Utena - comparisons

A collection of comparisons that struck me and didn’t belong elsewhere. I organized them so that related comparisons are together—compare not only left to right, but in many cases up and down. Utena is constantly talking to itself. There are more point-to-point comparisons in Utena than I’ll ever discover. See sparkling transfers for a multi-way comparison that’s not included here, and reflection catalog for more comparisons. Plus those I point out as they come up in other articles.

Wakaba’s hand is on Utena’s shoulder.
Episode 1, Wakaba and Utena
Two boys have hands on the shoulders of other boys in the crowd.
Episode 1, boys

When Wakaba and Utena join the crowd gathered around Wakaba’s letter to Saionji, Wakaba puts her hand on her “boyfriend” Utena’s shoulder. She seems to be holding on tight. A number of boys in the crowd—not only the two shown here—also have hands on their shoulders. The suggestion is that surprisingly many of the boys are with boyfriends. The guy at bottom left is tall enough, his hand doesn’t get him a better view.

The students have learned their sex roles well, but perhaps in private they don’t always play the roles they have learned.

Colonnade, fully lit, with arches opening to the left.
Episode 1, colonnade
Corridor with windows on the left. Miki is distantly visible at the far end.
Episode 5, corridor

The images equate the colonnade near the greenhouse with a school corridor. Lights are brought up on the episode 1 colonnade in the same way that they are in the episode 5 corridor. It happens to be the music room’s corridor, but I don’t think that’s critical. There are a lot of similar corridors. I think it’s more important that windows equal arches: Both are female symbols, and they are similarly embedded in straight-line male architecture of cage-like bars or grids.

Utena often looks out the window. At those times, she is caged in a female point of view: She is not being a prince, she is watching Touga, or thinking of her prince, and so on. When she looks out and sees Saionji harass Anthy in episode 1, she does not intervene as a prince would, she is relieved when Touga intervenes.

The teacher twists herself into a pretzel trying to convince Utena to dress in the girls’ uniform.
Episode 1, teacher
Nanami twists herself into a pretzel.
Episode 31, Nanami

The teacher can’t figure out how to get Utena to wear the girls’ uniform. Nanami can’t figure out how to rein in Touga. The pretzel positions indicate frustration over inability to control another person. In Utena-world, this only happens to women. Women cannot control men. Men have control; Utena can control her uniform because she is playing a male social role.

I love that two jokes added together make a serious point that neither can make on its own.

The teacher wheels her arms so fast that her hair buns fly up.
Episode 7, teacher
Wakaba wheels her arms so fast that they multiply.
Episode 12, Wakaba

The teacher wheels her arms so fast that her hair buns fly up. Wakaba wheels her arms so fast that they multiply. (Nanami does it too in episode 6.) As in the comparison above, wheeling arms indicate frustration over inability to control another person, and it still happens only to women. There are nuances: Unlike the other three cases in these comparisons, Wakaba is being helpful; shortly after this picture she helps Utena escape her depression. One point is that Wakaba can only help; Utena has to escape on her own. It is parallel to Utena helping Anthy escape the Academy; Anthy has to do it on her own. Another point is that helpful and harmful influence over other people are very much alike. The teacher’s actions are as well-meant as Wakaba’s—perhaps more well-meant. If Utena loses her specialness, then Wakaba loses her touchstone.

The teacher who cannot convince Utena to wear the girls’ uniform breaks the glass—of the TV, apparently.
Episode 1, teacher
Miki’s mental image of the sunlit garden cracks as if it were a glass photograph.
Episode 5, sunlit garden

The long instrument the teacher carries is not a pointer, it is a switch, a tool for corporal punishment. She may use it on the hands of misbehaving students, a very painful punishment. I hope not, though. When she waves it at Utena in episode 7 (above), brave Utena flinches. It’s a nasty school. As she tries to convince Utena to wear the girls’ uniform, we’re shown an admiring view of Utena—which the teacher breaks with her switch. Apparently she’s breaking the glass of the CRT television that Utena is showing on. Utena reminds us it is fictional.

When Miki loses his duel, his mental image of the sunlit garden cracks. Both patterns of cracks resemble lightning. See below.

Lightning over water.
Episode 8, seeking curry spice
Lightning flashes above the church.
Episode 9, church

Miki’s broken glass above is especially similar to the lightning while Nanami seeks curry spice. The lightning over the church where little Utena is hiding in her coffin is closer. The teacher’s broken glass and Nanami’s lightning are pictures of striking back to avenge a misdeed. They change nothing important; vengeance does not work.

Miki’s broken picture and Akio’s lightning are exercises of power, a smaller one by Utena and a great one by Akio. They are images of breaking old patterns of thought. The cracks running through the piano emphasize destroying the old. The lightning seeming to strike from above the church tower looks like a horror movie and may be a specific reference.

Lightning is Zeus’s weapon—Akio is ultimately behind the lightning images.

The dorm lobby when Utena first arrives, with a vaguely visible Dutch windmill painting.
Episode 2, empty dorm
Kanae stands in front of the reception window in Nemuro Memorial Hall.
Episode 14, Kanae’s interview

Unattended offices. The pictures are mirror images: Reception window on one side, minimal lobby area on the opposite side, ineffective light source in the middle (one forward, one in the rear), bland decorations. They share a dark air, as if abandoned. The buildings belong to the dead: Left, Mishima Yukio’s House, right the dead Mikage’s memorial hall. That must be why no one is there. Utena and Kanae are brought under Anthy’s control: Utena by living with her, Kanae through Mamiya’s black rose.

Utena and Kanae are intended to die. My best guess about the reason for the mirror-imaging is that Utena survives.

A mouse carrying a piece of nibbled Swiss cheese and surrounded by bits of debris.
Episode 2, imaginary mouse
We meet Chu-Chu for the first time, eating a cookie.
Episode 2, meeting Chu-Chu

Wakaba told Utena that the dorm Utena was to move into had been unused for ten years. When Utena reaches the room, she imagines opening the door to see the room in ruins, inhabited only by a mouse that somehow found cheese in the old and dirty debris. Later, she meets Chu-Chu.

Both are carrying partly-eaten food. Chu-Chu looks mouse-like. Miki associates Chu-Chu with mice in episode 15. The imaginary mouse is facing Utena in plain view and will presumably run away. Real Chu-Chu was hiding from Utena and facing away and immediately comes to like her and spend time with her. Maybe we’re being told that preconceptions and first impressions are unreliable.

Chu-Chu wields a dinner fork as if it were a sword.
Episode 2, Chu-Chu
Saionji in Chu-Chu’s body practices with a tiny sword.
Episode 8, Saionji as Chu-Chu

This is just cute. It does emphasize that Chu-Chu is treating the fork as a sword, which matters in interpreting the event of doing away with Kanae. There is other evidence of that, though: In episode 16, Utena uses a pitchfork as if it were a sword to remove Nanami’s cowbell, complete with duel-like imagery and Nanami falling to the ground as if her black rose had been scattered.

Or we could say that Chu-Chu is trying to remove Saionji’s cowbell, the invisible symbol of his twisted personality.

Chu-Chu  is captured by the octopus and wrapped up.
Episode 4, with octopus
Chu-Chu is captured by an earthworm and wrapped up.
Episode 36, with earthworm
Chu-Chu sleeps wrapped up in the red yarn Anthy is using to knit the sweater that Utena uses as a red cape with Nanami when she turns into a cow.
Episode 16, with yarn

Chu-Chu is twice captured by animals and wrapped up. The octopus and earthworm both represent Akio, who has captured Anthy. I think Chu-Chu chooses to sleep wrapped up in yarn. It’s the cowbell episode, and Anthy knits the red yarn into the sweater/red cape to mess with Nanami when she turns into a cow. Nanami is the one captured, and apparently Chu-Chu representing Anthy finds it comfortable and relaxing. Does it hint that Akio ordered Anthy to put Nanami through a Black Rose-like duel where Utena removes her black rose-like cowbell?

The overhead light in the dorm room is white.
Episode 2, white light
The overhead light in the dorm room is yellow.
Episode 4, yellow light

On the left, the overhead light is turned off and looks white. Anthy and Utena are starting to get to know each other in the white light of day (the blue and green tinges may be meaningful). On the right, Nanami visits at night with a plan to humiliate Anthy. The overhead light is turned on and glows yellow, casting yellow light over the room. The yellow can stand for Nanami’s jealousy, Utena’s envy of Miki’s academic skill, Miki being affected by Kozue’s jealousy, and Anthy’s childishness in playing around instead of doing schoolwork. I think Nanami is primary; she is associated with yellow light in the dance party episode 3 too.

Strangely enough for Utena, the colors make not only metaphorical but literal sense. An incandescent bulb looks white when turned off, and casts yellowish light when turned on.

Silhouettes of Miki, Touga, and Juri in the Student Council elevator.
Episode 2, Student Council elevator
Anthy and Utena in the elevator to Akio’s tower room, its doors opening. The interior is bright red.
Episode 14, tower elevator
Kanae and Mikage in the confession elevator, lit in blue.
Episode 14, confession elevator

Utena has three elevators, all to places of power. Each comes with distinct imagery. The Student Council elevator has a red interior, it travels upward (except once with Juri in episode 17), the occupants are silhouettes, we usually look through it from behind, and the door is in the old-fashioned cage style—the Student Council is caged. The elevator trip recapitulates the bird breaking out of its imprisoning egg as Touga’s recorded voice recites the speech about it: The elevator cage opens like the chick opening its egg, releasing the members to the Student Council platform. They’re being told that they’ll be the ones to revolutionize the world—which was a lie even before Utena showed up. Juri believes the lie; I think it’s part of why she attacks Utena in episode 7. The Student Council does not have real power; that is also a lie. The Council is literally and metaphorically under Akio.

The elevator to Akio’s tower room also has a red interior. The doors bear a large rose emblem. The rose emblem is solid, but the rest of the door is made of vertical bars like the Student Council elevator, so that the elevator car is a prison cell. We don’t see the elevator move; we always see it from Akio’s room, whether the doors are closed or open: Akio seeks cultural stasis for the world, the maintenance or increase of his power. In the picture, the doors are opening as Anthy brings Utena to visit Akio for the first time. We always see the elevator and its contents from head on, the opposite of the Student Council elevator: The power is real.

Akio’s tower room at the high point of the world (Olympus) is parallel and opposed to the confession elevator to Mikage’s underworld lair (Hades), the low point of the world. Symbolically, both places are underworlds and are near the End of the World. The confession elevator goes down (except once, for Tatsuya, when it returns to the surface). We see the elevator from a variety of directions: Most typically from above, but sometimes from a low angle and diagonally from outside it, and even from over the shoulders of Shiori and Utena—even occasionally from straight ahead.

There is one other elevator: The “gondola” to the dueling arena in the Apocalypse arc. It is notionally the same as the tower elevator.

The camera is low to the ground as Utena slaps away Touga’s hand. We see a black triangle under Anthy’s skirt.
Episode 3, Anthy Utena Touga
The camera is low to the ground as Utena slaps away Touga’s hand. We see a black triangle under Anthy’s skirt.
Episode 3, Touga Utena Anthy

On the left, Touga has just shown up. Utena rejects his approach. Anthy watches in surprise. See obscure symbols - skirt shadows for more on this complicated image. On the right, Touga is about to leave. He played a prince, and Utena is already half-convinced. Anthy watches neutrally, no longer surprised. The characters are in the opposite order in the frame.

On the left, Utena is in open air for freedom, though the cloudy sky stands for her illusion of the prince. She is farther away and looks shorter than the two with the power of the patriarchy behind them. On the right, she is enclosed in an arch—trapped by a depiction of the female arch supported by the male columns.

Immediately after this is an image of Utena’s dilemma.

Background couples at the dance party, depicted without color.
Episode 3, background couples
Touga and Nanami emerge from the balcony, foreground characters but posed the same as the background couples.
Episode 3, foreground couple

In the dance party, background couples are depicted with the woman glommed on to the man’s arm. Seconds later, Touga and Nanami emerge from the balcony, Nanami glommed on to Touga’s arm.

Nanami advertises her idea of their relationship. Touga does not appear to object. But the two have just emerged from behind a curtain: They are actors stepping onto the stage of a theater. Nanami may be sincere. Touga is certainly playing a role.

Sticking to the man like a burr is as good as announcing your dependency.

Anthy wearing the tablecloth that Utena miraculously transformed into a dress.
Episode 3, Anthy wearing tablecloth
Mitsuru wearing a sheet that he improvised into a robe.
Episode 24, Mitsuru wearing sheet

Mitsuru’s improvised robe in episode 24 echoes the dress for Anthy that Utena miraculously created from a tablecloth. The knot matches the cloth rose that Utena literally handwaved into existence. Mitsuru is short and has to hold up the sheet. He does not have Utena’s power of miracles, and his knot comes undone.

Unlike the women of the couples immediately above, Anthy does not announce any dependency on Utena. But she is pleased to be rescued. Anthy accepts her subordinate role, and even prefers it. Her shoes symbolize her acceptance.

One of the nerd boys is face-down in the water.
Episode 6, defeated nerd boy
Saionji is face down in the water.
Episode 9, Saionji down

When Mitsuru defeats the nerd boys for Nanami, one ends up face down in the water. Utena, searching for Anthy who has been “spirited away”, finds Saionji at the gate to the dueling forest, face down in the water. Saionji is covered by streamers of mist. The two are at the same angle in the frame; the comparison is definitely intended. Strangely, neither drowns.

The mist must mean that something is being concealed. Japanese for “spirited away” is kamikakushi, spirit-hidden or god-hidden. The water must be the water of illusions. Both boys expected a straightforward victory and ended up face down. It seems to refer to Anthy hidden in her coffin, and not revealed until the final episode. Saionji’s memory has little Utena spirited away to a coffin. I imagine there is more to it; Nanami and Anthy are connected.

One girl peers out from behind the other.
Episode 1, behind Utena
One girl peers out from behind the other.
Episode 12, ahead of Utena

At the start of the series, right after the prince story, Wakaba waits for Utena. The bolder of two girls tells her that Utena has gone ahead, and laughs at Wakaba. The other peers from behind. In episode 12, Wakaba walks ahead of Utena. Two girls with similar colors stand in almost identical poses. They admire Utena in the girls’ uniform.

Utena arriving ahead of Wakaba points to Utena’s final victory, or at least to her greater progress in defying the system of control. Wakaba defies it too, with her “boyfriend” Utena, and is made fun of for it. When Touga defeats Utena she gives up her defiance, and is admired. Wakaba remains defiant, pointing to her afterstory, and helps Utena restore her defiance. Meanwhile, Wakaba’s acquaintances and Utena’s fangirls are firmly trapped in the system of control.

A waiter sprays Anthy with the pressurized contents of a bottle.
Episode 3, spraying Anthy
Anthy has been splashed with water.
Episode 12, splashing Anthy

Left, the traitor waiter sprays Anthy to dissolve her “special” dress. Right, Wakaba aimed to splash Touga, but Touga dodged and Anthy got wet. Both are pictures of Anthy as a victim and scapegoat. Nanami loves Anthy but does not understand herself (like Utena, she has never realized that one woman can love another), and blames Anthy for her confused feelings. Like Ruka who loves Juri, Nanami attacks her in a sexual assault (I expect she was unconsciously hoping for an eyeful). Wakaba did not intend to attack Anthy, but having done it she falsely blames Anthy for Utena’s depression.

The waiter presumably sprays seltzer water. Wakaba threw water. It seems more like the water of tears than the water of illusions. Anthy getting splashed seems to be mainly a variation on Anthy getting slapped.

Anthy sits on the floor, hands holding together the remnants of her dissolving green dress.
Episode 3, Anthy’s clothing
Utena’s girls’ uniform has been sliced up in the duel against Touga.
Episode 12, Utena’s clothing

This must go with the comparison immediately above. Left, Nanami has destroyed Anthy’s clothing. Anthy is distressed (though she might be faking it—see the purple shadows on her gloves). Right, Touga has destroyed Utena’s clothing. Utena is happy because her enforced girlishness, that the girls’ uniform stands for, is destroyed. In the two cases of splashing above, Utena helped Anthy. In Utena’s recovery of her “self”, Anthy helped Utena.

Nanami tried to unclothe Anthy under the guise of humiliating her, and Touga tried to unclothe Utena under the guise of fighting her. Both are abuses of power in the form of sexual assaults motivated by love—never mind that they backfired. In Utena force usually loses, and subterfuge wins; Akio’s loveless sexual assaults succeed through trickery.

Nanami holds Mitsuru’s handkerchief in front of an open book.
Episode 6, Mitsuru’s handkerchief
Anthy holds Utena’s handkerchief up, looking at it.
Episode 12, Utena’s handkerchief

Nanami looks at Mitsuru’s handkerchief, given to her when Mitsuru played a prince, to “treat” her injury. Anthy looks at Utena’s handkerchief, given to her to wipe the water Wakaba unintentionally threw on her. Even when abandoned and depressed, Utena played prince long enough to help Anthy a little. Nanami seeks out Mitsuru “to go out,” but makes him her flunky—she controls him. Anthy helps Utena in the episode 12 duel, and over time falls in love with her, but nevertheless proceeds to manipulate Utena for most of the rest of the series.

Are all the students wealthy enough to afford monogrammed handkerchiefs? Is the school not only nasty, but greedy?

On the left, a bird cage with bird. On the right, little Kozue. The colors are abstract, not realistic.
Episode 5, little Kozue
The shadow girl on the right wears a red hair bow.
Episode 34, shadow girls

Little Kozue wears a hair bow in Miki’s memory from episode 5. The purple is because Miki sees his actions then as actively wrong, though to us in the audience he seems to exaggerate his guilt. One of the shadow girls—the one who more often plays male characters and more often represents Utena—wears a similar hair bow. In episode 34 when we meet them in person, we see that the bow is red for knowledge.

The parallel is surely intended. Little Kozue’s hair has curly lobes echoing the shadow girl’s, while older Kozue’s hair does not. The parallel equates Kozue with the pirate captain of the shadow play, and reinforces her association with Utena. Kozue is presumably a pirate because she (believes she) cannot get what she wants from Miki.

A black coffin lies inside a huge red rose in the dueling arena. We see Utena’s hand on the left of the frame and Saionji’s on the right.
Episode 9, false rose
Little Utena runs toward the suspended Anthy as the prince watches.
Episode 34, broken rose
Distant view of Akio walking away from Anthy and the fallen Utena, with a diseased-looking rose in the background.
Episode 39, diseased rose

Two representations of Anthy’s coffin. Left, a theatrical version for Touga’s fake rescue plot. Anthy’s pretend coffin lies in a red rose for Anthy. Next, the version that little Utena meets. The rose is veined with the Swords of Hatred and falling to pieces. The disintegrating rose goes with Utena’s diseased rose in the final showdown, right.

The left roses are Anthy in the womb, unhatched from the egg of the world. It aligns with my interpretation of the spinning roses in the opening sequence.

Saionji strikes Touga with his sword, who blocked it from Utena, who is helping Anthy.
Episode 9, Saionji strikes
Silhouette of Wakaba striking with her sword at Utena, with Anthy behind.
Episode 20, Wakaba strikes

Wakaba, using Saionji’s sword and speaking of Saionji, strikes at Utena in anger, like Saionji, and misses like Saionji. The triangle of Anthy’s princess dress echoes the triangle of Touga’s legs, and both hold out left arms, suggesting that (as in episode 9) Anthy is in on it. She dodges as if fearful, quite a difference from her stoic acceptance of being pincushioned by the Swords of Hatred in the final episode. Like Touga, she is not in real danger. See the next comparison for more; the episode 20 image there is directly after this one.

Shadows on the dueling arena surface. The shadow of Touga’s sword passes through the shadow of Utena’s head.
Episode 11, Touga strikes
Wakaba strikes with her sword at Utena, with Anthy nearby dodging. They cast silhouette-like shadows.
Episode 20, Wakaba strikes

The shadow of Wakaba’s sword thrust passes through the shadow of Utena’s head, making it parallel to Touga’s psychological attack in the duel of episode 11. In fact, Saionji trying to strike Utena (directly above) is also a psychological attack by Touga. The implication is that Wakaba striking at Utena is a psychological attack by Mikage—or really by Akio who controls Mikage through Anthy. The prominent classroom desks say that Utena is being taught a lesson. Utena learns the lesson of princeliness well; the pavement grid of the arena puts them all in the same cage cell, and the pavement is blue to say that the lesson is illusory.

That’s the shadow of Anthy’s upheld arm sticking out of the side of Anthy’s shadow head. Or it’s meant to be.

An imaginary Anthy is falling into flames.
Episode 8, Miki’s imagination
The exchange diary falls into the incinerator, surrounded by flame.
Episode 10, exchange diary
The coffin of a dead duelist is engulfed in flames as it falls.
Episode 14, cremation

Three examples of falling into the fire of destruction, in order of increasing severity. In the body swap episode 8, Miki imagines Anthy burning because she made the curry too hot at his request. In episode 10, Touga throws the exchange diary into the incinerator. The fire is two-tone red for Touga, and is rendered strangely. In episode 14, Mikage consigns the coffin of the losing duelist boy to the flames.

Akio is the Devil. All the flames are the flames of Christian hell that people are falling into.

Utena thwacks her chest while objecting to Anthy’s Rose Bride role.
Episode 5, Utena makes a point
Anthy helps keep the injured Utena upright.
Episode 30, Anthy props up Utena

Utena not only takes on a male social role with Anthy, with Anthy she treats her chest like a boy’s chest. In episode 5, arguing that she does not accept Anthy as her bride, she leans forward aggressively and thwacks her breast for emphasis. We hear it. In episode 30, after her basketball injury, Anthy helps Utena hobble away, one hand on her breast. From a mechanical point of view, it doesn’t much help Utena walk. Anthy desires Utena, and she has figured out that Utena doesn’t particularly notice her touch or attach any significance to it. Anthy is exploiting Utena’s indifference to feel her up. Anthy is smiling, not a tactful expression when helping an injured person.

There is an exception. In episode 35 when Utena is girlish, her chest is girlish too.

Touga fans the knives in his hand, about to throw them one at a time.
Episode 7, Touga throws knives
Keiko fans the invitation letters in her hand, about to throw them all at once.
Episode 21, Keiko throws letters

Touga fans knives in his hand before throwing them, one at a time, to pin Miki in place. See the theme of entrapment under the episode 7 shadow play. He is a carnival knife thrower, a skilled entertainer. Keiko fans invitation letters to Nanami’s party for Touga before throwing them all at once. See crowds - episode 21 invitations. She plays a skilled anime ninja throwing shuriken, another kind of throwing blade, and a fictional entertainment.

The comparison ties Keiko to Touga. The point may be that Keiko believes she is a match for Touga, but a carnival knife thrower has real skill while an anime ninja is made up—she is wrong. Also, the invitations are from Nanami; Keiko is not independent.

Utena looks stupid.
Episode 11, with Anthy
Utena looks stupid while blushing with attraction.
Episode 31, with Akio

This is Utena’s stupid face. She makes this expression when she is going wrong and rational thought deserts her. On the left, she believes she has convinced Anthy to open her heart and make friends. On the right, her hand has touched Akio’s on the first aid kit, and the feeling of attraction overpowers her reason. There are more examples. Twice in episode 11, Utena and Anthy both make the stupid face: Once when Utena thinks Touga is about to kiss her; again before the duel. Another is after Akio’s rescue in the Second Seduction of episode 36, when Utena’s brain shuts down completely, leaving only admiration.

By the way, when Utena takes the first aid kit, Anthy has stepped out of the room to fetch shaved ice. Utena tries to hide her feelings from Anthy, but doesn’t seem to care about Nanami.

Juri angrily challenges Utena.
Episode 7, Juri challenges Utena
Utena looks pained because she is injured after falling in basketball.
Episode 23, Utena challenges Mikage

Angry faces. The episode 7 challenge is parallel to the episode 23 challenge. In both cases, the two physically fight and end up on the ground, and the initiator of the fight then, in anger and frustration, challenges the other to a duel. Juri feels from the start that Utena’s entry into the dueling game is unfair, and fights for the power of miracles. Utena just learned that Mikage is a serial manipulator, and can’t stand it.

Utena won both fights. Juri attacked from a position of advantage, and Utena still fended her off.

Juri and Mikage both gave the impression of hitting on Utena. Sincere or not, it didn’t change their intentions to subdue her. Juri versus Ruka in episode 29 is parallel too, including the hitting on.

Kanae sits in Nemuro Memorial Hall, looking worried toward the camera.
Episode 14, Kanae worried
Utena is lying back in Akio’s car as he holds her arms down. She looks worried.
Episode 37, Utena worried

Worried faces. The last thing we saw Kanae do was ask Anthy to call her “onee-san” (big sister), and it did not turn out well. The last thing Utena said was “Do you think Himemiya has gone to bed yet?” Her expression is nearly identical to Kanae’s, though we only see it for a moment. Each is worried because of her love for Anthy, which she does not understand.

The shadow line is similar in both, except that it falls behind Kanae and on Utena. Utena is sliding down into Akio’s darkness. Is the angular shadow behind Kanae the shadow of a coffin? For more on aspects of the Utena image, see down catalog - held down and Routine Date - back at home.

Juri in the shower, looking pained.
Episode 17, Juri hurting
Utena looks pained because she is injured after falling in basketball.
Episode 30, Utena injured

Pained faces. Juri in the shower is in emotional pain. Utena fell when distracted while playing basketball, and is in physical pain. I think Juri is facing right because her pain is due to reality, while Utena is facing left because her pain is due to illusions—Akio engineered Utena’s fall as part of his corruption and seduction plot.

Juri sits, looking troubled. Her locket is out.
Episode 17, before throwing
Juri throws her locket into the pond. She throws strongly, like a baseball player.
Episode 17, throwing
Juri stands, her eyes above the top of the frame.
Episode 17, after throwing

Juri has opened her uniform to take her locket out. It has a hook-and-loop closure. At first, the male hooks are at frame left (Juri’s right) and the female loops are at frame right. When she decides to throw the locket away, the hooks and loops swap sides. The third picture is there mostly because it’s clearer, but also because her eyes are out of frame, meaning that she does not see something. The first picture is the reversal: Earlier in the episode, the loops were at frame left.

I don’t know why the sides swapped. But see costumes - the fastenings of uniforms for general discussion.

Utena in a black frame and flurry of petals slides forward toward Touga.
Episode 11, Utena attacks
Touga in a white frame and flurry of petals slides forward toward Utena.
Episode 11, Touga attacks

Abstract attacks 1. In Touga’s duels of episode 11 and episode 36, the two make aggressive moves which are not literally depicted, but symbolized by images of the two sliding toward each other in a flurry of rose petals. Touga slides to the left because he is presenting an illusion. Utena is in a black frame and Touga in a white frame, matching their jackets. In episode 11, Touga earns his white frame by successfully playing prince for Utena, and Utena succumbs to the darkness of the Akio-wannabe. In episode 36, Touga tries a similar psychological attack which fails. By then, Utena has succumbed to the darkness of Akio, who played prince successfully earlier in the episode.

The frames remind me of the frame of Akio’s photographic slide of the moon.

Utena and Chu-Chu are asleep at the table with the lights on. Utena is halfway through stemming the green beans.
Episode 23, Utena attacks
Utena and Anthy are holding hands late at night, Anthy still asleep.
Episode 23, Mikage attacks

Abstract attacks 2. In episode 23, when Utena and Mikage meet at the wall of photos, they slide antagonistically toward each other in a similar way. The frames have moved from outside the characters to behind them, but again Utena is first and slides to the right, while her opponent is second and slides to the left. The roses are in the glass covers, caught in the stasis of Mikage’s world.

Episodes 11, 36, and 23 are contests of will, where Utena’s opponent tries to convince her. The opposed sliding motion represents their opposed wills. Touga’s episode 11 emotional trick convinces Utena temporarily, while Mikage’s intellectual arguments disturb Utena but can’t convince her. It draws a parallel with the final showdown’s first and second challenges. The first convinces Utena temporarily; the second fails; a duel follows.

In bed, Utena’s head slides to the left while Anthy’s slides to the right.
Episode 25, sliding apart

Abstract parting. This repeated shot has the two sliding apart from each other in the S-shaped bed. It’s not a camera move; there is no attempt to show a change in perspective. The two care for each other and talk openly and honestly, but achieve little communication; they are close but depicted as separating. Realistic Anthy lies on her right side, the side of reality. Naive Utena is flat on her back, defeated and unable to understand. The two are inverted relative to each other. The pillows are blue-green for manipulation and illusion.

The abstract parting coordinates with the concrete parting of parting hands. And with the abstract attacks above. Like other reversals, they reflect Akio’s backward world: Those who should be apart are put together and come into conflict; those who should be together are pulled apart. It’s in part an effect of playing a role, which forces people to make bad decisions.

Utena is asleep at the table in the tower room, Anthy warning her she’ll catch a cold.
Episode 35, forgetting

Utena sleeps at the table at the start and end of the Black Rose. Here she is again, after the Second Seduction. See the section on regret. Utena realizes something was wrong about the events of the Second Seduction, but it’s late and she falls asleep. Her hair is prince length for her realization, and Anthy’s long hair invites Utena into the tower.

The images of sleeping at the dorm table associate sleep with ignorance or obliviousness, and being awake with realization. Here Utena had a realization while awake, then fell asleep and forgot it. Sleep is associated with forgetting.

We only see sleep affecting Utena and Anthy (who is sleepy at the end of the Black Rose; she was awake while Utena slept through it). In Utena, is sleep bad for everybody, or only for those who Akio pays special attention to?

Kanae in the dueling arena, with white lilies on the desks.
Episode 14, white lilies
Utena on the floor drying her hair with a towel, a vase of roses in the background.
Episode 33, roses

See Kanae’s lilies, and the roses and the roses in the vase in episode 33. The flowers are in tall, phallic, Western-style vases, not the wider planters and vases Anthy prefers. The vases hold the flowers (women) upright; in Japanese ikebana flower arranging, the flowers hold themselves upright. The metaphor is dead on, so I’m sure it is intended. The tissues next to Utena’s roses metaphorically turn them into ejaculate from the vase. To me, it implies that we have to interpret Kanae’s lilies sexually too: She is in male hands—she says her father selected Akio for her to marry—but she is in the yuri genre, she is a lesbian.

Is the black rose’s basin parallel to the vases?

Silhouetted students run to Wakaba’s love letter, posted on a bulletin board.
Episode 1, Wakaba’s letter
Silhouetted students run to see the final exam schedule, posted on the wall.
Episode 15, exam schedule

Boys running to see Wakaba’s love letter on the bulletin board are parallel to students running to see the posted final exam schedule. They’re so parallel that some animation is reused. In both events, Utena and Wakaba are together and Wakaba expresses dismay (though “English and math are on the same day” is milder than running away in tears). Both prompt Utena to duel. Maybe it is preparing us for Wakaba’s duel? I think there’s more to the parallel than I see.

Students also gather in episode 10 to see the notice of Saionji’s expulsion posted on the wall. They don’t run, and Wakaba is not there.

In a tennis game, Nanami serves the ball past her opponent.
Episode 16, Nanami
In a tennis game, Wakaba returns the ball from behind her back.
Episode 20, Wakaba
Utena, wearing Anthy’s body, hits a ping-pong ball past her opponent.
Episode 8, table tennis

Nanami’s cowbell gives her power. She throws the tennis ball high into the sun and serves at furious speed past her opponent. Nanami seeks power over others. Wakaba’s specialness in harboring Saionji gives her style. She has fun returning the ball with the racket behind her back. She has whimsy and enjoys the specialness of doing tricks. Both are specialness lasting only a short time. Wakaba’s specialness makes her stand out in many ways—she’s the next hero.

Nanami’s serve was prefigured in episode 8. Utena is in Anthy’s body. Utena also seeks power.

Long tables with empty chairs in the dining room of the empty dorm.
Episode 2, dorm dining room
Nanami sits with her egg at a long dining table in the Kiryuu mansion.
Episode 27, Kiryuu dining table
Kane and his then-wife sit at opposite ends of a long table, reading newspapers.
from Citizen Kane
A tremendously long table stretches into the distance. In one section, boys are researching with books, papers, and whiteboards.
Episode 22, research table
Episode 23, banquet table

The long tables imply separation. Citizen Kane (Wikipedia) similarly uses a long table to show separation between Kane and his wife of the time. I don’t know that it is direct influence; the symbol escaped into the wild long ago.

Anthy and Utena are separated from other students in the empty dorm. The dining room there is full of long tables with empty chairs. In the Kiryuu mansion, Nanami and Touga sit at opposite ends of the long dining table, and raise their voices to speak to each other. Candles in the middle separate them further.

The researching duelist boys, a small subgroup of the 100, sit at a small section of a tremendous table. Later, the banquet table (possibly the same table) is being set up, but we don’t see it attended. Again there are candles in the middle. Mikage uses these candles to burn down his building and kill the boys, another form of separation.

The long tables are long straight objects, and are symbolically male. Men create separation.

Tokiko with one hand on Mamiya’s shoulder, admonishing him.
Episode 22, Mamiya and Tokiko
Utena with one hand on Anthy’s shoulder, admonishing her.
Episode 22, Anthy and Utena

The episode explicitly draws this comparison, showing the images back-to-back with a comment by Mikage, who sees Tokiko in Utena. Both are in rose gardens. Tokiko is admonishing Mamiya for not taking care of himself in his illness. Utena is admonishing Anthy for accepting the Rose Bride role—for not taking care of herself. Both are trying to make another person’s decisions for them. A vertical line runs through wrists in both pictures, separating the characters.

It’s a subtle hint that Anthy is playing Mamiya. We’re not supposed to realize it yet.

Aiko gobbles pocky.
Episode 21, gobbling pocky
Chu-Chu with spaghetti, seen close up.
Episode 23, Chu-Chu and spaghetti
Chu-Chu gobbles spaghetti, seen from farther back.
Episode 23, Chu-Chu eating

Nanami’s minions-to-be (here, Aiko) make short work of pocky as they contemplate joining Nanami. It’s a phallic symbol; they are all thinking of Touga. A couple episodes later, Chu-Chu does the same with raw spaghetti (which reminds me of the “Latin blood” byplay with Utena and Touga in episode 31). Chu-Chu eats nervously as Anthy sleeps. It’s two subtle hints that Anthy is playing Mamiya, setting up for the end of the episode.

Akio smiles evilly, his eyes above the top of the frame.
Episode 22, “She, you say?”
Akio smiles evilly, sunset sky in the background.
Episode 25, watching Utena
Akio smiles evilly, blue sky in the background.
Episode 30, with Mrs. Ohtori

Akio’s evil smiles. He shows his teeth when making progress in a plot; he enjoys his evil. He becomes somebody’s prince; see other symbols - teeth. Episode 22, he learns that Tokiko is Mikage’s motivation. Soon, he seduces her. Episode 25, he has activated Utena’s attraction to him, starting his corruption plot. Episode 30, Mrs. Ohtori dismisses her husband, “who cares about him?” Also episode 30, dealing with the bothersome teachers. For yet another, see obscure symbols - Akio dominates.

Akio boasts his evil to Utena, when the boast will go over her head, and thinks nothing of feeding her absolute nonsense.

Ruka looks backward over his shoulder with an amused smile.
Episode 28, “not my sword”
Akio presses his lips together in an amused expression.
Episode 36, “big but gentle"

Expressions of amusement. I think they are to be taken together. Left, Shiori has said that she polished Ruka’s sword every day, and he answers that it is not his sword. He caught her in a lie but played along. Now he is finished exploiting Shiori and laughs at her. Right, Akio introduces Utena to the horse. He tells her it is large-bodied but gentle, using a word that also means obedient, and has undertones of a well-behaved child. He is well into his plot to exploit Utena.

It’s not a sure thing, but there’s evidence that Ruka may be telling the truth about the sword. I gather that Akio is telling the truth about the horse. But he conflates the horse with himself, and he is lying about himself. It’s part of his plot, and I gather that he is amused at his “little joke”. He relies on Utena to overlook that he is amused at her expense.

Nanami practices <i>ikebana</i>, Japanese flower arranging.
Episode 16, arranging flowers
Nanami makes tea using the kappa-shaped hot water dispenser.
Episode 39, making tea

That’s ikebana on the left, Japanese flower arranging. She is breaking a rule of ikebana: There are six flowers, an even number, which is considered unlucky. Even Kanae’s lilies are three to a vase. I suspect I’d see more if I knew more. The horned cow pattern of her kimono goes well with the cowbell. In both pictures, Nanami is in a traditional space carrying out a traditional activity, with one glaringly nontraditional element: The cowbell, the kappa hot water dispenser. Even the sailor uniform is a tradition, though it’s more recent.

Context tells us that Nanami is going wrong with the cowbell and right with the kappa. But they sure look alike.

The nerd boys grab Utena and try to silence her with a hand over her mouth.
Episode 16, nerd boys
The shadow girls cover Utena’s ears and mouth.
Episode 34, shadow girls

Left, the nerd boys try to stop Utena from complaining to Nanami about the weirdness of the cowbell. Utena is not one who should complain about weirdness. Right, the shadow girls cover Utena’s mouth and ears; see the episode 34 shadow play. They are images of silencing Utena, the rebellious woman. Utena defeats the nerd boys. She declines the shadow girls, who would give her a voice through acting—though it might be a false voice.

The voices of the oppressed are not heard; they are rendered powerless. Anthy barely speaks to others. The system of control silences dissent. Akio wants to exploit Utena; he silences and isolates her to take control over her.

One petal falls from an orange rose.
Episode 17, Juri ponders
One petals detaches from Juri’s orange rose as it hits the ground.
Episode 29, Juri concedes

In episode 17, Shiori’s Black Rose duel, Juri is in the greenhouse—at first surrounded by pink roses for Utena—pondering her saying about believing in miracles. One petal falls from an orange rose past her face. In their duel in episode 29, Utena unintentionally, but through her power of miracles, destroys Juri’s locket. Juri is emotionally crushed and concedes the duel, dropping her rose to the ground. One petal detaches when it hits, reaching her foot—the opposite end from her face.

Juri is denied the power of miracles, but Utena’s power of miracles grants her a small miracle. Juri’s feelings for Shiori do not change, but she is freed from her harmful obsession. That orange petal is her small miracle. It’s parallel to Utena abandoning her belief in princes in the final episode.

Juri in the class photo, with eyes closed.
Episode 7, Juri in photo
Anthy’s eyes are closed for the photo as she stands beside Utena and Akio.
Episode 34, Anthy for photo

Juri’s eyes are closed for the class photo. Anthy’s eyes are closed for the commemorative photo in episode 34. We don’t see that photo, but here is Anthy with eyes closed a little while before it was taken. Both stand with hands defensively clasped in front—usual for Anthy, strange for Juri. Juri’s eyes were open and arms at her sides until Shiori whispered to the unnamed boy.

Both sets of closed eyes imply not wanting to see. Juri doesn’t want to see Shiori turning away from her. Anthy does not want to see Utena turning away from her and toward Akio.

Touga steers the bicycle and Saionji sits behind.
Episode 9, on the bicycle
Touga controls the horse and Utena sits behind.
Episode 35, on the horse

As kids, Touga controls the bicycle while Saionji sits behind, holding on. Touga controls the horse while Utena sits behind, holding on. Touga treats both as dependents. It’s the same when Touga controls the motorcycle while Saionji sits in the sidecar. When Touga tells Saionji it’s dangerous to stand in the sidecar, he’s calling back to Utena falling from the horse: Touga’s horse ride with Utena represents his failed courtship; he’s too cynical to admit it, but he doesn’t want to lose Saionji. (It’s also a reference to Lost Highway.) In episode 25 Touga declines to take the wheel of Akio’s car because he is too young to drive. Touga does not have the rule-breaking attitude shared by Utena and Akio (pointed out by Akio in episode 30’s Cinderella scene). The swords over Saionji’s shoulder forecast the two pairing off much later. (The closer sword is Saionji, the farther one Touga. Compare another sword image.)

Keiko embraces the sword she has just drawn from Touga.
Episode 21, Keiko and Touga
Shiori fearfully holds the sword that fell from Ruka’s locker.
Episode 28, Shiori and Ruka

Girls embracing the swords—the male power symbols—of those they desire. Both images are red. Keiko exercised power over Touga in seizing his sword, and holds the sword sensuously close and confidently erect, point upward, the hilt right where she wants it. Shiori is apologetic and submissive; she lowered herself and holds the sword point downward away from her body. The power is Ruka’s.

Shiori doesn’t understand herself. Keiko chose to become Nanami’s minion, not a good decision but a clear-eyed one. Even after experiencing the drawbacks of her position in episode 21, she chooses to return to it.

Wakaba looks at Utena with a defiant smile after Utena slapped her.
Episode 12, Utena slapped Wakaba
Keiko looks up with a defiant smile after Nanami has slapped her. She has a red mark on her face.
Episode 32, Nanami slapped Keiko

A detailed parallel. Friend Wakaba and minion Keiko react with defiance when slapped. They see it as a sign of power gained, giving them a chance to stay with the one they seek. They slap back; harm begets harmful vengeance. When Utena is slapped back, she turns to her dear Anthy and offers help—a handkerchief to dry off. Anthy accepts it. When Nanami is slapped back, she turns to her dear Touga and asks help—don’t go out with her! Touga rejects it.

One of the sources of Utena’s goodness, now faltering under pressure, is that she does not see herself as special. She does not notice the contradiction that she has to make an effort and suffer unhappiness to behave as an ordinary girl—and she remains a prince, as shown by her hair length. Nanami does see herself as special, and it makes her bad. Only the ordinary can bring about the extraordinary world revolution.

Akio, carrying a tea tray, wears an apron.
Episode 32, Akio fakes being girlish
Akio sits on his car while Utena is out of view, lying down inside it.
Episode 37, Akio says Utena is girlish

On the left, Akio provides breakfast. For the episode, he is impressing Utena and keeping her attention on him. In his larger plot, he is suggesting that he will be a good husband, certainly not one who will leave all the cooking to her like Anthy does. When Utena says he looks good in an apron, he replies “I hope you’re not teasing me.” On the right, home from the Routine Date, Akio tells Utena that she is girlish tonight. Utena does not understand, and shortly wonders to Anthy if he was teasing her.

Utena does not understand sex roles, even though she takes on a male role with respect to Anthy and a female role with respect to Akio. Akio does not realize that Utena does not understand. To him it’s basic, everybody knows it. His attempt to influence her after the Routine Date flew over her head. Akio is not all-powerful.

View through the window into cooking class. The students wear aprons.
Episode 8, cooking class
Saionji wears a frilly yellow apron while cooking eggs.
Episode 27, cooking eggs

More aprons to go with Akio’s apron above. Cooking in Akio’s world is woman’s work, and those who cook wear aprons. All the students we see in the cooking class are girls. Saionji’s apron is particularly feminine, with ruffles and little hearts. He looks dismayed by Nanami’s ineffectual violence, which does not equal Saionji’s vicious violence.

Utena does not wear an apron when stemming green beans in episode 14. Anthy does not wear an apron when “preparing shaved ice” (sawing into the great block of ice) in episode 32.

Anthy wears a smock while cleaning the room in the empty dorm.
Episode 3, cleaning
Utena carries books while Anthy vacuums.
Episode 25, vacuuming

Smocks to go with the aprons above. Cleaning is woman’s work. Anthy does not cook because she is a kept woman, but we often see her cleaning or doing related tasks, like putting away clean laundry. When Anthy is cleaning, Utena is generally nearby doing something other than cleaning—here, carrying heavy books, playing her male role. The large stack of books is no strain, because she is Hercules.

Saionji is associated with cleaning as well as cooking. He’s a metaphorical woman subordinated to Touga.

Anthy feeds shaved ice to Akio.
Episode 31, Anthy feeds Akio
Anthy feeds a slice of the poisoned apple to the drugged Kanae.
Episode 32, Anthy feeds Kanae

In episode 31, Anthy feeds blue shaved ice to Akio, “say ah!” Akio and Anthy are showing sibling closeness to provoke the watching Nanami. Shaved ice stands for Anthy’s cold vengeance and is associated with Nanami. This is a bit of revenge on Nanami, and the ice prefigures Anthy’s revenge on Kanae. The slice of apple is poisoned.

Anthy is feeding from opposite directions in the frame because the scenes contrast. The ice, blue for illusions, nutritionally empty, means cuteness on the surface and revenge and plotting underneath—plotting against Nanami. Movement is to the left, the direction of illusions. The apple is wholesome on the surface and invisibly poisoned. Movement is to the right. Feeding is symbolic sex; food offered is a sword and shares in the equivalence of sex and violence. See Akio handing a tray to Utena too.

Utena is about to eat a hotdog cut into octopus shape.
Episode 19, Wakaba feeds Utena

Those are Wakaba’s fingers. Utena is saying “ah” as requested. The image ties to the feeding comparison above and to the octopus of episode 4 with Miki and Nanami, both of which show vengeance. This is a small octopus, it’s a small vengeance. Movement is to the left. Reversing the meaning of an action—turning friendliness into vengeance—is an Utena thing to do.

The octopus is symbolically male. Like Wakaba and Utena rolling downhill in in episode 11, it’s a subtle sign that Wakaba is gendermixed like Utena. Wakaba, like Anthy, both desires Utena and desires vengeance against her.

Utena is lonely and covers it with cheerfulness. Wakaba makes her less lonely. Wakaba wants to be special and covers it with playfulness. She seeks out Utena who is special, but Utena can’t give her specialness. Episodes 19 and 20 are Wakaba finding her own brief specialness. The picture says it is Wakaba’s revenge on Utena for not lending Wakaba her specialness, or perhaps for telling Wakaba how normal she is. Utena’s hidden eyes in the picture mean that she does not see Wakaba’s feelings.

Utena presses her tongue against her knuckle.
Episode 33, Utena
Akio tastes the poppy as he bites off a petal.
Episode 35, Akio

In the first picture, from the First Seduction, Utena is pressing her tongue to her knuckle. I believe Akio is checking her hymen at that moment. In the second, Akio has his tongue on the poppy as he bites off one petal. Both are pictures of using the tongue to symbolically taste something desired that is approaching. Utena tastes a male symbol, Akio a female symbol. Both are Akio destroying something—literally and figuratively. Akio will provoke in Utena love and loyalty unto death. Both look left—they are deluded.

It’s a pun: The Japanese word nameru, to lick, also means to taste, in the sense of getting a taste of. (It’s used that way in the episode 37 shadow play: Getting a taste of the life of Hollywood scandal.) And it means to underestimate—both are underestimating the risk they are taking.

Both are biting, which can be taken as an attack. These two images go with the three feeding images directly above. The three left images have symbolically male food (spoon, octopus, finger), and predict danger to the eater (Anthy and Akio are plotting against Nanami, but in the end Anthy leaves Akio). The two right images have female food and predict death. Kanae and Akio are eating of Eve’s apple, which brings death into the world (though Akio’s fall will take longer; see the sequence of heroes).

Utena’s hair following behind her in episode 1.
Episode 1, Utena
Utena’s hair becomes disordered during sex.
Episode 33, Utena and Akio

The disorderly whorls of Utena’s disheveled hair during sex echo the beautiful whorls of her hair in the first episode, when it trails behind her as she charges toward Saionji with her stub of a bamboo practice sword. It’s a Sailor Moon reference. (Anthy’s hair makes whorls too.) The whorls are curved and therefore female: Left, she is not yet a prince (until episode 2); right, Akio defeats the prince. See final showdown - Utena’s trailing hair for her princely hair.

Both are mortal risks that she chose to take. In keeping with the theme, one is beautiful and active, the other ugly and passive. In episode 33 she did not realize that she was risking her life. On the right, as in the episode 33 image above, her cheek hair is divided into three, a sign of approaching death.

Anthy chants her spell to produce the sword of Dios. Her skirt flies up in the prince’s wind.
Anthy as Marilyn Monroe
Touga on his knees, looking devastated, with Utena in the background. Her skirt is sliced open.
Episode 12, Utena tattered
Wakaba’s skirt flies to the side as she turns around suddenly.
Episode 25, Wakaba turns

Commando. There are occasional hints that girls in Utena may not wear panties. Besides these pictures, see discarded clothing of Utena and Juri in Routine Date - preparing for the date. Possible counterevidence (which I doubt): See Anthy in obscure symbols - skirt shadows.

Is it a matter of what could be shown on TV, or a directorial decision? If it represents sexual availability, then who chose it, the girls themselves or Akio?

Anthy surrounded by the frightening crowd at the dance party.
Episode 3, dance party
Nanami surrounded by the crowd as she prepares to unveil the cowbell.
Episode 16, show-off party
Little Anthy surrounded by the crowd with swords.
Episode 34, swords

On the left, Nanami has set up Anthy, and Anthy’s fear of crowds activates. Next, Nanami is about to show off her cowbell. On the far right, Anthy learns her fear of crowds.

The left images are parties by Nanami, one to humiliate Anthy and one to glorify herself. Both backfired. Anthy fears due to having been stabbed. Nanami fears for her social standing.

Nanami, her face solid black, wakes up on a pile of hay.
Episode 16, Nanami

It’s tinted purple. Nanami’s face is solid black, silhouette-style. We are supposed to generalize; the lesson of the picture does not apply only to Nanami. She wakes up on a pile of hay, not sure where she is: Sleep is associated with forgetting. The windows of the room have vertical bars like a jail cell. It’s a dream that Nanami wakes up from, but it’s a prophetic dream.

The below pictures compare Mitsuru to Dios. This compares Nanami to Dios: Both lie on a pile of hay and transform into something worse, Dios into Akio and Nanami into a cow. Nanami as a cow is caged and is due to be sold and slaughtered; Dios as Akio is in a coffin, immortal and yet metaphorically dead. In both cases, Anthy caused the transformation.

At the same time, the surface story is of Touga callously exploiting Nanami. It’s a reversal; Akio callously exploits others. As in many shadow plays, the surface and underlying messages clash.

Utena in the foreground, Anthy and Mitsuru behind sitting on a pile of hay.
Episode 16, cowbell
Dios and Anthy resting on a pile of hay.
Episode 34, prince story

In the cowbell story, Utena tells Nanami to take off the cowbell while Anthy and Mitsuru sit on a pile of hay. In the final version of the prince story, Dios with Anthy rests on a pile of hay in a farmhouse (barns do not have narrow doors, or chimneys, or side porches). Both piles have pitchforks. The pictures compare Mitsuru to Dios.

On the left, the hay is yellow and it is primarily cow food, though the meaning from the image below is not entirely submerged. It is Mitsuru’s point of view: He may not have sexual feelings yet, but he recognizes Anthy as attractive. On the right, the hay is white for the prince and no jealousy is involved.

The cowbell episode is the opposite of a filler episode.

Mitsuru watches a movie kissing scene. The woman lies on hay.
Episode 18, movie scene

There is one more shot with hay. Mitsuru watches kissing scenes an an attempt to become adult. The man’s shirt is open and the woman lies on hay, suggesting that the couple is about to have a romp in the hay (Wiktionary). The subtle implication lies behind all the scenes with hay. It hints that Dios and Anthy already had incestuous feelings before Dios became Akio—which they did, see Akio and Anthy - incest.

Both the movie characters have pale blue eyes for naivety. The man has red hair like Touga, and wears a white shirt for the prince. The image compares promiscuous Touga to promiscuous Dios. The woman’s yellow hair says she is or will be jealous because of it—and it equates her with Nanami. Another clue that Touga is attracted to Nanami is that he convinces her they are unrelated because it is more “romantic”. His plot backfires.

It’s likely a reference to a real movie. The scratchy film suggests a black-and-white movie. I bet it’s from the 1940s or 1950s. Are the silhouettes a reference to Mystery Science Theater 3000 (Wikipedia)? I hope so, it adds layers of meaning.

Nanami in the air after slipping on Anthy’s banana peel.
Episode 31, Nanami falls
Utena falls from Touga’s horse.
Episode 35, Utena falls

Akio rescues Nanami to impress Utena and manipulate Nanami. It prepares us for his rescue of Utena as part of the Second Seduction. Anthy arranged Nanami’s fall down the stairs. We’re not shown how Akio arranged Utena’s fall. Nanami’s and Utena’s body positions are mirror images: Nanami has right leg straight, right arm bent, left leg bent, left arm straight, while Utena is the reverse, with the same joint angles. Nanami and Utena are alike but opposite in some aspect. Compare the oppositeness of Mitsuru and Utena below—and the oppositeness of Nanami and Utena below. Utena is also mirror-imaged with Tokiko.

Nanami has staircase problems in episode 6 (mentioned but not seen, caused by Mitsuru) and episode 8 (caused by Anthy via Chu-Chu).

Mitsuru rubs the nose of Nanami as a cow.
Episode 24, Nanami as a cow
Utena rubs the horse’s hose as Akio familiarizes her with it.
Episode 35, Utena and horse

Mitsuru reaching out to Nanami as a cow aligns with Utena reaching out to the horse that Akio is using for the Second Seduction. In both, the animal is an object of love. Mitsuru on a realistic blue background of naivety is reaching horizontally from the right with his left hand to place his hand under, while Utena over an abstract green background of control is reaching vertically from the left with her right hand to place her hand on top—they are opposite in every way. Mitsuru is trying to take charge, and fooling himself into thinking his imaginary scheme is realistic. Utena is being fooled by Akio who has taken charge, and whose scheme works as intended.

The bridled horse is under Akio’s control, and it looks uncomfortable.

Kozue dips her hand in the pool, episode 15.
Episode 15, Kozue
Nanami, reflected in a window, tries to grasp her reflection’s heart.
Episode 32, Nanami

Left, Mikage’s dialog tells us that Kozue at the pool is trying to grasp her heart. All she grasps is water, an illusion that she cannot hold on to. Right, Nanami is reflected in the window of the tower bedroom and tries to grasp her reflection’s heart. Both use the left hand.

Left, Akio messed up Kozue’s family, and his system of control has made her unable to understand herself and figure out what she wants. Right, Akio is well along in his plot to isolate Nanami from Touga and her minions, to manipulate her into a duel and prevent her from interfering with his plans for Utena. As he suggests in the car ride, he has placed her in a maze where she cannot see a way out.

Utena looks at Wakaba as she denies liking Touga.
Episode 3, about Touga
Utena at first looks away as she denies liking Akio.
Episode 31, about Akio

In episode 3, Utena denies to Wakaba that she likes Touga. Utena’s eyes are wide as if surprised, she looks directly at Wakaba, and her speech is exaggeratedly forceful. She’s blushing, I think in embarrassment. It’s her usual way of denying anything she finds unwelcome. She’s wrong, but I think she’s not trying to lie. Oblivious Girl does not understand herself.

In episode 31, Utena denies to Nanami the she likes Akio. Utena first turns her face away and closes her eyes, before facing Nanami and conducting the rest of the denial in more nearly her usual way. Utena made a wish to be corrupted, and now she is deliberately lying. She turns her face away when she feels guilty (compare Juri when lying). Though when Nanami ends with “let’s both go for it” Utena is puzzled. Compare Juri turning her face away after losing the duel of episode 7, lying to herself.

Utena on the ground, faced turned away, a red slap mark on her cheek, surrounded by white roses.
Episode 10, slapped down

Nanami blames Utena for Touga’s injury. We in the audience know that the injury is insignificant and that Touga arranged it himself. I doubt Nanami would care even if she knew.

The image is similar to the episode 31 image immediately above, where Utena denies to Nanami that she likes Akio. In both cases, Utena feels attacked by Nanami and finds the attack painful and justified; she feels guilty. In episode 10, Utena claims to be at fault and apologizes—she is mistaken, but she is not lying; as the white roses say, she is adhering to her princely ideals. Nanami rejects her apology because Touga is hurt. In episode 31, Utena claims not to be in love with Akio, and she is lying. Nanami accurately rejects her lie and walks off happily because Touga is safe. It is part of a reference to the fairy tale Town Musicians of Bremen.

Utena turns her face away from Akio’s argument about the wrongs she has done.
Episode 38, turning away

This picture aligns with the one above and with the episode 31 picture above that. In episode 10 Utena is mistaken, and apologizes for letting Touga be harmed. In episode 31 corrupted Utena lies, denying she loves Akio. In episode 38, she leaves her thought unfinished, but truthfully implies that her motivation is love of Anthy. Her face is turned to the direction of truth, screen right rather than screen left.

They are pictures of Utena turning away from, and closing her eyes against, accusations that she feels are true and painful. She feels guilt. The closed eyes mean not wanting to see: They stand for everyone’s reflexive aversion to admitting that they’ve violated their own moral code. Utena does not counter Akio’s argument that she has sinned, because she agrees that she has. She sidesteps it as irrelevant to her motivations at the moment.

Utena turns her face away from Akio, declining to kiss him.
Episode 38, rejection
Utena looks away from the window where the sun is on the verge of rising.
Episode 36, obliviousness?

Above, images of Utena turning away in guilt, eyes closed. Left, Utena turns away in skepticism, eyes open. They are images of rejection: Rejecting information she does not like, rejecting an advance she does not want. Right, Utena looks away from the sunrise and the miracle it could potentially bring. It seems to be obliviousness; she only happens to turn away and miss the sunrise. She looks toward Anthy in bed.

It connects with the three sunrises, which I have not fully deciphered. Maybe Utena is turning away from the sunrise out of rejection of Touga; he cannot provide or provoke the miracle that lets her win through in the end. She accepts Anthy instead.

Utena awakes after dreaming the prince story.
Episode 3, Utena awakes
Utena .
Episode 12, Utena mopes

Left, Utena wakes up from a dream. Right, having lost her “self”, Utena mopes around in bed, wearing her night clothes.

Left, the ring is emphasized. It brought Utena her “self”. Right, the ring is out of sight.

The dark eye underlines go with depression; see the following comparisons. For the outlines around Utena’s irises (light in episode 3 as she wonders, heavy in episode 12 as she does not), see other symbols - iris outlines.

Utena looks depressed.
Episode 12, Utena depressed
Utena looks serious as she walks home.
Episode 36, Utena thoughtful

In episode 12, Utena is depressed after losing her “self”. She has flat affect (Wikipedia), which means that she’s not feeling much of anything. In episode 36, Utena is returning after the Second Seduction. She is in a period of regret and thoughtfulness.

Her regret is milder than her depression. In the Apocalypse Saga, after every Akio advance there is a partial snapback that makes Utena more thoughtful. This comparison shows that Touga felt the same snapback, and he was unable to compensate for it as Akio did.

In both images, Utena’s cheek hair is divided into three. Utena’s thoughts are not enough to save her life.

Miki looks depressed.
Episode 12, Miki depressed

In the Student Council meeting of episode 12, after Touga has defeated Utena and before Utena’s return match, Miki looks normal enough while writing in his notebook and timing events. He stays out of the conversation. But at the end of the meeting he looks depressed; his expression matches Utena’s above. With Touga in possession of the Rose Bride, Miki apparently sees Anthy as forever out of his reach. Apparently he believes he could beat Utena, but never Touga.

In the meeting of episode 1, Miki was staggered by the vision of doing whatever he wanted with Anthy. It was a vision of power over her. Here in the last meeting of the arc, something similar happens when he feels the vision taken away. He is depressed because he believes his power is forever gone—the same basic reason that Utena is depressed. Feeling powerless is part of what depression is.

Anthy looks depressed.
Episode 38, Anthy depressed

In the final showdown, Anthy is depicted with an expression identical to Utena’s depressed expression above. For Anthy, to be free from Akio is unthinkable; as long as she suffers from learned helplessness, she can’t imagine it. Therefore Anthy believes that Utena will die, whether at Akio’s hands or Anthy’s.

They react the same way for the same reason: The loss of Utena.

Anthy’s hopelessness is why I conclude that her smile in episode 37 when Utena departs for the dueling arena is a false smile.

Nanami in the confession elevator is distraught but not crying.
Episode 31, confession elevator
Nanami weeps in serious distress.
Episode 32, disowned

In both pictures, Nanami looks directly at the camera in seriousness, and she is distraught and inner-focused—yet her expressions are different. On the left, Nanami has seen Anthy with Akio. She appears symbolically in the confession elevator, facing the truth of her feelings. The lighting is cold and Nanami is not crying. The colors of the dramatic abstract background can be taken as red for knowledge and black for loneliness. It’s a picture of coming to understand a distressing reality. On the right, Nanami overheard Touga saying she is not his sister. The lighting is warm and Nanami cannot stop crying. Her hair is coming loose. It’s a picture of emotional realization.

Akio wants Nanami to be intellectually and emotionally isolated and despairing... as one small step in a large plan to control and exploit Utena. His challenges to Nanami are parallel to his challenges to Utena in the final showdown.

The pendulum clock in the dorm room, reading seven.
Episode 4, striking 7
Utena and Akio sit on the white sofa.
Episode 34, striking 8
Utena at a table in the tower room examines the earrings that Touga gave her.
Episode 35, striking 13

In episode 4, a pendulum clock in the dorm room strikes seven. It’s time to eat. In episode 34, we hear but do not see a cuckoo clock striking eight at the start of the scene. Anthy goes to bed unusually early. In episode 35, as Utena examines the earrings that Touga gave her, we hear the cuckoo clock strike thirteen. The clocks striking the hour are, in order, normal, unusual, abnormal.

The time grows strange. Is it a portent?

Saionji’s head and neck. He is wearing a loose dog collar.
Episode 36, dog collar
Side view of Touga’s face. He is wearing a motorcycle helmet with a loose neck strap.
Episode 36, helmet strap

Touga and Saionji are riding the motorcycle. On the left, Saionji is loosely wearing a yellow helmet; the white is the underside of its visor. It’s hanging behind rather than on his head. To me, the strap resembles a dog collar. Touga’s helmet looks tight, but its strap is also loose. In an overhead view, Saionji’s helmet is not visible. I don’t know what the disappearing helmet means, if anything.

Along with the shirtless posing, the motorcycle ride is a sign that the two have figured out, or are about to figure out, their proper relationship. By the time they’re on the bicycle in episode 37, they’ve got it. They are regressing toward childhood (car to motorcycle to bicycle). Possibly the process undoes some of the psychological damage Akio did to them.

Utena at the dance party, standing next to Anthy and wearing the dress from Touga.
Episode 3, dance party
Utena sits in a chair by the hotel window, looking toward Akio.
Episode 33, First Seduction
Utena facing toward a background of stars, wearing a long purple sweater and shiny black stockings.
Episode 37, Routine Date

Leaving aside the girls’ uniform in episode 12, Utena wears girlish clothing three times. She wore Touga’s dress to the dance party. Her pose, looking away and with crossed arms, shows her discomfort with it. She objected to it then, and objected again (silently) in episode 30 when the male teacher told her that girls should wear frilly skirts. The date dress in the First Seduction is short, light, and sexy, but not frilly. (It indicates sexual vulnerability and suggests immaturity.) For the Routine Date, she wears a long sweater with shiny black stockings. Again, it’s sexy and girlish but not frilly. (It indicates sexual desire and suggests adulthood.) Utena objects to girlish clothing only when it is frilly. With reason, she’ll wear even frilly clothing, as she does in episode 3.

On the first occasion, Utena wears Touga’s dress reluctantly. On the second, she is attracted but ambivalent. On the third, she is eager.

Wakaba leans over Utena, holding a lunchbox in her hands but in effect pressing Utena down.
Episode 11, Wakaba over Utena
In the final showdown, Akio leans over Utena after having turned her into a princess.
Episode 38, Akio over Utena

Wakaba presses her friendship on Utena so aggressively that Utena is pushed down and given little scope for action. Her lunchbox is purple. It prefigures Akio leaning over princess Utena in the final showdown. One shows real and the other false attraction, but Utena can’t tell and shows the same expression.

Both are selfish exploitative relationships. In early episodes, although a basically good person, Wakaba is pushy and controlling in her friendship with Utena. She calls Utena her boyfriend and treats her in some ways like a lover, but she’s playful and doesn’t take it seriously. Even Wakaba’s help for Utena in episode 12 is selfishly motivated. In late episodes, Akio is sneakier but also pushy and controlling. He never says, but acts as though he loves Utena, and it’s a lie.

Juri leans over Utena, moving her face close and running a hand down Utena’s arm.
Episode 7, Juri over Utena

Above, Wakaba calls Utena her boyfriend. Akio pretends to be Utena’s lover. Here, Juri pretends to hit on Utena, leaning her face close and running a hand down her arm, before trying to steal her ring. Utena’s expression is similar to the above two pictures—in each case, she passively accepts it, looking upward with wide eyes. Compare when Touga pretends he is going to kiss her in episode 11; she closes her eyes.

I expect that the idea came to Juri because she admires Utena for her rebelliousness. She faces right and uses her right hand—she shows real attraction despite her false motive. In episode 17, she compares Utena to Shiori with a smile and a soft voice. Ruka stealing Juri’s pendant is parallel; he covered the theft by forcibly kissing her because of his feelings for her. Evil Ruka succeeds with his ruse where good Juri fails.

I think Juri’s spotted shawl is a princess marking, alongside her name. For more, see the episode 7 shadow play and angry challenges.

Wakaba leans over Utena, warning her about Tatsuya and in effect pressing Utena down.
Episode 19, Wakaba over Utena

Wakaba warns Utena to be careful around Tatsuya with his (according to Wakaba) smooth words. It’s another example of Wakaba pressing Utena down (compare the pictures above), but the situation is different. Wakaba is too vociferous, and Utena is holding up her briefcase defensively. Later, Wakaba warns Utena to be careful around Touga—don’t be alone with him after dark. But she applauds Utena’s seeming success with Akio.

Utena is vociferous when she denies something that she does not want to be true (whether it is or not), and pushy when she insists that Anthy should drop the Rose Bride role. Utena and Wakaba are a lot alike. The picture says that Utena does not enjoy Wakaba’s over-aggressive attitude—and says that Utena does not realize that she does the same thing. It is subtle foreshadowing of Wakaba’s afterstory.

Little Utena looks surprised and worried.
Episode 34, little Utena
Utena looks shocked.
Episode 38, princess Utena

On the left, little Utena in the the prince story of episode 34 has just been told by Dios that he cannot save Anthy. On the right, princess Utena in the dueling arena in the final showdown has just been told that Anthy will remain the Rose Bride forever.

The expressions are not the same. Little Utena is surprised and worried; princess Utena is shocked. But I have to believe that the expressions are meant to be compared. That mouth shape is not usual for Utena (though it does appear from time to time). See driven by jealousy for more on princess Utena’s shock.

In both images, Utena has light iris outlines, meaning that she is taking in new information. A moment before, princess Utena had heavy outlines.

Akio’s hands are around Utena’s face and she is blushing as she looks up at him.
Episode 30, Utena with Akio
Akio’s left hand is on Utena’s face as he rubs her lips with his thumb.
Episode 38, Utena with Akio

In episode 30, Akio is about to kiss Utena as a step toward corrupting her. Utena shows her wide eyed upward look. He has stolen her shoe and is leaning over her dominantly, and she is about to accept it and let herself drop backward into the car. A hand is on her face. Compare little Utena with the prince above, telling her that he can’t save Anthy. The prince is claiming to place a responsibility on little Utena: You can try to save Anthy. Akio is tempting Utena while claiming to acquiesce in her desires. Both are controlling Utena. Placing a hand on her is possessing or manipulating her—that is what hands do. In episode 38 Akio does it again, before pulling Utena’s sword and turning her into a princess. He rubs his thumb over her lips, symbolically saying that he possesses her sexually.

Shiori puts a hand on Juri’s face before taking her sword in episode 17, and Ruka on Juri’s in episode 29. All are left hands.

Akio rubs Utena’s ring.
Episode 34, Utena with Akio

In episode 34, when checking on Utena’s feelings, Akio rubs Utena’s ring with his left thumb. It’s parallel to rubbing her lips with his left thumb in the picture above on the right. The ring is his and signifies a contract with him: He is claiming his possession. The left hand is the hand of illusions; compare turning left. Objectively, the ring’s only power is the ability to open the gate to the dueling forest, and (we learn at the end) the Rose Gate, if supplied with a tear. Otherwise, all the ring’s power lies in the meaning that Utena gives it.

Anthy’s head thrown back in surprise and pain.
Episode 34, Anthy stabbed
Utena’s head thrown back in surprise and pain.
Episode 38, Utena stabbed
Anthy in Akio’s car, pierced by swords, head thrown back.
Episode 37, in Akio’s car

Anthy stabbed by the Swords of Hatred versus Utena backstabbed by Anthy. Anthy gets a red background for violence while Utena gets black for evil (and aloneness). Her closest ally has turned against her. In this moment, Anthy hates Utena.

We don’t get as clear a view when Anthy is in Akio’s car in episode 37 (picture on the right), but it’s similar. In my interpretation, this is the scene where Akio tells Anthy that Utena is to die.

The gangster's bullet ricochets and hits her in the back.
Episode 8, shadow gangster
In the Black Rose, Juri silhouetted against orange has her sword drawn from her chest.
Episode 17, Juri’s sword drawn
Ruka in Akio’s car, head thrown back.
Episode 29, Ruka in Akio’s car

In the shadow play of episode 8, the gangster shoots herself in the back, prefiguring the backstab of Utena and suggesting that Utena brought it on herself. She did: It was a necessary part of her miracle. Though the gangster is played by the bobble-haired shadow girl, who more often represents Anthy; Anthy caused her own troubles. Note eyelashes: The gangster’s eyes are open, as in the comparison above. The images to the right have similar poses, but eyes are closed. Violence and sex are almost the same but differ in a key feature.

The moment when Utena is pierced by Akio’s metaphorical sword. Her mouth and eyes are open wide.
Episode 33, Utena pierced
Anthy in Akio’s car, head thrown back, mouth open, eyes closed.
Episode 37, Anthy pierced

As shown in the comparisons just above, mouth open, head back, eyes open means violence, which cannot be overlooked. The same with eyes closed means sex, because we do not see that sex hurts us through the mechanism of the system of control. Sex is hidden violence.

These two images are reversals. Left, Akio stabs Utena with his penis, tearing her hymen painfully. Sex is marked as violence because the prince is violently and painfully defeated by the metaphorical sword. Utena turns girlish. Right, Anthy rides in Akio’s car, crying out in emotional agony. This image doesn’t show it, but the white-background image above and right shows her pierced by the Swords of Hatred. Violence is marked as sex because Anthy does overlook the violence Akio does to her.

Anthy in her princess dress is leaning backward, almost horizontal, eyes closed, as she powers up Utena’s sword (which is out of frame).
Episode 15, sword powerup
Anthy lies in bed, .
Episode 38, Anthy loves Akio

Left, Anthy powers up Utena’s sword. Blood drops fly from her fingertips as she cuts them on the sword tip, a 100% direct sexual metaphor. The light is warm. Anthy leans backward but is not on her back. Right, in the final showdown Akio illustrates that Anthy loves him—but Utena is already maxed out on jealousy, and there is no apparent effect. The light is cold and purple for corruption. The scene is portrayed as if Akio had drawn back a curtain behind which Anthy was hiding, but in fact it is a stage curtain for showing. Anthy is flat on her back.

In both, Anthy is cut by a real or metaphorical sword and provides power to another. Her head is to the right for reality, as Utena’s is in the First Seduction.

A narrow view of two glasses of ice with orange-colored drinks.
Episode 34, orange-colored drinks
Akio, lounging and looking away, with a fancy pink-colored drink.
Episode 39, pink-colored drink

The orange-colored drinks are from the Akio-Anthy sex session. The pink drink is from when Utena tries to open the Rose Gate. They are iced for emotional coldness and represent exploitation. One orange drink is mostly full, the other mostly empty: Akio exploits Anthy heavily and Anthy exacted a small payback. Akio exploited pink Utena to the limit, drinking it all. Anthy’s glass has one large chunk of ice for her hatred grown large; Akio’s has two chunks, presumably one for Anthy and one for Utena. It’s one interpretation, at least.

The pink drink is surely alcoholic, and a (not yet written up) scene from Onii-sama e convinced me that the orange ones are too. Like driving and donating blood, they point to adulthood. Brightly-colored alcoholic drinks suggest a childish kind of adulthood. The orange color may mean Utena’s one-sided love of Akio and Anthy’s perceived one-sided love of Utena.

A group of empty champagne glasses on a black background.
Episode 23, champagne glasses
Akio swirls burgundy-colored wine in a glass.
Episode 30, swirling wine

Semi-anonymous Nick mentioned a Buddhist metaphor to me in which wine stands for illusions. It’s logical, alcohol can do that. Utena borrows the metaphor to show a progression.

In episode 23, the duelist boys open champagne to celebrate the opening of the way to the dueling arena, a place of illusions. We hear it but don’t see it. They will pour themselves illusions. In episode 30, Akio swirls wine with Mrs. Ohtori. We see no sign that he drinks any. The illusions are opening up like wine (supported by the white prince). In episode 34 above, some orange drink has been drunk. In the final episode, Akio drinks all of the pink drink for Utena at the same moment that she opens the Rose Gate. He empties Utena’s illusions as she is about to become empty of illusions. The patriarchy is self-destructive: Akio’s intervention causes Utena’s victory.

Mikage’s underworld lair, with drawers of dead students in the wall.
Episode 14, Mikage’s underworld
The Swords of Hatred are approaching Akio, who stands on the path to the Rose Gate.
Episode 39, Swords of Hatred

An audio comparison, not a comparison of pictures. In Mikage’s underworld lair, decorated with coffin drawers and the shoes of the dead, sounds a low slow holy chant. He explains that it is a holy place, close to the End of the World. In the final episode, the first portent of the Swords of Hatred is a similar low slow sound. It’s not the same sound.

Both places are associated with the End of the World. One is full of dead boys; the other has Anthy in her coffin. In episode 39 the sound is tied specifically to the Swords of Hatred, though. I guess it is the sound of death and perhaps sacrifice.

Utena punches the floor next to Mikage.
Episode 23, Utena punches
Utena pushes herself up with a fist, close view.
Episode 39, Utena pushes
Utena pushes herself up with a fist, wider view.
Episode 39, wider view

Nikita Chestnov pointed out this comparison to me. Utena stops beating up Mikage, punching the floor in frustration. After Dios talks at her in the final episode, she uses a fist to push herself up. For both, the one on the ground was held down until now by a prince who was being unprincely. Both are fists of frustration as Utena returns to princely behavior, determined to take action.

Mikage down and Utena down have more parallels that I’ll cover when I get to it.

Nanami breaks her sword against a solid wall.
Episode 10, Nanami
Akio breaks Utena’s sword against the solid Rose Gate.
Episode 39, Akio

Nanami charges and breaks her sword against the wall of the dueling arena, turning away from her target Utena at the last moment as Touga calls for her to stop. Akio charges and breaks Utena’s sword against the Rose Gate, next to the pink roses that represent Utena and her attachment to Anthy, complete with jealous thorns.

Nanami is tied to Akio in several ways. Both are commanders, as indicated by the fringes in their epaulets; Nanami commands Mitsuru and her three minions. The two are the only characters with black fields in their epaulets. Nanami grasping her reflection’s heart can be interpreted as Nanami trying to grasp Akio’s heart—they are reflections of each other.

Nanami is also tied to Anthy. Here, Nanami tries to stab Utena, and breaks her sword on the wall of the dueling arena. Akio stabs the Rose Gate, and Utena cries out in pain as if she were the target. Utena is the Rose Gate. For Akio, the Rose Gate guards the power of miracles; for Utena, it guards Anthy (who is closely related to miracles, since the Sword of Dios originally came from her heart). In either case, Akio must go through Utena, and he cannot. Akio breaks Utena’s sword on the Rose Gate. Anthy does stab Utena. Anthy’s sword does not break, though she does throw it away like Akio throws the stub of Utena’s sword away. The three events go together, though I don’t see all the connections yet.

Utena’s girls’ uniform has been sliced up in the duel against Touga.
Episode 12, sliced uniform
Utena’s prince uniform looks tattered.
Episode 39, tattered uniform

The damaged uniforms are part of the large-scale parallel between Touga and Akio. In episode 12, Utena has recovered her princely “self”. The girls’ uniform represents her depressed self-image as an ordinary girl. That uniform is now sliced up, and she is happy and proud. In episode 39, her prince uniform became tattered after Dios spoke at her, telling her to stop trying. Her self-image as a prince is tattered, and she is about to drop it. Left, Utena carries a broken sword. Right, Akio has broken Utena’s sword; see the picture above. They broke the swords of others.

When Utena arrives in the outer world, she will be severely injured, and may be depressed again after giving up her “self” for a second and final time in disillusionment and failure. Anthy, please find her fast.

Anthy helps keep the injured Utena upright.
Episode 30, Anthy gropes Utena
Akio supports Utena, who can barely stand.
Episode 39, Akio gropes Utena

Left, Anthy exploits Utena in at least two ways: For the enjoyment of feeling her up, and for Akio’s desire to press her into a girlish role. Right, Akio catches the falling Utena by the chest, hindering her way to the Rose Gate. Moments later she pushes him away by the face (see below) and he realizes that she holds no more value to him, and poses no threat (though he’s wrong about the threat).

Both are helping Utena in order to exploit her. Utena seems to perceive no sexual intent in either case. In episode 30, Akio injured Utena, but he drove up and she got in the car with him, and accepted leaving Anthy behind. In episode 39, Anthy injured Utena, but she rejects Akio to continue her attempt to rescue Anthy.

Nanami supports Mitsuru, who can barely stand.
Episode 6, Nanami and Mitsuru
Akio supports Utena, who can barely stand.
Episode 39, Akio and Utena

Repeating the Akio image. In episode 6, after Mitsuru fights the nerd trio, he can barely stand. His boss Nanami, walking up, catches and supports him, giving the excuse that she needs underlings. In episode 39, after Anthy backstabs Utena, Utena can barely stand. Her would-be prince (and therefore boss) Akio runs a short distance to catch and support her. But Utena has rejected Akio; see the face push below.

Nanami embracing Mitsuru implies caring. I think it is a rare success for Nanami, who usually fails. Akio is only holding Utena up. Moments later, Akio decides he has no use for her and loses interest. It is an image of Akio failing after a long run of successes.

Utena kisses Akio. Her hand seems to be trying to grasp his heart.
Episode 36, Akio and Utena

Nanami embraces Mitsuru above, but does Nanami’s embrace imply genuine caring? She had him fight the three nerd boys, who are older and larger, and that is only one of the abusive tasks she set him. I think it is genuine caring, though she covers it with excuses like “I need lackeys.” But it’s not a definite conclusion.

Here is Akio embracing Utena in the Second Seduction. She is full of love and lust, and Akio acts as though he were too, but it’s a lie. Well, perhaps he does feel lust, but Akio is empty of love. Nanami is selfish and deceitful and abusive like Akio, and could be lying with her embrace too.

One read is that Nanami is honest that she needs lackeys. Akio lets Utena go, above, because he does not need her as a lackey any more.

Unnamed boy cages Kozue, who doesn’t seem to mind.
Episode 15, Kozue
Touga cages Utena, who is unhappy but doesn’t mind.
Episode 36, Touga and Utena

Kabedon is the fiction trope of caging someone against a wall. It expresses dominance. Kozue is chatting happily with her unnamed boy, but holds her arms crossed in a defensive pose. Touga is challenging Utena (who is against a tree, not a wall), making the empty promise that the Student Council will no longer pursue Anthy if Utena wins. Utena does not know that this is the last duel expected before the revolution. Utena is unhappy because he is breaking a promise, but her pose is relaxed and unthreatened. She does her wide eyed upward look. She speaks in a girlish voice, accepting her caged role. Kozue’s action below hints that Utena will not trust Touga’s warning after their duel. Utena as prince forgives others, but Utena’ voice is girlish in agreeing to the duel, speaking with Touga in the middle, and rejecting Touga’s warning at the end.

Both images have dark backgrounds on sunny days.

Kozue pushes away the boy she’d been talking with by the face.
Episode 15, Kozue
Utena pushes Akio away by the face.
Episode 39, Utena

Utena pushing Akio away with a hand to the face in the final episode was prefigured in episode 15, when Kozue saw her brother in trouble and pushed her current boy away by the face. Kozue’s boy was doing the kabedon thing, exerting dominance like Akio. These are pictures of women who accepted positions of weakness under controlling men now taking power for themselves.

Compare the pictures of a hand on the muzzle above, which are accepting rather than rejecting.

Young Touga and Saionji stand by little Utena’s coffin in the church. The shadow of a cross lies on the wall. The shadow has circles around where the crossbars meet, and four spikes project through the circles.
Episode 9, spikes on circles
Akio flourishes Utena’s sword. A four-pointed shadow is centered on them.
Episode 38, spikes on circles

In episode 9, a lightning flash (associated with Akio) casts the shadow (associated with Akio) of a large cross on the wall. Events in the church preview the final showdown. The four sharp points from circles on the cross preview the four points of shadow when Akio turns Utena into a princess. Utena becoming a princess is the prince being murdered (see Akio-Utena overview - fairy tale plot): Utena as prince corresponds to Jesus, and the event is the crucifixion.

On the one hand, the four points of shadow form a cross in themselves. On the other, along with the circles, they are a reference to Nadia; see three versus four points. When Anthy draws Utena’s sword, it ends with a three-point shadow. In Nadia, the four points are associated with evil. The rose emblem resembles an eye and refers to Akio’s magic, that he attributes to Anthy.

A hand pushes aside a heavy coffin lid.
Episode 9, Touga
Utena, with bloody hands, struggles to open Anthy’s coffin.
Episode 39, Utena

In episode 9, Touga opens little Utena’s coffin in the church. Saionji in the background is calling on him to stop; he’s afraid. Lightning flashes overhead, Akio’s malice. Little Utena wants to stay in the coffin, but later leaves it to follow the pretty prince.

In the final episode, Utena opens Anthy’s coffin. Akio in the background is calling on her to stop; he’s afraid. The Swords of Hatred circle overhead, society’s malice. Anthy wants to stay in the coffin, but later leaves it to follow the pretty prince.

See the Utena ~ Touga connection.

Anthy cries out when Utena with a bamboo stub charges Saionji with a sword.
Episode 1, Utena charges Saionji
Anthy calls out for Utena to flee the Swords of Hatred.
Episode 39, Utena targeted

In episode 1, Utena with a stub of a bamboo practice sword charges Saionji who has a long sharp katana. Anthy cries out in alarm for Utena. She is faking it.. She makes the same expression in episode 9 when warning Utena of Saionji’s attack. In the final episode, Anthy cries out in alarm for Utena, warning her of the converging Swords of Hatred. Anthy’s alarmed expression is nearly the same, but this time it’s for real.

In both, Utena is risking her life to win—normal behavior for her ideal prince. She adheres to her ideal from almost the beginning and returns to it at almost the end, before finally giving it up. Anthy is lying in episode 1 and episode 9, serious in episode 39. We have to notice subtle differences to see the big change.

Akio weeps gleaming tears.
Episode 39, Akio above Anthy
Anthy in her coffin weeps, looking at Utena.
Episode 39, Anthy below Utena

Left, Akio, who keeps himself on top, looks down on Anthy as he controls her with crocodile tears. Right, Anthy, who keeps herself beneath, looks up at Utena as she weeps real tears. She foresees the Swords of Hatred gathering to attack Utena, and the swords are indeed gathering. She is not relieved that somebody else will take on the suffering, she is terrified for Utena and urges her to flee. It is a princely thing to do, to take pain on yourself to spare another. Anthy and Utena, for one more moment, are at cross-purposes trying to save each other. But Anthy’s motives are not princely; she believes she deserves to suffer.

Akio weeps to force suffering on another; Anthy protects him from the swords. Both weep for love, but Akio’s love functions as hatred.

Chu-Chu hangs from the window ledge of the dorm, with sweat drops to indicate anxiety.
Episode 14, introducing Akio
Chu-Chu hangs on the edge of Akio’s desk.
Episode 39, leaving Akio

(I have to rethink this one, I drew questionable conclusions.) In episode 14, Chu-Chu and the cake fall out the window. Chu-Chu hangs on the ledge. Chu-Chu tries to climb back up, but falls when Anthy mentions Akio, and has to climb up again. In episode 39, as Anthy says her goodbyes to Akio, Chu-Chu hangs on Akio’s desk before dropping to leave with Anthy.

Chu-Chu carries Anthy’s misgivings, and reacts with fear when Akio is mentioned. But Chu-Chu will not leave Anthy. In episode 14, Anthy and Akio are inseparable; Chu-Chu must be with both. The window ledge is high like Akio’s tower; Chu-Chu is more afraid of falling (of separation) than of Akio. But Utena reduces Akio from tower-height to desk-height. Falling is not so bad; now it is Anthy and Utena who are inseparable. In a reversal, Utena is present on the left and absent on the right, and Akio is the opposite.

Utena’s planlessness, an image-free comparison. Of the 21 duels in the series, Utena initiated four. In the duel of episode 12, to take back her “self” (which the camera kept telling us was Anthy) from Touga, she had a logical plan (and it succeeded). In the other three, she had no sensible plan that could achieve a useful goal. The duels did not make sense.

In episode 1, she challenged Saionji to avenge his humiliation of Wakaba. Utena could not expect any good outcome from her vengeance. Wakaba was not protected or helped; she never even learned of it. Saionji was punished but not deterred; he wasn’t going to bother Wakaba again anyway. He did other bad stuff instead. Entering the duel was a moral error: Utena had to have a moral lapse to be drawn into the evil dueling system. Allegorically, to be drawn into the workings of patriarchal society is a mistake.

In episode 23, she challenged Mikage. She wanted to stop him from manipulating people into duels, and beating him up was not the way. It was not princely. She could not think of a better idea than to challenge him, and again she could not expect a good outcome. For all she knew, he might lose the duel and keep up his behavior. Mikage was stopped by Akio when his job was finished, not by Utena.

In the final showdown, she stole her sword back from Akio and challenged him. Akio had planned to subdue Utena without fighting. She pointed the sword at Akio and declared that she would free Anthy from him—and then she stood there and didn’t. The only way to free Anthy with a sword would have been to attack him with it, and she did not—she could not, it was not princely. She seemed to have no plan at all, and Akio easily diverted her until he had a sword in hand too. To look at it differently: In duels, Utena does not fight seriously until she determines that the opponent must be fought. She is principled and has integrity. Here, Utena entered the arena convinced that Akio must be fought, but quickly lost her conviction under Akio’s persuasion. It’s parallel to losing her conviction against Touga in episode 11 and losing the duel. Only after a long conversation, which from her point of view explores whether Akio must be fought, does she regain her conviction. And she still has no plan. If she wins the duel—then what? That won’t make Akio release Anthy.

Generalizing: Utena wants to be a prince and doesn’t have a plan to do it. Akio exploits her inchoate desire (that he planted) and gains control over her, convincing her that the duels are exercises of princely power to protect Anthy. Metaphorically, society controls its members by assigning them roles to play, as Akio assigns Utena the role of prince. When Utena plays the role, she does not think about what it means, even at the end. The point of a social role, as I see it, is to free the actors from needing to think; just follow the script. It’s real. My own parents, I gather from what I’ve been told, married and had kids not because they thought about it, but because that was what came next. Part of Utena’s message is: Hey, stop and think about it. Utena’s surreal symbols are examples of Brecht’s theater concept of the Verfremdungseffekt (Wikipedia), whose purpose is to get the viewer to think.

Utena is leaning out a window, watching events below.
Episode 1, watching
Wakaba leans out the same window, eyes closed, looking happy.
Episode 39, enjoying

In episode 1, Utena leans out a window to watch Saionji and Anthy below. In the final episode, after Utena has left the Academy, Wakaba leans idly out the same window. Memory of Utena is fading, and it is hinted that Wakaba will be the next hero in Utena’s step-by-step revolution.

Utena is watching the action below. She has not yet run across a way to fulfill her ambition of becoming a prince; the way turns out to be Akio’s dueling system. Wakaba is only enjoying the weather, and perhaps thinking back on her own vague memories of her prince. Akio earlier intervened in Wakaba’s life, as he intervened in Utena’s when she was little. Wakaba’s episode 1 hasn’t started yet, or perhaps is just starting.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 27 January 2022
updated 14 June 2024