Revolutionary Girl Utena analysis

Utena and Anthy in the opening animation Utena and Anthy, hands parting at the end

少女革命ウテナ

I discovered a driving need to understand the classic 1997 anime Revolutionary Girl Utena, and these pages are the result, or as Lemony Snicket would say, the unfortunate result. Spoilers are a matter of course; this is an after-the-fact analysis. There is a lot to it. Call it Involutionary Series Utena.

It took me weeks to feel that I could grasp the main storyline with Utena, Anthy and Akio. Most of it is written up by now. The many contributing stories are important but don’t interest me as much. I expect to cover them at a lower level of detail. I’ve rewritten finished pages as I learned more, and will do it again when I discover how much I missed or misunderstood. Utena is designed to make you wrong the first time.

Click to expand small screenshots, like the ones here. Large images are already at their original size.

The big idea, my outline interpretation of the whole work. Finished enough to be useful.
Glossary of the few jargon terms I made up.
Topic index for certain topics that are scattered through other analysis.

Episode titles, many with analysis.
• Credit sequences - opening - first ending - second ending.
Character arcs - Aiko - Akio - Anthy - Chu-Chu - Juri - Kanae - Mrs. Ohtori - nerd boys - Saionji - shadow girls - Touga - Utena - Yuuko.
• Story arcs - Student Council - Black Rose (in progress) - Apocalypse.
The final showdown - the epilog (in progress).
Afterstories can be extrapolated for some characters.

The power of miracles.
The web of characters and paired character comparisons.
• Duels - symbols - combat - handedness - swords - songs - Touga-Saionji.
Shadow plays, analysis for every episode.
Utena, Anthy and Akio pose for a photograph.
My approach, a slight introduction. Skippable.
Flawless art, a few thoughts. Wonderfully skippable.
the Ohtori rose emblem

Foundational symbols and large collections.

• Names Ohtori - Utena and Anthy - Dios and Akio - others.
Character designs - costumes - epaulets - shoes.
The rose emblems representing Ohtori Academy.
Coffins and kofuns for the dead.
The myth of Ganymede outlines the story for us.
Meaningful images - sex symbols - other symbols are many and subtle - obscure symbols.
• Themes - dreams - insults - rescue - sacrifice - tropes.
Colors - animals - flowers and their meanings, when I can tell.
• Student Council backdrops and platforms. Other unstable locations.
• References to Lost Highway - Nadia - Onii-sama e - The Rose of Versailles - Sailor Moonart - fairy tales - myths - religion - others.
• Catalogs of blood - books - cakes - candles - car rides - cookies - crowds - down - feet - hands - halos - jewelry - kisses - meals - neckwear - phones - photos - red - reflections - spinning roses - tearssuns - moons - wind.
• Collections of comparisons - cool stuff - mysteries - Utena’s unfinished thoughts.
• Notes on characters - translation - other.

Utena and Anthy, the ups and downs of their relationship.

Overview of Anthy and Utena’s relationship.
In the Student Council arc they get to know each other.
During the Black Rose they become closer.
In the early part of the Apocalypse Saga they’re in love.

The earrings that Touga gives to Utena in episode 35.
Where were you last night? from episode 36.
Episode 37: After the Routine Date, Utena and Anthy talk.
Episode 37: Utena’s resolution after the stormy events.
Episode 37: Anthy rides in Akio’s car and what happened there.
Episode 37: The conversation about poisoning each other.
Episode 37: Anthy’s suicide attempt.
Anthy backstabs Utena, the event considered from every angle.
Wait for me... Utena when Anthy leaves the Academy.

Their speech patterns and social status decisions.
Scenes with Anthy and Utena that reveal their feelings.
Anthy’s glasses shine at times, reversing a trope.
The S-shaped bed in Akio’s tower.

shadows of Utena and Anthy lying down
Utena looks up at Akio

Utena and Akio, the downs and downs of their relationship.

An overview of their relationship across the series.
During the Black Rose arc, Akio grooms Utena.
First attraction from episode 25. Akio starts his corruption plan.
The three candles blown out in episode 30 are a symbolic key to the story structure.
The First Seduction in episode 33, with the nonsensical othello game.
Backlash against the First Seduction, episode 34.
Suppressing Utena’s memory in episodes 34 and 35.
The Second Seduction, her horse ride with Akio in episode 36.
Breaking Utena away from Anthy at the end of episode 36.
The Routine Date, episode 37.
The final showdown winds up their relationship.

Parallels between Akio and Utena’s three dates.
Akio plans to kill Utena when done with her.

Other important stuff.

Akio and Anthy, their complex relationship.
The prince story, its versions and their consistent unreliability.
Celestial bodies projected in the window behind Utena and Anthy’s bed.
Akio’s plot to take Ohtori. We can guess much of what we do not see.
Doing away with Kanae. Anthy feeds her a poisoned apple.
Sparkling transfers, a multi-way comparison and part of a complex of symbols.

Little things that don’t much matter, or that I haven’t worked out thoroughly.

A cinematography gag in episode 31.
Breaking the Kaoru family, because what could be more fun?
Nanami and Touga issues.
Saionji and his violent abusive behavior.

Chess queen in the greenhouse, an unexpected and probably unintended symbol.
Utena as Musashi, another unintended reference.
Mysterious light in the music room in episode 5 is just a visual quirk.
Shoulders and epaulets, an idea that turned out to be false.

Reality Star Adultery, a parody of “Virtual Star Embryology”.
• Loosely connected poems - Emily Dickinson - Heinrich Heine - Percy Shelley.
Suzumiya Haruhi sings “God Knows”.

My favorite character.

Last but most of all, jokes.
Terrible early AI-generated pictures, plus a couple that are less bad.
Funny pictures that caught my eye.
Who knows what evil?
Who should watch Utena? A simple test.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
First posted 14 November 2021. Since then I have written more every day without fail.
14 June Utena’s arc - mutual attraction makes Utena girlish - only one section of Utena’s writeup
12 June Hercules - Utena is Hercules
11 June Pasiphaë and the Cretan Bull - I figured it out, it’s a key myth
9 June Saionji’s arc
4 June Mitsuru’s film kisses in episode 18 are added to the catalog of kisses
30 May Juri’s arc
26 May the big idea - the overall plot structure section added
23 May car ride catalog started
17 May epaulets - more insight
11 May Black Rose story arc started
4 May Student Council platforms - drooping end - I figured out Utena’s major defeat in episode 17
25 April Touga’s arc
20 April at night with Touga in episode 36 is revised again
17 April Utena’s fate reinterpreted in light of Castor and Pollux
6 April myths has additions and changes over the last several days, and I’m not done with it