Most jewelry seems to stand for social status and/or power, either actual or desired. It’s especially so in the cowbell episode 16.
Pierced ears are much less common in Japan than in the West. In Utena, many of the girls seem to have pierced ears, and that is very unusual. Does it reflect a wish to become adult, like Mitsuru’s wish?
The dueling rings. Akio says they signify a contract with him. They act as keys to the dueling forest, which I believe is nothing of Akio’s creation but is part of Utena’s natural world. The rings are like epaulets: Emblems bestowed by power from above which grant the right to exercise your own power in the dueling arena. And they are engagement rings, worn on the left ring finger. The two aspects must be the two sides of the contract that Akio refers to: boyish power and girlish marriage. In return for a (supposed) opportunity to revolutionize the world, the winning duelist will marry Akio.
Akio does not mention that he robs and murders his marriage partners. His plot is a giant marriage fraud. He steals Ohtori Academy from the Ohtori family, doing away with Kanae in the process. And he intends to steal Utena’s power of miracles and kill her.
Akio wears a silver-colored ring in his left ear. Chu-Chu wears a matching gold-colored ring in the left ear.
The rings tie together Akio and Anthy, but also distinguish them. I think the silver is the color of the moon, and the pale gold is the color of the sun. Akio is represented by night and the moon, not least because he is Princess Kaguya, and Anthy loves Dios who is the sun.
They resemble wedding rings. If so, as nonstandard wedding rings—nothing that will interfere with Akio’s contracts—they signify Anthy’s nonstandard marriage-like status with her brother Akio: Akio is Zeus and Anthy is Hera.
In the prince story of episode 34, and in episode 38 when she is dressed in the same clothing that no longer fits, Anthy wears a left arm ring and a right ankle ring. I don’t know why. See mysteries - Anthy’s rings.
Princess earrings are in the shape of tears, because a princess is always crying. Besides Anthy and Utena, Kozue (episode 26) and Shiori (episode 28) become princesses in the dueling arena. All wear the princess crown, princess dress, and princess earrings.
Kozue’s princess earrings in the dueling arena in episode 26 are variable: They switch between blue and gold. See mysteries - Kozue’s princess earrings.
In episode 15, there is one shot where Kozue’s regular earrings are white. It’s when she’s playing piano just before confronting Miki with the Black Rose. It’s actually off-white, slightly blue-green.
Akio wears a spherical blue-green hair tie. The hair tie represents Ganymede’s water jug which pours illusions and tears. His hair seems to flow through it. Akio visually claims that he is the source of life-giving illusions.
The Sword of Dios has a blue-green gem in the guard, the color of illusions. I don’t know whether Utena’s sword is the same sword drawn from a different heart, or only has the same design because Utena admires Dios so much. Anthy’s sword has a purple gem, the color of corruption. The designs are similar, but not the same. Anthy’s sword looks more utilitarian to me.
Dios and Akio wear a large blue faceted gem. It’s the only faceted gem that we see worn (Nanami has a diamond, but it stays in its box). Utena and Anthy wear identical blue-green cabochon gems. All are connected to the right shoulder, as if transferring... something. Anthy’s gem is part of her princess costume, and other princesses (Kozue in episode 26 and Shiori in episode 28) wear identical gems. Since Utena’s gem matches, and remains unchanged when she becomes a princess in episode 38, I conclude that it stands for the part of her that is always a princess. Its blue-green stands for, or supplies, the illusion of being a princess.
Other characters do not have gems on their uniforms, but see Mikage below.
Juri’s locket. It may connect with the gems above which are worn below the throat. It unquestionably connects with Nanami’s cowbell below.
Kozue wears simple earrings, in and out of the dueling arena. They match the earrings of Mizuno Ami of Sailor Moon. See other references - Sailor Moon - Miki.
The cowbell episode is full of jewelry. Nanami holds a party to raise her social status by showing off an expensive diamond. Nanami’s minions Keiko and Aiko wear simple earrings. Nanami wears slightly fancier earrings.
Nanami also wears a coordinated finger ring on her right hand. Nanami’s diamond is fancy, but she feels upstaged when Juri arrives wearing a glittering gold necklace. Nanami and Juri both show false modesty when their jewelry is praised. But wait, here’s a surprise box from an unknown sender with a fancy logo, that will be even better! No one is smarter than Nanami!
What a fabulous cowbell! And look how big and awkward it is! Forget hoop skirts, this is exactly where social status comes from!
One of the points of the cowbell is that fashion burdens women—sometimes literally. Men too, but especially women. Fashion is part of the system of control. Expensive fashion demonstrates wealth. Burdensome fashion demonstrates power; you have servants to do stuff for you, or at least a husband who takes care of all that men’s stuff, you know.
Except for Nanami herself, the cows in episode 16 have nose rings. The fastening of the cowbell’s box resembles a nose ring. The nose ring at the end of the episode (which we don’t see) comes with a sneaky preview in episode 10.
At the end of the episode, Juri nails down her correspondence with Nanami by wearing excess fancy jewelry. The sin of pride is one theme of the episode, and Juri is as guilty of pride as Nanami. (Nanami is also guilty of envy in the episode. Well, Juri is too; she briefly envies Nanami’s “Sebastian Dior” item before knowing what it is.) Juri’s locket corresponds to Nanami’s cowbell. See the shadow play of episode 16 for more.
Juri wears a ring on every finger, and rings around her wrist.
Keiko wears these earrings along with a clown-like dress when working on the setup for Nanami’s party for Touga. Her co-minions praise the dress, but I think they are lying. The earrings she wore in episode 16 were also round and dangling, but smaller and whitish rather than yellow. Utena’s rose earrings are similar in size and shape.
Nanami apparently notices Keiko’s enthusiasm and intervenes to keep Keiko away from Touga. Keiko’s earrings disappear while Nanami talks with her, sending her to do paperwork so she will miss the party. I can’t figure out what it means, so I’m not sure if the disappearing earrings are a symbol or a continuity error.
Mikage wears a blue gem at his throat when visiting Tokiko at her house. It lines up with the blue-green princess gems that Utena and Anthy wear (see above). Apparently Mikage is in part a princess, in the same way that Utena is in part a princess. It’s another parallel between them.
I think Mikage dressed up nicely to impress her, but if so, he wasn’t able to follow through properly. The grid of panes behind him seems to represent his cage, not Tokiko’s.
Mrs. Ohtori shows off the family wealth: She wears heavy jewelry in red and white, which reminds me of Utena’s date dress in the First Seduction. It is white for the prince, or for pretended innocence, and red for her desired bite of the apple—which she gets. And she wears lipstick to attract Akio. We don’t see her eyes, which in this case means that she is looking away from what she is doing; she doesn’t want to see her own corruption. Leaving aside her husband, Akio is engaged to her daughter, and they were just talking about it.
See Akio’s plot to take Ohtori for the background.
Touga gives Utena rose earrings in Akio’s name. They appear only in the one episode. In the picture, Utena is looking away from Anthy, not noticing Anthy’s feelings about the earrings. Anthy is skilled at hiding her feelings, but Utena is not even trying.
Utena’s chin is sharp, but more rounded than usual. It may be a sign that she is currently girlish (or it may be a vague unwillingness to draw characters the same way twice). Anyway, her happiness with the earrings is a bigger sign.
Jay Scott <email@example.com>
first posted 9 April 2022
updated 10 October 2023