Utena - afterstories

The final showdown. <- Previous

Akio’s fate
Utena’s fate
Anthy and Utena afterstory
Wakaba afterstory
Wakaba’s best friend
the good make progress - other characters

Akio’s fate

Akio achieves cooperation by control. Occasionally he murders or physically attacks people (through Anthy, so that it’s “not his doing”). Usually, he deludes people into doing his will. Utena cooperates with Akio’s plot to control her through marriage almost to its end. It seemed like a good idea to her at the time, because Akio made it easy for her to see it that way. Anthy cooperates with Akio’s control over her because she believes in it and sees no alternative.

Anthy and Utena achieve cooperation by helping each other. Even after Akio has deluded them into distrusting each other, they still help each other. Finally they help each other escape the Academy, which means seeing through Akio’s illusion of control.

Anthy is the only person who understands Akio and cooperates with mutual trust and acceptance. Touga does not understand Akio well, and tries to compete with him. And Anthy is highly skilled at the jobs Akio gives her. Akio will be substantially weaker without his trusted helper. But he will continue his quest for the power of miracles—we see him setting up for the next plot.

Specialness lasts only a short time. Anthy and Utena both have specialness conferred by Akio, so when they leave the Academy, they lose it and become ordinary. No more sports superskills for Utena. It’s likely to trouble her at first. Or maybe not; after her severe injury she’ll need a long recovery, and she might attribute it to that.

The further implication: Akio will lose his specialness. He seeks control over society, and in Utena’s view he will lose it piece by piece. Utena took a bite from his power, and Wakaba will take another bite. Those who come after will continue until Akio’s power is eaten up. It may take a long time from our point of view. From Akio’s point of view, it will happen after a short time.

Utena’s fate

The Swords of Hatred are about to reach Utena, who lies unmoving.

Our last view of Utena has her lying on the end of the broken-off walkway to Anthy’s coffin after Anthy has fallen away. She was only playing at being a prince, she thinks. She has stopped moving. The Swords of Hatred gather into a stinger and are about to reach her. The camera cuts away, and we see the Swords of Hatred destroying the dueling arena.

Utena has disappeared. She immediately starts to be forgotten.

The final showdown is at night. There is no evidence, but I think the correct time for Utena to disappear is midnight, when Cinderella’s gifts disappear. This version of Cinderella casts Akio as the fairy godmother, who gives Utena the gift of the power of miracles.
Utena’s disappearance is prefigured in episode 2 when Saionji tells Utena that those who do not follow the Student Council’s rules disappear from the Academy. By rejecting illusions, Utena is not following the most important rule. Wearing a nonstandard uniform was her first step.

That is the point when Utena gives up her last drop of belief in the ideal of princes, and she becomes adult and graduates from the Academy and disappears from its world. The Swords of Hatred are frustrated in their target and turn to destroying everything else in sight instead. Utena’s power of miracles was active to the end and led her down the narrow path that keeps her alive—though we don’t know exactly how (see below). This is the ending if you have faith in the power of miracles. Anthy has strong reasons to want Utena to be alive. Besides love and admiration, Utena is her other half.

When Tokiko leaves the Academy, her hair turns brown for ordinariness. Is Utena’s hair brown after she disappears? I’m thinking not. Tokiko is ordinary because she is just like every woman caught in the web of the system of control. It’s the same for ordinary Wakaba. And that web is what Utena has just escaped. She is no longer special in the same way, but she is not ordinary. She is a victorious hero and an inspiration to Anthy and Wakaba.

Alternately, the Swords of Hatred are cheated of their target another way: Utena dies. When she stops moving, she is likely unconscious and may be dead. Her power of miracles is used up—or her life is used up—as suggested by Akio finishing his pink drink. Or Anthy is correct that Utena leaves the Academy, but afterward Utena dies of her mortal injuries. Utena wants us to believe that she lives, but it doesn’t provide evidence. The photo at the end of the series is a hint only, it demonstrates nothing. Utena has risked her life over and over. To risk and never lose is no genuine sacrifice. It is poetically correct if, taking her greatest risk to achieve her greatest and most selfless miracle, she does not survive.

Opposed parallels. The ambiguity is certainly deliberate. Each ending is beautiful and compelling in its way, therefore it is right to have both. It ties into Utena’s multiple symbols for victory as leaving the Academy. In the Christian parallel, Utena dies like Jesus and is resurrected in heaven (represented by the world outside the evil Academy), which is good. Her disappearance corresponds to Jesus disappearing from his tomb after his death on the cross; she leaves her coffin. In the Buddhist parallel, Utena dies for a final time like the Buddha and ceases to exist, escaping the cycle of samsara, which is good.

We see no evidence that Utena is alive, and Anthy offers none. It is a matter of faith with Anthy that Utena is in the real world, just as it is a matter of faith among Christians that Jesus was resurrected, and a matter of faith among Buddhists that the Buddha escaped samsara and does not exist. Utena pushes us toward Anthy’s view but refuses to offer evidence for it.

In the story, Anthy is an abuse victim and, to escape, needs faith that escape is possible. It’s realistic in an abstract way for a certain class of abuse victims. In the allegory, Anthy stands for all women who accept the patriarchal cultural values of the system of control. They can change their minds, but it is not easy. They need to see a better alternative and have faith that it is achievable.

Foreshadowing in episode 2. In the duel of episode 2, Saionji makes a speech about the goal of the duels: In protecting her target rose from Saionji’s strike, Utena cared more about the rose than about her life, and winning or losing are what count, not living or dying. To Saionji, it’s a Japanese warrior ethos, and to Utena it is the value system of a prince. The rose means Anthy. In the final showdown, she loses the duel but protects Anthy to win, and does not worry whether she will live or die.

Use of evidence. Utena wants us to believe that Utena lives: It gives us faint hints, like the “shine together” saying and the photo at the end, and the promise to meet in ten years made at a deep low in their relationship. There are points in Utena where I can draw conclusions about what happens from faint hints, and answer questions like “how did Utena go from the couch to bed with nothing in between?” and “why does Anthy teeter off a building?” In those cases, whatever course of events explains the most evidence is what I conclude happened. But Utena’s hints that Utena and Anthy meet again say nothing about whether Utena lives. It is Anthy’s faith in Utena that makes her leave the Academy. The hints are evidence that Anthy has faith in Utena surviving. Utena living and Utena dying explain the evidence equally well.

I know of three pieces of evidence that support Utena’s survival, though none is conclusive. 1. The rumor that Utena was hospitalized. All the rumors seem to have a kernel of truth, so it may be true. I think that if Utena is hospitalized, her survival chances are good. But it’s also the case that all the rumors are questionable. 2. In episode 26, Kozue falls after rescuing nestling birds and needs saving herself. Miki and Utena catch her, and she survives. It is part of Kozue’s parallel with Utena. 3. Dios promises to treat Utena’s injuries “afterward”. He is associated with truth and should not be lying, but there is no evidence that he follows through. The treatment is presumably arranged through the Power of Dios, which is the same as Utena’s power of miracles. Dios’s promise is the strongest evidence, and yet not everything he says is true. He says that Utena will be unable to open the Rose Gate because she is a girl.
I know of three pieces of evidence that Utena dies, also inconclusive. 1. In the story of Nanami and the kitten, the kitten is parallel to Utena. The kitten is thrown into the water and appears to have no chance to survive. 2. Utena corresponds to Castor in the myth of Castor and Pollux. Castor is mortal and dies, while Pollux (corresponding to Anthy) is immortal. But then, in the myth, Pollux gives up half his immortality so he can be with Castor. That corresponds to Anthy finding Utena; Anthy gives up her immortality. 3. In episode 35’s story about the red poppies (referred to but not told onscreen), both characters die by suicide in hopeless situations. The story predicts Anthy’s suicide attempt (where Anthy pretends to be in a hopeless situation) and Utena’s heroic willingness to sacrifice her own life in the final showdown. Utena actually is in a hopeless situation, so the story can be taken as implying that she does die. She lost her will to go on.

You can draw whichever conclusion you like. Or if you tolerate ambiguity as I do, then you can tolerate this ambiguity.

The final message “someday, we’ll shine together” refers to the shining thing. In the past, the shining thing has been an illusion: Miki believed he had found his Shining Thing in Anthy in episode 5, and it comes up again in episode 36. Both are explained at Utena’s memory - idealized Utena. Is the final message true, or another illusion? Graduating from the Academy implies seeing through the Academy’s illusions, but nobody can see through all illusions. On the other hand, they will shine together, a reference to teamwork. It’s not the same shining thing as the past illusory one, which was like a treasure that you find and keep safe. Shining together is the treasure of each other that both work toward.

How can Utena be alive? She is mortally wounded and needs help. She has no physical way to save herself—the heroic rescuing prince needs rescue. In our last glimpse of her, she is not moving. If she lives, then what happens that keeps her alive? There are possibilities.

First and most simply, Utena’s power of miracles is operating. We know because she stood up and walked when she should have been down and bleeding out. As the Swords of Hatred converge on her, she “graduates” from the Academy and enters the outside world. Maybe she is found and treated in a hospital. It’s the most straightforward explanation and it seems likely to me. The power of miracles is at work; for all we know, it might send her straight to the emergency room. If Dios follows through on his promise to treat her injuries, then this is how he does it. It suggests that the power of miracles may continue to operate just a little longer than Utena’s belief in the prince.

Then there is the idea of Anthy’s immortality. Anthy became immortal because she is the symbol of something immortal, the oppressed ones, the victims of the immortal system of control. Now the Swords of Hatred have been re-targeted to Utena. Anthy is freed from the Swords because Utena took them on. We could conclude that Anthy is no longer the victim, no longer singled out for oppression and no longer immortal, and Utena has taken on Anthy’s victim role and her immortality. In that case, Anthy’s search for Utena in the ending credits is not only a search for reunion, it completes the role reversal: It is a rescue mission.

Anthy and Utena afterstory

Utena breaks and reverses its fairy tale parallels toward the end of the story. It does not end with the happy-ending formula medetashi medetashi, or as we say in English “And they lived happily ever after.”

Suppose Utena survives and Anthy finds her. As complementary people, they should make a strong team: Anthy has insight and people skills, Utena has energy and optimism to accomplish things. Utena is pregnant when she disappears, but a strong team can cope, right?

Orphan Utena. When Utena enters the real world, she might become a biological adult as well as a metaphorical adult, when the stasis of the Academy no longer acts on her. But let’s suppose that Utena keeps her biological age of 14 when she becomes an “adult” in the outside world. She is an orphan. If she has a relative willing to take her in, then that is what will happen. That would be best. Otherwise she will most likely be placed in an orphanage. In Japan, relatively few children are placed in foster families, and it’s rare for another family to adopt a child. Japanese orphanages have a poor reputation, and a young teenager with a baby will be a difficult case. Utena is likely to have a rough time of it. Anthy is capable and might be able to help get her out.
Anthy leaving. The time between Utena disappearing and Anthy leaving is “a few months,” according to the chatter of rumors between students trying to remember Utena. It seems psychologically realistic to me. Utena challenged the fundamentals of Anthy’s worldview, and Anthy will need time to come to terms with it. In fact, I would say that it is only because she is insightful that she can reorient herself so quickly. Like many abuse victims, she did not know that she was being abused until Utena helped her see it—abusers like Akio convey a “this is how it is” attitude. To recast your worldview and reinterpret everything you thought you knew is emotionally and intellectually difficult, and it can’t be done in a hurry (absent a miracle). And having done it, to leave your past behind for an uncertain future takes courage, no matter how much badness you’ve come to see in that past.
Ten years. The two promise to meet in ten years in the poisoning conversation. The ten-year period comes up again in episode 39, where a character in the epilog mentions the ten-year reunion get-together. Is that really how long it will be? My feeling is that Anthy has the skills to find Utena quickly. But there is a wildcard: Time passes differently at the Academy. The small number of months before Anthy leaves may be years in the outside world—possibly ten years. Maybe Anthy finds her quickly on her timeline, but ten years have passed for Utena. That might be good for them as a couple. Utena’s level of experience and maturity would be closer to Anthy’s.

I think they have work to do before they can “shine together”. In episode 25, Utena lays out its ideal of teamwork and helping each other. The two do successfully help each other sometimes, especially at the end where they help each other leave the Academy. But that is a miracle! Their communication is consistently weak, even in the suicide conversation. They come under massive pressure from Akio that causes them to mistrust each other: They aren’t allowed opportunities to help each other. Before they can be a strong team, they have to learn how, and they have barely started to.

This is part of Utena’s allegory too! The show denies the trope of happily-ever-after. Relationships are complicated and take work.

Anthy leaves the Academy to find her prince, Utena. Utena has given up on the ideal of princes. They’ll have to work that out: Anthy is free from Akio, but not free from his influence. Anthy believes Akio’s propaganda and likes her stereotypical feminine role. That won’t bother Utena, because Utena is oblivious to the existence of sex roles. Anthy could choose to subordinate herself to prince Utena, “an Akio who’s nice to me,” and Utena might not notice, the same way she took the top bunk without a thought. That would undermine Utena’s message, and yet it is a risk inherent in Utena’s ending. The end of the story does not end the story.

Utena is impulsive and easy to manipulate. Anthy is insightful and skilled at manipulating people. Besides the risk that Anthy might fall under Utena’s control, there’s the reverse risk that Anthy might keep Utena under her control. For Anthy it would be a simple matter of understanding Utena’s impulses and making her own suggestions with the right timing and wording. It’s second nature to Anthy; she might do it without realizing it. The relationship will not balance itself automatically.

I think that tolerance is one of the traits that Anthy and Utena are opposite in. Anthy seems not bothered at all by Utena’s naivety and impulsiveness (I imagine it’s nothing beside Anthy’s day-to-day torment). Utena does not tolerate things she finds bad—Anthy’s Rose Bride role until episode 23, even sometimes Wakaba’s clinginess. In particular, Utena does not like Anthy’s cold vengeance. There is no reason to expect that Anthy will forget her joy in vengeance just because she is beyond the reach of its original cause. Anthy is the one with insight and will more often know what to do, but Utena will rightly reject some of her courses of action as manipulative or harmful.

Speaking of Anthy’s harmful actions: Utena will forgive Anthy any harm to herself. “Yeah, so you ran me through with a sword and I barely lived. No biggie.” Will she forgive Anthy’s past harm to others? Anthy poisoned Kanae (and I think she enjoyed it). Anthy probably participated in the murder of Utena’s parents. If Anthy mentions things like that, Utena may struggle to accept it. If Anthy keeps it secret, then their relationship is fragile because it is based on a lie. Of course, Anthy may not remember it. She has forgotten meeting Utena long ago, after all.

Is Utena in danger of being corrupted when she believes she failed to save Anthy, like Dios was after his failure to save all girls? I think yes, but not for the same reason. Dios’s goal was to turn all girls into princesses and, as The Tale of the Rose puts it, “kiss” them. Saving them was a way to do that. When he became corrupted, he kept the same goal and changed his method from saving to deceiving. In Utena’s case, she abandons her desire to be a prince, and believes she failed to save Anthy. She won’t be corrupted the same way Dios was, but she will surely be in a fragile mental state where she could easily go wrong, with no Wakaba to flail away at helping her until she is helped. Corrupt Anthy might find her and—for practical reasons—teach her the convenience of doing wrong. Utena already has some experience of it.

Opposite people can make a strong team, but they can also have more friction. They will not shine together until “someday” because it will take them that long to learn how.

Wakaba afterstory

In the runout of the final episode, we hear that Wakaba has gotten together with her favorite. (The subtitles say “man of her dreams”, but the Japanese does not specify the sex. In episode 1 she referred to Utena as her boyfriend; that did specify the sex.) We see her looking out the window as Utena used to do, Tatsuya at a little distance watching her. Her self-declared best friend arrives and jumps on her back the way Wakaba used to jump on Utena. Her friend wants a birthday present, calling back to episode 10 and episode 30. Wakaba has become special and moved into the role that Utena used to fill in the school. The suggestion is that Wakaba will have her own desperate adventure and end up taking the next bite out of Akio’s power: She will be the next hero in the sequence. In episode 20, Saionji compared Wakaba to Joan of Arc, a hero whose history parallels Utena’s story; the silly comparison will become true. Progress is slow but it does not stop. Utena starts the process: See the Enlightenment era.

There is foreshadowing in episode 1 already, though it can’t be interpreted until much later. The very first scene after the prince story has Utena going to school before Wakaba—going ahead of her, just as Utena does when she disappears from the Academy at the end. Wakaba jumps on Utena’s back, and in the next episode, rides on Utena’s back. In retrospect, you could not ask for clearer symbols. In Wakaba’s letter to Saionji, she calls herself a fool, as Utena does in heading to the dueling forest at the end of episode 37—both are fools for love. Wakaba relishes fiction and is associated with unrealistic fantasy, which makes it possible for her to gain the unrealistic and fantastic power of miracles.

Wakaba leans over Utena, holding a lunchbox in her hands but in effect pressing Utena down. Wakaba glomps Utena, ending up between Utena’s legs.

Wakaba is gendermixed, like Utena. It’s subtle and easy to overlook. The scene in episode 11 with these pictures shows Wakaba as the boy and Utena as the girl in their relationship—even as Wakaba girlishly brings a lunch she made for Utena. This is just before they roll downhill together, symbolic sex with Wakaba between Utena’s legs.

Did Utena empower Wakaba to become special as Dios empowered Utena, or block Wakaba from becoming special until Utena was gone because heroes are fermions? I think both.

I figure that Utena’s victory led to a surge of utenizing hormone (ultimately under control of the utenomic nervous system) and triggered the release of a new egg of the world.

If the rest of Wakaba’s story is parallel to Utena’s, as its beginning is, then Utena (not Saionji) is Wakaba’s vaguely-remembered prince. Memory of Utena is fading from the Academy. Utena tearing Wakaba’s love letter from the bulletin board could correspond to Dios rescuing little Utena from her coffin in the prince story. Wakaba will escape the Academy only after she is disillusioned and realizes that Utena does not live up to Wakaba’s unrealistic ideal. In Utena’s allegory, it means that each step in the gradual revolution at first reveres the heroes of the previous step, but then comes to see them as insufficient. It suggests that both admiration and disillusionment are necessary for the next turn of the slow wheel of progress: One provides the impulse to start, the other the impulse to finish.

We know that Wakaba’s story won’t be exactly parallel. When Utena looks out the window (episode 1, episode 30), she thinks wistfully of her prince. When Wakaba looks out the window in episode 39, she only says the weather is nice. Wakaba’s comparison to Joan of Arc also suggests that her story may end differently than Utena’s. Every turn of the wheel is different.

Wakaba’s best friend

We see the head and shoulders of Wakaba’s self-described best friend, who has jumped on Wakaba’s back. She looks overexcited.

Wakaba’s clingy “best friend” presumably has a Class S relationship with Wakaba, similar to Wakaba’s with Utena. After all, Wakaba still has her S-shaped hair. We can guess that she will be the next hero in the sequence to follow after Wakaba.

Her hair provides a bit of visual evidence to support the idea. Her hair is separated into soft spikes in a way that is not usual in Utena, suggesting that she is special. I think the light green streaks are streaky reflections, but if so they are curiously discontinuous, not like the usual hair reflections in the series. Alternately, the light green might mean she has two-tone hair, a little like Touga and Ruka. There are only a few frames of animation, and it’s not clear. Either way, it marks her as special.

Her dark green hair should imply that she has big control issues to work through, of one kind or another. I’m not certain, but I think it points to control of others (rather than control by others). Jumping on Wakaba and demanding a birthday present is a controlling action.

We don’t see her eyes. Compare the background fangirls behind my favorite character. She has no idea what’s coming her way, but she sure looks excited about it.

the good make progress

At the end of the series, good characters have made good progress in their personal journeys. Bad characters have made little or no progress. Metaphorically, good advances with time while evil is static or slow-moving, gradually reformed in the direction of good. In Utena’s view, the good learn to correct their mistakes, and evil is redeemed bit by bit.

Miki teaches Mitsuru his stopwatch skill as Kozue in the background watches.

Juri loses her obsession with Shiori (though not her love) and comes to treat others with respect rather than condescension (Miki) or antagonism (Utena). Shiori apparently counts as good and joins the fencing club, where she shows new self-confidence. Miki overcomes his unthinking lust for power over Anthy, learns some of Juri’s insight, and becomes a mentor to Mitsuru. Mitsuru is learning rather than fumbling blindly for maturity. Wakaba moves toward realizing her goal of becoming special. Tokiko (though corrupt) leaves the Academy and leads a normal life. Utena and Anthy leave the Academy and become adult. Anthy counts as good: Corrupting Dios was not a choice she made, it was an accidental outcome, and the great evil she has done since was at Akio’s orders or due to Akio’s corruption of her. All the characters have done bad things: Evil can be redeemed.

Nanami makes tea using the kappa-shaped hot water dispenser, Saionji and Touga sparring in the background.

Mikage, who seeks an eternity of stasis, represents standing still. I think it doesn’t matter whether he is at the Academy or gone from it, because he is always the same and always there; he pretty much found eternity. Touga and Saionji are sparring the same as ever, with the same results. Saionji expresses a desire to move forward, but hasn’t gotten anywhere yet. Nanami making tea matches Nanami at her lowest in the cowbell episode, with Wakaba’s kappa hot water dispenser the only sign that she has changed (which she has). Kozue (in the background in the left image) is seated at the piano, watching; she’s at least not openly hostile. Akio is at his desk revising the rules of the dueling rings, the same as ever. Saionji, Nanami, and Kozue show small signs of progress; Mikage, Touga, and Akio do not.

We’re not given new information about Nanami’s minions. The nerd trio Suzuki, Yamada, Tanaka has given up on chasing Nanami, who looks down on them. They chase Nanami’s minions instead. The ordinary boys should realistically have a chance to couple up with ordinary girls, and I have to count it as progress. But it’s not much progress. Nanami’s minions may be ordinary, but they want Touga who is special.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 19 July 2022, made of parts originally written for other pages
updated 13 November 2023