Utena - meal catalog

For Utena, food is associated with sex. For Akio, food is associated with exploitation. It’s not always sexual exploitation; exploiting Utena to (try to) open the Rose Gate counts. And, of course, everything in Utena is meaningful, so the meals are too.

In episode 18, Mitsuru carries a lunchbox to Nanami, who rejects it and goes with Mikage. We don’t see inside, but he says it is fried chicken with asparagus and bacon. It is emphatically not vegetarian: Nanami’s vegetarian meal in episode 16 was not normal for her. Asparagus makes a later appearance as a phallic symbol in Utena’s babble in episode 33.

Ample meals are laid out for Anthy and Utena, none eaten yet.
Episode 2, Anthy called away

Plenty of food is laid out for Anthy and Utena (we see part of Anthy’s). But Saionji has called Anthy away. Utena complains with exaggerated cheer that Chu-Chu should hurry to call Anthy in, or she’ll be eating alone in the huge dining room. (The subtitles mistranslate it.)

The main dish seems to be some kind of stew (Utena eats it with a fork). There’s an excess of bread and vegetables, as if the meal were prepared for a full room rather than two people (one or two baskets of rolls would probably do for one long table). I can’t interpret the meaning of this meal.

Five sit at a long table with a white tablecloth, each with a plate of curry.
Episode 8, curry

Anthy as Utena has made body-swapping curry for the group. Everyone there knows better than to eat any—until Saionji arrives.

The shadow play of episode 6 has curry. There should be a hidden connection with the body-swapping curry, but I haven’t found it yet.

Wakaba’s lunchbox for Utena, full of symbols of love.
Episode 11, love

Wakaba girlishly prepares lunch for Utena to show her love. But her fingernails are short: The sex roles reverse moments later when she jumps on Utena.

In the left half, pink hearts for Utena on white rice for Utena as prince. On the right, green (control), red (sex), and yellow (jealousy) dominate. The colors seem to predict Wakaba jumping on Utena out of envy of Utena’s specialness, or maybe (it seems less likely) out of jealousy over Anthy. The two yellow hearts look like eggs and suggest that Wakaba wants kids with Utena. Compare how Utena thinks about eggs in her First Seduction babble.

Wakaba’s lunchboxes here and below are over red backgrounds. Wakaba acts playful, but she is serious about Utena.

Utena is .
Episode 11, festival food

Anthy is less successful at appealing to Utena with food. She joins Wakaba and Utena, bringing her own lunchbox full of festival food. That’s all she can make. Here Utena is removing the first layer, takoyaki (Wikipedia), revealing the layer of yakisoba (Wikipedia).

Takoyaki is made with octopus, a symbol of vengeance. The background has changed to yellow for jealousy; Anthy wrapped her box in a yellow cloth. Anthy is jealous of Wakaba. The information should color our view of events of episodes 19 and 20, when Anthy sets up Wakaba’s duel.

Wakaba’s lunchbox for Utena, full of symbols of love.
Episode 19, unhappiness

Wakaba prepares lunch for Utena again. The symbols are of Wakaba’s dissatisfaction. In the upper half, the rice is no longer loose but wrapped up in control and envy. In the bottom, the yellow things with ketchup are omurice (Wikipedia), egg again wrapping the rice. The cherries stand for virginity, a bad thing because you’re “not adult.” I think it complains that Wakaba can’t lose her virginity with Utena; other readings are possible, but Saionji is in her room. The apple slices cut into rabbits call back to the episode 5 apple cut into rabbits, and predict Wakaba’s duel in the next episode. The octopus wieners stand for vengeance.

The rabbits and the Academy’s rose toothpicks (small swords) hint that Anthy’s manipulation is behind Wakaba’s unhappiness with Utena. Wakaba’s fingernails are short: In offering lunch, she again plays the male role. When she reaches Utena a wiener a moment later, her nails are long. But the wiener itself is symbolically male, and heading for Utena’s mouth, another sex symbol.

Nanami’s plate is full of raw plant food.
Episode 16, vegetarian
Touga uses a pitchfork to .
Episode 16, straw

Left, Nanami has just started to become cow-like. Her meal is entirely vegetarian. The blue table, cowbell, and background say it’s all an illusion.

Right, in Nanami’s “Dona Dona” dream, Touga gives her straw as her last meal. Soon, Nanami becomes a sizzling steak, a meal herself. It’s more than a depiction of how Touga exploits Nanami. It foretells that Akio exploits his victims to the extent of murdering them. Touga wants to be like Akio, but does not go that far. His allegorical meaning restricts him to deception; violence is outside his domain.

The yellow lunchbox with the lunch Mitsuru made for Nanami, open to show what’s inside.
Episode 18, for Nanami
The formerly yellow lunchbox for Nanami is closed. Now it is blue.
Episode 18, the same lunchbox

Mitsuru made this for Nanami. But she goes with Mikage for lunch, and rejects it. The bacon-wrapped asparagus is a sexual metaphor—does it make Nanami a pig? Asparagus returns in Utena’s babble in the First Seduction. The fried chicken is for Nanami’s association with Nanami the chicken. So is the omelet, and it foretells Nanami’s Egg. She is not only a cow, but other farm animals as well. Yellow, white, and red are the main colors.

Left, the inside view. I think the box is yellow mainly for Mitsuru’s envy of adults. Right, the outside view as Mitsuru carries it to Nanami. The box is wrapped in blue, maybe for the illusionary allure of adulthood. Excess layers of wrapping are characteristically Japanese. We see the wrapper and empty box in a trash can later in the episode. (It’s not a bucket, it doesn’t have a handle.)

On the long table is a holder with two unlit candles. At the far end, Touga is eating.
Episode 27, Touga and Nanami

Touga and Nanami are eating together. They eat with knife and fork, but we don’t see their meals. Touga is in cahoots with Anthy and ups the pressure on Nanami over her egg.

Nanami falls to her knees in front of Saionji, who is cooking eggs.
Episode 27, Saionji

Saionji is cooking eggs. I doubt he is in cahoots with Anthy, but he ups the pressure on Nanami too.

An official notice of Ruka’s return to school.
Episode 28, Ruka’s return

Information about Ruka’s return to the Academy is treated as though it were a meal—while Nanami and Miki are eating with knife and fork. See translation notes - episode 28 papers. We don’t see the meals of Nanami and Miki, but Nanami has something that’s difficult to cut with her table knife. Except in episode 16, she seems to eat a lot of meat.

Anthy, Akio, Nanami, and Utena stand around a table for breakfast.
Episode 32, breakfast

Breakfast in Akio’s tower room. Everyone is standing; apparently it’s meant to be quick. Nanami saw Anthy with Akio last night, and reacts angrily to an offer of jam. Here, Utena remonstrates with Nanami. Anthy and Akio are in front of a starry background with purple for corruption. Nanami’s starry background is black; it is Akio’s color and she is falling under Akio’s control. Utena stands aside from the stars. Utena is trying to restore justice, though she’s bad at it, and the others... are not.

We see the jam, and a big bowl of salad, and Anthy salting a hard-boiled egg. Other than that there’s nothing to make out of the meal itself.

Utena stretches after the evening meal.
Episode 33, the hotel

Unlike other meals, we see the aftermath of this one. Does it mean that the result of Akio’s seduction is fore-ordained? Utena associates sex with food, and here the food is already eaten. The black table is Akio’s color. In any case, see First Seduction - after the evening meal for my attempt to interpret it.

Four skewers of food cook on a grill.
Episode 39, skewered

As Utena lies skewered by Anthy’s sword, the waiting Student Council cooks skewers of food. The skewers bear Academy rose emblems. Utena is just about ready to be devoured, that is, exploited. See final showdown - the second interlude.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 27 January 2024
updated 14 June 2024