Utena - Anthy’s arc

Akio. <- PreviousNext -> Chu-Chu.

The main characters of the main storyline are Akio, Anthy, and Utena. See Akio and Anthy and overview of Anthy and Utena for the relationships—which pull against each other. But Anthy is her own person, and is not defined by her relationships.

See design - costumes - the backstab.

character

Anthy smiles, a night sky with stars behind her.

Anthy the Rose Bride is beautiful, dutiful, and inscrutiful. Those are her main traits. Being beautiful, plus dutiful to murderous Akio, makes her a femme fatale. Anthy is insightful and highly skilled at everything she cares about (she does not care about sports or schoolwork).

At the same time, Anthy is an abuse victim. She is Akio’s slave and does not disobey him in important matters. She is psychologically dependent to the extent that she suffers learned helplessness, so she cannot escape her situation on her own. Akio keeps her isolated and dependent, so that no one can help her escape. Utena is about Anthy escaping the trap anyway.

Early on, Anthy calls Chu-Chu her friend. It emphasizes her social isolation, which is enforced by Akio and increases her dependence on him. Making her a despised witch is part of his enforcement. By the final episode, even Akio admits that Utena is Anthy’s friend, and he understates it.
I interpret Chu-Chu as a dissociated aspect of Anthy’s personality. She hides some of her feelings from herself as a defense mechanism. It reminds me of Mamiya. When Anthy returns to herself, she does not remember having been Mamiya. Is Mamiya another dissociated aspect, one of Anthy’s multiple personalities? It’s plausible.

Beautiful. Anthy is desirable. It is part of her femme fatale archetype. Anthy is an effective lure into the dueling system for Saionji and Miki, and motivates Mikage and Utena. Those who fall for her are at least Dios/Akio, Saionji, Miki, Nanami, Kanae, and Utena. Akio sends her to seduce Mikage and likely Mr. Ohtori, with success. I think that, just as Anthy has a fraction of Dios’s power of miracles, and a fraction of Akio’s power of illusion (which shows especially when she plays Mamiya), Anthy has a fraction of the nearly irresistible sex appeal that Dios and Akio share. Anthy’s power of miracles is related to her blood; she believes she shares it, or the origin myth proclaims that she shares it, because she is related to Dios. I think it’s safe to assume that her illusion and sex appeal powers are the same. Anthy and Utena are twins, and (either literally or metaphorically) share the same blood too, explaining how Utena can develop the power of miracles.

Dutiful. Anthy believes in Akio’s patriarchal worldview, which calls for male control of women. She enjoys many aspects of playing her stereotypical female role, and she almost always obeys Akio. Under orders, she manipulates duelists to keep the dueling system running smoothly, and her rabbit dance of episode 7 shows her enjoying it. She comes to love Utena, but nevertheless manipulates Utena, as she confesses in the suicide conversation. She obeys Akio to the extent that she murders whoever he tells her to, even mortally wounding Utena. In the case of poisoning Kanae, I think it’s more accurate to say that Akio allowed her to. She passes along the abuse she suffers, and takes joy in vengeance, avenging herself by means ranging from passive-aggressive one-liners to elaborate hoaxes like Nanami’s cowbell to poisoning Kanae. Anthy is a classic femme fatale, alluring and deadly, equated with Eve, with Lucrezia Borgia, possibly with Circe and with Morgan le Fay, and likely with others that I don’t know about.

In episode 17 Mamiya, played by Anthy, implies that Juri is more beautiful and more dangerous than anyone else. It seems plausible. But Anthy’s femme fatale role means that she is more beautiful and dangerous than Juri. She just doesn’t show her dangerousness.

Inscrutiful, or “inscrutable” if you suffer from spelling prescriptivism. Anthy hides her feelings, and she’s good at it. Her habitual expression is either blank, or hidden behind a concealing smile. When playing a role, she puts on the right expression for the role (sometimes she’s a little too theatrical about it and it shows). It gives her a degree of protection and allows her a little more freedom of action. For example, in episode 19 she hides her feelings for Utena from Akio, and it allows her more freedom and happiness with Utena. On the other hand, it was a failure of duty to Akio. When he finds out in the Apocalypse Saga, there is blowback.

Anthy’s unreadability is key for her Rose Bride role. It leaves Saionji and Miki free to imagine false personalities for her; she becomes every duelist’s potential bride, just as the Rose Bride is meant to be. It makes her unreadable for viewers too! With practice it’s possible to recognize unguarded moments, hesitations, tone of voice, body language, and small differences in expression, and to draw conclusions from her decisions and the symbols that surround her. But it’s not simple.

Anthy is not only emotionally hard to read. She is depicted as mysterious in other ways too.

In planning and carrying out her plots, Anthy takes a lot of actions that are hinted at but not shown. She coordinates extensively with Touga in the Student Council arc and in episode 36, probably in Nanami’s egg, and maybe at other times. The coordination must include manipulating Touga to do Akio’s will, but we don’t directly see any of it. The hints of Anthy’s activity are sometimes obvious and sometimes slight. In episode 16, she eats “Cow” brand potato chips and watches an infomercial about a (likely fake) high-end “Sebastian Dior” pendant (the same word “pendant” as used for Juri’s locket). We can’t miss that it feeds into her cowbell plot. In episode 17, there are a couple of unexplained and seemingly unnecessary brief shots of Anthy early on: She observes Juri in the greenhouse; she looks up at Shiori’s window after she and Utena visit. Later is a third when Utena and Juri speak. A viewer could easily overlook these hints that Anthy is laying a plot. I did at first.

storybook world

Anthy lives in a storybook world. She loves Dios, a children’s story made up by Akio. A comparison with little princess Utena in the children’s cartoon version of the prince story implies that little Utena and current Anthy believe equally in the storybook world.

Anthy’s insight and ability to manipulate people ground her in reality. It’s useful to Akio. Her fiction-based worldview detaches her from reality—she not only believes the patriarchy’s lies, but its simplifying lies for children. That’s useful to Akio too. Anthy is half one and half the other much like Utena.

meaning

In Utena’s allegory, Anthy stands for all women who believe in the patriarchal system of control. Utena implies that all such women are abuse victims, though not necessarily in the same way that Anthy is. Utena stands for all other women; Anthy and Utena are complementary and fit together into one whole.

Utena is part boy and part girl, and despite her female role (which she believes in and largely enjoys) Anthy is the same. She is equated with Ganymede, just as Utena is, and she plays Mamiya.

Anthy’s primary fairy tale correspondent is the Little Mermaid. When her hair is down in the Apocalypse Saga, she corresponds to Rapunzel. Her primary mythical correspondent is Hera. In Buddhist terms, Anthy corresponds to samsara, the cycle of reincarnation into a world of illusions. In Christian terms, she corresponds to Eve because she corrupted Dios into Akio, as Eve (according to the cultural narrative) corrupted Adam.

Anthy teleports at times. We directly see it in the Apocalypse Saga gondola stock scene and in the final showdown, where she disappears, leaving her clothing behind. It means she is a projection. We’re not seeing the real Anthy, we’re seeing her projected image, an illusion. Utena implies as much when she opens Anthy’s coffin and says “Finally we meet!” Her projected image is misleading: Under Akio’s control, Anthy commits great evils—that is, Anthy’s image does. She takes joy in vengeance (see Anthy’s corruption) and she is associated with poison. Small but consistent hints say that Anthy is good at heart. For example, in leaving the Academy she wears a white hat. She maintains the symmetry of good and bad; half of the duelists are good at heart, and half are bad; Anthy is good at heart and Akio is bad at heart.

story

To summarize Utena from Anthy’s point of view, Anthy is under Akio’s control. She meets Utena and comes to see her as a prince similar to Dios, her first love who has since become Akio. As she comes to like Utena and falls in love with her, she increasingly realizes that she is unhappy with Akio and mildly pushes back against his control. In the end, as Utena continues to try to help Anthy despite Anthy backstabbing her, Anthy leaves Akio to search for prince Utena.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 17 July 2023
updated 1 July 2024