Utena - Anthy and Utena in the Student Council arc

Anthy and Utena. <- PreviousNext -> In the Black Rose.

In the Student Council arc, Anthy and Utena are getting to know each other. Most of our information about their relationship is from the beginning and end of the arc. Chu-Chu spends a lot of time with Utena, but that is ambiguous. Is it because Anthy wishes she could be with Utena that often, or because Chu-Chu is spying for her?

In early episodes, Utena learns the rules of the duels and the Rose Bride, and rejects them. She sees the duels as meaningless and the Rose Bride as nonsense and would rather forget them. Everything Utena says about it is idealistic. If the world were ideal, it would be true; she is living in Candide’s best of all possible worlds. She can’t grasp that others are not all like her; she sees people as free individuals who follow their own paths. In fact, we find in episodes 11 and 12 that not only her view of the world, but her view of herself depends on the idea that others are like her. She has to learn better before she can have any hope of understanding Anthy’s position.

First sight. Utena first sees Anthy when she passes near the greenhouse and smells roses, reminding her of the prince—Dios is the Rose Prince. After a time jump, Utena is at an upper window overlooking the greenhouse. It’s not the only evidence of Utena’s immediate attraction. I think Anthy is immediately attracted to Utena too. Neither seems to notice her own feelings.

Wakaba shows up, but fails to diagnose Utena’s attraction to Anthy. Later she catches Utena at a window overlooking Touga, and does notice Utena’s attraction. Conventional expectations are powerful. Akio tells you what you are supposed to see or not see, and you obey. Right in the first episode, we see it happen to Utena, and Anthy, and Wakaba.

Episode 1, Anthy is surprised at Utena’s selflessness.
true reaction
Anthy cries out when Utena with a bamboo stub charges Saionji with a sword.
false reaction

The first duel. Subtle evidence indicates that Anthy manipulated Utena into the duel of the first episode. (It is one of the pieces of evidence that she is immediately attracted to Utena—Akio implies in episode 13 that bringing Utena into the duels was not planned.) Neither seems to know about the other’s personality, but somehow Anthy knows exactly what button to push. Anthy knew her manipulation would succeed, and notified Akio before Utena saw Wakaba’s letter on the bulletin board.

Anthy does Akio’s dirty work and likely participated in murdering Utena’s parents. That explains how she knew that Utena was a candidate for Akio’s plot.

Anthy is surprised by Utena’s selfless speech at the start of the duel, but does not assume that Utena will be or remain selfless toward Anthy. (In episode 4 Anthy is surprised—making the same expression—by Miki’s selfless correction of her test, and similarly makes no further assumptions.) In the next episode’s duel, Utena intends to lose against Saionji, but in the heat of the moment she acts instinctively to win. As I see it, she didn’t exactly change her mind, she hadn’t truly decided in the first place; in the face of Saionji’s nastiness and aggression she does decide. Since she decided without thinking, any explanation she gives must be confabulated. It might as well be, as she says, for Chu-Chu’s sake. Anthy looks genuinely worried when Utena is in danger in the duel, and smiles at the end of the episode when Utena credits Chu-Chu. Anthy has some interest already.

Back in the first duel, when Utena charges Saionji, Anthy acts alarmed. She even has symbolic sweat drops on her face. But the purple streaks in the background of rose petals, and Anthy’s histrionic acting, say that she is faking it. At this point, Anthy does not much care whether Utena runs into the pointy end of a sword. In later duels, Anthy keeps a blank face, except when she intervenes to manipulate somebody (as in episode 5).

Why does Anthy put on the act? As far as I can tell, it does not influence Utena. Is it an attempt to manipulate Utena or Saionji? Is she trying to act like she cares so that Utena (if she lives) won’t hate her?

The dance party. Touga’s dress for Utena is an attempt to press her into a female role; Touga wants people to conform to their roles. Utena rejects it at first. Nanami’s dress for Anthy is to victimize her. See meaningful images - Anthy as goal. Nanami sublimates (in the Freudian sense—Wikipedia) her love for Anthy into jealousy. Anthy foresees the danger and rejects the invitation. But Utena remembers that she is seeking her prince and hopes it may be Touga, and she drags Anthy along—for her own good, as Utena believes. Utena is being a prince, and princes are controlling.

The episode is about showing us Utena’s and Anthy’s chosen roles. By going along with Utena, and then with Nanami, Anthy accepts her victimized princess role. Her dress dissolves, and she sinks to the floor passively. Utena throws off her dress, rejecting the role Touga tried to press her into and becoming a rescuing prince. In the final episode, both drop these roles.

I give Utena minus points for her failure of understanding in forcing Anthy to the dance party, but does Anthy? I’m not sure. I think Anthy likely objects less strongly than I do. I give Utena plus points for helping Anthy after Nanami’s humiliation, but not enough to make up for her minus points. But Anthy’s smiles at Utena during the dance seem genuine at times. The rose petals that surround them include pink for Utena, purple for Anthy, and white for the prince, foretelling the future. Anthy is right to give Nanami the major blame.
Anthy, looking like Utena, waves. Behind the camera, Saionji is leading Utena away.

In the body swap episode 8, Anthy enjoys relative freedom from bullying. In the picture, she waves happily as Saionji leads Utena away; Anthy’s head is beyond the shadow line for her selfish action. Her hair is prince length as she controls Utena. Anthy feels so safe that one arm is uncharacteristically behind her. Utena gets a taste of what it’s like to be Anthy. Utena has the opportunity to learn a lot, and she does at least learn that Anthy faces harassment from Nanami’s minions and from Saionji. Anthy enjoys relative freedom from harassment but doesn’t seem to take full advantage either; Utena tries to deal with Saionji’s exchange diary in a principled way, and Anthy doesn’t care about either the diary or the principles. I think the events of the episode must have taken less than a week despite all the elephants, because Anthy cannot miss her Saturday nights with Akio.

Anthy is not able to make long-term plans. She does not control her own life. She can make choices to be more comfortable in the short term, but she does not expect the choices to stick; another duelist will win, or Akio will give her another task. She’s surfing along, intensely focused on doing the best she can for the time being, and does not care a bean about stuff like schoolwork or what a random innocent may think of her. That’s my read. Utena lives in the moment because she makes decisions impulsively without thinking. Anthy lives in the moment because she is not allowed anything else.

One message of the episode is that society is shallow. Utena and Anthy are not playing the roles of each other—they retain their personalities, which do not match their bodies. But with few exceptions, others do not find out, and treat them as if they were each other. Appearances rule. Illusions are accepted.

In the “spirited away” episode 9, Utena’s impulse to save Anthy won’t have lost her any points with Anthy. I doubt it gained her any, either. The whole event was scripted. Touga and Anthy conspired together, Touga to win his later duel and Anthy following Akio’s instructions to test Utena. Ironically, the tests convince Anthy that Utena is a true prince, and eventually she helps undermine Akio. In retrospect, Akio’s plot is self-defeating from early on.

In episode 10, Nanami’s duel, Utena is down after Touga is injured (she doesn’t know that the event was a setup and the injury is minor). She didn’t live up to her ideals, she believes she harmed her prince and blames herself. Anthy does not help, but plays a passive-aggressive trick, talking to the kitten she brought in at a time when Utena must believe Anthy was talking to her. Utena innocently fails to realize she was attacked. Down catalog - after Nanami’s slap gives a bit of background.

Episode 11, Wakaba, Utena and Anthy having a fun lunch.

In episode 11, Anthy enjoys her lunch with Utena and Wakaba. When Touga sees the picnic, he says he sees “a lonely princess.” He presumably means Utena, but it describes Anthy too. Could it also describe Wakaba? It seems plausible to me.

Anthy shows signs that she wants some of the things that Utena wants for her—though she might only be encouraging Utena to keep her rose ring. Utena’s heart is in the right place, but she’s still not trying to understand. She doesn’t notice the difference between telling Anthy something that she may act on or not as she chooses, and issuing an order that in her role as the Rose Bride Anthy must obey—Utena doesn’t believe in people obeying orders against their own interest, therefore it does not happen.

At the start of the duel, Anthy and Utena smile at each other: Anthy has realized that Touga will essentially keep her caged. But Utena loses the duel, Touga’s stratagem overcoming her “conviction” or determination to do right, and when Touga shows her how badly she misunderstood the Rose Bride, she loses faith in her self-image too. A montage shows us that she has come to feel strongly about Anthy.

After losing the duel, Utena argues that Anthy needs her, so that Anthy can become ordinary and stop being the Rose Bride. In reality, Utena needs Anthy in order to have someone to rescue and fulfill her princely ideals. At this point, Anthy wants Utena primarily as someone less troublesome than violent Saionji or controlling Touga.

In winning, Touga presses onto Utena the girlish role he wants her to play, displacing her “self”. Utena thinks of her “self” as defined by meeting the prince when she was small, which was the cause of her taking on boyish and girlish sides. Her “self” is a reference to Buddhist beliefs; see samsara. In losing to one she believes is her prince, she loses the will to be a prince and the will to find her prince, and falls back on playing the role of the ordinary girl that she wants Anthy to be. Utena does not recognize her own specialness, but she does act as though she considers herself special: She feels that being ordinary is a step down, while she understands that for Anthy being ordinary would be a step up. So far, she has not thought of making Anthy equal with her (that doesn’t happen until episode 25).

Episode 12, Anthy imagines Utena sitting across from her, smiling.

In episode 12, Utena is convinced by Touga’s psychological pressure and tries to be an ordinary girl. She wears the girls’ uniform. But her irises have a heavy outline for a reason: For most of the rest of the episode, her hair is prince length. She remains a prince in her self-image, without realizing it. Trying to play the role of an ordinary girl leaves her listless and unhappy; it makes her depressed.

Anthy, left alone by Touga, imagines a slightly idealized Utena present and smiling (and with her eyes closed against Anthy’s true nature). It at least means that she recognizes Utena’s friendship and prefers Utena over Touga, and likely means more. There’s a similar idealized view of Utena in episode 35. In the duel, we get the rare treat of access to Anthy’s thoughts. She thinks coldly that Utena has no chance. She sounds as though she has already accepted the outcome and factored it into her expectations; good things are rare, bad things are normal. After Utena’s sword breaks and Utena keeps fighting, Anthy is reminded of Dios, her former love (in Anthy’s false reconstructed memory). That is the point when Anthy starts to fall in love with Utena. Utena miraculously wins the duel and takes back her “self”.

In the prince story, Anthy intervened to (as she believed) save Dios’s life (see Anthy’s corruption), Dios’s princeliness was thwarted, violating his ideals, and he became corrupted into Akio. In the duel, Anthy intervenes to save Utena’s life, and the result is the opposite: Utena’s princeliness is restored and her ideals are reactivated. The difference is in the circumstances of Dios and Utena. In the final showdown, Anthy intervenes to take Utena’s life, and the result is that Utena and Anthy escape from Akio. The irony is layered.
Anthy’s intervention in the duel is her own doing. It can still be due to Utena’s miracle; she miraculously appealed to Anthy. In any case, defeating Touga with a broken sword is a miracle in itself, parallel to defeating Saionji with a truncated practice sword.

They went from expecting nothing of each other to meaning a great deal. At the same time, they have a long way to go. Utena is still naive and makes little effort to understand, and Anthy is still closed off and without hope. Anthy expects to be at the Academy forever. She expects Utena to be there for several years at most, a brief time from Anthy’s point of view.

We haven’t met Akio yet, but the Student Council arc is his test of Utena. Utena’s prince-length hair foreshadows that she will pass. By defeating Touga in the episode 12 duel, she proves herself a worthy candidate for Akio’s plot, and puts herself in danger. After the duel, as she meets Anthy on the way home, her cheek hair is divided into three, a death flag. I have the idea that Anthy does not fully understand Akio’s plan. In episode 37, she is so upset about the plot coming to its end that she must be surprised in some way. She likes Utena but sticks with Akio and his plot until near the end.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 24 December 2021
updated 3 April 2024