Utena - episode titles

I list the episode titles with some notes.

With the text of the titles, I can often look up what they refer back to. It’s not so easy with visual references or parallel events. The number of references in the titles tells me that there are many references of other kinds that I do not know about. And there are sure to be references in the episode titles that I did not find yet. Some of them smell of it. Of the references I did find, not all were easy.

#Nozomi translationtransliterationoriginalnotes
1The Rose Bridebara no hanayome薔薇の花嫁Anthy’s last line is “Starting today, I am your flower.”
2For whom the rose smilesdare ga tame ni bara wa hohoemu誰がために薔薇は微笑むAnthy’s, at the episode’s very end.
3On the night of the ballbutoukai no yoru ni舞踏会の夜にKabawata Yasunari. See episode 3.
4The sunlit garden - preludehikari sasu niwa • pureryuudo光さす庭•プレリユード
5The sunlit garden - finalehikari sasu niwa • finaaru光さす庭•フィナール
6Take care, miss Nanami!nanami-sama go-youjin七美様御用心Little Red Riding Hood. See episode 6.
7Unfulfilled Jurimihatenu juri見果てぬ樹璃
8Curried high tripkarei naru hai torippuカレーなるハイトリップ
9The castle said to hold eternityeien ga aru toiu shiro永遠があるという城
10Nanami’s precious thingnanami no taisetsu na mono七美の大切なものThing or person. I like “Nanami’s precious one.”
11Gracefully cruel - the one who picks that floweryuuga ni reikoku • sono hana o tsumu mono優雅に冷酷•その花を積む者Now the flower is Utena. She becomes girlish.
12For friendship, perhapstabun yuujou no tameたぶん友情のためPossible reference. See episode 12.
13Tracing a pathegakareru kiseki描かれる軌跡Recap with duel names. See episode 13.
14The boys of the Black Rosekurobara no shounen-tachi黒薔薇の少年たち
15The landscape framed by Kozuesono kozue ga sasu fuukeiその梢が指す風景See episode 15.
16The cowbell of happinessshiawase no kauberu幸せのカウベル
17The thorns of deathshi no toge死の棘Novel by Shimao Toshio. See episode 17.
18Mitsuru’s impatiencemitsuru modokashisaみつるもどかしさOr “worn-out impatience”. See episode 18.
19A song for a kingdom now lostima no naki oukoku no uta今の亡き王国の歌Literally not “lost” but “dead”.
20Wakaba flourishingwakaba shigereru若葉繁れるReference to Aoba Shigereru. See episode 20.
21Verminwaruimushi悪い虫Keiko. See the shadow play.
22Nemuro Memorial Hallnemuro kinenkan根室記念館
23Terms of a duelistduerisuto no joukenデュエリストの条件See episode 23.
24The secret Nanami diarynanami-sama himitsu nikki七美様秘密日記
25Their eternal apocalypsefutari no eien mokushirokuふたりの永遠黙示録They as “the two of them.” See episode 25.
26Miki’s nest box (the Sunlit Garden - arranged)miki no subako (hikari sasu niwa - arenji)幹の巣箱(光さす庭•アレンジ)A musical arrangement.
27Nanami’s eggnanami no tamago七美の卵See episode 27.
28Whispers in the darkyami ni sasayaku闇に囁くLovecraft. See episode 28.
29Azure paler than the skysora yori awaki ruriiro no空より淡き瑠璃色のLapis lazuli. See episode 29.
30The barefoot girlhadashi no shoujo裸足の少女Cinderella and Maryša. See episode 30.
31Her tragedykanojo no higeki彼女の悲劇
32The romance of the dancing girlsodoru kanojo-tachi no koi踊る彼女たちの恋Unidentified. See episode 32.
33The prince who runs through the nightyoru o hashiru ouji夜を走る王子The First Seduction.
34The rose crestbara no kokuin薔薇の刻印Obscure film reference. See episode 34.
35The love that blossomed in wintertimefuyu no koro mebaeta ai冬のころ芽ばえた愛Literally “sprouted”. See episode 35
36And thus opens the doorway of nightsoshite yoru no tobira ga hirakuそした夜の扉が開くThe Second Seduction. See episode 36.
37The one who brings the world revolutionsekai o kakumei suru mono世界を革命する者
38End of the worldsekai no hate世界の果て
39Someday, together, we’ll shineitsuka issho ni kagayaiteいつか一緒に輝いてSee episode 39.

Episode 3, “On the night of the ball”. There is a short story by Kawabata Yasunari (Wikipedia) called “The night of the dance” (without “on”—butoukai no yoru without ni). It seems to be little-known story and I didn’t find a satisfying description of it. So I’m not certain that the episode title refers to it. But from what I did find out, I feel it’s likely. This article from Medium places Kawabata as an early influence, or a co-initiator, of the yuri genre and class S (Wikipedia). The story is apparently about a high-society event with few participants and many spectators, so maybe it was more a performance than a party? I couldn’t tell. The point of view characters are not of high society, so there is at least a point of correspondence with the episode.

The episode title appears on Touga’s invitation card to Utena, where “I will see you” is implicit: “[I will see you] on the night of the ball.”

Episode 6, “Take care, miss Nanami!” It looks like a reference to the 1978 song akazukin-chan goyoujin” (Take care, Little Red Riding Hood) (Japanese Wikipedia) by the band LAZY. It’s a conventional love song, “choose me, not that wolf,” complete with a Japanese Industrial Standard “I’ll protect you” line. It’s fluffy to the point of being silly, and very 1970s, and can be found on Youtube. Apart from 1970s-ness, all the points fit with the episode. For the episode, the title says that Nanami is Little Red Riding Hood and Mitsuru is the “safe” suitor who will protect her—although Touga’s wolfness is invisible to Mitsuru as well as Nanami. In the wider Student Council arc, Touga is the wolf and Utena is Little Red Riding Hood, and nobody protects Utena—which is how the original version of the fairy tale (Wikipedia) goes. In the series as a whole, Akio is the wolf.

Episode 12, “For friendship, perhaps”. It might be a reference to the 1920 novel Friendship (yuujou), by Mushanokouji Saneatsu (Wikipedia). The novel has an inconclusive love triangle, which seems Utena-like and could relate to Touga’s love of Utena or to her other entanglements. I haven’t checked it in detail.

Episode 13, “Tracing a path”. Kiseki written 軌跡 as it is, means a track or trace—signs left behind that show a path followed. “Tracing a path” is a good translation. But kiseki written differently means miracle. Reading the homophone instead, you might translate it as “Delineating a miracle”. The pun can only be intentional.

Episode 15, “The landscape framed by Kozue”. More literally, “the scene (or scenery) that Kozue indicates.” The verb for “indicate” is sasu, a homophone of the verb sasu “to shine” of the sunlit garden. To me it suggests that Kozue does her indicating by shining a light on the scene. The sunlit garden episode titles (episodes 4, 5, and 26) do not spell sasu with a kanji, so in principle they could be the same verb, sort of “the garden that light indicates.” That makes Kozue the sun, implying that she is Miki’s prince despite contrary evidence, a very subtle hint if true. Another idea is that the two identical-sounding verbs line up with the two similar-looking twins. Whatever the case, it ties together all the Miki and Kozue episodes.

Episode 17, “The thorns of death”. It is the title of a 1960 Shimao Toshio novel (Japanese Wikipedia), which won prizes. The Japanese Wikipedia article traces the title to the Bible line “O death, where is thy sting?” And in fact, the book’s English translation makes the title The Sting of Death (while the Nozomi translation is literal). In 1990 it was made into a film with the same title (Wikipedia). A husband has an affair, the wife is distraught, the couple falls into crisis but tries to save their marriage. For the episode, Shiori corresponds to the husband; she goes with the unnamed boy, but returns afterward.

For Utena as a whole, there is more. Utena and Anthy fall into crisis due to infidelity on both sides, but in the end recover their relationship. The biblical word translated in English as “sting” means “sharp point” (Bible Hub), such as for example a thorn or a sword. During the episode, Mamiya calls Juri a rose and equates her thorns with her sword. The Bible says “the sting of death is sin,” and implies that there is no sting to death because Jesus has taken it. And Utena as prince corresponds to Jesus. It is a sign of her ultimate victory. At the same time, the drooping Student Council platform implies that Akio takes a major step forward in his plot in this episode (Utena accepted Akio as her friend). As so often, the signs point both ways.

Episode 18, “Mitsuru’s Impatience”. Mitsuru’s name is spelled ambiguously so that it can also be the verb mitsuru, to become emaciated, as by exhaustion. The grammatically-natural reading is closer to, as I translated it, “worn-out impatience”. My translation seems too mild. More like “worn to a nub”.

Episode 20, “Wakaba Flourishing” or wakaba shigereru must be a reference to to the 1973 novel Aoba Shigereru by Inoue Hisashi, and/or the 1974 TV miniseries, which was in turn made into a movie. Both titles mean lush spring vegetation, and “Wakaba” and “Aoba” have nearly the same meaning. In Utena, the title is an ironic allusion to Anthy’s cultivation of the students. In Aoba Shigereru, I guess it is the Aoba ward of Sendai city. I found only vague descriptions of the story, but it is apparently about a group of mischievous high school students with unfulfilled loves. As I write, the book is still in print on paper, and the movie can be ordered on DVD, so it must be somewhat popular.

Episode 23, “Terms of a duelist”. It may be a reference to The Human Condition (ningen no jouken, Wikipedia), a 1958 novel by Gomikawa Junpei which was adapted into a film trilogy (Wikipedia; this link is more informative). (The Hannah Arendt book The Human Condition was published in the same year and is unrelated, though it has the same title in Japanese.) If the reference is intended, then the Nozomi translation—though not wrong—is misleading. The Black Rose is Akio’s training program for Utena; having passed it, she experiences the genuine duelist condition, the conditions a duelist lives under rather than the conditions (terms) a duelist agrees to.

Evidence against: The cold open emphasizes that the Student Council members are all duelists by putting Juri’s observation of it directly before the title card. Evidence in favor: Utena’s experiences in the Apocalypse Saga broadly parallel experiences of the novel’s protagonist Kaji. Her naivety is exploited against her, she is impelled to violate her strongly-held ideals, she and her love are separated but try to help each other, she is ultimately brought under the control of an enemy and seems doomed to die, as Kaji does.

Episode 25, “Their eternal apocalypse”. The Japanese means “the eternal apocalypse of the two of them.” The translation is ambiguous about who “they” are, but the original implies that it is Akio and Anthy. The patriarchy constitutes an apocalypse, and Anthy is part of it. Akio’s plot against Utena is one more way that he harms Anthy, and he seems to run similar plots over and over.

Episode 27, “Nanami’s egg”. The episode is about Nanami’s immaturity, and “egg” in Japanese can mean that, metaphorically. For example, “the egg of a lawyer” means a lawyer in training, or a lawyer to be. We can read “the egg of Nanami” as “the fledgling Nanami”. It suggests that she will mature with time.

Episode 28, “Whispers in the dark”. The episode title is the same as the Japanese title of the 1930 H.P. Lovecraft novella The Whisperer in Darkness (Wikipedia). It fits with Akio and Anthy (corresponding to the extraterrestrials) controlling Ruka, who is in effect already dead.

Episode 29, “Azure paler than the sky”. The word for “azure” means the color of lapis lazuli. The word for lapis lazuli (瑠璃, ruri) is made into a portmanteau of the character names: Its first character and syllable is the first character and syllable of Ruka’s name (瑠果—reader Caoimhe M. pointed this out to me) and its second is the second of Juri’s name (樹璃). Ruka and Juri are joined into one—in that order, as Ruka seems to wish. The color matches the light blue lock of Ruka’s two-tone hair.

Episode 30, “The barefoot girl”. A reference to Cinderella: Akio injures Utena’s foot (symbolically taking away her freedom) and then steals her shoe in the Cinderella scene. At the same time, a reference to the 1935 Czechoslovakian film Maryša (Wikipedia), which has the same Japanese title. See other references - Maryša for analysis.

There is a well-known Picasso painting with the same title, made when Picasso was about Utena’s age, but I can’t find a connection with it.

Episode 32, “The romance of the dancing girls”. The title feels like a reference, but I haven’t found one. It might call back to the dance party of episode 3. So far I prefer this theory: The dancing girls are Nanami and Utena. Both are the rabbit in the moon, and they are dancing like puppets on Anthy’s strings as she does the rabbit dance of episode 7. Anthy could be included; she wears the red shoes and all three are dancing for Akio.

Episode 34, “The rose crest”. The rose emblem on the dueling ring. Why is that particularly relevant to this episode, which is about the world’s pushback against the First Seduction? It is the Japanese title of the film She Dances Alone (IMDB) from 1981. I found this summary (The Movie DB) the most revealing. The New York Times reviewed the film unfavorably.

The pushback is futile against Akio’s plotting. The title calls back to episode 3, when Utena danced with Anthy. Now the two are separated, and Utena dances alone. And it goes with the first ending sequence, where Utena dances with Dios; she rejected Dios to go with Akio. But she still wants to be a prince (she says so), and has not rejected the dueling ring—the rose crest itself.

Episode 35, “The love that blossomed in wintertime”. The title is based on Touga’s name, which is written 冬芽, 冬 for winter and 芽 for bud or sprout. 冬のころ芽ばえた愛 includes the same characters and can be glossed literally as “wintertime-sprouted love.”

Episode 36, “And thus opens the doorway of night”. It is the episode of the Second Seduction, when Utena stops making moral decisions. Akio is associated with night and darkness and the color black, as Dios is with day and light and white. With no morality to slow Utena down, the door to Akio’s dark night of unending oppression is open. The Routine Date happens at night.

Specifically, the doorway of night can be the Rose Gate if Akio opens it. After the Second Seduction, he seems to feel confident that he will. When he attacks it with Utena’s sword, he calls it a door to a new world. Akio’s “revolutionized” world would certainly be a dark world where Akio’s night rules.

Episode 39, “Someday, together, we’ll shine”. The Japanese word order is unnatural in English. Natural is “Someday, we’ll shine together.” But the Nozomi translation retains the original word order for a good reason: At the end, with the framed photo of Utena and Anthy on the screen, we hear Utena say “Someday, together....”

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 8 August 2023
updated 9 June 2024