Utena - candle catalog

Candles seem to be like apples and eggs in that they have multiple meanings spiderwebbed together. I have figured out some of the meanings of candles, but there is more to learn. They seem complicated.

Candles are male symbols—that seems to be the most basic meaning. Candles give light, so they act as propaganda claiming that moral goodness and/or intellectual insight come from men. Candles are often associated with illusions—not illusions in general, but specific harmful illusions created by men. The candles in the Kiryuu mansion create an illusion of warmth in a cold-hearted place. Mikage’s candles are supposed to be for a celebration, but he uses them to destroy. The candles in episode 30 are themselves illusionary, and represent Utena falling for Akio’s attractive illusions.

Candles connect with lamps and with fire, each of which has its own set of meanings. A candle burning down is like an hourglass running out. A candle may represent burning lust. Utena uses all these associations. In some pictures, the candles seem to imply coldness (surprisingly!) or separation. Is that a general meaning of candles in Utena? It fits for Kiryuu, Mikage, and Akio.

Candles can stand for the duality of Dios and Akio. In the episode 7 duel song, light and fire are associated with Dios and Akio. In episode 30 blowing out a candle represents both making a birthday wish and seeking Akio’s corrupt darkness. In contrast, the last glowing candle before it is blown out shows a halo, representing Dios, and Utena blowing it out stands for choosing Akio over the prince.

The dance party is lit in part by candles, seen here between Touga and Utena.
Episode 3, dance party
Candles flank a doorway inside the Kiryuu mansion.
Episode 10, birthday flashback

The Kiryuu mansion is lit in part by candles on the wall. Candles are old-fashioned, and when you have that many they require servants to light, replace, and extinguish. They suggest tradition and old wealth. And disregard of the fire code.

I think the candles refer to The Rose of Versailles and compare the Kiryuu mansion to the palace of Versailles. That makes them mean ostentatious wealth, corruption and plotting, and absence of genuine love and friendship. And probably more.

twelve candles on Touga’s childhood birthday cake, episode 10
Episode 10, Touga’s birthday cake
single candle from episode 10
Episode 10, one candle picked out

Episode 10 has a flashback to a Touga birthday party with 12 candles on the cake. Other than being birthday candles, I don’t know what the candles mean or how they connect with other candles. They may share the meanings of the candles on the wall, but that can’t be all of it. They are arranged in a ring. Utena’s ring binds her to Dios and thereby to Akio. I suppose Touga’s ring of candles binds him directly to Akio with no prince needed; he is a duelist, a candidate miracle worker.

The single candle is one of the birthday candles. It might stand for the kitten’s life, or it might stand for Touga’s still-uncorrupted relationship with Nanami, or it might be something else.

One candle is picked out from the five candles in a holder on the banquet table.
Episode 23, one candle picked out
Five burning candles in a holder on a banquet table.
Episode 23, banquet table
Mikage holds the burning candles upside down so that they drip wax like tears.
Episode 23, in hand

Mikage uses candles from a banquet table to burn down his building. One candle is picked out before, not after as at Touga’s birthday. Both events are celebrations.

The candles provide the fire of destruction that kills the 100 duelist boys and Mikage himself. They are related to the fire that cremates each dead boy after he loses his duel.

Using candles to spread fire should be the opposite of extinguishing candles. But they sure seem alike.

On a long table with Nanami at one end is a holder with three unlit candles.
Episode 27, three candles
On the long table is a holder with two unlit candles. At the far end, Touga is eating.
Episode 27, two candles

With no visitors in the Kiryuu mansion, the candles are unlit. The table is long (see long tables for the meaning). Left, a holder with three candles as Nanami dandles her egg. Right, a holder with two candles as Touga and Nanami dine at opposite ends of the table. The two candles are a visual framing device, though I doubt that’s all they are. In both pictures, the candles seem to divide the table ends from each other, increasing their separation. In this episode, Akio works to separate them.

The long table calls back to the banquet table in episode 23. How do these candles relate to the candles of destruction? Maybe their relationship is being destroyed, so that they will stay in their metaphorical coffins.

Akio’s cake with the three candles, resembling a birthday cake.
Episode 30, candles on cake
The candles are now in a holder. Akio, Anthy, Utena and Wakaba stand at the table.
Episode 30, candles in holder

Utena’s three candles call back to Touga’s birthday cake and to Mikage’s candles, but then the cake is eaten and the candles (which turn out to be metaphorical) stealthily transfer themselves to the holder in the background of the left image. There is no celebration and no one candle is picked out. The candles represent birthday wishes on the one hand, and Utena’s pure intentions on the other: Each time Utena is tempted into corruption, she blows out another candle, and when she has blown out all three she is granted her birthday wish of becoming corrupted.

The three candles of episode 30 explains more meanings of the candles. This one I’ve got.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 17 July 2022
updated 8 May 2024