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Utena deliberately opens itself to a wide range of interpretations. Its symbolic techniques contribute: It gives symbols multiple meanings, sometimes opposed meanings, and links them to each other so that, if you follow the chain, you could end up anywhere. It occurs to me that in a rich, detailed, multifaceted, densely interconnected work like Utena, any mistakes tend to cover themselves up. Since there is always another interpretation, there is always an interpretation that works, that makes the mistake fit into a structure of meanings and not be a mistake after all. When everything is meaningful, you can find meaning everywhere. You can take it too far: “Switching episodes 6 and 8? That’s getting us into the time magic, like the immortality and the whole Black Rose thing.” Even so—
It works. I struggle to find any aspect of Utena’s ideas that I can call flawed. Well, sometimes I struggle in general, but nevertheless!
When I look on the powerful and terrifying work of Revolutionary Girl Utena, twisted on itself and designed to twist its viewers on themselves, and I remember that it was intended to be popular, to pull in the largest possible audience... I feel something like Thetis in the W.H. Auden poem “The Shield of Achilles”.
Thetis of the shining breasts
Cried out in dismay
At what the god had wrought
To please her son the strong
Iron-hearted man-slaying Achilles
Who would not live long.
Those lines ran through my head for a day before I realized why.
Jay Scott <email@example.com>
first posted 19 November 2021