A brief note. In the center of Anthy’s rose garden, in the bird cage greenhouse, stands a sculpted pillar with trelliswork on top for climbing roses. As the centerpiece of a frequent setting, the pillar must mean something.
It resembles a chess queen, crowned with roses instead of the traditional chess circlet crown. (In the context of Utena, a circlet crown would make it a princess—as Anthy is.) The chess king decides the game, but the most powerful chess piece is the queen. You’ve seen Utena, so that may sound slightly familiar. Paralleling the story, the king hides away while the queen roams the board bringing trouble; only late in the game does the king come out and show itself openly. I think the queen is a beautiful symbol for Anthy. It is also a phallic symbol and stands for Akio’s control over Anthy, standing in the center of Anthy’s realm. See also the greenhouse and the Academy.
It’s a beautiful symbol, but I doubt it is intentional. The resemblance is close but not perfect, and more importantly I did not find other chess references. I kept my eyes open for a chess king in Akio’s realm, and there is none.
Here is the best candidate I found, the church spire from episode 9. Touga and Saionji are on the bicycle at the left. Little Utena is inside her coffin inside the church. The church spire is tall and has a cross on top. It doesn’t look much like a chess king, but it has the most essential characteristics. I think it’s plausible to say that it is in Akio’s realm, because the church is a major agent of the system of control.
Overall, though... not a close match. The queen is a much better symbol.
The spire looks like a sword. The cross is the hilt with guard. When Saionji swings at Utena in episode 9, we get a sudden shot of the spire. Inside the church is a tall cross that also resembles a sword. The traditional and sexist church is an important part of the system of control, and shares some of its symbols. The sword motif ties Anthy pierced by swords to Jesus on the cross (compare the Anthy pincushion in the final episode).
Jay Scott <firstname.lastname@example.org>
first posted 14 November 2021; church spire added 28 November
updated 4 November 2022