Utena - the duel combat sequences

The combat of Utena’s duels is stylized in such a way that it can be broken into separate actions with names.

With time and practice, Utena’s power of miracles grows stronger. It shows in her use of fancier moves and her ability to defeat more difficult opponents.

contents

the named actions

Student Council arc - 1 Saionji - 2 Saionji - 5 Miki - 7 Juri - 10 Nanami - 11 Touga - 12 Touga

Black Rose - 14 Kanae - 15 Kozue - 17 Shiori - 18 Mitsuru - 20 Wakaba - 21 Keiko - 23 Mikage

Apocalypse Saga - 25 Saionji - 26 Miki - 28 Ruka - 29 Juri - 32 Nanami - 36 Touga - 38 Akio

the named actions

When the who column is empty, then both duelists or neither duelist initiated the action.

Touga is in a box moving toward Utena.
abstract attack
We see Utena and Saionji fighting in a notch of the crenelations.
crenelation view

abstract attack - Animation indicates an attack or aggressive action, but does not depict it.
bad parry - The defender is put at a disadvantage.
breathing hard - Utena (it’s always Utena) seems to be tiring out. It means she is being pressed hard.
call on Dios - Utena calls down Dios for help.
charge - One or both duelists charge each other, running forward.
clash - Swords clash against each other. It’s a strike and a parry.
clash and hold - Swords clash and hold in place. The duelists push against each other, the swords trembling with their effort.
clash and separate - Swords clash and the duelists pull away from each other.
crenelation view - The camera circles outside the arena so that we see flashes of action through the crenelations.
disarm - One duelist sends the other’s sword flying out of their grip.
disengage - One duelist breaks a clash and hold or a standing fight, retreating a short distance.
dodge - Dodge backward or to the side.
fall - Utena (it’s usually Utena) falls to the ground. It should be a losing disadvantage, but it’s not.
fall and roll - Utena falls to the ground and rolls over repeatedly. Don’t worry, she’s fine.
finishing strike - An attempt to win the duel with the next stroke. Only sometimes successful.
hard strike - A strike with extra effort behind it.
kick - Saionji kicks Utena to push her off balance.
knife strike - Nanami and Mitsuru have a dagger and can attack with that instead of their sword.
leap - Jump into the air, cartoon style, to dodge or attack.
lunge - A duelist lunges forward to strike. A lunge is one step forward—a long fast one.
miracle - A surprise miracle occurs so that Utena wins. I don’t mark all the miracles—most duels have one.
off balance - The duelist is unstable and needs to recover their balance. It’s a disadvantage, but not as severe as falling.
out of view - Sword clashes happen while the camera looks elsewhere.
pass by - The duelists pass by each other and end up back to back.
powerup - Anthy powers up the Sword of Dios through her connection with Dios.
press back - One duelist—usually Utena’s opponent—forces the other to retreat with repeated strokes.
push - One duelist pushes the other on the back to force them off balance.
retreat - One duelist moves backward defensively, not forced back by strikes but choosing retreat as an action.
retrieve lost sword - Nanami picks up her sword after Utena disarms her.
run - Both duelists run, neither approaching the other, sometimes alongside a car.
standing fight - The duelists strike at each other repeatedly, neither able to land a hit or press the other back.
standoff - The duelists stand separated, neither attacking.
stop - One duelist stops action, neither attacking nor defending. Touga does this to trick and defeat Utena.
strike - A sword stroke. It may miss, be blocked, or win through
sword clashes - We see swords clash repeatedly without seeing the duelists.
tear - There’s a slight watering of Anthy’s eye, indicating her emotional involvement. She will intervene.
winning advantage - One duelist holds an advantage that should win instantly, but hesitates to cash it in. It’s a mistake.

Student Council arc

In most of these seven duels, Utena in some way expresses determination to win. In episode 2, the expression is to protect her rose (which stands for Anthy); Saionji remarks on it. Her determination is a requirement for her power of miracles to operate. The exceptions are the episodes with no miracle: Episode 5 when Miki loses by being distracted, and episode 11 when Utena loses. In both cases, the loser stopped fighting because something else seemed momentarily more important. Miki was distracted by the refutation of his false belief about Anthy, and Utena by the reinforcement of her false belief about Touga.

episode 1 Saionji “Friendship”

At the start of the duel, Anthy tells Utena to go for it (it’s the standard ritual word gambatte, do your best). Saionji slaps her for it. Anthy must have known how Saionji would react, so she said it in order to draw Saionji’s reaction and indirectly manipulate Utena... into doing what she directly said, going for it.

Saionji is slow to realize that he lost. Utena winning with the stub of a bamboo practice sword is a miracle.

Utena is not yet a prince in her own mind (though we saw her acting as a prince from the start), and does not wear the prince uniform in the dueling arena. The duel includes an image of Utena remembering the prince, but nothing that shows the prince aiding her. She doesn’t realize that she is performing an (illusory) miracle.

whoactionnotes
clash and separate
crenelation view
clash and hold
Saionjihard strikeCuts through Utena’s bamboo sword.
UtenafallUtena is surprised that her sword is cut.
chargeUtena wins.

episode 2 Saionji “Choice”

The choice of the duel is whether Utena will lose on purpose and avoid the nonsensical duels, or follow through with her declared desire to become a prince. It’s similar to her choice in episode 11 of whether to fight her supposed prince or drop the dueling ring and carry through with her desire to marry the prince. But she wears the prince uniform: She is in fact already a prince, and at her moment of need the prince descends from the castle in the sky and joins with her. As long as she is being a prince, of course she will win; fairy tale princes do that.

To follow “I’ll show you my true strength” with a kick.... Saionji thinks that his unsporting surprise attacks are a strength. It is the attitude of a warrior who must win by any means. Compare earlier in the episode, when he ostentatiously relaxed before suddenly slapping Anthy to the pavement. From their expressions we can tell that sword expert Saionji knew instantly when he lost, while Utena was slow to realize that she had won despite her intention to throw the duel. It’s opposite from the previous duel. Utena cutting cleanly through a heavier steel sword is a miraculous response to Saionji cutting through the bamboo practice sword, and it contradicts Saionji’s claim that the Sword of Dios has no special power in itself. Or perhaps it accepts the claim and places the special power in Utena, that works too.

It is the only example of cutting entirely through a sword, though in episode 12 Touga slowly cuts partially through the already-broken sword in Utena’s hands. Other swords are destroyed by breakage.

whoactionnotes
SaionjichargeUtena stood her ground.
clash and hold
Saionjipress back
crenelation view
Saionjipress back
Utenabad parryLeaving her off-balance.
Saionjifinishing strike
Utenadodge to the sideA narrow escape.
clash and hold
Saionjikick to the stomachSaionji: “I’ll show you my true strength.”
Utenafall and roll
Utenacall on Dios
chargeUtena cuts through Saionji’s steel sword and wins.

episode 5 Miki “Intellect”

Miki sees Anthy as his “shining thing”, an idealized lover. In episode 4, Anthy was surprised by his kindness and impressed by his work in correcting her test paper—more so because she considered the test unimportant. When he brings her water in the greenhouse, she also sees him in an idealized way—she sees an unreal smile on his face that she at other times associates with Utena. Influenced by Utena, Miki argues to free Anthy from the Rose Bride role. (His motive is open to question. Does he want to help Anthy, or fear that he cannot win duels?) But he is argued down (the argument amounts to “this is how things are, you must conform”) and manipulated into dueling anyway (in part by Anthy, conforming to her Rose Bride role). In the duel Anthy supports Utena.

Utena did not need to call down the prince. Miki’s loss was covered by a blue rose, Miki’s color, saying whose fault it was. With assistance by Anthy plus Miki’s carelessness, no miracle was needed. Miki’s leap appears to be metaphorical, indicating his great skill, rather than literal. When Utena made her final strike and won, Miki was on the ground again without seeming to land in between.

Anthy deliberately distracted Miki. It’s parallel to Akio distracting Utena to win the othello game in the First Seduction.

whoactionnotes
Mikicharge
standing fightNeither can force the other back more than a step.
Utenabreathing hardGetting tired already.
standoffBoth motionless. A seemingly poor decision by Miki, letting Utena rest.
Utenalunge
MikileapDodging and countering. But Miki is distracted by Anthy.
UtenastrikeIn passing. Utena wins.

episode 7 Juri “Love”

The forward-curving guard of Juri’s sword offers less protection to her sword hand, but seems to be useful in her disarmament move. Utena wins by an unmistakable miracle, and proud Juri can’t accept it (at least at first). It is parallel to Utena’s pride in believing she is saving Anthy, and her inability to accept her loss in episode 11.

Why does Juri hesitate when she has an opportunity to slash Utena’s rose immediately? In this duel, it could be chalked up to overconfidence, but she does the same in the duel of episode 29. I think it is for the same reason that, furious at Utena earlier in the episode, she conceals her sneak attack on Utena’s ring by pretending to hit on her: She admires Utena for her independence and rebelliousness, even as she is furious because she feels she cannot do the same. It would risk her socially-recognized power.

whoactionnotes
Utenacharge
Utenaoff balanceHer charge was unsound.
Utenacharge
Juripush on the back
UtenafallJuri exploits Utena’s second unsound charge.
JurichargeFirst Juri pauses to taunt Utena. She’s overconfident.
Juripress backA short distance.
Juriwinning advantageJuri holds her sword to Utena’s face and taunts her again.
Jurifinishing strike
Utenadodge to the side
Juripress backA longer distance this time.
Utenabreathing hardJuri taunts Utena again.
Juristrike
Utenacall on Dios
Utenacharge
JuridisarmUtena’s sword goes flying.
Juriwinning advantageMore taunting. Juri would win if she acted immediately.
UtenamiracleUtena’s sword falls exactly right to cut away Juri’s rose. Utena wins.

episode 10 Nanami “Adoration”

The French duel name adoration, Japanese suuhai, is translated as “adoration”. The French and Japanese are close in meaning, and “adoration” is a metaphorical sense of both; the literal sense is “worship”. It contrasts with the previous duel’s name “Love” (amour and renai). Juri loves Shiori; Nanami only adores Touga. It is in this episode that Nanami switches to wearing yellow for jealousy. Nanami is jealous of Utena and wants Anthy for herself. It is the same as Utena’s motivation in the final showdown.

Saying that your opponent is fast is a sign that you will fight better.

After Utena wins, Nanami keeps attacking while Utena stops fighting back and only defends herself. It is unprincely to attack a defeated opponent. Nanami seems to be aiming to kill; her last stroke is aimed at Utena’s head. Touga makes no attempt to stop Nanami until Utena has her back to the wall and may be in serious danger. Flashbacks to the kitten are inserted to emphasize that Nanami attacking Utena after losing is parallel to Nanami disposing of the kitten after feeling that the kitten has beaten her for Touga’s affections (another jealous action). Besides that, there’s a parallel with the final showdown: Nanami, manipulated by Touga, attacks Utena with a second weapon after losing. Touga’s goal is to take Utena’s power of miracles. Anthy, manipulated by Akio, attacks Utena with a second weapon after Akio seems about to lose. Akio has the same goal. It is part of the Nanami-Anthy parallel. Also see breaking swords.

During the duel, Nanami says that her ring was given to her by her prince (she means Touga). It is part of the Utena-Nanami parallel.

Nanami has a curved sword and dagger. Swords are symbolically male, but it seems that a curved sword should have a female aspect too. Mitsuru fights with Nanami’s weapons.

whoactionnotes
Nanamistrike
Utenadodge to the sideUtena says “she’s fast.”
crenelation view
clash
Nanamistrike
clash and hold
Utenacall on Dios
UtenadisarmMiraculous learning. Juri disarmed her once, now Utena can disarm others.
Utenafinishing strikeUtena wins, but Nanami does not stop fighting.
Nanamiknife strikeShe draws the dagger, not used until now.
Utenadodge backwardUtena’s first backward jump. She jumps a short distance and loses a little hair.
Nanamiretrieve lost swordIt stuck point first in the solid pavement. Excellent quality sword!
Nanamicharge
Utenadodge to the side
NanamistrikeShe cuts away Utena’s rose.
Nanamistrike
Utenadodge to the side
clash
Nanamipress backUtena retreats to the edge of the arena.
Nanamifinishing strikeTouga calls a halt and Nanami turns her stroke aside at the last moment.

episode 11 Touga “Conviction”

Shadows on the dueling arena surface. The shadow of Touga’s sword passes through the shadow of Utena’s head.
psychological attack
Utena’s shadow falls backward as Utena appears at the bottom of the frame, dodging sideways.
psychological defeat
Dark square pillars, seemingly made of stone, rise behind the dueling arena.
sudden pillars

After Utena’s first charge leaves her off balance, Touga “offers” Utena instruction, and tells her to attack again. He insinuates that he knows best and takes control of the course of the fight. It is a foretaste of Akio abusing his knowledge and authority over Utena in the remaining two arcs. Utena goes along with it. For all her sports experience, she does not appreciate the basic competitive principle that you try to control events yourself and reduce your opponent’s control. Touga tells her not to fight with compassion. This time, Utena does not go along with it—she loses the duel when she shows compassion toward her supposed prince.

When Touga goes for his fake finishing strike, he’s aiming for Utena’s head—as Nanami did last episode. It is a psychological attack. The shadow of Touga’s sword passes through the shadow of Utena’s head, meaning that the attack succeeded; when Utena moves into view in the foreground, completing her dodging movement, the shadow falls backward, defeated. Underlining the unreality of the metaphor, there is no shadow on Utena’s pink hair. As in the shadow plays, shadows do not show the truth but point toward it. Once Touga convinces Utena to stop fighting, she has psychologically lost. He has only to swish his sword through empty air to cut her rose, which blows away in the wind. After winning, Touga makes further psychological attacks to convince Utena to accept her loss and stay defeated.

Utena believes that Touga is her prince. Her loss metaphorically makes her Touga’s wife. See duel symbols - bells. It is what both of them want, though Utena changes her mind. See Utena’s attraction with silhouette images from the duel for her sexual attraction.

Two pillars appear behind the arena (outside the crenelations) as soon as Utena is defeated. They’re similar to the pillars inside the arena in episode 9, though not identical. The episode 9 pillars say that the duel foreshadows the final showdown, so these pillars do also. There has to be more to it. Anthy stands between the pillars. The Rose Gate is outside the arena. Is the Rose Gate between the pillars? Is it being pointed out for Touga?

The sword of Dios disappears from Utena’s hand in a yellow glow for jealousy. Utena is jealous that Anthy is taken by another. It is part of the parallel with the final showdown, where Utena is also motivated by jealousy.

whoactionnotes
Utenacharge
clash
Utenaoff balanceAs versus Juri, her charge was unsound.
Utenastrike
standing fight
Utenaabstract attackShe glides forward unrealistically, symbolizing aggression.
Tougaabstract attackDitto for Touga.
crenelation view
sword clashes
Tougapress backOnly a short distance.
standing fight
Tougapress back
Tougafinishing strikeHe’s faking it. He wants Utena to call on Dios.
Utenadodge to the side
Utenacall on Dios
chargeEach charges toward the other.
TougastopHe lays himself open.
UtenastopShe does not have the will to defeat her supposed prince.
TougastrikeTouga strikes air. Utena’s rose is cut. Touga wins.

episode 12 Touga “Self”

The duel is named “Self” but the episode is “For friendship, maybe”—referring back to the duel of episode 1, named “Friendship”. The title could refer to Wakaba helping Utena out of her depression, or to Utena winning back Anthy. Neither is exactly friendship. Both Utena and Touga think of Anthy when talking about Utena taking back her “self”. Utena wins with the stub of an inferior weapon, calling back to episode 1. The animation of the final charge is repeated, this time with red and white colors—red for Touga, white for prince Utena. The returning home scene is parallel too.

Juri gives Utena her sword for the duel. In the Student Council bit, Juri has Touga explain his victory, and she seems disdainful that he relies on plots rather than skill. Juri is reading Romance Symphony, in which the heroes (I’m sure it’s safe to guess) are expected to win heroically and not by underhanded scheming. At the end of episode 7, Juri tells Touga that she intends to take the power of miracles from Utena herself.

To power up the sword, Anthy kisses it, in the process cutting her lips painfully. The sword must be powered down again before Utena can win. Did Anthy deliberately power down the sword after Utena reminded her of Dios, or was it involuntary? The parallel with Anthy’s tears and interventions in the duels of episodes 25 and 38 implies that it was deliberate. Ironically, Anthy lost Dios as prince and regained Utena as prince in the same way, by protecting their lives.

Was it a miracle that Anthy was reminded of Dios, or an inevitable event, or an accident? Utena’s power of miracles is derived from the Power of Dios, by inspiration if not otherwise. Touga wielded the Power of Dios as transmitted by Anthy; Utena had her own power of miracles. Anthy cannot transmit the full Power of Dios to the Sword of Dios, or Utena would not be necessary for Akio’s plot. Does the duel outcome mean that Utena’s power of miracles is already stronger than the limited Power of Dios that Anthy can transfer? Or does it mean the opposite, because the sword had to be unpowered before Utena could win? The sword vanishing in episode 25 and having to be re-drawn from Utena’s chest suggests the latter. The rules of the world are difficult to make out.

This duel is the first example of Anthy and Utena working together to win. In episode 5 Anthy won the duel by distracting Miki. Other victories so far are Utena’s doing. It foreshadows the final showdown, when Anthy and Utena work together without either intending to. So the duel calls forward to the end as well as back to the beginning, and represents the series as a whole.

whoactionnotes
TougapowerupThe first time that Anthy powers up the sword.
Tougacharge
Tougastrike and hold
TougastrikeUtena dodges these three.
Tougastrike
Tougastrike
UtenastrikeHer sword breaks (it is not cut but broken).
Tougacharge
crenelation viewUtena can only dodge.
TougastrikeUtena’s clothing is increasingly torn up.
Tougastrike
Tougastrike
crenelation view
Tougastrike and holdUtena’s stub is slowly cut through.
AnthytearThe Sword of Dios loses its power.
Utenastrike
Tougadodge backward
UtenachargeUtena wins.

Black Rose

See duel symbols - Black Rose for overall discussion of the Black Rose duels.

Kanae and Mikage fight with their own sword skills, presumably augmented by their dead duelist. The others (Kozue, Shiori, Mitsuru, Wakaba, Keiko) are paired with a Student Council member and get to use their strong sword skills. So in most duels Utena is fighting three people at once.

episode 14 Kanae

An easy victory for Utena, easier than any duel in the Student Council arc. Utena holds back at first to talk with Kanae. When Kanae says she wants to kill Anthy, Utena gets serious and it’s one-two-done. Kanae’s sword is unique, not given by another character.

When a student dies, flowers may be placed on their empty desk. The flowers in black mourning vases on the desks for Kanae not only tell us about her, they predict her death. Interspersed are the red outlines of murder victims, and we get a vertical view showing the desks, flowers, and outlines together. Kanae will also be a murder victim. The choice of flowers tells us about her too.

whoactionnotes
out of viewWe hear swords while seeing the floor and desks.
Kanaecharge
Utenaretreat
clash and hold
Kanaestrike
UtenaleapUtena jumps into the air backward, dodging and gaining time.
Utenacall on Dios
UtenalungeUtena wins.

episode 15 Kozue

Utena has trouble against Kozue and resorts to the sword powerup technique that she learned from Touga in episode 12. Instead of her lips, Anthy cuts her fingers and we see red gleaming drops representing blood: Her connection to Dios is through her blood, they are sister and brother. Utena both calls for a powerup and calls down Dios from the castle. The actions are independent, and I don’t know what advantage Utena may gain from doing both.

In contrast, Anthy is unconcerned that Kozue might kill her as she threatens. She calmly drinks milkshakes from the desks. If Utena falters, that’s too bad, but it doesn’t matter. Akio set up the duels, and he would not risk his lover and valuable agent.

whoactionnotes
KozuechargeWe see only a glimpse.
out of viewSword clashes we don’t see.
sword clashesSword clashes we do see.
clash and hold
Kozuestrike
Utenadodge to the side
clash and hold
KozuedisarmUtena’s sword falls behind her and sticks point-first in the pavement.
Kozuefinishing strike
UtenaleapShe leaps backward, dodging and retrieving her sword as she passes over it.
Utenapowerup
Utenacall on Dios
UtenalungeUtena wins.

episode 17 Shiori

Shiori’s attempted finishing strike seems to be irrelevant in the face of the power of miracles. Utena wins without having to react to it.

whoactionnotes
Shioricharge
Utenadodge to the side
run
Shioriclash and hold
Utenadisengage
Shioristrike
Utenadodge to the side
Shioriclash
Shioriclash
Shioristrike
Utenadodge backwardUtena catches herself on a desk.
Utenabreathing hard
Shiorifinishing strikeUtena neither dodges nor parries the strike, but seems to move faster.
Utenacall on Dios
UtenalungeUtena wins.

episode 18 Mitsuru

In episode 10, unsporting Nanami kept attacking Utena after losing the duel. Mitsuru is equally unsporting and attacks Utena before the duel technically begins, as marked by the bells. He jumped the gun, just as he wants to jump the gun on being an adult.

It is part of the mirror imaging of the Black Rose. Nanami fought with sword or dagger; Mitsuru fights with both at once.

whoactionnotes
Mitsurucharge
Utenadodge to the side
Mitsurustrike
Utenaleap backwardAfter this Anthy emits the Sword of Dios and the bells ring to mark the duel’s start.
out of view
clash and holdUtena’s sword holds Mitsuru’s sword and dagger at once. Mitsuru makes his claim.
Mitsurustrike
Utenaleap backward
Utenacall on Dios
UtenadisarmMitsuru’s sword goes flying. He retains the dagger.
Utenaleap upwardWe don’t see it, but it must happen.
Utenafinishing strikeMitsuru loses track of Utena. Utena strikes from above and wins.

episode 20 Wakaba

Utena does not draw the sword from Anthy. She is not willing to fight her friend Wakaba with a sword. Instead she steals Wakaba’s sword and slices her black rose in a single complex turning movement. Utena does not call on Dios, but I still deem her victory a miracle. As in the episode 7 duel against Juri, Wakaba had to make a mistake to lose.

The duel has Wakaba betraying Utena with a sword thrust, parallel to Anthy betraying Utena in the final showdown. Utena rescues Wakaba from the black rose, which Utena believes is a good deed, but is really a betrayal in turn. Wakaba weeps. In the final showdown, Utena cannot rescue Anthy and believes she has failed her. But it was the right thing to do; it allows Anthy to escape the Academy. To me it emphasizes the narrowness of Utena’s path between the miraculous prince and the controlling prince.

See down catalog - episode 20 duel for more observations on the duel.

whoactionnotes
Wakabacharge
Utenadodge to the sideUtena tries to protect Anthy, but Anthy had to dodge too.
Wakabastop
Anthyfall
Wakabastrike
Utenadodge backward
Utenafall
Wakabawinning advantageWakaba grabs Utena by the hair and holds her sword to Utena’s neck.
Wakabafinishing strikeWakaba feels the need to first pull the sword back for a harder strike. It was an unnecessary delay.
UtenamiracleUtena grabs Wakaba’s sword hand and free hand in her hands, then steals Wakaba’s sword and wins.

episode 21 Keiko

The duel seems easy for Utena. It’s not because Keiko is weak—she has Touga’s sword and Touga is strong—it is because Utena has strengthened her power of miracles through practice. It’s demonstrated by Utena’s leap to an incredible height, as if she were a human-size flea. Utena’s winning strike seems to catch Keiko in mid-charge and win before Keiko can react.

whoactionnotes
Keikocharge
clash and separate
KeikochargeIt’s not shown, but must happen.
Keikoclash and holdKeiko rants about Nanami.
KeikostrikeShe slices an umbrella.
UtenaleapShe jumps high into the air, leaving Keiko confused.
Keikocharge
Utenacall on Dios
UtenalungeUtena wins.

episode 23 Mikage

Utena was the challenger. Unlike other Black Rose duels, she knows from the start of the duel that she wants to fight, and begins aggressively. But Mikage is a tough opponent and for most the duel Utena must defend herself.

While Mikage is pressing Utena backward, he says he and Utena are the same. The camera cuts to show Akio kissing Tokiko. They are the same in that Akio breaks them from their lovers. But Mikage conflates Tokiko and Utena, so he is also saying that he and Tokiko are the same. That point has me confused. Though Utena characters are so densely interconnected that arguably the whole series has only one character.

I’m not sure why Utena had to have Anthy power up the sword. The miracle in this duel seems to be Utena holding on against the powerful Mikage long enough for Mikage to break down and stop fighting. After that, anyone could have beaten him.

whoactionnotes
chargeBoth charge. Utena wants to fight.
clash and holdBriefly.
Mikagestrike
UtenafallInstead of following up, Mikage switches the sword from his left to his right hand.
Mikagecharge
Mikagepress backA short distance.
pass by
Utenastrike
Mikagepush on the backUtena quickly catches herself on a desk, and Mikage put himself off balance too. He gained no advantage.
Mikagestrike
Utenadodge backward
Mikagepress backA long distance.
separateMikage, maybe distracted by his own speech, stops pressing Utena back.
Utenafinishing strikeWith abstract finishing imagery matching past duels when Utena wins.
clashBut Utena does not win.
pass by
Mikagestrike
UtenajumpUtena jumps backward high into the air. Mikage says “I knew you’d do that.”
Mikagecharge
MikagestopHe’s distracted by the false Mamiya, and then by the true Mamiya. He seems to be mentally unstable.
UtenapowerupWith the “Utena-sama!” and “Himemiya!” back and forth as Utena descends from high up.
Utenacall on Dios
UtenalungeUtena wins.

Apocalypse Saga

Until now, Utena drew Anthy’s sword. Now Anthy draws Utena’s sword, and the process is depicted as mutual. See sex symbols - pulling a sword.

In this arc, when Utena calls on Dios, he descends from the castle and kisses her on the lips. She is closer to him than before.

The Apocalypse Saga is about Akio working to bring Utena under his control, even as she continues to grow stronger, so that he can steal her power. The dueling arena is populated with symbols of Akio and his adult male power and sexuality: Cars jut erect from the arena, and one races around the perimeter. The cars rev up at meaningful times. Cars and swords have similar meanings.

episode 25 Saionji

Utena draws the Sword of Dios from Anthy, as usual, but after a time the sword vanishes from her hands. (It is parallel to Saionji cutting Utena’s bamboo sword in episode 1.) The duel music comes up: The starting bells rang earlier, but this is the true beginning of the duel. As a replacement, Anthy draws Utena’s sword. It’s a necessary step in developing Utena’s power of miracles, so I conclude that it is a miracle in itself. As we saw in episode 11, Utena’s power of miracles responds to what she wants (she didn’t want to fight her prince, so there was no miracle that episode), and as we saw in episode 7, it is able to act in surprising ways that Utena does not expect or understand. Here, I conclude, it is doing both. Utena constantly learns to fight better because that is what she wants, and her power of miracles acted in a surprising way so that she could keep improving.

Why is it a necessary step in developing Utena’s power of miracles? Akio implies so when he talks about it with Anthy afterward. There are two reasons, Utena’s power and the teamwork of Anthy and Utena. The Sword of Dios can be drawn from Anthy, and so far it has given power to Utena. We know that Anthy does not have the full Power of Dios, or else Akio would not need Utena. Utena’s power must grow beyond what Anthy can provide. Drawing the sword from Utena symbolizes that. Before, drawing the sword from Anthy amounted to exploiting Anthy’s connection with Dios; Anthy was a passive sword donor. Now the power is from Utena herself, and as the animation depicts, the process of drawing the sword is a collaboration—as Utena promised and the shadow play reinforced, the two work as a team to bring out Utena’s power, and the result is greater power. Before it could happen, Utena and Anthy had to grow close enough. The key step was in episode 23, when Utena awoke with Anthy holding her hand, and Utena realized that Anthy cannot quit the Rose Bride role.

Leaving aside the period when she had no sword, Utena’s performance in this duel was far superior to her episode 2 duel against Saionji. It was an easy victory.

Saionji believes that Anthy as the Rose Bride has no agency, and he is surprised when Anthy acts to save Utena.

whoactionnotes
runRunning with the car is standard in this arc.
clash and hold
Saionjistrike
Utenadodge backward
sword clashes
Saionjipress back
Utenabad parryParallel to episode 2’s duel.
Saionjifinishing strikeStill parallel.
Utenadodge backwardBreaking the parallel, she easily makes a low jump far out of the way.
UtenamiracleThe Sword of Dios disappears.
Saionjistrike
Utenadodge backward
Saionjistrike
Utenadodge backward
Saionjicharge
Utenadodge backward
AnthytearShe remembers Utena’s promise to work together.
Saionjifinishing strike
Utenadodge to the sideAnthy intervenes, moving Utena to the side and drawing her sword.
Utenacall on Dios
Utenafinishing strikeUtena wins.

episode 26 Miki

As in episode 5, Miki is distracted from the fight and loses. Unlike then, Utena calls down the prince anyway.

whoactionnotes
Mikicharge
clash
runKozue is in the circling car.
Mikistrike
clash
MikistrikeThe action around here is a little confusing to follow.
clash and hold
Utenaretreat
Utenastrike
clash
Mikipush on backIneffective. Utena was not off balance.
runAnthy joins Kozue in the car.
sword clashesMiki is starting to be distracted by Kozue.
Utenapress backUnusually, Utena holds an extended initiative and Miki is forced backward.
Utenacall on Dios
Utenafinishing strikeUtena wins.

episode 28 Ruka

Utena defeated Saionji and Miki easily. Ruka gives her trouble, and after her victory she is stooped and tired. But still, it’s over as soon as she calls on Dios. See Shiori down and battered Shiori for Shiori after her car crashes.

whoactionnotes
run
Rukacharge
clash
Rukastrike
clash
crenelation view
Rukastrike
Utenadodge backwardRuka taunts her.
UtenachargeThe taunt was effective.
clash
Utenastrike
Rukadodge to the sideSo that Utena narrowly misses.
Utenastrike
Rukadodge to the sideRuka is playing with her. Without a miracle, Utena can’t touch him.
Utenastrike
Rukadodge to the side
clash
Rukapush on the back
Utenaoff balanceShe catches herself on a car.
Utenabreathing hard
RukachargeHe says “I see”; he knows Utena will call on her special ability now.
Utenacall on Dios
Utenafinishing strikeUtena wins.

episode 29 Juri

As Juri duels against Utena, in flashback we see Juri duel against Ruka. I wrote up both duels. The duels have parallels with each other and with Juri’s duel of episode 7. I have the feeling that, at the points when the camera cuts between the duels, not all actions were shown.

Utena does not end up breathing hard—despite Juri’s great skill, Utena does not feel hard-pressed. After Juri concedes, she does not weep, as far as we see. But the sky weeps for her. See comparisons - one petal falls for my interpretation of how Utena’s power of miracles acted this time.

clash
whoactionnotes
Utenacharge
clash
Juristrike
Juriwinning advantageWe don’t see Utena’s mistake, but her sword is out of position.
Jurifinishing strikeAs in episode 7, Juri holds her sword to Utena’s face, hesitating. Ruka calls out the mistake before Juri acts.
Utenadodge to the side
Utenastrike
Juripush on the backIt seems to have been just effective enough to put Utena on the defensive.
Juripress back
Utenadodge backward
Utenacall on Dios
Utenafinishing strikeShe misses Juri’s rose and instead hits her locket.
Utenafall and rollAs in episode 7, Juri’s skill is so great that Utena cannot cut her rose.
JuriconcedesJuri drops her rose to the ground.

In episode 7, Utena made unsound attacks that Juri exploited. Here, Juri makes unsound attacks that Ruka exploits in the same way. It suggests that Ruka has psychologically undermined her, so that she makes uncharacteristic mistakes.

whoactionnotes
Juricharge
clash
Jurioff balanceRuka diagnoses hidden feelings.
Juricharge
clash
Rukapush on back
Jurifall
Rukacharge
clash
Rukapress back
Rukastrike
Juridodge backward

That’s all we see of the Juri-Ruka duel. The camera cuts directly from Juri’s retreating face to Utena’s retreating face. The parallel with the Juri-Utena duel implies that Ruka won immediately after.

episode 32 Nanami

Nanami is angry at Utena for not understanding Akio and Anthy and for being a useless do-gooder, but it’s displaced anger. Utena has nothing to do with Nanami’s troubles. Apparently Nanami understands that well enough, or was prepped to by Akio and Touga, because she as much as declares that her aim is to take the power of miracles.

There is no sign of Nanami’s dagger, which appeared in episode 10 and episode 18. Touga draws only her sword from her heart. After losing, Nanami weeps angrily, but unlike last time she does not attack after losing. I suppose she thinks of the dagger as for treachery only, and believes that treachery cannot win the power of miracles. And yet Akio tries to take the power of miracles by treachery.

whoactionnotes
Nanamicharge
Utenadodge backwardAs in episode 10, Utena’s first action is to dodge.
Nanamipress back
pass by
Utenastrike
clash
Nanamipress back
NanamistrikeNanami seems furious, not that Utena has anything to do with it.
Utenadodge to the side
crenelation view
Utenastrike
NanamileapDodging and attacking. Nanami’s skills have improved.
NanamistrikeFrom above and behind.
Utenadodge backwardUtena apparently turns to face Nanami before dodging. The action is unclear.
Utenafall and rollNanami’s fancy attack threw Utena off her feet.
Nanamicharge
Nanamifinishing strike
Utenacall on Dios
Utenafinishing strikeUtena wins.

episode 36 Touga

Touga has captured Utena’s hand.
captured hand
Akio as prince with Utena as princess.
Episode 38, given hand

A duel with... special moves. I had to make up new action names.

When Touga captures Utena’s hand, he hits on her again, with “I’ll protect you.” As in his trick of episode 11, he’s hoping Utena’s conviction will fail because being protected is such a great outcome. Utena has forgiven him his past trespasses, and forgives this too. His attempted trick is parallel not only to episode 11, but to the first challenge of the final showdown. Compare the poses and expressions in the pictures. Touga wants to make Utena his princess; the image is in romantic soft-focus with an abstract romantic background for his feelings and yellow for his jealousy; he uses force to hold her hand near his chest; Touga’s trick fails. Akio does make Utena his princess; the image is sharp for reality with a dark background for Akio’s darkness; Utena has placed her hand on his chest, showing her desire; Utena has fallen for Akio’s trick and wants to be a princess. Both wear white and lean over Utena dominantly to play prince. In both, her wide-eyed expression seems to indicate surprise and interest. Touga took Utena’s hand; Akio convinced Utena to give her hand in marriage (though she soon changes her mind).

Anthy helps Utena by powering up her sword, and Utena protects Anthy from the rampaging cars. Saionji helps Touga by driving the motorcycle for Touga’s final attack. The two couples are parallel, and both show teamwork.

Back in the duel, Touga and Utena trade thoughts wordlessly and their hands part lingeringly. The slowly parting hands are parallel to Anthy and Utena’s slowly parting hands in the final episode. I take it that Utena wants to leave Touga behind but feels nostalgic about it. I think she always had some feelings for him. After he has lost, Touga warns her about Akio and Anthy—and then Utena does not forgive him.

Until now, Utena has called on Dios in every duel of the Apocalypse Saga. Now, her heart has been detached from Dios; she no longer wants Dios to descend from the castle and kiss her on the lips. Instead, Anthy powers up Utena’s sword.

In the runup and during the duel, Anthy and Utena act on and show their love for each other, even though each has been fooled into believing that the other has lost their love and gone over to Akio. Neither is able to detect the other’s sincerity—which is unusual for insightful Anthy and speaks to the power of Akio’s illusions.

whoactionnotes
Utenaabstract attack
Tougaabstract attack
sword clashes
standing fight
run
Tougacharge
Utenadodge backward
Tougagrab Utena’s hand“I’ll protect you.”
carsattackCars drive around. Touga is safe, Utena has to dodge.
Tougafinishing strike
UtenaleapUtena jumps high, and lands next to Anthy.
UtenapowerupAnthy powers up Utena’s sword.
Utenaslice up cars
Utenaslice up the motorcycleAnd Touga’s rose. Utena wins.

episode 38 Akio “Revolution”

Utena declaring “I will become a prince!” seems to be equivalent to calling on Dios. Dios does not appear, but his tomb breaks up and we learn in the next episode that he was released. It seems to have the same effect as Dios descending from the castle: Utena’s miraculous skill is activated, and Akio is forced to retreat, barely able to defend himself.

Akio’s makes strikes that I label “Student Council strike” and “Black Rose strike”. See final showdown - the third challenge - three strikes for the explanation. The “Apocalypse Saga strike” is Anthy’s backstab of Utena.

Like two duels against Touga (episode 11, episode 36), the duel against Akio includes unique moves—meta-duel actions outside the conventional dueling framework to influence the result. Instead of making up action names, I cut the table short: For Anthy’s intervention to prevent Akio from losing, see Anthy’s backstab.

Even so, I wrote down more actions for this duel than for any other.

whoactionnotes
sword clashesFirst we hear the duel, then we see it from a distance.
standing fightUtena moves slowly, and some of her strikes miss.
sword clashes
standing fight
Utenalunge
pass by
standoffAkio tells Utena she only knows play duels.
sword clashes
crenelation view
AkiostrikeAkio takes the initiative. Utena is forced backward.
Akiocharge
Akiofinishing strikeStudent Council strike.
Utenadodge to the sideUtena narrowly escapes, as in early Student Council duels. The duel music starts.
Utenadodge backwardWe don’t see Akio’s strike. Utena catches herself on a desk.
Akiocharge
Akiofinishing strikeBlack Rose strike.
UtenaleapUtena jumps in the air to dodge, as in some Black Rose duels.
Utenacharge
clash and hold
Utenastrike
Akiododge backwardUtena gains the initiative. “I will become a prince!”
Utenafinishing strike
clash
Utenaforce backward
UtenachargeShe seems about to win, but Akio retreats behind Anthy and pushes her forward.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 30 March 2022
updated 2 June 2024