Utena - down catalog

Characters who are oppressed, depressed, defeated, or otherwise down are depicted as literally down, often on the floor. False examples are on the right.

When you are off your feet, you are unable to walk and therefore metaphorically unable to take action. See the foot catalog for the broader metaphor. Sleeping takes you off your feet, and exposes you to Akio’s power over your dreams, as symbolized by the blue-green pillows on the S-shaped bed. The most helpless down position is flat on your back. Utena chooses to be flat on her back for Akio in her Cinderella scene (also below), in the First Seduction, and no doubt in her other two dates with Akio.

In Utena, those who are laid low violently usually fall on their front or side (there are exceptions: episode 34, episode 35). Juri on her back after Shiori takes her sword suggests that Juri was defeated by the sexual act of taking her sword; Juri’s closed eyes agree. There are other examples.

The roses in the background bloom orange as the prince stoops to help little Utena up.
initial prince story
Little Utena lies on a bed of roses, looking at the prince.
Episode 34 Utena’s dream

Little Utena is pressed down by the death of her parents, which Akio certainly exploited and likely caused. He plays a prince and helps her up, the first rescue in the timeline of the series—a false rescue.

The last rescue in the series is not a real rescue either—it is Anthy deciding to leave the Academy.

Wakaba kneeling at a tree crying.
Episode 1

Wakaba cries after her love letter was posted on a bulletin board and read out loud. Compare this picture with the one immediately below it, with Saionji and Anthy. Here, a small Utena wants to help Wakaba, and has no better idea than to challenge Saionji—a prince’s martial reaction, not a friend’s. Below, in the next episode, threatening Saionji towers over Anthy. The characters are in the opposite order in the frame because they are oppositely related.

I think Utena is small in the background because there is nothing useful she can do. Compare small Anthy after Saionji loses; Anthy is pleased, but not for any action she took.

Utena, on the ground, holds up half of the practice sword.
Episode 1, cut sword

When Saionji slices through her bamboo practice sword in the duel of episode 1, Utena falls to the ground. She does not slow down in her fight, but immediately holds up the remaining half of the sword—and only then realizes that Saionji is using a sharp steel sword.

Saionji symbolically emasculated Utena’s symbolic maleness. Utena is forced down into a symbolic female position, which Saionji sees as appropriate. It does not take—Utena is flat on her back for defeat. She miraculously wins the duel anyway.

Saionji falls to a sitting position after losing the duel. Anthy looms over him.
Episode 1, Saionji defeated

Utena beat Saionji, but the imagery makes it small Anthy’s victory over Saionji. Utena fought to avenge Wakaba, but both Anthy and Saionji saw the duel as Utena fighting to rescue Anthy—in alignment with the official story from End of the World. Immediately after, Anthy puts Saionji in his place with an insult, discussed under wait for me... Utena - insult.

Before long, Utena too is brought into alignment with the official narrative. In episode 2 she still tries to reject it, claiming (with eyes closed so that she does not see her own lie) that she won for Chu-Chu’s sake, but after that she buys into it. In early episodes, Akio’s influence cannot be traced, but it is nevertheless visible.

The light is meaningful. The light on Saionji’s uniform is yellow and the shadows are blue-green.

Saionji slaps Anthy to the ground.
Episode 2, Anthy slapped down
Utena kneels down to join Anthy.
Episode 2, Utena joins her

When he comes to challenge Utena to a rematch, Saionji slaps Anthy to the ground. Utena kneels down to join Anthy—not to lower herself, but to protect Anthy, as a prince is supposed to. It reminds me of kneeling to be on the same level as a child, which can be a prince’s attitude to lesser people.

Utena has fallen to the ground.
Episode 2, Utena kicked down

In the episode 2 duel, Saionji unsportingly kicks Utena in the stomach. She rolls on the ground, ending up facing left because she was felled by a trick. Anthy reacts with alarm (which I assume is false). When Utena sits up, she is in pain, angry, and determined. Her determination is enough to activate her power of miracles and the rest does not matter: She wins immediately. She miraculously cuts through Saionji’s heavy steel sword, the same way he cut through her light bamboo sword in the previous episode.

So much for throwing the duel. Utena forgot her original goal and became determined to win. In episode 11 events went in the opposite order: She started out determined to win, but forgot her original goal and lost. The episode 2 duel reverses different aspects of the duels of episodes 1 and 11.

Saionji remains standing at the end of the duel.

Anthy sits on the floor, hands holding together the remnants of her dissolving green dress.
Episode 3, humiliation

Nanami’s dance party plot to humiliate Anthy seems to be working so far. Anthy’s “special” Nanami-provided dress is disintegrating after being sprayed, and Anthy is forced down. There are subtle hints that Anthy may have manipulated Nanami into doing it, so it may be that Anthy is faking it. See Anthy as goal and comparisons - destroyed clothing.

The image reminds me of Anthy’s princess dress spread around Utena after Anthy backstabs her. See the discussion below.

Juri standing over Miki, literally and figuratively looking down on him.
Episode 4, library

Juri subordinates Miki, treating him condescendingly while standing over him. Juri is a good character, and it’s relatively mild. Still, it’s the same kind of thing that Akio and Saionji do; see shoulders.

Nanami imagines humiliating Anthy, standing high above her.
Episode 4, dorm

Nanami imagines humiliating Anthy, reversing Miki’s and Utena’s good opinions of Anthy. This time Anthy was ready, and it happens the other way around.

Nanami stands in a column of light, representing her imaginary specialness and greatness. Compare other images of perceived specialness, like Anthy and Utena in the spotlight when they dance in episode 3, and Utena in rose petals in episode 9.

Miki bends over to pick up his music book.
Episode 5, outside the music room

When Miki and Kozue collide outside the music room, Miki drops his music book. Kozue subordinates him by reminding him of it. She’s pushing her brother down to keep his attention on her, even as she uses the distraction to keep his attention away while she zips up her skirt.

Miki is on hands and knees, Utena standing in the background.
Episode 5, Miki has lost

When Miki loses his duel, he falls to hands and knees. In episode 1, when Utena defeated Saionji, the image showed it as a victory for Anthy. Here, Anthy won the duel by distracting Miki (she seemed to understand his delusions perfectly), and Utena did not need to call on the prince. But the image calls it a victory by Utena. I take it to mean that Utena won by convincing Anthy to take her side. She did it by being consistently idealistic, while Miki was argued out of it and convinced to be selfishly controlling instead.

Anthy does not insult Miki afterward. She says “Let’s study together again.” On the face of it, she likes him, certainly as compared to Saionji. There may be some way that it is a putdown, but if so, I don’t see it. And yet when Miki visits in episode 14, Anthy is annoyed.

Nanami’s leg is raised in the air after Utena’s stray baseball knocks her over. Her minions and Miki look on.
Episode 6, Nanami meets baseball

Nanami is knocked over by Utena’s baseball, which “flew farther than I expected.” It goes with the soccer knockdown in episode 27.

Nanami has lowered herself below Mitsuru’s height.
Episode 6, Nanami and Mitsuru
Mitsuru hides under Nanami’s school desk as she takes a test, showing her the answer book.
Episode 6, answer book

Right: When Nanami goes to ask Mitsuru out, she lowers herself below his level. Her eyes are below Mitsuru’s. She is only pretending to humble herself: She is taking power over him. Akio has the same habit.

Left: Mitsuru lowers himself, and boxes himself in, in carrying out Nanami’s tasks. He puts himself in a locker, and under her desk, and under her drawing easel.

One of the three nerd boys has been beaten up. He lies battered.
Episode 6, nerd boy defeated
Nanami supports Mitsuru, who can barely stand.
Episode 6, catching Mitsuru

The three nerd boys are pursuing Nanami aggressively, writing love letters every day and not taking “no” for an answer. Nanami has Mitsuru beat them up. They are older and larger and in a group, but they go down.

It was too much for Mitsuru, and he collapses too. Nanami catches him and holds him up. Nanami is abusing Mitsuru, but in embracing him she seems to show caring.

Anthy is on the ground after Juri slaps her down.
Episode 7, Anthy slapped down

Anthy deliberately provoked Juri by offering her an orange rose, mimicking Shiori. Anthy plotted the event and cannot have been surprised by the blow, but she is nevertheless down. Anthy was following Akio’s instructions. In effect, Akio knocked her down, using Juri as an unwitting intermediary.

Juri falls to the ground, holding out  a hand to protect herself.
Episode 7, Juri fails

Juri falls to the ground after losing a fight to steal Utena’s ring. Utena is on the ground too, but it is by choice; she is protecting her ring.

Utena is on the ground, disarmed, the point of Juri’s sword at her chest.
Episode 7, Juri over Utena

Utena won the duel against Juri by a miracle, but in swordplay she was soundly defeated. Here she is disarmed and down, and looks defiant but helpless. But Juri’s usually reddish sword glows blue for illusion. I like the visual emphasis provided by the background clouds.

Juri is arrogant, and Utena’s power of miracles brings karmic retribution. First win the duel, then gloat. In the later duel against Juri, Utena still can’t beat Juri, but Utena’s miracle wins her the duel anyway and helps Juri in a bittersweet way. Both duels are part of Juri’s journey from bitter hurt to acceptance.

Shiori holds her hands over Juri’s eyes as she kisses over her head.
Episode 7, Juri and Shiori

Shiori holds her hands over Juri’s eyes as she kisses the boy she thinks Juri likes. It’s a symbolic image, not literal; we can think of it as Shiori’s imagination. In reality, Juri sees through the hands over her eyes and understands what’s happening, though I’m not sure she understands Shiori’s motives. Shiori believes she is taking power over Juri and hurting her. Shiori does not understand that she loves Juri; her unconscious motive is to break the boy and Juri apart out of jealousy (that’s the most straightforward reading). Shiori is hurting Juri and herself too.

See a comparison with Anthy, Utena, and Touga from episode 3. The two triples have a striking connection.

Anthy, looking like Utena, lies on the ground with Wakaba on her back. Utena, looking like Anthy, stands watching.
Episode 8, Anthy as Utena

Anthy as Utena has sunk to the ground under Wakaba’s weight. It’s among the earliest signs that the two are body-swapped, and nobody watching can tell yet.

And it’s a sign that they are not truly body-swapped, but appearance-swapped. Their changed appearances are an illusion. Utena retains her sports abilities, and Anthy retains what she must consider to be her appropriately feminine weakness.

Nanami has slipped on a banana peel and fallen. She watches special curry spice blow away.
Episode 8, curry spice

Nanami has fallen—Chu-Chu threw a banana peel in front of her and she slipped. An elephant blows away the special curry spice. Everyone else is standing, and moreover, they’re at the top of stairs.

Anthy is taking advantage of Nanami’s habit of running at inappropriate times. It is Anthy subordinating Nanami. The whole episode is about Anthy pushing Nanami down.

Little Utena in her coffin, Touga and Saionji beside.
Episode 9, Utena’s coffin

Little Utena in her coffin is an extreme case of lowering oneself. She says she will never leave it, because nothing is eternal. Literally, it means she sees no point in living. Figuratively, it means she does not want to leave the symbolic coffin of the system of control—which she later learns promises eternity (falsely).

Saionji slaps Anthy down in front of the forest gate.
Episode 9, slapping Anthy
Little Utena in her coffin, Touga and Saionji beside.
Episode 9, slapping Saionji

Saionji slaps Anthy down in front of the forest gate, as he is trying to abduct her to the dueling arena. When Utena arrives, she finds Saionji unconscious and wakes him up with poetic justice, by slapping. Saionji was laid low as part of Touga’s plot; probably one of Touga or Anthy did the evil deed. Utena reinforces it while carrying out the good deed of waking him up.

Saionji was face down in the water. See the comparison of drowning boys.

Saionji strikes Touga with his sword, who blocked it from Utena, who is helping Anthy.
Episode 9, Anthy “wakes up”

As part of Touga’s plot, Anthy pretends to be unconscious and to need rescue. She is only pretending to be down. The truth comes through when the arena elevates Anthy and Utena high into the air on columns while Saionji stays below; Saionji is the one being kept down. Saionji wonders what’s going on (and he’s not allowed any opportunity to take action), while impulsive Utena does not question the bizarre situation but acts immediately. After Utena “rescues” her, and before Saionji’s attack, Anthy “wakes up” and warns Utena at the right timing so that Touga’s false rescue of Utena looks as impressive as possible.

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, and slaps her to the ground. It’s a change from Anthy being slapped down in earlier episodes. Nanami has had it in for Utena since Utena rescued Anthy in episode 3. This picture is part of a comparison with episode 31.

Utena accepts Nanami’s accusation and blames herself. It is an anime trope that good characters blame themselves. Evil characters blame others, so good characters have to blame themselves... for balance, or something? It’s the same style of reasoning that supports sympathetic magic, and the trope is overused. It’s appropriate here, though: Utena is trying to live up to a fictional prince trope, and should do fictional trope-y things.

Utena sits on the floor, tucked away between furniture.
Episode 10, can’t be a prince
Utena lies on the floor.
Episode 10, as low as possible

After Nanami’s slap, Utena is down about the injury to her supposed prince, and lowers herself as far as she can. As when she entered her coffin, she takes it to an extreme. First she hides between the furniture, thinking that maybe a girl can’t become a prince. Her usual optimism is missing. After Anthy arrives and sits on the floor herself, Utena lies down, below Anthy, below the kitten, and below Chu-Chu. A moment earlier she was on all fours (part of her parallel with the kitten), but with the kitten that was not low enough.

When Anthy comes in, she ignores Utena, speaking only to the kitten, but in a way that Utena won’t realize at first. (The line translated as “I wonder if he [Touga] is alright” is ambiguous and also means “I wonder if you [the kitten] are alright.”) Keeping Utena down will help Anthy in her setup for the duel with Nanami.

Touga sits on his throne at his party.
Episode 10, Touga’s party

Touga is not subordinating himself to his birthday party guests. His seat is a throne from which he rules. They come to him. Compare Akio: When Akio is sitting, so are other characters, and Akio still towers over them. Akio lowers himself only for show. There is a little more discussion below at Akio lies down on his car.

Anthy, slapped by Nanami, makes a show of falling to the floor.
Episode 10, Anthy’s role
Utena comes to Anthy’s aid, and arm around her shoulder.
Episode 10, Utena’s reaction

When Anthy and Utena show up at Touga’s party, Nanami slaps Utena. Utena drops her flowers but keeps her balance. Anthy intervenes, provoking Nanami, who slaps her too. Anthy falls rather theatrically. Touga watches serenely as events proceed according to plan, but Utena has no inkling that it is a plot, and comes to Anthy’s defense.

It’s a lot, but it’s not yet enough for Nanami to challenge Utena to a duel.

The pictures show most people watching. Only Utena (left) and Miki (right, with his sense of justice) are in ready stances, prepared to act.

Wakaba leans over Utena, holding a lunchbox in her hands but in effect pressing Utena down.
Episode 11, Wakaba over Utena

Wakaba “offers” Utena lunch and will not take no for an answer. Utena doesn’t really mind, but she is pressed back and down. Wakaba’s friendship is so aggressive that the two end up rolling downhill. See a comparison of Wakaba with Akio.

Utena is on her knees as Touga and Anthy leaving the dueling arena together.
Episode 11, Utena loses

Losing the duel does not push Utena down. Anthy saying that she is happy being the Rose Bride does not push Utena down. Utena weeps and falls to her knees when Anthy turns away from her and leaves with Touga. Utena’s arguments (“Anthy needs me”) suggest that her distress is due more to losing Anthy as an object of rescue than to losing Anthy as a dear person. But Utena does not understand herself, and what she says might be misleading. The timing of her collapse suggests that she wants to be with Anthy. To be sure, Utena has a lot of reasons to be distressed. It could be all of the above and more.

Touga on his knees, looking devastated, with Utena in the background.
Episode 12, Touga loses

Utena has defeated Touga. He is crushed and falls to his knees. His stance is similar to Utena’s in the previous episode (she bent lower after the picture above). The shade of despair looks like ashes on his face. Utena, proud in victory, returns to Touga a little of the arrogant attitude he held over her.

Kanae is collapsed on the ground unconscious, lying on the red outline of a dead duelist.
Episode 14, Kanae loses

When a Black Rose duelist loses, they fall unconscious to the ground on top of the red outline of one of the dead duelist boys. After waking up they remember nothing of what happened: As with Utena, sleep is associated with forgetting.

Sleep is, of course, also associated with death. The already dead duelist boy falls into the red outline of a murder victim, because he is a murder victim. The red color represents blood and violence.

Wakaba is an exception; Utena holds her up. Mikage is another. We see him starting to fall as if he were about to land on a red outline, but we don’t see it happen. Instead, the camera cuts to Akio explaining this part of his plot.

The music teacher runs down the stairs, trying desperately to keep his balance.
Episode 15, music teacher

A dim, low-contrast image of going down. Is the music teacher really this bad, or does Kozue only see him that way? Either way, Kozue finds sexual harassment and pushes him downstairs. Kozue stops short in describing her reasons to Juri, unwilling to say it directly.

The stairs look like piano keys.

Nanami takes a nap after eating, despite Mitsuru’s objection.
Episode 16, taking a nap
Nanami grazes with herd of cows.
Episode 16, joining the herd

Nanami is behaving like a cow. The first sign was that she ate a large vegetarian lunch. Left, she sleeps after eating sandwiches. Sleep is associated with forgetting; I think she is forgetting her humanity. Right, she joins a group of like-minded individuals wearing their own cowbells—inferior models, of course. Nobody is finer than Nanami.

The cowbell is social suicide and forced Nanami to the ground. Her lowness represents her low reputation while wearing the cowbell.

Utena has removed Nanami’s cowbell. Nanami is on the ground, sleeping, as though she had lost a Black Rose duel.
Episode 16, cowbell lost

Nanami charged Utena, and Utena removed Nanami’s cowbell. The imagery equates it to both a bullfight and to a duel: The cowbell was cut off like a rose. She returns to human, no longer possessed by a cow, just as a Black Rose duelist is no longer possessed by a murdered boy. Nanami falls to the ground asleep, as though she had lost a Black Rose duel. Her shadow corresponds to a red outline in the dueling arena. Specialness lasts only a short time. Nanami is presumably forgetting about the cowbell, which explains why she immediately goes for a nose ring.

The image aligns with the sleep after eating image directly above, and with the defeated Black Rose duelist images. There is likely a meaningful reference behind the cow, but I haven’t found one so far.

Shiori is collapsed in the confession elevator.
Episode 17, Shiori
Utena has removed Nanami’s cowbell. Nanami is on the ground, sleeping, as though she had lost a Black Rose duel.
Episode 17, Juri

Unlike Kanae and Kozue before her, Shiori collapses to the floor in the confession elevator. She doesn’t understand herself and seems to partly realize it in the elevator, and it drives her wild. Compare Keiko below.

Unlike Miki before her, we see Juri collapsed to the floor after Shiori takes her sword. Juri is flat on her back. Earlier, Shiori saw herself as weaker than brilliant and capable Juri. Now, knowing that her picture is in Juri’s locket and rendered fearless by a black rose, Shiori sees herself as stronger, and subdues Juri. At the end of the episode, Juri asks herself why she can’t be stronger—she also sees herself as weak.

Anthy is knocked to the ground.
Episode 20, Anthy
Wakaba holds Utena up by the hair and has her sword at Utena’s throat.
Episode 20, Wakaba lifts Utena
Utena is knocked to the ground.
Episode 20, Utena
Utena holds Wakaba by the hand, preventing her from falling to the ground when she loses the duel.
Episode 20, Utena lifts Wakaba

In the duel of episode 20, Wakaba is determined to kill her love rival Anthy. Utena refuses to fight against her dear friend Wakaba. She refuses even to draw the sword from Anthy. Anthy loses her balance dodging Wakaba’s thrust, and falls to the ground. Utena, rushing to defend Anthy, falls similarly.

Wakaba savagely lifts Utena from the ground by the hair and holds her sword to Utena’s throat. A close shot shows Utena sweating, feeling her peril. And yet Wakaba lifted Utena from the ground: Wakaba is Utena’s friend, and even under the influence of the black rose, a little of her good heart shows through. Compare Wakaba helping Utena out of her depression in episode 12.

Her good heart doesn’t show through much. Wakaba is mainly holding Utena in place to rant out her justification. When she draws back her sword to strike, Utena demonstrates that a sword is an awkward weapon against an opponent closer than arm’s length: Utena turns the tables (saying that she will help Wakaba), steals Wakaba’s sword, and slices her black rose.

Now it is Utena’s turn to hold Wakaba up. Utena holds Wakaba by the hand, and (at least for as long as the camera watches) prevents her from falling. Utena wants to help Wakaba, not defeat her.

Keiko sits on the floor of the confession elevator.
Episode 21, Keiko

Like Shiori, Keiko stands up in the confession elevator, then collapses to the floor when it reaches the bottom. Shiori went wild when she realized she did not understand herself. Keiko understands well what’s wrong with Nanami, and admits that she was fooling herself (though she minimizes her own mistake). Is the comparison saying that they are opposites?

Utena struck Mikage down with her fist, and now holds him down.
Episode 23, struck down
Mikage sits awkwardly on the floor of the confession elevator.
Episode 23, in the elevator

When Utena realizes that Mikage is the one behind the black rose duelists, she strikes him down with her fist. Mikage tries to get Utena to join him, arguing that she also lives according to her important memories, and seeks eternity for them. Utena can’t counter the argument, but can’t countenance his manipulation either, and challenges him to a duel. In the final showdown, Utena reacts similarly to Akio’s arguments.

Mikage tried to send Utena to the confession elevator, but Utena turned the tables on him. He starts his ride in the elevator not seated like everyone else, but already defeated and on the floor. The display case holds a chrysalis, which does not change: As a representative of stasis, Mikage is in the chrysalis stage forever.

Mitsuru and Nanami are on the ground, a crowd surrounds them, and a horse grazes on the grass.
Episode 24, Mitsuru and Nanami

In the recap episode 24, Mitsuru rescues Nanami from another rampaging horse. A crowd watches. Who set this one loose? Presumably Anthy, because Mitsuru was walking with Nanami and could not have guided the horse. Mitsuru and Nanami go down; Mitsuru took a risk to save Nanami and goes down to the ground, while Nanami ends up sitting. The rescue was at least partly successful.

There are no chickens this time, but surely it is Anthy acting behind the scenes.

Saonji lies flat on his face, as if ejected from the crashed car, after losing his duel.
Episode 25, Saionji

Saionji lost his duel and lies sprawled on his face as the petals of his rose fly. The loss is represented as a car crash: The car of adulthood was defeated by Utena’s childish fantasy of being a prince. The power of adulthood is great, but less than the power of Utena’s idealism.

It’s standard for duel losers in the Apocalypse arc. In the final showdown, after Anthy stabs Utena in the back, Utena is the one who ends up face down.

We see from above that Kozue has fallen, and was caught by Miki with Utena as backstop.
Episode 26, Kozue falls

Kozue (whose name means treetop) saves two nestling birds from high in a tree that is to be cut down. It’s desperately dangerous, and she falls. It’s hard to tell in the picture, but she’s holding the nest in her arms.

She is symbolically saving herself and Miki from the tree that represents their family, cut down by their parents’ breakup. We can guess that the family breakdown was orchestrated or instigated by Akio, who hates happy families (happy families have good teamwork). Akio also had the tree cut down, to provoke Kozue, and through her to provoke Miki. It is a reversal of stereotypical sex roles: She carries out the bold boyish part, a heroic rescue, and Miki takes on the nurturing part of raising the nestlings. That makes it part of Kozue’s important parallel with Utena.

Kozue saved after a heroic sacrifice is parallel to Utena needing rescue after her self-sacrifice in the final showdown.

Kozue reclines in Akio’s car.
Episode 26, Kozue reclining

Kozue has let the seat back in Akio’s car, and reclines. Her uniform is unfastened. Her eyes are closed. She’s enjoying the wind of the car’s movement—Akio’s wind. It is a hint of the sex that is part of what Akio’s car stands for. In episode 29 with Ruka and Shiori, the hint is spelled out.

It is a defeat. She has fallen under Akio’s control. Compare Utena flat on her back in the First Seduction of episode 33.

Kozue talks to Miki, claiming to always speak her mind truthfully. I’m not sure the convention applies when the people are in a car, but normally in anime when a character turns their back on the one they’re speaking to, they are lying (like Juri here). Akio and front-seat passengers may be lying when they talk to the back seat. Kozue drops her tie so that it flies back and covers Miki’s eyes, hiding the truth from him, and he imagines driving with Anthy.

In Nanami’s imagination, she is surrounded by anonymous girls who ridicule her for laying an egg.
Episode 27, imaginary ridicule

Nanami’s egg. Nanami is down a lot in this episode. In the cowbell episode, Nanami proudly chose a path of social suicide. Here she falsely fears social suicide—and by doing so invites it anyway.

Nanami first imagines that it is a plot to get others to ridicule her. She fears being excluded as a space alien (as a weird person), a fate worse than ignorance. The real plot is more sophisticated, but Nanami hit near the truth.

The bare tree branches symbolize winter without saying that the season is winter. They refer to the coldness of Nanami’s tormentors and/or the plot against her.

Nanami is on the ground; we see only her leg comically sticking up, with Utena and Mitsuru standing.
Episode 27, Nanami meets soccer ball
In Nanami’s imagination, she is kneels, looking at her broken egg.
Episode 27, imaginary broken egg

Nanami is knocked over by Utena’s soccer ball. Nanami suddenly suspects that Utena is behind the plot, and imagines what would have happened if the egg had broken: Utena and Mitsuru would ridicule her as a space alien.

The baseball and soccer knockdowns are parallel. They have Utena’s ball “flying farther than expected” and striking Nanami in the face, Nanami falling with one leg comically in the air, an upward panning shot of Utena running toward Nanami, then a conversation where Nanami complains and Utena doesn’t much care. The basketball games are different on all these points; the ball goes exactly where Utena wants it to. The repetition seems to be the sign of a miracle. Anthy and Utena are tag-teaming Nanami, though Utena I suppose does it without noticing.

In Nanami’s imagination, Miki ridicules her because she admitted to laying the egg.
Episode 27, imaginary alien egg
Nanami is on the ground; we see only her leg comically sticking up, with Utena and Mitsuru standing.
Episode 27, downed by Miki

Nanami takes the egg to Miki, who examines it with a magnifying glass. He says it is not a bird or reptile egg and it was freshly laid, seeming to confirm Nanami’s fear that she laid it. She imagines Miki concluding that she is a space alien.

Being downed in her imagination pushes her down in real life. She can’t admit it, she thinks. Miki tells her that he has heard of mammals that lay eggs (monotremes—Wikipedia), and Nanami takes it as final confirmation.

Nanami imagines Miki on the dark side of the shadow line.

In Nanami’s imagination, her minions ridicule her for being so late to lay her first egg.
Episode 27, imaginary late egg
Nanami is pressed against a window comically, her minions in the background.
Episode 27, downed by her minions

Nanami imagines telling her minions that she laid an egg, and that they ridicule her for laying her first egg so late. She is not physically pushed down. Maybe she is already proud of her egg. But still, like every time, she is jailed for being a space alien. It’s a defeat, so I counted her as down.

The shadow line is tricky in the right image. Is everyone on the dark side? In any case, it’s striking that Nanami fears her own minions, who willingly follow her orders.

Nanami is pressed against a window comically, her minions in the background.
Episode 27, downed by Juri

Nanami runs from her minions, thinking that it is inexcusable that she was left so ignorant. Yes, it is.

Nanami tends to be careless when running. She runs into Juri. Nanami supposes that Juri’s bowling ball, that Nanami can barely lift, is the egg Juri laid today. As Juri talks about bowling, since she was seven, with ever larger balls, Nanami misunderstands each point and becomes more and more impressed with Juri. She is so impressed that she falls to her knees, pushed down by what she sees as Juri’s greater maturity. Juri really is older and more mature, but not in egg laying!

Nanami is on the light side of the shadow line. She is mistaken, not bad.

Nanami abandons her egg at the base of a tree.
Episode 27, downed by Touga
Nanami falls to her knees in front of Saionji, who is cooking eggs.
Episode 27, downed by Saionji

Nanami looks forward to the imaginary baby that will hatch. Immediately after Anthy wonders who the father is, the camera cuts to Nanami with Touga—as if answering the question. But Touga disapproves, and Nanami abandons the egg. Touga brought her down. I think Touga is in cahoots with Anthy, as in the Student Council arc.

Nanami changes her mind and goes to retrieve the egg, but Saionji has it. She falls to her knees at the callousness of eating eggs that will otherwise hatch into darling babies. She has been going further and further astray.

Nanami in her dream is upset that her egg hatched into a monster and left her alone.
Episode 27, downed by a monster

Nanami dreams that the egg has become huge (like the huge cat) and hatches into a monster. It seems angry and zaps the ground with a beam of yellow rings, then vanishes. Nanami sinks to her knees in dismay, downed one last time. She is not upset because the egg was a monster, but because she was abandoned and her dream of family was crushed. It foretells the future: She learns she is adopted. Her birth mother may have abandoned her. She comes to see Touga as biologically unrelated, which crushes her dream of family. Nanami is the monster; it is yellow. She sees herself as a monstrous kitten killer and egg abandoner. She believes she was the one to crush her dream of family. For all Anthy’s plot, Nanami is the one to make herself what she is.

Nanami faced the duelists plus those under her command, Mitsuru and her minions. Utena reacted with naivety, Miki with knowledge, Mitsuru with an offer to do whatever she asked, Juri with pride, Touga with manipulation, and Saionji with perceived cruelty. Her minions only wanted to know what was going on. Nobody set Nanami right. How could they, when Nanami admitted nothing? If you shut up for fear of being wrong, you are likely to end up being wrong.

Shiori fearfully holds the sword that fell from Ruka’s locker.
Episode 28, Shiori below Ruka
In the duel, Shiori’s car has crashed. Ruka stands and Shiori is down in the car.
Episode 28, Shiori fallen

When Ruka’s sword falls from his locker, Shiori expects the worst and lowers herself (compare Keiko with Touga’s sword). She stands when she accepts Ruka’s lie and falls into the role he prepared for her: “Yes, I polished your sword every day.” She is surprised and excited when Ruka kisses her.

When Utena wins the duel against Ruka, it turns out that Shiori had not expected the worst after all. Unlike the earlier losers in the Apocalypse arc, Saionji and Miki, Ruka remains standing—but Shiori is injured and down in the car crash. Ruka is not defeated; he tries again next episode. Ruka believes in sacrificing others to achieve a miracle.

Shiori is on her knees and bawling her eyes out.
Episode 29, Shiori rejected

Ruka rejects Shiori. She falls to her knees, bawling. A crowd looks on, and rumors circulate. Last episode, general opinion seemed to admire Shiori for landing Ruka. Now, general opinion seems to make the breakup Shiori’s fault. In reality, both were Ruka’s doing. The false rumors will tend to keep Shiori down. Utena draws an unfounded conclusion too.

Overconfidence in unfounded opinions is part of human nature. But which opinions we overconfidently share is a cultural matter, the work of the system of control. A sexist culture does not need evidence to draw sexist conclusions. To me, it’s glaringly obvious in everyday life.

Juri recovers her locket after Ruka stole it, remaining on the floor below him.
Episode 29, Juri below Ruka
One petals detaches from Juri’s orange rose as it hits the ground.
Episode 29, Juri concedes

Ruka stole Juri’s locket while sexually assaulting her, and threw it on the floor. Here Juri has recovered it. Juri remains on the floor below Ruka, mirroring Shiori’s position above—neither truly lost what they value. Ruka says that he will do what she wants, and yet she ends up submitting to his will. Compare the episode 17 image of Juri above—Juri is associated with grid patterns that stand for cages.

After she concedes the duel, Juri remains standing. Her right foot is lifted, the foot of reality. She was not defeated: Though she is distraught at the moment, she was helped. Ruka is not defeated either. His plot was evil and ineffective, but through the goodness of Utena’s miracle he achieved his goal of freeing Juri from her obsession. Utena removed the locket that Ruka could not.

Utena is falling backward into Akio’s car as Akio leans over her.
Episode 30, Utena below Akio

Utena is flat on her back in the car as Akio kisses her. Akio stands between her legs. Utena has lifted her right leg so that her right foot is off the ground, the foot of truth. It is one step short of a sex position—sex is a reality, not an illusion.

Did she fall or was she pushed? The animation gives me the idea that Akio pressed Utena down lightly, to indicate what she was to do, and Utena voluntarily flopped back into the car. She fell to her attraction, gave in to Akio’s wishes, and chose to place herself in a vulnerable position. The sound implies that he puts some weight on her—she is physically restrained.

Utena flops onto her back two other times, onto the grass in episode 35 (trying to remember) and into the car in episode 37 (avoiding a kiss). Both are Utena trying to take control over her situation and largely failing: She could not remember, and did avoid the kiss but remained with Akio.

Nanami has slapped Keiko to the ground.
Episode 32, Nanami slaps Keiko
Keiko has slapped Nanami to the ground.
Episode 32, Keiko slaps Nanami

There’s a lot of knocking down in episode 32. Nanami catches Keiko with Touga and slaps her to the ground. Keiko is defiant, stands, and slaps Nanami down in turn.

Nanami’s minions rebel against Nanami. Boss Nanami can’t let that go, and physically beats them up. (The minions were shown to be physically wimpy when Utena in Anthy’s body slapped them in episode 8.) It’s not a central event and happens off-screen, so we don’t see anybody down.

Nanami has slapped Anthy to the ground.
Episode 32, Nanami slaps Anthy
Keiko has slapped Nanami to the ground.
Episode 32, Utena down in the duel

Nanami slaps down Anthy. The greenhouse threatens to become as violent as the dueling arena. As I read it, Nanami feels disgust for Anthy and anger at Utena for not realizing Akio and Anthy’s incest—which, from Nanami’s point of view, she discovered by chance. (In reality, of course, Akio arranged it.) Anger is a stronger reason to hit someone than disgust. I think Nanami hit Anthy to get back at Utena. But in Utena, revenge does not work.

In the duel, Nanami makes a leaping attack on Utena. In a duel, being in the air symbolizes skill and/or power: Utena defends, but is pushed off balance and rolls on the ground. The picture is mirror-reversed from episode 2, when Utena was downed by a trick rather than by skill. Utena immediately calls on the prince, and that’s that. Nanami remains standing at the end of the duel.

Utena lies on the floor in the hotel room, watching television.
Episode 33, unconscious subordination
Utena presses her tongue against her knuckle.
Episode 33, deliberate subordination

In the hotel room in the First Seduction, Utena at first stands, then sits in a chair so she is level with Akio, then lies on the floor below Akio. As she becomes more comfortable in the unfamiliar hotel, she unconsciously subordinates herself to the man she loves and trusts. It is a girlish action; Akio is successfully pressing her to become more girlish so that he can dominate her.

Under Akio’s persuasion, Utena decides for sex. It is a defeat and Utena is pressed down. In the right picture, Utena is flat on her back underneath Akio. He manipulated her into choosing to subordinate herself, and he enforces it. He takes her hands, overrides her misgivings and leaves her nearly helpless, and lays her boyishness low with his metaphorical sword. I think it’s a safe guess that Utena winds up flat on her back in the Second Seduction and Routine Date too.

In a shadow play, the witch looks on at the prince in a cage.
Episode 34, the prince
Little Anthy with Dios on the hay. His cloak is spread out around him, lined with red.
Episode 34, Dios collapsed

The Tale of the Rose depicts the prince as captured by the witch. The prince is in a cage too short to stand up in. It reflects Anthy’s lie that she sealed away the prince, which caused her to be named a witch and targeted by the Swords of Hatred. It is a reversal. In reality, Akio has captured Anthy. The persistence of the story reflects Akio’s denial of responsibility for any bad actions.

It also reflects truth, in a way. Dios was injured, and we see him flat on his back on the hay, barely able to move.

Little Utena is thrown back and knocked down.
Episode 34, little Utena thrown back

In the final version of the prince story, when little Utena tries to reach Anthy, there is a flash and Utena is knocked back forcefully. She goes down.

It is never explained. The story requires that little Utena cannot help Anthy, but the means of preventing her from helping seem arbitrary and unjustified. I see it as a bare spot in Utena’s dense carpet of symbols. It would make sense if it were, say, sword points blocking approach and standing for the briar barrier. Could it perhaps be a reference to some anime?

Akio reflected on his shiny car as he lies down on it.
Episode 35, Akio on his car

Akio is flat on his back on his car. He is asking Touga to choose a gift for Utena.

It’s not the same as other cases when somebody is flat on their back. His car itself represents his power, and I think his reflection equates him with the car. He is pretending to lower himself as part of manipulating Touga, the same way he pretends to lower himself when playing out Cinderella scenes with Utena and with Mrs. Ohtori to manipulate them, and sits under a tree in the Second Seduction. A woman flat on her back represents powerlessness; Akio flat on his back represents power and deception.

Utena is about to hit the ground. She looks to be screaming. Akio has a hand around one upper arm.
Episode 35, Utena has fallen

Utena has fallen from Touga’s horse and is about to hit the ground when Akio unrealistically scoops her up with one hand on an upper arm. If you’re generous, you can take the bad physics as a clue that Akio engineered the rescue with some kind of illusion. You can also just say “Eh, anime.” Utena favors emotional realism, and often goes out of its way to emphasize physical unrealism, to remind us that it is an allegory.

Utena did not touch the ground, but she was laid low. In fact, though she’s not lying down, she is flat on her back.

This kind of fall seems likely to cause serious injury. I think she’d be lucky to get away with nothing worse than broken limbs. I don’t know whether Touga was truly negligent. We aren’t shown how Akio engineered the fall.

Akio is sitting under a tree in the forest.
Episode 36, Akio under a tree

Akio sits under a tree during the Second Seduction. A sunbeam represents that Utena has accepted him as her prince (see the sun catalog for discussion).

Compare Akio lying on his car in the previous episode. This is part of Akio’s approach-withdrawal maneuver. He has moved away from her to draw her out and make the seduction “her idea”. He pretends to lower himself as part of the seduction; he is seeking something from her.

Touga lies on his back on a purple sheet, his shirt open.
Episode 36, Touga in bed

Touga is flat on his back, in bed with Akio, his shirt wide open for sex. On a 1997 television with overscan, the tiny tiny slice of clothing around his waist would be off the screen. He is inverted. The sheet is purple for corruption. Akio is on his back too, side to side across the frame. Again, like Akio lying on his car, Akio is not truly down. He lowered himself to manipulate Touga through seduction.

Akio is making sure that Touga will lose to Utena. The Second Seduction of Utena in the same episode is Akio seducing Utena to make sure that she will lose to Akio. He dealt with them basically the same way for basically the same reason; Akio repeats his scripts. It is a safe guess that Utena ended up flat on her back, and was happy about it.

Saionji lies on his back on the grass, his head in Anthy’s lap.
Episode 36, Saionji with Anthy

Though he is now with Touga, Saionji is flat on his back, powerless and unable to escape his desire for Anthy. Being Saionji, he lay down with his head in her lap without asking. Chu-Chu is wrapped up and captured by a worm, which symbolizes Anthy’s trapped condition. See where were you last night? - Chu-Chu. For the moment, she cannot escape Saionji. In the bigger picture, she cannot escape Akio. At the same time, off the top of the frame Utena is trapped against a tree by Touga.

Touga and Saionji are lying flat on the backs after losing the duel, their shirts open.
Episode 36, Touga and Saionji

Saionji helped Touga in the duel, driving the motorcycle for Touga’s final attack. Touga lost the duel, and both are defeated, flat on their backs. Their shirts are open for sex—the two unfastened their shirts for Touga’s final attack with his sword held straight out as he tries to express his love for Utena by defeating her for her own protection. His action is a metaphor for marriage, where a man takes final control over his wife, defeating her and leaving her flat on her back while promising to protect her. Akio tries marriage to defeat Utena in the final showdown. We knew all along that the duels are sexual events, and this detail amps it up.

Saionji helps Touga by driving the motorcycle. Anthy helps Utena by powering up the sword. The couples are parallel.

In Japanese, the spreadeagled pose with arms and legs sprawled out is called dai no ji, meaning “the character dai”, which has the same shape: 大. Dai means large or great. The duel loss was a great defeat.

Akio holds Utena down in his car.
Episode 37, Utena held down

At the end of the Routine Date, Utena chooses to lie back in the car to subordinate herself, and Akio holds her down so that she cannot sit up, or move much at all. In a reversal, it is not a defeat of Utena. He has offered her a “more suitable” ring, proposing marriage, and seems to be going for a kiss, but Utena ignores the proposal and changes the subject. She looks away from Akio and holds her arms defensively. She is in a period of regret after the date. It is a crucial step in the final victory, and it goes with the refused kiss in the final showdown.

Utena held down seems to stand for Akio’s oppression and control of her throughout the series until now. The important event is Utena sitting up in the car, reversing her subordination, and seeing the Big Dipper, a metaphor for seeking the truth. It prefigures and symbolizes Utena’s final escape from the Academy.

There’s a subtle visual point. The shot is an upward vertical pan to Utena’s head. As the shot nears its end, Utena mentions Anthy. The top of Utena’s head is beyond the shadow line. Utena’s relationship with Anthy is still in bad shape.

Touga and Saionji pose on a car.
Episode 37, posing

Saionji and Touga (attempt to) pose dramatically for the camera. They are on Akio’s car, and Akio is operating the camera: They are playing the roles that Akio has assigned them. Their shirts are open for sex. The suggestion is that Akio is deliberately pairing them off to get them out of the way or otherwise break them down. Akio either recognized latent homosexual impulses and brought them out (as suggested by their kendou practice sessions), or created them (which I think is less likely). For both, their new relationship contradicts their past statements and behavior—but I think it’s what they unconsciously wanted all along.

Being under Akio’s control has pressed them down and lifted their feet from the ground. Touga is even holding a foot in the air. He looks somewhat like Utena bicycling her legs in the air in the First Seduction, which symbolizes Utena giving up her agency related to sex.

They are posing to show off: The camera also means public attention.

Akio and Anthy in Akio’s car. Anthy is lying back, pierced by the Swords of Hatred.
Episode 37, Anthy

Akio has told Anthy that he is nearly finished with Utena. Akio either said directly, or Anthy realized on her own, that Utena is to die. Anthy is pressed down and cries out in anguish. In this brief shot, on a reversed white background though the scene is at night, Anthy is pierced by the Swords of Hatred. The Swords represent the hatred of the world—Anthy believes Akio when he claims that the world is responsible for her pain, not Akio. How much of the world’s hatred did Akio place there himself?

Anthy’s eyes are closed. In other cases, eyes are closed for sex and open for violence, which are alike on other ways; this is an exception. I think Anthy’s eyes are closed because she does not want to see the future she expects.

Anthy and Utena in misery, crying together.
Episode 37, suicide conversation

In the suicide conversation, Anthy and Utena are crying together. They are miserable and feeling down. Anthy blames herself for hurting Utena. She did, but she ignores that she was constrained by Akio. Utena blames herself for Anthy’s suffering. She did cause some of it, and knew it, so she does deserve some blame. But she takes on all blame; she should have somehow known the suffering that was kept from her and solved it, because princes do that.

They feel down, and at the moment they are thinking and acting at cross-purposes. But the conversation is an essential step in their final victory over Akio.

Anthy lies on red steps, her face down.
Episode 38, lying
Anthy looks despondent, gazing down.
Episode 38, sitting

Anthy is down through much of the final showdown, starting when Akio separates her from Utena and ending when she stands up as the castle in the sky crumbles. She takes different positions, but she is despondent and she is not allowed to act. Until the duel starts, she is not even allowed to look toward Utena.

On the left, her child’s clothing does not fit, her face is turned down, her posture is awkward, the edge of a stair is digging into her thigh, and her hair is pouring down like the water of tears. On the right, during the duel she is facing Utena but does not appear to see her; her gaze is downcast and hopeless as she waits for what she believes is Utena’s inevitable defeat. The reflections in her glasses (which are inconsistent with reflections on her hair and epaulets) can represent tears.

Utena is stabbed and fallen to her knees, Anthy behind her, Anthy’s red princess dress spread around her.
Episodes 38 and 39, backstabbed
Dios lies down by Utent to kiss her ring.
Episode 39, Dios

Utena’s defeat actually was inevitable. Either she would lose or she would win, and to win she must be betrayed by Anthy and lose the duel.

On the left, Utena collapses, surrounded by red to visually represent her blood. On the right, Dios is about to kiss Utena’s ring. He also keeps Utena down: He is supposed to be a rescuing prince, but he helps her in no way, talks on and on as she bleeds out, implies that her defeat is due to being a girl, and tells her she is powerless. He kisses her ring as a “reward” and leaves. He promises to treat her injury “afterward” but shows no sign of following through.

And yet Utena lies on her front. She is not flat on her back.

Nanami sits with her knees up next to a grill, as the other student council members stand around her. We only see their legs.
Episode 39, Nanami is down

Touga tells the duelists not to take off their rings. Nanami, who usually makes a wrong choice whenever there is one, has already taken hers off. She says she just wants to forget about it all. For emotional comfort, she turns away from reality—it is a kind of acceptance of illusions. She sits on the ground, pressed down, though not hard. Touga, who exploits her but does care about her, provides polite censorship.

The other student council members support Utena. Does Nanami’s non-support make a difference? Is Utena’s task more difficult or the outcome less favorable for her because of Nanami? I find no evidence.

Anthy is invisible in the middle of a spiky ball of swords in the air.
Episode 39, Anthy up is down
Utena is collapsed on the bridge to the Rose Gate. Akio looks on.
Episode 39, Utena down is up

It’s a reversal: Anthy high in the air is at her lowest point, separated from her love and explicitly and directly suffering at a man’s command and for his convenience. She believes Akio’s propaganda, and sees herself at a high point, doing her duty. The ball of the projector reminds us that it is an illusion. The Swords of Hatred form a ring like the dueling rings: The Swords are Anthy’s ring. Utena, fallen on the bridge to the Rose Gate because she is severely injured and can barely stand, sees herself as down and struggling. But she is at her highest point as a prince and a person, about to triumph and open the Rose Gate.

Their perceptions are upside down, like the castle in the sky, due to the upside down social narratives of the system of control.

Anthy in her open coffin falls away from Utena.
Episode 39, Anthy falls away
The Swords of Hatred are about to reach Utena, who lies unmoving.
Episode 39, Utena disappears

Anthy falls away. Utena just opened up her first hope of rescue, and now the two are forced apart as the dueling arena comes to pieces, its illusions failing. Utena is collapsed at the end of the bridge where the Rose Gate used to be. She tried her utmost to rescue Anthy and could not. Now she is giving up her belief in princes, and is about to disappear from the Academy. She vanishes as her illusions vanish.

Both believe that they are down and failing, and that is an illusion too. Both need time to see through this last illusion. Utena has disappeared, but we watch Anthy leave the Academy after she has seen through the illusion.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 11 June 2022
updated 10 March 2024