Utena - the final showdown

Yuuko. <- PreviousNext -> Afterstories.

In progress. It’s growing long, but there is more to come.

Analysis of the final showdown, starting at the end of episode 37 when Utena leaves for the arena and continuing until Anthy leaves the Academy. There are two interludes where we visit the Student Council; they are before and after the duel.

heroism versus realism
Utena’s victory
leaving for the arena (episode 37)
entering the arena (episode 38)
the first challenge: eternity
the second challenge: truth
the first interlude with the Student Council
the third challenge: the duel
the backstab
the second interlude with the Student Council (episode 39)
Akio attacks the Rose Gate - analysis in progress
... about 2 more unwritten sections ...


Utena’s goal is to rescue Anthy. To do it, she must be the heroic prince. She doesn’t mind taking mortal risks to win—it’s what a heroic prince does—but she does not realize how thoroughly her life is endangered. If all she does is rescue Anthy, then she will die. To survive she must flee from the Academy, and she refuses to give up her belief in heroic princes and run away; it would leave Anthy in the lurch. It is impossible for Utena to both rescue Anthy and survive.

But what is the power of miracles for, if not for finding loopholes in the wall of impossibility?

In keeping with the fairy tale plot formula, Akio sets Utena three challenges.

• Challenge 1: Akio lures Utena with a promise of eternity. Utena refuses, passing the challenge.
• Challenge 2: Akio reveals some of the truth, and argues that Utena should give him her sword. Utena refuses, passing the challenge.
• Challenge 3: Akio and Utena fight a duel. Utena, under pressure, renews her faltered belief in the heroic prince and looks set to win.
Anthy backstabs Utena. Utena fails the challenge due to treachery. Utena can no longer rescue Anthy. At the same time, Anthy sets a condition necessary for a good ending.
• Akio has Utena’s sword, but cannot open the Rose Gate. Years of plotting down the drain!
• Dios, meeting Utena as promised, behaves badly, and Utena’s belief in princes is damaged.
• Utena opens the Rose Gate.
• Utena opens Anthy’s coffin and the two join hands.
• Anthy falls away as the dueling arena crumbles. It’s a law that the villain’s lair must collapse.
• Utena failed to rescue Anthy and in disillusionment gives up her belief in princes. She disappears from the Academy.
• Anthy, by meeting Utena in her open coffin against all odds, is inspired to leave the Academy.

Akio’s challenge of eternity is an emotional attack on Utena’s idealism, the underpinning of her power of miracles. His challenge of truth is an intellectual attack on her determination, needed to activate her power of miracles. If Utena fails either challenge, her miracle will be forestalled. In Akio’s third challenge he attacks her physically, fighting a duel. Anthy does not neglect to add a psychological attack to her backstab. Utena loses the duel and fails the challenge, but her miracle is not forestalled. In fact, her miracle relies on Anthy betraying her and cannot happen otherwise. It is the most extreme example of Utena’s power of miracles acting in her interest and yet against her intentions (another example is in episode 29).

Here is how I understand the challenges. Each is intended to defeat Utena’s power of miracles and allow Akio to steal her sword and open the Rose Gate himself. Utena is the hero of this part of the story: By the three challenges trope she must win in all three trials to succeed as a fairy tale hero. The power column measures each attack’s capacity to forestall Utena’s miracle.

challengeweaponeventattackto destroypowerplan
1eternitymarriageemotionalidealismstrongLure Utena with an eternity of happiness and dominate her as a dependent wife.
2truthargumentsintellectualdeterminationweakConvince Utena of the unreasonableness of believing in illusions, such as princes.
3duelcombatphysicalability to actnoneInjure Utena and leave her incapacitated.
Akio’s challenges to Utena in the final showdown are parallel to his challenges to Nanami in episodes 31 and 32, though they are not in the same order. In episode 31, he challenges Nanami intellectually; in episode 32 he challenges Nanami emotionally; at the end of episode 32, Nanami fights a duel against Utena.

The series arcs foretell the final showdown. The Student Council arc parallels the first challenge. Touga wants to marry Utena and convinces her temporarily with an emotional trick in episode 11. The Black Rose parallels the second challenge. Mikage tries to convince and subordinate Utena by intellectual argument, and fails. The school desk decorations of the dueling arena in the Black Rose mean that Utena is being trained, and fit with Mikage’s intellectual approach and professor persona. See comparisons - abstract attacks 1 and 2 for a visual indication of the parallels. In the Apocalypse Saga, Akio causes Anthy and Utena to betray and hurt each other; it parallels the third challenge where Utena hurts Anthy by attacking Akio with a sword, and Anthy hurts Utena back with a sword.

Akio wins if he opens the Rose Gate and gains the power of miracles. His plan is to seize Utena’s sword, use it to open the gate, and leave Utena dead so that she cannot interfere with his “revolution”. He succeeded in taking her sword, and he left her dying—his plan succeeded that far. He is unable to open the Rose Gate with Utena’s sword, or with anyone else’s, because that is not how the Rose Gate works. It does not open to the power of a sword, but to the compassion of a tear. His entire years-long plot was founded on a mistaken understanding. Akio can never open the Rose Gate because he is a cold-hearted power seeker. The system of control can never achieve miracles.

The hero and the villain do not have opposite goals. At most one can win, but both can lose. Utena and Anthy win if they work together to help each other escape the Academy—both must act correctly for them to win. Akio is sure to lose. Utena could escape safely and leave Anthy behind, so that Anthy loses; Utena refuses to consider it. If Utena loses, Anthy will not escape and loses too. Utena has at least two ways to lose: She can marry Akio and be exploited and murdered, or she can reject Akio and be murdered as a potential risk to his future plots. Both nearly happen. Utena and Anthy seem sure to lose, and yet the power of miracles found a narrow path where they win. Rescuing Anthy would have been a bad outcome; it would amount to exercising princely power over Anthy, as Akio does. Instead, each helps the other make crucial realizations, and each individually chooses to leave her metaphorical coffin.

heroism versus realism

To help Anthy escape the Academy, Utena must be an unrealistic hero. To escape herself, she must give up her heroism and become a realistic adult. Fairy tales and their princesses and heroic princes are a part of the system of control that helps teach children about traditional sex roles. To help Anthy escape her bird cage, Utena must have one foot inside with Anthy and accept the fairy tale role of heroic prince (accepting the illusion while ironically reversing the sex role it was intended to teach her)—and risk being trapped inside with Anthy—and one foot outside, rejecting the illusionary ideal of princes and princesses and the sex roles they embody.

I ran across a quote from David Bellavia that reminds me of it. He won the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroism in combat. Fifteen years later, in civilian life, he said “I didn’t have the emotional maturity to not sacrifice everything.” Utena needs her emotional immaturity to heroically rescue Anthy. After seeing the crookedness of Akio, and the shallowness of Dios, and her own failure in her heroic task despite sacrificing everything, she gains the emotional maturity to give up being a hero.

At the same time, Utena says that the world needs heroes: Some of the not-yet-mature should want to sacrifice everything to bring progress to the world.

Utena’s victory

Utena’s victory is for the couple to escape Akio, Utena helping Anthy. It is made possible on her side by a chain of events that starts with the miracle at the beginning of episode 37, triggered by Akio going too far the night before. I haven’t traced it earlier than that (yet?).

The final victory is a victory of the couple, not Utena’s victory alone. By the promise of helping each other the two must cooperate. Anthy’s victory is leaving the Academy to seek Utena. On Anthy’s side, to make the final victory possible she must enlighten Utena in the suicide conversation, an act of cooperation. But in the final showdown it reverses: For the two to win, Anthy must violently betray Utena, and after Utena is gone she must accept the hope Utena offered when opening her coffin. At the time when Utena must act as a prince to win, Anthy must reject her princehood, and at the time when Utena must reject being a prince, Anthy must accept her princehood. It’s a reversed form of cooperation and reflects (ahem) the reversed world that Anthy lives in. It amounts to embracing Akio’s reversal of their cooperation and taking it to the limit: Akio compels them to work against each other, and loses because of it. Akio’s plan was self-defeating. At the same time, it shows what a narrow path the two follow to victory.

• After Utena sees Anthy with Akio, Utena stays up all night thinking. It was an overstep by Akio, and it backfires. It can happen only because she loves Anthy (which Akio is trying to change) and because she becomes increasingly thoughtful after each date with Akio. Love and thinking are requirements to win.

• The bedsheets turn orange at sunrise to indicate a miracle. Dios is the sun and sometimes brings miracles. The miracle is Utena remembering a key part of the prince story. Utena’s strong power of miracles is a requirement to win—and a requirement to lose! Akio would ignore her if she didn’t have it.

• The recovered memory leads Utena to take off her ring.

• The Routine Date stands for engagement to marry, as explained in the Akio-Utena overview. Akio needs Utena to wear the ring to marry her and gain final control over her.

• Utena has dropped the ring, so at the end of the Routine Date, Akio offers Utena a “more suitable” ring, proposing marriage.

• Akio’s plan has been thrown off by Utena dropping the ring, and I think he’s improvising. His timing is poor; Utena ignores the proposal because she is in a brief period of regret.

• Akio’s ignored proposal means he failed a challenge. Utena sits up in Akio’s car and sees the Big Dipper. It means that she sits up in her coffin and starts to look at the world around her. Seeking the truth is a requirement to win.

• Akio still needs her to wear the ring to marry her. He switches to a fallback plan, convincing Utena to wear the ring to heroically save Anthy. He sets up Anthy’s suicide attempt.

• His fallback works, and Utena wears the ring. But, in a reference to Rapunzel, Anthy’s tears enable Utena to see the truth of Akio.

• Because Utena has seen the truth, or enough of it, his attempt to marry her narrowly fails.

• Akio’s fallback plans are progressively weaker, and he cannot defeat Utena (though when she’s on the ground bleeding to death it sure looks like he can).

The power of miracles is subtle and far-sighted.

I listed love, thinking, and seeking the truth as requirements to win. They are part of Utena’s allegory: They are requirements to bring social change to the world.

leaving for the arena

Utena walks past Saionji and Touga toward the dueling forest.

By the end of episode 37, Utena has decided to wear the ring and go to the dueling arena. It is the correct decision, though risky. Utena must wear the ring for Akio to win and steal her power of miracles. Equally, Utena must wear the ring to rescue Anthy. If Utena refuses to wear the ring, then Akio might try again to convince her. If he can’t convince her to wear it, then Akio will have Anthy murder Utena to clear the way for the next plot; Akio can’t afford to let a loose miracle worker mess up his plots. (Anthy would no doubt use poison.) Anthy knows it and tries to convince Utena to flee the Academy, a third choice. Utena does not know it. But she made the decision that gives her a chance to win.

Utena walks to the dueling arena. Touga, standing with Saionji, warns her that it is foolish to believe in friendship. I’m not sure he still thinks so. But no matter, it is an honest warning. Utena answers in a light tone, like her tone in the badminton scene, that she is a fool. Utena is a fool for multiple reasons. Earlier in the episode, Nanami called Utena a fool for not understanding what was going on, and Utena did not deny it though she had started to understand more. It’s a callback to Wakaba calling herself a fool in episode 1—she is a fool for love. Even earlier, the first sign that Utena is a fool came in the first version of the prince story, when the narrator (one of the shadow girls) asks whether it’s a good idea to seek to be a prince. It means that revolutionizing the world brings the revolutionary a lot of trouble. You have to do it for others, not for yourself: It’s foolish in that sense. Her foolishness is part of her idealism, and contributes to her miracles: Believing in impossible miracles is foolish, and necessary for miracles to be possible.

Utena’s hair when leaving reaches the middle of her back: She is being an ordinary girl at the moment. (It’s the same when on the stairs to the dueling arena, and likely in the gondola; her hair goes to prince length when she arrives.) See hair length. Her uncharacteristic girlish walking style backs it up: Arms held stiffly to emphasize her swinging hips. She is angry at Akio when he appears, so she is not girlish for Akio. She must be girlish for Anthy. I think it means that at this moment she is motivated by love for Anthy, not by her desire to be a prince—which became shaky this episode. If so, it’s the correct motivation in the wide view, though it must change for Utena’s victory—see the overview.

Anthy has taped together the letter from End of the World that Utena tore up. She offers it to Utena. It seems likely that Akio ordered her to offer the letter (maybe his orders were more general and this is Anthy’s implementation). Anthy does not know Utena’s decision, and says, “You can still turn back.” I think she means “you could still flee the Academy,” but Utena cannot read it that way. Utena displays the ring on her finger to show her decision. Seeing the ring, Anthy’s expression changes from neutral to smiling. In order to be sure she achieves the task Akio set her, she pretends to approve. In the arena her true feelings show: Anthy is despairing. Anthy’s favored outcome is for Utena to flee and survive.

The wind is blowing toward the dueling forest. Anthy releases the letter and it flies in that direction. The wind represents power impelling Utena toward the dueling arena. Is it Akio’s power or Utena’s power? I’m thinking both.

entering the arena

A standard sequence of entering the dueling forest and ascending the tower lets us know that the final showdown will have a duel, as we were told long ago.

Actually, the sequence is not quite standard. The rose Anthy part ends differently. The suicide conversation changed the end of the story. Rather than the flourish of flying rose petals, depicting the scattering of the roses and representing defeat and death, we see silhouettes of Anthy and Utena brought to life and then joining hands. It represents the teamwork—helping each other—of Utena’s episode 25 promise and her final victory. It suggests but does not imply that Utena survives and Anthy finds her, as Utena wants us to believe.

Utena and Anthy arrive at the dueling arena. The red carpet path to the egg of the world.

When Utena and Anthy arrive, events seem to undercut the expectation of a duel. On the left, the rose emblem of the dueling arena, the point of arrival. Utena and Anthy are alone except for the abstract rose depicted on the arena surface. The circular shape echoes the second image. The two can be read as in a coffin in a hole with darkness below, or as under a spotlight in the egg and threatening to break the shell and revolutionize the world. On the right, the egg of the world, a rose, the Little Prince’s asteroid, and prince Dios’s tomb all in one. Just as the Little Prince was alone on his world except for his flower, Dios is alone in his world except for the rose depicted on the world, that is, except for Anthy. (The rose is in gold for the sun, a color associated with Dios.) Akio remains alone except for Anthy. Standing on the parallel rose emblem, Utena is alone except for Anthy—and Akio soon separates Anthy, leaving Utena entirely isolated, as predicted by Anthy’s elephant claim in episode 27.

The red carpet path is not the same path that leads to the Rose Gate later: This path is laid out on the arena surface and does not extend beyond its edge, which is strangely far away.

Utena is initially confused by the unfamiliar layout of the arena, and shaken by the image of Dios. It is a stage that Akio set up to portray himself as Utena’s prince. I think he deliberately unbalanced Utena to make her easier to manipulate.

the first challenge: eternity

Ever since Utena entered the coffin in the church as a child, she has had a strong emotional reaction to the idea of eternity: The challenge of eternity is an emotional challenge. Akio challenges Utena with the temptation of eternity. As explored in the Black Rose, eternity means stasis: If Utena believes in eternity, then she disbelieves in change and rejects the possibility of miracles. That means losing her idealism, because idealism requires belief in miracles. The challenge of eternity is a challenge to Utena’s idealism. If she loses her idealism, she loses her power of miracles and she cannot win through. Utena will die having achieved nothing.

In Utena’s allegory, the first challenge represents marriage, which grants a man final control over his wife. Akio seeks to marry Utena to gain final control over her. See other symbols - a married woman is corrupt. Akio’s false lure is an eternity of happiness.

The castle in the sky looms huge over the dueling arena, Akio Anthy and Utena looking small beneath it.

Akio fades into view at the far end of the red pathway, associating himself with Dios, and repeats Utena’s surprised and shaken words: “The prince.” Utena angrily says “Sure enough, you are End of the World,” and Akio replies “You realized that a long time ago.” He tells her that he is her prince and she came to the arena in order to meet him. Utena demands to know what he’s trying to accomplish. Akio calmly carries on with his plot, diverting Utena’s attention to the castle in the sky. The castle is associated with eternity, and Utena is again put off balance. Already Utena’s anger is forgotten.

Akio’s first words to manipulate Utena are similar to Touga’s actions in his winning duel of episode 11. Touga took control over Utena by telling her how to fight against him; Akio tells Utena her purpose in coming there. Her real purpose is to free Anthy. It doesn’t matter whether Akio knows it; he is reminding her of her original purpose from the prince story. Utena is impulsive; if she thinks about her historical reason to come to the arena, she may forget her new reason. Touga pretended to be Utena’s prince; Akio claims to be Utena’s prince. Utena is shaken by seeing the representation of Dios, but seems unaffected by Akio’s claim to be her prince.

Utena learns fast. Touga taught her how to sidestep this line of attack. But Akio was prepared for Utena to be prepared; he only spent a few sentences before changing tack.

Akio’s goal is first to divert Utena from her anger, then tempt her with eternity. Pointing to the castle in the sky does both.

Is it true what Akio says, that Utena realized long ago that he was End of the World? I’m not convinced. Touga promised to tell her about End of the World, but went back on it. As Utena heads out on the Routine Date, Saionji asks Touga if she knows, and Touga does not answer. I think he either doesn’t know whether she knows, or believes she does not and doesn’t want to admit that he didn’t tell her. It’s true that for a long time she has had enough information to guess that Akio might be End of the World, but I don’t see evidence that she did. Her wording suggests that she suspected but was not certain of it. To me it looks like Utena did not start to suspect it until around the time of the Routine Date, a short time ago. I doubt Akio cares whether he was right. Being wrong will distract her and serve his goal.

Akio takes Utena’s left hand in both of his, calling himself the prince and her the princess.

Anthy disappears from her princess dress. She reappears at the base of the steps up to the egg of the world, wearing the same clothing (see Anthy down too) and the same arm and ankle rings that she wore on the hay with Dios in the final version of the prince story in episode 34. The clothing no longer fits. Akio tells Utena not to be upset, using the verb awateru, which also means to be bewildered.

I think Akio moved Anthy away from Utena to isolate Utena, to take away any sense of security that Utena gains from being near Anthy, and to surprise her and keep her off balance. Akio told Utena not to be bewildered to further bewilder her. It appears to work.

Akio is using psychological tricks, as in the three sex dates. She is isolated from other influences, including Anthy. He lures Utena with eternity and sexual desire, confuses her thoughts by keeping her in the dark and off balance, he arranges the atmosphere so that it is easy for her to passively accept his choices. Utena’s initial anger at Akio means that she initially feels distant from him. Akio treats it as if it were part of a planned approach-withdrawal maneuver (maybe it is, though I doubt it), and carries out the re-approach step.
Akio’s left hand is on Utena’s face as he rubs her lips with his thumb. Akio has drawn Utena’s sword. She is draped over his arm, wearing a princess dress. Akio as prince with Utena as princess.

Akio goes through a process of claiming Utena as his property. In taking her hand, he declares them a couple. He rubs the ring, which is an engagement ring: A contract to marry Akio. He is taking her hand in marriage; a married woman is property—in both English and Japanese it’s there in the word “taking”; compare Utena and Anthy, who join hands without taking. As property, a married woman is under the final control of her husband. Next he puts his hand to the side of her head, as in the prince story and as in episode 30’s Cinderella scene, claiming her thoughts and feelings. He rubs Utena’s lips, claiming her sexually under the marriage contract. He embraces her lightly, and she leans into him, accepting it and lifting one foot. He puts his hands on her shoulders, claiming control over her by controlling her position. Without a word, with Utena’s unspoken consent, Akio draws her sword, taking away her male power and consummating the marriage in a reverse sex act depicted with sexualized imagery. Utena becomes a princess.

Akio flourishes Utena’s sword. A four-pointed shadow is centered on them.
Akio drawing Utena’s sword comes with a strange image of four spikes of shadow. It is a reference to Nadia; see three versus four points. At the same time, it is a cross and it makes the event of Utena becoming a princess into the crucifixion of Jesus: Utena as prince is Jesus. Utena as prince dies on the cross with the surrender of her male power.

Utena is suddenly wearing lipstick as Akio draws her sword—the lipstick appears before the princess dress, as she leans back in the symbolic sex act. Lipstick implies that she wants Akio to desire her. Utena’s hair becomes longer when she turns into a princess. See other symbols - hair length for Utena’s three hair lengths.

Akio draws Utena’s sword with his right hand. She leans backward to the right. Right is the direction of truth. When Anthy draws Utena’s sword, Anthy starts with her left hand and Utena leans backward to the left. Left is the direction of illusions. I read it as Akio creating facts. In the First Seduction, another time when Akio created facts, the futon was at the far right side of the room.
Does Akio turn Utena into a princess with his power of illusion? Well, yes, but not directly. He is projecting a princess image on her with the planetarium projector. But Akio does not control the projector directly; it projects images that show real feelings. It tells public lies by showing inner truth. It represents both illusion and reality; illusions create reality, and perceived reality consists of illusions. It is a Buddhist worldview; see Buddhism - illusions.
I take it that the scene is shown from Utena’s point of view. The Utena we see is Utena’s self-image. The same thing happens in episode 3 at the dance party, when Utena’s uniform and epaulets appear without physical reason; she sees herself as a prince, so she is depicted as a prince. In episode 12’s duel she is wounded but we do not see wounds; her self-image is unharmed. Here Akio has manipulated Utena into willingly giving herself to him; she sees herself as a princess, so we see her as a princess. Akio’s manipulation shows through as Utena’s left hand on his chest, the hand of illusions: She feels the illusion of desire for him, or feels desire for illusionary reasons.
Akio manipulated Utena into consenting to join him for eternity. It’s not free consent, and therefore not real consent. As in the First Seduction, Utena gives her perceived consent wordlessly. Akio does not want her to talk about it, because then she might think about it. His manipulation affects her emotions, and talking might engage her cognition instead. In a broader view, the people of a controlled society are not to think for themselves. Feudal societies—China, Japan, Europe, it doesn’t matter—universally adopt principles of respect for authority and playing your defined role in society. Akio tries to stabilize patriarchal society by the same principles. Part of Utena’s message is that the ancient maladaptive principles are still in effect, in one form at least.

Akio has an arm around Utena, claiming her entirely. Utena’s hand on his chest indicates her desire for him; she accepts his claim. She wants eternity with Akio.

Utena’s attitude to Akio turned around 180 degrees in less than a minute when Akio mentioned the castle in the sky, from anger to acceptance and desire. In episode 37, by the end of the Routine Date Utena had decided that, although she enjoys the relationship, she does not want to marry Akio; she was starting to understand him. After the suicide conversation she knew for sure that he was controlling and hurting Anthy. When he appeared, she was immediately angry. And here she is, satisfied to become a princess. Utena remains fundamentally impulsive and easy to manipulate.

Utena goes along easily with Akio. Would she do the same if given time to regain her mental balance and think it out? It’s unlikely. Given time, she would remember why she does not want to marry Akio. He appealed to her history, and he distracted her and kept her off balance. She was unable to figure out her own desires in the sudden unexpected situation. Akio uses the same combination of luring with unbalancing in both the First Seduction and the Second Seduction; he repeats his scripts. (In episode 30 Akio’s luring unbalanced Utena in itself. In asking Akio out on the Routine Date, Utena was already in a confused state.)

At every step of her corruption, from episode 30 until now, Akio has controlled Utena’s choices and yet given her the illusion of choosing freely. He can say, with sound evidence, that she freely chose to walk the whole path herself. In the allegory, people act freely in society, but their choices are socially constrained. Other than nonconformists like Utena, people are no more free than they are allowed to be. Even Utena is largely forced into Akio’s preferred mold.

Akio speechifies about Utena’s nobility and whatnot, calling her his “true princess” using the word himemiya that is Himemiya Anthy’s name. He explains her role as princess: He’ll protect her, a princess should not hold a sword. He tells her about their eternal happiness, and she seems to believe it. He leans his face in close for a kiss.

So far, Akio has succeeded completely. He must believe that he is nearly finished with Utena.

Utena turns her face away from Akio, declining to kiss him.

Utena turns her face away to avoid the kiss, though her hand is still on Akio’s chest. She wants eternity, but one thing is more important: In a wavering girlish voice, she asks “What about Himemiya?” Akio answers that Anthy will be the Rose Bride forever. Utena is shocked, and we see the suicide conversation in flashback, a key event kept from us until now. She steals her sword back from Akio. Her voice turns boyish as she declares that she will free Anthy. Utena passes the challenge.

The refused kiss was foreshadowed by the refused kiss at the end of the Routine Date.

There’s a sudden skeptical expression! I think Utena’s decision is driven by jealousy after seeing Anthy and Akio together. She does not want eternity at the cost of eternal jealousy—that thought must be the cause of Utena’s shock. If she believed she could have Akio for herself alone, I think she would have accepted and forgotten about Anthy; she loves Anthy, but Akio’s sex appeal is nearly irresistible (resisting it seems to require the power of miracles). Akio planned for Anthy to accrue all blame, and at first she did, but the suicide conversation taught Utena to see the truth. Utena is confused and not thinking clearly, but jealousy is perfectly at home in that situation.

In that case, Utena’s determination to save Anthy comes in part from despising Akio, and his attempt to break Anthy and Utena apart ends up driving them together. It fits, because that kind of surprise irony is typical for Utena.

This challenge could be called the Third Seduction, though the sex is figurative rather than physical. It has the same purpose of re-channeling Utena’s motivation and corrupting her more deeply. He defeated her boyishness by removing a real sword rather than piercing her with a metaphorical sword. As after each of their three dates, Utena has a period of regret and doubt and then her boyish side recovers. This time the doubt came with a surprise twist and Utena was shocked out of the seduction; her boyish side recovered abruptly. There is even a bit of a light show, Akio holding the sword aloft and casting wacky spiky shadows. Presumably Utena does not talk about her fun because marriage is not fun.
Did Akio make a mistake in admitting that Anthy would be the Rose Bride forever? He could have lied, “Now that I have you, Anthy is free to do as she wishes.” Utena would probably accept it and Akio would win. On the other hand, Akio would no longer be promising a changeless eternity, because he would be admitting a change. I don’t see how that would stop Akio from winning, but he did at least have a reason to say what he did.

Utena steals back her sword.

One way to analyze it is that Utena almost always takes on a male role with respect to Anthy, whereas Akio tries to force Utena into a girlish role (usually with success). Once she changes her focus from Akio to Anthy due to jealousy, she naturally switches to her male role and takes boyish action—even as she remains a princess.

Another way to analyze it is that Utena’s sword is her boyishness. While Akio holds it, she is girlish. When she steals it back, she is boyish again. She is able to steal it back—a boyish action—because Utena does not recognize sex roles as existing: She does not know when she is boyish versus girlish, or how a girlish girl is supposed to act. That aspect of Akio’s propaganda flies over her head without notice, an accidental advantage of her naivety. She acts as she wishes, it’s all the same to her. I think Akio does not realize how intrinsic it is to Utena; he was 100% surprised by Utena’s action. If he had realized the risk, he could have kept the sword.

Utena’s naivety with respect to sex roles is not purely an accident. In part, it’s due to her general ignorance of the world. In part, it’s an aspect of her idealistic belief in individual freedom. She rejects roles pressed on her as nonsense—she rejects the girls’ uniform—and she rejects knowledge of the roles as nonsense.

A third way: Utena’s sword represents her male power as a prince. Akio stole it by use of his own male power against Utena as a girl: He defeated the prince not by force, but by guile, like Touga in episode 11. Akio taking Utena’s sword, and his earlier actions to convince Utena to allow him to take her sword, are metaphorically the same thing; he is suppressing her boyishness and making her girlish. But, just like against Touga, Utena retained her natural boyishness and won her sword back. Her boyish side is intrinsic to her, not something that is embodied in a symbol and can be taken away.

The three different analyses are not mutually exclusive. I think they’re all true.

After her shock, Utena can no longer stand Akio. What he tries next will have to work against that resistance.

the second challenge: truth

Akio failed to convince Utena to submit to his domination in marriage. He depicts it as Utena failing to join him in his room, which he sees as the control room from which he exercises his power (“the highest point in the world”, implying that the castle in the sky is not above it). In the second challenge, he tries to undermine Utena by showing her that the prince, and other things she believes in, are illusory and non-existent. He shows her the truth. The challenge of truth is a challenge to Utena’s determination, or you could say to her conviction. See the power of miracles - determination. If she accepts that her goal to become a prince is illusory, she will give up and lose. To win, she must reject the truth and continue to believe in her illusions. The power of miracles, which achieves the impossible, requires belief in the impossible. Akio repeatedly points it out.

For Utena, the challenge of truth is an intellectual challenge. Akio makes arguments to convince her. Reasoning is not Utena’s strength, and in general it’s not very effective at changing people’s minds. The second challenge does not come close to forestalling Utena’s miracle.

Until now, Akio lied freely to Utena. Now he reverses course. I think Akio believes everything that he directly claims in this challenge. He lies by omission and implication, but speaks untruth only where he misunderstands. He has mastered the advertisers’ skill of telling lies while saying nothing untrue. Compare telling lies with a camera that records truth. In his truths, we’re being shown his twisted worldview.

Akio tries to mislead Utena with truth. Utena answers honestly, telling him her feelings.

For Akio, the challenge of truth is about pressing his patriarchal worldview on Utena. Since he sees women as inferior, he tries to convince Utena that she is inferior—he belittles her. See insults - Akio belittles Utena in the final showdown.

The planetarium project is dark, apparently not projecting. No more than several seconds after going dark, the projector is glowing again.

Akio was surprised to lose the first challenge (he says so). He seems to improvise for several seconds before settling on a followup plan.

The planetarium projector goes dark and it is revealed that the dueling arena where they stand is Akio’s tower room. Utena is revealed to be wearing her prince uniform, not her princess dress. Anthy is revealed to be wearing her princess dress and lying on the white couch, which after a short time we find is turned away so that she is no longer in Utena’s vision.

The projector lights up again within seconds.

There is a contradiction right off. If this is reality, and the prince is an illusion, then why is Utena dressed in her prince uniform? I concluded above that Utena truly was a princess after Akio took her sword. Utena presumably returned to being a prince when she seized her sword back from Akio; a princess cannot seize power. But Utena maintains the illusion that Utena is a princess until the truth is revealed. I think the point of delaying Utena’s change of appearance is exactly to emphasize the contradiction.

The earlier view of Anthy seems to have been entirely a projection. She was in Utena’s vision before, and when the truth is revealed she is out of view. Anthy teleports from place to place, and that’s how it happens: She is only an image. The real Anthy is in her coffin behind the Rose Gate. It is a direct representation of playing a role, under the name of presenting an image. Compare Saionji and Touga posing for photographs.

I don’t know any reason to suppose that the illusions are turned off entirely. At most, they were turned off for a handful of seconds, and that may have been an illusion itself. By the time Utena has figured out that she is in Akio’s tower room, the projector is visibly and audibly operating again.

Akio, with Utena in the background. Akio’s eyes are off the top of the frame.
Akio does not see

Akio explains that his projector can create fairy tale illusions to fool the callow, implying that Utena has been fooled. He brags about the value of his room, with its projector.

Akio’s argument amounts to “I tricked you, and what you believe is wrong,” and he is correct. Akio implies (without directly claiming) that the power of miracles does not exist. If Utena accepts either the true argument or the false implication, then she will lose her power of miracles. But Utena does not engage with either. She is consumed by jealousy, and Akio’s words pass without consideration.

In the “Akio does not see” picture, Akio has turned away from Utena, confident that she will not attack him from behind. He is right. To expand a little on his words, he is saying that Utena is too young to understand the value of the room and the control it provides over the world, and that that is why she chose not to marry him and join with him in power, but to seek the illusionary castle in the sky. Akio’s eyes are off the top of the frame, which means that he does not understand Utena. He is so arrogant and self-centered that he believes that if Utena only understood, she would agree with him—anyone who understands must agree. Utena in his mind is like Utena in the picture, small and not worth looking at to genuinely understand. That is how prejudice works; the image is part of Utena’s allegory.

Utena answers that she hates the room, because Akio and Anthy....

... because this is where Akio regularly requires Anthy to show up for sex. I think Utena stops speaking because she finds it too unpleasant to say.

Utena stands alone. Her head is above the shadow line.
dark side of the shadow line

Akio counters with, in essence, “is that so bad?” and “if it is, then you are as bad as I am.” The word he uses for “as bad” means literally the same kind—we two are the same kind—and can also mean accomplice—you are an accomplice in my crimes. He used the same word in episode 30, telling Utena that they are both rule-breakers. The projector shows the Cinderella scene where Akio tempts Utena into corruption, accepting his kiss even though he had a fiancee.

Akio seems to recognize that Utena was ignoring the argument. I think he tries reacting to what she says to keep on a topic he knows she cares about, and asks questions in part to press her to think about the answers and engage with the argument.

Akio does not say “that’s not bad,” because it would be false and this is the challenge of truth. He asks a question, suggesting that it is not bad, and continues with a conditional, if I am bad, then you are bad. He is attacking Utena’s view of herself as a prince. If she either accepts that Akio cheating on Kanae is allowable, or rejects it and accepts that she is bad herself, then she is not princely. Utena again does not engage with the argument.

In the “dark side of the shadow line” picture, Akio is telling Utena that if he is bad, then she is the same. Utena’s head is beyond the shadow line to represent her moral failing. The image seems to take the same traditional absolutist moral stance as Akio: It does not matter that Utena was lured and tricked by someone with much greater authority, power, and knowledge, and in addition with nearly irresistible sex appeal. Utena committed sins, therefore she is sinful, the same as Akio. Modern moral stances often acknowledge that the one with power may be responsible for the moral failings of those under their power, and say that sexual predator Akio is to blame for leading his victim Utena astray. To be sure, Utena knowingly did what she believed was wrong, and we can’t call her entirely innocent. But Akio the thief, rapist, and murderer, puts himself and Utena in the same class, and (if I am right about the challenge of truth) believes it.
Utena turns her face away from Akio’s argument about the wrongs she has done.

Utena says it’s unfair.

Akio counters, isn’t it unfair to blame others? Isn’t it unfair to pretend that only you are doing right? His voice grows peremptory.

Utena looks away, a pained expression on her face.

It is unfair. Utena is not the same kind as Akio.

Akio uses a stern voice to increase the pressure on Utena. He abuses her respect for his knowledge and authority. He asks questions again in part to avoid making false claims. In fact, he describes what he himself is doing: Blaming others and pretending righteousness. Utena has tried (unsuccessfully) to hide her wrongdoing from Anthy and has minimized it in her own mind (see Utena’s self-excuses), but has not blamed others or pretended moral superiority. She always blames herself, as a prince should.

It is victim blaming from a position of authority. And it is a universal tactic of authoritarians: Whatever dubious things you do, accuse others of.

Utena’s face is turned away because the accusations sting; she feels guilty. She makes the same expression in episode 10 when she unjustly feels guilty, and episode 31 when she justly feels guilty. See comparisons - Utena denies liking and the following comparisons. Utena respects his knowledge, and does not seem to notice that she is being falsely accused. She still blames herself.

Utena says that that’s not it. About Himemiya.... She doesn’t finish the thought.

The subtitles translate the unfinished sentence as “I care about Himemiya,” which seems to get the main idea across. At this point, Utena knows that she loves Anthy. But for whatever reason, she hesitates to be specific about her feelings. Is she unsure between liking and loving, or unwilling to tell Akio, or unwilling to let the nearby Anthy hear it in a conversation with somebody else? I think she’s unwilling to tell Akio, but I’m not certain.

Utena again fails to engage with the accusation, and instead essentially claims that Akio went off-topic. Intellectual arguments are irrelevant; emotional connections are what matters. It’s realistic. When somebody’s emotions are activated, intellectual arguments are rarely effective.

Akio claims that Utena never tried to understand Anthy, but thought only of herself.

That has been false at least since episode 23, when Utena realized that Anthy cannot quit the Rose Bride role. There is another clear example of Utena trying to understand Anthy in the poisoning conversation. Maybe Akio means only in the matter of the Anthy-Akio-Utena triangle. That’s not a fair criticism either, because Anthy actively concealed her feelings, and she’s good at it. See Anthy’s seeming approving smile near the start of episode 30, which Utena paid attention to. The image on the screen has Utena and Akio standing far apart: Akio has been watching from too great a distance. His arguments are missing by ever greater distances.

in the church and on the sofa

The projector puts Akio and Utena at the church of the prince story. Akio claims credit for saving Utena from her hopelessness after her parents died. He emphasizes that he is still the same person he was then.

See prince story - the showdown version. Akio is claiming credit for saving Utena from a situation that he put her into. He does not mention that he saved her in order to exploit her. What he says is true, but he left out essential parts of the story.

Is it news to Utena that Akio was the prince in the church? I think so, though she has become more insightful so maybe she did know. Either way, it doesn’t seem to dent her belief in princes (that comes later). She does not seem to process the information, either because her thoughts are on Anthy or because she doesn’t think at all.

In the midst of his argument, though we don’t see it happen, Akio takes a seat on the sofa.

Ever since Utena seized her sword back from Akio, the two have been moving physically farther away from each other. On the one side, Utena feels less and less close to him. On the other, Akio’s arguments are further and further off target. When Akio sits on the sofa, the two reach their maximum distance. They come closer again in the duel.

Anthy’s head on Akio’s lap. Akio is petting her hair. Backing up from the previous image, Akio is sitting on the sofa and Anthy is lying awkwardly across it.

Anthy’s head is on Akio’s lap and he strokes her head as if she were a dog. Akio sits in a false “informal” position: His legs are crossed and his arm is across the back of the sofa, which should say “casual and relaxed”, but he is not casual or relaxed. He is carefully posed. His posture looks proud and rigid. To me he reads as an arrogant aristocrat showing off a possession he is pleased with.

I won’t be surprised if it turns out to be a reference to a specific painting of an aristocrat with a lapdog. I looked at a bunch, but none that was a match. Anthy is not wearing her princess crown—a princess with a lapdog would fit.

Anthy lies awkwardly across the sofa. It looks like she has to hold on to his knee just to stay in place. One arm is pressed underneath. It is as close as Anthy can get to her standard pose with both hands protectively in front—but its suggestive position (what is she doing with those two bent fingers?) looks almost forced; it seems like a planned part of Akio’s tableau. Akio can hold his pose comfortably. Anthy’s legs are tilted over the edge in a pose that must be uncomfortable to hold for long. Anthy’s princess dress is unfastened at the neck, telling us the role Akio has appointed her to. Her eyes are slitted, telling us her opinion of the role.

The white sofa is tinted purple for corruption.

Akio is both exercising and showing off his power over Anthy. Who is he showing off for? The sofa faces away from Utena. Utena cannot see Anthy, and I’m not 100% certain that she knows Anthy is there (she probably knows). Akio is putting Anthy in her place and showing off for himself. I read it as a sign of immaturity; he is not a real adult. Compare Akio approaching the Rose Gate.

Utena sits in the confession elevator, her princess dress on a stand nearby. Utena sits in the confession elevator, Akio standing where the dress was.

The projector puts Utena in the confession elevator. She sits on the stool in her prince uniform, her princess dress on a stand ready to wear. Akio says she’s the same person as then too, still a girl who should behave girlishly, and asks for the sword.

The confession elevator is associated with truth. Here, the usual white light of truth shining from above is instead blue-ish for illusions and tears. A vertical of blue light points to Utena’s head.

Akio believes that his patriarchal world order is natural and correct, and argues on that basis: Utena is a girl and a beautiful princess, and should behave accordingly and give up the sword. Little Utena did behave girlishly, and spoke of herself with a girl’s choice of pronoun instead of her current boy’s choice.

Utena asks in a soft girlish voice what Akio will do with the sword, and he says “Revolutionize the world.”

Akio stands in the elevator in the location where Utena’s princess dress stood a moment before. Akio is a princess himself. The light around him is slightly blue.

Akio can’t open the Rose Gate and gain the power of miracles, but he believes he can. If he did, he would strengthen the system of control beyond breaking and bring eternal stasis to the world. To Akio, revolution and eternity mean the same thing—they are his shining thing, to be brought about by a miracle. That’s what they mean in his propaganda too; see duel symbols - motivations.

For an autocrat to gain power is the opposite of revolution. As the Black Rose points out, an eternity of stasis is the same as death.

Anthy in silhouette, pierced by the Swords of Hatred, hair blown in the wind.
repeated from episode 36

Utena imagines or has a vision of little Anthy pierced by the Swords of Hatred. She exclaims “Aren’t you her brother? You’re going to just ignore her?”

The Nozomi subtitles have “You’re not going to help her?” which conveys the general idea but not the literal meaning. The key word is houtteoku, which means to leave alone or to neglect. I take it to mean “You’re going to let things remain the same?” and leave Anthy in the Rose Bride role. Utena is over-kind to Akio. He coerces Anthy into the Rose Bride role.

Utena does not quite remember meeting little Anthy; see Utena trying to remember from episode 35. There have been increasingly many similar visions of Anthy in the lead-up to the final showdown. This vision is a repeat of one from episode 36.

It keeps Utena on the right track. She once again ignores Akio’s line of argument and returns to her emotional focus on Anthy.

Anthy reacts to Utena’s exclamation by smiling and looking upward at Akio. Akio says “Foolish creature.”

Utena can’t see Anthy, and Anthy must know that Akio will not change his ways. I’m not certain what Anthy is doing. My best guess is that she is trying to provoke Akio out of spite. It’s in keeping with her passive-aggressive habit of aggravating Akio when she is unhappy and can get away with it. It’s safe here because Akio is engaging with Utena. Nothing says that she is genuinely encouraged that Utena is arguing for her; both earlier and later, she is despondent, seeming to believe that Utena has no chance to win.

Akio stops stroking Anthy’s head before she moves. One theory is that Anthy is reacting to no longer being treated as a dog. Did Akio deliberately provoke Anthy’s reaction?

Akio’s “foolish creature” answers both Anthy and Utena.

Akio continues “From the start, there never was a prince in the world.” His cold expression does not change, but tears flow from his eyes.

Only Anthy can see the tears. They are false tears (Akio’s expression is stone cold) of compassion for Anthy’s misfortune, as he casts it. He is speaking to both of them. To Anthy, he is lying “For all my faults that pain you, I am the one who cares about you.” It’s a lie because he believes he has no faults—the way things are is how they must be—and the lie is told by tears because the tears are not a statement. To Utena, he claims that her life decisions were based on a delusion—which is true. We’re in the challenge of truth, and Akio believes what he says.

Utena’s prince is not real. When Akio says there never was a prince in the world, he means that Utena’s prince never existed—Akio played Dios for Utena, and Akio is no miracle-working prince despite his white uniform. Dios truly was a miracle-working prince, at least in Akio’s view, or else Akio would not be seeking the Power of Dios, and would not say that Dios the prince is dead.

Nevertheless, Utena’s prince is a fiction. When Dios comes down from the castle in the sky to aid Utena in duels, it is a miracle: Utena created her prince from her memory. Other see the prince descend too, and Utena meets him in person pretty soon. All his appearances are miracles: Utena’s belief in the prince, along with other conditions, brought her the power of miracles, which can achieve anything, including the creation or recreation of a prince, equated with Dios, who has the power of miracles. The causality is circular: Utena’s belief in the prince causes Dios to be the prince who arouses the belief. Circular causality is associated with confused time, which is part of Utena’s world. In the presence of circular causality, it’s meaningless to ask which came first; the chicken and the egg arose simultaneously, as it were.

Utena stands on the right. Akio sits on the white sofa, facing away from Utena, on the left. In the background is the huge egg off the world with the effigy of Dios.

Utena ripostes “Didn’t you say you were a prince?” and Akio says that the prince Dios is dead, and here is his tomb. When Anthy became a witch, Dios disappeared from the world.

Images show Anthy on a red background impaled by the Swords of Hatred.

I think it’s the first time Utena has heard the name Dios standing by itself, though she has been familiar with the Sword of Dios by that name since episode 1.

Akio’s words “disappeared from the world” in the Nozomi translation mean that Dios died. I mean, that’s his tomb. The translation obscures Akio’s intent. The literal meaning is gone, but the translation allows us a chance to realize that it aligns with Utena disappearing—Akio’s words echo later on and subtly suggest that Utena dies when she disappears. Akio’s plan is for Utena to die. But it’s not evidence that Utena dies, because Akio’s plan breaks down.

The images of Anthy impaled are Utena seeing another vision of little Anthy. This vision is fragmented into right and left halves that don’t fit together. It is not a remnant of memory, because it shows the swords stabbing through, and Utena saw little Anthy suspended by the swords but did not see them stabbing through. At the time, Akio is speaking of Dios and Anthy. I conclude that Dios (or equivalently, Utena’s power of miracles) feeds Utena a piece of the truth. Something similar happened in episode 35.

From Utena’s point of view, we see swords project point-upward from behind the white sofa.

Utena concludes that she must fight Akio. Akio goes on about Anthy being a witch. He claims that she enjoys being a witch, and continues that the two love each other and she can’t be happy any other way.

The swords are of course the Swords of Hatred impaling Anthy. They show up when Anthy realizes that Akio intends to take her sword to fight Utena. Did Anthy start to hope that Utena might survive? Could her smile have meant that? If so, she loses the hope now. The prince story of episode 34 blamed the Swords on the crowd of parents who demanded too much of Dios, and on Anthy herself for hiding Dios away. This time, Akio is to blame for the swords. Akio attributes his decisions to the needs of the world, and the swords that represent the malice of the world are Akio’s doing.

Anthy is out of Utena’s sight behind the sofa back. Does Utena know that the swords impaled Anthy? It seems likely: She has seen a number of visions of it, and may know that Anthy is on the sofa. And that’s when she concludes that she must fight Akio. Does she know that Akio pulled Anthy’s sword in particular? I’m not sure, but some of the same reasoning applies.

Akio believes that Anthy is a witch and that she chose to be a witch and wants to be a witch. It’s one of the ways that his worldview is deeply delusional.

Utena stole back her sword before this challenge began, swearing to free Anthy from Akio. She brandished the sword, but I have to conclude that for the moment she was only defending herself. Before fighting anyone, Utena verifies that they must be fought. It’s a princely necessity. The whole challenge was Akio trying to convince Utena to give up without a fight, and he fails.

Akio draws Anthy’s sword, reaching behind the sofa where Utena can’t see.

the first interlude with the Student Council

Saionji places his rose in the vase/watering can. The background is solid red. The roses in the vase/watering can have turned white, tinged with the sunset. The background is red on the left, graded to yellow on the right.

Immediately after Akio draws Anthy’s sword, the camera cuts to the Student Council elevator rising. No one is visible, but there is a table with Anthy’s watering can silhouetted against the sunset.

Each Student Council member recites one sentence of the “break the shell of the world” spiel. They use the watering can as a vase; each adds a cut rose in their color (we see their hands). They recite the ending line in chorus: “To revolutionize the world!” They briefly discuss that the duel has begun, and Touga says that nobody knows how it will end. He adds a final white rose—not pure white, but tinged with blue. In a last shot of the watering can, all the roses have turned white—not pure white, but tinged orange like the sunset.

The sequence is abstract. The people are sometimes there, sometimes not. The watering can/vase starts in the rising elevator, then appears on the Student Council platform when the elevator opens.

I think the light blue rose is the blue flower symbol (Wikipedia) of the 19th century Romantic movement. In Novalis, it was a light blue flower. It is a symbol of longing, and of inspiration, and in some contexts of freedom—the freedom to seek what you long for and follow your inspiration. It directly refers to Anthy and Utena and their love when separated, and indirectly to the desired (though slow-motion) revolution that Utena sets off. Of course, it’s also white for the prince and blue for the illusions behind their love—particularly Anthy’s illusion that Utena remains a prince after she disappears.

The two images seem to symbolize the chance of victory brought by working together. The watering can is a symbol of the Academy’s control over its students, via Anthy watering her roses. The powerless student council seems to have taken control itself. On the left, as the members individually add their varied roses, the background is solid red, which can only point to Akio’s victory. On the right, the roses have transformed, and the background is a sunset gradient, shading from red through orange to yellow. If Anthy’s bad red sin and Utena’s bad yellow jealousy balance properly, a good orange miracle is possible. The transformation of the roses is a miracle, and is possible because the members acted together—individuals working together bring a transformation into a new unity. That’s how I read it. The light blue rose added last represents Anthy and Utena, who are opposite in most traits, almost as different as possible, and must work together to win (though as I mention under the final victory is a victory of the couple, their cooperation is a lot like working against each other).

The final roses are not white roses tinged orange by the sunset. If they were, the sunset light would color the outer petals more than the inner shadows. The roses are pale orange, and the orange is deeper in the inner shadows—just like Utena’s pink roses are more strongly colored in the inner shadows.

The order is Touga, Miki, Juri, Nanami, Saionji. If Touga and Saionji were swapped, they would be in duel order. Each speaks a part of the spiel that is thematically fitting for their character:

Touga the leader starts off, giving the metaphor.
Miki the young and immature says “We are the chick.”
Juri the trapped says “The world is the egg.”
Nanami echoes her abandonment issues, “If we don’t break the shell...,” etc.
Violent Saionji says “Smash the world’s shell!”
And they all join in for the final line, again representing unity arising from diverse individuals working together. The spiel is like the watering can, a product of the system of control that they have appropriated to use against it.

The sunset on the one hand is Dios’s day—and therefore Utena’s day—yielding to Akio’s corrupt night. The color is similar to the fire of destruction and points to an ending, or you could say an apocalypse. On the other hand, it is the orange of miracles (and since Utena is motivated by jealousy it is equally the orange of perceived one-sided love). As Touga hints, the outcome is balanced between fiery apocalypse and miraculous revelation. The two events have the same name; see apocalypse.

The Student Council is rooting for Utena. Akio has isolated Utena in the arena, and she has no ally who can help. Soon Utena will discover that Anthy too is acting against her. Nevertheless, she has supporters. Early in the series, she was popular among the mass of girls for her coolness. Akio whittled that away over time, but his actions created resistance. It has come full circle, and now she is popular among the knowledgable elite for her chance of victory against one they have come to know is a tyrant.

Desire to overthrow Akio is growing. See Enlightenment era, when that happened in the real world. The suggestion is that if Utena fails, eventually another hero will arise and succeed. From a storytelling point of view, it’s a trick to maintain tension.

the third challenge: the duel

The second challenge ends when Utena concludes that she has to fight Akio. She waited until he drew Anthy’s sword. Utena is unfailingly sporting, as a prince should be: She duels no one without checking that it’s necessary, and never tries a dirty trick like attacking an unarmed opponent.

See duel combat for the sequence of fight moves. Akio does not fight hard at first because he wants to undercut Utena with words. He treats his arguments as a continuation of the challenge of truth, and continues to say things that he believes.

In the first challenge, Akio came within a hair of forestalling Utena’s miracle. In the second challenge, he made arguments that might have convinced somebody else, but Utena was unmoved. In the third challenge, Akio has no chance. He must believe that Utena will be unable to work a miracle when she is prostrate and bleeding out, but he is wrong. Akio’s emotional attack was strong, his intellectual attack weak, his physical attack powerless. That is a fair claim about how human motivation works, and it is part of Utena’s allegory.

To sofa has moved, and now faces the duelists.

At first, Utena’s sword feels heavy and she moves slowly. Akio fights with little effort. He tells Utena that she has only been playing at dueling, and she should give up before she learns the terror of a real duel. The camera cuts briefly to Anthy’s depressed face.

For the audience, it foretells an upcoming dirty trick, and the shot of Anthy tells who will carry it out. For Akio, it’s both a threat and a truth. Slicing a rose is not serious combat. I think he sees Utena as constricted by her princehood, unable to cope with the full range of dirty tricks in a “real” duel. He’s right, as far as it goes.

The spheres of the planetarium projector look like planets in alignment.
Akio with the projector behind him, with ominous shadows. We see the edges of the projector aligned around Akio.
Episode 21, Akio is the projector

We get an upward panning shot of the planetarium projector, and one of the castle in the sky, letting us know that illusions are in play.

Akio starts to fight seriously, and Utena narrowly evades a lunging strike, like her narrow evasions in the Student Council duels. Akio tells her that a child would not understand—Utena cannot grasp Akio’s ideals. It’s true—again, as far as it goes. The duel song starts. The arena fills with desks, as in the Black Rose. Akio strikes again, and Utena evades with a leap, seeming to surprise Akio. The desks slam together, as if signaling the approaching end of the duel. Utena does not react to the desk movement, and shortly cars jut up from the ground, as in the Apocalypse Saga.

The projector shot is technically called a “pedestal” shot (Wikipedia); the notional animation camera is moved upward. Most people don’t need to know that, and I don’t use the technical language.

In episode 14, when Anthy takes Utena to visit Akio for the first time, Utena sees the projector and jokes “Is that your brother?” The joke is true; Akio and the illusion projector are metaphorically the same. A shot in episode 21 backs it up: The projector is aligned behind Akio, equating them. It is a downward panning shot from Akio to Anthy; Akio tells her to stay close to Utena. It parallels this upward panning shot of the projector, which represents Akio by himself—but in both scenes, Akio is relying on Anthy. The downward pan can be read as authority flowing from Akio to Anthy, and the upward pan as help from Anthy to Akio. Anthy’s help is to backstab Utena.

This view of the projector resembles planets in alignment—the fictional version where the planets are right next to each other. Aligned planets in visual fiction denote a rare important event. Akio’s planets have lined up. It seems to foretell his victory, but his defeat is a rare important event too.

Akio and Utena fight between islands of pushed-together desks. The floor is covered with dark red outlines of murder victims.

The duel song starts in the part of the duel that corresponds to the Black Rose (see three strikes below). It starts off with death, a major theme of the Black Rose. It ominously hints that the duel is a fight to the death—which is not true. If Akio wins, he does not intend to murder Utena immediately; he has to open the Rose Gate first. But it does look forward to the final episode, when Utena simultaneously undergoes a symbolic death and symbolic resurrection; see opposed parallel religious metaphors.

Red outlines. In the Black Rose, the red outlines were the fallen duelist boys that Mikage murdered. Here, the outlines are darker; the duel is at night, for Akio’s dark corruption. This segment of the duel corresponds to the Black Rose, so the red outlines are probably still Mikage’s victims, not Akio’s direct victims. The art is repeated from Mitsuru’s duel in episode 18. I connect it with Mitsuru’s claim about defeating an adult, which predicts events of the final showdown.

After some back and forth, Utena declares that she will free Anthy and become a prince. Akio goes crosseyed as his arguments and past work come to nothing.

The effigy of Dios breaks and falls. The projector flashes yellow rays and the castle in the sky begins to crumble and fall. Anthy stands up, moving slowly and seeming dazed. Akio looks around, seeming confused. Utena lunges, Akio barely defends, and Utena continues to attack, her sword now light in her hand. Akio can only just defend himself, and retreats. Anthy’s eyes tear slightly, which in episodes 12 and 25 indicated that she was about to intervene to help Utena before she lost.

The castle in the sky stands for fantasy in general, and for the fantasy of eternity in particular. It starts to crumble when Utena declares that she will become a prince. Its fall stands for Utena’s revolution (which is one step in a longer process): She is miraculously destroying Akio’s fantasy and his eternity of stasis. The unchanging Academy will change. It happens in the yellow light of jealousy and childishness.

Utena’s hair trails behind her.
Utena’s hair following behind her in episode 1.
Episode 1, lunging at Saionji

In a callback to episode 1, as Utena lunges at Akio, her hair trails behind her. Both trailing hair images are on the screen for one frame only, and I could not find any other lunges with trailing hair shots (other views of Utena’s trailing hair in duels are shown behind a foreground, such as Utena’s face or Touga’s and Utena’s hands).

This time, Utena’s hair is divided into three. In fact, it’s divided into three twice—thin upper, wide middle, thin lower, and the middle is itself divided into three. The hierarchy of threes aligns with the hierarchical subdivision into threes of the series as a whole. It seems to be a reference to when her cheek hair is divided into three, a sign that she is slated for death. Utena’s disheveled hair in the First Seduction is also parallel. Each of the three hair images implies that Utena is risking her life.

Utena’s sword is aimed at Akio’s rose. Utena’s sword is aimed at Akio’s rose again.

I think Dios is released when the effigy of Dios breaks, which is just after Utena declares that she will become a prince. It amounts to calling on the prince, and Utena is powered up, though he doesn’t appear until later. The yellow is for Utena’s jealousy, her sustaining reason to free Anthy. The yellow rays correspond to the car headlights in Apocalypse duels. The car headlights shine upward and gather into one before Utena wins. The projector’s yellow rays shine upward but do not gather into one: Utena does not win the duel.

The projector normally shows Akio’s truth, which we in the audience see as a bunch of illusions. Now it is showing Utena’s truth. I don’t think Utena suddenly took over the projector. I think it was already showing her truth when it showed her in a princess dress earlier.

A close look at the images (on the right) shows that Utena is still playing the dueling game: She aims for Akio’s rose, and comes within an ace of slicing it. If it happened, I doubt Akio would consider it a loss (but I suspect that the basic rules of the duels are enforced by the arena itself and are outside Akio’s control, so it might not matter). As he said, he’s not playing the dueling game. He is fighting to disable Utena and take her sword. I don’t think he’s fighting to kill her. I think she is to stay alive until he has opened the Rose Gate using her sword; I figure that her power of miracles disappears like Dios’s if she dies. In the second picture, Akio looks about to fall past the shadow line. He does, and it foretells the dark action he is about to take.

Three strikes. See the episode 38 duel. Akio strikes at Utena three times. Akio’s first strike belongs to the Student Council arc, with a bare dueling arena. It is aimed at Utena’s head, like Touga’s false finishing strike in episode 11: He is making a psychological attack. The Student Council arc is a psychological attack: Akio draws Utena into the dueling system. His second belongs to the Black Rose, with school desks in the arena. (Note to self: Figure out what Mikage move it corresponds to.) Utena dodges with a leap into the air, as in her duel against Mikage. In the Black Rose, Akio trains Utena’s power of miracles, and her flight symbolizes that she learned well (Juri in the opening sequence and Miki in his episode 5 duel fly to symbolize skill). His third strike is carried out through Anthy and belongs to the Apocalypse Saga, with cars jutting from the arena. In the Apocalypse Saga, Akio manipulates Anthy and Utena into betraying each other so that they cannot work together. The strike is Anthy’s backstab of Utena and corresponds to Utena seeing Anthy and Akio together. The duel replays the series in miniature and proclaims that the three arcs of the series are three challenges to Utena. Here in the third arc, to win the final showdown’s third challenge, Utena must win three smaller challenges by avoiding Akio’s three strikes. Utena will not stop swallowing its tail. She falls to the third strike. Her miracle and final victory require her to lose. See Anthy’s backstab - inside the story. If Utena wins all three challenges, then she is a fairy tale prince who dominates princess Anthy, a bad ending that reinforces Akio’s illusions. Utena subverts and denies the fairy tale trope of threes, along with the tropes of the prince and princess and the trope of happily-ever-after. Utena ends up leaving the difficult fairy tale world of the Academy and must cope with the difficult real world instead. It symbolizes realizing the truth and escaping from the Academy’s enveloping illusions, which is to say, from false cultural narratives.

Ironically, in betraying Utena, Anthy is cooperating with her. They have to work together to win.

Akio retreats behind the standing Anthy, and pushes her forward. Anthy ends up behind Utena.

Utena tries to crawl forward, calling out to Anthy.
Episode 39, Utena crawls

The backstab is the end of the duel. Utena loses the duel: We see the white rose on her chest immediately before the backstab, and afterward it is gone. It’s not visible while Utena collapses. We don’t see the rose scattered, and Utena ends up lying on her front, but when Utena tries to crawl forward in the next episode, we see where the rose used to be. Akio’s purple rose remains on his chest. Utena loses the challenge, and Akio progresses to the Rose Gate

At the start of the duel, Utena declared that she would not lose to Akio. She was right. She lost to Anthy. Compare episode 11 when she made no declaration and lost, and episode 12 when she declared she would win and did. But in episode 7 she declared she needed no miracle to defeat Juri, and was wrong.

the backstab

Anthy’s backstab is the main analysis. This section fills in a couple gaps.

Utena’s point of view

Physically, Utena is mortally wounded. She needs medical attention to survive. Akio will not allow her medical attention, because he wants Utena to die. Utena’s only chance is to leave the Academy and be taken to a hospital. Does Utena know she is mortally wounded? I don’t know, and it does not matter. We see Utena as a prince, but she sees herself as wanting to become a prince. Risking her life is part of the deal. It is not that she does not care whether she lives, but if she successfully becomes a prince, then she will win through no matter the odds, because that is what a prince does. It is a foolish, fantasy understanding of her situation, and she needs to think that way to achieve the miracle of winning through.

Mentally, Utena is undaunted. Anthy ran her through with a sword and then insulted her. It is as thorough a betrayal as Akio could wish for. Utena asks “why?” because she doesn’t understand it; in her worldview, it makes no sense for Anthy to thwart her own rescue. She sees Anthy as surrendering the fight against Akio before it is over—in fact, when Utena seems to be winning. And yet Utena simply accepts it and continues from there. She does not need to forgive Anthy, because she does not blame Anthy in the first place. For the moment, Utena’s determination is perfect. She continues with her princely goal of rescuing Anthy.

I read Utena’s superhuman forgivenness as a comparison to Jesus.

Anthy’s regret

Akio and Anthy stand at opposite ends of prostrate Utena. Anthy holds Utena’s sword. Akio reaches out a hand as he asks for the sword.

After each of Utena’s sex dates with Akio, her desire is sated, her thinking becomes clearer as a result, and she regrets violating her ideals. See Akio-Utena date parallels - regret. After Anthy backstabs Utena, her desire to hurt Utena is sated, her thinking becomes clearer, and she regrets it.

After stabbing Utena to the ground and insulting her, Anthy pulls the sword out and throws it away. Her hatred seems to travel with it. Anthy reaches down and takes Utena’s sword from her strengthless hand, loosening the fingers gently. Akio asks for the sword, and Anthy hesitates—the regret is immediate. Her eyes don’t vibrate with emotion, though; she seems thoughtful.

Anthy holds the sword in Utena while saying “you can’t be my prince because you’re a girl.” Then she withdraws it. Physically, pulling the sword out hurts Utena further, but symbolically it signals the end of the attack. Anthy attacked Utena physically and psychologically, with hatred behind both aspects.

Anthy always hesitates before orders she does not like. Here her hesitation is extraordinary. When Akio asks why, she answers “I...” without finishing; compare Utena’s unfinished thoughts. She doesn’t need to answer; Akio understands why. Earlier in the Apocalypse Saga, Akio reacted with sudden violence to Anthy’s occasional resistance. Here he seems to sense that it is serious, and calmly deploys his weapons of psychological manipulation. You regret that you brought misfortune to your friend, he says, understating the case. He takes blame on himself, pretends to empathize with Anthy, and weeps crocodile tears.

It is the abuser comforting his victim, so that he can maintain control over her. See the Ellie Wilson quote under Akio and Anthy - Anthy needs Akio.

Anthy seems to accept it. She moves close, makes a short speech implying that Akio decided well, and wipes his tears. Akio asks again for the sword. Anthy hesitates again, looking at Utena’s sword, eyes vibrating with strong emotion, before reaching the sword to him.

I think it’s clear that Anthy is going along not because she is convinced by Akio’s manipulation, but because she sees no other path. She believes she must stay with Akio, therefore she must go along with him. Evidence: We get a shot of Utena as Anthy walks past; it shows where her feelings are, and she walks in front of Utena, obscuring her, showing where her thoughts led her. There is a background sound of scornful laughter, associated with the Swords of Hatred, telling her reaction. She speaks in her cool Rose Bride voice, and she sounds especially cool and detached when she answers his claim that he loves her: Yes, onii-sama. She implies rather than saying that Akio decided well. Asked a second time for the sword, she hesitates again, and as her eyes vibrate another shot of Utena says what she is thinking of.
Does Akio think he convinced Anthy? He knows she loves him, so he may think so. But I’m not sure. I doubt he cares; her obedience is important, not her feelings.

As Akio takes the sword, he calls Anthy a good girl. She is still his dog.

Anthy’s confusion

Anthy goes through a dramatic series of emotions around the backstab. Before the backstab, she is uncertain, then sad for a moment, then determined. While attempting to violently murder Utena, she is filled with venomous hate and fury. When she throws away the sword, she seems to throw away her fury and regain her composure. She coldly follows up her physical attack with a psychological attack to support Akio’s purpose: Anthy’s insult is meant to crush Utena’s determination to save Anthy, so as to forestall her miracle. Then, having done what she wanted in the moment, and what Akio wanted overall, Anthy regrets her actions. She needs a minute to reorient herself and hand Utena’s sword to Akio.

The backstab shows Anthy in confusion. Akio keeps Anthy under pressure that threatens to break her. To reduce her discomfort and endure, Anthy takes control over everything she can—including her emotions. Anthy has contradictory feelings: She loves Utena and hates Utena. I think she avoids cognitive dissonance by feeling at most one of her contradictory feelings at a time, and forgets others for the moment. She tries to keep herself under strict command; it is necessary for her emotional stability, and it is necessary if she is to skillfully carry out her role as Akio’s agent, which she believes in. While stabbing Utena, she temporarily lost her command over herself; maybe she had to to go through with it, but in any case it’s a natural consequence of deliberately destroying what you love. That is how I read her character: Under abuse that might wreck anyone, she is damaged but hides the damage from others and from herself; she adapts well enough that she is not wrecked, but remains an effective agent for Akio.

How does it look to Akio? He must be able to see Anthy’s confusion. I don’t think he cares about it; as long as Anthy does his will, her feelings do not matter to him. Except for Anthy’s regret afterward, and perhaps her brief flash of sadness before, everything else Akio sees related to the backstab appears to support his view that Anthy remains his loyal slave. Her actions are exactly what he wants. And he deals with the regret.

Anthy’s adaptation in itself is damage, in the same way that Utena’s self-excuses for violating her ideals are themselves violations of her ideals. The backstab shows Anthy in crisis but not breaking. Her confused whirlwind of emotions, each contradicting the last, shows her deep internal confusion. Her confusion continues through the rest of the final showdown: Stoicism in the face of the Swords of Hatred, fear for Utena, acceptance of Utena, sudden terror as she falls away from Utena. Anthy in fact never breaks, but continues to adapt. Her final adaptation seems to be to accept Utena’s evidence that there is a better choice than Akio. Anthy finally resolves her confusion. It’s not clear whether she ever notices that she is confused!

Compare Utena. Anthy resolves her confusion after a long time of living with it and adapting to it. In the Apocalypse Saga, Utena falls into emotional confusion repeatedly, for the first time in episode 30 and for the last time when Dios appears and talks at her, and each time resolves her confusion expeditiously. Anthy’s eventual resolution is sound. Utena’s quick resolutions are questionable, even up to the moment when she disappears from the Academy (she has correctly solved her confusion about the patriarchy, but remains confused about Anthy). It’s another way in which Anthy and Utena are complementary.
Anthy should be confused: She loves Akio, and Akio abuses her. Anthy believes in the truth of the patriarchy, which by its falseness forces confusion on her. And Utena should be confused: She does not conform to the demands of her society, and she does not understand what conformity is being asked of her—she does not notice the existence of sex roles. She has to find her own way through a system that, due to its falseness, will not and cannot explain itself. The patriarchy forces confusion on Utena too, until she finally learns to escape it.

the second interlude with the Student Council

The second interlude comes after Akio’s “I told you so” at Utena, and before he asks Anthy for the sword.

Touga tells the student council members to keep wearing their dueling rings until the contest is decided. But Nanami has already removed hers.

Nanami is pressed down by her unwillingness to face reality. See down catalog - second interlude Nanami for more.

Four skewers of food cook on a grill.

Skewers of food cook on a portable grill. The Student Council, or at least four of its members, are preparing an evening meal while they wait for the outcome.

The Student Council does not know it, but Utena has already been skewered like the food on the grill, and will soon be consumed—that is, exploited. The grill and fire are red, and the food is largely yellowish for Utena’s jealousy—but Utena and the food are helpless. A fiery end seems to approach—Akio’s apocalypse, not Utena’s revelation.

Juri tells the story of the would-be heroic river rescuer who was swept away and forgotten. Nanami stands up during the story, affected. After Juri says she has forgotten his name too, there is a closer shot of the food on the grill. Everyone seems moved.

The food on the grill and the apparently dead would-be hero are both Utena, of course. The river water is the water of illusions; to be swept away and drown is to be lost in illusions. We are being given one piece of evidence after another that Utena will fail. And yet it’s not unfair storytelling, because the evidence is accurate. Utena is skewered and exploited, though the exploitation fails (Akio cannot open the Rose Gate). Utena is not lost in illusions, but she does disappear—swept away in the river of time, another meaning of rivers—and quickly starts to be forgotten. Juri does not say that the would-be hero drowned; that is only Nanami’s guess, and Nanami is all about going wrong.

Nanami does stand, though, and face the reality of the story.

Akio attacks the Rose Gate

In progress. This is the section I’m working on now. It’s not complete yet.

A merry-go-round in motion. The color orange is prominent. No one is there.

As Utena collapses with a sword through her body, asking “Why?”, a merry-go-round appears in the distance behind her. It turns counterclockwise.

The merry-go-round is a childish entertainment, and calls back to the amusement park of the First Seduction. The white horses tie it to the prince: Dios is a childish entertainment, which Akio wants Utena to leave behind.

The merry-go-round revolves. It seems to be a pun on “revolution”. But it turns in the direction of illusions.

At first, the only explanation for the mysterious merry-go-round is Anthy telling Utena that she reminds her of Dios. It prepares us for Dios’s arrival, coming soon.

Distant view of Akio walking away from Anthy and the fallen Utena, with a diseased-looking rose in the background.

After Anthy gives Akio the sword, he walks away slowly. He will rely on Utena’s power of miracles to open the Rose Gate, so I think he needs her to be alive until then. If so, he is not worried about Utena dying in the few minutes he expects it to take, even though she is mortally wounded. As far as I can tell, it’s realistic; she should take longer than that to die. Alternately, the sword embodies Utena’s power (or Akio believes it does) and her life doesn’t matter. I think clues point away from that, but it’s not made clear.

In the background is a giant diseased-looking rose, its colors shifting from Utena’s pink toward Akio’s purple. It is another misleading indicator that Utena will lose, and again it is fair storytelling. Corrupt Akio won the challenge and only he can approach the Rose Gate. Utena is helpless and Akio is in control. The rose stands for Utena, ands its purple points to her corruption. I think it means that Utena has recognized that realistically she can do nothing; she has given up on her princeliness for the moment, and accepts reality. Her determination (or “conviction”) failed. That must have been Akio’s goal in the duel—not to defeat her, but to make her give up, as Touga’s deceit did in episode 11. The power of miracles cannot be defeated, only inactivated.

Akio walks unhurriedly. He’s showing off—for himself, not for anyone else—that he is in utter control, and nothing can interfere with him. He revels in his power. When he reaches the edge of the arena, he leaps over the crenelations to the walkway at a lower level. He doesn’t do a flip, but it recalls the way he flips over the car’s windshield in car scenes, when he shows off his power for others. See comparison catalog - Rose Gate for more evidence that Akio’s walk to the Rose Gate is a performance. He is playing the role of a powerful ruler.

the Swords of Hatred

After Akio reaches the walkway, he hears the Swords of Hatred and calls to Anthy. Anthy steps away from Utena, but stops because Utena has grasped the trailing edge of her dress and told her no. Anthy calls Utena a meddlesome hero, coolly thanks her for allowing Anthy to enjoy a little true friendship, and says (what she believes is) a final goodbye. Then Anthy vanishes from her dress and reappears in the sky, ready to absorb the Swords.

“Meddlesome hero” refers back to the shadow play of episode 1.

Utena’s view. Utena did not object when Anthy took her sword, even though it involved Anthy moving toward Akio. Utena does object now, when Anthy starts to move away from her. I doubt Utena understands why Akio called for Anthy; there isn’t enough information. Apparently Utena wants above all to be with Anthy, and tries to convince her to stay near.

Anthy’s view. Is Anthy thanking Utena, or insulting her? She speaks in her cool Rose Bride voice, and “meddlesome hero” is not something you call a friend or a lover. I think “busybody do-gooder” would be an accurate translation (though it’s not how the Rose Bride would put it). It’s consistent with Akio’s view of Utena as implied by his propaganda, which Anthy believes in. And she speaks sayonara at the end of her speech in a tone of finality; she expects Utena to die shortly. Nevertheless, Utena did make Anthy’s life brighter and easier in some ways, for a time. It’s an insulting speech, but not purely so. I think Anthy denies how much she cares to protect her own feelings from the hurt of acknowledging Utena honestly. It is another assault on women (both Anthy and Utena) by the system of control.

There is no arena duel this episode, but what amounts to a duel song starts as the swords approach. Akio explains that the prince’s sword drew them. But with Anthy in the sky, the swords bypass him and seek the supposed witch. The song continues until Utena stands, immediately after which Akio breaks Utena’s sword on the Rose Gate.

It seems to be the song of the duel between Akio and the Rose Gate, which the Rose Gate wins.

analysis of the rest will go here

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 31 May 2022
updated 26 October 2023