Utena - my approach

This is my personal analysis. I try to credit every other person and every outside source that I learn from. I actively avoid reading long analysis by others, though I’m perfectly happy to accept tips, I run across items on the internet, and I am sometimes influenced by what I’ve read in the past.

Though mine is the most comprehensive Utena analysis that I know of, it is not the most comprehensive analysis possible. The community as a whole knows far more than I do. Though I research widely, my background is not broad enough to catch everything—probably nobody’s is, including Utena’s creators. The Zeitgeist moves in mysterious ways.

about spoilers

This is an after-the-fact analysis. If you don’t like spoilers, see Should you watch Utena? by Yasha @ Empty Movement to decide.

That said, if you dislike spoilers—then why? Is it a cultural attitude that you’ve absorbed without thought? (A theme of Utena.) I suspect that’s the case for many, though I’ll add that cultural attitudes often have good reasons behind them. (Not always, or it wouldn’t be a theme of Utena.) Or do you understand your own reactions and have experience that spoilers harm your enjoyment? I should mention that academic research on spoilers has had mixed results; I think researchers have not converged on conclusions about when or why spoilers increase or decrease enjoyment. Science does not know whether you should avoid spoilers. For my part, I can’t be spoiled. I don’t find enjoyment in one-time narrative surprises. If I know more about a work before going into it, then I understand it better the first time through. In my book, that’s good.


To me, an ideal work of art should be bottomless, meaning that however deeply you go into it, there are depths beyond. You should feel that you can explore it forever and forever make new discoveries, forever deepen your understanding. I’ve mentioned that elsewhere.

Utena and Anthy
How nice to be ambidextrous.

Revolutionary Girl Utena qualifies. Despite all the epaulets in Epaulet World—even in small part because of them.

Revolutionary Girl Utena is also a long work, 39 television episodes. It not only has more depth than I can plumb, it has more breadth than I can see across. When I want to really understand a thing, my preferred first step is to memorize it. When I have the whole work in my head, I can look at it from every angle, tease out the threads, grasp its internal connections and seek out its external connections, and draw my diagram of the work’s plan and how the parts of its machine fit together to function as a whole. It’s a good approach for deciphering an obscure short poem, not so good for Utena. I’ve also briefly mentioned that. Writing will have to be my substitute for memory.

That is to say, I can’t do it all, so I’ll be picking out particular points and aspects that interest me, or that I foolishly believe I can figure out. I’ll be like Utena in episode 37: “Didn’t you know? I am a fool.” I know from experience that I have missed more than I have seen. Every time I do a close reading of a scene, I’m surprised by how much I overlooked before. There’s no reason to think that I see everything in a close reading either; I often change my conclusions later when I discover evidence elsewhere.

I think I’m comparatively good at finding the symbolism and the internal connections inside Utena. I’m not as good with characters; it takes me a long time to get to know them. I am 100% certain that I am missing many external connections—Utena refers to a lot of other works that I don’t know about, and I don’t realize when it happens. Sometimes I can smell a reference without knowing what it is a reference to. I am surely missing a lot of important stuff.

I’m not writing this to edify the world. The world already has enough Utena literature to edify itself, if it chooses. I want to understand Utena, and this is the best way I know; writing is thinking. I have long experience of learning more from my mistakes than my insights, so if you think something I’ve written is Just Wrong, I hope you’ll shoot me an e-mail. Well, not shoot. Stab me an e-mail.

my source

I have the Nozomi DVDs. That’s where the pictures are from, with a few exceptions that are individually credited and occasional enlargements from the blu-rays. The picture on this page is from the Gallery at Empty Movement, specifically from right here. Credit to Giovanna. I shrank it to 50% size. It is the picture on the case of the first DVD.

the movie

I won’t bother with the movie, The Adolescence of Utena. I don’t enjoy it as much. It’s so schematic that it’s hard to get into, and I see it as compromising some of the ideas of the series, dirtying the clarity. I only want to mention that of course Anthy has a hole in her heart: That is a dangerous place to store a sword.

where else to look

Empty Movement is massively useful. It has too much stuff to list, though it can be hard to find the piece you want.

The next one I mention because its attitude is orthogonal to mine. I read through it long ago, ignored the parts I disagreed with, and felt that I was learning something—but when I was done I barely remembered it. It’s too different from my background and way of thinking. To me it’s a reminder of how much I don’t know, and to you it could say how much there is in Utena.

Vrai Kaiser analyzes episode by episode.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 14 November 2021
updated 28 March 2023