I looked up enough details of sword design that I can use a few technical terms. I’m indebted to semi-anonymous Nick, who helped me name the sword types and explained some points of fighting style.
The same sword is often drawn differently from shot to shot in a duel. Sometimes it can be put down to showing more detail or less, though not always. I chose pictures that I thought showed the “actual” features of the swords, though it’s not clear that they are intended to have actual features that stay the same! See unstable locations and characters are variable for examples of things that are deliberately inconsistent over time.
The goal of an Utena duel is to scatter the opponent’s rose. It seems hard to do with a sword thrust. The natural technique is to slash the rose with a sharp edge, preferably an edge near the sword’s tip. All the duelists are remarkably precise and nobody is seriously injured (though Nanami tries). I think the natural sword for the job is light, with a tip sharpened on both edges, like Utena’s sword of Dios. But then, these are points of realism, and Utena does not particularly try to be physically realistic (only emotionally realistic).
As shown by Anthy’s sword at the bottom of the page and its comparison to Utena’s, the shape of each sword’s guard reflects its owner’s sexual desires. I think each sword guard stands for the character’s specific love or loves, not their general predilection. Epaulets have a similar meaning, but there is evidence that it is not the same.
The sword of Dios is a rapier. Its guard has a blue-green jewel and a rose theme. The jewel and the rose on the butt end are held in calyxes, which refer to Utena. The blade has a fuller, which makes it lighter and stiffer. The blade is blue-green for the illusion it represents. The point shape seems good for slicing roses (but is sometimes depicted differently).
It’s a one-handed sword, but Utena often uses two hands to apply more force.
The katana can be used with one or two hands. It seems to have a hexagonal cross-section for most of its length. Here, Utena has miraculously cut through it. The red lines on the arena are spraying out like the sword’s blood.
Saionji has a power style of sword fighting: He uses a sturdy sword and makes strong heavy strokes. He uses it to force Utena back, but it doesn’t seem suitable for cutting roses. It seems to me that it would take a lot of skill and training to make accurate cuts with a heavy sword—Saionji and Touga are noted for their skill. On the other hand, Utena’s light sword seems poor for parrying the heavy strokes. Utena needs a lot of physical strength.
Miki’s fencing sword has two edges and a very light blade. Based on Wikipedia descriptions, it doesn’t seem to match any regulation fencing sword; maybe it is specialized for the arena. The guard seems good for fencing, but it looks like it would not offer much protection against a heavy blade. His fighting style includes a trained stance and a lot of quick thrusts. I think he’s fighting as if fencing with an épée, where only a hit with the tip scores. As Juri says, his sword is not for combat. The round guard is female; Miki’s desire is for Anthy. But note the small straight extenders. They may refer to his attraction to Utena.
The guard of Juri’s rapier is smoothly curved and metaphorically female—her desire is for Shiori. It is curved forward, which seems like it offers less protection to the hand but more leverage for Juri’s signature disarming move. Juri uses the guard in disarming Utena in episode 7. The blade looks very like the blade of the sword of Dios, except that it is reddish rather than bluish. The hilt seems to have a variable length. Sometimes it is one-handed, sometimes two-handed.
Juri offers her sword to Utena in episode 12, “to set the final scene,” re-arming Utena after disarming her. The female guard is suitable for Utena too. The sword breaks in the duel, matching Utena’s emasculation in wearing the girls’ uniform.
Nanami’s sword is a scimitar, and her dagger is curved too. Wikipedia tells me that “scimitar” is a European word for a wide range of curved swords used “um, somewhere off to the east.” Sword and knife are decorated with a three-point motif. Nanami’s motivation to duel is jealousy over Anthy, which feeds a desire for revenge. The curved guard points to her secret, unnoticed desire for Anthy. It took me a long time to understand that. The knife has a straight guard, for her lesser love of Touga.
A curved blade is heavier than a straight blade for a given reach, or equivalently has a shorter reach for a given weight. But it is easier to use for inflicting slashing injuries. I think Nanami uses a scimitar because she wants to cut her opponents. She tries to cut Utena in episode 10.
Touga’s katana looks no different from Saionji’s.
A katana is one-edged. This view of the point of Touga’s sword shows the hamon of the sharpened edge. According to my reading, this type of point is not typical for a Japanese sword. The point does seem good for cutting roses, though the sword itself is heavier than is good for the job. Still, it seems reasonable for someone strong and precise like Touga.
Kanae’s rapier has a gold-colored hilt and guard, which may reflect her wealthy family. The guard has a unique design, which doesn’t look practical to me. The curves of the guard hint that she too desires Anthy. The blade is indistinguishable from the blade of the sword of Dios, which in this episode is drawn with a longer flattened point than in the picture above. It has the same blueish coloring, connecting it to illusions. I suppose that Kanae’s illusions are the feelings she falsely believes she has about Akio, or falsely believes she doesn’t have about Anthy, or maybe the illusions that allow her to be controlled by her family.
Kanae’s sword thrust looks dramatic, but it’s awkward. Her fingers can’t grasp tightly at that angle, and her arm can’t exert full force. She loses as soon as Utena decides to fight seriously. I read her as a pampered rich girl who has never needed physical skills.
Mikage’s rapier is thin and flexible. I don’t think it’s more flexible than the other rapiers. The blade is close to neutral gray, but it is faintly blue-green. The difference is so small that I’m not certain what the color is supposed to be.
The guard is round. Mikage’s love is Tokiko, not Mamiya. Anthy plays Mamiya to seduce him as part of a plot by Akio.
The picture is princess Shiori drawing Ruka’s rapier. It shares features with both the sword of Dios and Miki’s sword. The guard has curves, matching Ruka’s love for Juri.
After dumping Shiori, Ruka denies that it is his sword. It is the sword he uses. On the face of it, he’s lying. I suspect some kind of hidden meaning. If it is a borrowed sword, then perhaps it tells us nothing about Ruka, and his motivations are different than they appear. It would be typical for Utena, but if so, I don’t see it. I need corroborating evidence.
In episode 36 Touga no longer uses a katana, but a Western sword with a tapering blade. It is longer and heavier than the rapiers above, which seems appropriate for Touga’s height and strength. The hilt is two-handed, and Touga switches between one-handed and two-handed grips. The guard is straight and metaphorically male, which goes with his new relationship with Saionji.
Why did Touga switch from the katana, which he practices regularly? His new sword is the weapon of a prince. I think it reflects that he is Saionji’s prince. Of course, at the same time he is attempting to be Utena’s prince. The pink rose petals tie him to pink Utena.
Anthy apparently carries two swords in her heart. One is the sword of Dios, with a blue-green jewel. The other is her own sword, similar but with a purple jewel, and other small differences. The guard is gray or dark blue and has a more rectangular, less curved shape, making it symbolically male. It has plainer decoration.
Compare the sword guards with the Student Council exit backdrops. Utena’s guard has an organic-like girlish design that goes with backdrop design 1, which corresponds to Anthy. Anthy’s guard has a more hard-edged boyish design that goes with the other backdrop designs, which correspond to Utena—and presumably earlier to Dios. Each has a sword for the other: The swords directly represent their sexual feelings for each other, which is a hint about how to interpret the other swords. The purple jewel is likely not for Anthy’s corruption, but for Utena’s and Dios’s. Utena’s sword says that she sees Anthy as deluded, not as corrupted (though we know Anthy is both). A wee bit subtle, eh?
Jay Scott <firstname.lastname@example.org>
first posted 7 November 2022
updated 10 September 2023