Utena - second ending sequence

The first ending sequence. <- PreviousNext -> Character arcs.

The Apocalypse Saga has a different ending sequence than the first two arcs. See the car variant below for the alternate version of episode 33. The regular version’s story goes like this.

• An empty open-frame elevator is rising.
• A silhouette of Utena appears in the elevator as it rises. The lyrics call her a child of the land.
• In color, we get a montage of the love of Anthy and Utena. The lyrics list the heavens of solar system bodies.
• After the heavens, the lyrics place the endlessness of a circle (or torus, as the subtitles say).
• The final shot of the montage has Utena sweeping Anthy from her feet and kissing her.
• Back in the elevator, silhouettes of Anthy and Utena continue to rise. The lyrics call them one, and end with the famous “empty movement” line.
• The castle in the sky appears—the elevator has risen that far. White birds fly, dropping feathers. We hear bells.
• The castle fades away, showing a cloudy sky with sunbeams. White feathers fall.

Utena is the first character to appear in the story, but I think it is told from Anthy’s point of view. At no point in the series does Utena want to kiss Anthy, or sweep her from her feet; she does not even realize her own love until episode 37. Anthy probably would like to be swept away, and she shows physical desire. And Anthy believes in princes, even after leaving the Academy. Alternately, the ending sequence is not shown from either character’s point of view, but tells in a stylized way an imaginary good ending that Anthy wishes for starting early in the Apocalypse Saga and Utena comes to wish for late. A weakness of this interpretation is that, if Utena has a wish like this story, then she loses it at the end when she understands the truth of princes.

It’s a wish-fulfillment story based on Akio’s propaganda. The characters start out separate, not knowing each other. They rise in the elevator until they reach the castle. The conventional “interesting” parts of the story are in color with action; the rest is in silhouette without movement other than the rising elevator. The first color segment is the love story, Anthy and Utena falling in love. They are in every classical planet’s heaven. The heavens are followed by a circle, that is, a ring. It is a wedding ring, and symbolizes oneness and eternity. The second color segment is reaching the castle in the sky, which represents the fantasy eternity of happily-ever-after. The bells are wedding bells. The bells also correspond to the bells that ring when a duel is over: Wedding bells that signify that the action is over. Eternity equals marriage. As the Black Rose makes clear, eternity means an eternity of stasis without growth. The propaganda makes eternity sound good, but in Utena marriage is the end of the line for a woman, because then she is under her husband’s final control. The bells are also funeral bells, and the Black Rose lets us know that eternity means the eternity of death, the only stasis there is. Or, in the Buddhist interpretation, the stasis of eternal reincarnation, the only Buddhist stasis (which as I understand it is long-lasting but not really eternal).

I think the “empty movement” bit refers to the elevator’s movement. It is a meta-comment from outside the story. The story is a fantasy based on the false premises of the system of control, and the supposed upward movement achieved nothing.

The Student Council platform is reached by an elevator going up. Mikage’s lair is reached by an elevator going down. In the Apocalypse Saga, the dueling platform and Akio’s tower room are reached by elevators going up. In Utena, elevators take you to centers of patriarchal power. Anthy’s imaginary elevator takes the couple to the castle in the sky, an imaginary center of patriarchal power.

Then the projected castle in the sky fades out. The illusion vanishes. Dios is the sun. The sunbeams, and the white birds with their falling white feathers, represent the prince and his power. To Anthy, Utena is her prince. (The sunbeams also appear in the opening sequence, when the prince wakes up, and behind the flying horses.) The sunbeams through clouds have been called “fingers of God”, and to a Christian can represent the majesty and power of God. In anime, falling white feathers are often angel feathers: Akio is Lucifer, a fallen angel, and Dios is unfallen. Anthy and Utena are now married, or as good as, and will live in happiness for eternity in heaven. Equally, since a wedding is a funeral, Anthy and Utena are dead and the feathers fall from their angel wings.

Well, that’s my interpretation. I’m pretty sure there are points that I did not catch.

the car variant

The First Seduction episode ending sequence comes with different visuals, using Akio’s car. It repeats stock driving sequences. Rather than the elevator moving upward, we have the car driving. It finishes with the car arriving at the dueling arena, as in duels of the Apocalypse Saga. It a place of illusions and the place where the illusionary castle in the sky appears, so the stories end with matching symbols.

The images are cropped and reprojected to be narrower, but not otherwise changed from the repeated stock sequences. All the footage matches episode 25. In the view of Akio shifting gears, Touga is in the passenger seat, as in episode 25.

The song is the same, so at first I supposed it was Utena’s wish-fulfillment fantasy under Akio’s influence. But if so, why does Utena refer to herself in the third person as a child of the land?

Now I think it is Akio’s fantasy. His fantasy is that all women will accept the fantasy he presses on them, marrying and coming under the final control of their husbands. In the Apocalypse Saga, Akio tries to force willful Utena down that path, almost successfully.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 29 October 2022
updated 20 November 2023