Utena - episode 37: Anthy’s suicide attempt

The poisoning conversation. <- PreviousNext -> Anthy’s backstab.

The suicide attempt is in episode 37. The rescue and conversation afterward are in episode 38, inserted as a flashback.

The suicide attempt is super-indirect. It is about Akio convincing Utena to wear his ring so that he can marry her. The scene is deceptive. Anthy is under pressure and unhappy, and it’s easy to imagine that she might want to die. But she is not the type to break; she adapts to pressure. Suicide would be out of character.

It’s not obvious! Anthy is a subtle character and it took me a long time to peel back her surface layers and see inside.
Anthy on the ledge, the streets below streaked with red flows. Utena holds Anthy by the wrist as Anthy tilts over the edge.

After the poisoning conversation the camera shockingly cuts to Anthy’s suicide attempt. As Anthy stands at the edge, the nightmare streets below seem to run with blood.

The poisoning conversation was shortly before bedtime. Time has passed, we don’t know how late the night is. Anthy and Utena are in night clothes. They’re not at the tower. We’ve seen the building before, or a similar one, for example in episode 12 with Utena and Wakaba. Anthy seems to have run away to kill herself away from home, and Utena followed her.

Anthy’s passivity stands out. She’s taking unprecedented drastic action, and still she is trapped in her timid and conventional Rose Bride role. She comes out with conventional, empty suicide phrases like “It’s no use.” She does not leap over the edge, but allows herself to overbalance outward and fall. She apologizes to Utena.

Strong Utena grabs Anthy by the wrist and pulls her up by main force, Anthy with one foot on the building and the other dangling.

Big Dipper. In the second image, the stars behind Anthy resemble the handle of the Big Dipper, which comes up repeatedly in episode 37. This event is the handle that leads Utena to the pointer stars—obscured in this image because she has not found her way there yet—and then to true north, the truth behind the illusions and the way out of the Academy. Though note: In other images from the same point of view, more stars are visible and the resemblance is lost.

the suicide is fake

Anthy is immortal. It seems that her real body is in her coffin (“finally we meet” in episode 39), and the Anthy we’ve seen until now is an illusion. This is a false suicide attempt.

Anthy is jumping toward the left, in the direction of illusions. The suicide is a lie.

If Anthy wanted to be sure of success, she could have jumped before Utena came close. Instead she tilted slowly over the edge. After Utena grabbed her wrist, if Anthy wanted to fall, she could have suddenly pulled her feet away, and Utena would have been unable to keep hold (well, barring a miracle). If Anthy wanted to be rescued, she could have bent her knee slowly to shorten the lever arm, and Utena could easily pull her up. Anthy let one foot slip off, acting as if she did not care either way and leaving it to Utena. They’re the actions of someone who wants to look like a suicide, not to be one.

Anthy’s conventional, empty phrases are the words of someone who wants to sound like a suicide, not be one.

I see the false suicide attempt as parallel to little Utena hiding in the coffin in the prince story. Utena had decided never to leave the coffin, that is, to die there. It was equally false. After Touga and Saionji leave, little Utena’s clothing in the coffin turns white; I think it means she hopes for rescue by a prince (though it could be foreshadowing that she becomes a prince). In the episode 34 full version of the prince story, she leaves the coffin to follow a good-looking prince who’s wordlessly walking away.

Nightmare streets. The streets below look frightening. Even though the suicide is fake, the view should represent Anthy’s true feelings: She lives in a nightmare. Not only that, but the nightmare extends to the outside world. All girls are like the Rose Bride. All girls live in a nightmare.

motives

If the false suicide attempt is entirely Anthy’s idea, then Akio is asleep and doesn’t know what’s up, or else he would appear out of nowhere as he does at critical moments. The only motive I can find for Anthy is, to convince Utena to flee the Academy. She does try to, but her trying is not evidence that the suicide was on Anthy’s initiative. I don’t find any evidence that it was.

Akio ordered the false suicide attempt. The evidence is that the suicide attempt lets him achieve a condition necessary for his plot, and his earlier attempt to achieve the condition failed. He needs Utena to wear the ring to the dueling arena in the final showdown, so that he can steal her power. The ring is a key to the dueling arena where Utena trains up her princely power, and it is an engagement ring that allows Akio to steal her power in the same way that he steals Ohtori Academy from the Ohtori family—by fraud and murder.

Utena’s ring signifies a contract with Akio. As far back as episode 11, Anthy interrupts when Utena is about to remove the ring. Akio pays close attention to the ring and Utena’s feelings about it. In episode 34, when checking on Utena’s feelings, he possessively rubs his thumb over it and checks out Utena’s reason for wearing the ring. At the start of episode 37, he immediately notices that she has removed the ring. Later in the episode, he asks sharply why she removed the ring, and when she answers vaguely, he offers a “more suitable ring”. It’s a marriage proposal, testing whether Utena will wear a ring for girlish reasons—because she wants to marry the prince. She ignores the proposal, so he tries the opposite tack: He arranges for Anthy to need rescuing so that Utena will wear the ring for boyish reasons—because she wants to be the prince. But it’s still an engagement ring. When Utena arrives at the dueling arena wearing the ring, he plans to marry her, and thereby control her as a husband controls his wife.

Akio would prefer for Utena to wear the ring for girlish reasons, because then she would not fight back. But as events show, he was prepared to cope with her boyish power too. The key point is that she had to wear the ring.

I imagine that Akio gave Anthy fairly specific orders. This is a special situation, not one where he can trust Anthy to know what he wants and make the right decisions to get it. And in fact, from his point of view, she takes some incorrect actions.

the events we don’t see

When did Akio issue his orders to Anthy? Before the poisoning conversation, or after? The sequence of events makes me think it was before, during Anthy’s ride in Akio’s car. Ordering Anthy to carry out this deception may in itself alert her that Akio’s plot is nearly over and that Utena’s days are numbered.

Anthy has to make sure that Utena can stop her. She must have made sure that Utena caught her “sneaking” away and followed.

Immediately before this in story order is the poisoning conversation when Utena was not wearing the ring. In the suicide sequence and rescue, we don’t get a view of her hand. During the conversation, we see Utena’s ring on her finger. If the ring is literally on her finger, then Utena had already made her decision and the whole suicide caper seems unnecessary. But Utena is often non-literal. Possibly the ring is figuratively on her finger, indicating that she has made her decision by then. Well, the ring is an illusion. It can appear or disappear based on Utena’s state of mind, in the same way that her hair and fingernails change length.

the conversation

Anthy and Utena in misery, crying together.

We don’t see their conversation until episode 38. It’s a flashback from the final showdown.

Anthy apologizes to Utena. She says she didn’t think it would hurt “in her heart” because she is a heartless doll. Anthy is psychologically dependent on Akio and believes his propaganda about her. I think the hurt she means is the hurt of betraying Utena; that is why she apologizes. Anthy is shocked into honesty by her own caring. It’s a key event that makes it possible for Utena to fight back in the final showdown.

Anthy’s cold vengeance does come across as heartless. She enjoys harassing Nanami and at the minimum has no qualms about murdering Kanae (I think she was delighted to). Even her physical closeness with Utena sometimes seems more exploitative than caring.
Akio does not believe that Anthy is a heartless doll. In the recap episode 13, looking back on events, he mentions that the heart of the Rose Bride was moved. But Anthy does believe it, and it must mean that Akio gaslighted her into it. Akio often passes along his false patriarchal worldview by speaking what he believes is the truth, but I think that’s mainly because it’s easy for him. He lies freely.
Anthy finding that she unexpectedly hurts is the first visible crack in her controlled worldview. Her worldview has to break down before she can leave the Academy to seek Utena. This may be when it starts.

Anthy admits her pain as the Rose Bride. I’m sure she could say it only because she was away from Akio’s tower and in distress. Both claim fault, and both are right... although Anthy has harmed Utena more than vice versa, and although Utena takes all blame on herself. Both are in misery, the nightmare city behind them. They are depicted behind bars that are part of the building. The bars seem to imprison them with the nightmare, but equally they keep the Academy out. For the moment, the two are cut off from Akio. The bars come with a lot of possible interpretations, that’s the one that pops out for me. Anthy tries to convince Utena to run away and save herself, but of course Utena can do no such thing. Her corrupted but unbroken idealism does not allow it.

Anthy is normally blamed for bad events. Utena taking blame on herself must have made an impression. Utena follows the anime trope: Villains blame others, heroes blame themselves. Utena should fall into the trope, since she is playing a fictional prince role.

Anthy loses hope for Utena; she will die. Presumably her hopelessness is why she does not pass on other information Utena will need. She admits deceiving Utena, but does not mention that the suicide attempt is itself a deception. Utena as prince is incapable of losing hope. The suicide attempt opens her eyes and makes it possible for her to thwart Akio—see Rapunzel. Akio had separated Utena from Anthy so that Utena would fall in with his plans, and yet Anthy, the one person who is almost fully under Akio’s control, out of love and desperation did the unexpected and opened her heart to Utena, and that will be Akio’s undoing.

Before this conversation, Anthy and Utena each believed that the other had turned away from her. Now Utena’s faith in Anthy is renewed. Does Anthy regain faith in Utena? This conversation does not answer the question. Before she fell in love with Utena, Anthy’s greatest trust was for Akio. He hurts and controls her, but she loves him, and he is her only source of security and stability. Having fallen in love with Akio, she still does not think of escaping Akio or leaving the Rose Bride role; I take it that the idea is unthinkable and does not enter her head. She seeks happiness with Utena and security with Akio. Anthy’s backstab of Utena answers the question. She may regain some trust in Utena, but she retains more faith in Akio than in Utena.

Utena is impulsive and needs to have her faith renewed. Anthy is opposite, as in many other qualities. She is slow to change her mind.

cross-purposes

Utena wants to save Anthy, and believes she is doing it. But she’s not. Anthy (under orders) is playing a trick on her. Anthy does not need to be saved from death, and does not want to be saved from Akio—she does not believe she can be saved from Akio, so Utena should not risk herself. Meanwhile, Anthy knows that Akio plans for Utena to die, and she symmetrically wants to save Utena from death. She tells Utena to flee the Academy. She does not tell Utena that Utena is slated to die, and it would not matter if she did, because Utena wants to be a prince who wins against all odds. Facing death to save Anthy is her goal.

The two do not understand each other, and they are working at cross-purposes. And yet, ironically and by a miracle, the suicide conversation makes it possible for them to work together so they both escape the Academy.

symbolism

The patriarchy is self-destructive. In the long run, its system of control works against it. In this scene, Akio—the personification of the patriarchy—orders Anthy—an adherent of the patriarchy—to pretend self-destruction. He thinks it’s a sham to delude Utena, but in a deeper sense it is true self-destruction. Because of the suicide attempt, Akio’s slave Anthy is destroyed and reborn as a free woman. It is a step toward Akio’s entire system being destroyed, and Akio ordered it himself.

Akio intervened in Utena’s life. He ordered Anthy to stick close to Utena. And see cross-purposes immediately above: It is one example of neither Anthy nor Utena understanding the situation, or working toward the outcome that occurs. They win through together by a miracle, and miracles are stories invented by the patriarchy to sustain itself. The whole story, and all of its parts, are about Akio defeating himself.

other points

We’re not told what would happen if Anthy fell. When in the dueling forest and the arena, she can teleport, because she is only an image (her body is in her coffin behind the Rose Gate). Presumably she can do the same elsewhere in the Academy (there are hints of it, as when she watches Akio kiss Utena in episode 30). Did Akio have a plan in case Utena fails to rescue Anthy? What if Utena doesn’t want to rescue Anthy? Akio does not have magic insight into Utena’s mind; he has to keep inquiring into her thoughts. Would he give up on Utena, she’s not exploitable? Or would he try again?

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 7 December 2021
updated 11 April 2024