Utena - mysteries

Things I haven’t figured out that I’m curious about. Or that I had not figured out when I wrote them—some are now solved.

In Anthy and Utena’s empty dorm, this geometric object hangs from the ceiling. What does it mean? Is it a reference?

The polyhedron is a rhombicuboctahedron (Wikipedia) with pyramids added to the square faces. In other words, it’s a stellated rhombicuboctahedron minus the pyramids on the triangular faces, or equivalently a rhombicuboctahedron stellated on the square faces. Here it looks to be made of semi-clear glass in a black frame. In episode 3, it instead has blue and white faces.

Geometric object hanging in the dorm.

In episode 5, Kozue rushes out of the music room where she has been making out with Touga, her clothes out of order, and collides with Miki. She uses the event to antagonize her brother. Why did she rush out unprepared while looking back at Touga? I think Touga drove her off because he knew Miki was coming. Why did she use the distraction of Miki picking up his music book to zip up her skirt when he was looking away—and then as good as admit what she was doing? Isn’t that inconsistent?

SOLVED. Kozue has incestuous feelings for Miki. See siblings and incest. She wants to antagonize him to keep his attention on her. She tries to keep him apart from Anthy. But I think that she does not want to admit sex with another, because Miki might conclude that she doesn’t want him. She would thwart her own desire.

Kozue rushes out of the music room, looking backward, and collide with Miki.

In episode 34’s full version of the prince story, Anthy and Dios are inside a log cabin as a faceless crowd with swords seeks entrance. The split-screen view of both at once is cinematographically very unusual, splitting the screen the long way with spatially jarring images at different scales. It positively reeks of reference, and I don’t know what it’s a reference to. I suspect the source is a silent film. On a hunch I pulled up a selection of Sergei Eisenstein images, but no joy.

Split-screen view of Anthy with Dios inside the cabin and an armed crowd outside.
Utena fights right-handed against Juri in episode 7.

Utena is ambidextrous in duels. She sometimes duels with the sword in her right hand, sometimes in her left. For example, she fights right-handed against Juri in episode 7 and left-handed against Nanami in episode 10. What determines which hand she uses? It must be related to the metaphor of left hands and turning left.

I made a table of her sword hand in each duel.

Utena fights left-handed against Nanami in episode 10.

In episode 16, Nanami’s cowbell, we see a pitchfork in a pile of hay. It has three tines. Mitsuru tosses the pitchfork to Utena to de-bell the charging Nanami. For a moment, the pitchfork with six tines flashes across the sun—see picture to the right. When the pitchfork lands in Utena’s hands, it has five tines.

The sun stands for the prince; see especially sun rays.The six sun rays and six tines should stand for the six duelists. If so, the thicker ray is Utena. Why are they arranged irregularly? The pitchfork Touga uses to feed Nanami in episode 16 has three tines, and the hay is Nanami’s food. What are the five tines for? The dinner forks, by the way, have four tines. I have made some headway, but I’m not there.

Six weird rays project from the sun in the sky, as a pitchfork flies past.

Kozue dips her hand in the pool, episode 15. In episode 35, as Utena is trying to remember her dream, she dips her fingers into a bucket of water. The water is blue-green for illusions. It seems to be parallel to Kozue trying to grasp swimming pool water in episode 15 (left). The pool water is black (though it had blue-green bubbles) and stands for Kozue’s heart that she can grasp. But it is equated with the water the black roses grow in, so I’m sure it’s related.

SOLVED. The water represents the illusion of the shining thing. See Utena is trying to remember.

Utena dips her fingers into a bucket of water in episode 35.

The archway into the dueling arena is particularly mysterious. It changes form. I’m starting with its base form, which is subtly asymmetrical. It stands left of frame center. Ignoring the end posts, the top fence has four posts on the left, three on the right, making seven. The lower fence has six on the left, seven on the right, making thirteen. There are eleven inlaid stones, one split to make twelve and break the symmetry. There are seven circles inside the arch—those are symmetrical. There are two lamps; the one on the left has no glass. These are significant numbers in stories. Should I be looking out for sets of thirteen events? I think so! Though it might be only an expression of the Japanese esthetic preference for asymmetry. The arch opening is standard for Utena arches. I smell a heap of ideas to ferret out.

Archway into the dueling arena.

Archways are a major motif; they’re everywhere, not just at the entrance to the dueling arena. They divide space into inside and outside. They are visual frames. They are female symbols. They stand for female imprisonment. A colonnade can be the bars of a cage. They have meanings that I have not fathomed. I have especially not fathomed this great arch across the sky, from episode 19 when Tatsuya goes astray, believing that he is Wakaba’s prince. The arch is behind the clouds and in front of the horizon. It reminds me of the towers of Carcosa rising behind the moon. The purpose of this image is to tell me that I have a lot to learn about arches.

An arch across the sky, showing sunset beyond.

Why does Utena tire out so easily? Here in episode 11, she is breathing hard after running the short distance from the colonnaded walkway to the greenhouse entrance. Only a dedicated couch potato should be tired so quickly, and Utena is athletic! She commonly runs low on endurance during duels, yet her opponents never do.

SOLVED. The best fit theory is that Utena is not truly athletic, but depends on her power of miracles. Utena is tired in episode 2 after carrying Wakaba on her back. Juri in episode 7 remarks on Utena tiring out easily. In the final showdown duel, Utena is slow at first and speeds up after invoking the prince.

In duels, Utena breathes hard not when she works hard, but when a powerful opponent presses her hard. Here, noticing Touga with Anthy in the greenhouse, Utena sees a powerful opponent.

Utena is breathing hard after running a short distance.
Classroom chairs have narrow red backs with a three-point motif. Saionji’s back pants pockets are decorated with a three-point motif in episode 9 in the church.

What does this three-point motif mean?

SOLVED. See other symbols - three-point motif. The three shadows also refer to a symbol from Nadia.

As Utena flourishes the sword drawn from her, a three-pointed shadow stands behind.

Akio, looking coldly cruel and wearing his earring. In the episode 34 version of the prince story, Anthy wears a ring around her left upper arm. We don’t see her ankles, at least not enough to be sure of seeing a ring. When she is dressed the same in the final showdown, we see the ring again, and she has another around her right ankle. We never see both rings at once. She does not wear the rings at other times—her student uniform and her princess dress would both show the arm ring if it were there. The arm ring is called a keyura in various Indian languages, and has a confusing variety of meanings. I haven’t found a cultural reference for the ankle ring. Pictures of Indian gods, classical dancers, and so on often show armlets and anklets, but as far as I’ve seen they are always worn symmetrically on both sides. I haven’t found a reference for Anthy’s asymmetrical rings.

I expect the rings are connected to Akio’s earring (which is connected to Chu-Chu’s earring), also asymmetrical. Possibly they are connected to the dueling rings. Or possibly to Akio’s sleeve garters/keyuras (Wikipedia), which are close in color and sometimes appear shiny—but are symmetrical. I won’t be surprised if there is a link to halos. So far, I can’t see it.

Little Anthy with Dios. Her arm ring is visible. Anthy legs stretched out over stairs in the final showdown. Her ankle ring is visible.

In episode 3 at the dance party, Anthy is surrounded and her fear of crowds kicks in. Anthy has purple hair and green eyes, and the green dress that Nanami sent her is prominent. In the circle around her, purple and green hair colors predominate.

SOLVED. The green stands for the control exercised over Anthy by the crowd.

Anthy, alone in a large crowd.

In episode 21, Utena repeats to Anthy the lore of the Pleiades star cluster, as she heard it from Akio. We don’t see her learn it; it’s our evidence that Utena met Akio more times than we’re shown.

I don’t know what the Pleaides mean in Utena, and I don’t know why Utena tells Anthy about them. There are six easily visible stars in the cluster, plus one that is hard to make out (and many that are too faint to see). It could refer to the six duelists plus Anthy, or plus the hidden Akio. The Pleiades are a winter constellation, which is interesting because it is never winter in Utena (there is snow in one Black Rose episode). In Greek myth, Orion chases them and they are associated with water. The cluster lies in the constellation Taurus, equated with Nanami and with Utena. None of this answers the mystery.

The Pleiades star cluster, as projected on the planetarium sky.

In episode 2, Anthy asks Utena why she wears boys’ clothing. Utena replies vaguely that she somehow likes it. It’s not wrong, but it’s basically a non-answer. In episode 7 Juri asks a similar question. Utena doesn’t exactly answer the question: She says it’s the influence of the prince, and goes off on a tangent about meeting the prince and about her ring. She could not have known that that was what Juri wanted to know.

I’m too dull to understand the characters. At the time, Utena didn’t know either Anthy or Juri well. Why did Utena treat the two questions so differently? It feels like it has to be something in the dynamics of the conversations. Did Utena recognize that Anthy was sidestepping Utena’s own question? I don’t think Utena was that insightful at the time. Did Utena want to get back to pressing her own opinion on Anthy? That seems more like it. With Juri, did Utena ramble because she was tired? Maybe so. Shouldn’t it be easy to understand?

Utena tells Juri about the prince she met when small.

Semi-anonymous Fran put me on this question, and I have not been able to answer it. Yet! In episode 26, Kozue becomes a princess in the dueling arena. Her princess earrings rapidly switch back and forth between blue and gold in color. In this image, they are part blue and part gold. What’s going on? Does each switch have a specific meaning, or does the meaning lie in the instability itself?

Kozue’s everyday earrings match the in-ear part of her princess earrings, and are blue for the family color, which means naive illusions. Anthy’s princess earrings are gold in color, which I take to be for Dios, who is the sun. The duel has Kozue winding up her brother, as usual. Kozue is somehow being connected with both Anthy/Dios and Miki, which goes with the events of the duel. But what is the connection?

Kozue leans toward Anthy in the car. The in-ear part of her earring is blue, and the dangling part is gold.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 24 December 2021
updated 31 July 2023