The characters’ various dueling uniforms are reminiscent of military dress uniforms. To plagiarize the Tom Lehrer routine, this I know from NAHthing. I can’t name the ornaments on the uniform other than epaulets. With a few minutes of epaulet research I learned a few points that may help me interpret them. 1. A fringe should indicate a higher rank. 2. A longer fringe should indicate a higher rank. 3. A gold fringe may indicate a higher rank, or maybe a different specialty. That’s everything useful that I found out.
Their epaulets point to the characters’ sexual feelings. According to the system of sex symbols, long and straight objects are male; curved and rounded objects are female. Characters can be roughly located on the Kinsey scale (Wikipedia) by their epaulets. Compare Dios and Akio, as well as Touga and Saionji. Shiori’s large round section says that her love of Juri is bigger than her attachment to boys. Possibly Juri’s small flat plates point to her attraction to Utena, who is symbolically male. Domed “buttons” on the epaulets of Touga, Juri, Mitsuru, and Wakaba are female, though Touga and Wakaba have male epaulets. I think that the buttons stand for Utena specifically; Touga, Juri, and Wakaba show desire for Utena, and it would not be surprising if Mitsuru feels it too. The buttons align with the large domes of Utena and Kanae, which are Anthy’s breasts. Akio has larger buttons; they include Utena but I don’t think they mean Utena in particular.
I say that, but there is evidence that it may be more complicated. See Ruka’s entry at the bottom.
Connected characters have epaulets of related shape.
See shoulders and epaulets for discussion of epaulets in general.
Utena has a small number of long white tassels. I think the tassels visually represent the hands of Dios on her shoulders, in white for the prince. Compare the white tassels with the long white gloved fingers of Dios.
Utena’s epaulets are similar to Kanae’s and are like breasts, representing Utena’s sexual desires. If I’m right that the white tassels are the fingers of Dios, then Dios has his hands on the breasts of Utena’s desire—on Anthy’s. The red domes match sinful Anthy’s red princess dress. The gold rings around the domes go with the dueling rings. Akio and Dios have rings around their epaulets too, and nobody else has similar rings (Shiori’s are different).
Akio gets gold fringes, which presumably identify him as the commander of Ohtori Academy. The fringes seem shorter than Utena’s (though it varies from shot to shot), suggesting that she is higher in some way.
Dios has a small number of gold tassels about the same length as Utena’s, suggesting that they are connected and he ranks higher. According to the system of control, he’s a man and does rank higher if they are otherwise equal. If yellow means jealousy for Dios, I don’t see it.
Dios turns all girls except Anthy into princesses, and his epaulets are almost entirely female. Dios the prince is good, in the sense that he obeys the rules of the system of control. His goodness is naive, as symbolized by the pale blue ring. I see it as a hint that Dios did not realize that the dueling rings could or would be used for evil.
Anthy has plain gold epaulets with gold spheres on the ends and green or blue-green tassels from the spheres. For the meaning, see Ganymede. In the Black Rose arc, one of the clues that Anthy is playing Mamiya is that Mamiya sometimes wears Anthy’s epaulets. When Utena turns into a princess, she gets epaulets matching Anthy’s as part of the Rose Bride costume, though Utena’s dress is pink rather than red—she is not as far fallen.
The friends Touga and Saionji have similar yellow epaulets with chevrons, looking particularly like military ranks. It seems appropriate for their personalities. Touga’s are slightly fancier, reflecting Saionji’s envy of him, and have with a domed button at the inner end. Their chevrons point in opposite directions, which probably refers to some personality trait that is opposite between them. I guess Touga thinks about others (to manipulate them), and Saionji thinks about himself. Touga does not earn fringes for being president of the student council; he doesn’t command the members.
Touga must be yellow for envy of Akio, and Saionji for envy of Touga.
Nanami gets rectangular black epaulets with short purple fringes. Huh. She deserves fringes because she commands Mitsuru and her minions Keiko, Aiko, and Yuuko. Her command is corrupt and ultimately enforced by violence, as we see in episode 32. She’s the only one to have a dark color scheme. You might think the colors would indicate the darkness in her character, but I don’t know why Nanami would be singled out for that.... Akio is the only other to have a black field. I’m guessing the dark color is mainly for visual contrast with her yellow uniform. Black can also indicate her emptiness.
Miki gets front-to-back shoulder strap epaulets instead of side-to-side like most. I imagine they refer to his relationship with his sister. The straps are long but not straight; they are rounded because they pass over his shoulders. Compare Kozue’s squared-off straps below. His desire is for women. It may reflect that “his sword is not for combat,” as Juri says. He is not aromantic (Anthy is his shining thing), but might be asexual, and in any case is not naturally aggressive (he has to be talked into dueling for Anthy).
Kanae. Flat plates with big domes. Utena is the only other to have large domes, and they’re similar colors (Kanae’s are shaded toward purple). I think the domes are breasts and mark them as lesbians; compare Kanae ringing the bell before her trip in the confession elevator. They are specifically Anthy’s breasts, which Kanae leers at (to repeat the link).
Kanae’s purple implies that she is corrupted, either by nature or by her relationship with Akio. See flowers - Kanae for more about that.
Kozue. A set of squared-off front-to-back straps. The similarity to her brother Miki’s epaulets means that they do refer to their sibling relationship. The yellow triangles on her collar have been turned to point backward instead of downward.
Shiori. UFO shoulders. They’re round like Juri’s. Does the black circle or slot refer to opening Juri’s locket? Juri is Shiori’s true love, though she can’t grasp it.
Tsuwabuki Mitsuru. The front-to-back straps probably indicate his relationship with Nanami. The yellow disks are similar to Juri’s though smaller.
Wakaba. She’s the least special character but her epaulets are as fancy as anyone’s. They’re interestingly more similar to Touga’s with the button, than to Saionji’s. She has black tassels that are reminiscent of Anthy’s blue-green tassels. Is Wakaba spreading loneliness, or emptiness, or what? Black is Akio’s color. Maybe the tassels point to her future as the next hero. Utena wears black because she seeks Akio, and the next hero should be the same.
Keiko. Flat with front-to-back straps. Hmm. If Miki and Kozue have front-to-back straps for each other, then I guess Keiko has them for her fellow Nanami minions Aiko and Yuuko. Just a guess.
Ruka. Double pyramids on a red field. Maybe the two pyramids stand for the two duels he was connected to, one with Shiori and one with Juri.
Ruka’s epaulets are arrows pointing to himself. He is self-centered—he wants to free Juri from her obsession with Shiori ultimately for selfish reasons. There is a mismatch between his epaulets and his sword guard, which suggests I may have misunderstood something. His straight epaulets with square pyramids are male, and his curved sword guard is female, even though I say that both stand for the same thing. It’s possible that the mismatch comes about because, as Ruka says, it is not his sword.
Jay Scott <firstname.lastname@example.org>
first posted 25 November 2021
updated 26 July 2023