Utena - insults

In progress. I want to collect insults and putdowns, including Anthy’s passive-aggressive jabs but not stopping there. Some are subtle; I expect the full collection to take a long time.

Wakaba waits for Utena

In episode 1, on the way to school, Wakaba waits for her “boyfriend” Utena, only to be told that Utena has gone ahead. The girl who tells her jokes, “You’ve been dumped!” and her companion snickers. They are ridiculing Wakaba for breaking her prescribed female social role—that is, for defying the patriarchy’s system of control.

Anthy in Student Council duels

Anthy is even-handed... in a way. She is abused, and passes on the abuse to others (commonly but not always in a milder form). For each duelist in the Student Council arc, Anthy takes one action during or (usually) after the duel to harm them. In order, the victims are Saionji, Miki, Juri, Nanami, Utena, Touga. I don’t count all the actions as insults.

The pattern does not carry over to the other two arcs.

In episode 1, Anthy’s insult is open and Utena will recognize it. After that, Anthy comes to like Utena and chooses hurtful actions that Utena will not recognize as hurtful. No doubt she wants to keep Utena’s favor. Of course, that goes out the window when it is Utena’s turn to be hurt.

Episode 1, Saionji. I talk about it under Wait for me... Utena, because there’s a correspondence between them. There is also a correspondence with the episode 11 insult below. Anthy shows her relish in putting down Saionji, and does not indicate any closeness to the victor. Utena can clearly recognize the insult.

Saionji does not get an insult when he loses in the next episode. His one harmful action was already taken.

Episode 5, Miki. Anthy cheers for Utena. Anthy seemed to like Utena and Miki equally well at first, but Miki got talked into being aggressive. As I read it, Anthy does not yet have faith that Utena will win on her own, so she intervenes to distract Miki by cutting his supporting illusion out from under him. It acts as a putdown, but Utena won’t recognize it as one.

I think it is rare for Akio to give Anthy detailed orders. He normally gives her general directives, and trusts her to carry them out well. We see it in episode 21, when he tells her to stay close to Utena. That’s part of why I think intervening for Utena was Anthy’s decision.

Episode 7, Juri. Earlier in the episode, Anthy provoked Juri by offering an orange rose, imitating Shiori. After Juri loses by a miracle, Anthy does it again, saying “May your feelings reach them”—exactly what Juri seeks. Juri was in distress at the moment and likely would have taken anything as an insult, but digging again at the sore point seems particularly cruel. Anthy’s words in themselves are innocent—Utena will be unable to recognize that Anthy is deliberately hurting Juri.

When Nanami fights on after the episode 10 duel ends, Anthy reminds her of the rules. Nanami is a rule-breaker and seems to feel no insult, but I guess being reminded of her badness drives her harder. Nanami is sensitive to what others think of her, and she does not like herself in the first place. Again, Utena cannot recognize Anthy’s technically correct complaint as an attack on Nanami.

Anthy leans against Touga while saying “farewell” to Utena.

Episode 11, Utena. When Utena loses to Touga, Anthy seems to need a little time to adjust her mindset. She seems stunned, and hesitates to follow Touga’s first command. When Touga asks her to say farewell, she comes out with a milder version of her insult of Saionji in the first episode. Her pose with Touga implicitly rejects Utena as a companion, she repeats the word choice with gokigenyou, and she gives Utena a lower honorific. It’s hurtful, but Anthy does not emphasize the insult with a pause, or make a point of enjoying it. Anthy obeyed Touga’s literal orders and his intent of showing separation from Utena and strict adherence to the Rose Bride role. There was no way to do it without being hurtful, but I think repeating the jab at Saionji makes her intent clear. Nevertheless, I read her expression as slightly sad. Maybe she thinks the insult will help Utena come to terms with her new situation?

After Anthy speaks, Utena starts to weep.

In the final episode of the arc, Anthy de-powers the Sword of Dios and Touga loses. It certainly harms Touga. I can’t see it as an insult.

Anthy and the kitten in episode 10

Utena sits in the dark in the dorm room, moping because she believes she was unprincely in “allowing” Touga to get hurt. Anthy enters carrying a box, and begins to speak, apparently to Utena.

From the start, Anthy is speaking to the kitten. First she says “you seem down,” equally fitting for the kitten and Utena, then “I wonder if he’s physically OK,” equally fitting to the kitten or as a reply to Utena, who spoke of Touga. (The ambiguity is complete in Japanese. English calls for a pronoun like “he” that adds specificity.) Then she tells the kitten, in an exaggeratedly cheerful voice, “Oh! Aren’t you just hungry?” Suddenly she’s making fun of Utena for not understanding—and Utena continues to not understand, saying she doesn’t feel like shaved ice. When Anthy pours milk, Utena goes to all fours like a cat, catching on that something is up and acting as if the milk were for her. Anthy takes the kitten from the box, and the deception is revealed. When Utena realizes that Anthy was talking to the kitten, her irises suddenly get a heavier outline. She doesn’t realize that Anthy was teasing her.

Utena as prince forgives all sins; it is part of her parallel with Jesus. But she doesn’t need her superhuman forgivenness here: She’s not smart enough to tell that Anthy is calling her stupid. Anthy does it in a clever way—it is an aspect of their complementarity.

Anthy takes joy in vengeance (see Anthy’s corruption), and probably enjoyed teasing Utena. She has been concealing her duel insults (above) from Utena, so I guess Utena was not supposed to notice. But it is the only time that Anthy seems to have a problem with Utena’s obtuseness and obliviousness. In episode 18 she teases Utena for her naivety, but it’s as much an attack on everyone else in sight as on Utena (and it’s gentle compared to most of her passive-aggressive jabs). Utena remains slow on the uptake until nearly the end of the series, and as far as I can tell it doesn’t bother Anthy that her girlfriend is sometimes a blockhead.

The event is part of equating Utena with the cat that Nanami pushes into the river. To me, the multiple cats suggest Akio’s multiple plots, each of which ends with the victim dead.

Saionji

Saionji insults others as a matter of course. With Touga, his regular pronoun for “you” is kisama, a rude choice like “you bastard.”

Episode 1. In the duel of episode 1, Saionji slaps Anthy down and belittles her for wishing Utena luck. When the combat starts, he tells Utena she is pretty good... for a girl. He continues to treat her as feeble in the face of his strength, and makes fun of her for acting as a prince. He calls her a fool as she charges him.

Episode 2. When Saionji returns for payback, he insults Anthy as he slaps her down. He looks down on Utena and steps on Chu-Chu. In the duel, he implies that Utena is bad at swordplay, and continues to treat her as inferior.

Episode 9. Kendou. Saionji and Touga have a practice kendou fight. Touga calls Saionji a good friend, and Saionji practically snarls back. Maybe it shouldn’t count as an insult; he’s effectively accusing Touga of lying, and he’s right. Touga acts like his role model Akio and treats Saionji as a resource to exploit.

At the greenhouse. Saionji bizarrely accuses Chu-Chu (maybe the frog is included) of getting in his way. Then he tells Utena not to get carried away, believing she can beat him. Then, after a flashback, he tells Utena she wouldn’t understand even if he explained. Well, that might be true. Utena is bad at understanding, and Saionji is bad at explaining.

In the flashback with little Utena in the church, younger Saionji had not yet developed his angry personality. In fact, that was what planted the seed of Saionji’s envy of Touga: Akio was manipulating both Utena and Saionji. Akio’s plots are multi-pronged.

Juri

Juri is largely a good character, but she is arrogant and looks down on others. In the Student Council arc, she treats Miki with condescension, Utena with angry rejection, and Touga with disdain for his deceitfulness.

Episode 1. The student council summons Saionji to complain about how he treats Anthy. Touga tells him that he can’t just do whatever he likes with her. But in fact the Rose Bride role allows exactly that, and Saionji gets away with it. Miki is captivated by the idea of doing whatever he likes with Anthy, and repeats the words. Juri teases Miki, repeating after him.

Episodes 4 and 5. Juri continues to condescend to Miki in Miki’s episodes, talking down to him in the library in episode 4 and after their fencing practice in episode 5. She’s not harsh, but treats him as a youngster fit to be teased and embarrassed.

Episode 7. Juri sends the assistant principal away, treating him as an underling who should follow her orders without question. “I won’t say it twice,” she tells him. She looks away as she says it, looking away from her own abuse of power, but does not hesitate.

Later, Juri asks Utena about the prince, and is angry at Utena’s answer. Juri tells Utena (angrily but accurately) that she was tricked into believing in the prince and her beliefs are foolish, and Utena’s reaction shows that she feels the insult. At the start of the duel, Juri accuses Utena of conceit, using a word whose range of meanings includes hubris. Juri insults Utena during the duel, pushing her down to show her weakness and taunting her. But oops, Utena pulls off a miracle.

Episode 12. In the student council meeting, Juri asks Touga how he won. Touga seems to understand that Juri is looking down on him, answering “You don’t think it was by my own skill?” Juri’s book and tone of voice agree that Touga read her correctly. When Utena shows up at the arena with Juri’s sword, surely he understands it as a putdown from Juri.

Saionji expelled

Saionji’s expulsion is publicly announced in episode 10. Juri and Miki stand apart and “discuss” it, meaning they trade disparaging remarks about Saionji. Miki claims he expected a vague “it” and sounds amused. Juri calls Saionji a clown.

Oh, a clown, that explains why Miki thought he was funny. Juri’s straightforward scorn is one thing. Miki doesn’t care at all, which is more disparaging.

Ruka insults Juri and Shiori

Though Ruka is trying to help Juri, he hurts her over and over.

At the start of episode 28, Utena watches Juri at the fencing club, and concludes that she has improved. Ruka arrives, barges into the queue of practice opponents, and narrowly defeats Juri. He tells her that she hasn’t improved since he left. Utena’s judgment is good, so we know he is lying.

When Utena defeats Ruka in the duel, Shiori wants to try again in another duel. Ruka rejects it and blames Shiori. This time he may be telling the truth, but it is no less hurtful.

After Ruka breaks it off with Shiori, Juri tries to talk Ruka into taking her back. She has no more success than she had trying to talk him out of going with Shiori in the first place. Ruka names Shiori’s faults honestly enough, insulting her in her absence. But he knows that Juri loves Shiori, and the effect is to attack Juri. It’s the lead-in to his sexual assault: He provokes Juri into fury so that she physically attacks him, to make it “her fault” (because villains always blame others).

In Akio’s car, Ruka needles Juri further with a recording of Shiori telling Ruka, “you’re the only one for me.” Good Juri complains that he is manipulating Shiori, but goes along. She made a promise with her duel challenge to Ruka.

In the duel, Ruka does not neglect to insult Utena, even as he admits that he might lose. It’s goal-directed: His insults seek to gain advantage, his admission seeks to minimize disadvantage because he knows he is dealing with the power of miracles.

episode 32 breakfast

An interesting case. Utena praises Akio’s cooking. Then, thinking of Anthy’s cooking non-skills, adds that there’s no family resemblance. I don’t think Utena intends it as an insult, but it can be taken that way. Anthy reacts passive-aggressively with her usual semi-automatic “doumo doumo”, a kind of thanks, superficially polite but actually sarcastic. Utena misunderstands and says it wasn’t praise. She not only forgives wrongs, she often doesn’t notice them. This time she noticed neither her own nor Anthy’s.

Nanami has been shown Akio and Anthy’s sexual relationship, and sees it through her own lens. She rejects it by rejecting the breakfast jam (symbolically made with rose hips) with a violent slap. Now Utena does see a wrong, and tries to get Nanami to apologize. Nanami accuses Utena of stupidity. It’s true enough, but for the wrong reason. The relationship has been hidden from Utena.

Nanami repeatedly calls Utena stupid through the episode.

Akio belittles Utena in the final showdown

In the first challenge of the final showdown, Akio paints Utena as his future wife who will live with him happily ever after, a fairy tale ending where he is the heroic prince and Utena the rescued princess. He plays the role of a dominant husband and speaks down to her, but does not openly attack her—he even calls her courageous and noble. After that fails, he reverses course. To try to dominate Utena he repeatedly belittles her.

Akio sees women as inferior and needing male guidance (meaning control). I think Akio’s belittling attacks are his real beliefs. If Utena shares his beliefs (as Anthy does), then Utena will obey him (as Anthy does). He offers direct guidance like “give me the sword.” But he genuinely wants Utena to accept his patriarchal worldview, and in that sense everything he says is guidance. When he tells Utena that she is childish and naive, he wants her to agree and follow his knowing advice instead of her own childish and naive whims. We the audience know that Utena truly is childish and naive, so he has a point. But his arguments are deceptive and manipulative. And psychologically ineffective—putdowns are not likely to convince anyone who is as self-confident as Utena.
Akio is purely selfish but sees himself as upholding necessary ideals and putting people on the right path. Talk about illusions.

After Utena steals her sword back, Akio immediately starts to push her down. He tells her that she has lost her pure heart, implies she has bad judgment, and claims that she cannot rescue Anthy. It’s all true, but he says it with the aim of belittling Utena.

When Akio shows her (what he considers) reality, he tells her the projector projects illusions for the naive who believe in fantasies—including Utena. He tells her she has made mistakes out of ignorance. He suggests that, however evil he may or may not be, she is just as evil. He accuses her of unfairness. He doesn’t say anything literally untrue, but his implications are false and belittling. He speaks in an authoritative voice to press his authority on her.

Akio keeps going, but that is enough examples. In sum, he does a little bit of bragging, and a little bit of praising Utena’s feminine qualities, and a certain amount of offering “guidance”, but most of what he says and implies is to press her down.

Akio’s verbal putdowns continue in the duel. He tells Utena that she has only been playing at dueling, and that she is a child who cannot understand. After Anthy backstabs Utena, he even puts in an I-told-you-so.

Anthy trashes Utena in the final showdown

Anthy backstabs Utena, leaving her prostrate and bleeding to death. Utena asks why. Anthy leans down and answers the question, adding insult to injury. Anthy says softly and coldly, you remind me of Dios who I loved, but you can’t be my prince, because you are a girl.

Anthy’s insult is meant to destroy Utena’s determination to save Anthy, a prerequisite of Utena’s power of miracles. It seems to be Anthy’s true opinion at the time, though it’s hard to be sure. It is certainly what Akio wanted. See final showdown - the backstab - Anthy’s confusion for more on Anthy’s feelings.

Akio belittles Utena in the epilog

When Anthy arrives to say goodbye to Akio before leaving the Academy, he monologs a bit about Utena not bringing a revolution and being forgotten. He says she is an ordinary dropout, as if she had quit school because she could not keep up with his patriarchal curriculum. As in the final showdown, it’s his honest opinion, and as in the final showdown, he underestimates her. Akio’s worldview is predicated on looking down on women. The boss of the school does not know, but we in the audience know that Utena has graduated, not dropped out. And she initiated a slow revolution.

Anthy answers correctly that Akio does not understand.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 23 May 2023
updated 30 May 2024