Utena - tear catalog

Utena has a lot of crying. Tears tell feelings; tears are symbolic (see sparkling transfers); tears participate in the physics of the world (Utena’s tear opens the Rose Gate). The water of illusions is also the water of tears, at least in some cases. And tears are used in gags.


The dueling forest gate to enter the dueling arena and the Rose Gate to leave it are obviously alike. You enter with the cold tear of another, and leave through a warm tear for another. Both are on dark backgrounds for Akio’s black night. My take is that Dios miraculously created the arena to oppose Akio.

A water drop flies—time-reversed falling—from a vertical water surface toward Utena’s hand on the dueling forest gate’s handle.
Episode 1, dueling forest gate
Water splashes from Utena’s ring as she unlocks the dueling forest gate.
cold splash

The water drop is time-reversed. It unsplashes from a ghostly vertical water surface and flies to re-splash on Utena’s ring. Utena is startled by its coldness, which means emotional coldness. You enter the arena to fight over Anthy and control her; her feelings don’t enter into it. To duel is to seek to exploit. And Akio seeks to exploit the duelists.

The water drops are a reference to The Rose of Versailles and to Nadia. The references mean that the drops are tears of grief and pain. The water surface must represent a reservoir of all the tears of women who suffer due to Akio. Anthy is their proxy.

See comparisons - water drop splashes too.

Water splashes from the black rose in its tank.
Episode 14, splash

The black rose’s water basin is the same kind of thing as the gates. The drop of water that splashes from the black rose is parallel to the drop of water splashing from Utena’s ring when she unlocks the gate to the dueling forest. Both are tears landing on roses. And the vertical falling tear goes with Utena’s tear below. The water surface is blue-green.

I don’t understand the black rose basin. I suppose it was created by Mikage and/or Akio as part of figuring out how to access the dueling arena, so that Akio could turn it to his own purposes. The origin of the falling tear is not shown, but it seems to come from the false Mamiya, played by Anthy. If so, it should be the same water that opens the dueling forest gate.

A tear drips from the end of Utena’s nose, falling in sparkles.
Episode 39, Rose Gate tear
A water drop flies—time-reversed falling—from a vertical water surface toward Utena’s hand on the Rose Gate’s handle..
falling upward horizontally

The Rose Gate is twined around with roses, which stand for the briars of Sleeping Beauty, and for Utena the appointed prince to awaken the beauty, but also for life and growth. The entrance is mechanical and male and cold; the exit is partly organic and, like Utena (because it is Utena), mixes male and female. Utena’s tear is a warm tear of compassion. Compassion makes it possible to escape the arena’s exploitation. It also prevents Akio from opening the gate, as long as he remains cold at heart.

I read Utena’s tear as a transfer. It sparkles white. See sparkling transfers.


A tear drips from Wakaba’s eye.
Episode 1, Wakaba

Wakaba cries after Saionji makes her love letter public. The shadow line runs through her head: She is mostly a good person, but she is thinking some bad thoughts right now. Who wouldn’t?

Anthy’s earrings are in the shape of teardrops.
Episode 1, Anthy’s earrings
Akio just drew Utena’s sword. Utena is a princess wearing teardrop earrings.
Episode 38, princess earrings

Anthy’s earrings are in the shape of teardrops. They are in fact princess earrings. Utena wears them in episode 38 when Akio turns her into a princess, and Kozue wears a sometimes-blue pair (they are variable in color) in the dueling arena in episode 26 when she is Miki’s princess, and so on. A princess is always crying, whether it shows in her eyes or not.

Anthy looks over her shoulder with a distressed expression, a large tear in her right eye.
Episode 3, Anthy

At the dance party, Nanami succeeds in humiliating Anthy. When Utena shows up, Anthy turns to her with a tear in her eye. Utena corrects that in no time.

I don’t see evidence that it is a sham. I think Nanami truly did humiliate Anthy; Anthy is not faking it for a plot.

Chu-Chu cries, throwing away an eraser.
Episode 4, Chu-Chu

The eraser turned out to be inedible. Who would have guessed? Chu-Chu throws it away in disgust, crying.

That Chu-Chu eats gluttonously must reflect Anthy’s stress. That Chu-Chu tries to eat non-foods, like the eraser and the desiccant from the dress box in episode 3, seems like it should only reflect Chu-Chu’s poor judgment.

Maybe Chu-Chu should have been born a goat. Then everything would be edible.

Nanami has tears on her face after meeting with Anthy’s snails.
Episode 4, Nanami
Chu-Chu gets tear-streams fighting the octopus.
Episode 4, Chu-Chu

Nanami has tears on her face after meeting with Anthy’s snails. She looks like she can’t believe that her humiliation plot failed. After all, her plot in the previous episode’s dance party at least started to work before Utena foiled it. She doesn’t react the same way to the mongoose or the octopus, though. It’s not the same as Utena’s expression after losing the duel to Touga, but it is related. Nanami is losing to Anthy.

Chu-Chu captured by the octopus is a symbol of Anthy captured by Akio. The octopus wants its own cold vengeance—the metaphor implies that the octopus is not eating the shaved ice, but force-feeding it to Chu-Chu. It turns around at the end of the series.

Nanami cries in a comically exaggerated way.
Episode 6, Nanami
Nanami cries in a stylized shoujo way.
Episode 6, Nanami

Nanami believes that her brother wants to kill her. On the left, exaggerated crying; on the right, stylized “beautiful” crying. She’s this unhappy, and we’re supposed to laugh at her? The second picture comes with the gag “My brother wants to kill me. I wish I were dead.” OK, so... stop running away. Her problem solving approach is strangely indirect.

Nanami undergoes the widest swing from silly to serious character. It’s because she’s important.

Chu-Chu on Utena’s shoulder streams tears.
Episode 7, Chu-Chu

Chu-Chu is crying, maybe out of fear of the dark as Utena says. It might be sheer tiredness.

Miki cries comically.
Episode 8, Miki

The body swap episode. Miki does not cry when he concludes that it is his fault that Anthy was hurt because she risked her life to make extra-hot curry for him. He does cry when he finds out that her personality has changed, then stops instantly when he buys photos.

After tears for emotional hurt in episode 1, Utena goes out of its way to insist that tears are not always serious. Sometimes they’re funny.

Nanami cries a stream of crystal tears as she approaches her brother (out of frame).
Episode 8, Nanami
Nanami cries over the spilled curry spice.
Episode 8, Nanami

On the left, Nanami asks Touga for forgivenness for swapping out the curry spice and supposedly causing the body swap. The shining tears are for show. Compare Akio’s shining crocodile tears in episode 39. Nanami is sure that her brother will forgive her.

On the right, Nanami has returned from her overseas trip with the special curry spice to supposedly swap bodies back. She carelessly runs up stairs with it, Chu-Chu throws a well-placed banana peel, the spice container shatters and the spice is scattered to the winds. All Seems Lost™ and Nanami weeps. Anthy’s plot is almost complete.

Nanami holds on to Touga’s sword arm, tears in her eyes.
Episode 10, Nanami stops Touga
Touga does not kiss Nanami.
Episode 10, Touga stops Nanami

Two pictures of one instance of Nanami weeping. First she grabs Touga’s sword arm, fearing he may worsen his injuries. There wasn’t any real risk of it. Then, remembering a childhood kiss on the eye (kissing her tears away), she asks for a kiss. Nanami feels she has lost closeness to Touga that she had in younger years, and wants it back. Compare Touga regressing toward childhood after his ride in Akio’s car in episode 35.

Touga refuses to kiss her. Formerly comic Nanami is gaining another dimension.

Little Nanami starts to cry as her adoptive parents try to stop her from giving the kitten to Touga.
Episode 10, giving the kitten
Little Nanami cries as she runs.
Episode 10, taking the kitten

In flashback, little Nanami starts to cry as she tries to give the kitten to Touga. Her adopted parents try to stop her. To a small child, it is obvious that adults often do not understand. I remember that.

After throwing the boxed kitten into the fast-flowing water where it has no chance to survive, little Nanami seems to realize what she has done and cries as she runs away. The sky is crying too... because the rain ensured that the water was fast-flowing.

Nanami’s face is pressed up close to Touga.
Episode 10, Nanami lost

After Nanami loses the duel (as Touga planned), Touga tells her that she doesn’t have to fight, he’ll protect her. He puts her into a princess role—right after the sword fragment undid her coronet hairdo. Nanami loses her anger and relaxes against Touga’s chest. But her expression does not look relaxed and the tears in her eyes don’t seem to be tears of happiness. She still does not have what she wants.

Utena weeps after losing the duel against Touga.
Episode 11, Utena lost

Utena weeps after losing the duel against Touga. I think this is the only example of this expression in the series. Utena is simultaneously surprised, angered and hurt in her pride for having lost, sad to be separated from Anthy, and dumbfounded because she can’t make sense of Anthy’s behavior. Her pupils are constricted. Her iris outlines are heavy. Processing that mess of feelings in only one more episode is pretty fast.

Wakaba cries in frustration over Utena’s depression.
Episode 12, Wakaba frustrated
Wakaba still has tears in her eyes but no longer looks frustrated.
Episode 12, Wakaba relieved

Wakaba tries to break Utena from her depression, and becomes so frustrated by Utena’s lack of response that she cries. In real life, talking somebody out of depression is rarely successful, but it can be different in fiction. After Wakaba admits that she doesn’t understand, her arguments gain traction. Utena starts thinking, breaks from her depression, and returns to normal. Wakaba still has tears in her eyes. Now she looks confused but relieved.

Anthy weeps after Utena reminds her of Dios.
Episode 12, Anthy reminded
Anthy’s eye waters slightly, showing concern for Utena or Akio.
Episodes 12, 25, 38

Utena seems to have little hope in the duel to take back her “self”, but fights on. Anthy is reminded of Dios and begins to weep. Apparently by Anthy’s choice, her link to Dios to power the Sword of Dios is broken, and the sword powers down. Utena’s innate power of miracles is ascendant.

It’s rare for Anthy’s composure to break. For the first-time viewer, all the information is new, and its significance is not explained.

We see Anthy’s incipient tears again in episodes 25 and 38, showing fear or concern for Utena or for Akio, but we don’t see her weeping again. Her eyes widen and her pupils contract.

Water drips from Juri’s locket after it is opened.
Episode 17, Shiori with locket

When Shiori opens Juri’s locket in the confession elevator, water drips out. The water stands for Shiori’s tears, though Shiori does not understand that.

Shiori’s fingernails are short because she sees herself as having power over Juri (which is true enough).

Mitsuru has a tear in his eye as he talks with Nanami, out of frame.
Episode 18, Mitsuru

A tear is falling from Mitsuru’s eye. Nanami tells him that it’s OK to be a child, but she talks down to him. The only thing that reaches Mitsuru through the door of the distance between them is Nanami’s condescending hand to pat him on the head.

Anthy uses knowledge and insight to deliberately provoke characters into duels. Nanami does it naturally without meaning to.

Tatsuya cries in the confession elevator, head turned toward Mikage behind him.
Episode 19, Tatsuya

Tatsuya cries in the confession elevator out of frustrated love for Wakaba. “Why am I no good?” He has no evil feelings, and Mikage rejects him for the black rose.

Confused, frustrated and incapable Tatsuya is one of the most well-adjusted Utena characters. Uh oh.

Overwrought Saionji cries comic streams of tears.
Episode 20, Saionji is moved
Reflection of Wakaba and Saionji in Wakaba’s oval mirror, the carved leaf in her hair and tears on her cheek.
Episode 20, Wakaba is moved

In Wakaba’s dorm room, Saionji cries streams of comic tears after Wakaba convinces him to stay. He seems calm most of the time in the dorm, but his emotions are running wild. He compares Wakaba to Joan of Arc. We can guess that Wakaba does become a hero after the end of the series.

Tears of happiness run down Wakaba’s cheek as she looks in the mirror at the carved leaf in her hair, Saionji’s hands on her shoulders. Serious Saionji cried in comic happiness; playful Wakaba in serious happiness. The mirror is perhaps reminding us of the reversal. See reflections - carved leaf for a little more.

Close view of Wakaba’s face, looking upward as she falls, tears in her eye.
Episode 20, Wakaba loses

Wakaba does not cry in the confession elevator. She comes out of it angry and determined. But when she loses the duel against Utena, tears gather in her eye.

See the Wakaba feeds Utena comparison for a brief analysis of Wakaba’s friendship with Utena, and Utena holding Wakaba’s hand as Wakaba falls. Utena is largely happy with Wakaba despite jealousy in episode 30 and other issues, but on Wakaba’s side it is not a healthy friendship. Wakaba is obsessed with specialness, in somewhat the way Juri is obsessed with Shiori. When Wakaba loses the duel, her goal is bitterly thwarted by Utena’s specialness, and Utena has no inkling. Utena believes she is saving Wakaba.

Keiko has tears in the corners of her eyes.
Episode 21, Keiko abandoned
Keiko is weeping in fury.
Episode 21, Keiko in the elevator

Keiko has tears in the corners of her eyes as her co-minions and supposed friends abandon her to her fate. Later, she cries in fury in the confession elevator.

Nanami is utterly selfish and chose minions who are also selfish.

Tokiko has a tear in one eye after she admonishes Mamiya for not taking care of his health.
Episode 22, Tokiko
Tokiko weeps while standing next to a mirror.
Episode 22, Tokiko and mirror

Left, Tokiko has a tear in her eye after she has admonished Mamiya for (as she sees it) not taking care of his health. Right, Tokiko next to the mirror weeps after talking with Mikage about eternity. In both cases she’s weeping for her brother Mamiya.

See reflection catalog - Tokiko for the comparison with Utena.

Tears on a finger held up to the light.
Episode 23, elevator

Mikage in the confession elevator holds his tears to the overhead light, the sun of the underworld. Mikage takes them to be tears of pain because Utena physically hurt him, but I’m not so sure. He perceives Utena as Tokiko, who left him. Mikage’s illusions are direct and powerful. I think his hurt is mainly emotional, and despite his intellectual smarts he doesn’t have the emotional intelligence to realizer it.

Tears are on Mikage’s face as Tokiko slaps him for burning down his building.
Episode 23, slapped
Mikage holds burning candles upside down so that they drip wax like tears.
Episode 23, candles

Left, Mikage has started the fire that is burning down his building. Tokiko slaps him, a mild punishment for the crime.

Right, at around the same time, Mikage holds the candles that he uses to burn down his building. The candles drip wax like tears. I don’t really understand the candles, so I don’t know what the wax tears mean. But they match Mikage’s.

Nanami’s eyes fill with tears as she pleads with Saionji for her egg.
Episode 27, lost egg
Nanami’s egg has become giant. She looks surprised, upset, and tearful.
Episode 27, giant egg

Nanami’s egg. On the left, seeking the lost egg. On the right, seeing the giant egg in a dream.

Like the audience, Nanami does not take her egg entirely seriously. It represents a child, but Nanami does not invest her self-image into it. In episode 32 below she is far more deeply upset.

Shiori is on her knees and bawling her eyes out.
Episode 29, Shiori rejected

Ruka rejects Shiori. We don’t see tears, but she is bawling and does not care that she is in public. See the same image in the down catalog for a discussion of the false rumors that start.

Nanami weeps in genuine distress, one yellow rose visible in the background.
Episode 32, Nanami
Anthy’s watering can overflows after the valve handle comes off.
Episode 32, water overflow

Nanami has been disowned (as it were) by Touga, crumbling the foundation of her self-worth. For the cherry on top, her minion Keiko has betrayed her, tumbling Nanami’s goal of controlling others. These are tragic tears. She looks straight at the camera, a sign of seriousness. Compare Nanami’s comic tears in episode 6 and episode 8 above. Nanami doesn’t understand that the real tragedy is her dysfunctional value system.

The water in Anthy’s overflowing watering can stands for tears. The valve handle has come off and the tears cannot stop.

Nanami weeps in genuine distress, one yellow rose visible in the background.
Episode 32, Nanami lost

Nanami’s eyes fill with tears after she loses the duel. She sees her goals as failed; she believes she lost her brother, and believes she lost the opportunity to surpass him by dueling. Or perhaps she has come to understand herself better, and realizes she has lost her opportunity to control Anthy as the Rose Bride. She has an entitled attitude, and losing makes her angry. Utena seems to feel no sympathy.

The prince kisses away little Utena’s tears.
Episode 34, little Utena

Little Utena is not crying for her dead parents. She’s crying for Anthy. How much did the two causes for sadness mix together in her mind? Later she cannot forget the death of her parents, and Anthy she remembers vaguely at best. See kisses - episode 34 for the kiss.

It is likely that Anthy murdered Utena’s parents, under orders from Akio. Akio gives Anthy his dirty business. Utena crying for Anthy instead of for her parents is ironic in a painful way. Utena knows nothing of Anthy, and yet it feels to me like a hint of her extremely forgiving nature.

Juri in the shower, head down, hair uncurled.
Episode 7, Juri
Juri in the shower, looking pained.
Episode 17, Juri
Juri in the rain, head up, eyes out of view, facing right.
Episode 29, Juri

Juri gets the water of tears in each of her episodes. In her episode 7 shower, she is sad but thoughtful and comparatively at ease; see the brighter light and her uncurled hair. In her episode 17 shower, she is pained. In episode 29, in the rain after conceding the duel, she is emotionally crushed but also freed. Even though the rain is artificial and presumably ordered by Akio, it is not only the water of tears, but also the water of purification thanks to Utena’s miracle.

Utena in the shower, water running down her face like tears.
Episode 37, Utena

When showering before the Routine Date, Utena’s feelings are disordered. Her eyes are out of sight, meaning that she is blind to Anthy’s feelings. Water runs down her cheeks like tears. She may in fact be crying, though we can’t tell. The shower is the water of tears. The picture matches the episode 29 Juri, above right, and the episode 38 Utena, below left.

The raised head in the three pictures seems to mean upcoming clarity or insight—even though the character can’t detect it yet. Juri above is freed from her obsession with Shiori (though not her love); Utena here soon resolves her feelings; Utena below learns about Anthy and Akio, setting the stage for a changed resolution.

Anthy cries, looking at Utena.
Episode 38, Anthy
Utena cries, head back and hair over her eyes.
Episode 38, Utena
Anthy and Utena move together, crying.
Episode 38, Anthy and Utena

The suicide conversation. Anthy and Utena cry for each other, then with each other. Anthy expects Utena to die, but at this moment feels moved by her caring. She tries to convince Utena to flee the Academy and live. Utena is in despair over her lack of princeliness; in her view, she didn’t care when she should have. Utena’s eyes are out of sight; she sees only her own failings, not the failings Anthy just confessed. Utena has become more thoughtful, but she remains fundamentally impulsive and reactive.

Akio weeps while wearing a cold, uncaring expression.
Episode 38, Akio

Akio weeps crocodile tears. It is the final showdown, and he is sitting on the white sofa with Anthy’s head in his lap, facing away from Utena. Utena wants Akio to help Anthy, and Anthy reacted as if happy (I think to provoke Akio). Only Akio could have noticed Anthy’s reaction, and his tears can only be noticed by Anthy. He’s telling Anthy that she is foolish to expect anyone to help her, and at the same time claiming to Utena that Utena is foolish to believe in her prince.

Look at that cold, cold face. It’s a wonder the tears don’t freeze.

Alternately, he truly is sad about Anthy’s tragedy but believes nothing can be done about it (not without risk to Akio) and has hardened his heart. It’s now a heart of cold steel. That also explains the data.

Akio weeps gleaming tears.
Episode 39, Akio

After Anthy has backstabbed Utena, Utena is on the ground, slowly dying. Anthy has taken Utena’s sword but hesitates to follow Akio’s order to turn it over to him. Akio seems to fear that his control over Anthy is in danger, and he makes use of his psychological tricks. His tears don’t sparkle, but gleam on their way straight down; compare Nanami’s tears in episode 8 when asking her brother for forgivenness. He tilted his head to get the visual effect, to look directly at Anthy, and to pretend to humble himself—all aspects of his psychological trickery. There is no alternate explanation. These are false tears.

Akio is in dark night, and the colors of the blank area shade through sunset into night as they approach him. I take it to be a more extreme variant of the usual shadow line. The darkness both highlights the gleaming tears and implies that he is acting falsely.

One tear shines in Utena’s eye as she lies on the ground, a helpless princess.
Episode 39, princess Utena

Dios has approached Utena, turning her from a defeated prince into a helpless princess. One tear shines in her eye. Utena’s tears are not showy like Akio’s, but genuine. It may be a tear for Anthy, or it may be a tear of disappointment over Dios’s disgusting sexist behavior—the prince does not live up to Utena’s lifelong ideal. I’m thinking both. Once Dios leaves and Utena’s powerless princess status lifts, she is angry and immediately acts against Dios’s advice.

Utena is upside down for an illusion. Is the image from Dios’s point of view, so that it is Dios’s illusion that Utena is a princess?

This tear is a reference to Nadia and draws meaning from it.

A tear has gathered in Utena’s eye.
Episode 39, Utena at the gate

The tear in Utena’s eye will shortly open the Rose Gate. See sparkling transfers for the tears as they fall and their meaning then.

For Utena, tears seem necessary for progress. The hero must suffer to win. Is that true for everyone in Utena? Akio avoids suffering and does not win.

Utena cries on finally meeting Anthy in her coffin.
Episode 39, Utena sees Anthy
Anthy in her coffin weeps, looking at Utena.
Episode 39, Anthy in her coffin

Utena, in pain, at the end of her strength, seconds earlier crying in despair despite her constitutional optimism, now cries in happiness as she meets the real Anthy in her coffin. Anthy foresees the Swords of Hatred targeting Utena and yet, despite that and despite the deeply-engrained pessimism of a person trapped in learned helplessness, for the first time begins to feel hope that Utena may rescue her. She is taking a big step toward unlearning her helplessness.

They both must have complicated feelings.

Chu-Chu cries streams of tears while under attack by the frog.
Episode 9, Chu-Chu meets frog
Utena cries on finally meeting Anthy in her coffin.
Episode 39, Chu-Chu leaves

Left, Chu-Chu meets the frog. Chu-Chu and frog are both nuisances as far as Saionji is concerned.

Right, Chu-Chu leaves the Academy with Anthy and parts from the frog. Both are crying, for different reasons—see Chu-Chu’s flying sweat drops. The frog no doubt seeks eternity like Saionji. The background column seems to say that male harassment is a permanent feature. The shadow line—the shadow of the column—may mean that Chu-Chu is leaving behind the darkness of male harassment.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 20 March 2022
updated 2 October 2023