Utena - shadow girls’ arc

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Shadows of the shadow girls manipulating puppets of themselves.

At least one of the shadow girls A-ko, B-ko and C-ko appears in every episode, though sometimes only by voice. See shadow plays. Their names (which appear only in the credits) are anonymous—see other names - shadow girls.

The picture makes at least three points, maybe more. 1. It refers to Plato’s Cave. 2. It’s self-referential and emphasizes that both the shadow plays, and Utena as a whole, are fictions that are meant to point toward the truth. 3. It’s about how Utena characters manipulate each other. 4. It could be a reference to the silhouette film The Adventures of Prince Achmed, though if so I could not nail it down.

The shadow girls have unnatural body proportions and speak in unnatural “anime girl” voices: They are marked as fictions, which is to say, illusions. The shadow plays are like Utena in the small. They are illusions that point toward the truth, and to do that they undermine conventional cultural narratives. In repeating kashira “I wonder?” they promote skepticism, part of the Enlightenment value system; you should doubt an idea unless you have verified it against evidence. The shadow girls present themselves as space aliens, because to doubt cultural narratives is weird. In the Apocalypse Saga, their spaceship trails smoke and crashes into Akio’s tower. The depiction claims they are not attacking Akio, it is an accident due to a breakdown. It is as if they were broken parts of the system of control, making it run briefly in reverse.

In the First Seduction, we hear the shadow girls on the radio three times for the three challenges of a fairy tale plot. In their radio quiz show, they face Akio with three challenges to answer their quiz, and he refuses all three. Akio co-opts them to spread his propaganda, the opposite of what they usually do. In the backlash of the following episode, they again appear three times. They try in person to recruit Utena into their mission of skepticism, and she refuses. They put on The Tale of the Rose to inform Utena, and she does not seem to draw any lesson from it (though perhaps she remembers it later). But their third appearance is the regular shadow play; they don’t present a third challenge. Utena neither passes nor fails a third challenge for now. I suspect a hidden meaning I haven’t uncovered.

In the final episode, we hear the shadow girls as regular students discussing their futures.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 29 August 2023
updated 7 January 2024