Cool stuff that didn’t belong anywhere else.
pink hair frame
Anthy gets sprayed
cutting the rose
Saionji’s sword attack
force versus deceit
admit your ignorance
get Utena to join you
Akio and Tokiko
the egg of the world
frilly skirt reaction
sleep after eating
the episode 33 constellations
Most and arguably all characters in Utena are both powerful and powerless. Compare “The Power of the Powerless”, which is related to Utena though I can’t see a direct reference to it.
Akio commands the Academy and controls the culture through his planetarium projector. Only Utena and Anthy defy his will, and only at the end. But he can never achieve his goal of restoring his power of miracles. The Rose Gate is designed so that someone of his nature can never open it. (And besides, he never had it in the first place. Dios is fictional.)
Anthy is insightful and capable on the one hand, and on the other submissive and obedient. Akio uses her as his dog: She does his dirty work and carries out orders faithfully, only hesitating slightly before unpleasant orders. As the Rose Bride, she cultivates the students of the Academy and manipulates some into duels, and then she carries out the orders of the dueling champion. She is a seductive and deadly femme fatale.
Much of Anthy’s attractiveness to others, starting with Akio, is depicted as being due to her submissiveness—which Akio assures. Saionji wants an obedient little wifey. Miki is not aggressive, but is lured to fight for Anthy by the prospect of doing whatever he wants with her. Utena at first sees Anthy as a helpless object of rescue, and does not try to treat her as an equal until episode 25. And yet Anthy easily manipulates and controls them all. (In episode 37 her control over Utena fails when she can’t convince Utena to flee the Academy. It is a necessary step before Anthy herself can break Akio’s control.)
To others, Anthy is attractive due to her power. Juri wants Anthy’s supposed power of miracles; Touga wants her power to revolutionize the world. Kanae is frustrated because she cannot make Anthy like her; she implicitly acknowledges that Anthy has power over her.
Utena wants to be a prince who wins through against all odds to save others, and at the same time wants to be a princess and marry the prince. She does not notice a contradiction.
Nanami commands her minions and Mitsuru, and like Utena wants to be a princess (see her hair).
Mitsuru submits himself to Nanami, but also carries out her seemingly impossible orders in episode 6.
Touga is powerful like Akio in many of the same ways: He is in charge of the Student Council as Akio is in charge of the Academy, he is a manipulative and deceitful plotter, and he seduces girls. But Akio toys with him as with everyone, and Touga almost never equals him.
Mikage rules the underworld and considers himself free, and yet does nothing but carry out Akio’s tasks. When Akio comes down to his lair to hand over a ring, Mikage dismisses it—but he ends up doing just as Akio wanted.
And many others. Juri is highly capable but frustrated in her love, and so on.
The Japanese word mokushiroku (黙示録) specifically means the Biblical book of Revelations and the Christian Apocalypse that it describes. There is a reason that the Bible associates the words “revelation” and “apocalypse”: When the words were chosen, they meant the same thing. See the etymology of “apocalypse” (Online Etymology Dictionary). It is only in modern times that the word “apocalypse” has shifted from meaning revelation to meaning the end of the world.
Word formation. Mokushi (黙示) means apocalypse, and roku (録) means chronicle, that is, some writing about it. Breaking it down further, the moku character means silence and shi means showing or indicating—that is, revealing, as a revelation does. The silence I take to be the silence after the end of the world. The Japanese word can support the same two meanings as the English word “apocalypse”, though not with the same emphasis or nuances.
Utena’s Biblical reference supports both meanings. To revolutionize the world is to destroy the old world and create a new one; it is a cataclysmic apocalypse. To revolutionize the world is also to see through the illusions, to have a revelation; it is to break through the shell of the world of appearances and into the world of reality.
Virtually everything in Utena is meaningful, even the most mundane details. The blue sky with clouds is a frequent background. The sky is blue for naive illusions. The clouds are white for the prince. The clouds are made of water because the prince is an illusion. The whole world is built into the structure of symbols.
In episode 1, as Utena charges to defeat Saionji in the duel, her hair trails behind her in a particularly beautiful way. It’s on the screen in this form for one frame.
Compare Anthy’s beautiful hair in episode 31. It is the most tranquil and serene we see her in the series (possibly because her role requires it then).
In episode 2, the Student Council plays the card game Old Maid. Players take cards from each other in a circle and discard pairs. One card is the Old Maid and does not pair with any other card. Whoever holds the Old Maid at the end of the game, after all other cards are discarded, is the loser. As the Wikipedia link explains, usually the Old Maid is either the queen of spades or else a joker—in Japan, normally a joker. I was reminded by seeing the cast of the musical play Old Maid in Empty Movement’s stream of the musical. I was unable to remember the name of the game while watching the series, but it came to me immediately, without my hearing anyone mention it, when I brought up the stream in the middle of the backstage game. I must have heard the name in some related context... the previous time it was streamed?
I love it. The game near the start of the series mirrors the dueling game that is not explained to us until later in the episode, and tells us about character relationships and events near the end of the series. There is no way to understand it before seeing the whole series.
It also symbolizes that the Student Council is just playing a game and has no real power.
In the dueling game, whoever is the champion duelist at the unspecified future time when the duels end will revolutionize the world. It corresponds to holding the Old Maid at the end of the game. Revolutionizing the world is presented as something good and the duelists want it, but in reality it means losing. Cheater Akio will seize the “winner’s” power and become the winner himself. It’s represented in the onscreen game by the unpaired letter from End of the World being thrown onto the discard pile: The letter is the Old Maid. We see the queen of spades discarded early on, and the last cards we see discarded are a pair of jokers. If the game had been set up in a standard way, that could not happen. Metaphorically, Akio set up the game in a nonstandard way.
We don’t see anyone lose the on-screen game. And in fact, none of them becomes the final champion.
Paired cards represent character relationships. Touga is not the Old Maid: He is paired with Saionji and discarded when they become lovers. Akio takes vigorous measures to separate Utena and Anthy so that Utena can be the Old Maid and lose the dueling game, but in the end he fails. Utena and Anthy pair up and are discarded, two surprise jokers at the end. Akio is the Old Maid and loses. His unpaired letter can represent that he has no way to win.
In standard rules, each pair must be of the same color. In the discard pile, some pairs are of matching color and some are not. I bet they are for same-sex and different-sex couples.
In episode 3, Anthy and Chu-Chu play Old Maid between themselves. It’s the standard game, though. A joker is the Old Maid.
Besides Anthy, we see one other dark-skinned student of the Academy. She’s visible in the distance in one shot in episode 3, down the hall from the action. Anthy is a member of a tiny minority among the students, but she is not unique.
Utena has just told Wakaba that Anthy is her roommate. Wakaba says that there are bad rumors about Anthy. The camera cuts to Nanami’s minions unfairly harassing Anthy, with Saionji as their excuse. It is part of Nanami’s setup for the dance party. The sequence may be disclaiming racism as a motive to harass Anthy but if so it’s not convincing at the time.
Episode 3, at the dance party.
This is not a porn image. It is only Nanami’s accomplice spraying Anthy with unwelcome fluid from a phallic object held in a phallic position. Literally, it’s an image of degradation and control. The dress is emphasized, and it is green for control. Figuratively, it is about male control of sex and reproduction. I connect it with Utena’s risk of pregnancy in the First Seduction (see Utena’s babble for Utena’s realization of it).
If you watch the bottle closely, just after the traitor-waiter pops the cork, the contents spray out in three streams of yellow for Nanami’s jealousy.
In episode 6, Nanami believes that her brother is out to kill her. She imagines Touga and Anthy together, Touga improbably holding a rose in a flowerpot by the stem. Anthy cuts the rose so that the pot falls on Nanami’s head.
It’s entirely fictional, but at the same time—that is what’s going on. Anthy and Touga are plotting together against Nanami, though she is wrong about why and how. Anthy is likely under orders from Akio to assist in Touga’s plot. (Anthy wants vengeance against Nanami, but this plot doesn’t provide much.) Touga’s motive is shown by his smug backward glance at the end of the episode, when Utena is impressed: He wanted to impress Utena, and he’s pleased with himself that he did. Well, he’s smug and arrogant in general. If his sister is inconvenienced, eh, so what?
He’s smug, and arrogant, and cruel, and plotting, to say that the patriarchy is all those things. He wants to be Akio.
Anthy is a co-conspirator, and Mitsuru is included in the plot as an involuntary participant. It’s sophisticated plotting, though only a shadow of what Akio does. It foretells the structure of Touga’s plot in episode 9 to convince Utena he is her prince: Anthy is co-conspirator, and this time Saionji is the involuntary participant to be exploited. With Akio’s plots, Anthy is the lesser co-conspirator and all other characters are involuntary participants and/or victims.
Denial of responsibility by perpetrators is the topic of the rose scene. Though she believes they must be plotting together, Nanami imagines that her beloved Touga is a good guy passively holding the rose, and evil Anthy executes the attack. It is also how Touga presents himself: Everything bad in the episode was due to misunderstandings and to other people’s actions, then he showed up to save the day. At the end of the episode, Touga blames Nanami’s prank, which doesn’t make sense unless he is referring back to episode 3. Perpetrators in Utena routinely press responsibility on others: Nanami plans harm, and has her minions carry it out. Touga makes Saionji the bad guy in episode 9. Akio gets Anthy to do his dirty work, like poisoning Kanae and backstabbing Utena. In Anthy’s car ride with Akio, Akio tells her that it’s the world causing her pain. When Akio corrupts Utena, and every time he manipulates her into another corrupt decision, he ensures that she sees it as her own decision. Mikage, Ruka, and Akio agree: The person manipulated into a duel chose it of their own free will. It goes on and on.
Victim blaming is a popular way to deny responsibility. Victim Anthy collects a lot of blame.
In episode 8, the body-swap episode, Utena in Anthy’s body is in the gym equipment shed with Saionji (in anime, a traditional place for accidental and deliberate encounters between lovers). He has opened his shirt saying it is time for them to “confirm their love,” which usually means exactly what it sounds like. He’s only taking out the exchange diary, but Utena doesn’t know that. She covers her eyes—but peeks through her fingers. She is unintentionally following Saionji’s command to look at him, so that she comes under male control.
It’s a joke, and it is foreshadowing. Utena is idealistic and principled, but not perfectly so. She is subject to sexual temptation. It’s the weakness that Akio exploits to corrupt her and bring her under male control. Nobody is perfectly principled, because it’s logically impossible, as we see in Utena’s dilemma over writing in the exchange diary. Moral principles are not axioms, they are guidelines that can conflict. The Academy is Akio’s morally-simplified fairy tale world for children, and reality is not like that.
By the way, in the gym shed Saionji is behind a cage full of round balls, marking him as female, while Utena is behind a stack of flat exercise mats, marking her as male. Saionji is the girl of Touga and Saionji, and Utena is the boy of Anthy and Utena. I like the ironic contrast with Saionji as the (violent and controlling) boy of Saionji and Anthy, irony which is heightened by the body swap.
Even the silly episodes have serious points. In episode 6, Utena thinks it’s cool that the “prince” (actually Mitsuru) who saved Nanami left without giving his name—as Utena’s prince did in the prince story. If you ask me, the silliest episode is 24, the reading of Mitsuru’s Nanami notebook. It’s more foreshadowing of Utena’s corruptibility, but this is what stands out to me: Mitsuru pretending to be Nanami’s brother says “come here, Nanami” echoing Akio’s language to Anthy. Yow.
In episode 9, when Saionji tells Utena that he’ll attain eternity with Anthy, Utena seems momentarily shaken, repeating unsteadily “eternity?”
Later in the episode, we see Saionji and Touga in the past meet little Utena in her coffin. Utena says that nothing is eternal, and Saionji and Touga have similar reactions of seeming momentarily shaken. Utena was reacting to the echo of her own claim, coming back to her reversed.
It’s the only time I’ve noticed when Utena reacts to the idea of eternity, until episode 33 when she is turned temporarily girlish and asks about it. She has a similar shaken reaction in episode 38 when she sees the representation of prince Dios on the egg of the world.
Touga’s reaction to hearing about eternity happened while he was running his hand through little Utena’s hair. His hand twitches. The shot of that twitch is repeated at various times.
In episode 9, Saionji’s frustration is driven past its limit and he tries to attack Utena with his sword. Anthy was pretending to be unconscious, and Utena just woke her up. Touga jumps in front of Saionji’s sword. Touga is taking advantage of Saionji for his plot. Anthy is fooling Utena, Touga is fooling Utena and Saionji, Saionji is viciously attacking, and Utena is the only one trying to do good. It should go without saying that in the next episode Utena blames herself for the whole thing (and Nanami helps by slapping her). One frame tells a whole story about the socialization of women.
Saionji’s surprise sword attack from the rear prefigures Anthy’s backstab of Utena.
In Utena, using force to achieve a goal tends to be ineffective. Using deceit is likely to work. The system of control works by deceit, and it successfully controls everyone almost all the time.
In episode 7, Juri fails to take Utena’s ring by force. In episode 29, Ruka successfully steals Juri’s locket by deceit (which he covered up with force). In episode 11, Touga defeats Utena by deceit when others had failed in using force. In the final showdown, Akio’s attack on Utena by deception fails by the narrowest margin, while his attack by truth is ineffective and his attack by force—which succeeds due to deceit and leaves Utena bleeding to death on the ground—is powerless to forestall her miraculous victory.
In the episode 23 duel against Mikage at the end of the Black Rose, Mikage more than holds his own with Utena in using force, but he is derailed and defeated by Akio’s control over him through deception.
In episode 18, in Mitsuru’s duel, he tells Utena that to become an adult, a child must defeat an adult. It sounds like nonsense, but it happens: In the final showdown, Utena is shown to still be a child. She must defeat adult Akio, and with the experience she gains, she graduates from the Academy and becomes an adult.
It’s a little tricky, because two meanings of “adulthood” apply, Akio’s propaganda meaning and Utena’s “true” meaning. For Utena to become a true adult and leave fairy tales behind, she must defeat Akio, whose propaganda declares him an adult. Akio is in the coffin of the Academy due to his false beliefs, which prevent him from being a true adult.
The kappa is cool in itself, and does not get enough love. I searched for images of "revolutionary girl utena" kappa and got no relevant results whatsoever. This must change!
Wakaba’s kappa-shaped hot water dispenser says that she is not entirely ordinary: She has whimsy. When Nanami uses it in the last episode, after Utena has left, it has the opposite meaning: Nanami is now ordinary and no longer cares whether people see her as special. She is not afraid of being locked up as a space alien who uses a weird gadget.
A kappa is a water monster. It connects to the symbolic meanings of water and to Nanami’s egg that hatches into a monster. Nanami has made peace with her monster.
In episode 1, in the first duel Utena says she doesn’t know what’s going on but she should just try to win. And she does win. At the end of episode 11, after she loses the duel to Touga, Utena can’t accept revelations about Anthy and keeps repeating that it’s a lie; to progress, she needs to admit that she was wrong and did not understand. In episode 12, Wakaba keeps making wrong guesses about why Utena is depressed, and failing her attempts to help. Only when Wakaba admits that she doesn’t know can she help Utena. Compare Shiori in the confession elevator—when she admits she was wrong and didn’t know, she’s bad enough to deserve a black rose.
Utena has a deeper problem: She can’t admit her ignorance when she doesn’t notice it. Especially early on, she tends to jump to conclusions and never reconsider. Worst of all is lying to yourself, as she does at the end of episode 30.
It’s part of the bigger theme of overcoming fantasies, that is, leaving your coffin and attaining the truth. Anthy and Utena separately leave the Academy when they overcome their delusions.
Utena wants its viewers to admit their ignorance, leave their coffins, and attain the truth, as a step in improving the world.
In episode 23, Mikage wants Utena to join his seminar so that he has a chance to win. It doesn’t work; Utena visits but sees the photographs and recognizes Mikage as a manipulator. Nanami wants Utena to join forces with the Student Council to figure out who the manipulator is. It might have helped, since Utena did find out who it is, but the ineffectual Student Council takes no action to make it happen. They both had the right idea, but failed in implementing it.
In the Apocalypse Saga, Akio does get Utena to join him. He corrupts her into joining some of his evil actions and deceives her into falling in love with him. Despite setbacks along the way, he is able to defeat her, seize her sword, and leave her seemingly dying on the ground—he got everything he wanted from her, his plan for her succeeded completely. He is unable to open the Rose Gate with her sword because he misunderstands how the gate works; that has nothing to do with Utena and everything to do with his own limitations. Utena comes through in the end because her determination (acting through her power of miracles and repeatedly renewed by looking up at Anthy in the sky) makes her resilient, while Akio’s arrogance in his power makes him brittle—he gives up, and assumes that Utena can do nothing.
In the Black Rose, Akio seduces Tokiko to, er, properly motivate Mikage to seek eternity. The yellow is Mikage’s jealousy. The yellow made Akio’s hair tie turn green. What’s cool is the picture’s second meaning. Tokiko is Utena’s mirror image. When Utena kisses Akio in episode 30 and after the horse ride of the Second Seduction, she is on the left and Akio is on the right, a mirror reversal. The picture predicts what will happen to Utena in the Apocalypse Saga: Akio separates her from her true lover and seduces her. Tokiko leaves Ohtori Academy to marry and lead a normal life, suggesting that Utena survives in the end to lead a normal life. On the other hand, Tokiko returns briefly to visit Mamiya’s grave and have a fling with Akio. I advise Utena to avoid that—Anthy left her coffin, she’s not there any more.
At the same time, Utena has parallels with Mikage. Well, anti-parallels in some cases. Mikage ends up “graduating” like Utena.
At the start of episode 27, Nanami’s Egg, the camera pans across a playground in a dream where child Nanami finds an egg in the sandbox. The jungle gym resembles a globe of the Earth, and it resembles an egg. In Nanami’s version of the “egg of the world” speech in the Black Rose (as in episode 15), she calls the egg the cage of the world—here are the bars of the cage. (See also the cage of the Student Council elevator.) It represents the egg of the world, the shell we must smash to escape from the childish world of illusions (with its imagined princes and eggs that come with imagined dangers) into the true world of adulthood. And here it is, all set up for kids to climb around on.
You’re supposed to become adult. It’s normal. Breaking the shell of the world is not miraculous or revolutionary, it is hatching from your egg, a normal step of development. Metaphorically, society needs to grow up and get over its illusions.
Nanami’s Egg turns the world inside-out. In hatching, the outside world is strange and unknown. In Nanami’s Egg, the unknown is inside the shell. For the episode, it’s a satire on Nanami’s deep ignorance of everything related to reproduction, and by implication the social reasons behind her ignorance. For Utena as a whole, I take it to be the following generation, represented by Wakaba’s afterstory. Wakaba will take the next step after Utena in Utena’s slow revolution.
Utena has been stopped by the teachers, who are still trying to get her to wear the girls’ uniform. Discipline in the school seems to be arbitrary and ineffective. The male teacher has just told her that girls should wear frilly skirts, and this is Utena’s reaction. “Who came up with that one?” she thinks. The answer is that Akio came up with it, the same person who is about to rescue her from the teachers and tell them to be more flexible.
Utena becomes corrupted at the end of the episode. After that she is sometimes girlish, even to the point of happily showing off earrings that at first she found unsuitable. But she never drops her objection to wearing frilly girls’ clothing, despite wearing Touga’s dress in episode 3. (It’s her preference only: She has no objection to Anthy’s ruffled night clothing.)
In the same way that Anthy knows exactly how to manipulate duelists every time, Anthy reads Utena’s feelings effortlessly. In episode 30, after Wakaba returns from her car ride with Akio, Wakaba talks with Utena about it and realizes that Utena feels jealous. When Utena denies it too loudly, confirming Wakaba’s realization, we hear Anthy approaching. Thanks to Wakaba, Utena is just now noticing that she has feelings she does not understand, and she is unsure of herself. Wakaba, without knowing it, is doing Akio’s work. Utena’s unsureness shows in her face and voice when she greets Anthy...
... and Anthy deflates slightly, the way people do when disappointed. The two pictures are not the same. In the right picture, Anthy’s eyes are narrowed (she has seen enough) and she is slightly slumped. In a fraction of a second, Anthy read Utena’s feelings and understood that Akio was making progress in his plot to seduce her, and she was disappointed.
For another example of Anthy’s insight into Utena, see scenes with Anthy and Utena - playing a role. The examples show that Anthy’s insight is her own; she is not relying on information passed down from Akio.
Anthy is highly observant. The picture is from Nanami’s party for Touga in episode 21. Touga was talking with Utena, who looks quizzical. Now Nanami is jealously shoving Utena away from Touga, and Utena is trying not to spill her drink. Anthy quietly took everything in, and now she turns slightly toward the window and looks out: She sees Keiko outside, looking in on Touga. Nobody else notices.
Anthy is not bright in every way, but her emotional intelligence seems to be genius level. It may be an effect of her abusive relationship situation: To get by, she must read Akio’s feelings and intentions as accurately as possible all the time. That’s where her attention has to go. Then she can use the same skills to observe and manipulate others, as ordered.
Little Sister is watching you.
In the cowbell episode 16, Nanami eats a great pile of sandwiches then takes a nap. Mitsuru objects that if she sleeps after eating, she’ll turn into a cow. It’s a real saying. Parents supposedly sometimes tell their kids this in Japan.
I finally got around to analyzing the constellations that Anthy looks at in the planetarium during the First Seduction of episode 33. They are winter constellations; the scene associates winter with Akio and Anthy because they are cold-hearted. They are based on the real night sky, but altered and cartoonified. The stick figures at top in the left image are the constellation Gemini of the twins Castor and Pollux, introduced in episode 31. There are so many paired characters in Utena that the twins could be anybody, really. I think the best fit is Anthy walking with Utena after Utena’s foot is hurt in episode 30; the injured left foot is trailing weakly.
In the left picture, the constellation immediately to Anthy’s right is Canis Major, Orion’s larger hunting dog. Anthy is Akio’s dog. In the right picture, after the sky has rotated, Anthy is on top of the constellation of Lepus the rabbit, recalling the apple cut into rabbits of episode 5 and Anthy’s rabbit dance of episode 7. The dog caught the rabbit: Anthy’s roses successfully baited Akio’s trap for Utena, who is the rabbit in the moon. Canis Minor, Orion’s smaller dog, is on the screen as two stars joined by a line. It can be read as Utena, who is being developed into a second obedient dog. Or it can be read as Touga, who does Akio’s work.
In the right picture, Orion is directly above Anthy’s head. Orion has been modified. Orion is a hunter, and the arc of stars to his right is his bow. Here the stars of the bow have been reassigned to the next constellation to the right, Taurus the bull. The bull calls back to Nanami’s cowbell.
The bottom picture concentrates on the key constellations. The Milky Way has for some reason vanished. Orion has been modified into a cowboy with a lasso to catch the bull, which is Utena; Taurus compares Utena to Nanami. Anthy stands between them, tied to both. The stars hanging from Orion’s belt, his hunting knife, we can take as the metaphorical prince’s sword to pierce Utena (which has already happened at the time of the phone call; now the sword is drooping). The bull has become unrecognizable; it seems to have been changed into the monster that hatched from Nanami’s egg in episode 27, or it could be horned Utena trailing her hair—or make up your own. The two topmost stars are traditionally the bull’s horns. The tight cluster of stars at Taurus’s far end are the Pleiades, whose lore Utena heard from Akio and repeats to Anthy in episode 21, the Keiko episode. I don’t know what the Pleiades mean.
Taurus can be read differently. The bull Taurus comes from the myth of Europa and the bull: Zeus fell in love with mortal princess Europa, so he did the logical thing and turned himself into a bull to court her. Zeus made such an alluring bull that Europa decided to ride him, and Zeus then carried her across the ocean to Crete and raped her (in Greek myth, kidnapping and rape are generally the same thing). Later, to honor Europa, Zeus modestly placed a representation of himself as the bull into the sky as the constellation Taurus. The story of the First Seduction is closely parallel to the myth: Akio lures Utena into riding in his car, kidnaps her to a hotel room and rapes her. In this reading, Taurus=Akio and Europa=Utena. The bull is simultaneously Nanami, Utena, and Akio.
Europa bears children to Zeus. It’s a hint that Utena may become pregnant.
What a ton of references! The references bind the characters up into a web. I need to learn more before I can get a clear view of the shape of the web. Connections between Utena and Nanami are standing out to me at the moment. The main messages I read in these constellations are that Akio is catching Utena, and that Utena is being compared with Nanami.
Jay Scott <email@example.com>
first posted 29 December 2021
updated 15 October 2023