). And, if I was doing that, well, I wanted to wait until I could draw specific parallels without too many spoilers.

But hey, this particular episode clears up End of the World’s identity, which is the last big element I wanted to avoid talking about (I won’t call it a twist because, like, the character’s introduction set the seeds in motion), so that’s an obstacle removed.

The second was, for a while, I didn’t have it. I hadn’t read it. But that’s an easily solvable problem. Like the anime, the manga has had multiple physical releases, starting with the original serial in the shojo magazine Ciao and trade paperbacks all the way to a pair of hardcover tomes in 2017. The latter are the ones I purchased and I imagine are the first things to pop up if you go looking to follow my lead. They even come with Chiho Saito’s manga adaptation of Adolescence of Utena, which is an added bonus.

That being said, that doesn’t count for “all of the manga”, though. I mentioned this before, but Saito wrote a brief sequel manga, After the Revolution, which, while published in 2018, isn’t scheduled to get an official English release until this October. If I’m doing all this in sequence, I didn’t want to 

One volume per post is the plan I’ve decided on; it’s a decision that seems kind of obvious. There is a prolog and some side stories I may or may not lump in with them (or, in the case of the latter, with each other) due to their length, but that’s the general idea. This should solve the second problem, too, in that I should receive After the Revolution just in time to cover it, maybe with the movie-manga as an additional buffer. We’ll start next week with that. Can’t wait!


This episode is tricky because, well, I’ve been trying with this blog to be like, “Utena may appear formidable, like you need to be alert and engaging with it at all times, but you only really need to engage enough to get a general gist of what it’s trying to say.” At the same time, this episode exists where the symbology can’t help but be in your face. Like I said in the joke title, there are literal pointer fingers and literal beeps to draw your attention where the show wants it to be, and that replaces a lot of work that would be otherwise replaced by dialog.

I don’t mean this as a bad thing. I mean, cutting back on dialog means that the episode actually fits within the constraints of an episode’s runtime. But it also requires that level of engagement I’ve been subtly trying to avoid throughout these posts. When you’re not paying attention, the beeping is shrill enough to only irritate. Nor do I mean that there aren’t other times that the show gets significantly more surreal than normal -- in fact, the final arc is where one might say it gets the most. I do mean that this is a significant step up from every episode that came before it.

On a base level, though, the episode serves as a backstory for Souji Mikage, told in flashback as he receives a letter from End of the World and ponders what to do next. This is important: these flashbacks are from his perspective, that’s why the pointers emphasize these certain elements, they’re what he remembers most from his time as a researcher, seeking eternity along with a hundred others. Most of these elements are related to his relationship with Tokiko Chida and, by extension, Tokiko’s younger brother Mamiya. The lipstick-marked cup, for example, draws particular attention, and even though we never do see Tokiko and Souji interact in a romantic sense, Souji’s recollection of her being seduced by Akio is similarly strong.

Of course, since we do never see the romance onscreen, it’s not a difficult read to see Mikage as obsessive to some degree. He does fixate on a moment near the end of the episode where Utena mirrors some of Tokiko’s dialog from earlier in the episode, for example, and perhaps the cup appearing in Mikage’s office is similarly suspicious.

But let’s take this at face value for now. Tokiko Chida is seduced by Akio and Mikage convinces Mamiya to burn down the research facility. The motivation is a little muddy, but my particular read is that by achieving eternity and saving Mamiya from his illness, Souji might hope to win her back. At the same time, though, Tokiko appears at the end of the episode and has moved on from all of this, and leading us into the next episode are a few questions she brings up.

The first is she mentions Mamiya’s grave, given we’ve seen Mamiya around, you know, stabbing girls in the chest with the stems of his roses.

The second is the age difference. She mentions how nobody at Ohtori Academy seems to age, for example, while she clearly has. Akio responds with “So long as they stay in these gardens we call schools, people will never become adults.” The only garden we’ve seen is the Rose Garden, which, as I’ve mentioned before, is deliberately shaped like a birdcage. So the Foucault metaphor lines up, but that doesn’t exactly explain why nobody, especially Mikage or Akio, seems to age.

Finally, by introducing a familial relation to Mamiya, the show draws questions of their actual relation. Mamiya, after all, has been portrayed as a counterpart to Anthy, and thus looks visually similar, a distinction that Tokiko doesn’t share at all, appearing like the vast majority of the cast.

There’s a whole episode coming up to address all these, though, the conclusion of the arc, in fact. Hopefully, you can take the suspense.

-r

Next time: Someone once asked me if I believe in ghosts. I said no, but when I asked the same question back they said, “Of course I do,” and disappeared.

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Edited by radio414

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Duel 23 -- The Terms of a Duelist
Or: Amazing… Everything You Just Saw Last Episode Was Wrong

As promised, we’re going to start talking about Chiho Saito’s manga today, starting with the prolog. By the second page, we’ve already run into a point of separation from the anime, in this case, Utena’s rose-colored uniform. I mentioned this before when talking about the initial steps of the show’s creation, how Utena’s design was always in flux, and this is potentially one such indicator of that. The manga doesn’t comment on Utena’s hair color, though it would not surprise me if the initial pages were drawn with blonde hair in mind. Still, announcing the unconventional color of Utena’s outfit along with the rose-scented letter from her prince does a good job setting up the motif just as well as the prolog for the anime did.

I suppose I should talk about how I’m approaching this discussion because it’s a little different from how I’ve been referring to the anime. The anime is free to watch, of course, and there have been two links to the episode in question in each of these posts, so it is easier for me to assume someone is watching along and experiencing Utena for the first time. The manga, meanwhile, is something you need to purchase (or at least you should; I admit I didn’t dig too hard into online versions) so access is slightly more limited. So that’s one effect, and will perhaps lead to a bit more recap than normal. The other is that because I’m starting this so late in this blog series, it’s not going to assume the manga is one’s first foray into Utena. It did technically come first, but most people’s first experience is with the show (though it should be noted there’s a not-insignificant number of people who have only seen the movie), including myself, and I wasn’t sure I would be able to distance myself from that enough, so I decided not to, a decision that will likely lead to more comparative analysis.

Of course, thinking like this also leads to one of the biggest criticisms I’ve seen of the prolog: that it is utterly ancillary to the main plot and could just as easily be cut from the story entirely. And, well, it’s a fair point. If you’ve already accepted Utena being removed from all mentor figures in her search for some mythical prince, taking over seventy pages of manga to reestablish these facts might not be the best use of space. But also remember that the anime accomplished this by using a story so fantastic that one assumes it to be an allegory on initial viewing. The remaining thirty-eight episodes of that show have this undercurrent of learning just which parts of that opening did and did not happen. The manga is significantly less ambiguous.

In a similar fashion, the manga is quicker to get to a story that appears in all three of Revolutionary Girl Utena’s canons: the story of a girl drowning until a boy saves her. Like with most things spanning the three mediums, the details differ, but it is always significant in some way (I should note that it hasn’t appeared in the anime yet -- you haven’t missed it). In this case, it is Utena’s first encounter with her prince and the reason for her obsession with the one she calls “Mister Licky-Lick.”

And yeah, that’s a dumb name. I won’t say that it is redeemed by Utena’s young age -- remember, she’s fourteen in the show, and even younger here -- but I will try to give a more charitable read here: The whole prolog, especially her interactions with the two male characters Aoi Wakaoji and Kaido, serve to repeatedly establish that, although Utena at this point in her life is very “prince-sexual”, she has no idea who that prince is or what he looks like. She is attracted to Aoi’s “kind, gentle eyes”, for example, but rejects the rest of him when she realizes that he cannot be her prince. We’ve already seen in the anime how this will only go terribly for her in her interactions with Touga.

The last major point that I want to bring up is this mention of the meaning of Utena’s name. It means “flower calyx”, or the leaves that protect a bud before it blooms. This is significant enough in all versions of Utena, but this is the place where it is remarked upon.

Oh, and there’s also a slap. Can’t have Utena without someone getting slapped, apparently.


If one were to rank the episodes of Revolutionary Girl Utena from most confusing to least confusing, this one would almost certainly be near the top of the list. Which is weird, because it also features Souji Mikage basically explaining the plot, not just of the arc, but of the whole show. “Everyone here is holding onto a memory,” he says. I’ve actually touched on this before, though I called it “reconciling with the past”. The reason the episode is confusing is because of all the other stuff.

The reason for the confusion, in my estimation, is that both the previous episode and this one are told largely through Souji’s perspective, and Souji, as we find out, is a very unreliable narrator. Tokiko wasn’t the object of Mikage’s affections, Mamiya was (yikes). Mamiya didn’t burn down that building, Mikage did. The reason that Souji is the exact same age as he was back then is because he’s dead, a ghost sustained only by imperfect memories and manipulated into doing End of the World’s bidding. This also can explain why, when Tokiko showed up at the end of last episode, she went unnoticed while Mikage instead fixated on Utena as a version of her. Because it was closer to what he remembered, and it was that version of Tokiko that Souji felt he had to overcome.

All of that kind of begs the question, though, if Souji/Nemuro, whichever they are, is an unreliable narrator, how can we be sure this second version of events is the real one? Again, if we remember Tokiko’s appearance in the last episode, the second version seems to line up more with her version of events, with the premier example, Mamiya already being dead, also matching with information that we learn at the end of this episode, that Anthy has been impersonating Mamiya, seemingly at Akio’s behest, in order to manipulate him into following the will of End of the World.

The final moments of the episode also demonstrate the kind of world Ohtori Academy is. When Akio tells Souji to graduate, Souji and all of his influence is erased from the world entirely. Nemuro Memorial Hall becomes a nameless ruin, and nobody remembers a thing about any of what happened.

There are moments in this episode that aren’t from Souji’s perspective, though. Utena discovering Souji’s manipulations and then socking him in the mouth is one, for example. But perhaps the biggest example of this is in her considerations towards Anthy. The moment where Utena wakes up holding Anthy’s hand may be the closest these two have gotten so far, and it’s here that Utena again resolves to be Anthy’s protector. One might note that this is a decision made without Anthy’s consideration or input, especially since, again, Anthy is eventually revealed working with Akio (not to mention the number of times she’s implied to be sleeping with him), but it does still progress their relationship.

Just in time for everything to start falling apart.

-r

Next time: Wow, what a weird arc! Thank goodness there’s a recap episode coming up to tie everything together.

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Edited by radio414

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Duel 24 -- The Secret Nanami Diary
Or: Three Elephant Transformations And At Least One More Cow

One interesting thing the manga does to continue to reinforce its floral theme is the chapter titles. The prolog is just titled that, and the side stories have their own name scheme, but the five main chapters are all plant-based in some way. Today’s topic, chapter one, for example, is titled “To Till”, and as we continue along, the flower will continue to grow.

I’ve mentioned this before, but the story starts in basically the same way every time, no matter the medium. Utena challenges Saionji to a duel and is swept into the dueling game. I don’t mean to make assumptions about the anime’s development process, but that may have been a factor in the similarities in this instance. The earlier plot points were more set in stone, I mean, and some of the lines are, if not word-for-word identical, at least very similar. Saionji even makes the same passing comment about the castle in the sky being more like a mirage.

That doesn’t mean it’s all the same, though. A lot of this is in the aesthetics -- Utena still wears her rose-pink uniform, for example, and the student council meets not in the ivory tower above the school but in a building with more religious aesthetics, or at least a building with a lot of stained glass -- but there’s also a sense of abridgment to the manga. In my opinion, fair enough, like, you wouldn’t expect a five-chapter manga to cover all thirty-nine episodes of the show in perfect synchronicity, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t noticeable effects. Overall, this chapter covers not only the events of Episode One, but also parts of Episode Three and Episode Eight; I would call this the “Saionji” chapter. But the biggest abridgment continues to be in theme. The anime has had its moments of wearing its heart on its sleeve, but the manga continues to say it outright. Utena wants to be a prince, not a princess, because she wants to be the one doing the protecting. There’s a moment during the first duel that even says this outright. “Man or woman, it doesn’t matter. One of strength and nobility is always a prince.” And it’s this sort of melodramatic opinion that Utena is going to have to grow out of, at least on the anime side of things.

I guess that leads into a discussion on at least a little of the publishing process. According to vague sources, Saito had to go through multiple (I’ve read up to five?) editors, which then led into arguably a watering down of the basic Utena theme of bringing revolution to outdated gender roles. Some of this, I imagine, is apologetics for Saito initially being against the main relationship being anything more than ambiguous (the movie manga is much better in this regard; Utena was an established property by then). Because of this, the themes are going to diverge rather quickly, so that statement above is going to mean something different soon.

The episode ends on a cliffhanger, as Saionji comes out of nowhere to get his revenge. We can get an idea of what happens next from the anime, but I’ll talk about it more next week.


I made a joke about this last week too, but one of the higher-up Youtube comments remarks upon how instead of recapping and finalizing the theme of the previous arc, this clip show instead focuses on Nanami, specifically through the lens of Tsuwabuki’s obsession with her. He’s injured by a runaway horse, and his diary is found and read by Utena, Anthy, and Nanami, which in turn leads to the recap of Nanami’s escapades.

First, though I do want to focus for a moment on the horse. In the discussion for Episode Six, I made a comment about the symbology of the horse in relating it to princeliness. Tsuwabuki continues to want to be Nanami’s quote-unquote “prince”, and that, combined with the mirror of his initial savior moment in Six, makes this a rather significant choice.

The majority of this episode, though, like I said, is a recap of Nanami’s escapades, and we find out that Tsuwabuki’s obsession continues even outside of the episodes he’s visually been a part of. He witnessed Nanami’s initial revenge plots against Anthy, followed her to India during the curry episode (as well as the three identical triplets, who had their minds swapped with elephants while we weren’t looking, apparently), and even snuck into the Student Council meeting room to get a closer look at Touga.

What’s important to note here, and this will apply to upcoming Nanami episodes, is that while the audience has always had this information, a lot of it was outside of Utena’s awareness (it’s implied Anthy has known since the beginning, though she tends to feign ignorance as well). In those initial revenge plots, Nanami still had that veneer of kindness; it was only when Touga got too close that Nanami began revealing her true colors. So this episode just about breaks that barrier of trust entirely. It’s out in the open now. Just in time for other aspects of Nanami’s persona to start breaking down as well.

It’s not all for the worse. Nanami and Tsuwabuki’s general relationship has maintained its improvements since Episode Eighteen, and we see Nanami thank Tsuwabuki for his help at one point. One can hope that this Nanami will continue to make this an area of improvement as she matures as a character. But there are still some barriers that need to be broken. Things are going to get worse before they get better.

-r

Next time: The start of the spookily-named Apocalypse arc, complete with a new living space and a fancy car.

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Edited by radio414

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Duel 25 -- Their Eternal Apocalypse
Or: Akio Literally Compares Himself To Lucifer And Utena Just Doesn’t Get It

Before we get into discussing Part Two of the manga (entitled “To Plant”), because we’re also starting the third and final arc of the anime, a reminder to double-check the handy-dandy list of content warnings. Again, I’ll be sure to include the major ones in these posts proper -- for example: the end of this episode contains some questionable consent -- but that doesn’t mean it’s not a resource worth checking out should you need it.

Part Two of the manga also has some questionable consent during the study-group section. The last part ended on a cliffhanger, though, so let’s resolve that first.

I’ve mentioned before how the manga almost entirely erased Nanami from the story, and how her traits, specifically her obsession with Touga, were instead given to Juri. Chiho Saito has described this decision as wanting to slim down the story to its core characters, though it is still a decision that erases Juri’s lesbianism, which has received negative attention (to put it mildly). It also means that other events have been moved around. I compared Saionji attacking Utena at the end of Part One to Episode Nine where he does the same thing, but the resolution is closer to Episode Ten of the anime -- Touga thrusts himself in front of the blade, injuring himself but also endearing himself to Utena.

The removal of Saionji also means that the power of Dios has to manifest during a different duel. Since Juri has inherited Nanami’s traits, it only follows that she would challenge Utena next, so here appears that particular duel. One might also notice that Juri isn’t blaming Anthy for Touga’s actions or injury, she’s blaming Utena. Anthy here is a means to an end and the end, again, is Touga, which now starts to borrow from anime Saionji’s motivation.

Replacing obsession over Anthy with an obsession with Utena is also how Miki’s plot unfolds. The beginning is the same, with Miki and Utena bonding over their mutual distaste for the dueling game, and they even do the whole study group thing, but during a break where Utena is taking a nap, Miki goes go kiss Utena and is only stopped by Kozue entering the room. This is a moment that isn’t really commented on in the manga. Miki’s attraction isn’t even why he duels Utena, it’s his attachment to his sister and a desire to rescue her that motivates that.

This leads into perhaps the actual theme of the manga: the question “Who are you protecting and why?” In doing so, it comes with an implicit assumption that everybody is either protected or protecting, which is certainly one way to go looking at the world, but at least it is starting to ask if those reasons are truly valid. Touga has been demonstrated to be clearly not in want of Juri’s protection, Miki desires to escape Kozue’s insistence on meddling with his relationships, and Utena, like her show counterpart, occasionally makes assumptions as to what Anthy really wants without asking. Utena is even willing to give Anthy up at one moment partially under the misguided belief that Anthy would still be happy with that.

As for Touga, we’ll have to discover that in the next few parts.


A hundred years ago in May 2020 there was a brief comment left on one of my statuses regarding this blog. I’ve screenshotted it and reproduced it here:

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One interpretation of Utena that I happen to like is tied to Carl Jung’s ideas, in fact. I won’t go too in-depth here regarding it, but here is the basic idea (I ask that you forgive me if I’m destructively reductive in my telling of them here): Jung argued that there are three parts of human consciousness: the persona, the shadow, and the self. The persona is the version of us that is presented to the world, the shadow is the repressed aspects that one may or may not be aware of, and the self is a synthesis of the two. If you’ve played or been made aware of Atlus’ Persona series, particularly Persona 4, which was very much about the conflict between Jung’s ideas of persona versus shadow, you might have a decent idea of at least the base concept.

Utena has a similar read. Each member of the student council is involved in (at least) three duels, the first representing their persona, and largely has them stating outright what their motivations are, the second is by way of the black rose duelists, who they are in some way related to and start to draw out the baser notions behind their persona, and the final duel is the self -- the true reason. For example, let’s look at this episode’s duelist: Kyouichi Saionji.

As we discussed before, Saionji’s initial challenge to Utena -- that is, the one in Episode Two where he is doing the challenging -- is based in a desire for power, both that he already has and that he seeks to attain. Anthy to him is a symbol of both of these things -- by winning the dueling game he demonstrates his power and his prize is even more. His shadow counterpart is Wakaba, who shares his desire to not be left behind. Wakaba’s is a more general sense while Saionji is particularly focused on his relationship with Touga and Touga’s machinations, but they both share that same theme. Possessing/killing Anthy in this case is a demonstration of their worth.

The synthesis -- the self -- as this episode demonstrates, is Saionji desiring power over Touga. Saionji wants to do the one thing Touga could not: show the girl in the coffin something eternal, and he believes Anthy can be a conduit to that thing. These are all concepts we’ve talked about before, but here they are coming into full view.

Elsewhere, it’s a new arc, which not only means a new rendition of “Absolute Destiny Apocalypse” and accompanying ascension to the dueling arena, but also A-ko and B-ko return from their trip to outer space, there’s a location change as Utena and Anthy move into Akio’s spacious chairman’s quarters, and even a new ending theme. Most significant, though, is the addition of a recurring segment, where Utena and Anthy reflect on the events thus far right as they are about to go to sleep. These serve the same purpose as Utena’s chats with Akio did during the previous arc, and even come with the same feelings of intimacy, just with a different sibling. A large portion of the rest of the show is going to be about this relationship triangle; and we’ll continue to explore it here as we go.

-r

Next time: You thought The Sunlit Garden was a two-parter, but you were wrong!

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Duel 26 -- Miki’s Nest Box (The Sunlit Garden - Arranged)
Or: The Third Most Incestuous Relationship In The Show Sorts Itself Out

After a prolog and two chapters of wondering who Utena’s prince could be, we’ve finally found an answer in Touga Kiryuu. But before we get too far into that, let’s instead go over the side stories. The manga has four in total and they’re short enough that they can be written about in pairs. Even better, each pair has its own individual throughline, whether that’s the additional duels the manga didn’t otherwise have time to cover in the case of the latter pair, or, for the two discussed today, a look at Anthy’s friend Chu-chu.

Chu-chu is significantly different in the manga. Design-wise, he doesn’t get his signature tie right away and is overall rather plump compared to his anime counterpart. More importantly, he doesn’t echo Anthy’s true feelings at all, and most of his appearance time is relegated to these two side stories.

The first is “To Curry Favor”, which, as the title itself implies, is a retelling of the anime’s “Curried High Trip”. It’s mostly a straight retelling, the only major difference being Chu-Chu in place of Nanami making a mistake with the curry powder. Gone, then, is the “Karmic Justice” theming of the anime’s episode, instead replaced with monkey business. Anthy is still a bad cook, yes, but it really is the curry powder’s explosive properties that switch Utena and Anthy’s personalities. Chu-chu is even the one to write in Saionji’s exchange diary in this version. If there is one thing to take away from all this it is that the story is written from Chu-chu’s perspective, so it is easy to get a grasp on this version’s personality, a monkey that is fiercely loyal to Anthy and has only grown to trust Utena through her kindness.

The other story, “The Three Wishes,” is a manga original, and is set in about the same place in the chronology. It explores in a slightly more in-depth manner the nature of Chu-chu’s conflict with Saionji: Chu-chu desires to be Anthy’s protector (another reason he looks up to Utena) but falls short both figuratively and literally.

I did say “slightly,” though. It is still one of the more fantastical moments of the manga, involving a magical doll that grants wishes, and ends with a giant Saionji wreaking havoc on Ohtori Academy in pursuit of Chu-chu. Haniwatcha the magic doll appears in a later scene in the manga as a cameo, but otherwise, the story is better examined as an amusing aside with maybe a little bit of understanding of Saionji shining through.


A motif of this arc I didn’t bring up last time is watching people who believe they cannot be manipulated slowly be manipulated to Akio’s ends. Both Saionji and Miki so far have decided that dueling was pointless (not to say Miki was ever portrayed as a fan of the process) and both of them have been ensnared by their one remaining pressure point. Miki’s is Kozue, and we find out in a few different scenes.

The first is when Utena and Anthy stumble on the sunlit garden Miki was always talking about and discover it is in disrepair, covered in weeds. Anthy even says it out loud: “It’s nothing but a memory now.” And this is something I’ve touched on before, how Miki has a distorted view of the women in his life, idolizing them only to realize they can never live up to such a standard. He even pictures his soon-to-be stepmother as Anthy in her rose bride dress in a quick cutaway. The second is in his reaction to finding out Kozue and Akio are on a date, a clearly strained “do as you will” as he realizes she really is outside of his control, the wild animal she claims to be.

One might even read that Miki has the same general issue as Tsuwabuki, only instead of wanting to grow up to be a big brother, he feels ready to become an adult already, and resents any other adults that might tell him otherwise. The reason he acts respectful to his (step)parents, then, is because they allow him that degree of autonomy, while someone like End of the World does not. He is only thirteen, though, so of course this perception of himself was doomed to shatter just like his perceptions of the women he idolizes.

Despite arguing against ordering Anthy around in his introduction, this is why Miki duels now, to regain a semblance of control, not just over one woman, but both of them. And even then Kozue fights back, moving to seduce Anthy in his stead, which, in a parallel to his first duel, distracts him long enough for Utena to strike his rose.

Like Saionji, the wounds of these successive defeats don't fully heal by the end of the episode. Kozue is still bitter, not only about Miki’s treatment of her but also the loss they just experienced. But just like the baby birds they rescued at the beginning, there is still a hope that they can get better.

-r

Next time: You can't make an omlette without breaking a few eggs.

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Duel 27 -- Nanami’s Egg
Or: There's An Easy "Egg On Your Face" Joke Here, Surely

After that brief interlude, we’re back to the manga’s main story with “To Sprout”. Again like the anime, the manga makes a point of already casting doubt on Utena’s belief that Touga is her prince -- he looks very little like the person in her flashbacks, which is only compounded by Kaido seeing Mister Licky-lick in the prolog so the features are significantly less ambiguous. Both the manga and the anime agree that it is important to see how someone can easily be swept up in false promises, and do so initially with a (to the viewer) obvious lie.

To those that have been following along with the anime, it plays out exactly as you would expect. Utena has two conflicting desires: wanting to find her prince and wanting to do right by Anthy (even if that often seems to be telling her what to do). Where the manga differs is in how Anthy begins at least appearing to act on her own agency. The segments where Anthy is coerced into expressing Utena’s opinions are still there, but there are moments too where Anthy begins requesting things of Utena. “Please fight for me,” Anthy says, and while this could be a completely off-the-mark reading, I think she means it here, if only because she has seen that at least Utena is trying. This isn’t a part of their relationship that we’ve really seen yet in the show -- just a few episodes ago it was evident that Anthy was trying but was still unable to bring herself to do so.

Utena loses the initial duel with Touga -- despite Anthy’s request -- for the same reason she does in the show, by choosing a potential relationship with Touga, someone she feels she’s been chasing her entire life, over a more unknown one with Anthy, and once again, she only realizes the mistake once she has truly lost the latter. Touga is even nice enough to spell it out for her right away. “You lost to your own feelings [...] I’m not your prince,” he says.

Wakaba tries to pull her out in the same way we’ve seen before, though it is made a bit more difficult by previous events creating a rift in their friendship. Instead, the actual prince sends her a new uniform and reminds her to “never lose her nobility,” which is the real turning point for the character.

Again, this is a much more transparent metaphor than the show. The conflict between Utena’s relationship with Anthy and Utena’s search for her prince doesn’t go away, it just gets shunted down the line. By the end of Part Three, Utena has instead focused her desires on another potential prince, Akio Ohtori. This is happening in the show as well, but the compressed nature of the story emphasizes it here.

Touga takes on a significantly less adversarial role, too. After his loss in the second duel with Utena, he swears fealty to the victor and immediately begins openly plotting against End of the World. Meanwhile, Anthy again makes an appeal to Utena, to not cooperate with Touga in these machinations, a move that I’m really interested to talk about, though not until late in the anime. It’s something I invite those watching along to think about in the meantime, though.


I am not saying that the plot of this episode can be summed up by a not-even-a-minute-long Korean animation but here’s the best go at it I’ve seen:

More seriously, this episode is rather on the nose with its messaging. I will say when I said, “Nanami Episodes have some sort of ‘growing up’ moral attached,” this is the primary episode I was thinking of. When I first saw the episode, I interpreted it as a metaphor for menstruation (Nanami literally has a girls health and hygiene class in her schedule), though the symbology is a bit broad and could be interpreted as any part of growing up.

What’s important to note, though, is ancillary to this is a focus on the relationship between Nanami and Touga. Specifically how it is on the decline. The dinner scene specifically uses the classic “drifting apart emotionally so they are physically apart” visual shortcut that has appeared in films such as Citizen Kane and before. We also see Touga use homophobic rhetoric which, when compared to his actions specifically with Akio and Saionji, demonstrates his own inability to be emotionally honest with his sister. You know, not to mention the actual text of these scenes.

The episode also serves as a mirror to Episode Four (“The Sunlit Garden - Prelude”), with moments such as Nanami’s multiple fantasy sequences and being clocked in the face with a ball, drawing direct attention to these two moments in Nanami’s life.

One last mirror is in the implication of who placed the titular egg in the first place: Anthy, who reveals herself to have a hen named Nanami in addition to her other animals. It would be a completion of her animal-based revenge and the “Divine Retribution” the show inflicts on Nanami for killing a kitten in the backstory, and one where Nanami drives herself mad largely through her own neuroses (as opposed to previous with a probably magic cowbell or student-turned-elephants). But this isn’t the last Nanami episode. There is, to my rough memory, at least one more, perhaps the culmination of everything her miniature arc is bringing.

-r

Next time: Only eleven episodes left! Time to introduce a brand new character!

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Duel 28 -- Whispers in the Dark
Or: Remember, Like, Twenty Posts Ago When I Mentioned A “Ruka Tsuchiya”? This Is That Part

The manga doesn’t have in-depth arcs for the Black Rose Saga or the first half of the Apocalypse Arc, which means we’re technically further ahead in the story than the anime. I bring this up to mention again that, while the manga and anime do diverge, they still share certain elements one might consider a spoiler for the other. I’m not going to hide elements that the manga has revealed in service of keeping up surprises in the show, so feel free to skip ahead if you’d rather.

Manga chapter four, “To Bud”, centers on Akio’s courtship with Utena, in a similar vein as Touga’s attempted romance with her in the previous chapter. Akio, of course, is significantly older than Utena -- at least in his twenties and probably older -- not to mention the power disparity between a chairman and a first-year student, and yes that is exactly as questionable as it sounds, but the manga does try to portray Utena falling for Akio as sympathetically as possible (that is, Akio seducing Utena is obviously monstrous, but it isn’t Utena’s fault). Touga established last chapter, after all, that Utena’s weakness is her obsession with her prince, and, as the end of the chapter reveals, Akio and Prince Dios are one and the same.

Utena doesn’t realize all this until she believes it is too late, until she weds Akio and the latter ascends to the castle in the sky. And again, the manga is a bit more direct with its theming, with Utena proclaiming “I called myself your friend but I didn’t even try to understand you.” Utena charging ahead believing she knows best for Anthy is something I’ve mentioned again and again, and this is that payoff. When Anthy tries to protest that Utena could never understand, Utena fires back, “You’re my friend. I want to understand you.” And it’s these final words that propel Utena up to her final confrontation with Akio.

This is also the point where the story starts to diverge from what one might call reality. The manga so far had kept a generally realistic tone outside of the side stories, but now that reality has proven itself to be false, or at least a veil hiding its divine truth. This is something that the show goes into more detail on, so I’ll save most of the discussion for a few weeks from now, but as a guide for the meantime, this is where Revolutionary Girl Utena becomes very interested in its themes of gender roles and archetypes, and breaking through the veil of reality is supposed to show the archetypes as what they really are. Akio transforms Utena into the Rose Bride because that’s what women are to him: they’re things to be saved or cast aside.

I know I keep ending these things with “Just something to think about” in this faux-mysterious way, but also, like, the chapter literally ends at the beginning of the final confrontation, just before everything is finally all on the table, and I don’t want to jump ahead.


Ruka Tsuchiya is the worst and I hate him. Some of this is admittedly my personal bias; I’ve already admitted that Juri is my favorite character and he exists as a method of pushing Juri’s buttons, so of course I’m going to hate him. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have moments of sympathy, but, well, I’m getting ahead of myself. 

Who is Ruka? He was the captain of Ohtori Academy’s fencing team before a mysterious illness put him out of commission, and he has only just returned. Interestingly, only Juri and Miki seem to remember him, and yet he strolls into the Student Council Meeting Room with a rose seal on his finger and a knowing smile. But like most of the Student Council, he also doesn’t want to duel Utena, at least right away, instead pursuing other interests, namely Shiori.

This is what I mean by pushing Juri’s buttons. Ruka serves as the third leg in a love triangle that only Shiori is excited to be a part of, taking particular delight in calling Juri “the worst sort of person,” in one particular scene. Ruka, meanwhile reveals that he was never into Shiori at all by the end of the episode, so he can’t be pleased by the situation as well.

The purpose might have been in that aforementioned scene, where Shiori reveals her thoughts to Juri. We the audience knew her motivations because of her time as a Black Rose duelist, but these had never really been expressed to Juri. Creating an alternative for Shiori allows her to do exactly as she did, attempting to break off from Juri’s obsessions entirely. Of course, Ruka then distances himself from Shiori after his loss; he was never going to be a permanent alternative for Shiori, so that can’t entirely be the answer.

Why does Ruka duel Utena? That’s a bit more difficult question to answer. He reveals to both Shiori and the audience that he’s aware of Akio’s scheming and is going along with it for his own reasons, and he says to Utena that he almost expects to lose. The former could be a revelation as to how he returned to the school in the first place, going along with End of the World’s attempts to keep the Student Council dueling as a sort of deal with the devil. The latter is a bit more opaque, but it is at least clear that what he desires is not the power to revolutionize the world. 

There is also the message A-ko and B-ko leave behind: just because you go fishing doesn’t mean you will catch any fish. But who are the fishermen and what is being caught? This episode is another secret two-parter, so the answers to all of these questions are not fully revealing nor are any of the conclusions set in stone. Next episode will hopefully contain a better look.

-r

Next time: More like “Ghosts of Tsuchiya” amirite?

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Duel 29 -- Azure Paler Than Sky
Or: Ruka Would Totally Be The Type To Break Up Over Text. He Only Doesn’t Here Because Cell Phones Don’t Exist Yet

Content Warning: Today’s episode features a sexual assault in the scene with Juri and Ruka in the three chairs room.

Before we get into that, though, we do have some manga to go over. It’s a little fortuitous, actually, because we’ll be going over the two remaining side stories, “The Black Rose Seal,” and “A Deep Azure Shadow.” The titles probably give the stories away, the former focuses on Utena’s duel with Mikage and the latter encompasses the events of these past two episodes. So hey! Just get all the Ruka all at once.

The manga Mikage is a bit more sympathetic. That’s what happens when there isn’t a preceding arc where he brainwashes people or hits on a fourteen-year-old. I mean, it’s still implied, but, like, you can ignore it. He also has more interest in exposing Anthy’s secrets to Utena rather than just killing Anthy.

Utena rebuffs these efforts, obviously, otherwise, the plot wouldn’t work, though her method of doing so continues to demonstrate her naivete with regards to her relationship. If it sounds like I’m skipping large swaths, I’m really not. The whole side story moves at this sort of pace, Mikage appears, talks to Utena, a bit of backstory, and then they fight. If you’ve seen the episode, it’s basically that.

So let’s talk about Ruka, then. Remember, Juri doesn’t love Shiori in this version -- Shiori doesn’t even exist -- she loves Touga, so there is significantly less hostility between the two fencing captains. In fact, the relationship is commented on as romantic; Miki speculates that they might have been a couple. The almost-kiss here is even consensual!

The story might as well have been called “How Juri Got Her Groove Back.” Ruka returns from his hospital break and tries to get Juri’s confidence back up after having lost to Utena in Chapter Two. Juri doesn’t get to challenge Utena a second time like she will in “Azure Paler Than Sky” but she does come back stronger. She’s certainly less obsessed with Touga, in any case.

So yeah, both of these stories take a lighter tone than the anime, which is consistent with the rest of the manga, though they are still rather dark in their own right. Both end with a significant character’s expulsion from Ohtori, and in the case of the Ruka story, a significant change in the characters.

They’re certainly darker than the Chu-Chu stories, at any rate.


I'm going to ignore Ruka for a moment to talk about Juri. If we’re following the model I established a few posts ago, her initial episode set her as someone who was conflicted in her crush on Shiori. She wanted the power to revolutionize the world to prove to herself that that relationship was even possible. In Shiori’s Black Rose episode, we found out that this self-destructive behavior happened on both sides, with Shiori going out of her way to hurt Juri on multiple occasions, even last episode!

So what is the solution? What’s the synthesis between these two perspectives? Well, if both sides are acting in a self-destructive manner, and yet both seem to be dependent on the other, the conclusion is a sort of mutual destruction. That’s what Ruka was hoping to avoid, in any case. By inserting himself into the equation, Ruka both shows Shiori what it is like to be hurt and strips Juri of her self-hatred of even loving Shiori in the first place. “For miracles to occur,” he says, “you need a sacrifice.”

I mentioned this last post, but to do that he did have to go through with the machinations of End of the World. In that lens, Ruka might just have come out on top in terms of “knows they’re being manipulated but goes through with it anyway” as he gets what he wants. I still hate him for his actions, but it does make him compelling to talk about.

I mean, it’s less obvious than the manga, given Juri leans much more WLW and is more focused on Shiori, but the Shadow Girls do mention it in the final moments of the episode. Ruka wanted to spend the last of his energy helping the woman he loved in whatever way he could.

There are other good details in this episode, like how Juri isn’t convinced to duel in the rather sexualized car sequence, her path was already set after losing her match with Ruka. I like how Juri continues to not have lost to Utena straight up, with her first fight losing to a “miracle” and this one where the power of Dios symbolically strips her of her locket. Despite what goes on in there, I like the three chairs room’s metaphorical point, that Shiori is absent for these discussions about her, a point emphasized by her appearance where the Shadow Play girls would be. Shiori is removed from the physical world, and in doing so Juri is fighting for the concept of her. We saw how that went over for Miki.

Unlike Miki’s episode, though, this episode ends with a small glimmer of hope for both of them. Having been stripped of their complexes (or at least having had them lain bare for all to see), this is an opportunity for both Juri and Shiori to start anew. The hope is, of course, that they won’t need miracles, or maybe that the miracle already happened.

-r

Next Time: Akio makes his move.

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Duel 30 -- The Barefoot Girl
Or: Not The Most Tragic Piece Of Symbolism In The Entire Show And Yet...

Content Warning: This episode (really, the next few episodes, but a reminder will be here for each one) involves Akio, age-unknown but coded in his thirties, sexually grooming Utena, a fourteen-year-old.

This is it, the last of the manga. Well, I say “last” in that it’s part five -- entitled “To Blossom” -- and there isn’t any more manga in this continuity of Utena, though there still is the movie manga and the twentieth-anniversary epilog manga to go through. I’m going to take a break from reading right-to-left before I cover that though.

In the meantime, let’s talk about Dios, or the manga’s version, at least. This is the story Akio provides Utena in the final duel: they were two parts of the same person (this is slightly different than Anthy’s story but we’ll get to that), watching over humanity as a god-like figure, a Light and a Dark Dios kept in balance by the other. When Light Dios started granting humanity’s desires, Dark Dios rebelled, overthrowing his counterpart within his own and causing him to fade away. Anthy holds onto a part of Light Dios, symbolically represented as his sword, but this turns her into the Rose Bride and forces her into subservience of Dark Dios, now renamed End of the World or World’s End.

If this is all too confusing for you, I mean, yeah. The step into the Castle in the Sky was this final step the manga took into the surreal. Anthy was literally diagnosing the problems of half the cast in the last chapter. “The name of this coffin is obstinacy” and all that. But there have been decades of fan discussion, so at the very least we can start to guess what it all means.

I used the word “symbolically” to describe the Sword of Dios, so let’s start with that. Dios in this version of the story hasn’t existed in a while, having imparted his nobility to Utena in the form of the rose seal. It stands to reason then that the Sword is also a fragment of Dios -- it’s Anthy’s memory of him. This is what compels Anthy to her position as the Rose Bride, memories of brighter days, a belief that World’s End can still be Dios.

Which kind of sounds like an abusive relationship.

This isn’t something the manga goes into in-depth, but given its presence in all three versions of Utena’s canon, it’s definitely there. The manga resolves this by having Dios appear again, as he always did for Utena, and help her strike down Akio, annihilating both Akio and her in a burst of light leaving only the rose seal behind.

There’s a nice callback to the prolog. The name “Utena” means “flower calyx”, the thing that protects the bulb. And here we see not only the meaning of the chapter titles -- Anthy is the flower -- but also the manga’s moral of the story: Going out of your way for the good of others is difficult -- painful, even -- and requires a level of understanding that isn’t often willingly offered, but it’s necessary for change/revolution.

I hope this has piqued at least a little bit of interest in Revolutionary Girl Utena’s manga. It certainly is different from the anime and frequently gets compared negatively to it, but it still provides its own unique insights that perhaps we can take into the rest of the anime as well.

I mean, I say “perhaps” like I’m not the one writing this blog.


Suddenly, after dancing around the theme for most of the series, Revolutionary Girl Utena is very interested in discussing gender roles, here in the form of this recurring three candles motif. They’re introduced on a cake Akio bakes, and both Utena and Wakaba remark that it’s not like a man to bake a cake (just go with it). The candles on top don’t represent Akio, though, they represent Utena. They flicker every time Utena doubts that she can only love her prince, falling instead for Akio’s charm.

Really, Akio is taking the same route that Touga did way back in the Student Council arc, getting Utena to doubt her convictions just enough to take what they wanted. But where Touga’s goal was Anthy and the power of the Rose Bride, Akio’s aim is Utena herself.

The insistence that Utena is family to him, the profession that she’s his “very special friend”, the playful flirty nature with which Akio carries himself, these are all grooming tactics with an unfortunate basis in real life. The show does stress that it’s not Utena’s fault as she parrots an aphorism she heard Wakaba say, “Love is never bad, but you can fall in love with bad people.” It’s a sentiment we might be able to see in Anthy herself given what we’ve learned from the manga.

But I said Utena had convictions, what are those? I mentioned her desire for her prince, but is that all she is? Obviously not. She also stuck to her convictions when arguing with Ohtori faculty regarding her choice of uniform, wanting to stick to the tomboyish jacket and gym shorts. She fights for Anthy, possibly believing herself to be Anthy’s prince and protector. All of these are challenged or will be challenged in the episodes to come, for example, the candles flicker when Anthy implies her prince is somebody else. So it’s these things that Akio wants to strip from Utena.

Anthy also starts coming into her own here, though. She has been very close these last few episodes to (in my interpretation) confessing her love but always backs away at the last moment. Why that happens requires a few more episodes (or you can look to the manga for hints), but once you’re aware of that subtext, many of her actions in this and other episodes become so much more tragic.

I’ll leave those other episodes to you, but in this one, she is, probably forcibly, complicit in watching Utena be groomed by her brother. One particular shot near the end involves her observing the final candle flicker.

-r

Next time: Nanami does the Sean Bean in Game of Thrones thing and learns about Punnent Squares.

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Duel 31 -- Her Tragedy
Or: Akio Says “Ohtori Academy Rule Number Thirty-Four” And I Hate It Here

Content warning: As I mentioned last time, this and the next few episodes have sequences of Akio grooming Utena. There’s also a similar scene near the end involving Akio and Anthy that starts when Nanami leaves her bed.

A joke I see some people make when discussing Utena is that they wish the show had not aged as well as it had. And yeah, people in power using their reach to systemically and in some cases personally manipulate and abuse those beneath them hasn’t really fallen out of fashion, but on a brighter note, the gender and identity stuff that’s coming back into the fore now is even more relevant than ever.

But I did want to touch on some of the stuff that hasn’t aged as well too, just for kicks. I don’t think anything done here was done out of malice, like, I’m not saying the show is bad because of these things -- I wouldn’t have spent over half a year doing this if I had -- but it is important to take the criticism along with the rest of the show.

The first is in how Anthy and Akio are coded as Indian, in part in an attempt to exoticize them compared to the rest of the cast (though it also does work as a shorthand to establish the relationship with each other and also Dios). This in itself might put off some people, especially since Anthy is portrayed as largely submissive for most of the show, only showing off other aspects of her character in aside moments. On one hand, it does mean Utena insisting she knows what’s best for Anthy without asking has some real-world parallels, but it also can invoke more negative tropes regarding people of color. This is something I can’t comment on too much given that it’s outside of my experience, but it is something I have seen people bring up.

Also, Anthy’s skin color gets lighter and lighter with each adaptation, so there’s whitewashing discourse as well.

Another bit of discourse is how the show treats sexuality in general. I’ve mentioned before how every relationship in the show is dysfunctional in some way, but that can easily be interpreted as the show having a negative view of sexuality in general. If it’s not that, it’s treated as some sort of gateway to adulthood, as in, “adult things” is a sexual metaphor. Unlike the skin color issue, however, this is something that is improved in the movie, actually, what with the main relationship being more explicit, but also unlike the skin color issue, as an asexual, like, that’s just not how it works?

There are also some bad takes the show makes as well. I’ve mentioned before how Tatsuya’s whole schtick is made worse with the rise of internet nice guys, for example. Again, I don’t think this is because of malice, but these are things to keep in mind, you know, in addition to the content warning reasons to critically watch this show.


If the last Nanami episode, “Nanami’s Egg” served to show the cracks in the Kiryuu’s relationship, here’s what finally tears it apart. Nanami and Touga are not related by blood, which means Nanami has lost her claim to both Touga and the self-image she has built up around herself, so it’s obviously not something she takes lightly. It’s why she spends the episode listening to Touga’s dates call his cell phone, desperate for the connection that they still think they have. Of course, he doesn’t have a connection with any of them besides Anthy and Utena, which is another thing Nanami has keyed in on since the beginning.

Really, this whole episode is Nanami coming to realization after realization, and not all of them are related to her plot. She’s also the one to call out Utena’s attraction to Akio and is the one to suss out the nature of Anthy’s relationship with the latter as well, even confirming it by the end of the episode.

Comparisons are made, too, between the Kiryuu relationship and the one that Akio and Anthy have. In fact, it is one of the final breaking points for Nanami that Akio and Anthy are physical with each other at all. It’s a revelation of the wrongness of her entire position to this point, that the thing she even desired she could find so repulsive.

Touga has treated Nanami just the same as every other girl on Ohtori’s campus and will continue to do so. That’s her tragedy. But the episode (secretly spoiled by the thumbnails, if you’re clever) is a two-parter. If this episode was her slowly coming to these realizations, one after the other, then the next is how she deals with them.

Questions for next time include: does Utena know the same things Nanami does? The answer seems to be no, but does Nanami know that? What’s Nanami’s identity if not “sister of the student council president?” Will Anthy ever forgive Nanami and cease her torments (follow the banana peel if you missed it this episode)? And how does Touga react to losing his sister?

-r

Next time: All these questions are answered. Well, most of them, anyway

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Duel 32 -- The Romance of the Dancing Girls
Or: It’s Really Cool How Everything I Wrote About Last Episode Is Said Outright This Episode, Huh?

Content Warning: This episode contains both flashbacks to the potentially triggering scene last episode, as well as another, similar moment in Nanami’s car scene.

I’m finding my writing style for this blog is woefully underequipped to deal with these last few episodes. That’s what happens when you only page vague lip service to the symbology of the show. In fairness, I don’t think it’s as interesting (at least in a beginner analysis intended for those new to Utena) to go into certain details like how last episode the show makes direct comparisons to both the Orpheus myth and Hades’ kidnapping of Persephone years before Anaïs Mitchell first conceived of Hadestown (though it is certainly cool, and I’ve noticed a lot of Utena fans are also fans of Hadestown so that tracks).

But what is also happening is that the symbols are increasing in both number and intensity. I made a point of talking about the candles two episodes ago because that was an episode spanning metaphor that tied in with the narrative, but I can’t also point out how, say, in today’s episode Anthy’s faucet doesn’t start working until Nanami literally brings the waterworks, or how Nanami calls Anthy scary for reasons unrelated to the massive handsaw Anthy’s carrying.

All that being said, I’m still pretty happy with how things are going. This is just a bit of self-critique to keep myself thinking about how this blog is going. Some of this is bias, some of this is seriously wanting to leave some things for people to discover when they actually start watching the show. It’s fun, I think, to pick up on metaphor even on the first watch. It means you’re engaging with the text in some way. Besides, with a show like this, it’s difficult to be completely off the mark, both because, as I’ve mentioned before, the creators have stated all interpretations are true, and also because a lot of these are not subtle, especially once you do start actually looking for them.

I will give you this one for free, though. Utena stretching how she expresses discomfort. We’ve seen this before, we see it in this episode, and it’s going to be really important in the future. Until then, though…


So I guess we can just go through the questions I asked at the end of last post in order. Does Utena know what Nanami does? No, obviously. This is one of the points of conflict between the two this episode, that Utena is either crazy to live with Akio and Anthy or has no idea what’s going on, and given how many innocent barbs Utena throws Nanami’s way, she settles on dense pretty quickly. To be fair, we’ve seen this “not getting and not caring” part of Utena before, and as the main perspective character, it would be pretty weird for Utena to know without us knowing that she knew.

What’s Nanami’s identity if not “sister of the student council president?” And here’s where things get hairy, because even Nanami doesn’t know. I mentioned this a little last post too, she had romanticised her relationship with Touga so hard that when she sees Akio and Anthy together, when she sees where that sort of relationship leads, it means she doesn’t even want to go back to the way things were anymore. Even if she won her duel with Utena and “gained the ability to surpass all that,” as she calls it, she would still be aimless.

In her first duel she was fighting for the right to be by Touga’s side, and, in her determination, was even rejected by the object of her affection. In Tsuwabuki’s duel, he was fighting for the right to grow up. So with the model we’ve been using so far, the synthesis of these two points is that it is Nanami’s turn to grow up, to forge her own identity. She monkey-naps Chu-chu and provokes Utena not really out of jealousy of Anthy, but because “champion of the duels” is the closest thing to achieve (though spiting Utena and Anthy would be a bonus).

Worst of all is Touga and Nanami are related by blood, which means Nanami is the only character in this arc who is manipulated without realizing it. Touga and Akio simply needed to give Utena one more opponent, and Nanami has always been in the right headspace to give a fight. It’s something that’s not really settled onscreen, either, because there’s no more use for it. If the relationship was severed in the last episode, it is completely irreparable now, and we’ll see that in most, if not all, of Nanami’s remaining appearances. Fortunately for her fears, she won’t fade into the crowd, but she certainly still needs to find a way to move on.

We’re coming to the halfway point of this arc. So far, I would say the primary theme (besides putting it all together) is in the characters realizing which relationships they’re in are toxic, poisoned by one reason or another. Saionji and Touga’s relationship was always adversarial, but Miki and Kozue, Juri and Shiori, and now Nanami and Touga have all had their relationships put under major stress. There are only a few left to go.

-r

Next time: Duel Thirty-Three is probably the most talked-about episode of the show. It’s also a recap episode.

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Duel 33 -- The Prince Who Runs Through the Night
Or: “
The Episode”

Content Warning: Not going to beat around the bush here, Akio rapes Utena at the end of this episode while she disassociates. It’s not graphic, but it’s certainly more explicit than anything we’ve seen or will see in the show. Fortunately, the rest of this episode is a recap episode, so this is also the most skippable episode.

I called this the most talked-about episode of the show last week (yeah, we’re not doing any introductory meta-analysis, we’re just diving right in) and that content warning is almost certainly the reason why. It looms large over the rest of the series and is a not-insignificant barrier to recommending the show. Most of the episode is those recap sequences, recounting the duels of this arc so far, but the last four minutes are the show’s rubicon in a few ways.

First and most obvious is the change in Utena. There are a lot of garbage takes about this episode that I won’t get into (and a lot of good takes I won’t have time for), but the most seemingly-innocent bad take I’ve found is that this is the episode where Utena loses her innocence, or that this is the moment that she becomes an adult. Parts of this take I even agree with! The show has always had this “sex equals adulthood” undercurrent -- see Mitsuru’s Impertinence for where that rises to the forefront -- that hasn’t aged well, but the biggest gripe I have is that this take seems to imply that this was in any way Utena’s fault.

I don’t mean this in an “I have never done anything wrong in my entire life” “I know this and I love you” meme sort of way either. Utena is fourteen (and has done tons of wrong stuff). Akio is coded as in his thirties, is the chairman of her school, and has been grooming her for the past four episodes. Closer, then (and I’m not positive this is still entirely correct for many of the same reasons I disagreed with the take above) would be to say that it was taken from her, that he took it from her.

In a way, that read would make it similar to Touga’s plan from way back in the Student Council arc, getting Utena to doubt her assumptions about how the world worked in an effort to claim her. In Touga’s case, Utena had to remember why she presented as a prince in the first place; a prince is someone who saves and protects princesses, and she had a princess to protect. Twenty-some episodes later, Akio’s grooming has once again sown doubt. One might even define it as the same question the manga asked of its Utena: Is being a prince worth it? Even when it leads to pain? I admit I am not positive about this interpretation either -- it seems to imply that what happens in this episode is a necessity, that things had to happen this way for the show to end how it does, which I find wrong for similar reasons. A workaround might be that some sort of pain was inevitable when dealing with an abuser like Akio -- for example, if the manga and anime intersected there as well -- but I’ll just stick with the show we’ve got right now.

The second narrative rubicon crossed here involves Anthy, who we have known is in some way complicit in Akio’s manipulations since the Black Rose Saga, is pretty against Akio in this one moment. In this episode, though, it is implied that such complicity is forced. One of Akio’s motifs is the stars -- his name means “the Morning Star,” remember -- and Anthy, while in Akio’s observatory, says, “I didn’t want to look at the real ones.” Again, we can draw from the manga here as well, recalling the stories surrounding Akio and Dios. It’s the latter that Anthy wants to remember, even if he isn’t real anymore.

But it’s also the first time she speaks out in such a way. Previously, her agency was limited to passive-aggressive remarks while still able to maintain an air of politeness (Kanae was driven to the Black Roses by this, remember, so it was at least useful to her brother too), but now it is far closer to a direct rebellion. She knew what would happen if she had Utena deliver those roses and now wishes to deny the consequences, retreating instead to memories of someone who has not been on earth in an eternity.

“What is eternity?” Utena asks. This is also the closest the show has gotten to answering this question thus far. In this case, I think the question might be one of hope. Seeing something eternal was what got Utena out of the coffin in those flashbacks. Just the same here, what happens to Utena can be something you survive.

-r

Next time: The shadow girls are real and they’re putting on a play!

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Duel 34 -- The Rose Crest
Or: Cool How They Gave Us An Actual Cooldown After What Happened Last Epis- Ohhh That’s A Lot Of Swords

This is something that I’ve been meaning to talk about for a few weeks now, and that’s the virtual panel that Chiho Saito and Kunihiko Ikuhara did this year for New York Comic-Con. I imagine this was set up to coincide with the English release of the twentieth-anniversary manga, After the Revolution, even if technically the auspicious milestone was actually two years ago. Here’s a link, though. It’s about an Utena-episode in length, but unlike the episodes themselves, this one should even embed in the site!

In terms of panels, this one is pretty standard, I think, with discussion ranging from the serious (Saito talking about her initial reservations with pairing Anthy and Utena together, and the realization that got her past that) to the silly (headcanoning a crossover between Utena’s characters and Sarazanmai’s -- another Ikuhara-directed anime -- world), though even in some of the sillier questions there’s a bit of insight to be gleaned. In that crossover question, for example, Ikuhara said that Akio would probably be a cop, which helps confirm interpretations of his character involving his lust for power and appreciation while deserving neither of those things.

I’m not going to go into too much detail about it given that it’s right there, but I did want to direct people’s attention to it if you’re interested in some of the impact the show has left on both its creators and its fans twenty-some years later. If you don’t want to watch it, though, that’s fine. As Ikuhara says, “I want people to realize they can be free.”


Once upon a time, years and years ago, there was a little princess, and she was very sad, for her mother and father had died.
Before the princess appeared a traveling prince, riding upon a white horse. He had a regal bearing and a kind smile.
The prince wrapped the princess in a rose-scented embrace and gently wiped the tears from her eyes.
“Little one,” he said, “who bears up alone in such deep sorrow, never lose that strength or nobility, even when you grow up.
I give you this to remember this day. We will meet again. This ring will lead you to me, one day.”
Perhaps the ring the prince gave her was an engagement ring.
This was all well and good, but so impressed was she by him that the princess vowed to become a prince herself one day.
…but was that really such a good idea?

Now we get to find out what that means! Lore time!

I mean, we start with a continuation of Anthy’s reaction to the events of the previous episode, but we talked about that at length last episode. There are things of note in Akio’s little speech about the stars, though -- the stars don’t only have to be his symbolic representation -- but I’ll leave that as an exercise for the viewer. The main focus is on two specific scenes.

First is the shadow play, and again, here we see Revolutionary Girl Utena’s thesis on gender roles. If you are a prince, you save princesses, and, conversely, if you are a princess, you must be saved by a prince. But Anthy doesn’t. She can’t be saved by her brother Dios because being saved to her means not having to bear her brother’s pain. 

What pain is that? It’s the pain of being societal expectations. Princes have to save princesses, after all, and most women are princesses. That’s right, Utena isn’t a fan of gender roles in any capacity; the tragedy goes both ways.

But I mentioned that Anthy couldn’t be a princess because she could not be saved by her prince. So what is she? Well, if you’re a woman in a fairy tale and you’re not a princess, then you must be a witch. The villain of the piece, as it were, who so vilely sealed her brother away from the people demanding that he save them.

This assigns roles to both Akio and Anthy (though Anthy is kind of split between princess and witch), but where does that put Utena? Obviously, she aspires to be a prince -- we’ve seen that intro enough -- but Anthy even asks Utena in this episode: who is she?

We don’t exactly find out in the second pivotal scene, but we do have a clearer image of Utena’s past. If we look back to the other flashbacks, we know Touga and Saionji came across Utena in a coffin, but they weren’t able to coax her out of her stupor. Obviously, Utena is still around, though, so who showed her the “something eternal” she wanted?

I mean, you watched the episode, right? Anthy never stopped bearing the swords of hate of the world. The world does not care about the reasons why she stole Dios from them, and it’s something she continues to bear. And this is for Akio, remember. This is (a reason) why she is linked inextricably to him.

Even after this lore dump, there are still things to resolve. Most of this is in the emotional stakes because while we know, Utena still does not. She’s not the smartest, remember. So she needs to find out still, and there’s still the final few duels to face.

For the revolution of the world.

-r

Next time: We finally find out more about Touga. Maybe.

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Duel 35 -- The Love That Blossomed In Wintertime
Or: The Cacti In That Last Scene Are Symbolism That Akio Is A Huge Prick

No lead-in for this one, not because there’s anything on the level as what happened two episodes ago in here, but because I only have a few remaining points of interest left outside the scope of the main chat and I want to save those for the end. Instead, let’s talk about Touga.

This is the first time we’ve gotten a really good look at Touga in the anime; he was either sulking in a corner for the entirety of arc two or he was going around acting as (at least an extension of) the main villain. As a starting point, we can apply the same lens we’ve used for the other four duelists of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.

Why did Touga challenge Utena for the Rose Bride way back in Episode Eleven? At the time, he seemingly did it simply because End of the World asked it of him, and took great pleasure in making Utena (almost) fall in love with him as if he were her mythical prince. Why did Keiko challenge Utena? She did so to break free from Nanami’s meddling and earn the right to court Touga on her own terms. So then, how can we put that together, and what does that say about Touga?

It’s nice that Touga just says his motivations out loud in this episode: Touga wants to be a prince. He wants to be Akio, and he has a specific girl in mind, Utena, that he wants to save. She’s still trapped in her coffin, he believes, still desperate to be shown something eternal. The way he has gone about this, though, is to attach himself at the hip to Akio, emulating him to a degree as if he can leech off whatever remaining Dios there is in him. But there isn’t; Dios is still trapped in that upside-down castle, and the only thing Touga has learned to be is like Akio.

The tragedy is that he realizes this. Remember, that’s one of the other motifs of this arc, that each duelist knows that they are being manipulated, yet they still choose to allow it for their own reasons. Touga is dueling again because he believes this is the best way to get Utena out of the way of End of the World’s machinations. Akio knows this too, hence why he toys with him by getting Touga to give Utena some earrings for him and tails them in the ensuing horse ride.

The earrings, perhaps obviously given how often they swap back and forth on the screen, are a counterpoint to Utena’s ring, another symbol of femininity to counter her “princely” nobility. This is treated differently than, say, the uniform Utena wore back in Episode Twelve, however. The uniform did not suit her at all, and yet the earrings do. I have seen various arguments for this. One is that this is due to the stark change between pre-Akio Utena and after she has met him, another is that it is a subtle denunciation of an awkward anti-feminity theme the show could be read as until this point, allowing both Chu-Chu and then Anthy directly admiring Utena wearing them to serve as evidence there. The one I prefer, however, is it represents Utena’s wavering belief that her prince will show up at all.

There is hope, though. She’s starting to remember why she wanted to become a prince in the first place. She doesn’t need Dios, even if she doesn’t know it yet.

-r

Next time: This next duel determines who will be the one to revolutionize the world. Also Saionji T-poses at one point.

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Duel 36 -- And Thus Opens the Doorway of Night
Or: Touga And Saionji Are Totally Gay For Each Other And This Episode Proves it

Content Warning: Akio continues grooming Utena in this episode, and there’s more imagery of Akio’s relationship with Anthy at the end.

Eighteen weeks ago I talked about Utena’s OP, “Rondo Revolution” and how it relates to the series, but in the intervening posts between then and now I never really made a similar effort to talk about the ending themes. There are a couple reasons for that. The first is simply that I don’t like the first ED, “Truth” that much while the second, “Virtual Star Embryology” is such a J.A. Caesar song and I’ve deliberately avoided touching any of those outside of a few offhand mentions.

The second reason is a bit more insidious, I think. The remasters distributed by Nozomi Entertainment have replaced the animations attached with a stock credits crawl, so while the songs have remained, the associated animations have not. You have to look elsewhere for those, and I just, uh, didn’t for most of doing this blog. That’s in the past now, though, so let’s do this.

ED Number One: “Truth” by Seiko Fujibayashi, Riski Arai, Akihiko Hirama, and performed by Ruka Yumi

So I’m still not the biggest fan of this song, but the animation attached to it does foreshadow some pretty late-game moments in a pretty direct fashion. While it’s possible to intuit a connection between Anthy and Dios as early as episode one, and made explicit here, the exact definition of that relationship isn’t really learned until Episode 34. The ED also draws a parallel between Utena and Anthy, as both of them are clinging onto Dios, a prince who doesn’t really exist anymore.

ED Number Two: “Virtual Star Embryology” by J.A. Caesar and performed by Maki Kamiya

By contrast, the second ED -- which doesn’t appear until Episode Twenty-Five, the beginning of the Apocalypse Saga -- has eschewed Dios entirely, instead focusing on the relationship between the two leads and including a just-barely-offscreen kiss. Given the other imagery, I like to place this as an extension of the elevator sequence also introduced in this episode, as Utena and Anthy both ride up to the next duel.

Ironically, for an arc where Utena starts doubting her own presentation, this is the ED that features Utena in her normal outfit. But then again, this is also the ED that, in one shot, strips her of any clothing at all. For a brief moment while she is with Anthy, she leaves all the preconceived notions behind. I know I say “Just something to think about” a lot, but with only four episodes and a movie left, it’s going to come up again.


If the previous episode was primarily focused on why Touga is about to duel again, this is the episode on why he loses, both to Utena and in his machination game against End of the World. Put simply, it is because he is too enamored with both of them. When he does gain ground on one of these fronts, he loses ground on the other.

That doesn’t mean he is totally lost. In fact, in the nighttime visit to the Duel Arena (a scene borrowed from the manga), Touga seems to accept that he is about to lose this final duel, trading his victory away for one night of contentment. It also serves as a mirror to his and Utena’s first duel, where Utena’s infatuation with her prince is what seals her loss.

Since then, of course, Utena has been looking elsewhere, and has fallen even further for Akio even since her encounter three episodes ago. Just after she returns from her meeting with Touga, she unconsciously utters Akio’s name in Anthy’s presence, souring that relationship as well. I would go as far as to say that is why Anthy returns to him after leaving in Episode Thirty-Four, because she also believes that Utena has fallen for her prince, or at least the image of him. 

Utena still promises to protect Anthy, of course, but protect her from what? Remember, that was the final turn in the manga’s relationship as well, that Utena comes to terms with the fact that she never really made an effort to answer that question, instead taking whatever was shown to her at face value. Only at the end of the episode does she really start putting things together, and again, this is after the relationship is already soured.

But Anthy now knows that Utena knows -- she spotted Utena looking too -- they just have a scant three episodes to deal with the consequences of the last thirty-six.

-r

Next time: Anthy poisons Utena, Utena poisons Anthy, and End of the World sends one final letter.

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Duel 37 -- The One To Revolutionize The World
Or: This Is The Last Time We See Most Of These Characters Happy For A While So Let’s Enjoy It While We Can

Content Warning for the episode: We’ve seen suicide ideation from this show in the past but this episode goes as far as an actual suicide attempt, so viewer discretion advised there.

Content Warning for this lead-in: We’re starting discussion on the manga adaptation of the movie, and the movie has a whole bunch of the same content warnings as the show. If it exists in the show, it exists in Adolescence, so though the triggers list I’ve been using doesn’t extend that far, if it’s on that list, it’s likely also in the movie.

The Utena movie, Adolescence of Utena can probably be most simply described as “Revolutionary Girl Utena turned up to eleven”. The imagery is more surreal, both the visuals themselves and their symbolic nature; the themes are more overt; and many of the characters are more exaggerated versions of their anime selves. Chiho Saito’s manga adaptation of the movie doesn’t go quite as far -- Utena’s famous transformation into a car, for example, is entirely absent here -- but it is a much more straightforward adaptation than the original manga was.

At the same time, I do want to cover it, if only because otherwise jamming a whole analysis of the movie into a single blog post might be denser than the movie itself. Besides, who is going to stop me?

One of the biggest turns Adolescence makes from its source material appears on the very first page of the manga. Remember in the anime how Utena was introduced by girls teasing Wakaba about waiting for her boyfriend, and how Utena herself proclaimed she was going to be a prince, yet still unambiguously being feminine? That’s largely absent -- Utena here doesn’t correct any assumptions that she is male until she is directly confronted about the matter. “I never said I wasn’t!” she says.

Touga, too, has changed, but not as much as one might think. While it is true that he takes the place of Dios for Utena, becoming the person that inspires her to become a prince, and while that is a significant difference, the rest of his backstory in general and the abuse in specific was, according to Yoji Enokido, meant to be a part of the anime as well, but was cut when writing Touga out of the Black Rose arc. Others have cited Touga’s unobtainable “adultness” (at least in Saionji and Tsuwabuki’s eyes) and his promiscuity in the show as further evidence of this, though I don’t feel qualified enough to do any more than repeat as much.

I could continue, but I’ve talked about much of this already, see my post for Episode Fourteen about the various shared and disparate aspects of Utena’s various canons. Talking about themes too much would be a spoiler for part two or the movie itself but we can talk about it a little here to close out the section.

If “reconciling with the past, realizing that past versions of people might not be who they are in the present” is an undercurrent in the anime, it is much more present here. Both Utena and Anthy have undergone some sort of trauma and are desperately clinging to whatever can comfort them. For Utena, it is her search for Touga, which has guided her to Ohtori in the first place. We can get a good idea of Anthy’s as well by reading and watching other material, even if it has only been alluded to in this version of the canon so far. Like I said, this will all be explored in more detail in part two.


We’ve talked at length already about the symbolism of Utena’s Rose Seal, how it’s her nobility that constantly comes into conflict with her femininity, how it’s her tie to both Anthy even if she believes it is her tie to Dios, and how its constant presence on Utena’s finger serves almost as a conscience for Utena when she feels unsure. This is the episode where she takes it off.

In a sense, this is also a sign of the world returning to normal. The whole scene with Juri and Miki is about how they are both slowly getting over their old relationships, no longer interested in having the power to revolutionize the world to themselves. Touga and Saionji too have at least partially mended their friendship and Nanami returning to her old uniform symbolically completes her transformation away from one who destructively idolizes her brother. But, as I’ve said in each recent post, there are still some gaps here. Utena taking off her ring means she is no longer interested in freeing Anthy from the Swords of Hate -- I don’t know if they’ve been named in the show but that’s their name -- and even if she does not remember that promise, Anthy sure does.

Worse, it’s implied that Utena takes off her ring because of Anthy, or, more specifically, because she witnessed Anthy at the end of last episode, something Anthy is also seemingly aware of; if she wasn’t before Utena asked Akio on a date, she certainly was afterwards. When Anthy says she wants things to stay as they are forever, it is a consequence of this; she has resigned herself to these circumstances. “In the end, all girls are like the Rose Bride” indeed.

So then, why does Utena put the ring back on? Some of this is in continuing the parallels between the end of the Student Council arc and now: Utena realizes that Anthy is important to her and wants to protect that relationship (even as the after-credits scene points out, she still doesn’t know what that means). Some of it also can be found in a final rejection of Akio, which, given how much she knows, feels sort of like a corollary to that first point, and branching off of that as well is a (perhaps misguided) rejection of that aspect of herself, returning to “normal” “noble” her.

One of the final scenes before Utena’s ascent is a small discussion between Anthy and Utena, where they both admit to poisoning their relationship (or the tea and cookies besides). Remember that Anthy has acted against Utena’s interests both actively (remember, she, as Mamiya, was manipulating Souji Mikage) and by omission. But Utena has done just the same by seeking other suitors and through her lack of understanding. The scene is meant as an apology, then, each girl to the other, and that they continue to consume is a symbol of forgiveness. Between that, Utena talking Anthy off the side of the building, they believe themselves ready to face the End of the World.

-r

Next time: The first of the two-part finale, the beginning of the end

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Duel 38 -- End of the World
Or: The Devil You Know, Never Meet Your Heroes, And Other Platitudes

Content Warning for the episode: This episode has flashing lights, a flashback to last episode’s suicide attempt, discussion of abuse, and a whole lot of gaslighting.

Content Warning for the lead-in: Same one as last week, really. Both the movie and its associated manga are a hyper-condensed version of the show, so all of the same content warnings apply.

Let’s talk about Ohtori Academy a little more. The last time we did, I pointed out its coffin shape and drew a brief comparison to the scene in the church, where Saionji and Touga (and later Dios) find Utena. “Coffins in Utena are things to be trapped inside,” I wrote then. I didn’t mention it at the time, but the show reinforces this interpretation again in the lead-up to the final duel with Touga, where Touga asserts, “She’s still there, trapped in her coffin.” But there’s this implicit question asked by these metaphorical allusions: Whose coffin is Ohtori Academy?

Well, if the coffin is this lingering attachment to the past, that’s really the entire cast, isn’t it? Anthy is attached to this other version of Akio, Miki can’t stand the present version of Kozue, Touga and Saionji were barely what you could call friends for most of the show, the same for Juri and Shiori, and Utena, of course, has had both her parents’ crash and now the resulting obsession with her prince. This continues on and on down the cast. To continue the metaphor, moving on from that thing would be synonymous with leaving the coffin -- we don’t see Utena talking about her dead parents much anymore.

In the manga, remember, we even see Anthy putting most of the cast into coffins when they are found wanting at the end.

This exact “Ohtori Academy is a coffin” metaphor doesn’t appear in the movie or its manga, but that does not mean the “Ohtori Academy as a purgatory” is absent as well. The first is the backstory has been changed. Now Touga was able to free Utena from the trauma of her parents’ deaths, removing Utena’s connection with Akio entirely and replacing Utena’s obsession with a nebulous prince with someone more concrete, even if he’s dead.

The two versions of Adolescence of Utena split in more ways than just “in one of them Utena turns into a car.” Both of them follow one of the two leads significantly more than the other, and in the manga, that lead is Utena. A majority of the manga’s second part is in learning to let go of Touga, in accepting his death. It’s helpful that Touga is both around -- being dead hasn’t slowed him down at all, it seems -- and willing to guide Utena to this conclusion.

The climax, then, is in Utena’s empathy. “I know how you feel,” she says (this version of Akio is dead too -- we’ll talk about that in two weeks), and rejects the power to revolutionize the world. Because it wouldn't be the power to revolutionize our world, just the one in everyone’s coffin.


I feel like when an episode starts with the “time for battle” sequence that’s normally at the third-act point of every other episode, you know something’s going down. I mention this only because this is the first time (to my memory, at least, and it’s been a long year) where one of Utena’s recurring shots has been used to breed unfamiliarity. It changes, not just in the typical chronology of an episode, but the final moments of the montage, where Utena and Anthy clasp hands, then by cutting to a title card where the opponent would be (though her opponent is “End of the World” so maybe that’s a wash), and finally in the smash cut to a location that is distinctly not the same dueling arena we are used to.

And yet, if you allow me to be even more pretentious than usual with this interpretation, this might be the most real place in all of Ohtori Academy. Without the projections, it’s just the observatory, and while there’s still surreal imagery in this episode and there will be in the next -- it’s just that type of anime -- this is still the place for truths to come out.

Remember when Saionji said to only think of the upside-down castle in the sky as a mirage? In the very first episode?

Of course, I say “truths”. But just because I don’t believe Akio is lying here, he still has a motive, just like every other time he’s spoken to Utena. It’s still “Akio’s truth”. Since I’ve been doing a whole thing with the duels, I guess I should ask the same question here: Why does Akio duel? It’s the same reasons he’s pursued her before, really, as horrifying as they may be; he’s still Prince Dios (or a version of him) and she’s a girl he believes he can save. Better still, by saving someone, he might return to that former, valiant past, reclaiming his power that was sealed away.

I admit I’m probably screwing something up here. A not-insignificant portion of the last twenty-some years of Utena analysis has been dedicated to this one character. But do remember, at least, that most of the cast -- including every male character -- has desired to be a prince. Akio is just the one who’s closest to that goal.

For someone who wants the power to revolutionize the world, Akio sure doesn’t believe in change. That’s why he starts to lose. Remember the message Ikuhara said he wanted people to take away from this show, “I want people to remember that they are free.” Despite everything, it’s an idealistic show, and Utena has changed since she climbed into that coffin.

But Akio isn’t the only person in the room who is afraid of change. The show takes care to show Anthy’s eyes widening in fear as well, and when she’s thrust into Utena’s lap, it’s something she seizes on.

The episode ends on this cliffhanger, and so will I, I think. But the answers have been discussed already. We’ve talked about an ending of Revolutionary Girl Utena twice already, you just need to wait a week for the ending of one more.

-r

Next time: Utena does not save Anthy Himemiya

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Edited by radio414

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Duel 39 -- And Someday, Together, We’ll Shine
Or: The Greatest Hand-Hold Of All Time

Content Warning: This episode features flashing lights and impalement, including the one at the end of last episode. The discussions and depiction of abuse also continue.

I’m going into this post with a bit of a predicament because the last manga we have to cover is After the Revolution, which, as the title implies (and because I mention this every time I bring it up), is a sequel manga, taking place twenty years after the events of the story. Meanwhile, I’m just wrapping up the primary source of that story further down the post, so, like, how in-depth do I want to go into this? How spoiler-y should I get? I even briefly considered putting this section second just to have some sort of continuity.

The second problem is that the manga is that I’ve decided to cover 180+ pages of manga on top of the show’s finale.

But that second problem is a “me” problem and the first is something I’ve kind of already resolved with the ending of my previous post. We’ve talked about how two versions of Utena end already. Failing that, like, the episode link is right there, 199 words ago. Besides, it’s not like this sequel manga is actually a sequel to any particular canon.

That’s probably a weird sentence to just casually end a paragraph with, but it’s true. It’s certainly doesn’t follow up on the movie/movie manga because those both end with Utena and Anthy already together, and while we’ve seen the manga end with Anthy ready to look for Utena after the latter disappears from Ohtori Academy, After the Revolution borrows so much imagery from the anime -- the church scene, the dueling field, and Juri’s sexuality in particular -- that they are incompatible as well. While the anime is the closest, they too are dissimilar in ways that can’t really be chalked up to Chiho Saito and Kunihiko Ikuhara forgetting. Ruka’s relationship with both Shiori and Juri is entirely different, for example.

But that’s fine. We’ve talked before about how fast and loose Revolutionary Girl Utena plays with its own canon. The core elements, the similarities between the canons, are all still there.

So, what is After the Revolution about, then?

There’s a specific line that I’d like to point to to answer this question, but it’s in the movie so that’ll have to wait a week. Instead, I’ll use the ending to the manga in a broad sense. The manga ends with Utena having left the world of Ohtori Academy, and Anthy determined to follow her. We know what Ohtori Academy represents -- it represents the cast’s coffins, the things holding them back -- and we only saw two characters leave it. After the Revolution, then, is about six more trying to follow.

The twenty-year time skip is important, then, because it once again reinforces Ohtori Academy’s symbolic nature. Saionji and Touga, Juri and Shiori, Miki and Kozue, these are characters who have physically moved on, but for one reason or another find themselves called back, where they are once again forced to confront their demons. Fortunately, there is a new presence there to help them along, to remind them of their reasons to keep fighting. As Touga says at the end of his and Saionji’s story, “That’s what it means to revolutionize the world.”

There are still hang-ups people have with the story, of course. Miki and Kozue get the worst of it here, as their relationship swings dangerously close to incestuous when it seemed like they’d both completely gotten over that aspect in the show, though there’s also Touga defending a rapist who just happens to make beautiful paintings and the manga doesn’t do the best job portraying him as in the wrong. There is one I’d like to focus on in particular, though, but I’d like to use it to segue into the episode discussion, and I don’t want to come off as ending on a negative note, so I’ll say some more positive things first.

Is After the Revolution a necessary part of the story? No, not really. I don’t think any sequel could be. But it is still welcome all the same, for the same reminder all the characters in the story receive: it’s worth it to keep fighting, even when things seem lost. I also can’t say enough good things about Chiho Saito’s art, which has improved even in comparison to the movie manga (I suppose that’s what twenty additional years of drawing will do). So I do recommend it.

That being said, Utena Tenjou is not a prince.


Maybe that’s a hot take (though I doubt anything takes about a much-discussed twenty-year-old anime can be considered “hot”), especially since, you know, it’s contradicted by multiple canons. The manga, after all, has Utena becoming her namesake: the thing that protects the flower, and After the Revolution uses all the same prince imagery for Utena that every adaptation does for Dios. But by the same token, the movie and its manga make a key moment out of Utena rejecting that same power. “Can’t I just be your friend?” Utena says. And in the anime…

 

The moment Anthy stabs Utena is the moment Utena fails to become a prince, though I disagree with both Anthy (who has every reason to be dishonest here given that she is now fighting to protect her status quo) and Dios (who we now know is another side of Akio and therefore equally untrustworthy) as to the reason why. The show has pretty consistently demonstrated that to be a prince one must save princesses -- that’s the fairy tale logic the show runs on -- and Utena, as I said at the end of the last post, does not save Anthy Himemiya.

I just made a passing answer to the question I ended last post with, why Anthy turns on Utena when she does, by the way, and I’ll elaborate on it here just so it’s not missed. Utena is the unknown -- remember five episodes ago (“The Rose Crest”, the shadow play episode) where Anthy straight-up asks Utena “Who are you?” It’s easier for her to accept the status quo, then, even if it perpetuates a cycle of abuse that she is at the center at. That’s why she’s even more passive during Akio and Utena’s duel than we’ve seen her in previous duels, and, when push comes to shove, especially when Utena’s childlike idealism starts winning, she sides with what she knows and, to an extent, can control. After all, who can bear the hate of the world besides her?

In addition to these narrative reasons, though, there are also thematic reasons. If we’re rejecting both ends of the gender role spectrum, princes and princesses alike, as I’ve said since episode one is one of Utena’s core themes, it doesn’t really make sense to end with Utena saving Anthy as she hoped. 

But what Utena can do, though, is open the coffin door.

Utena disappears from Ohtori Academy once she’s no longer of use, and memory of her begins to fade. The show is ambiguous as to her fate, too; “Did Utena die?” is a pretty popular search. But in the options the show itself presents, most of them involve her leaving of her own accord. To continue the metaphor, she is freed from her coffin. Anthy, having found the open door, is now ready to follow her.

-r

Next time: Do watch past the credits. There’s one final scene. After that, well, it’s on to the movie. If you thought the show was weird…

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Edited by radio414

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Revolutionary Girl Utena The Movie: Adolescence of Utena
Or: Déjà Vu I’ve Just Been In This Place Before

Content Warning: I did end up finding a list of warnings for this movie. Apologies for not looking harder before -- it’s especially embarrassing because it’s the same Tumblr blog as the comprehensive list I’ve referenced for the anime. The list is here. There are some pretty major warnings in there, including at least two sexual assaults, a bit of body horror, and, as always, flashing lights, so be sure to check out the full list.

Also, you’ll notice there isn’t a Youtube link up there or down at the bottom of this post. That’s because you can’t (legally) watch Adolescence of Utena there like you can with the show. You can purchase/rent a stream of the dub both there and any other standard big video rental service, but if you want to (again, legally) watch the subbed version, here are the two options I was able to find (EDIT: There's a link now, though I never expect these new streaming services to last):

1) Buying actual physical media. This is probably the most obvious option, though perhaps also the most costly. Currently, the most distributed versions come in a set with the Apocalypse Arc, so that’ll cost you about eighty USD (and if you don’t want to look weird only owning the third of a three-part set, the other two thirds are fifty USD apiece).

2) Funimation lets you stream the subbed version, but only as a “premium plus member”, which is eight dollars a month (and you have to deal with a video player that I find subpar, not in video quality, but in miscellaneous features). This is the version I chose, though not for lack of wanting the former.

It struck me, actually, how the radio414 of thirty-some weeks ago wouldn’t have even considered buying anything. After all, the show is on Youtube -- I can watch it whenever I want, and that was all I really needed at the beginning. I wasn’t a “fan” of Revolutionary Girl Utena when I started this blog series, I was just “someone who likes the show.” You can probably track the transformation, too -- “I went and watched the most recent musicals” was probably a pretty big tell, as was “let’s actually talk about the manga”. Honestly, what might be the biggest direct correlation is the relationship between how big of an Utena fan I am and how good the memes heading each status update are.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I don’t think it’s possible to write 40,000 words (we passed that milestone about 250 words ago, very exciting) without getting at least waist-deep in the fan culture. And it’s not like I haven’t enjoyed my time in fan Discords. I mean, large Discord servers freak me out so I don’t participate at all, but going in and skimming other people’s conversations has certainly been a good alternative to participation.

At the same time, like, I’ve become acutely aware of just how obvious the difference between the sorts of analysis and discussion I’ve tried to have on this blog and what more entrenched fans than I have to say. Again, this isn’t really a surprise -- this is only my second viewing of the show, after all -- but it has led to occasional feelings of inadequacy. Did I interpret Touga and Saionji's relationship correctly? How well did I cover Akio? Anthy? This would be where I would write that same phrase I’ve used in similar situations: “This blog is meant to be more of a guide for a first-time watcher than an analysis; it’s surface level, not a deep dive”, but then I run into moments where I write, to paraphrase “let’s do some Hegelian dialectics” or some other pretentious phrase and I get (irrationally) worried that someone’s going to find this, pin it somewhere, and say “look at these garbage takes.”

Honestly, I feel like that about some of the earlier posts myself, though that’s probably just normal writer antipathy to their own work. So much other stuff falls into that category also, like how starting each post with a massive screencap of the eyecatch was probably a bad idea and why not just find a good image from each episode to lead off with? Maybe I’ll go back and fix that if (okay, “when”) I do another rewatch.

Anyway, I decided to wax lyrical/be a bit navel-gazey because this is the last post both for the year and for this particular show. It’s been a fun one; doing this has been a bright spot in an otherwise garbage year. I’ll probably take a break for at least the beginning of 2021, after that there’ll probably be a poll to decide what comes next.

Before all that, though, there’s a movie that needs talking about.


I cannot express how pretty this movie is. The very first shot, the bells ringing, already draws comparisons to the show (which has its own version, remember) and at least in terms of style the movie just comes out miles ahead. A few shots later and we get this long tracking shot that both introduces us to Ohtori Academy and tells us that the Ohtori Academy of this world is a much different place than the ones we’ve been used to. The movie makes the symbolism of being trapped in one’s past, by one’s own mind, completely overt as opposed to any of the other versions of Utena, and being a product of the mind means it’s completely surreal.

We’ve covered a lot of this movie already when talking about Chiho Saito’s manga version, actually, or at least the first half and the major themes, and in doing so I mentioned the key difference between these two versions of the same story: While the movie manga is focused on Utena and her trauma, the movie is focused on Anthy’s to the point that Utena in a sense disappears as a principal character in the final third of the movie.

What do I mean by that? Well, if “Ohtori Academy is a prison built of one’s own trauma” becomes literal in the movie, so too does the phrase, “Utena becomes the vehicle Anthy uses to escape.” Utena turning into a car is actually one of the more straightforward bits of symbolism in the movie, even if it is one of the more fantastic.

Anthy’s trauma is in her relationship with Akio -- a different Akio than the one we’ve seen in the show. It’s discussed a few times in the movie, but he was not a prince in this version of the story. Dios never existed. It is Anthy’s creation of Dios, the idea that Dios could exist, that keeps her in Ohtori, and just like the movie manga, to leave Ohtori means to leave that behind. Giving someone the power to revolutionize the world means nothing when the world itself is false.

But it isn’t just Utena’s epiphany of empathy that assists Anthy here. Any sort of friendly connection can help move past trauma, the movie says, by having Miki, Juri, Saionji, and even Wakaba if you look at the car they’re riding in all appear in the final sequence. The line I was talking about last post was Miki’s “I know you can make it and find the outside. We plan on following you eventually”, by the way.

Just like the anime, though, the final action, one final rejection of her past, is one Anthy has to take on her own. In the end, Anthy is the one who claims the power to revolutionize the world, breaking past her brother and the castle she created for herself and launching both her and Utena towards the End of the World. It’s been pointed out that they’re depicted as literally having nothing here, barely an engine and not even clothes on their back, but they do have each other. As Anthy said, even if there’s nothing out there, at least they made this decision of their own free will.

This is a movie where I always feel like I’ve missed something. I didn’t really talk about the meta-interpretations of the movie, like the arguments people make about this being a direct sequel to the anime, illustrating a cyclical nature only broken at the end of each version of the story (the “Déjà Vu” joke up at the top has multiple layers, don’tcha know?), or how some people think one version of Revolutionary Girl Utena is “more true” than the others. Even within the movie, though, I definitely left stuff out. I didn’t talk about either of Shiori’s transformations, for example, or, leaving those aside, how her relationships and story have drastically changed from the anime to the point one might even call her the primary antagonist. Not to mention, despite threatening to constantly, I never felt comfortable talking in-depth about Touga’s experiences growing up. So maybe this whole blog has been a smaller window into the world of Utena than I was hoping, but I hope the glimpses you’ve seen have enticed you in.

-r

Next time: Who knows? But whatever we face, at least we’ll do it together.

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Edited by radio414

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And we're back! What a month that was. As promised, I've created a poll to decide the direction of this blog, with four choices each appealing to me in their own way. To help you all decide, though, I've created little blurbs for each of them.

Planetes

Spoiler

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In the not-so-distant future, humanity is on the cutting edge of space travel. The moon has been colonized and there's even plans for a massive ship with the intent of travelling to Jupiter. But for every high-profile astronaut, there are dozens of barely-noticed jobs just keeping all that necessary infrastructure up and running, the least-noticed of which are the debris sections, who are tasked with keeping space clean. After all, it only takes a small crack to bring an entire spaceship down, and the damage even a tiny orbiting screw can do is much more than a small crack.

Once upon a time I called this my favorite anime and, despite spending the majority of 2020 writing about a different one and being enveloped into everything that entails, I still kind of think that. It's melodramatic and some of its morals are a bit early-2000's, but, in a way, the show wrestles with those sorts of jaded readings -- there are characters who are just as cynical of the show's conclusions as everyone else -- and there are still some banger moments I would like to share with people.

Just as an additional note, Planetes isn't on any of the usual streaming services, and box sets are a bit difficult to come by, so, uh, I leave the idea of watching along as an exercise for the reader. The anime is 26 episodes long.

Paranoia Agent

Spoiler

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Have you heard the rumors? There's a new menace going around, "Shonen Bat"/"Lil' Slugger" they call him. They say he goes around with his roller blades and silly grin looking for people who are at their lowest and giving them a solid beating with his golden bat. But the victims, witnesses, even the police officers assigned to the case, they all have their own little secrets, and if they're not unravelled soon, all of Tokyo is in danger.

Much like the late Satoshi Kon's other works, Paranoia Agent gets rather surreal rather quickly. It's internally consistent, sure -- when viewed as a whole it all starts to make sense -- but the journey to get to that point takes a bit. It's an exploration to revel in, though, and with such a unique cast of characters, it's hard not to. 

The anime is 13 episodes long and can be streamed on Funimation. If we wanted to get real "Auteur theory" in here (or more Auteur theory, I guess), we could also go through Kon's four movies, Perfect Blue, Millenium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers, and Paprika (which are not on Funimation -- you have to buy them).

Yuri Kuma Arashi

Spoiler

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Once upon a time, humans and bears lived together in harmony, until a distant planet Kumaria exploded and its fragments rained down upon the earth. Now humanity has erected the Wall of Severance, designed to keep the now man-eating bears at bay. But every wall has a few cracks, and a pair of bears have disguised themselves as humans and infiltrated Arashigaoka Academy...

Yuri Kuma Arashi, or "Lesbian Bear Storm" is the "keep radio talking about Kunihiko Ikuhara" option (again with the auteur theory, I guess). It's also the "make radio go into an anime blind" option, which I'm sure can only go well paired with that first thing. Out of the three anime Ikuhara has directed post-Utena, I chose this one because I have an inkling of one of the themes, so I can try and make headway with that, and also I heard there were Suspiria references to be had (this fact and the title should hopefully give you an idea of what kind of content you're in for, both in the sexual and violent kind). Here's a fun fact about me: Suspiria (2018) is one of my favorite movies, and Suspiria (1977) is... also a movie!

Given that this anime came out in 2015, it's safe to assume the references will be to the latter, and despite that gag (I don't think the 1977 movie is bad, I just enjoyed it less), I'm a little interested to see what that means. I'm probably overselling how prominent they'll be anyway -- that's what happens when you know exactly two things about a show. Anyway, it's on Funimation and is 12 episodes long.

"Someday My Revolution Will Come" Let's Play

Spoiler

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Set between Episodes 8 and 9 of the anime, "Revolutionary Girl Utena: Someday My Revolution Will Come" is a visual novel that follows a new student enrolling at Ohtori Academy. She takes classes, participates in clubs, and even runs into the principal cast from the show! But it turns out she's not the school's only new student, the menacing Chigusa Sanjouin has also enrolled, and she is seemingly obsessed with our new main character.

I wrote a bit about this game already, and in that post I said I might do a let's play of it, so here it is. Here's that option. I'd probably have to change the tags of this blag, but I can make that happen.

I don't know how many weeks this would take me, actually. There are 10 endings, so between those and the initial playthrough obviously being a bit more detailed than the ending hunt, I'd put a rough estimate at around 20 posts? I'm sure that will end up being wildly off in either direction, but that's estimates for you.

The poll ends the night of Wednesday, February 3rd, and the first post of whatever is chosen, of course, will be up that Saturday. If you have any other suggestions for what I might want to watch after this, feel free to sound them off, and I'll consider adding them to the poll next time. Until then, happy voting!

-r

Edited by radio414

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