Utena - scenes with Anthy and Utena

Speech patterns. <- PreviousNext -> When Anthy’s glasses shine.

shaved ice

Shaved ice on the table for Utena, Anthy, Miki, Nanami. Bowl of shaved ice.

Shaved ice is a symbol of Anthy’s cold vengeance, with a superficial addition of syrup flavor for role-playing. We first meet it in episode 4, where Nanami comes to harass Anthy and Anthy outclasses her. The colors Anthy chooses here are Nanami’s yellow and Touga’s red. Shaved ice continues to be associated with Nanami.

In episode 32, as Akio and Anthy deal with Kanae, their coldly brutal actions are represented as a block of ice—while Anthy is making shaved ice for Nanami.

How does it reveal Utena’s feelings? For one thing, the scene shows her acceptance of individuality. Miki accepts weird revelations about Anthy because he is lovestruck. Utena accepts because she accepts; people can be that way. Her only objections are practical. For another, Utena doesn’t like the shaved ice: She doesn’t like Anthy’s vengefulness. No one eats much of it, even Miki. (See tear catalog - episode 4 for the octopus.)

Shaved ice is a festival food, like the takoyaki and yakisoba that she comes out with for the outdoor lunch of episode 11. Except for body-swapping curry, made in cooking class, Anthy makes only festival food. It may reflect Akio’s hatred of families (see taking Ohtori - families in general). Or it may be due to Anthy’s isolation. In any case, the curry is part of the gag. It’s a parody of the trope of the girl who can’t cook a meal that’s safe to eat.

in the library

I love this scene in the library in episode 18, where Mitsuru is trying to understand what it is to be an adult. He asks Utena–not the smartest choice. (By the way, he chose the highest-status person to ask: He knows Anthy and Utena’s mutually agreed relative status.)

Utena vaguely describes adulthood. Anthy says there are a lot of adult things about Anthy and Utena.

Utena doesn’t have an answer and mansplains with a vague statement of “experience in certain things.” Anthy is the only one with experience, and reacts by teasing everyone who is in range to hear; she knows what they will assume. It’s playful, not like her usual passive-aggressive jabs. At the same time, it reveals Anthy’s feelings. She is joking about something that has been on her mind, something she wishes for and considers impossible or foolish. I think I detect a note of sadness in her eyes.

The lamp pointing at Utena is a phallic symbol. It’s pointed straight at her head, it must be telling us Utena’s true thoughts; by “certain things” she did mean sex, as everyone supposed. (It’s corroborated in episode 33. Utena treats sex as a rite of passage to adulthood.) As a lamp it could represent enlightenment, but in fact it’s the opposite! The blue-green color means that the lamp is spreading illusions as the planetarium projector does, and Utena fell for this one. Now Mitsuru, who the lamp is shining on, falls for it too.

playing a role

A movie camera records Utena playing a role for Anthy. Anthy holds a boom mic over Utena.

This scene occurred in episode 31, the episode after Utena became corrupted and blew out the three candles. Akio moves Nanami into his tower. Utena is jealous, which is part of why Akio did it—to keep Utena’s attention on him. (Another reason was to keep Anthy and Utena apart by putting Nanami in Anthy’s bed. The direct reason was to steer Nanami into a duel.)

Utena wants to hide her corruption, especially from Anthy, and jealousy could give it away. Utena tries to cover up her feelings with a joke, essentially playing the role of an innocent person in front of Anthy. And we get a movie camera to show it. Anthy sees through Utena and plays along, holding a white card to reflect fill light into the scene as she tries to clue Utena in with her own joke. But Utena takes Anthy seriously and gives herself away again. She tries to cover it up with nervous jabber, and Anthy holds a boom mic. The symbols are precise.

Anthy understands Utena well. The way Utena holds her hands behind her head was probably enough for her to realize what was up. She must have known that subtlety would not work with Utena, but her Rose Bride role does not allow her to say things straight out. We the audience are being subtly reminded that Anthy always plays a role. See playing a role under other symbols.

photograph

Utena looks down on photos spread over a desk. Utena poses for a photo with Anthy and Akio.

Utena looks over photos of classmates to see if there are any she wants copies of. Chu-Chu is pictured, but not Anthy. Utena decides to take a photo with Anthy; they do it in the tower room in front of the projector. After a couple shots with Akio behind the camera, Utena invites Akio into the picture. When Akio starts to put a hand on Utena’s shoulder, Anthy interrupts and inserts herself between them. When the camera timer goes off, Anthy says she closed her eyes.

Utena still feels attached to Anthy, but not so closely that she expects them to be always together. Utena and Anthy will go their own ways, Utena is thinking, and she’ll want a photo to remember her friend by. It may not be a change in her thinking; Utena has not noticed her love for Anthy, and likely never thought of them staying together after their school careers. She may not have thought about graduation and her future at all before now. Utena has started to become more thoughtful. Anthy for her part expects to be in school forever, and expects Utena to disappear at some point, whether by death, or by “graduation” and becoming an adult. Anthy wants the photo too.

Evidence that Anthy wants the photo is that the image shown here does not match the photo at the tail end of the series, where the image of Akio has been cropped out and Utena and Anthy are holding hands. Anthy closed her eyes to get another photo, the photo that ends the series, where they’re holding hands. They appear closer than Akio wants them to be... but on a closer look they are not. (Some photos are unstable and show changing illusions. I don’t find any evidence that this is one of them.)

Anthy’s closed eyes are also a segue to the next scene, The Tale of the Rose, where Anthy keeps her eyes closed throughout.

mutual love and distrust

Anthy’s hand is on Utena’s heart, Utena’s hand on top.

By the time of Touga’s duel in episode 36, Akio has made Anthy and Utena distrust each other’s love. In the gondola, Anthy places her hand on Utena’s chest. It’s her right hand, the hand of truth, a sign of desire. Utena has her left hand over Anthy’s hand, disbelieving Anthy’s signal, and her right hand (out of frame) on Anthy’s waist, her own sign of desire. Utena promises to protect Anthy, a princely action that both of them believe in. During the duel they actively help each other: They do the leap and catch thing, Anthy powers up the sword, and Utena shelters her from the onrushing cars.

Despite all this evidence, both show skepticism of the other’s love. Anthy asks “Really?”

See character notes - Anthy and Utena fetishize different body parts for more on their hand positions.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 25 November 2021
updated 10 March 2024