Utena - Chu-Chu’s arc

Anthy. <- PreviousNext -> Juri.

We meet Chu-Chu for the first time—eating a cookie.

Chu-Chu doesn’t have much of an arc. The only part that feels like a story thread is the ongoing byplay with the frog. Nevertheless, Chu-Chu is a complex character.

I interpret Chu-Chu as a dissociated aspect of Anthy’s personality. I think that Chu-Chu does not exist, despite interacting with other characters (Dios is the same that way). Chu-Chu is an imaginary friend, and is as solid as other illusions in Utena. In episode 4, Anthy’s psychological defenses become visible when she draws flipbook animation in her notebook, laughing with a hint of insanity. In the final episode when Anthy announces she is leaving, Akio ignores Chu-Chu on his desk. For more evidence, see character designs - Chu-Chu. For an example showing Anthy’s contradictory feelings, exposed when Chu-Chu is not around, see final showdown - the backstab - Anthy’s confusion.

Chu-Chu is undisciplined and messy, the opposite of Anthy. Anthy’s role makes her do the cleaning; Chu-Chu scatters crumbs everywhere. Anthy hides her feelings; Chu-Chu is transparent. Anthy must plan ahead and be meticulate in carrying out Akio’s wishes; Chu-Chu does random stuff that doesn’t make sense (is this desiccant yummy? what about this eraser?). All parts of Anthy’s personality that don’t support Akio’s demands are pushed off onto Chu-Chu.

In the bulk of the series, Chu-Chu avoids Akio and reacts with fear when he is mentioned. Anthy suppresses her fear of Akio. In the epilog, as Anthy announces that she is leaving, Chu-Chu sits sadly on Akio’s desk. Anthy has changed her view, and suppresses her sadness at leaving Akio. As she heads to the exit, Chu-Chu jumps onto her shoulder. In the final credit sequence, as Anthy walks away, Chu-Chu is no longer visible. I think Chu-Chu is on her shoulder hidden by hair, but it’s possible that Chu-Chu vanishes when Anthy is outside the reach of the Academy, her psychological defense mechanism no longer needed and her personality re-integrated. Or the illusion of Chu-Chu as a separate being dissolves.

At the end of episode 2, after Utena has defeated Saionji in the rematch, she tells Anthy “I didn’t do it for you, I did it for Chu-Chu.” Under my interpretation of Chu-Chu, it is a pointer to the end of the series. Under Utena’s influence, Anthy starts to realize her suppressed feelings, and eventually decides to leave the Academy.
Utena draws from Jungian ideas. Based on Jungian theory, or what little I know of it, Anthy suffered severe trauma in childhood that psychologically shattered her. We see it in episode 34. The splinters reassembled into alternate personalities—in modern terms, Anthy has dissociative identity disorder (Wikipedia), that is, multiple personalities. One of the personalities is Chu-Chu, who is represented as a separate character. Chu-Chu rides on her shoulder—bringing a large bundle of baggage—as she leaves the Academy. I think that leaving behind the source of the trauma should not solve her issue. Large bundles of baggage do not disappear, they have to be worked through.

Chu-Chu’s sex is never specified. I take it to be deliberately left open. Chu-Chu acts female with Tatsuya in episode 19 and Utena in episode 28 in the shampoo hat, gags that prove nothing. But if Chu-Chu is part of Anthy, then Chu-Chu is as female as Anthy—itself an always-open question in Utena-world. Utena is half male and half female, and following the logic of fitting together into one whole, Anthy must be too. Chu-Chu must include her suppressed male aspect, the one that peeks out when her epaulets make her Ganymede and comes into full view when she plays Mamiya. Chu-Chu is introduced in a frame of bananas that are both male and female symbols.

Chu-Chu shows Anthy’s feelings, for example in episode 2 aiming a fork like a sword against Saionji’s shoe: Anthy would like to take vengeance on Saionji, but she is not allowed to because he is one of Akio’s candidate miracle workers. Later in the episode, Chu-Chu reveals her disappointment when Utena decides to lose the duel against Saionji. When Anthy hides her real feelings, the audience needs the help. If I’m right that Chu-Chu is a dissociation, then Anthy does not notice her hidden feelings; she keeps up her facade with a fully internalized, automatic psychological defense.

Chu-Chu wears the tie from the girls’ uniform and a ring in the left ear like Akio’s: Chu-Chu is tied to Anthy and Akio and the Academy. Those details reflect Anthy’s feelings too. Anthy not only accepts but believes in the conventional female role that Akio assigned her; she believes in the girls’ uniform. Akio’s ring is silver for the moon, and Chu-Chu’s is gold for the sun and therefore Anthy’s love Dios.

Chu-Chu is not around for Anthy’s most serious actions: Duels, murdering Kanae, talking with Utena in the poisoning scene and the attempted suicide, attracting the Swords of Hatred. At those times we often get to see Anthy’s feelings directly. Arguably, Anthy has no hidden inner part then; the imaginary Chu-Chu is not imagined.

Chu-Chu reflects how others treat Anthy. Utena makes friends with Chu-Chu immediately, the first sign that she will act to save Anthy in the duel of episode 2. It can be read as meaning that Anthy likes Utena from the start (though she still expects that Utena will go wrong at some point as Dios did). Saionji harasses Chu-Chu at every opportunity. When Anthy visits Akio for sex, Anthy carries her desires to Akio and leaves her misgivings behind with Chu-Chu. For a symbolic example, see comparisons - Chu-Chu hangs on. It’s parallel to how Utena dissociates her desires into body language and her misgivings into babble in the First Seduction—as Utena becomes girlish, she takes on Anthy’s needed defense mechanism. Chu-Chu avoids Akio completely and acts afraid when Akio is mentioned, because Chu-Chu carries Anthy’s misgivings about Akio. The only time we see Akio and Chu-Chu together is in the epilog, when Chu-Chu reflects Anthy’s hidden sadness in leaving behind the central relationship of her life so far. Akio does not appear to notice Chu-Chu’s existence; he does not know about (or does not believe in) Anthy’s defense mechanism.

Plots. Chu-Chu follows Anthy’s orders, or at least participates in her plots, as when harassing Nanami (Chu-Chu plants the egg) or when interfering with the photograph in episode 34.

Gags. Chu-Chu gets into scrapes that have nothing to do with Anthy’s feelings or plots, for example eating the eraser in episode 4, and later being captured by the octopus. Chu-Chu likes to follow Utena around and imitate what Utena is doing. How much of it is because Anthy wishes she could be with Utena, and how much because Anthy is spying on Utena to manipulate her? I expect it’s both.

Eating. Chu-Chu’s gluttony reads as stress eating, Anthy’s reaction to her traumatically stressful situation displaced onto Chu-Chu. Eating in Utena sometimes means sex, as in devouring fish (women). That reading doesn’t seem entirely natural to me for Chu-Chu, but if you accept it then Chu-Chu’s uncontrolled eating stands for Anthy’s uncontrolled sex life. She has no choice, but is required to satisfy Akio’s demands plus those of the dueling champion. Saionji is captured by a vision of eternal true love, so maybe he doesn’t make sexual demands. But does Touga restrict himself to his fangirls? He seems more interested in controlling and protecting Anthy to ensure he can access her power, but she is still his bride. And there seem to have been many earlier plots. Plus we know that, as much as Akio would like to do it all himself, Anthy is sometimes assigned tasks that involve seducing people—she plays Mamiya to seduce and control Mikage. She likely seduced Mr. Ohtori. The Kaoru mother likely left the family because Anthy seduced Mr. Kaoru, as in Miki’s imaginary scene in episode 26 (though who knows, maybe Akio seduced Mrs. Kaoru instead).

Mouse. Chu-Chu is compared to a mouse in multiple ways. Chu-Chu physically resembles a mouse. In episode 2, Chu-Chu is parallel to Utena’s imaginary mouse. Chu-Chu makes “chuu” sounds, and in episode 15 Miki misnames Chu-Chu as Chuu-Chuu; Utena answers that “chuu-chuu” is the sound a mouse makes. In episode 22, Mikage says he found Chu-Chu caught in a mousetrap.

The frog that harasses Chu-Chu corresponds to Saionji. See Saionji’s arc - the frog.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 22 July 2023
updated 8 July 2024