Utena - episode 37: the poisoning conversation

Anthy in Akio’s car. <- PreviousNext -> The suicide attempt.

In the next scene after Anthy’s car ride, we’re treated to the mysterious poisoning conversation. On my first time through, I recognized it as important but I could not make head or tail of it. What were they really talking about? After repeated passes, I think I’ve pieced together enough to mostly understand.

summary

As I understand the scene, it is similar to the conversation after the Routine Date, showing sincere closeness mixed with pretending to be friends when they have started to feel like enemies. The closeness shows as honest communication. The pretense shows as lies.

Anthy sincerely (but too indirectly) warns Utena to flee the Academy; her warning means “or else I will kill you.” It is true, though it is not Anthy’s decision. Utena takes it to be a declaration of rivalry to gain Akio (see Routine Date - asking him out for why she concluded that), and sincerely answers that she has taken up the challenge. Though Anthy is insightful and Utena has become more thoughtful, neither understands the other.

Utena makes a promise that they will be together in ten years. Though it seems to be a spontaneous decision that she has not thought out, I think she intends it. Anthy expects Utena to be fled or dead long before then, and cannot believe it, but insincerely agrees to the promise.

The two still love each other, and though confused about each other and misdirected by Akio’s illusions, they are trying to preserve what they can of their relationship.

Anthy with tea. Utena with a cookie.

events and discussion

After the car ride, on the same night, Anthy and Utena are having tea and cookies before bed. Anthy has recovered her composure, and hides her feelings behind her usual mask of calm propriety. Utena speaks with small awkward hesitations. She trips over a hidden obstacle: She asks Anthy about her plans for the future, after graduation. Anthy sees no future, but blandly goes along with it. Behind them both are stars with purple clouds for corruption.

I think the two bright stars behind Anthy are Utena (more distant) and Akio (closer), the two people she cares about.

The context of the conversation: It is directly between the anguished car ride and the fake suicide attempt (which I expect Akio has already ordered). Anthy is not calm, she is a desperado in an inescapable standoff frantically seeking an outcome where her partner lives.

Anthy brings up the Borgia family, equating herself with Lucrezia Borgia, famous (rightly or wrongly) for intrigues and poisoning to advance her family. Anthy is a great intriguer, and she has used poison and likely uses poison regularly to advance Akio’s plots—to advance her family. Anthy is hinting to Utena about her true nature.

Anthy can’t speak directly. It would be outside her Rose Bride role, her only security in the world. Possibly it would cause Akio to barge in and take matters in hand, as he did in episode 35 (Utena is trying to remember). She indirectly suggests that she has poisoned Utena’s cookies, which she claims to have baked herself (we’ve seen her cooking skills). I think it is an honest warning: If you get in the way of family interests, I will kill you like Lucrezia Borgia. It means “Run away, save yourself.”

Anthy was first associated with poison in episode 6, when she pretended to be unwilling to poison bugs attacking her roses. I doubt that Utena could draw the connection. Anthy used poison seriously in episode 32, doing away with Kanae. Utena never learned about it. Anthy’s connection to poison is not available to Utena until now. She does not have the context to make sense of it.
Anthy has two reasons to want Utena to flee the Academy. She loves Utena and disbelieves in her determination and ability to succeed as a prince. She wants Utena to be safe, even if they never meet again. At least as important and likely more is that Anthy loves Akio and believes in him. Utena betrayed Anthy with Akio, and Anthy feels it strongly. In the final showdown, when Utena unexpectedly becomes a serious threat to Akio, Anthy reacts violently. Despite her insight, Anthy does not understand that Utena cannot flee. Utena retains enough of her princely ideals, and cares enough about Anthy, to make it impossible.

Utena does not speak to Anthy in the tone she would use with a close friend. The two are playing the role of being friends. Anthy believes that Utena will either flee the Academy or die; Anthy will not see her afterward. Utena believes that Anthy has betrayed her and become a rival for Akio. They still love each other, but Akio has shown them illusions and neither believes in the other.

Rapunzel. The visibility of Utena’s eyes is a metaphor that runs through the episode. It is a reference to the fairy tale of Rapunzel. Here, her partially visible eyes should mean that she partially understands what’s happening; she doesn’t see the whole situation. She does not know that Anthy is under Akio’s control. Utena acts startled. She thinks before answering seriously that she poisoned Anthy’s tea too. Both suggest they’re OK with that. In this episode, Utena is coping with what she sees as Anthy’s betrayal. She may have heard Anthy say “I’ll take Akio away from you,” and Utena answers in the same vein, declaring the perceived rivalry. In any case, Utena must hear an admission from Anthy of causing hurt, and she returns her own admission. Utena is forgiving and still cares about Anthy, but does not see them remaining close in the future; she calls for them to meet again in ten years and laugh about it. It is a change: In episode 35, when walking with Akio, Utena expected to stay with Anthy indefinitely (though I doubt she thought ahead at all).

Utena’s progress. It’s not successful communication, but it shows progress for Utena. She is making an attempt to understand Anthy, no longer jumping to naive conclusions but thinking before drawing the wrong conclusion. No surprise, Anthy is tough to understand. When Akio says in the final showdown that Utena never tried to understand Anthy, he’s mistaken or lying; Utena has started to try.
Utena and Anthy’s hands together.
after the Routine Date talk
The joined hands of Anthy and Utena.
after the poisoning talk

Separation. Next is a symbolic panning shot of the same room with Anthy and Utena absent, though the conversation continues. Only the pink roses representing Anthy’s love of Utena remain. It foreshadows their separation from each other—or I can imagine it is a view of the future and depicts their separation. I think it primarily says that they are not really meeting at the moment; they have gone astray and the conversation (or its result) is empty; they might as well not be there. This despite joining hands at the end and promising to be together in ten years.

After the promise, Anthy’s fingers tighten on Utena’s. It refers back to Utena’s fingers tightening on Anthy’s at the end of their conversation after the Routine Date, which showed Utena playing the role of Anthy’s friend. Here Anthy is playing the role of Utena’s friend. As always, the interlaced fingers mean separation rather than closeness. The joined hands are followed by a shocking cut to Anthy’s suicide attempt.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 22 November 2021
updated 30 December 2023