Utena - episode 37: Utena’s resolution

After the Routine Date. <- PreviousNext -> Anthy in Akio’s car.

Later in the day, after the Routine Date and before Anthy rides in Akio’s car, Utena resolves her feelings and comes to a decision.

I take it as parallel to Utena recovering her “self” in episode 12. Not only has she regained her emotional equilibrium and ordered her thoughts, her native honesty is also restored (at least in large part) after its damage when she was corrupted. At the start of the series, she was carefree and indecisive. Now she has become more like her younger self in the prince story, concerned and resolute, and her resolution has the backing of greater maturity.

the basketball game

Utena plays a basketball game, wiping the floor with the boys’ team as always. See basketball games. The images emphasize her determination and focus: She has resolved her feelings and reached a decision. In snippets of flashback, we see an earlier scene that provided her motivation:

tearing up the letter

Utena tears up the letter from End of the World.

Anthy in her Rose Bride voice tells Utena, “it seems my brother loves you too.” Utena looks up from the letter from End of the World, which she has been pondering. Both her eyes are visible, with heavy iris outlines. Anthy adds that she wishes they could continue in the same relationship. Utena furiously tears up the letter, sending scraps flying. Her eyes are not visible. The next moment, the basketball goes through the hoop.

Utena’s open eyes seem to mean that she is considering the letter with an open mind. The heavy iris outlines mean that she is failing to see all that is in it, or perhaps that she fails to understand Anthy. Akio no doubt ordered Anthy to say these things. I’m not sure whether Utena sees through Anthy’s Rose Bride performance, but either way she must see Anthy’s behavior as inconsistent. Utena does not know that Akio can order Anthy around. Does Anthy want to betray Utena with Akio, or to set Utena up with Akio? To try to have it both ways must be deceptive, and Utena becomes furious with Anthy and tears up the letter, the letter that promises her the power to revolutionize the world (which she has never wanted) and says that she’ll meet her prince in the castle (which she may have wanted and now denies). Utena’s eyes suddenly go out of view; she is no longer looking around with an open mind. She has firmly decided to stay out of the dueling arena, to (as she believes) stay with Akio and Anthy and leave things as they are; she chooses Akio over her prince. She doesn’t see everything: She made her decision without all the knowledge she needs.

The shadow play is about deciding to become an actress—to lead a life of playing false roles. And it comments on Utena and Anthy’s love. And it’s about relationship drama. And it’s about cheating. And it brings in the upcoming final showdown. It’s almost as dense as the rest of the episode!

answering Juri

As they hit a badminton shuttlecock around, Juri asks Utena what she’ll do about Anthy. Juri knows Utena loves Anthy. Utena agrees with her, and starts to answer the question, but does not finish. She says a little sadly “But I’m already...” and doesn’t complete the sentence. Her voice says that she is trying to answer honestly. As usual, the gap in her speech represents a gap in her thoughts. After the Routine Date, even though Utena ignored Akio’s proposal and does not want to marry him (she believes she can take the red shoes off), she wants to continue the relationship. But in going along with Akio, Utena has forgotten her love of Anthy, in the same way that she has forgotten her vow to Anthy in the prince story. Utena’s incomplete answer to Juri says that Utena is starting to notice the inconsistency. Utena has at least one eye open; she is again looking around.

What does badminton mean here? It’s speculative, but there may be a reference to the traditional New Year’s game of hanetsuki. A New Year’s game, played in a non-traditional way with non-traditional equipment, is appropriate for entering a new era when the world is revolutionized. Miki missing the shuttlecock (I think because Utena hit it too far) foretells trouble. And I think it’s significant that they’re just playing around, not entering a serious game like, say, the dueling game.

At the end of the scene, Utena idly hits the shuttlecock far into the sky. It does not come down; it’s the extreme case of the ball going farther than she expected, as it often does. It’s strange that she’s unaware of her own power of miracles. Does her upward look at the end mean that she is noticing it? I think it means no more than that she is alone and, in the end, has only herself to rely on. And, with her power of miracles, that she is enough.

Hitting the shuttlecock out of sight is prefigured in episode 16, Nanami’s cowbell. Nanami feels great with her new cowbell and throws a tennis ball high toward the sun, before serving it past her opponent.
Jumping in the dueling arena is another sign of Utena’s strengthening power of miracles. In early duels, she dodges to the side when necessary. Episode 14 is the first time she dodges with a backward jump. In episode 21, she dodges Keiko with a leap into the sky that puts Olympic pole vaulters to shame. In episode 23, her jump lasts seconds and is represented from her point of view by the world spinning around her as Anthy calls out.

Utena’s death flag

Profile view of Utena. Her cheek hair is divided into three.

When Utena’s cheek hair is divided into three parts, it means that she is being Oscar from The Rose of Versailles and implies that, like Oscar, she has caught a fatal illness. For Utena, it’s the Akio disease; Akio intends to kill her.

This death flag comes up a few times in episode 37, especially around Utena’s resolution. See the picture of Utena tearing up the letter above—it was a mistake, and if Utena keeps thinking that way she will die. The flag is set again in the picture on the right. Utena is talking with Juri and Miki with badminton racket in hand, and has just said that she was only playing at being a prince. The flag is easy to interpret here, and means the same as in tearing up the letter: To survive, Utena must be Anthy’s prince. Never mind that princes are bad. Anthy can be saved only by her belief in a prince.

The word translated as “play” is gokko, which means children’s pretend play, like playing cops and robbers. The English translation is weaker.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 25 December 2021
updated 12 August 2023