Utena - the S-shaped bed

When Anthy’s glasses shine. <- Previous

Easy one: The S-shaped bed refers to Class S the genre (Wikipedia). See Wakaba below for another reference to Class S.

Utena and Anthy in the S-shaped bed

Class S presents a fictional behavior pattern, “they’re not lesbians, they’re just extra close friends,” lesbianism reduced, conventionalized, and stylized to make it acceptable in an intolerant society. It is a product of the system of control (rather, of authors acting within the system). Once a Class S work is created, it becomes a weapon of the system of control. When people encounter Class S works, especially young people forming their worldviews, it can affect their attitudes and beliefs: Presenting conventionalized behavior reinforces conventions. It is the system of control perpetuating itself with lies.

Well, nothing is that simple. In the more intolerant society when Class S was created, it could be progressive and act as a wedge to open up attitudes a little. In the less intolerant society today, Class S is regressive. Class S still exerts influence over fiction—think of all the anime with implied lesbian relationships which are never actually declared and may vanish when the right boy shows up. For one example, the Euphonium shows.

The bed is in Akio’s realm. Akio, representative of the system of control, is trying to keep Utena and Anthy under control, not too close to each other. They are sleeping in the same bed, but apart and head to head so they can talk as Class S friends and not more. It works on Utena, who has not grasped that one woman can love another (episode 28’s preview of the next episode), much less that she loves Anthy. I think Akio wants Anthy close enough to Utena to keep an eye on her and take a hand in steering her, and also wants them somewhat isolated from each other so that neither gets out of hand. With their poor communication habits, it is isolation enough.

The bunk bed they slept in before ranked Utena above Anthy and kept them apart. Now they are on a level, physically and psychologically, and they become closer. They hold hands at night and talk honestly. I imagine Akio’s intent was to ensure that Anthy could keep Utena under the closest possible surveillance, but it backfires to an extent. Face to face and on the same level, Utena can propose teamwork without hypocrisy. Nevertheless, their bedtime talks bring little communication; they mostly talk past each other. The two seem to feel closer to each other, but Utena understands little of what Anthy says and Anthy does not come to trust Utena enough to tell her any secrets. Even so, when Akio finds out how close they have become, he takes actions to physically and emotionally separate them.

Upside down. In the bed, Anthy and Utena are inverted relative to each other. Each suffers illusions about the other. They tend to misunderstand each other’s words when talking at night, however honestly, and Akio takes steps to make them misunderstand each other in general. Their relative inversion also reflects their oppositeness. They are opposite in most character traits because they are two halves that fit together into one whole, in the same way that the bed’s two halves fit together into an S.

Colors. The pillows are blue-green, the color of illusions, and represent dreams. The green sheets turn orange at dawn if someone stayed up until then. Pink is Utena’s color. The black part at each head seems to be Akio’s psychological influence. The purple section that they reach across when holding hands represents the corruption of their relationship; Akio successfully gets them to disbelieve in each other. The white edges are the prince’s color and stand for Dios’s sexism.

Utena lies flat on her back when in the S-shaped bed. It’s not the position we see her wake up from in episode 3; Akio does not work hard to control Utena until he moves her into his tower. It is the same powerless position she takes when first kissed by Akio, and in the sex scene, and when trying to remember and failing. Sleep is associated with forgetting, a loss of power.

In episode 34, as Akio drugs Utena, it is Anthy who lies flat on her back in the S-shaped bed, powerless to intervene. Usually Anthy lies on her side.

Anthy faces Utena. Anthy sleeps on her side facing Utena. In episodes 36 and 37 when Utena is at the window at sunrise, which would usually be behind Anthy’s back, Anthy sleeps facing the window.

Dreams. Japanese and English share the metaphor: Literal dreams are illusions you have while asleep, and metaphorical dreams are aspirations you have while awake. Akio has control over dreams, at least to a large degree. It means that the system of control directs people’s aspirations—and directs them toward illusions. The blue-green pillows are telling people what they should want.

Shadows of Utena and Anthy lie down in bed.

The synchronized way Utena and Anthy lie down together tells us how close they are, though at the same time it opposes them against each other. Shadows on a windowshade are an old movie device from the era of the Hays Code (Wikipedia) to signify “here’s something intimate that we can’t show, so we’ll (nudge nudge) only hint at it.” In case we didn’t notice, the background song in episode 27 spells it out. (Though the song also comes with unsettling connotations.) Utena does not understand her own feelings until later. Anthy understands enough for both, but in her Rose Bride role she has little scope to act on her understanding.

By the way, the shades are pointed out in episode 25—and there is no light positioned to cast a shadow on them. It would have to be a spotlight to cast sharp shadows. When the windowshade trope was alive, spotlights were more common in movie lighting than today.

Besides being a reference to the sexist censorship of the Hays Code, the lying-down shadows are like a shadow play. In fact, the shadow play of episode 31 has the same windowshade background (it’s when Nanami takes Anthy’s bed). In their bedtime conversations, Utena and Anthy speak truth to one another—though not much truth. The light of the shadow plays is red for knowledge. The light of lying down is dim but white for the small amount of truth.

Wakaba

Wakaba holds up her book Magnolia Waltz. We see her hair from behind. Wakaba rang the bell at Akio’s tower and nobody answered. We see her hair a little from the side.

Wakaba has S-shaped hair that stands for her Class S relationship with Utena. We see it from the first episode. Until some point in episode 37, Utena misunderstands herself and believes that she cares about Anthy in the same way that she cares about Wakaba, as an important friend. In the other direction, Wakaba’s relationship with Utena is full of subtext, but all the subtext falls out of view when it comes to her prince Saionji. It’s practically the definition of Class S.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 19 November 2021
updated 22 April 2024