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radio414

radio414 (Re)Watches Anime (Currently: Revolutionary Girl Utena)

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Duel 01 -- The Rose Bride
or: I'm Not Going To Be Able To Explain Everything But I'm Sure Going To Try And Explain Something

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?

So begins Revolutionary Girl Utena, a school-set coming-of-age anime. But here’s the thing, the fantastic elements of the prolog never really go away, so on top of the relationship drama that will inevitably stem from, like, seven different dysfunctional relationships, there’s also, to borrow from The Princess Bride, fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, true love, and miracles.

To put it another way, imagine if Scott Pilgrim was written by this guy:

ikuharaleather.jpg

“This guy” is Kunihiko Ikuhara, someone who people more into anime than I might recognize as the director of the first four seasons of the original Sailor Moon. And one can definitely see some of the inspirations Sailor Moon brought to Utena, especially with regards to some of the “magical girl” tropes common in that particular genre such as transformation sequences and an overarching theme of love conquering all obstacles.

But Revolutionary Girl Utena is also really weird. Perhaps the most famous example of this is from the movie adaptation where the climax involves Utena turning into a car. Much of the series is like that too, largely involving non-sequitur cuts (a stopwatch is particularly prominent), or a plot involving an escaped kangaroo. This has caused Utena to be deemed “pretentious” by some, but I’m not entirely sure that’s a fair label. When you strip away everything else, Revolutionary Girl Utena’s plot, while not always straightforward, still exists and can be followed episode to episode.

So that’s what I’m going to do here. There are forty Saturdays (including today (at orignal time of posting)) left in the year, thirty-nine anime episodes, and a handful of other versions (such as the aforementioned movie) to talk about, so hopefully, we can ring in the new year with the end of Utena.

A couple final notes before we get into the meat of things. I’m going to try and avoid explicit spoilers, but talking about themes will inevitably lead to giving things away on some level, accidentally or not.

Speaking of themes, a pretty major theme of the show involves not just the dysfunctional relationships I mentioned earlier, but actual depictions of abuse. More specific content warnings will likely preface later posts (I imagine a couple flashing light warnings will be needed at the very least), but I did want to get that out of the way now. (Edit: A more complete list of content warnings can be found here, I'll still reference the major ones in posts involving them but this is a good place to start for anyone worried about getting into this show. It's okay if you would rather not!)

Also, the Youtube playlist provided by the distributor only seems to work in America. If you want to follow along outside of the US, you’re going to have to look elsewhere for these episodes, or at least find a VPN that works for you.


The first scenes set in the present day lay the groundwork for Revolutionary Girl Utena’s thesis regarding gender roles. Utena Tenjou is a tomboy by every definition, not only in the activities she prefers, but in the way she dresses as well. The societal disconnect between the image of a girl with pink hair and blue eyes and said girl’s desire to become a prince is very apparent.

But we’ll have to go into what exactly Utena the show and Utena the character mean when they say “prince” later. In the meantime, the first episode is largely devoted to establishing the majority of the other main characters and the plot of the first arc: Members who bear the Rose Crest may challenge each other for possession and therefore engagement to Anthy Himemiya, The Rose Bride, under duels outlined by an enigmatic being known only as End of the World. Utena herself is drawn to this tournament after the current champion, Kendo captain Saionji offends Wakaba, Utena’s best friend who crushes on Saionji despite (or perhaps because of) his acerbic nature.

Other elements introduced are the rest of the Student Council, though only President Touga Kiryuu is referred to by name, the element of music present in Utena’s duels, and the first appearance of the shadow play girls who represent the show’s Greek Chorus, commenting on the events of each episode, though in the future these will largely be through symbols and metaphor.

We’ll get into these elements in more detail later. The only really big image to talk about is the castle in the sky, almost akin to the Sword of Damocles in how it looms over the dueling arena. Saionji dismisses it as a trick of the light, but its presence is going to be felt in a majority of these episodes. To ascend to the castle, the duelists believe, is to gain the power to revolutionize the world, and every episode a duel takes place is an opportunity for the challenger to present their case as to why they deserve that power.

It’s important, then, that the classic naivete that anime protagonists tend to have works in Utena’s favor here. Utena had no knowledge of any of this when she challenged Saionji, she only knew that she had to fight for her best friend. And when Saionji attacks Himemiya, Utena resolves to fight for her as well. To reiterate, Utena doesn’t display that same desire for power, and, in fact, the anime might argue that that is why she wins.

All in all, this is one of the more straightforward episodes of the show. What you see is what you get, really, and the threads left open are things that can largely be answered with “It’s Episode One. It’s supposed to start intrigue, not answer it.” But I’ll leave the comments section open if there are any questions about things I might have missed, and I’ll see you all in a week.

-r

Next time: Rematch! Roommates! A monkey!

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Edited by radio414

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An early nineties anime that breaks away from gender roles and is directed by Sailor Moon's Ikuhara. A good place to start. Are you choosing your anime based on year and going in some kind of order or did you have a pre-generated list or what?

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6 minutes ago, Dad said:

An early nineties anime that breaks away from gender roles and is directed by Sailor Moon's Ikuhara. A good place to start. Are you choosing your anime based on year and going in some kind of order or did you have a pre-generated list or what?

Trying not to think too much about what comes after this one while I'm still this early in the series lol. I imagine there'd be a poll of some kind involved, though.

How I chose this specific anime to talk about was something I was going to cover this coming Saturday but basically I wanted to talk about it and, well, this seemed like a good outlet for that. And I wanted to watch it again.

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Duel 02 -- For Whom The Rose Smiles
or: Who Is Anthy Himemiya? I’ll Do You One Better: Why Is Anthy Himemiya?

The question was already asked up above, but as I said there, I was already going to talk about this to lead into the episode: why Revolutionary Girl Utena? Of all the anime to lead off with, why choose something so… so weird? And like I answered already, there are a couple reasons for that.

I wanted to start with an anime I’ve already seen just to get a feel for how a weekly schedule might play out. Being familiar with the material takes away one barrier I might have had. And out of all the anime I’ve seen (not exactly a big list), this is the one I felt like I could talk the most about.

Why is that? Well, I like weird things, okay? During last year’s Anime Secret Santa, I specifically included a line, “[I like] pretentious writing, because I am pretentious.” That doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally find things oppressively inscrutable (I’ve seen some pretty weird arthouse movies), just that there’s a specific blend of style over substance that I enjoy, even if I understand how acquired of a taste it is. So I latched onto this anime pretty quickly.

Also, I’m subtweeting somebody. They know what they did.

Between all these reasons and the fact that apparently, Ikuhara said that all interpretations of Utena are correct (I couldn’t find a source for this outside of Tvtropes but it’s a nice sentiment at least) so there’s no fear in misinterpreting something (similarly, don’t be afraid to disagree with me! Let me know what you think in the comments!), it actually was a fairly intuitive choice to have Revolutionary Girl Utena lead everything off.


Who is Anthy Himemiya? There are actually two, maybe three characters I want to talk about today, but Anthy is both the biggest and most obvious enigma of the cast and the one the show is going to be spending the most time with, so we’re going to be starting with her and her friend Chu-Chu.

Anthy is the Rose Bride. The thing to attain, the thing that everyone else in the story is fighting over. To that end, Utena has characterized her as what I would call “aggressively subservient.” She’s polite to a fault, even insisting on referring to those she’s betrothed to with the “-sama” honorific, yet stoic and matter-of-fact.

But you may notice an interesting word choice in that previous paragraph: “Thing.” The entire conflict of Revolutionary Girl Utena, especially the initial duels with the Student Council, involve people not exactly fighting for engagement to Anthy, but for possession of her. Like I mentioned last week, Utena, the newcomer and outsider to this whole End of the World business, is the only exception, so let’s talk about her stated reasoning here as well.

Utena says she didn’t throw her rematch duel with Saionji because she wanted to protect Chu-Chu, Anthy’s monkey friend from Saionji’s bullying (yes, he is a small monkey and not a mouse as I’ve seen some people identify him). This is, well, while it’s not an outright lie, it is an obfuscation of the truth on Utena’s part, and therefore, the creator’s as well. Throughout the show, you’ll notice that Chu-Chu doing something in a scene is largely centered around the emotions Anthy finds herself unable to express. The two most prominent moments from this particular episode are in the initial introduction (“I’ve never seen Chu-Chu take to someone so quickly,” hinting at Anthy and Utena’s connection) and later when Chu-Chu is frantically trying to get Utena’s attention while Saionji confronts Anthy.

It might be easier on your viewing experience to simply make Anthy and Chu-Chu interchangeable. So when Utena says “I was protecting Chu-Chu,” what she really means is, “I was protecting you.”

Other episodes have similar moments. I won’t go over all of them, but it’s something that you should look out for (and again, if you see something particularly interesting, feel free to talk about it!). We’ll also see Anthy fighting against her role in other ways, such as in Episode One where she immediately switches Saionji’s honorific to “-sempai” the moment he loses to Utena. I said that Anthy is unfailingly polite, but that doesn’t mean she can’t be playful or sly when she wants to be.

The last character I wanted to talk about was Kyouichi Saionji. We already got an immediate sense of his personality in the previous episode, where the inciting incident was him insulting Wakaba by pinning up her love letter and later physically attacking Anthy over petty squabbles. He’s a jerk jock, the classical “bad boy” archetype, and what he desires out of Anthy is control. Not just control over the sword and power of Dios, though that is certainly something he cares about, what he truly wants is control over a person. He even states it plainly in this episode, “You are mine to control,” he says. And, ironically, and perhaps tragically, it is only in following the orders of others -- largely End of the World -- that he is ever able to even attempt to get what he wants.

A couple final notes: The book Wakaba is reading -- Magnolia Waltz -- is an actual manga, the third book in the Waltz in a White Dress series. It shares its author, Chiho Saito, with the manga version of Utena, and while their plots do diverge occasionally, it’s still a nice reference to make.

Also, this episode has the first appearance of the mythical Dios, who comes down from his magical castle to assist Utena in her time of need. Dios’ role is not something that’s going to be explained for most of the story, but it is worth noting when he shows up and when he does not.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you all next week.

-r

Next time: An introduction to the Kiryuu family, and Carrie without the pig blood

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Edited by radio414

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Okay so coming in here knowing nothing about Revolutionary Girl Utena, I'm wondering if I should watch the anime so I have a bit of background here... Except you've been explaining things pretty well, so maybe not.

I didn't know it was made by the creator of Sailor Moon, though. That's pretty interesting. I only watched a few episodes of that and the remake, but I found them to be decent enough, even if not the type of thing I usually watch.

The bit about the monkey being an outlet for its owner's feelings is interesting, though. Also, the fact that nobody except for the main character views Anthy as anything but a possession. The fact the main character views her as a person, and the fact she actually does have a personality, sounds surprisingly progressive for its time. I had only heard of this anime as an older yuri anime with a prince-type girl, and so had never watched it since yuri isn't really my thing, but it sounds like there's a lot more to it than that.

I might have to actually watch it now. But I'm also lazy and tend to err on the side of that laziness, so I might just stick to reading this blog for my Utena experience.

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Duel 03 -- On the Night of the Ball
or: Champagne is the New Pig’s Blood, Tablecloths are Haute Couture

I have to apologize for an error I made last week. In one of the closing paragraphs of that post, I implied that there was little significance to be read in exactly what manga Wakaba was reading. It didn’t immediately click with me that Chiho Saito, mangaka of the Waltz in a White Dress series and Chiho Saito, member of Be-Papas and illustrator of the Revolutionary Girl Utena manga were the same person. The reference then becomes less of a shout-out to something on the mind of the creators and more of an allusion to one of their own pieces of work.

Magnolia Waltz is not Saito’s most well-known work, however. Her most well-known manga -- excluding Utena -- is a music-themed romance called Kanon, about a young violinist in search of her father, only to fall in love with him without realizing who he is. I would say more but that’s about the extent of the summaries I could find. Kanon has only officially been translated into French and Italian, and the only unofficial English translation still on the internet only has the final two volumes of the six-volume compilation.

In any case, it won the 1997 Shogakukan Manga Award for shoujo manga, and the people online who have read it seem to think well enough of it. Other unverified sources have claimed that it was Kanon that got Saito invited to contribute to Be-Papas (the timelines do match up, at least), and since the group disbanded, Saito has continued to add to a rather prolific body of shoujo and josei manga, even collaborating with Ikuhara one more time with S to M no Sekai / The World Exists for Me.

The Revolutionary Girl Utena manga and its sequel are likely to get their own blog post one of these days. For now, I just wanted to talk a bit about someone involved in Utena’s creation who I worry might otherwise have been overlooked. I’ve been trying to clamp down on auteur worship when I can, and though Kunihiku Ikuhara certainly deserves a lot of credit for Utena and its movie, to say he was the only person involved in the creative process would be a mistake. This anime would not be the same without the work of several people, and Chiho Saito is one such person.


In the previous two episodes, we’ve seen Student Council President Touga Kiryuu the second-most out of all the members of the council, and yet we haven’t really gotten a sense of his character. He tells Saionji a few times to stop abusing the Rose Bride (emphasizing how the council objectifies Himemiya, it is always “the Rose Bride”) though it is always verbal warnings and never anything of consequence, he quotes The Rose of Versailles a lot (that’s the “if a chick cannot crack its shell” speech), and he reacts with shock when he sees Utena wield the power of Dios. All this is in contrast to his true character, a flamboyant playboy who has probably broken more hearts than there exist girls attending Ohtori Academy.

And yet, Utena is attracted to him. Some of this is understandable; one could easily draw parallels at this point between this relationship and Wakaba lusting after Saionji, but there’s more to it than that, I think. We see that this attraction is mostly based on the connection of the rose seals on their rings -- Utena wonders if Kiryuu could really be her prince. This is a deliberate piece of dissonance on the part of the creators; We know Saionji has a ring as well that didn’t trigger anything in Utena, and in every flashback (and it is included at the beginning of the episode again just in case you forgot), Utena’s mysterious savior is depicted with purple hair and darker skin, closer to Anthy’s than most of the other characters depicted thus far. Obviously, Touga Kiryuu is not this prince. We also see Utena realize this subconsciously in how she rejects his advances despite her attraction, and later she says it outright, “No way a playboy like that could be my prince on a white horse.”

This connection is going to be explored in later episodes, of course. It’s kind of a narrative trope that, given a villainous student council, the president of said council is going to be fought at the climax of an arc, not three episodes in. Utena subverts a lot of tropes, but it doesn’t subvert that one.

But let’s talk about the real star of the show here, Nanami Kiryuu. Nanami is a girl who loves two things, the first is her social status -- the Kiryuus are portrayed as a rich family and the titular ball takes place in their mansion -- and the second is her brother. She really, really loves her brother, so much so that she goes out of her way to eliminate potential romantic partners. And because Anthy is the Rose Bride, because Touga is fighting for her hand, Nanami decides that she needs to step in here as well.

Some of this you could probably already figure out. She appears with all the other Student Council members in the show’s opening, after all. But I also wanted to use this as an opportunity to talk about the specific structure of the episode. Because it’s different, but in a way that will be used repeatedly throughout the show.

All of Revolutionary Girl Utena’s episodes are called “Duels” but not every episode has a duel in it. The bulk of these duel-less episodes are focused around Nanami. One might even call them filler episodes, but I’m not so sure I see it that way. They are more of a subplot, yes, but they also allow the creators to explore more general themes of growing up that the main theses -- the ones about gender roles and the damage of unhealthy relationships -- might not otherwise be able to cover. Nanami is younger than most of the cast, and her two loves mentioned above have left her woefully unprepared and in need of catching up, so she becomes the focus.

This episode is more of an introduction to these characters and setting up these respective plots (the closest thing to a lesson Nanami learns here is “you never know who could be attracted to who” which is a fine lesson, but not the focus), but there are a few other notes I’d like to close with.

First, we see Utena shed her very feminine dress for her masculine school uniform at the episode’s climax, the first instance of what will become a recurring motif. This was something already set up with the show’s opening, but it’s important to note when it happens more obviously.

Second, I’d like to point out a nice touch on the animator’s part. Anthy makes a comment about not liking large groups of people because everyone’s faces start to look the same and she gets uncomfortable, and while we do see a rather intense version of that near the end, even before then, most of the attendees are drawn more as outlines of characters than as people. One might assume that this is due to animation budgeting, but when we see the ballroom through the eyes of non-Anthy characters, suddenly many of them are filled in.

Thanks again for reading, and I’ll see you all next week!

-r

Next time: How many pets does Anthy Himemiya have? The answer may surprise you!

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Duel 04 -- The Sunlit Garden - Prelude
Or: A Two-Parter! We Only Get One So Let’s Enjoy It While We Can

This week’s “above the break” section is going to be devoted to a quote from Ikuhara I’ve mentioned before, but am going to talk about in much more detail now: “All interpretations of Utena are correct.”

I mentioned when I brought the quote up initially that I couldn’t exactly find a reliable source for this quote, but there are similar notes that express a similar mood. When Ikuhara is questioned about the imagery in his shows, he tends to either dodge the question or answer with some sort of lighthearted nonsense. For example, someone asked him what was special about Miki’s stopwatch, and he said, “Miki’s stopwatch contains the answer to all the mysteries of the world, and Miki is the only one who knows that. So I don’t know what it is either.”

This isn’t an uncommon sentiment among creators in the public eye. David Lynch similarly refuses to talk about meanings behind the surreal imagery in any of his works. It’s a perspective that might seem restrictive, perhaps overwhelmingly so. If a viewer can’t glean any sort of meaning on their first watch, they might become frustrated with the work, and if the creator, as a perceived authority, isn’t willing to elaborate, that frustration is going to turn into outright dismissal.

But let’s look at this another way for a moment. By removing themselves as a perceived authority, the creator might also be inviting interpretation. This, I would imagine, is an attempt to reach out to the people who, after viewing, might say, “This obviously means something, but I don’t know what yet.” Because in those cases, acting as an authority might collapse the potential space of the imagery, like how games with multiple endings tend to erase the “canon-ness” of all but one of their endings when a sequel comes out.

I’ve been ignoring Death of the Author up to this point because while it’s a literary criticism term that gets thrown around a lot, and I’m not saying it doesn’t apply here -- obviously removing the author and their statements from interpretations of the text applies here, and it’s something I’m interested in talking about more in-depth in the future -- just that this sort of creative mindset towards one’s own work, under this reading of their actions, seems, well, to put it bluntly, geared towards the sorts of people who when confronted with some symbol, want to know what it means but don’t want to put in the work to figure it out.

Next week, I’ll talk about the perceived authority of this blog itself, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll talk about Miki’s stopwatch.


The Sunlit Garden is not just the title of three of Revolutionary Girl Utena’s Miki-focused episodes, it’s also a motif one can follow throughout the show. We even heard it all the way back in Episode One; it was the first thing we heard after the opening as the backstory was being explained to us. It’s here though, in Episode Four, that we start to understand exactly what it means. Miki practically says it outright: it’s his search for his “shining thing”. Because this is a theme that doesn’t just play around Miki -- Anthy plays it at the end of the episode -- we can imagine this search extending out to the rest of the cast it’s associated with as well. 

I keep alluding to this and not outright addressing it here, mostly because Utena isn’t exactly interested in revealing itself too quickly, but this is the first instance so this is where I’m going to start talking about another theme: the need to reconcile with the past. Utena, our main character, is clinging on to the memory of how she received her ring. Touga clearly has some sort of previous connection with Utena as well. Miki, in this episode, is continuously being reminded of his own past, of playing piano with someone. It’s another thing we’re going to keep seeing show up, and it’s something I’m going to keep pointing out wherever possible.

The cheesy subtitle I gave this particular post referenced the fact that this episode is Utena’s only two-parter, or at least the only one labelled as such. It’s also the only episode (to my memory) that uses in medias res, starting with Miki and Utena at the dueling grounds before looping back to how we got here. It’s a bit of dramatic irony, then, that Miki seems so nice, that he says to Utena’s face that he doesn’t intend to duel her for Anthy’s hand.

This episode -- this half of The Sunlit Garden -- doesn’t give a direct reason for why Miki does end up dueling, but we can see hints of it already. It’s obvious he’s attracted to Anthy, what with the arpeggio every time she says “Thank you!” and the blush that follows, but that’s not exactly why. Again, the episode spells it out for us: Anthy, he realizes, is his “shining thing”. One can probably already start drawing some reasons from that alone, but I’ll save that for the next episode when the fight finally breaks out.

We also finally get introduced to the last member of the Student Council: Jury Arisugawa. We don’t get a lot from her this episode besides a little teasing, but the troubled look she gives when Miki expresses his excitement over suddenly finding some sort of happiness is going to mean a lot when we do start to get to know her.

The episode does all this while also being a Nanami episode, a follow-up to Episode Three where Nanami tries to get revenge for her failed humiliation plot, and we’re going to see a subtle, barely elaborated on gag where Anthy begins to get her revenge. Nanami tries to slip a snail in Anthy’s pencil box? Well, that pencil box already has a nest of snails, and everyone else thinks it’s cute anyway. This gag and others like it is how we’re going to see Anthy’s repressed playful side; we’re not going to see her laughing at an elephant spitting a ball back in its face very often.

Thanks again for reading, and I’ll see you all next week!

-r

Next time: We finally start resolving some flashbacks!
 

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Edited by radio414

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I have a feeling that I'm not going to like Jury. She sounds like she's either jealous or hateful and I'm going to enjoy disliking her character.

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6 hours ago, Comrade Duck said:

I have a feeling that I'm not going to like Jury. She sounds like she's either jealous or hateful and I'm going to enjoy disliking her character.

I'm not saying there aren't reasons to dislike her, but Jury and Miki are my favorite members of the Student Council. I don't really get to talk about Jury until Episode Seven, but if you think I'm going to stand for this, you've got another think coming 🙂

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Duel 05 -- The Sunlit Garden - Finale
Or: This Isn’t Even My Finale Form (That Pun Was Terrible And I Apologize)

I watch a lot of movies, but I’m also acutely aware of the image an amateur “film buff” tends to present. I don’t even like to refer to myself using that term because of these perceived connotations. And yet, because people know me as someone who watches movies, they will frequently bring the subject up in conversation.

This is something I talked about in my AMA too. I try to get out of the snobbier aspects of the “film buff” image mostly by trying to engage with other people about a movie in question. For example, I didn’t like last year’s 1917 all that much, but I was still interested in what a friend who had just seen it thought about it. I don’t want people to be giving my opinions any more weight than theirs.

But isn’t that the point of something like this? By running this blog, by putting up a thousand words or so a week attached to each episode, aren’t I placing some sort of additional weight on how I view this show? The obvious counterargument is no, it’s the readers who give someone a platform that makes their opinions matter. And that’s certainly a sentiment one can have, but it kind of falls apart when thinking about things made “for the art of it”.

Far be it from me to say this blog is art, but I don’t imagine myself stopping because of low readership. I think it’s fun, really, to go in-depth like this, with little sidebars at the top talking about whatever vaguely Utena-related topic I want. If I stop or slow down, it’ll be because I lose that personal drive, not because the little numbers didn’t go up. That isn’t to deny “numbers not going up” as a reason for anyone to stop doing something, especially in this economy, just for this specific project.

Perhaps it’s just the nature of the medium. I try to inspire discussion about various symbols, I bring up choice quotes like “All interpretations of Utena are true,” but this is still my blog, and these are still my words. There isn’t really room for an exchange of opinion like there would be in a conversation, and if it were a conversation, I’d already be dominating it by dumping paragraphs upon paragraphs before a reader might have a chance to even look at the episode. Better might be a book club format (I guess it’s an anime club format in this case), where everyone watches the episode ahead of time and comes in ready to discuss. But even in that case, I imagine there’s a special significance ascribed to the host. When the host asks, say, “What do you think is the significance of Miki's stopwatch?” that implies they already have a meaning ascribed to it and are guiding the discussion in that direction, ready to talk about it.

I don’t really have a solution, to be honest. The best I can offer is this little essay demonstrating my awareness of it and continually asking for other people’s opinions as we continue through Revolutionary Girl Utena. Anyway, I promised to talk about Miki and his stopwatch, so let’s talk about that.


There are two explanations I can give for the recurring shot of Miki’s stopwatch. The first is its use as a storytelling beat. It’s a cheap (budget-wise) way to emphasize certain phrases, telling the audience, “Pay attention here! This is important.” However, while this interpretation is useful in terms of analyzing other lines, it’s also outside the narrative. It doesn’t explain why Miki specifically, or why a stopwatch, or anything in that regard.

In-universe, I like the explanation that Miki has sensed that something is wrong with Ohtori Academy, and is measuring various statements and actions in an attempt to get a handle on exactly what. The stopwatch also lets him keep track of the time in general, grounding him in a way that keeps him from getting too lost in Ohtori’s world. Maybe that’s why he’s one of the more likeable members of the Student Council.

At the same time, he’s still wrong in how he sees his and Anthy’s potential relationship. Why does he fight for Anthy’s hand? But to talk about that, we have to talk about his relationship with his sister, Kozue.

We only see Kozue for a couple scenes in this episode, but the contrast of the relationship between the flashbacks and the present is clear. It’s a simple line, “Are you going to try to get me to play again?” she says, and this marks the turning point. The relationship was changed ever since she was forced on stage alone and Miki seeks to reclaim that. That is the “shining thing” that he’s searching for.

Between Anthy and Kozue, one can make the read, then, that Miki is looking for any sort of connection at all. But it’s an odd sort of connection he wants, because Kozue wasn’t the one to push Miki away after the failed recital, it was Miki, and it was because of the piano. Miki places an awful lot of stock in that specific moment of happiness, of playing piano with someone in the garden, instead of searching for other connections.

And that is his tragedy. Miki has devalued every other trait a person might have in favor of their skill with the piano, and he only realizes this worldview might be flawed when he duels. When he duels, he believes he is fighting for Anthy and her ability to play the piano whenever she wants, but Anthy is more than that, and Utena lets her be more than that. In a rare display of emotion from Anthy, she expresses this when she cheers on Utena in a duel, breaking Miki’s illusion.

The issues in Miki and Kozue’s relationship run deeper than this, something the shadow play girls get at with their “what exactly are you looking for?” skit, but this is all the episode is willing to cover. Thanks again for reading, and I’ll see you next week.

-r

Next time: A kangaroo is let loose on campus oh no!

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Duel 06 -- Take Care, Miss Namami!
Or: This Is Where Things Start To Get Weird

In my continuing interest to distance myself from presenting as the end-all-be-all of Utena analysis, I thought it would be nice to list a few other places one might read about this particular anime, whether those be other blogs like this one or a few actual sources. We’ll start with the latter, though.

Perhaps most exciting is commentary from Ikuhara himself, provided in the 2011 Right Stuff box set and translated by Sarah Alys Lindholm, which I found online here. There isn’t commentary on every episode -- largely the first half, up to Episode 18, though there’s something poignant about Episode 39’s if you’re willing to be spoiled -- but also included are notes on the OP, Rondo Revolution, the creation process, and a bit of technical discussion on the remastering process if you’re interested in that. I recommend checking it out, and I’ll probably be drawing from it myself as this blog series goes on.

It also includes this anecdote:
This is just between you and me, but when I was fourteen, I saw a UFO.
The UFO telepathically told me this prophecy:
When you grow up, you will direct an anime about girls revolutionizing various things.
Surely you jest.
You must not tell anyone about me. If you ever do…
Wh-What will happen to me?
People will call you a sketchy guy.

Next is ohtori.nu (which is partially down at time of writing but the twitter account is still active and mentions working to get it up. It was fine a week ago so... (Now it's up!)). Much of the analysis is in its forum, so you’re going to get forum-like discussions, and of course, many of them aren’t good, but it also represents most of the fan discussion from the point the show finished airing to the point when pretentious people like me started their own blogs about it. The forum is an archive now, so you can’t participate in discussions anymore, but it’s still nice to trawl through looking for something interesting if you’re in the mood.

Lastly are the blogs, most of which are generally of similar quality to this one (self-deprecating joke) but the one that stands out to me immediately is Jacob Chapman’s over at Anime News Network. It only lasted halfway, to Episode 18 (what an odd recurring theme) but unlike me who alluded to Anthy and Chu-Chu’s relationship, like, four posts ago and hasn’t really since, nor have I touched on the duel songs or the shadow-play girls outside of passing notes, Jason has sections devoted to each of these recurring elements, and more besides. It’s still a different take than what I’ve been doing here, especially with how each post there has to straddle being both a review and an analysis, which I’m not sure I agree with, but it’s worth a look if you’re so inclined.

Really, Utena is the sort of show that you’re not going to write thousands of words about if you don’t like it in some way. Like, the people who don’t like it are simply going to write about how inscrutable, or worse, how boring it is and leave it at that. And like I’ve said before, Utena invites a lot of analysis simply by how weird it can get. So the people writing these sorts of blogs are almost guaranteed to be over-enthusiastic in the worst-case scenario, and many of them are worth a look just for that.


When a Nanami episode isn’t about general ideas of growing up, it’s about her relationship with her brother. As has already been established, Nanami loves, loves, loves her big brother Touga, and has defined herself by this relationship, to the point that she is willing to sabotage girls who try to romance him. We see in the episode, when this relationship fails in some way, so does she.

But at the same time, we start to get a sense as to why with this episode. In one of her imagine spots, Anthy and Touga proclaim their love for each other and conspire to kill Nanami off. Because this is Utena, this is through literally cutting her off, sending a flower pot tumbling down onto her head. The implication is obvious -- Nanami fears losing her brother’s affection the moment he turns his eyes elsewhere. That Touga seems to permit this is interesting, but given that this is something the show is interested in addressing later, so will we.

We’re also introduced to Unhealthy Relationship #523 of this show, the one between Nanami Kiryuu and newcomer Mitsuru Tsuwabuki. Remember, not only is there an age gap between these characters, but also Mitsuru’s actions are super creepy. He admits by the end of the episode to engineering dangerous situations to put Nanami in, it’s implied that it’s his footsteps at the beginning, and when Nanami admits to using their relationship to keep him in her service, he seems perfectly fine with that, going as far as to beat up three upper-class members just to keep her affection.

His motivations are a little sketchy also. He wants to be like Touga to Nanami, he wants to be that older brother-like figure who protects his girl from harm (not realizing that Nanami and Touga’s relationship is already super weird), and allusions are made to him being Nanami’s prince, and Nanami being his damsel. In that way, along with some early shots that mirror Utena’s flashback with her prince, Unhealthy Relationship #523 serves as an early indication as to just what Revolutionary Girl Utena thinks of this savior/saved dynamic. With Touga and Mitsuru by her side, Nanami is a girl who can expect to be saved at any given opportunity, and we already see what kind of girl she has turned out to be.

Finally, this is also the point in the show where things start to get weird. They won’t always be like this, but some elements are obviously not meant to be part of the diegesis of the scene. Namami obviously wasn’t using radio equipment to listen in on Misturu’s confession, but she was bound to find out eventually, so that’s how it is portrayed. The climax doesn’t involve a literal kangaroo with boxing gloves, but it’s a danger that must be overcome.

But this is a blog that does want to at least touch on those sorts of things, so let’s go through each animal that attacks Nanami in turn:

Horse: Utena’s going to keep using this metaphor of horses to their princely riders, from the opening of the show to some of its final episodes, but here it’s for Mitsuru Tsuwabuki as Nanami’s initially mysterious prince.

Bull: Something of a catch-all analogy to Nanami and Mitsuru’s bullheadedness. Nanami, as stated repeatedly, only has eyes for Touga, and Mitsuru is determined to change that in his favor.

Kangaroo: By drawing attention to the oddity of the situation, Utena is also drawing attention to the oddity of the relationship. Mitsuru is determined to protect Nanami, but the relationship is flawed from the start. Plus it gives an excuse to see Touga shirtless again, and you better get used to that.

-r

Next time: The miracle never happen, because a miracle is something that doesn’t exist.

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Duel 07 -- Unfulfilled Juri
Or: Yes, I’m Spelling Juri With An “I” Come At Me

It feels a little weird joining a fandom that’s about as old as you are, and make no mistake, that’s exactly what’s happening here. You don’t set out to write forty blog posts on a thing without immersing yourself in the fan culture at least a little bit. And now, coming back up for air, I think I can say that the Utena fandom… is fine? Like, I’m sure there’s a subset that lusts after these characters who are, at maximum, seventeen years old, but thankfully, I haven’t encountered any of those.

At the same time, I have to wonder if this “fine-ness” stems from how old it is and how niche it is. This is a group of people that enjoys a particular show made in an already niche (to Americans, at least) style of animation, who found each other at the dawn of the internet age back when forums could be about one thing and that was enough. I don’t know how the Utena fandom was back in the day, nor do I care to trawl through old forum posts trying to find out.

We can draw comparisons to other media, though. Star Trek is the most notable example, though its fandom predates even the internet. The most famous story of the Star Trek fandom, to me, is their letter-writing campaign getting them a third season of the original series. And that sort of appreciation, I’m sure, leads to the “toxicity” that people tend to scorn these days. But I also don’t see anyone calling the Star Trek fandom “toxic.”

I wonder if “toxicity” (and yes, I am going to use scare quotes every time I use that word) is a symptom of a fandom’s adolescence. As a fanbase grows and expands, it’s inevitably going to receive pushback, and while yeah, it’s fun to laugh at people who jump on top of fast-food counters and demand their weird sauce, and it’s fun to roast people who seem to come to the exact opposite conclusions than the ones presented in the text, these things or similar happen in every group of fans. When things have died down, when the expansion has slowed, there might still be scorn for those early events, but at the same time, the people with the most scorn have likely moved on to something else. The fandom becomes a normalized part of the zeitgeist, and things move on.

Anyway, just some thoughts I had. I don’t think I’ve gotten too deep in the Utena fandom yet. The most I’ve done besides trawl Twitter, Discord, and old forum feeds is take a personality test.

I’m a Juri, by the way.


This is one of those episodes with “a twist” that I’m totally going to spoil because that’s what you do when talking about an episode -- so if you don’t want to be spoiled, I suggest scrolling back up and clicking that episode link -- but also because it’s really interesting how the episode plays when you do know what’s revealed at the end. It really wants you to believe that Juri is in love with this random boy in her fencing club, and yet, every shot with Shiori Takatsuki hints at their connection. Juri loves her, and her feelings of betrayal stem from that unrequited love, not just because her best friend and her other best friend started kissing behind her back.

This is the dichotomy that is at the heart of Juri’s character. Remember three episodes ago when I made a special note of how Juri reacted when Miki said he’d suddenly (some might say, “miraculously”) found happiness? How it troubled her? This is what I mean. Juri’s “miracle”, the thing she wishes for above all else, is to love Shiori, but she can’t for various reasons. Since Utena was created in the nineties, one popular interpretation is her internalized homophobia gets in the way, and similar events later in the anime potentially back that up. I’m not so sure it’s that; it’s entirely possible that Shiori simply isn’t attracted to girls.

Interestingly, Juri treats Anthy the least like a person out of all the student council so far. Juri doesn’t even desire her engagement, just the power Anthy possesses, because that, somehow, will let her express her true feelings. Anthy, for her part, seems to realize this, mirroring Shiori’s movements whenever she’s around Juri, holding up a rose in the exact same way, mocking her, almost.

But that’s not even why Juri challenges Utena in the first place. Like Miki, she initially seems disinterested in the idea of the duels. So it isn’t her desire to confess her feelings, it’s Utena’s belief that someday she’ll be able to. Really, challenging Utena is a win-win for Juri. If she wins, she can revolutionize the world, and if she loses, it only reinforces her self-loathing, that her miracle truly will never happen.

Which is why, of course, neither happens. Juri disarms Utena, sending her sword flying into the sky, only for it to strike Juri’s rose on the way down. This is not the first time these duels have been a metaphorical answer to the questions the rest of the episode poses (nor will it be the last), but it is the first time it has done so in such a blatant manner. Juri’s problem isn’t that miraculous things can’t happen, Juri’s problem, put simply, is Juri. That she doesn’t seem to notice this by the end of the episode is the setup for her personal arc.

One might also notice the occasional shot of Anthy throughout the duel as if the outcome was determined by her influence. Just something to keep in mind.

The allegory doesn’t just stay in the duels, of course. The shadow play girls are getting more metaphorical as well, emphasizing in their skit that Juri does, in fact, secretly wish for a miraculous outcome in her relationship, while the Student Council meeting of the episode has Touga throwing knives around Miki, representing, in my view, Juri’s willingness to dance around and avoid the issue.

That’s not to imply Miki is an issue, even if he does have issues of his own.

-r

Next time: Freaky Friday but it’s an anime

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Duel 08: Curried High Trip
Or: The One Where Anthy Slaps Back

If you haven’t been following She-Ra or Utena twitter, you probably missed this, but in that intersection between the two fanbases, there was a collective squee as the former show referenced the other in a couple of key images. I won’t show those images here -- they’re from later episodes and might be a little spoiler-y, but it got me thinking about how other shows might have referenced Utena in various ways.

Tvtropes has a list, but a good section of that list is other anime and manga, a lot of which is either Penguindrum (another Ikuhara creation) or references that are questionable at best in my opinion. There is Shitsurakuen, which apparently draws heavily on Utena’s plot, but what I’m more interested in is western animation.

Besides She-Ra, Steven Universe is the obvious standout; one episode borrows several sequences of acrobatics. Series lead Rebecca Sugar is apparently a fan, and I imagine many others working on the show if those shots made it in. Scott Pilgrim is also very similar; I anachronistically called UtenaScott Pilgrim but made in Japan” way back in the first post of this blog, but there are also visual references galore if you look for them (including one poster in the background of Volume Three).

I don’t mean to turn this post into an archive, recounting each and every time someone mentions a show I like. I just think it’s interesting when cultures cross-pollinate like this.


I have to be honest, I had a lot of trepidation going into this episode. According to commentary, this was supposed to be Episode Six (and Episode Six was supposed to be Episode Eight) before production issues threw a spanner into that plan, and honestly, it kind of shows. It’s a lot like Episode Three in stakes, and the show is going to have to explain Tsuwabuki’s absence later on.

But after rewatching, it kind of still feels like an escalation of the weirdness that Take Care, Miss Nanami set up. The elephants constantly attacking Nanami as she searches for the secret curry powder now seem like an extension of the gag from the previous episodes, where wildlife just seems to hate her. The episode seems to make a note of this with its shadow play, one of the most straightforward in the series: “Divine Judgment” is what she’s experiencing.

Is it really divine, though? We’re given multiple instances that it’s not. It’s not the divine winds that cause Nanami to trip when she arrives home, it’s Chu-chu. And, as we’ve established, Chu Chu is frequently a stand-in for Anthy’s actions. We also find out the curry powder was never actually used in the two explosive recipes; Anthy’s cooking is just that weird. This is what I mean when I mention Anthy’s passive-aggressive streak; confined to her role as the Rose Bride, this is how she copes, by lashing out against those who have wronged her, culminating in her, not Utena, being the one to give Saionji a sample of the curry.

The rest of the episode is your standard Freaky Friday affair, meant to have its two principal characters understand more about the other. Since Utena is our perspective character most of the time, this is her mostly learning about Saionji’s exchange diary, though she also experiences some of the abuse that Anthy goes through (reminder that this is the seventh out of eight episodes that the girl’s been slapped). This is the part that leads into the next episode (that’s not a spoiler, it’s literally in the post-credits stinger), another reason I think it’s okay that the release order swapped this and Episode Six.

I mentioned that each Nanami episode has a moral attached, and while the obvious “what goes around comes around” moral might apply, there’s something to be said for how the episode progresses the show’s main statements about how each character views Anthy Himemiya. Miki bursts into tears, for example, at how “impure” Utena’s version of Anthy is acting, while Saionji refuses to accept what Utena wrote in the exchange diary. Touga, too, is only concerned for the protagonists inasmuch as he hopes they will continue participating in the duels. It’s only Utena who really seems concerned.

-r

Next time: More flashbacks and more Saionji breaking rules.

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Duel 09 -- The Castle Said To Hold Eternity
Or: The Two Worst Characters (So Far) Grew Up Together That Means We Can Ship Them, Right?

First thing’s first, I came across a pretty comprehensive list of content warnings for Revolutionary Girl Utena. It’s already in the opening post, but I’m also going to post it here for those who have been following along just in case. Again, I’ll say the major ones in these posts themselves, and we haven’t gotten to those yet, but if you find content warnings useful, especially related to mental or physical abuse, I recommend checking out that link. I apologize for not doing due diligence and seeking that out sooner.

With that said, let’s talk about video games because Utena has a video game.

Someday, My Revolution Will Come (there are a bunch of translations for the title, most notably “Story of the Someday Revolution” or “Four Days in Ohtori Academy” but “Someday…” is my favorite so I’m using it here) is a visual novel for the Sega Saturn published in 1998. It has largely the same writing team and voice team, and takes place within the anime’s canon, specifically between Episodes Eight and Nine. It involves a playable new character interacting with not only the rest of the main cast, but also the mysterious Chigusa Sanjouin, who also seeks the power to revolutionize the world.

Finding gameplay of this game was a bit difficult, actually. If you want to play it, you can either learn Japanese and have a Sega Saturn (and a bunch of money to snap Someday… up should it pop up on eBay), or you can trawl through an archived forum where not every page got saved hoping that the thread where the game got talked about is still there, find a Saturn emulator and a virtual disk drive, download not one, but two .iso files, and run a .bat script, but only after a little bit more editing in the process.

I did all that (the second option, I mean), but then I realized it was late Friday night and I wasn’t going to be able to process most of what I was doing anyway, so I just watched a playthrough instead. Maybe I could do an LP of my own someday, but for now, let’s just do a general overview of the story. 

There isn’t a content warning list for this game that I could find, but a good substitute would be going through the broader ones featured in the list above, specifically the ones of the first two arcs, “Student Council arc” and “Black Rose arc”. Despite taking place between Episodes Eight and Nine, it also serves as a primer for that second arc, as well as serving as foreshadowing for the third “Apocalypse” arc, including Anthy’s brother Akio at times and a few pictures of eventually relevant Ruka Tsuchiya.

I say that it serves as a primer because the Black Rose arc -- and I’ll talk about this more when we get to it in a month or so -- is all about character foils. We’ll learn about each of our main characters largely through exploring who they are not. With that in mind, the question of the game becomes, who is Chigusa Sanjouin a foil to?

Spoilers for the game, by the way.

It’s easy to say Utena. Chigusa constantly describes herself as masculine, from her appearance (which isn’t very clear in the key art but who’s to say) to her activities, which is similar to Utena constantly striving to be a prince, but Chigusa is constantly portrayed as uncomfortable with this presentation of herself. Her “more masculine qualities” are what caused her to lose her crush, which then led to her burning down the old duel hall in an act of suicidal arson. It’s also easy to say this because the game’s main character is a bit wishy-washy and constantly over her head, to the point where one might imagine she’s not a character at all, simply a conduit for the player.

But that’s not really the case. The main character of Someday, My Revolution Will Come does have a story and it is important to the game. Her father was Chigusa’s crush, and her mother was the rival Chigusa lost to. We also see a few references to Snow White, not only in the imagery, but also during the climax, where Chigusa literally calls herself the “Evil Queen” and the PC “Snow White-san”. Part of me wants to say it’s not a very interesting counterpoint, as it literally pairs the two canon foreigners in a way that they can easily be missed, making the game unnecessary, but it is notable that it literally introduces the stockiest of stock characters for us to play as before challenging those assumptions.

I mentioned that I would talk about “why” each character fought for Anthy’s hand and the power to revolutionize the world. In this case, the game states it outright. Chigusa fights for all the Evil Queens of the world because if she wins, it proves that they are superior and can, in fact, someday find their prince. But she’s misguided. “Evil Queens” in Chigusa’s mind, are women who don’t conform to feminine ideals. But Utena Tenjou is exactly that, and she seems perfectly content with her lot. And when Chigusa loses, it is because of someone feminine, relying on her own experiences to break the four-day curse on Ohtori Academy.

If there’s a reason to dislike this game, it’s because the relationship between the protagonist’s parents goes completely uncommented on, or if it is, it is in a way that is uncharacteristic for the series. This is a marriage that initially formed between student and teacher, and in a show that examines how power dynamics like this one can wreck a relationship, it’s a little unclear why this one was not.

In fact, outside of the main story, Someday My Revolution Will Come includes a lot of fanservice. To be fair, I would have expected as much in a game with dating sim mechanics (the specific ending you get is determined by the “nobility” of the main characters, and you raise nobility by spending time with them), but some of the scenes are especially heavy on it. “Juri and I played a fighting game and I won!” is a possible option, for example, not to mention the multiple shower scenes.

All in all, I think the game presents some good ideas, and I’m glad it exists, but let’s talk about an actual episode now.


Saionji is the Vice President of the Student Council while Touga is the President. A simple distinction, but one that looms over both of them. Touga always wins, after all, whether it’s when they spar or who gets the girl. As one can imagine, after ten years of this, Saionji has developed quite the inferiority complex. Even when Saionji has a flashback that’s a third of an episode long, it’s still mostly about Touga.

But let’s talk about that flashback for a moment. Remember way back in Episode Three when I made the distinction that while Touga definitely isn’t Utena’s mysterious prince, he definitely has a connection to Utena’s past? Here’s where we first see that.

This is the first time we see the framing story, the “Once Upon a Time…” that begins many of Utena’s episodes, and it’s interesting how it drops the fantastic nature of it. Utena isn’t a princess, she’s a young girl whose parents were in a car accident. She isn’t sad -- there aren’t tears for potential princes to wipe from her eyes -- she’s crushingly depressed, hiding away in a coffin and waiting to die.

Touga cannot provide the “something eternal” that she wants, again, revealing that he isn’t, nor can he be her prince, but also the episode starts pulling back on his intent as well. He doesn’t want to be “her prince,” he wants Utena to forget her prince in favor of him. This is evidenced in how he saves her at the end. He doesn’t say “Because it’s what your prince would do,” he says, “wasn’t your prince a guy like me?” It’s Utena that conflates the two.

But while Touga is infatuated with the girl in the coffin, Saionji notices something else: Touga’s failure. This is the gap in Touga’s otherwise impenetrable armor and it’s something that Saionji fixates on, because if he can find something eternal, he can prove himself better than his friend/rival. It still objectifies Anthy and he’s still an irredeemable jerk to her, but we are continuing to humanize the Student Council by giving them familiar motivations at least.

Meanwhile, though this just turns Touga Kiryuu into more of an anomaly, because he appears to be devoid of these motivations besides seducing Utena and winning Anthy’s hand, going so far as to manipulate Saionji into breaking the rules of the dueling game and expelling him when he does. It’s this charming inscrutability that makes him more of a threat, I think, so the motivation card works both ways.

We’ll learn more about Touga eventually, but it’s going to take a while.

-r

Next time: You know how in the opening we see Nanami fighting Utena? This is that part.

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Duel 10 -- Nanami’s Precious Thing
Or: B.B.B.F.F. (Big Brother Best Friend Forever)

The Subs vs. Dubs argument is not something I want to get into as a general rule; I generally prefer subtitles (and have been using links to subtitled episodes throughout this blog) but I can understand reasons one might rather dubs and that’s really all I’ll say on the matter. However, seeing as the lead-in section of this blog has been looking at various aspects of Utena’s production and impact, it’s probably a good idea to at least talk a little bit about the English dub.

The trivia that gets thrown around the most is that the woman who voices Utena, Rachel Lilis (perhaps best known for her role as Misty in Pokémon) has never met the English Anthy, Sharon Becker. I think that’s indicative of a lot of the problems people might have with it; there’s certainly a stiltedness to it all, especially in the earlier episodes. But at the same time, there is some inspiration in there. Rachel Lilis is very good, and Crispin Freeman as Touga is different from the original, and yet still carries the same presence.

Besides, given Utena’s nature, the stiltedness is intentional (though that’s a rabbit hole that I don’t particularly recommend following).

It did grow on me as I went through scenes in preparation for this post. Some of that may be due to Ikuhara’s involvement -- he helped with later episodes of the dub as well as the dub of the movie -- but also may be related to the voices getting used to their roles. Listening to the English dub also provided a look into some of the sound effects that were changed in the remastering process, especially the bells of the arena (comparison video here), though the subject of the remaster is something I’m going to save for another episode.

If you are curious, here’s a link to a Nozomi Entertainment’s playlist for the English dub. I’ll still be sticking with the subtitles, but it should be easy enough to follow along.


This episode is a lot of things, really. First, it is a shift in tone from the more episodic format earlier in the Student Council arc to this serial format where Touga begins to enact his plan. We saw glimpses of this in the previous episode, how Touga used Saionji’s lust for power and desire for normalcy to not only get rid of a potential romantic rival, but also plant the initial idea in Utena’s head that he may just be her prince. Episode Ten has the consequences of that; Utena starts challenging what it means to be a prince, but not in the way she had hoped. “Maybe a girl can’t be a prince,” she says. This will continue until the end of the arc.

Second, if you couldn’t tell by the title, this is a Nanami episode, though its antics are certainly less subdued than before. Aiko, Yuuko, and Keiko (Nanami’s mooks, and yes, I’m only just now mentioning their names) only get a few frames of screentime, watching on as Nanami berates Utena and Anthy for intruding on Touga’s birthday instead of doing anything outwardly malicious themselves, for example. Everything else is still there, though, such as the little subtheme of Anthy messing with Nanami, this time by replicating a gift Nanami had given when she was a child, a small kitten to play with.

The moral of this episode is going to take a while to learn, though, because Nanami’s love for her brother and his (perceived) reciprocation is one of the most ingrained aspects of Nanami’s character. Not only does she go after any girl he might take an interest in, we also find out that she killed Touga’s kitten -- her own gift! -- because she believed he was spending too much time with it.

I said “perceived” reciprocation in that last paragraph because, like with Touga and Saionji, it’s not entirely clear what Touga puts into this relationship besides acceptance that it’s going to happen. The most obvious moment is when she asks that he kiss her and he effectively says “we aren’t children anymore,” and when he does embrace her, he makes certain that Utena is watching.

The last thing this episode is is a duel episode. Putting aside the pranks and humiliation, Nanami steps forward to challenge Utena. The implication, both in how Touga gives her a ring and how he appears at the dueling arena, is that Nanami is fighting for Touga’s love, not Anthy’s hand. One might even argue that that is the reason she loses, though it would also be the reason she refuses to yield once the duel is over, only stopping when Touga steps in himself.

-r

Next time: Utena faces her toughest opponent yet: the man she believes to be her prince.

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Duel 11 -- Gracefully Cruel - The One Who Picks That Flower
Or: Touga Tells A Woman To Stay Out Of The Kitchen

Even those that skip Utena’s OP probably still catch a glimpse of a single name as the song begins: “Be-Papas”. It’s one I’ve mentioned on this blog as well when I was mentioning Chiho Saito’s work, though outside of name-dropping it, I didn’t actually explain what it is in relation to Utena. Because it’s not an animation studio -- Revolutionary Girl Utena was animated by J.C. Staff -- but an artist collective consisting of Ikuhara and Saito, who I’ve already mentioned, in addition to Yoji Enokido, Shinya Hasegawa, and Yuichiro Oguro. It was made specifically for Utena, and outside of The World Exists for Me, the Ikuhara/Saito collaboration I’ve mentioned before, the collective hasn’t put out anything since.

There are interviews with Ikuhara where he talks about how he wondered if this was going to be the last anime he ever made, and how that influenced the design process as he wanted to make his “pinnacle.” That prophecy was true for a while, too; Revolutionary Girl Utena was Ikuhara’s last work as a director for ten years before Mawaru Penguindrum premiered. Sometimes, I wonder if that added to the show’s fan mythology in the same way that, say, A Song of Ice and Fire is today, memeifying and fetishizing the auteur who seldom releases things, but the things are always good.

That’s sort of the symbol of an uncompromising artist, isn’t it? But that seems to go against the collaborative nature of Be-Papas and the creation of Revolutionary Girl Utena (or at least Saito and Ikuhara described the process as collaborative; it’s difficult to find interviews of the collective’s other members). To talk more about this would be to go into the weeds of auteur theory, from what it is to why it’s misleading, which is a topic I’ll likely address at another time. For now, though, I’ll leave you with this:

There’s a quote on ohtori.nu speculating on the reception to The World Exists for Me: “Unfortunately, reviewers in the United States overall panned it, calling it a disappointment. This may have something to do with the fact that it's fairly straight shoujo, where many of the people who sought it out were looking for another Utena.” Now, given that this analysis came from a fan site, it’s almost certainly biased in favor of Be-Papas (though I haven’t read the manga in question). It does, however, illustrate the logical progression of this sort of fandom thinking, of associating someone’s work with the things they’ve done previously. And sure, while it’s possible to draw patterns between works to get at underlying thematic preferences, using that to draw conclusions about a creator’s opinions or what they might make next can also be dangerous.

Anyway, just something to think about.


This is an anime with twenty years of interpretations flowing out of it, so I’m sure I’m not the first person to make this point, but of all the episodes so far, this one seems to be the most “Anthy-centric.” To put it another way, most of the episodes -- and if you’ve been watching along, you’ll notice this -- are pretty clear on who their focus is supposed to be on. In this arc, it’s been either a Nanami episode or whoever Utena is dueling at the climax. This episode and the next should, therefore, be Touga episodes, but that’s not really the case. He does have a history with Utena as per the flashbacks in Episode Nine, but remember, those were from Saionji’s point of view. Touga hasn’t shown any interest in reconciling with the past (unlike everyone else on the Student Council), and, outside of making advances towards Utena that can be explained away by either his playboy personality or manipulating Utena into believing that he could be her prince or both, he doesn’t seem to present any sort of motivation besides desiring Anthy for her power’s sake.

So “Touga episode” is out of the question. I would also disqualify Utena for similar reasons. Outside of her initial duel with Saionji, Utena’s role in the duels has, at most, been “protect Anthy from those who would do her harm.” She says as much in this episode, in fact. But it’s this reason that also provides the underlying conflict for this episode. Utena, thus far, has been serving as Anthy’s advocate, but that’s not a particularly fulfilling relationship from Anthy’s side of things. In practice, it means that she’s still not allowed to speak for herself. Even when she does, when she finally reveals a piece of her own desires (“I want to make more friends”), Utena goes and uses it to further her advocacy, revealing this intimate moment to Touga after she loses the episode’s duel.

If we do look at this episode as Anthy-centered, where does that lead us? Well, it makes the Shadow Play Girls segment a little bit more understandable. As someone who is somehow obligated to change hands at the swing of a sword, Anthy has been through this song and dance before; it is very much implied that her one moment of intimacy took a long time to get to. It also means that the lunch at the beginning is a particularly happy moment for Anthy -- she’s not treated as anything other than a good friend to have lunch with on a sunny day.

The reaction shots (of which there are more of in this episode than most if any episodes so far) also support this. Multiple times throughout the episode, there’s either a cut or slow pan to Anthy, reminding the audience, implicitly, of her person-ness. Call it the Kuleshov effect if you must (in essence, the effect is how the context of each shot informs the interpretations of the shots surrounding it), but do think to ask yourself while watching, when is Anthy Himemiya happy? Sad?

Some of this is intentionally vague. Touga is both obviously not Utena’s prince (on a meta-level, at least, Utena thinks otherwise) and obviously unsympathetic in his manipulations, not to mention treating Anthy like an object, but there is less to go on with regards to Anthy’s attitude towards him besides hopefully mirroring ours. At the same time, of course, Utena turned down the power of Dios, rejecting Anthy in favor of a vague memory, so from her perspective, maybe it’s just another fleeting moment that nevertheless turned out exactly the same as all the other duelists.

-r

Next time: Utena clutches her head and screams at the sky, “What am I fighting foooooor?”

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Duel 12 -- For Friendship, Perhaps
Or: Anthy Gets On Her Knees And Kisses Touga’s Sword Surely That’s Not A Metaphor For Anything

Just a heads-up, this episode has a bunch of flashing lights in it that may affect people with certain kinds of photosensitivity. Previous episodes have had some, yes, but there’s a lot more in this one.

Last week I mentioned auteur theory in something of a throwaway line, saying I’d probably cover it another time. Well, this is another time. This is still going to be a super basic overview, however, largely because, well, it’s still a seventy-year-old lens with which to look at media, and five-hundred or however many words this ends up being isn’t going to cover it all at once.

Auteur is a French word, meaning “author,” and the theory seeks to answer a simple question: The creator of a book is its author, the painter of a landscape is its artist, but who is the creator of something that is inherently collaborative like a film? The answer, says the theory, is the director. It is always the director, and it is their job to exact their vision upon the world. Perhaps intuitively, this makes at least a little bit of sense, right? Even at the start of this series, I said Utena was “made by Kunhiiko Ikuhara”, for example, and there are countless filmmakers where one can say similar.

The dichotomy of the time was the French New Wave, spearheaded by essays on the theory in Cahiers du Cinema magazine, against the Hollywood studio system. This isn’t to imply “great art” or at least “classics” weren’t made under the studio system, just that the zeitgeist has moved on since knowing who directed such work. Meanwhile, movies such as Cleo from 5 to 7 or The 400 Blows are almost inextricable from their directors, Agnes Varda and Francois Truffault respectively. One reason for this is how assigning a definitive creator immediately applies a sort of faux-insight into that person’s mind or at least a way to read into recurring themes in their works. Some modern examples one might go to include Lynne Ramsay dealing with themes of guilt and loss, Steven Spielberg and faulty familial (especially paternal) relationships, or Quentin Tarantino and revenge (and also the feet thing). Each is a clear theme in most if not all of their works, and it is because of auteur theory that we can draw a line through it all.

That’s not to say that the theory is perfect. There is, of course, “death of the author,” a competing analytical trend that attempts to extricate a work itself entirely from who made it, be that a person or a studio. There’s also still a debate as to whether the director is even the sole creator of a work at all -- screenwriters like Taylor Sheridan and Charlie Kaufman can attest to that (though both have been directing more and more in recent years). And again, movie-making is still ultimately a collaborative process, and while actors and even some cinematographers get their dues, there’s still a whole lot that goes on behind the scenes that can sometimes be left out.

So, how does Utena fit into all of this? Well, I already talked a bit about Chiho Saito and how her work leads into this particular series, but Ikuhara is the one people tend to credit (with the anime specifically, at least). When we look at the greater body of work Ikuhara has produced, there are some pretty traceable ideas, especially regarding gender roles and the brokenness of systems society otherwise runs on. It’s these two people, even out of the rest of Be-Papas, that seem to get the most credit for Utena’s creation. Maybe that’s the reason that, when they collaborated years later, they took the name with them.

I rush to add, I’m not a film critic, merely an enthusiast at best, so I may have gotten things wrong or brushed over certain elements of history. But then again, I’m also not much of an anime critic, and yet, here I am. Let’s talk about some anime.


Clothes are a pretty important aspect of Revolutionary Girl Utena. They’re symbolic of a broader sense of presentation, from how Nanami tries to keep up appearances to the and it’s here, for the first time, that Utena’s wardrobe changes. We’ve seen her in dresses before, but remember, even then she wore her decidedly tomboy school uniform underneath. Now, she has completely discarded it, even apathetically leaving it in disrepair as she deals with losing Anthy in the previous episode’s duel. Utena states it outright, she’s trying to be “normal.” To put it another way, she’s trying to be a “princess”. This is how Touga views her at least, too -- his boast about having finally saved his princess is a double meaning, referring both to Anthy and Utena in equal measure. After all, he did pretend to be her prince for several episodes. Even if he was truly after the Rose Bride alone (although, given past history and how he flirts with Utena in this episode, that’s not a given), to him, it wouldn’t do if he couldn’t “save” Utena as well. Princes save princesses, and Utena is a princess.

Not that everyone is okay with that. Wakaba is certainly the standout of the episode, desperately trying to convince her friend that what is happening certainly isn’t normal (“You not being normal is normal!”) as well as giving as much as she takes in the slap department. Meanwhile, Juri steps in at the last moment to lend Utena her sword, a moment seemingly inspired by Touga’s comments about a storybook ending, though whether she desires Utena to be the prince of that ending or simply acting against miracles as is her (stated) wont, is a bit unclear. Even Anthy seems noticeably uncomfortable, becoming even more passive than she had been with Saionji at the start of the series.

This is also the first time we get a clear view inside Anthy’s head, both in an imagine spot where she imagines Utena drinking tea with her, but also during the duel, where she commentates wondering why Utena isn’t giving up, culminating in a shocking realization and the afterimage of Utena’s prince. One can make the connection that this is her recognition of Utena as her prince coming to rescue her. Even that, though, is a connection that will have consequences.

The episode, and thus, the Student Council arc, ends much like the series began, with Anthy approaching Utena as they exit the dueling grounds and introducing herself as the Rose Bride. But Utena wasn’t fighting for the Rose Bride, she was fighting, to subtly drop the episode’s title, for friendship, and she tells Anthy as much when she interrupts her asking if they can just go home. Anthy smiles, and they do. There’s still a lot to explore, and twenty-seven episodes to do it in, but it’s a happy ending for now, at least.

Touga, meanwhile, is going to go sit in a chair and sulk for, like, a dozen episodes.

-r

Next Time: A recap episode! Except…

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Duel 13 -- Tracing A Path
Or: Yes, We’re Talking About The Recap Episodes Too

I’ve mentioned before the “canon” of Revolutionary Girl Utena -- the anime, the movie, and the manga -- but as the first arc winds down, I thought it would be fun to look at some of the other ways the story is being told. That’s one of the ways a story can become immortal, after all, through tellings and retellings across mediums. Elaborating on that sort of navel-gazing notion is going to have to wait for another time, though. For now, let’s talk about the adaptations themselves.

We already took a look at the game, of course, but it’s still worth mentioning here because it’s the one that’s completely within the continuity of the show, adding (some might say tacking on) its characters to the already existing relationship structures of the show. To that end, each of the “routes” allows a bit more depth at the very least. Miki’s relationship with his sister, Kozue, for example, is explored a bit more given she’s the weak point Chigusa uses to try and ensnare him, while Saionji can almost seem likable (my bias is showing, I think).

Speaking of those characters in particular, Revolutionary Girl Utena has a pair of light novels exploring them in a little more detail. They largely follow their plots in the anime, with the first, Twin Saplings, covering the first five episodes (which, if you haven’t been keeping track, ends with The Sunlit Garden) while Verdant Hopes revolves around Saionji’s story, eventually going on to cover his relationship with Wakaba. There are some key differences, though. Miki’s infatuation is with Utena this time, for example, and Touga has a larger presence as well.

There are five musical adaptations of Utena, three produced just after the anime finished airing and two created following the show’s twentieth anniversary. These are something I haven’t gone through as much, being Japan-only, but I have seen clips of these latter two productions, mostly of Wakaba glomping Utena or Nanami literally stepping on someone. The titles are a treat, though, ranging from Revolutionary Girl Utena: the Musical Comedy to Revolutionary Girl Utena: Choros Imaginary Living Body.

The last adaptation I wanted to talk about is the Big Eyes, Small Mouth Tabletop RPG books. These are interesting not just because it’s the only American-produced media on this list, but because the two Utena supplements are labelled as “Ultimate Fan Guides”. Not only does it try to adapt the characters, giving them little Tri-Stat system stat blocks, but it also gives little write-ups of some of the episodes… to a certain extent. One wonders while reading these if they watched the show they’re writing about (a sentiment also expressed for Fan Guides of other anime if you go looking). Either way, it is a cute distraction and does introduce Ohtori Academy as a playground, along with some rudimentary scenarios for aspiring GMs.

Most of these adaptations (again, I can’t speak for the musicals) only seem to adapt the first two arcs of this three-arc anime. The Apocalypse Arc is left untouched. I can’t help but wonder why that is. Is it because of the content perhaps (if you read the content warnings I’ve posted, you’ll know what I’m talking about)? If you go down that road, would that mean these adaptations are more interested in the aesthetic of Utena, what with the stylized shadows and symbolic architecture than the story itself?

Not that this blog is any better, at least not yet. We’ll get there someday, I’m sure.


Storytime: One of the more enigmatic aspects of Utena’s symbology is the constant appearance of roses. I’m not talking about the ones in the actual show (though there is meaning behind those too), but the spinning ones that show up outside of the diegesis, generally during moments of importance (though not always). It’s a constant discussion, “What do these roses mean?” people ask. “And why are they the color that they are?” My idiot brain throughout my first watch of these next two arcs was always like, “Don’t they explain it in that recap episode?”

The answer is no. No, they do not. Nor is anyone going to explain it throughout the rest of the show, nor am I going to even attempt to explain it, really, outside of “It’s an extra bit of style, an added flair that complements the aesthetic” or (occasionally) “it covers the bits that might be too difficult to animate, like Utena slashing off someone else’s rose”.

And, honestly, I could leave it at that. This is a recap episode, after all, the actual symbology of these specific stained glass roses and actual rose petals is obvious simply by its association -- though the matching of the stained glass roses to that duelist’s love interest’s hair took me a minute. I won’t, though, because there are a few other points of interest.

Prince Dios, for example, shows up in the flesh for the first time. We’ve seen an afterimage of him show up throughout Utena’s duels to provide assistance, but it appears he’s actually there this time, sulking in that upside-down castle in the sky. More important, then, is the second person, who knows how to get there. If you watched the after-credits trailer for the next episode, you might recognize this as Anthy’s brother, though there are some contradictions in how Akio is introduced there than this person is introduced (specifically, the “not knowing about the duels” part).

“We’ll both profit equally,” Dios is told. It is said in that classic “villain who will definitely take all the profit” sort of way, sure, but it does draw a connection between these two people. If Dios is supposed to be heroic, does that make this other person the villain? It’s not a question the show is going to answer right away, and the rest of the episode is spent setting up the next arc, mostly through a series of images and black roses meant to contrast against the spectrum of colors we’ve seen so far. All these characters and images shown in this arc will have their importance explained in the next few episodes, so until then…

-r

PS. The Shadow Play Girls are totally aliens.

Next Time: Time to introduce a whole bunch of named and significant characters fourteen episodes in

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Duel 14 -- The Boys of the Black Rose
Or: Now The Game Truly Begins

I alluded to wanting to talk about how stories “become immortal” last week, though, within the context of that post, there was probably a bit too much emphasis on “getting retold a bunch of times,” which, okay, that is a thing that happens to “immortal” stories, but it feels to me like that should be a product of said “immortality,” not the cause of it. I’m also not entirely sure that Revolutionary Girl Utena would even qualify for that sort of thing. I mean, it’s good (I wouldn’t be talking about it if it wasn’t), and it’s left an impact (see the previous post where I talked about the various media referencing it), but, like, most of Be-Papas has worked on more well-known things.

So, instead of waxing lyrical on how Utena telling and retelling the same story in every form it takes (outside of After the Revolution, which, uh, is after the story (and not officially in English for a few more months)) inherently makes it memorable in the same way reusing shots like Miki’s watch or (as we’ll see) Souji Mikage’s seminar makes those shots memorable, let’s just go through and talk about some of the elements the main canon (manga, anime, and movie) use in their adaptations.

I’m focusing on the Student Council arc here, partially to avoid spoiling people following along and partially because after that the stories diverge wildly. The Black Rose arc is confined to a manga side-story and only gets a visual reference in the movie, and the Apocalypse arc, being the story’s conclusion, relies on how each adaptation presents its ideas and so are rather distinct from each other.

The most obvious is Saionji. It isn’t always Wakaba’s letter that spurns Utena onwards, but he is always abusive to Anthy and a jerk besides. Utena always challenges him with a weapon inappropriate to face the Sword of Dios (kendo sword or rake, really), and Saionji always loses. Miki, meanwhile, always has Kozue ruining his dating life, though to what extent depends on where you see him. Touga, too, has different reasons for pining for Utena, and when he exactly started gets changed around as well.

The most interesting case, I think, is Juri, because she is wildly different. We’ve seen how she is in the anime, pining after Shiori at a distance and having an on-off relationship with miracles, and while that still exists in the movie, she also takes a few swipes Miki’s direction, and in the manga, she completely absorbs Nanami’s role as Touga-obsessed, becoming jealous of Utena when Touga gets too close.

Nanami is practically anime-only, only getting visual cameos in the other two versions, and the movie’s is more like a gag than an actual appearance. Chu-chu’s appearance in the movie is similar, but he gets a whole side-story in the manga that doesn’t appear anywhere else.

That leaves us with Anthy and Utena, who, like Juri, also have a relationship that varies between adaptations. There’s always the “Why don’t you have more friends?” portion of the relationship, but where it goes from there really depends. This seems, in fact, to have been a point of contention between Chiho Saito and Kunihiko Ikuhara, with the former arguing against a less ambiguous resolution (though she seems to have walked this back later). This may also be because, well, their relationship is the focus of the story, so if each version is already drawing its own conclusions, it stands to reason it would also apply to the characters themselves.

I’m character-focused here mostly out of habit. Because they’re, you know, the primary method the story uses to tell itself, they’re easier to follow throughout. But the locations, of course, have their own similarities and differences, and the symbolism in all of them is generally consistent between the three. But I chose to write about this series with newcomers in mind; I don’t want to bog down too hard on detail that people might not catch until they’re fully immersed.

When talking to people who are immersed, of course, I’m dreadfully over my head.


“A whole bunch of named characters,” I said last time. Now, of course, it turns out “a whole bunch” means four. Souji Mikage, Mamiya Chida, and, of course, Akio and Kanae Ohtori. And while going through these characters one at a time could be fun, I thought it’d be better to introduce the arc as a whole this time and let the characters describe themselves.

Way back in the very first post of this series, I mentioned that each character challenges for a chance to revolutionize the world for their own reasons, and together we would go through each of these reasons as they came up. This is going to be especially true in these later episodes, as the duels themselves become less and less a part of the narrative, with more focus put to the lead-up and epilogue of them. And about a month ago in the ninth post, when talking about the visual novel, I mentioned that this arc is about contrasting characters against each other. Kanae, this episode’s duelist, for example, serves as a counterpoint to Anthy. They both love Anthy’s brother Akio in exactly the same way (yes that last scene means what you think it means), and it’s their mutual dislike of each other that attracts her to Mikage’s seminar.

As an aside, here’s an age-check. Anthy is fourteen and Kanae is eighteen. Akio’s age isn’t mentioned, but he’s presented as being in his twenties/early thirties. Yes, the show thinks this is super creepy too.

Some call this a “filler arc,” which I guess makes sense on paper, but without it, we also lose a lot of exploration of one of the show’s other themes, dealing with the past, specifically, relationship baggage. Ohtori Academy also has to deal with its own baggage, the fire that happened fifteen years ago, and the ghosts of those hundred students who were buried alive.

The last theme this arc specifically deals with is embracing -- or at least dealing with -- change. Kanae is unsure about the path her life is taking, yes, but the show represents this on a background level as well. he Shadow Play Girls, back from their spaceship, are starting to interact with the cast, the transformation theme song, “Absolute Destiny Apocalypse” gets a subtle tune-up, and the dueling field is going to become more and more surreal as the show goes on. Hopefully, you can appreciate it.

-r

Next time: As if drama between one pair of siblings wasn't enough...

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Duel 15 -- The Landscape Framed By Kozue
Or: I Drink Your Milkshake! I Drink It Up!

Now that we’ve spent time talking about the Utena’s we did get, I thought it’d be fun to talk about what we didn’t. For example: guns. Revolutionary Girl Utena was originally conceived with gun duels instead of the sword duels we see in the completed show. The creators attribute this change to the bad optics guns and a school setting would invoke, especially internationally, which, I mean, yeah, probably a good call there. The swordplay ties into the fairy-tale imagery of the rest of the series, too, and with the number of references other media has made to the duels of this series (see the post for Episode Eight for more on that), it’s difficult to imagine any other way.

There were some aesthetic changes as well. Utena wasn’t always pink-haired and black-clothed, a lot of Chiho Saito’s early art depicts her with blonde hair, sometimes even with a length closer to Anthy’s, and a rose-colored uniform. This change is depicted both in the universe of the manga and out of it; Utena receives a new, black uniform after her first one is torn up, and an omake depicts a conversation between Ikuhara and Saito that goes as follows:

Ikuhara: Which color do you think Utena’s uniform should be, red or black?
Saito: Red!
Ikuhara: Alright, we’ll go with black, then.

Perhaps the biggest “what could have been” change, though, was in the initial pitch for Utena’s English localization. Not only would it have changed the names of the series (Ursula’s Kiss) and its characters (Utena, Anthy, Touga, and Saionji, for example, becoming Ursula, Angie, Tommy, and Kevin, for example), but Enoki Films USA also planned for other, new characters to be introduced. This was scrapped by Central Park Media when they decided for a more faithful recreation. I talked a little about the resulting dub in my post for Episode Ten.

Other changes abound, such as how Touga’s voice actor was busy with other projects for the entire Black Rose arc, and more of his backstory was only described in detail in the movie because of it. It can be interesting, I think, using such behind-the-scenes materials to inform a view of the final product, even if it can lead to some readings that aren’t supported by the texts themselves.


Souji Mikage’s plot is demonstrated in full here. Freezing Kanae’s heart didn’t work; she was too weak a duelist. And the only duelists who could stand a chance against Utena have already lost. What he needs, therefore, are people who have had their heart hardened like Kanae while also using the heart of a duelist. The metaphor is pretty obvious, what with the weapons literally popping out of their chest, but there was some of that already in how people have drawn the Sword of Dios out of Anthy’s body already. So far, the series has maintained, at least vaguely, that Anthy’s is voluntarily given (and I won’t go further into that here), but the swords that come from the Student Council in this arc are taken by force. One might draw the distinction that, while the members of the Student Council want to revolutionize the world, the Black Rose duelist feel that they must. Mikage puts this into words, actually. “Your only option is to revolutionize the world.” So let’s talk about the first one.

Kozue Kaoru really loves her brother.

Like, this is what I meant when I said, all the relationships in this show are kind of messed up. We got an inkling of this way back in the two Sunlit Garden episodes, but now that we start to see the relationship from Kozue’s perspective, it becomes much more clear. In a bid to maintain Miki’s attention, not only does she maintain several relationships with people Miki doesn’t approve of, but she also chases away anyone who gets too close to him. Some of this is portrayed sympathetically -- Kozue catches Miki’s piano teacher getting a bit too close and chases him off, which, given that Miki is the youngest member of the main cast, is likely for the best -- but it’s this same drive that also leads Kozue to join with Mikage in his plot to kill Anthy.

This is contrasted with Anthy’s relationship with Akio, and while the audience can infer that their relationship isn’t exactly healthy either, Akio does outwardly profess to Utena that he believes that a sibling, or at least a little sister, should be like the moon: you don’t always see it, but when you do, you’re glad it’s there. One might notice that this perspective, just like Kozue’s “Siblings should protect each other from all harm,” either removes agency or outright objectifies the other party, though we’re only going to see hints of that for the time being.

Nanami and Touga’s relationship gets a mention too, even though Touga’s still sulking in the corner. Nanami has decided that she must step up to replace Touga in his absence, taking over the Student Council, complete with her own version of the “If A Chick Cannot Break Its Shell…” speech. Touga’s voice actor leaving the show may have been unintentional, but the result of it means that Nanami has basically been put in a state of arrested development, and how she reacts to that, being without a brother, is something the show is also interested in exploring.

Not immediately, of course. The first thing she’s going to do is turn into a cow.

-r

Next Time: There really is no other way to put it. Nanami turns into a cow.

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Duel 16 -- The Cowbell of Happiness
Or: Oh, You Thought I Was Kidding Last Week, Weren’t You?

I know I’ve mentioned the musicals a couple weeks ago, kind of in this off-hand “Oh, I guess there are musicals too” sort of way, and largely that was out of not really knowing what else to cover about them? Being Japan-only and only running for two-ish weeks will do that, not to mention that two of the five so far don’t seem to have any footage or materials at all related to them (or, at least, significantly less). But, with the miracle of fellows over at Empty Movement having recordings and the ability to stream, I was able to watch the two most recent productions, Bud of the White Rose and Blooming Rose of Deepest Black, and I figured this blog would be a good place to talk about them.

Keep in mind, though, my knowledge of the Japanese entertainment industry is severely limited. I can say things like “The two Rose musicals’ low budgets are a constant specter over their respective productions,” and they are, but within the realm of anime musicals, I don’t know have much to compare the use of those limited resources. I only have my own personal reaction to these two plays.

And that reaction is… good? I think?

There is a lot to like. Yuka Yamauchi as Anthy and Yume Takeuchi as Wakaba are particular standouts, as are, of course, the shadow play girls, who in addition to playing generic extras also get some time behind a backlit screen frequently doing some of the more memorable skits from the show. The actual songs, however, are kind of hit or miss.

It’s low-budget, so there isn’t an orchestra pit or anything, just singing along to a backing track, but that isn’t really a big problem, the problem is that the soundtrack overall just wasn’t that memorable for me. Absolute Destiny Apocalypse plays a few times, and I think that’s the exception that proves the rule, really, because that means the most memorable song is just one the show already has. The only other ones that are kind of memorable are Nanami’s song from the original, which is a fourth-wall-breaking mess (“mess” here is positive) that ends with Nanami encouraging the audience to give her a standing ovation, and Wakaba’s songs, which I remember mostly because, as I’ve mentioned, Yume Takeuchi is a pretty good actress.

Story-wise, the musicals stick pretty faithfully to the show, though all the fat has been cut off and cast aside. Nanami’s song is basically all of her stage-time, for example. Even her duel gets cut, and her mentioning it in the second show is played for laughs in a “that definitely happened” sort of way. The creators did give themselves enough freedom to move things around, however, even portraying some of them, such as Utena’s initial duels with Juri and Miki, simultaneously, working choreography for both fights together and representing the individual fights by changes in the stage lighting. They also introduce some symbolism of their own, such as, during the black rose arc, having the duelists appear alongside their black rose counterparts and attacking Utena two-on-one, which is actually really neat and only really alluded to in the show.

One thing that did get mentioned in the stream chat a few times, though, is that they’re not very beginner-friendly, by which I mean if you haven’t seen the show, your experience is going to be lessened significantly. By stripping the story down to its barest essentials and, using simultaneity and allegorical songs to pare down even further, I’m sure there would be a lot just lost to those not already familiar with what’s going on.

If you do have an opportunity to see these shows, my recommendation would be to know what you’re getting into in that regard, but I do recommend them. It’s more Utena, after all, and that’s not a bad thing. If you’ve been following along week to week, the first musical covers the Student Council arc, which you’ve now finished. For Blooming Rose of Deepest Black, well, you’re stuck with me for a little while longer.


Nanami Kiryuu turns into a cow. 

I know I keep saying this like there’s some kind of meaning revealed in its repetition, but there isn’t, really. Revolutionary Girl Utena is defined by its transformations, but while the movie and manga’s premier changes occur at the final act, as an apotheosis of sorts, the one the anime is most known for is this one. It’s kind of emblematic of how silly the show can be perceived. “What’s the symbology of turning into a cow?” one might ask. “Especially when it doesn’t have an immediate relation to the rest of the story?” While I can’t exactly answer the first question outside of some vague gestures towards docile animals and their relation to following trends (“Nanami’s getting in line for once!” someone says), I can try to answer the second one.

Really what this episode is is the continuation of Nanami’s comeuppance for her prank in the third episode. Anthy “accidentally” mails a cowbell to the wrong Nanami and later continues to escalate things by knitting a red sweater at an inopportune time. Putting it that way, though, removes some of the character-building that happens in this episode. Tsuwabuki returns, for example, and Nanami reinforces her perception of him as a sort of younger brother who will never grow up, which will play into his development. Nanami’s perception of her actual brother shows up too, as Touga returns in a dream to sell her away.

This is a Nanami episode, so it has a more obvious moral than the rest as well, “Don’t try to be someone you’re not.” It’s a simple one and one that’s been expressed in the show before, but this particular episode is the one that deals with vanity, which probably plays more of a part in the episode’s message than I’m giving it credit for. Perhaps “You can care about your appearance, but not to the point of jealousy” might be better, given how Nanami reacts to Juri’s necklace during the party. It’s a bit open-ended, but it’s all there.

The nose ring, like Saionji switching places with Chu-Chu, is never brought up again.

-r

Next time: Juri throws away her locket, finally dealing with her past heartbreak and moving- hahaha I’m just kidding, she’s screwed.

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Duel 17 -- The Thorns of Death
Or: Guess Who’s Back // Back Again // Shiori’s Back Tell A Friend

We’re nearing the halfway point of the show now, and while I have been generally ignoring the broader, more stylistic symbolism that is Revolutionary Girl Utena’s entire aesthetic, I thought it would be a good idea to do a little of that here. Basically, I’ll take an element of the show I haven’t talked about yet and, well, do exactly that. I figure a good place to start would be the setting itself: Ohtori Academy.

Ohtori.jpg

We actually do have a general layout of the school thanks to the video game, and again, technically Someday, My Revolution Will Come is canon, but also, like, that’s still a pretty obscure place to find a map, you can’t expect everyone to find out about that, and also, knowing the physical landmarks doesn’t really help any. It is important to note, though, that the school is shaped like a coffin. We’ve seen coffins in a few other places so far throughout the series, most notably in Saionji’s flashback to when he and Touga found Utena hiding in one. Coffins in Utena are things to be trapped inside, hinting to the nature of the school.

But the architecture by itself is odd as well. Referring to skyscrapers as “phallic” is kind of a basic criticism, but, given who we know to be in the Chairman’s Office at the top of the Central Tower, not to mention Utena’s designs towards critiquing gender roles, it certainly stands out. The Duel Forest that, remember, only about a dozen people are ever allowed into also eats into that space immensely. But, by and large, spaces in the school are made for whatever situation requires them. Various sports fields, a culinary classroom, these things show up once and then never again.

The locations that do return, though, are certainly the more memorable ones, whether that’s Nemuro Memorial Hall with its rows of pointer fingers or the piano room with its vast amounts of open space against its single grand piano. They are also the most mutable; the fencing hall gains a raised platform at some point, for example, not to mention the Student Council’s room with its varied backdrops.

Of all of this, perhaps the most obvious bit of symbolism is the rose garden, a greenhouse that is rather conspicuous in its birdhouse shape. This is where Anthy spends most of her time, remember. It’s also where we find Juri at the start of this episode, so let’s join her now.


The bird metaphor extends beyond the birdcage Juri’s trapped in, of course. Special care is given to feature bird imagery throughout the episode, most prominently in two places. The first is when Juri and Shiori have their initial confrontation, a bird flies into a window and injures its wing. It's accidental harm, but it still hurts, just as Shiori meant to hurt Juri by stealing the third in their little friendship triangle, but instead hurt her by not reciprocating Juri’s feelings. In fact, Shiori overall is rather similar to Kozue in how their problems stem from how they perceive their loved ones looking down on them. While Miki does, indeed, have that problem, we don’t see much of that from Juri, given most of the relationship-building there came from flashbacks.

The second is during the duel, with the hundred birds perched, one on each desk. Shiori is dueling because she wants to hurt Juri purposefully, she explains as much during her elevator scene. When Utena strikes the rose from Shiori’s chest, that’s when the birds take flight. In terms of symbolism, Juri should be free from her feelings towards Shiori now, but given her internal monolog referencing how she’s wearing her locket again, she clearly is not.

So who is the bird then? Well, if it’s not Juri, there’s only really one other person it could be. Shiori could have injured her own feelings during her talk with Juri by being, as Juri puts it, “cruelly innocent.” But what is Shiori freed from?

One can easily make the reading that Shiori is even more in the closet about her sexuality than Juri is (a reading confirmed by some extra materials, though, like the video game example above, it’s not like that needs to influence anyone’s reading of a work), and maybe that fits into it in some way, but at the very least, she’s free from Juri’s secret in a way that they can at least interact in a normal sense, as seen by the very end of the episode. Anthy makes a comment, “She hasn’t changed at all,” of course, and Juri is still holding on to the image of Shiori in her locket, so it’s possible the words still hurt, but at least it’s an improvement.

The episode introduces one more major mystery, though. Juri threw her locket into the lake, how did it end up in Shiori’s dorm? This isn’t going to be directly explained, though one could easily make the assumption it’s either Mikage or Mamiya’s meddling. Just something to keep in mind as we move forward.

-r

Next time: Tsuwabuki grips the handles of the Zoltar machine and whispers, “I wish I was Big.”

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Duel 18 -- Mitsuru’s Impatience
Or: Did You Forget This Kid Existed? Because I Certainly Did

I’ve realized doing symbology -- at least writing it, I don’t know how it is to read -- always feels like making a bullet point list. Like, I don’t want to go “Here’s what this means” and “Here’s what this symbolizes” on and on down the line like that. It feels more like a montage, a barrage of information without any of the connecting tissue. That isn’t to criticize any of the people that do this, especially in Twitter threads, which is a medium that is almost purpose-built for that sort of stuff (and I’ve definitely picked up on things from these Twitter threads that I would not have otherwise), but that’s why I hesitated on doing it until now.

Fortunately, Revolutionary Girl Utena’s OP, heralded in by Masami Okui’s Rondo-Revolution (or “Rinbu Revolution” as I’ve seen online), is a montage, so this should fit right in. Let’s talk, in brief, about the first thing someone sees when starting the show.

There’s a subtle theme of transformation, or at least of change, going on throughout the opening credits. The very first shots, for example, show silhouettes of Utena and Anthy before they add on Utena’s duel uniform and Anthy’s Rose Bride dress, a motif that is repeated later as their school uniforms change as well. Saying there’s thematic relevance does kind of beg the question, though. What are they transforming to or from?

We can see something of an answer in the intervening shots. The two leads are both more formally introduced walking away from the camera among a sea of the rest of Ohtori Academy’s students, boys with Utena, and girls with Anthy, establishing the gender roles dynamic. There’s even a shot of Utena and Ohtori Academy’s central tower and Anthy with a rather yonic gate to reinforce this. With this reading, one can imagine the transformation turning them into the archetypes of their specific character, with Utena as the prince saving Anthy’s princess.

However, we’ve seen the sort of abuse Anthy experiences as the Rose Bride, not to mention how people take advantage of Utena’s nobility. I mentioned way back that Utena was interested in deconstructing gender roles, and that doesn’t just mean “girls can be princes too.” Some of that appears in the horse sequence, with both Utena and Anthy appearing in armor -- something they don’t wear anywhere else in the show -- and riding up to the upside-down castle in the sky. The Doylist reason for the horse sequence is that it was a concept from early in development that got scrapped (though we do eventually meet some horses anyway, and pieces of the concept do appear in the manga), but to bring this reading to its conclusion, they have transcended the roles ascribed to them and are going to confront that which has given said roles.

There are other, seemingly innocuous readings to take from Utena’s OP, but to elaborate on which and where would be to spoil. Like I said, I wanted to be brief, tackling the basic throughline of the montage. It would be wise, though, to keep some of the moments the opening shows to us in mind.

Or don’t. I mean, I certainly didn’t.


We already knew Mitsuru Tsuwabuki was kind of creepy, right? Like, he’s introduced in Episode Six as the person who’s been putting Nanami in danger so he can save her, and she eventually starts playing along with it because it’s nice in her mind to have someone doing all the boring stuff for you. This episode is the natural follow-through of that relationship -- Tsuwabuki was always going to eventually want more.

Fortunately for everyone involved, he doesn’t relapse into his old habits of putting Nanami in dangerous situations, instead internalizing this self-hatred into a desire for maturity, both on an emotional and physical level. We see a classmate, Mari Hozumi try and address this herself, though she, along with Utena and Anthy seem to fail miserably as to describing what Mitsuru is after. Even Akio and the Shadow Play Girls fail to offer up any meaningful explanations, with Akio more saying “growing up is overrated” (which, given how we’ve seen him act with Anthy, is more than a little creepy in itself), while C-ko says it’s being able to donate blood.

It’s a little weird how a show defines the fourteen-year-olds as “grown-up”, but given how the same treatment is given to eleven-year-old Mari, I imagine the justification can come from the episode being from Mitsuru’s point of view. From that perspective, every off-hand remark seems like a slight, and Souji Mikage even steps in to influence this further by inviting Nanami to his seminar and extending the same to Tsuwabuki in an “if you can handle it” sort of way. The most sympathetic way to put Mitsuru’s problem is that he doesn’t want to be infantilized, to be treated as though he knows nothing. Even if he doesn’t know everything, after all, he knows enough to know when he’s being spoken down to.

Unlike previous Black Rose episodes, however, this results in change for both parties. Tsuwabuki, of course, learns not only to be patient in growing up but also to lessen his dependence on Nanami. Nanami, meanwhile, gains more empathy for her assistant and implicitly encourages him to act his age, watching him run off at the end of the episode. 

Mari, meanwhile, despite the “main character indicator” that is her purple hair, is never seen again.

-r

Next Time: Wakaba was totally a chuuni, just saying

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Duel 19 -- A Song for a Kingdom Now Lost
Or: “Nice Guys” -- Big Scare Quotes There -- Finish Last

Our continuing exploration of Revolutionary Girl Utena’s music leads us from the OP to the duel themes that feature in most episodes of the show. The most notable, of course, is the “Absolute Destiny Apocalypse” sequence (“Zettai Unmei Mokushiroku”) that plays as Utena ascends to the dueling grounds. It is so iconic that the more recent musicals that otherwise have wholly original songs include a version, to the point that it might as well be the second theme song of the whole show, or the third including the credits song, “Truth”.

The compositions of the show were split between two people, J.A. Seazer and Shinkichi Mitsumune, with Shinkichi composing most of the music, including the first eight duel themes, while Seazer composed the aforementioned “Absolute Destiny Apocalypse” and the remaining duel themes after that.

Some of the symbolism of specific songs has already been covered in previous posts. “The Sunlit Garden,” for example, introduces many of the nostalgic elements of the show, while “Absolute Destiny Apocalypse” invokes the surreality of the sword fights, transporting its participants to almost another world entirely. The themes themselves, meanwhile, vary in how obviously they attach themselves to the participants. There is one, for example, entitled, “I Am An Imaginary Living Body” which, as we’ll find out, is significantly more on the nose compared to, say, “Inside the Body of a Paleozoic Era”.

At the same time, of course, saying something like, “Obviously there is meaning there, you just don’t get it” is counterproductive and more than a little exclusionary. You could easily go through the entire show and get just as much enjoyment pretending the lyrics are all as nonsense as the “mokushi kushimo shikumo” segment of “Absolute Destiny Apocalypse”. But, if you do want to start looking into this more, I would recommend establishing the group of words each song draws from. “Paleozoic Era” is all about rocks, for example, made in relation to Saionji’s stubbornness, while “mokushi kushimo shikumo” all play with the syllabic structure of the word for “apocalypse,” though there are translations that place it as “revolution noitulover” which is an interesting decision in itself.


Like most of these episodes, a couple stories are going on at once here. The first is Tatsuya Kazami being convinced and internalizing that Wakaba is his one true love. Her “prince,” as it were. The second is Wakaba realizing that she needs to be honest with herself and with her prince about her feelings. The conflict, then, is that neither of these plots are talking about the same prince. In that way, it’s glib antics as everyone dances around the issue, something emphasized by C-ko talking about two different kinds of stores.

There’s also a significant focus on Utena this episode. The episode barely starts and Utena is already saying, “Wakaba, you are the most normal girl I know,” (while Tatsuya claims to barely remember her before later saying he wanted to get close to Utena (the “special”) to get to Wakaba) -- emphasizing Wakaba’s “normalness” is a lead-in for a subplot that will be expanded on next episode. Utena not realizing the, uh, the plot by not-too-subtly shipping Tatsuya and Wakaba is another such factor. Yes, this is a subtle two-parter of an episode, and you can already imagine who the next duelist is, I’m sure.

But if you can’t guess, well, it’s certainly not Tatsuya. The first thing he does after being rejected is imagine Wakaba in an unhealthy relationship that only he can rescue her from. The fact that he is proven right, that Wakaba is infatuated with Saionji, does not suddenly make him sympathetic. The only sympathetic quality he does have is his unwillingness to escalate the situation beyond where he is now and don a black rose. That’s certainly one of the less gross interpretations of Souji Mikage saying “You are truly a good person.”

Maybe there’s a little tragedy involved here in Tatsuya not realizing Wakaba’s feelings in elementary and being too late to capitalize on them, but also, like, learning to accept when they’re just not that into you is a pretty good life lesson.

A bit of a spoiler, but Tatsuya cameos talking with Wakaba in a way that presumes that he does not, in fact, learn this lesson.

-r

Next time: Wakaba learns what it’s like to be special.

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Duel 20 -- Wakaba Flourishing
Or: You Know That Episode Of
Kill la Kill Where Ryuko Has To Fight Mako? Yeah It’s Kind Of Like That

One of the perks, I imagine, of being a twenty-plus-year-old anime with a still-active fanbase is that said fanbase can easily provide demand for a whole bunch of additive material. I’ve mentioned the other adaptations -- especially the musicals -- at length before, but there’s also new merch, new commentary, and, today’s topic, remasters on the old material.

If you’ve been watching along, you’ve likely been using the Nozomi Entertainment links I’ve been using at the top and bottom of each page. This isn’t actually the original mastering of the show, however; Nozomi’s parent company, Right Stuf, didn’t acquire the license until 2010. In addition to a newer translation, many of the sound effects, from the arena bells to Nanami getting hit in the face with a baseball, were changed in the remaster, and even Utena’s Japanese voice actress, Tomoko Kawakami returned to redub some specific lines.

On the whole, I find these changes to be a net positive for the show. I mean, this is the version I first experienced Utena through, so there is definitely a little bias there, but even in the one case where I wish they’d kept the old footage, I can’t say it negatively affects my viewing experience by having been changed (unfortunately, it’s in the final episode, so I can’t say more than that). Even then, the colors still pop, and everything that needs to work still does, so I personally judge it worthy.

And this isn’t even the final (or “final”) version of the show; it was remastered again for Blu-ray in 2018, and that’s a version of the show I haven’t gotten to see yet. As I understand it, there weren’t as many drastic changes -- the show had already moved from film to digital in the first remaster. What changes there were, too, were largely in the subtitles, and many came from reaching out to the fan community in trying to decipher the exact nuance of some of the more enigmatic lines of the show. Again, I haven’t experienced this particular version, but I’m sure it’s just as good as anything else.


”Wakaba, you’re the most normal girl I know,” Utena said. People tend not to want to be normal, though, especially as teenagers, and Wakaba is no exception to this rule. One interpretation, in fact, is that Wakaba and Utena became friends because of the former’s desire to at least feel special by proxy. It’s an interpretation I like because of how it causes Wakaba to also more directly serve as Saionji’s foil. Remember, Saionji is after Anthy because of how he believes Touga will treat him once he has something eternal.

Similarly, neither Wakaba nor Saionji really treat their respective partners as people with actual agency. Wakaba might say she promises to work on getting Saionji reinstated at Ohtori Academy, but is that really something in her power? Besides, she realizes all too quickly that the relationship she does have is temporary, and this is before Mikage sweeps in to remove any hope she might have had. With this line of thinking, it likely would be better in Wakaba’s mind to keep Saionji there indefinitely, or, at least, for as long as she can.

C-ko the Shadow Play Girl prompts Utena to ask, “What’s wrong with being single?” But at the same time, isn’t there an expectation to be in a relationship? Isn’t that what the world demands? Even the show seems to think so, as evidenced by how Wakaba comes home to an empty dorm room in the denouement, which makes Utena’s line stand out all the more. One might imagine this as Utena coming from a place of privilege. She’s so enamored with finding her prince again that she cannot fathom anything else. Plus, like it or not, she has Anthy as well.

There is an interesting fun fact, actually, about her and Anthy’s relationship that comes up in this episode. We’ve already established that she prefers to do away with honorifics, or at least doesn’t like being called “Utena-sama.” So it’s not exactly a shock to the audience that she refuses to draw the Sword of Dios on Wakaba here by saying “Himemiya… I can’t…” But that wasn’t the original line, it was one of the ones Tomoko Kawakami rerecorded. The original was “Anthy…”, which one could interpret as a much more intimate sentiment, far more than the two have demonstrated on screen, in any case.

One final thing I want to draw attention to is the leaf hairpin that Saionji initially crafts Wakaba. Seeing Anthy with it is Wakaba’s breaking point, yes, and the audience can infer how Anthy ended up with it through Mikage’s dialog with Saionji, but it is also shown being incinerated by Souji at the end of the episode. It’s not presented with any sort of remark, but it’s clearly there, with the hope that, with three episodes left in the arc, the audience might wonder how it came back in Mikage’s possession. Did Anthy give it back, and, if so, how often are she and Souji Mikage in contact?

Just something to think about.

-r

Next time: Everybody gets an episode! Even her!

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