What are cakes about? Here are the cakes in Utena.
It’s four incidental cakes and one cake that is essential in the story. The cakes with strawberries (in the gray box) seem to emphasize minor points and are all for Chu-Chu. Touga’s birthday cake is an organic part of his story, and aligns with the seeming birthday cake of episode 30. The cake of episode 30 is critical for interpreting the episode, which is critical for the series as a whole.
Food is associated with sex (Utena certainly associates them). And every one of the cakes represents a falsehood. In Utena, male sex is about power and control, enforced in part by lying, as in Akio’s illusions. Love and lying go together like cake and icing. And yet it seems to me that cake means love rather than sex.
If cake is love, then eating cake should be tasting sweet love. The only character we see eating cake is Chu-Chu. Anthy is not allowed to taste sweet love, so her thwarted desires are expressed through Chu-Chu; that’s how I read it. Of course cake is also falsehood; Chu-Chu has an eating disorder, disguised as an “overeating is funny” anime trope. The eating disorder is not only a symbol of thwarted desires, it is a realistic depiction of how someone in Anthy’s stressful position may react. In contrast, Utena does not want cake: She does not seek sweet love until Akio tempts her with the cake of episode 30.
These three cakes have strawberries. It’s an anime trope; strawberries are girlish and are associated with cuteness and innocent love. The three are all for Chu-Chu, and therefore refer to Anthy. All three come with false implications—meaning that the cuteness and innocence are false too. Anthy’s love is anything but innocent. They are subversive cakes. Utena does not seem to want cake herself, but lets Chu-Chu eat the cakes. Utena’s own love may be innocent, but she doesn’t know it exists.
This cake is unexplained. It just shows up. Chu-Chu jumps into it, and no doubt eats the whole thing. It seems to support Utena’s claim that she won the duel for Chu-Chu’s sake, not Anthy’s. Chu-Chu gratefully gives Utena the strawberry, which can be taken as calling her cute. Utena’s claim is bogus, though. She closes her eyes when she says it, unwilling to see her falsehood, and immediately before had heavy iris outlines.
How people treat Chu-Chu is how they treat Anthy, so Utena’s claim is not far off. The cake for Chu-Chu seems to have a meaning similar to Chu-Chu’s heart-shaped cookie: It predicts sweet love to come.
Utena brings this cake into the dorm as a leftover from a class party. She strangely places it on the windowsill rather than the table, and Chu-Chu knocks it outside. It seems to imply that Anthy is in trouble for having to explain her absences on Saturday nights, the same way Chu-Chu is in trouble, hanging on to the outside of the windowsill. It’s bogus again, though. It’s part of Akio’s plan to meet Utena in person. Chu-Chu nearly falls when Akio is mentioned—that seems to be an honest reaction.
Utena presumably brought the cake for Chu-Chu. She must know Chu-Chu well enough to realize it will all go to Chu-Chu. What does it mean that Utena places the cake on the windowsill? Utena is not fully in love until episode 28. Maybe the windowsill is a halfway setting. Or maybe the falling cake represents sweet love being lost, as happened when Dios became Akio and nearly happens in the Apocalypse Saga. The episode introduces Akio.
We do not see anyone eating the remaining two cakes, though we can be pretty sure they end up eaten. Both represent false love, so the characters do not truly taste sweet love.
Touga’s birthday cake, from the flashback when little Nanami gives him the kitten.
All other cakes represent falsehoods. The cakes with strawberries have false implications, and the cake below is a false birthday cake. All other cakes represent love in some stage of its development. But apparently there is no love in the Kiryuu household. According to a parallel with The Rose of Versailles, one purpose of the candles in the Kiryuu mansion is to turn it into the corrupt Palace of Versailles, where love is for show. This cake represents false love. Its falsehood is that it lies about its own meaning.
The cake has 12 candles, arranged like the numbers on a clock. The candles count years and are a kind of timekeeping device, and their arrangement makes the cake into a different timekeeping device. I don’t know what it means, other than that time is a theme.
For the meaning of the flowers around the cake, see flowers - Touga’s birthday cake.
Akio bakes this fancy cake to impress Utena. The three candles are necessary so that we can interpret it as a birthday cake and understand the episode, but the candles are metaphorical and unreal and it’s not a birthday cake. The group of Akio, Anthy, Utena and Wakaba eat the cake at the start of the episode, but we don’t see them eating: The cake in itself is not important. Well, it symbolizes Akio’s lie-by-implication that he cares about Utena, and by contrast with the strawberry cakes it symbolizes Utena realizing her desire for Akio (and it refers to Wakaba’s feelings about Akio too). It’s the first cake that Utena wants to eat (she complains about Wakaba arriving, prefiguring her jealousy). Until now, she did not seek to taste sweet love.
The main purpose of the cake is to establish the metaphor behind the episode that blowing out the candles means making a wish. The cake disappears after the beginning of the episode (for the falseness of Akio’s love), and the candles remain throughout (for Utena’s temptation).
Jay Scott <firstname.lastname@example.org>
first posted 5 February 2022
updated 5 July 2022