Utena - the earrings

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the earrings in their case

The earrings from episode 35 are closely related to the rose emblems of Ohtori Academy. Here are my thoughts.

The gift is chosen by Touga for Utena, and Akio told Touga to say it was from Akio. Akio must have known that Touga would choose a girlish gift. We can say the earrings represent what Touga wants Utena to be: Fancy delicate jewelry, an unopened rose, a stereotypical tender young girl under Touga’s protection, who neither needs nor wants any silly little thing like personal independence.

When Utena receives the earrings, she is at first excited and delighted (her eyes vibrate for strong emotion). Seconds later, she sees them as not right for her and sounds doubtful. Later yet, she is again delighted. She goes through a similar sequence in each date: When it is set up, she is excited and delighted; afterward, she goes through a period of regret and doubt; after that ends she is happy and looks forward to more.

Each earring is a rose flower with calyx. We can say they represent both Utena and Anthy. The pointy calyx for Utena and the closed flower petals for Anthy are separate and attached by a thin cord. There are two straightforward ways to read it as a symbol, and since this is Utena they’re both correct.

Utena falls asleep over the earrings an earring on Utena’s ear, with Anthy in the background

Interpretation one: Utena and Anthy are apart; their distance has increased, their relationship has weakened, only a thread connects them. Akio has been acting to push them apart from each other, plus they have unintentionally pushed each other away. The earrings not only symbolize Utena and Anthy’s separation from each other, but also increase their separation. Utena seems to see the earrings ambivalently. From the start, she doesn’t find them right for her. In the night scene where she stays up late wistfully pondering the earrings—while apart from Anthy—her ambivalence extends to her relationship with Akio: “A prince on a white horse, it’s too much.” It is Utena’s period of thoughtfulness after the Second Seduction; see parallels between Akio and Utena’s dates. After Utena has fallen asleep, Anthy approaches and sees only that Utena has stayed up late with the earrings; Anthy’s expression is sad; Anthy can only conclude that the earrings have brought Utena closer to Akio—though she’s wrong for the time being.

The next day brings an outdoor scene sitting on the grass. Chu-Chu prompts Utena to put on the earrings and show them off. Utena’s feelings have changed overnight: Now she is happy. Her period of thoughtfulness ended, and the girlishness induced by the Second Seduction took over; now she is glad about the girlish earrings, in themselves and as a sign that Akio cares about her. Anthy notices her happiness, as underscored by the reflection in her glasses. Anthy must believe that Akio is successfully pulling Utena away from her—and this time she’s right. No wonder Utena has a vision of the swords piercing Anthy at that moment.

In the upper picture, Utena sleeps after examining the earrings skeptically. She is boyish. Except for the thumbnail, her nails do not protrude beyond the ends of her fingers. In the lower picture, the next day, Utena has forgotten her skepticism and is delightedly showing off the earrings. She is girlish. Her fingernails are longer. See fingernail length.

Interpretation two: Anthy hangs from—depends on—Utena. This prefigures the suicide attempt in episode 37, where Anthy literally hangs from Utena’s hand. It might also refer to abstract dependency. Anthy loves Utena, one form of dependency, and (though she doesn’t know it or believe it) depends on Utena to escape from Akio, another form. As the Rose Bride, Anthy is (by Akio’s command) subordinate to Utena, another form.

The meanings work together. By pulling Utena and Anthy away from each other, the earrings contribute to Anthy’s hopelessness and (fake) suicide attempt, after which Utena’s rescue and the following deep talk prove that the thread joining them is still strong (as symbolized by the book Anthy is reading). These two suck at communicating, they needed a major upset to get talking.

The earrings disappear after this episode. I think Utena’s period of being girlish ends and she loses interest in them. But then, Akio’s plan includes making Utena permanently girlish (for the rest of her short life) when he turns her into a princess in the final showdown. Touga’s task was to give a gift that would simultaneously move Utena one step closer to Akio’s goal and move Anthy away from Utena.

What were Utena and Wakaba thinking to accept Touga’s claim that the earrings were from Akio? Utena and Akio live together! That’s some pro-level naivety for both of them. I assume Akio took the discordance into account in giving the task to Touga.

showing off the earrings

At the end of the episode, Utena shows off the earrings to Chu-Chu, an important event. When she received the earrings she found them inappropriate; they were too girlish. Now she has become girlish herself. She puts the earrings on happily, and does not take them off after her train of thought switches to a different track. Here are image comparisons that help bring out meanings. Images on the left are from the earring scene and follow in the order of events.

Utena and Anthy on the grass in silhouette.
Utena and Anthy in silhouette
Utena and Wakaba on the grass in silhouette.
Episode 19, Utena and Wakaba

Utena is girlish after the Second Seduction and does not realize that in showing closeness to Akio she is pushing Anthy away. In episode 19, Utena tells Wakaba she is ordinary, and Wakaba in return feeds Utena a symbol of revenge, foretelling events in episodes 19 and 20. Utena did not realize that she was pushing Wakaba away.

The images re-use the sky. Downhill from here leads to the dueling forest (it is a center of illusions, so it is to the left).

The showing off happens after the silhouettes above and before the vision below. Akio’s plot has multiple aims. One, he is steering Touga’s actions as part of setting up his rescue of Utena. Two, he is separating Touga from Utena while bringing himself closer to Utena. Three, by demonstrating to Anthy Utena’s girlishness and closeness to Akio, he is separating Anthy from Utena. In sum, he is bringing Utena further under his control and isolating her from other influences.

I don’t know why Chu-Chu wants to see the earrings. Chu-Chu might be under Anthy’s control; in that case, either Anthy is checking on Utena’s state of mind—or Akio gave her an order. Chu-Chu might be under Akio’s control this time, as hinted by the earring that matches Akio’s; in that case, Akio is working against Anthy. Or Chu-Chu might be acting independently. I don’t know of any cases where Chu-Chu is clearly under Akio’s command, but there are cases where Chu-Chu acts as Anthy’s agent. Beyond that, I can’t tell.

When Utena flops back onto the ground, her breast wobbles are animated. It’s the only example in the series of that flavor of fan service. I think it is meaningful: The scene is either from Utena’s point of view, so we are seeing Utena’s self-image, or from Anthy’s point of view, and we are seeing Anthy’s image of Utena; both lead to the same conclusion. It says that Utena is girlish at that time, and she is not treating her chest as a boy’s chest as she normally does around Anthy. I suspect that being girlish in itself tends to push Anthy away from Utena. Anthy buys into her appointed feminine role and can’t entirely leave it behind.

Anthy in silhouette, pierced by the Swords of Hatred, hair blown in the wind.
Utena’s vision of Anthy
Little Anthy hangs suspended, transfixed by the many Swords of Hatred.
Episode 34, little Anthy

Utena has a sudden vision of Anthy pierced by the Swords of Hatred. Wind is blowing. It ought to remind her of little Anthy caught by the Swords of Hatred in the episode 34 version of the prince story.

Utena has a similar vision in a dream in episode 36, which prompts her to rise from bed and go to see Anthy with Akio; that vision must be from Akio. This vision may also be an illusion from Akio, preparing Utena for the later vision—the wind that blows is Akio’s wind. If so, Akio has confidence in his control over her; he’s sure she won’t remember. Alternately, it could be an insight due to Utena’s unconscious understanding of Anthy.

Utena thinks, trying to remember something she knows she has forgotten.
Utena trying to remember
Utena and Wakaba on the grass in silhouette.
Episode 33, sex scene

The two images are secretly about the same thing. Here, Utena knows she has forgotten something important. We know that it is Anthy in the prince story. On the right, Utena understandably can’t think of anything but sex. Her thoughts come out as babble about things she associates with sex: Food, Anthy... and forgetting things. Forgetting things means forgetting Anthy.

With her left hand on her forehead as she thinks, Akio’s illusions prevent Utena from remembering. With her right hand there, the reality of sex prevents it. In both, Utena is girlish and flat on her back.

Utena and Anthy on the grass in silhouette.
Utena and Anthy from above
Utena and Wakaba on the grass, discussing Utena’s ring.
Episode 1, Utena and Wakaba

Here, Utena is still thinking as the episode ends. In episode 1, Utena tells Wakaba about the ring and says she doesn’t remember much. This scene also has a left-hand-on-forehead shot parallel to the one above. Utena has been trying to remember for the whole series, and never does remember meeting little Anthy. See the prince story version in episode 34 and drugging Utena and almost remembering. Wakaba mentions the Onion Kingdom, which comes up again in episodes 19 and 20.

The pictures are of Utena with her dearest companions. Utena hides information from Anthy, not mentioning her vision or that she is trying to remember something. After the Second Seduction, Utena is more deeply corrupted and hides more information. The pair are depicted from a distance. Episode 1 Utena hides nothing from Wakaba, and the pair are depicted from close up. The distance of the camera is the distance between them.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 14 November 2021
update 25 June 2023