Utena - Saionji’s arc

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Saionji.
Saionji

Saionji is the simplest major Utena character, and the easiest to understand. That’s no doubt why he is Utena’s first duel opponent.

Not that I have plumbed all his secrets. His vision is corrupted (he has purple eyes) and partially blocked (by wisps of hair), and yet he has surprising insights from time to time. (Episode 1, the castle in the sky is a mirage. Episode 35, we are all in coffins.) How does that happen? Is he connected to Tiresias or something?

He is violent and rude. When talking with Touga, for “you” he chooses kisama, which is an insult. His love is Anthy, and signs are that he maintains his love after getting together with Touga (just as Touga maintains his love for Utena). He appears self-confident, but desperately envies Touga. In the Black Rose he is dependent on Wakaba, and his show of self-confidence is shaky. He has the ethos of a warrior: In episode 2, he says that victory is what matters, not survival. (It can be taken as a sign that Utena dies in the end.)

meaning

In the allegory, Saionji personifies an aspect of the patriarchy: Physical control of women by violence. Saionji is abusive, and loves Anthy who passively accepts abuse. Compare Touga, who seeks psychological control of women by deception and allure.

In Utena, women are sometimes controlled by violence, as when Akio strikes Anthy. Men never are, including Utena as prince—with the exception of Anthy’s backstab, when Anthy sees Utena as a girl and unable to be a prince. In episode 7, Touga traps Miki in place with thrown knives, but it is not violence directed at Miki, who is in any case half female. Still in episode 7, Juri strikes down Anthy, but she cannot steal Utena’s ring by violence. In episode 29, she tries to strike Ruka and cannot.

In Utena, deception is more effective than violence at controlling women. Touga wins their practice duels. Touga has more patriarchal power, and that’s why Saionji envies him.

story

The Student Council arc.

Utena defeats Saionji twice in duels. His worldview and self-image are based on his male privilege, and he cannot accept that a younger girl overturned it. Like Nanami, he keeps struggling to regain it. It’s a psychological weakness. Touga exploits it to set up his episode 9 plot to convince Utena that he is her prince.

Saionji is expelled for the violent action that Touga (presumably Anthy via Touga) provoked him into. It seems to have been another goal of the plot, and Anthy must have been behind that aspect because it is part of setting up Wakaba’s Black Rose duel later. I don’t see a motive for Touga to want Saionji expelled.

The Black Rose arc.

Saionji is apparently not from a wealthy family, or if he is then he does not dare go back to them in disgrace. He relies on his fangirls to support him and put him up. I think Anthy arranged for Wakaba to draw the duty, as part of setting up Wakaba’s duel. Saionji wanted to leave Wakaba (and no doubt go to another fangirl), and Wakaba believes he was unaware of her, so he was not counting on Wakaba in particular. But Anthy’s plot works, as hers always do, and Mikage gets his hands on Saionji. Mikage works his own plot, also steered by Anthy, and provokes Wakaba into dueling. Saionji ends up readmitted to the Academy.

The Apocalypse Saga.

Over the course of the arc, Akio maneuvers Saionji and Touga into a homosexual relationship. To Akio, it is a subgoal of isolating Touga from Utena, which is a subgoal of isolating Utena from all support. The main discussion is under Touga’s arc.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 9 June 2024
updated 10 June 2024