Utena - reflection catalog

Catalog of images of reflections, at least the significant ones. Not the reflections of furniture on the shiny floor, or the reflections of knees in the elevator in the Black Rose. I found comparisons that I didn’t know about.

In Sailor Moon episode 156, it’s said that mirrors show the truth, while people’s hearts distort the image. I think it carries over to Utena in many cases: Reflections show the truth, because they are reversed and what we see directly is full of lies. It may well be the case for symbolic reflections too; for example, Nanami and Utena falling and the handedness of Black Rose duelists.

Nevertheless, reflections on water or on wet ground are inverted, and inversion signifies illusion, as in the upside-down castle in the sky. Water itself means illusions (and has other meanings). The reflected hourglass is a particularly clear case. See Anthy’s teacup for a case that’s harder to interpret.

Anthy cleans a mirror.
Episode 2, dorm room
The oval mirror is visible behind Utena, reflecting blue sky.
Episode 10, moping

Anthy is cleaning a mirror as she cleans up the dorm room in the empty dorm. It means that Utena does not understand herself; she needs to look more closely at herself, and that Anthy will help prepare the conditions for it. Utena diagnoses other people’s feelings more readily than her own. The mirror is far from the window, but reflects sky and clouds: Emptiness and obscuration.

The mirror is prominent in the background in episode 10—still reflecting the sky once the lights are turned on—when Utena is moping about “letting” Touga get hurt, unfairly blaming herself. Wakaba has a larger oval mirror in her room in episode 20. Wakaba knows her own wants, Utena doesn’t.

Reflection in Anthy’s glasses of Utena in uniform.
Episode 2, dueling arena
Reflection in Anthy’s glasses of Utena wearing the earrings from Touga.
Episode 35, on the grass

Reflections in Anthy’s glasses. It’s a particularly beautiful comparison, far and drawing closer versus close and being pulled away. In the first picture, Utena is noticing that she reflexively protected her rose, and thereby Anthy. In the second, she is happily showing off the rose earrings she believes are from Akio, not realizing that she is hurting Anthy. Both are pictures of Anthy seeing Utena’s shallowness. The color balance in the second image is darker for its darker meaning.

They aren’t strictly reflections. They are what Anthy is looking at.

Anthy reflected in the Sword of Dios as Saionji pulls it out.
Episode 1, Saionji
Utena reflected in her own sword, just powered up by Anthy.
Episode 15, Utena

These sword reflections are in repeated sequences. We see Anthy’s reflection every time the sword is pulled from her, and Utena’s reflection when Anthy powers up her sword.

Nanami reflected in the piano as she approaches Miki.
Episode 4, Nanami
Kozue reflected in the piano.
Episode 5, Kozue

Nanami and Kozue are both reflected in the piano. I hesitated a long time to include the Nanami reflection, because I can’t interpret it. Is she being compared to Kozue? Does it indicate her (seemingly fleeting) interest in Miki? Does the broken reflection point to Nanami’s broken feelings? I don’t think it’s just an environmental reflection, like the reflections of furniture in the shiny floor. The animators put effort into it.

Kozue reflected in the piano’s music stand aligns her with her brother, and also reverses her. Kozue is revealing the truth to her friend.

Utena reflected in Miki’s sword.
Episodes 4+5, Miki
Utena reflected in Kozue’s sword.
Episode 15, Kozue

Miki and Kozue show reflections in their swords as expressions of determination: The sword reflects its target and passes over the eye, saying that the weapon and its user are as one. I like the determined frown versus the grim smile, innocence versus artifice.

Utena and Juri reflected in the water as they talk.
Episode 7, Utena and Juri
A couple reflected in the water.
Episode 31, couple

Utena and Juri are reflected in the water in the sculpture garden as they talk. Soon after, Juri tries to take Utena’s ring, then challenges her to demonstrate a miracle in a duel.

Much later, we see an anonymous couple reflected in the same water. To Nanami, the couple means Anthy and Akio; she imagines Anthy lost in adoration. In the following episode she sees them together and breaks down. To Utena, they are people who should get a room. To us, the reflections tie the sculpture garden scenes together. I’m not sure I understand, but Juri did misleadingly act as though she were hitting on Utena before trying to steal her ring.

Juri wanted a miracle. Nanami only wanted to know that Utena likes Akio and not Touga.

Reflection of the dueling forest as Utena looks out the window.
Episode 11, dorm window
Anthy reflected in her tea.
Episode 11, Anthy’s teacup

The dueling forest is reflected in the dorm window as we look in on Utena, who thinking of taking off the ring to avoid fighting her supposed prince Touga. A little later, Anthy considers Utena’s views on making friends (unlike Utena, Anthy thinks things out). The reflections point to Utena’s two choices, Touga or Anthy, one considered negatively as avoiding something, the other positively as keeping something or seeking something. The yellow rim may represent Anthy’s jealousy that Utena has friends. It is the teacup of opening your heart and it represents Anthy and Utena together.

Utena wants to marry the prince, and believes it is Touga. She’s choosing whether to marry the prince or be a prince.

Glass over the devolving butterfly in the confession elevator reflects white light.
Episode 14, elevator
Glass over the devolving butterfly in the confession elevator reflects blue light.
Episode 14, elevator

The confession elevator has a glass-covered display of a butterfly that devolves into a leaf, time running backwards. While the... experimental subject... is making their confession, the glass reflects the white light of truth. We are to accept confessions as true. When Mikage enters the elevator, the lighting changes. The glass reflects the blue glow of illusion, the same color as the lamp when Akio compares Utena to Ganymede. Mikage collects truth and returns falsehood for it, as the subject descends into the underworld.

Shiori is an exception. Her reflection is slightly tinged with blue and turns pure white only near the end of her elevator descent. She doesn’t understand her own wishes, and the light turns white when she admits she was wrong (still without understanding).

Tatsuya is another exception. He is rejected for a black rose, and the light remains white when Mikage enters the elevator to tell him so. The elevator has returned to the surface; the blue light is associated with the underworld.

Kozue and two of her friends are reflected in a swimming pool.
Episode 15, at the pool

Kozue has just reached into the pool to grasp the illusions of her heart. Her friends appear. One asks for an introduction to Miki, who is at this moment trying to crank-start his courage to visit Anthy; Kozue’s friends have their own illusions. Everyone is reflected in the water of illusions. Light shines in through a great window in the shape of a rose emblem; the three of them are following their appointed roles under the system of control.

Miki and music teacher reflected in Kozue’s eye.
Episode 15, Kozue’s eye
The red sweater reflected in Nanami’s eye as she becomes a cow.
Episode 16, Nanami’s eye

Oh, sneaky. We’re being told that to Kozue, seeing her brother being sexually harassed is like the mythical red cape for a bull in a bullfight. But in the opposite order! Bulls are like Kozue!

Juri reflected in glass, speaking to Shiori.
Episode 17, Juri

Juri’s reflection is partly occluded, signifying her blocked feelings.

Shiori in the confession elevator.
Episode 17, Shiori
Utena reflected in the confession elevator.
Episode 38, Utena

Utena is compared to Shiori. Shiori loves Juri first, then unnamed boy and Ruka, doesn’t understand herself, and reacts to her love in a destructive way. Utena loves Anthy first, then Akio, and also doesn’t understand herself—though Akio seems unaware that she has started to make progress. We are to believe confessions, but lying Akio invented the vision of Utena in the elevator. Akio hopes that convincing her of her guilt (which is real, after all) will press her down into a subordinate female role.

Another parallel between Shiori and Utena comes in episode 7, when Juri runs her hand down Utena’s arm as if hitting on her, then suddenly tries to steal Utena’s ring. Juri’s actions mirror her feelings toward Shiori. The ring is not only a duelist’s ring, it is an engagement ring. (Another interpretation is that Juri saw another lesbian in Utena’s praise of her appearance.)

Mitsuru reflected in the wet student council stage surface.
Episode 18, Mitsuru

Mitsuru’s reflection shows his mood, and suggests that he’s going backwards, falling into deeper delusion. I think a comparison with the hourglass below is implied.

I take it that Mitsuru’s raincoat is supposed to be childish. Adults, and older children, carry umbrellas. In the next scene, even Chu-Chu carries a leaf as an umbrella.

Reflection of Wakaba and Saionji in Wakaba’s oval mirror, the carved leaf in her hair and tears on her cheek.
Episode 20, Wakaba and Saionji

Wakaba looks in her oval mirror at the carved leaf from Saionji in her hair, crying with happiness. The reflected orange color is the sunset: Orange for Wakaba’s perceived miracle and/or one-sided love, sunset because it is about to come to an end. See tears - Wakaba’s room for more.

Utena and Anthy’s room has a smaller oval mirror. Wakaba’s mirror reflects purple when not in use, the color of corruption. Wakaba hiding Saionji is a corrupt action; she even lies to Utena about it. Like Utena, Wakaba is usually honest and direct, but also like Utena she makes occasional exceptions.

Keiko reflected in her mirror.
Episode 21, Keiko in mirror
Keiko and Touga reflected on rainy pavement.
Episode 21, Keiko and Touga

Keiko with her mirror, thinking. Keiko offering Touga her umbrella has a reflection like Mitsuru’s above but feels quite different. The rain is for her sadness, and the inverted reflections indicate some kind of illusion. It might be the illusion that she cannot be close to Touga at all; Touga is perfectly happy to dally with her. But there’s little chance of a serious relationship, so it could be related to that.

Hourglass reflected in the table surface.
Episode 22, hourglass

The inverted hourglass suggests time running backwards. Compare turning left, where counterclockwise movement suggests a clock running backwards. It’s a symbol of illusions and going wrong in itself, and the inverted image is another symbol of illusions. Time in the Academy is confused in general, and around Mikage it is especially confused. Time itself is an illusion.

The hourglass itself represents Mikage’s time running out. The meaning was established in the recap episode 13.

Mikage and Tokiko reflected in a mirror.
Episode 22, mirror
Mikage sees Tokiko and her reflection.
Episode 23, greenhouse

Tokiko wears a flower-like emblem on her chest, on the right side: She is the mirror-image of a duelist—and here’s a mirror. Tokiko’s hair and Utena’s hair drape similarly around their faces. We see Tokiko and her image, but only the image of Mikage. The pink roses are for Mikage. The green tint is for Mamiya’s illness, which is Tokiko’s motivation for seeking eternity. They are standing in front of a fireplace, which ties to cremating the dead duelists—failing to achieve eternity.

In the next episode, Mikage looks at Utena in the greenhouse and sees Tokiko and her reflection. He conflates Tokiko, his motivation for seeking eternity, and Utena, his means for seeking eternity. I’m sure there’s more for me to find.

Nanami’s face appears in soap bubbles.
Episode 27, bubbles

A playful film reference, images in the soap bubbles. It may be a reference to a specific film, but if so I can’t identify it. I know I’ve seen soap bubble images like this in a movie or movies; I think it would be from the 1930s or 1940s. I have the feeling that it was a trope for a time, possibly until as late as the 1960s. The internet knows but did not tell me. If only I had a functioning memory!

Akio reflected on his shiny car as he lies down on it.
Episode 35, Akio on his car

Akio’s car is shiny. Akio is often reflected in its paint. I think this is the most prominent reflection: Akio is in the process of lying down on the car. He starts out with arms crossed and spreads himself out, a change of body position from closed to open. He’s manipulating Touga into giving a gift to Utena in Akio’s name, a task Touga accepts despite knowing better.

I think the reflection equates Akio with his car. He is the adulthood, power, sexuality that the car stands for.

Nanami reflected in the window of the tower bedroom.
Episode 32, Nanami
Nanami places her hand on her reflected heart.
Episode 32, hand on heart
Nanami closes her hand.
Episode 32, closed hand

Utena tried to cheer up Nanami, but Nanami saw Anthy with Akio and can’t stand either the sibling relationship or Utena’s blindness to it. Nanami turns to the window and places her hand over her reflection’s heart. Recalling Touga’s dismissal of her as a boring woman, she closes her hand in frustration, as if trying to grasp her own reflected heart.

See grasping a heart for a comparison with Utena trying to grasp Akio’s heart.

Utena is reflected in the window as she remembers the prince story.
Episode 37, dawn

The morning after seeing Anthy with Akio, having stayed up the rest of the night, Utena looks out the window at dawn. She’s reflected in the window as she remembers the prince story and decides to drop her ring. The eyes of Utena’s reflection are open wider than Utena’s eyes. (Reflections show the truth, people’s hearts distort the image.) Utena’s eyes are just edging over the top of the frame. The visibility of Utena’s eyes is a symbol throughout the episode.

It’s a comparison of Utena with Nanami, above. Nanami’s rejection by Touga is a lie that nevertheless reflects his attitude to her. Touga chose Akio over Nanami. Utena’s perceived rejection by Anthy is a lie that nevertheless reflects Anthy’s behavior in backstabbing Utena. Anthy chose Akio over Utena. Utena is also failing to grasp her own heart.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 12 January 2022
updated 12 September 2023