Utena - when Anthy’s glasses shine

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For the general meaning of Anthy’s glasses, see Anthy and vision.

What does it mean when Anthy’s glasses shine? In anime, opaque shining glasses (TV Tropes) usually mean that the character is hiding their feelings, often to conceal an evil plot. Sometimes the character is trying to intimidate. But Anthy effortlessly hides her feelings most of the time, and presents herself as meek (though in reality she is dangerous). Her shining glasses must mean something else.

shining glasses in Utena

The other shining glasses will show the way.

The assistant principal looks at Juri. We see him from behind, and his glasses seem to be opaque and shining into his eyes.
Episode 7, teacher and Juri
A man, apparently a church official, shows a menacing silhouette with blue shining glasses.
Episode 9, seeking little Utena
The three nerd boys have shining glasses of a yellowish color.
Episode 20, nerd boys
The female teacher and assistant principal stand side by side. The assistant principal has orange shining glasses.
Episode 30, frilly skirts
Close view of the assistant principal’s face, with sweat drops and orange shining glasses.
Episode 30, asking a favor

In episode 7, the assistant principal (he’s high up in the power structure) tries to coerce Juri into lunch with him. Juri seems to rely on the backing of her powerful family to escape. His glasses shine white and make his black glasses frames look blue. My thought is that he is trying to present himself as Juri’s prince. Talk about creepy.

In episode 9, Saionji sees the apparent church official, who is looking for little Utena, as a menacing silhouette. The man’s glasses glow bright blue. I suppose his illusion is that he believes Utena has run away, when in fact she is hiding.

In episode 16 (not pictured here), as Utena tells Nanami that wearing a cowbell is weird, the three nerd boys silence her with a hand over her mouth. As they approach, their glasses turn opaque white. Silencing a woman who speaks out is of course normal patriarchal behavior. Utena won’t have that and easily knocks them away.

In episode 20, the nerd boys invite Wakaba to join them as they attempt love divination by kokkuri-san (Wikipedia), which is essentially a Japanese-language ouija board (Wikipedia), except that kokkuri-san comes with additional superstitions. Their glasses are yellowish for slight jealousy and they are sweating. They are anxious or fearful about the divination results—they all want Nanami, and there are three of them. Well, they might settle for Wakaba. I suppose they are trying to be Nanami’s prince, or maybe any girl’s, and either the board is failing to predict girlfriends for them, or there is a clash with their desires. Wakaba is at the height of her specialness and declines to join in.

The coin they want to use to spell out words is at the start location, which has been changed to a heart. The nearest character is the kana for na, for spelling Nanami. I’m sure that’s what they’re hoping for. The coin is a 10 yen coin, standard for kokkuri-san. I’m a little surprised that it is not a 5 yen coin, which has a hole in the middle, making it a ring.

In episode 30, the teachers are bullying Utena. The assistant principal has orange shining glasses, as if reflecting the sunset. It seems to mean one-sided desire for Utena. He tells Utena that girls should wear frilly skirts. That tells us his real motivation in trying to take Juri to lunch in episode 7, in case we didn’t already guess. Avoid this school.

A little later in the episode 30 scene, the assistant principal is asking a favor of Akio. His glasses still shine orange. He seems to have the hots for Akio too, which if true explains his sweat. Unlike the female teacher he doesn’t admit it. In answering, Akio shows his teeth in an evil smile, which elsewhere indicates that he is making progress in a plot. I expect that Akio is consolidating his power over the school, but beyond that I can’t guess what his plot is about.

Conclusion:The glasses shine in various colors. Therefore the color is not related to the basic meaning of shining glasses, though it is essential to interpret each case.

All shining glasses other than Anthy’s belong to men who are taking patriarchal actions, either exercising or seeking patriarchal power.

Anthy’s shining glasses

Akio with an arm around Utena. Anthy’s glasses shine as she approaches.

Anthy’s glasses shine for the first time in episode 25, when Akio activates Utena’s attraction to him. Her glasses shine white (there is a faint tinge of blue-green, too slight for me to detect by eye). The planetarium projector is behind Anthy; its light turned blue when Utena replied “it’s romantic” to Akio’s mention of Venus. It is blue for Utena’s illusion, not Anthy’s; Utena shows a heavy iris outline. Anthy’s glasses turn transparent again when Utena separates from Akio and stands up.

The shining projector and shining glasses are compared. The projector blocks Utena’s vision, replacing it with an illusion. The glasses block Anthy’s vision of Akio’s wrongdoing.

Anthy’s glasses shine out of jealousy when Akio and Utena are together. Who is the jealousy directed at? Is she jealous because she sees Utena’s attraction to Akio, or because Akio’s attention is turned away from herself? Which of her loves does she feel is hurting her?

It can be both. We can interpret the shining glasses of the men as selfish wishes at the expense of others, and conclude that Anthy feels hurt by both of them. But the hints point elsewhere. Anthy’s mythological correspondence is with Hera, and when Zeus goes philandering Hera takes vengeance on his lovers (though sometimes on him too—see backlash against the First Seduction - Anthy). In the final showdown, Anthy supports Akio to the extent of stabbing Utena. Anthy accepts Akio’s patriarchal worldview, and her glasses shine with the patriarchal belief that men are entitled to cheat in relationships, and women are not. She puts the blame on Utena; Utena is betraying her. She’s right, although objectively Akio is betraying her more deeply.

Anthy surely feels the same about Kanae: Kanae hurt her, and when Anthy is allowed to, she takes lethal vengeance. Anthy’s backstab of Utena in the final showdown is parallel: Anthy takes lethal vengeance (which Utena survives for the time being through her power of miracles). Anthy despises Kanae, and (despite loving Utena) she despises Utena. She says so in the preview at the end of episode 37. I think Anthy’s feelings change easily depending on her immediate situation, because she does not control her own life. She can react to her situation, but has little control over it. There is no point in holding on to joy or to a grudge, so her feelings do not stick for long.

Anthy’s glasses shine for the exercise of patriarchal power, just like the men’s. The patriarchal power exercised on Anthy, to give her this belief system, passes through to others.

shining glasses block vision

The shining glasses are a trope reversal: They don’t hide the feelings behind the glasses from others, but the feelings of others from the glasses wearer. They represent failure to see, or unwillingness to see. I think it’s true for the men as well as for Anthy, but I’ll give examples with Anthy.

Anthy’s glasses shine blue. She holds the three candles, only the center candle lit. Akio kisses Utena in the car in the foreground. Anthy’s glasses shine blue in the background. The candles are gone and her upper body is in shadow.

In episode 30, Akio kisses Utena in his car, and she blows out the second candle. In episode 25, we got successively closer shots of Anthy as she approached. Here we get successively more distant shots of Anthy; she is metaphorically retreating from Utena. (The distance of the camera is the distance between them, as in the bottommost pictures of lying on the grass here.) Her glasses shine blue. She holds the candles, the center one still burning; it means that she understands Utena’s increasing temptation to wish for corruption. Anthy is following events closely. In the final shot, her glasses still shine but the candles are gone. Her upper body has been shaded black to indicate malicious feelings or intent (it’s standard visual language in manga and anime).

The kiss happens in a diagonal of purple light for corruption. Anthy stands in the darkness beyond the shadow line, which stands for her own corruption.

In the dueling arena, Utena dodges empty-handed while Anthy looks on impassively with opaque glasses.

An example that illustrates inability to see comes in the episode 25 duel. Utena’s sword, drawn from Anthy, disappears from her hands. Anthy watches impassively, her glasses opaque but not shining. Only after she remembers Utena’s promise to help each other, which like in episode 12 is a reminder of Dios, does she intervene. Her eyes tear slightly, as in episode 12, and she pushes Utena out of the way of Saionji’s sword strike and draws the sword from Utena. Anthy’s love of Utena (I suppose) suppressed Anthy’s patriarchal belief system well enough for her to see see clearly when it most mattered.

Anthy’s opaque glasses are compared to the car’s shining headlights. The suggestion is that the car headlights, like the glasses, don’t clarify vision but obscure it.

When Utena wins a duel in the Apocalypse Saga, the car headlights gather into one and shine up at the castle. I imagine that they obscure that it is an illusion.
Anthy’s glasses shine as she speaks with Akio by phone.

The example that most clearly illustrates unwillingness to see is episode 33 with the hotel scene. Anthy provided the roses that gave Akio his excuse, but she does not want to see the result. The episode starts with Anthy closing the shutters of the tower room, which Akio does for sex encounters. Anthy shuts out a sex encounter that she knows is taking place elsewhere. The stars are a symbol of eternity, the girlish desire for an eternity of happiness in marriage that Akio wants Utena to accept. The stars are pointed out as beautiful that night, but Anthy in the tower closes the shutters against the outside, looks at the false planetarium stars, and tells Akio by phone that she does not want to look at the real stars. She is cutting herself off from the event as much as she can as her glasses shine. The glasses are slightly pink for Utena. She does stay up late to phone Akio while he’s driving himself and Utena back home—long after the rose delivery—and asks whether he received the roses. I suspect that Akio asked her to check in, either to control her feelings or in case he had orders for her.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 22 November 2021
updated 3 May 2024