Utena - Juri’s arc

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Juri looks to the right.
Juri

Juri is from a wealthy and powerful family. She is proud and commanding, sometimes to the point of arrogance. She is highly skilled, and her skill is one of the things she is proud of. She enjoys showing it off. She is capable, intelligent, wealthy, beautiful, and kind at heart—on the face of it, a dream girl to be admired by all and desired by many.

Juri has difficult love/hate relationships with Shiori and with Ruka. She loves Shiori, and hates Shiori’s cruelty (which she falsely believes is innocent rather than malicious). In episode 17 she thinks to herself, mildly, “yes, I do hate you.” She loves or has some kind of attraction to Ruka, who taught her fencing, and hates his abuse of Shiori in episodes 28 and 29. She feels she cannot admit her lesbian love of Shiori, because it would threaten her social standing and power—Akio’s system of control discriminates against homosexuality.

In the U.S., as late as the 1960s you might lose your job, be kicked out of college, be ejected from your social circle, and the like if you were found to be homosexual (the word “gay” was not in general use in that sense yet). And those were socially accepted sanctions, not counted as abuse. Which you could also expect if the “scandal” got out. In much of the world, it happens today. I think Juri’s fear is well-founded. She is largely realistic, with relatively few illusions.

Juri’s difficult situation poisons her with frustration and hatred. Until late in the series, her kindness does not show much. She is bitter and lashes out.

Juri is labeled a princess by her name Arisugawa, her spotted shawl, and her association with a Chinese guardian lion (see the episode 7 shadow play).

meaning

Juri is an aspect of the patriarchy: The patriarchy oppresses her, and she knows it and feels it, but she supports it anyway. She is all the women who stand in that situation. (Possibly she is only the privileged or high-status women. I’ll reconsider after I’ve worked through Shiori and Nanami.) The system in effect runs an extortion racket: Follow my rules or you’re getting it.

Juri is a rule-follower. Obeying the rules in itself supports the system of rules, by modeling social norms. Juri is admired, which adds support. She shows off her obedience and the benefits she gains from it, adding more. She has a lot to lose, and does not dare violate conformity. Utena has less to lose in breaking the rules, and she pays for it with a shortage of friends and constant harassment from the teachers. Juri benefits from a system that privileges her, and accepts a high personal price to maintain her privileges.

Juri and Shiori separate before the story begins and rejoin physically in episode 17. It echoes the physical separation of Utena and Anthy after the prince story, and their rejoining in episode 1. Juri and Shiori psychologically separate before the story begins, and rejoin in episode 29 when Utena destroys Juri’s locket (though we don’t see plain evidence of their rejoining until the epilog). It echoes the psychological separation and rejoining of Utena and Anthy in the Apocalypse Saga.

story

Juri has three major appearances, one in each Utena arc, plus minor appearances. Juri’s story is more complicated than Touga’s, or Saionji’s, or Miki’s, because her allegorical meaning is more complicated.

Episode 7. Juri denies that she seeks a miracle, but participates in the duels... whose purpose is to achieve a miracle. When the unheralded Utena shows up, some commoner without the status to be on the prestigious Student Council, her feeling of aristocratic privilege is outraged. She suffers to uphold the system and gets this for it? But her angry attempt to steal Utena’s ring fails, and Utena wins the duel in a way that is unmistakably miraculous.

The episode has a theme of entrapment; see the shadow play. Juri is trapped in her situation, Shiori is trapped in Juri’s locket, and everyone is trapped by Akio. In later episodes, Juri is associated with grid patterns that stand for cages (episode 17, episode 29).

Episode 12. Juri’s discussion with Touga shows that she disapproves of his underhanded methods. She is good at heart. She gives her sword to Utena for the duel. See insults - Juri - episode 12 (she insults Touga). Juri wants to win with honest skill, proving that she deserves her high status. It’s a turnaround from rejecting Utena in episode 7, and suggests that Juri accepted Utena as deserving—though of course she still wants to win.

Episode 17. Shiori and Juri. Now we get Shiori’s view of the relationship. She has broken up with the boyfriend she thought to steal from Juri (misunderstanding Juri’s real interest), and returns to the Academy. She sets about tormenting Juri as best she can. She smiles when she thinks she has found a pain point, and is unsettled whenever Juri looks unhurt. Juri hides it, but suffers more severely than in episode 7. The live reminder stands in front of her.

It’s severe enough that Juri throws her locket away. But that does not free Shiori; Anthy (it is subtly hinted) retrieves the locket and places it in Shiori’s room. The rest of the episode is about Shiori, except for a coda where Juri gently regrets that she is not strong enough to give up on Shiori. It’s another sign that she is good. Bad Shiori thinks Juri needs to be brought down; good Juri thinks Shiori is innocently cruel.

Episodes 28-29. Shiori and Ruka and Juri. It gets complicated. Ruka shows up and seduces Shiori, loses a duel against Utena, and coldly dumps Shiori. Juri struggles to protect Shiori, and can’t find an answer; protecting the one you love is a basic patriarchal requirement, and Juri seeks a miracle through patriarchal power. Ruka’s plot amounts to denying Juri’s power, and showing that his own is greater, until Juri agrees to use her power under his direction. The first thing he does is lie that Juri has not improved since he left.

Juri looks up with an expression of utter hatred on her face. She wears lipstick.
hatred and lipstick

Juri tries to convince Ruka to take Shiori back. When he refuses, she insults him, and he reacts with counter-insults to provoke her. She becomes furious and physically attacks him. He captures her hands and forces her against a wall, saying that he’d like to go out with her now, since after all she loves him. In Utena, unlikely-sounding claims with no visible evidence behind them are often true, and I think this is an example. In any case, Ruka proceeds to sexually assault her as cover for stealing her locket; he forces a kiss on her and she bites his lip in self-defense. It is parallel to Juri trying to steal Utena’s ring in episode 7. When Ruka reveals the stolen locket, Juri is crushed; Ruka has physically and psychologically overpowered her. Ruka offers to take Shiori back after all—just after showing what a bad idea it would be. As Juri looks up at him in hatred, she wears lipstick. Ruka walks away slowly, I think to give her time to propose another idea.

Juri loses her fight against Utena in episode 7 too, despite attacking by surprise from a position of advantage. Juri is good at the formalized combat of fencing. Maybe she is not so good at real combat? Or are Utena and Ruka that much better?

Juri challenges Ruka to a duel, the winner to decide what happens. It is shown interleaved with Juri’s duel versus Utena. Ruka wins. He takes her on a ride in Akio’s car, and a comparison with other car rides shows that Ruka and Juri have sex.

It’s not easy to follow! Here’s what I think is going on. The lipstick means that Juri wants to attract Ruka, even as she loathes him for everything he is doing. In fact, the moment when she most hates him is the moment she wants to attract him. He proved his power, as he proved his skill in fencing when he was her instructor—she loves his power, or at least desires it. She ends up having sex with him, which amounts to falling under his power rather than gaining any of it for herself. She is a princess, after all. At the end of the episode, Juri writes an imaginary letter to Ruka in her mind; she wants to stay in touch (and does not understand what he wanted). It matches her imaginary letter to Shiori in episode 7. That’s three clues (lipstick, sex, letter) that agree: Juri loves Ruka, or at least has some strong attraction to him. It’s normal in Utena; there is no such thing as One True Love. Shiori remains her #1; she does not put Ruka’s picture in a locket or obsess over him.

Episode 7 hints that Juri is attracted to Utena. It may be for the same reason; she recognizes Utena’s power in defeating Saionji and Miki. If so, it’s curious that Shiori is powerless, though.
Shiori loves and hates Juri; she torments her. Juri loves and hates Ruka and, after a private duel, goes along with his plan because (I conclude) he has greater patriarchal power—he shows greater promise of producing a miracle. Anthy loves and hates Utena; it is particularly clear in the backstab (see Anthy’s confusion). In Utena-world, people feel contradictory emotions, for and against at the same time, when they come under massive emotional pressure to do something. In the First Seduction sex scene, Utena is for and against sex at the same time. It is like a duel: The emotion with the greater patriarchal power behind it wins.

Utena destroys Juri’s locket in the duel, and Juri concedes without having been defeated. Juri is distraught, but it was a miracle by Utena that only helps. Shiori is freed from Juri’s trap, and the epilog shows her more self-confident; she joins the fencing club and is closer to Juri. Juri is freed from her bitterness; she is no longer trapped either. See sparkling transfers - Juri’s locket for more, including a parallel with the end of the series.

Episode 37. After the miracle of episode 29, Juri’s kindness shows. She, Miki, and Utena have a friendly talk and idle game. She asks Utena about Anthy. See Utena’s resolution - answering Juri.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 30 May 2024
updated 9 June 2024