Utena - paired character comparisons

In progress. I’m slowly getting closer to understanding Utena’s structure.

Utena does not think it’s enough to compare characters to each other one by one. It pairs up characters and compares the pairs to each other. The pairs are usually siblings or couples, which can be the same thing. Anthy and Utena are metaphorical siblings—see siblings and incest and Anthy and Utena are twins.

There are more comparisons that I am mostly convinced are real, but I don’t understand them well enough to write them up. One step at a time!

Anthy + Akio = Nanami + Touga
Utena + Akio = Shiori + Ruka
Utena + Akio = shy girl + Touga
Utena + Anthy = Keiko + Nanami
Utena + Anthy = kitten + Nanami
Utena + Anthy = Miki + Kozue
Utena + Anthy = Kozue + Miki
Utena + Anthy = Tokiko + Mamiya
Utena + Anthy = Touga + Saionji

Anthy + Akio = Nanami + Touga

Nanami and Anthy are individually parallel, and so are Touga and Akio. And they are in parallel relationships: Anthy incestuously loves Akio who coldly exploits her, and Nanami incestuously loves Touga who coldly exploits her.

Utena + Akio = Shiori + Ruka

In episode 28, the story of Shiori and Ruka is parallel to the story of Utena and Akio. Some elements of episode 28 are parallel to events earlier, and some to events later. When Ruka meets Shiori, first he lures her into a suggestive lie, “I polished your sword every day.” When Utena and Akio meet for what Utena believes is the first time in episode 14, he tries to lure her into a lie, “The students never fight.” The lies relate to the dueling system. In a reversal, corrupt Shiori repeats the lie while honest Utena dodges it. Ruka holds a hand on the side of Shiori’s face and kisses her. Shiori is seduced. Akio holds a hand on the side of Utena’s face and kisses her in episode 30, contributing to her corruption. The hands express control or manipulation. Ruka and Shiori’s second kiss seconds later (to repeat the link) is parallel to Akio and Utena’s kiss in the Second Seduction of episode 36—the poses and the degree of seduction match. (Shiori and Utena are facing opposite directions on the screen for all their kisses, which is probably meaningful. They are mirror images.) The episode’s shadow play alludes obliquely to Cinderella, tying Shiori to Utena’s Cinderella scene. It also alludes to Akio’s car, which carries them to their separate sex scenes. Three couples get sex scenes in Utena: Akio and Anthy, Ruka and Shiori, and Akio and Utena.

Individually, Shiori has a parallel with Utena. And Ruka is like Akio in that both carry out complex evil plots to control others, involving love and sex, that run roughshod over everyone in the way. Unlike Akio, Ruka’s goal is less than 100% selfish: He wants to free Juri from her obsession with Shiori (unless we are being misdirected, pretty likely in Utena).

We can extend the parallel: Shiori’s true love is Juri and Utena’s true love is Anthy, so Juri is parallel to Anthy in this comparison.

In a reversal, the controller Ruka dies after his two episodes, possibly murdered by Anthy’s slow poison. In contrast, Akio plans to murder the controlled Utena. I think the reversal is evidence that Akio did have Ruka murdered.

Utena + Akio = shy girl + Touga

In episode 35, a shy girl gives a letter and a red poppy to Touga, in a story that is parallel to the Second Seduction. See flowers - giving a red poppy to Touga for details.

Utena + Anthy = Keiko + Nanami

Anthy backstabbing Utena in the final showdown is parallel to Nanami ostracizing Keiko for chasing Touga in episode 21. See Anthy’s backstab - prefigured images - Nanami and Keiko. Anthy’s manipulation of Utena is compared to Nanami’s control over Keiko. There is a closely-related second parallel to the backstab: In the end, Keiko seems to be breaking free from Nanami, and Nanami resorts to beating her up. In the end, Utena seems to be breaking free from Akio, and Anthy resorts to violence.

Utena + Anthy = kitten + Nanami

Nanami finds the kitten and gives it to Touga; Anthy follows Akio’s step by step orders to deliver Utena to Akio. Touga is delighted with the kitten; Akio is delighted with Utena’s power and naivety. Nanami decides to dispose of the cat out of jealousy; Akio decides to murder Utena and Anthy stabs her in the back out of jealousy. Nanami regrets killing the cat; Anthy regrets stabbing Utena, and Akio must take extra measures to keep her in line.

In the scene where little Nanami pushes the boxed kitten into the water, the crow stands for death. The crow flies away, which seems to me an ambiguous symbol—is it the parting of death, or is it death departing because it is not needed here? I think it goes with the ambiguity of Utena’s fate.

The kitten is innocent and ignorant, like Utena. The kitten bats at things with its sharp claws in play; Utena fights with her sword in the dueling game. The kitten seems helpless and doomed when thrown into the powerful water, but we don’t see it die; Utena seems helplessly swept along by Akio’s power of illusions (that water stands for), and at the end she is mortally wounded and may die, but we don’t see it.

Utena + Anthy = Miki + Kozue

Non-specific connections: The two pairs are connected through the constellation Gemini, representing the twins Castor and Pollux. Kozue and Miki are twins. Akio independently calls Utena and Anthy siblings and compares them to Castor and Pollux; see Anthy and Utena are twins for more. In intentionally patriarchal symbolism, Utena and Anthy are named as parts of a whole where Utena protects and supports Anthy, and Miki and Kozue as parts of a whole where Miki supports Kozue.
On the left, a bird cage with bird. On the right, little Kozue. The colors are abstract, not realistic.
Episode 5, little Kozue

The picture compares little Kozue to Anthy and Utena at the same time. It comes up during a conversation in Anthy’s greenhouse, which is a bird cage—and here is a bird in a cage, equated with both Anthy and Kozue. (And later with the Kaoru family mother.) It associates Kozue with purple for corruption, like Anthy; Miki is telling the story of the failed concert, which is when Kozue became corrupted. (Like Utena, Miki blames himself for bad events; that is how good people act in Utena.) Meanwhile, Kozue’s hair is pink for Utena, and she wears a hair bow like the bow worn by the shadow girl who usually plays Utena in shadow plays. The following image makes a similar comparison with Miki instead of Kozue.

Utena is physically female. She wants to be a prince, playing a male role, and to marry the prince, playing a female role. Miki is physically male, but has an androgynous character design, and is based on female Sailor Mercury and played by the same female voice actor. Both are gendermixed, male and female, but Utena is male with respect to Anthy and Miki with respect to Kozue. Both are good at heart, though sometimes confused. Both have a sense of justice. The two are opposite in that Utena acts effectively on her sense of justice, while Miki is ineffective (Touga talks him out of stopping the duels to protect Anthy, and Juri tell him his sword is not for battle).

Anthy and Kozue are the female halves of the pairs. Both fear crowds (Anthy, Kozue). Both are corrupt. Anthy has dark purple hair for her deep corruption, and Kozue has blue hair shaded toward purple, presumably because she was corrupted by illusions (and to relate her to Miki). Unlike Utena and Miki, Anthy and Kozue have incestuous interests, another sign of corruption. (Well, Utena does desire Anthy, but doesn’t realize it until late.) Anthy desires Utena, while Kozue desires Miki. They are opposite in the same way that Utena and Miki are opposite: Anthy’s actions are effective while Kozue’s are not.

The start of episode 15, Kozue’s Black Rose duel, is parallel to a scene from episode 1. In episode 1, Utena walks down the colonnaded way, and (noticing the smell of roses) stops and turns to see Anthy in the greenhouse. In episode 15, Miki walks down the same colonnade, and stops and turns to see Kozue with a boy. Kozue provokes Miki, drawing close and whispering to her boy. When the music teacher appears, Kozue pushes her boy away—her earlier Anthy-like vengeance in pushing the music teacher down stairs did not deter him.

Utena + Anthy = Kozue + Miki

Yes, it’s the same set of characters as the previous one, but the order is reversed! See above for the non-specific connections between the pairs. One way to look at it is that both pairs are indivisible wholes, so it doesn’t matter what order you put the parts in.

Utena individually has a detailed parallel with Kozue. Anthy and Miki are alike and opposite in that Anthy is an emotional genius while Miki is an academic genius.

Gemini appears in episode 31, which is a Nanami and Touga episode. Nanami and Touga are brought into the comparison too, and I don’t understand the connection. Are we being told that they are twins, despite looking so different and being different ages? Are they as close as twins, each caring about the other, only in incompatible ways? Nanami is closely connected to Utena, so it seems to imply a connection between Touga and Anthy. The main connection I see is that both are second to Akio.

The comparison is drawn clearly in episode 26, when Kozue rescues nestling birds. She risks her life to do it: She is a hero, like Utena. Then she falls and must be rescued herself. On the one hand, it is an example of the teamwork that was introduced in the previous episode: Miki saves Kozue after her fall, as Anthy makes it possible for Utena to leave the Academy. (It is also a reversal. In the final showdown, it is Anthy who falls away from Utena, and Utena who makes it possible for Anthy to leave the Academy.) On the other hand, it predicts Utena’s need for rescue at the point when she disappears from the Academy.

Then Miki takes responsibility for raising the nestlings. With Anthy’s help (which Utena remarks is unusually direct), Miki takes on Anthy’s nurturing role.

Miki carries Kozue on his back.
Episode 26, Miki supports Kozue
Anthy helps Utena walk after her injury, holding one hand on Utena’s boob.
Episode 30, Anthy supports Utena

The parallel continues. In rescuing the nestlings, Kozue’s left foot is injured, and Miki carries her home. He complains that Kozue is leaning too close, a sign of her feelings. In episode 30, due to Akio’s interference Utena’s left foot is injured, and Anthy helps her toward the infirmary. Anthy keeps a hand on Utena’s breast, a sign of her feelings. In a reversal, Utena does not seem to care, or even notice, that Anthy is feeling her up. (Anthy is enjoying it—she’s smiling. She’s taking advantage of an unexpected opportunity. Compare the earlier library scene.) In episode 26, Kozue tells Miki that to get what you want, you have to lose your purity. In episode 30, Utena realizes that she wants Akio, and chooses to lose her purity to get him.

Other reversals: Utena plays a male role with respect to Anthy, while Miki is male, though androgynous in looks and character, and based on a female character. Miki takes on a girlish nurturing role, a sex role reversal. Anthy is boyishly forward in her relationship with oblivious Utena, while Kozue jealously keeps Miki to herself.

The nestlings stand for Kozue and Miki, and therefore also for Utena and Anthy. Both pairs work together to rescue themselves.

Kozue and Miki are not able to sustain their teamwork. By the end of the episode, Kozue (influenced by Akio) has returned to her spiteful self. Utena and Anthy also cannot sustain their teamwork under Akio’s pressure, but thanks to Utena’s miracle they regain it in the final episode.

The purpose of the comparison must be (at least in part) to show the differences between the pairs that make Kozue and Miki ordinary, while Utena and Anthy are special and capable of miracles. Kozue is a bad character, and can never have Utena’s idealism and willingness to make a genuine sacrifice, keys to her power of miracles. By extension, once the miracle is achieved, Kozue and Miki can learn from it and follow its lesson.

Utena + Anthy = Tokiko + Mamiya

Mikage repeatedly looks at Utena and sees Tokiko (in the greenhouse, at the wall of photos, in the duel). At the time of the Black Rose, Mamiya is long dead and is played by Anthy. Mikage’s memories of the living Mamiya also resemble the false Mamiya, which I take to be because Mikage’s memory is unreliable and influenced by illusions.

Tokiko and Mamiya are sister and brother, like Kozue and Miki. They are another reason for Akio to call Utena and Anthy siblings. Tokiko and false Mamiya are not true siblings, any more than Utena and Anthy are.

I haven’t worked through the details and meaning of this parallel. I’ll get around to it eventually.

Utena + Anthy = Touga + Saionji

Touga and Saionji met as children, like Utena and Anthy. Saionji subordinates himself to Touga, as Anthy does to Utena. Utena is bold; Anthy is fearful. Touga boldly opens little Utena’s coffin; Saionji fearfully hangs back. In the duel of episode 36, Anthy helps Utena and Saionji helps Touga.

Above all: Utena and Anthy are different aspects of womankind. Their oppositeness implies that women are all different and a woman can be anything. Touga and Saionji are aspects of sexism. Touga favors psychological control; Saionji favors violent control. Their oppositeness implies that men are all alike in one way.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 15 August 2022
updated 16 November 2023