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radio414

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-r

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Just in time for everything to start falling apart.

-r

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

-r

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

hesse_and_jung.PNG

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

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

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

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

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

-r

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

-r

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

-r

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

-r

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

-r

Next Time: Akio makes his move.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which kind of sounds like an abusive relationship.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

-r

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

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