Utena - topic index

Where to find mention of selected topics, especially topics that show up in scattered locations.

Adulthood has two meanings. Things associated with adulthood in Akio’s propaganda are alcoholic drinks (also champagne in the banquet preparations in episode 23 and wine with Mrs. Ohtori in episode 30) - donating blood - driving - graduation (also Mikage in episode 23) - marriage - sex - wisdom teeth. Episodes 14 and 18 have adulthood themes.

Outside Akio’s propaganda, adulthood means realizing the truth and leaving fairy tales behind, which is the same as leaving the Academy behind. At a minimum, it means seeing through Akio’s illusion of control, which is what keeps people at the Academy. Utena begins her journey to adulthood in episode 37 at the end of the Routine Date and makes the trip in record time. Without the false beliefs provided by fairy tales, an adult cannot have the power of miracles. See also Mitsuru’s claim.

Big Dipper. The constellation has pointer stars that make it easy to find the North Star, which stands for the truth. The Big Dipper is a symbol of seeking the truth. It comes up three times in episode 37: at the end of the Routine Date when Utena sits up in the car, in the background after the Routine Date, and as the three handle stars in Anthy’s suicide attempt.

Shadows on the dueling arena surface. The shadow of Touga’s sword passes through the shadow of Utena’s head.
dueling arena grid

Cages. Various symbolic cages imprison women. Most directly, Anthy’s greenhouse is a bird cage. A bird cage appears in the Kaoru family home in episodes 5 (with bird) and 26 (empty after Mrs. Kaoru has left). It is the cage of marriage (Anthy is metaphorically married to Akio, and it is the prototype of all marriages). The Student Council elevator has an old-fashioned cage-style door, and the gondola to the dueling arena is surrounded by vertical jail bars. A window’s grid of panes (see sex symbols - arches and windows) represents a cage, and so does the shadow that the grid casts. (The shadow corresponds to Akio, who is the darkness of the world and creates the cages.) Floor tiles and pavement squares form a grid in some shots—particularly shots that emphasize somebody being controlled. So do the columns and the arches of a colonnade (see sex symbols - Anthy’s greenhouse). A coffin is a cage, and everyone at the Academy is in a metaphorical coffin. Juri’s locket is a cage for Shiori, who is trapped inside it. In episode 9, a shot of a photo puts Saionji and Touga in a cage. The vertical bars of the bunk bed trap Utena and Anthy in their male and female roles—though Utena, oblivious to sex roles, ignores them in episode 13. In episode 15, Nanami says that the egg of the world is the cage of the world. The “cage of memory” comes up in the duel song of episode 1; Utena is imprisoned by her memory of the prince, and in general everyone is limited by their knowledge and beliefs.

Childhood is the counterpart of adulthood. Small boys are marked by short pants (one of the meanings of Utena’s red shorts) and short hair (immature Miki has short hair; Saionji and Touga have long hair). Small or immature girls may have hair bows (Wakaba, small Kozue and one of the shadow girls) or pigtails (another of the shadow girls). Little girls and women wear skirts without distinction of age, except that girls (even little girls sometimes) wear short and flared skirts for sexual temptation or sexual vulnerability, while women wear longer and narrower skirts to suggest sexual experience and restricted sexual access. Immature characters suffer from naive illusions (symbolized by Utena’s and Miki’s blue eyes), while more mature characters tend to see illusions caused by the system of control by manipulation (like Anthy) or corruption (like Shiori). Children and women of all ages have shorter, more childish faces, versus Saionji, Touga, Ruka, and Akio who have very long “adult” faces.

Clocks are common because time is a theme. Miki’s stopwatch is related. So is the metronome. Touga’s 12th birthday cake in episode 10 resembles a clock. Hourglasses appear in recap episode 13 and in episode 22, and stand for a duelist’s time running out. Clocks strike the hour in episodes 4, 34, and 35. In episode 28, Juri sits next to a grandfather clock at midnight. There are more. A round clock dial is in the shape of a ring. A clock’s hands turn clockwise and stand for reality, whereas time reversal stands for illusion.

Coldness means emotional coldness. Anthy’s ice block in episode 32 - Anthy’s shaved ice - the dueling forest gate’s water drop in episode 1 - iced drinks in episodes 34 and 39 - snow on the steps of Nemuro Memorial Hall - Touga’s drink can in episode 9.

Crimes include theft - assault - rape - slavery - murder (the whole Ohtori family, Kanae in particular, likely Ruka and the real Mamiya and Utena’s parents). Allegorically, the many crimes committed under Akio’s hand imply that male domination of women is criminal.

Flat on your back is the position you take in a coffin. To be flat on your back is to be symbolically dead, unaware of the world and unable to act. To be flat on your back is to be fully off your feet, having no freedom, and it coordinates with the symbolism of feet as explained at the top of the foot catalog. To be flat on your back is to be down and defeated, as shown in the down catalog. Sex is a defeat for a woman and puts her down flat on her back, as when Shiori takes Juri’s sword in episode 17, and when Utena is with Akio in First Seduction (and I expect in the other two dates). Utena lies flat on her back in the S-shaped bed. Utena is flat on her back at times when she is unable to remember her vow to Anthy in the prince story. In contrast, when Akio causes her to remember in episode 34, she is sitting on the white sofa, and when she starts to remember in episode 35 before being interrupted, she is kneeling. When Utena does remember part of the prince story at the start of episode 37, she is standing. In episode 30’s Cinderella scene, Utena lies flat on her back in Akio’s car to be kissed. In a reversal, in episode 37 at the end of the Routine Date Utena lies back in the car to avoid Akio’s kiss, and Akio loses the challenge.

Open shirts, and unfastened clothing in general, signal sex. The meaning is established in episode 5 when Touga arranges his open shirt and Kozue’s unfastened clothing as a signal to Miki. In episode 8, Saionji opens his shirt in the gym shed, but the signal is false; he is only taking out the exchange diary. In episode 14, Mamiya puts on and fastens his uniform jacket when with Mikage. In episode 18 when Mitsuru is watching movie kiss scenes, a man on screen has an open shirt. In episode 26, Kozue’s uniform is unfastened in Akio’s car. In episode 34, Dios’s shirt is open when on the hay with little Anthy. Episodes 35 through 37 often have Akio and/or Touga and/or Saionji together with open shirts or no shirts. Examples include the photo sessions of episodes 35 and 37, Akio on the way back from the Second Seduction meeting Touga, Touga and Saionji defeated after the duel of episode 37, and others. Anthy’s princess dress is unfastened at the neck when she is on the white sofa in episode 38.

Utena’s clothing is not unfastened for sex with Akio. Utena does not signal sex, but tries to hide it as a sign of her corruption. However, her pajama shirt is not entirely fastened in episode 25 when she is thinking of Anthy. It must be unconscious and not a deliberate signal. See character notes for why it is open at the bottom in particular.

Episode 3’s dissolving dress constitutes a sexual assault. It’s related. Another sexual assault is Ruka stealing Juri’s pendant. Juri opens her uniform jacket at the top to look at her pendant, showing her feelings about Shiori. Ruka effectively does the same thing, participating in the symbolism by use of force; it stands for rape.

The V-necks and short skirts of the girls’ uniforms are imposed, involuntary sexual signals. It is the system of control insisting “You, girl, are open to sex with men.”

Sex and violence are closely related in Utena. Male sex (Touga) and male violence (Saionji) are methods to control women, and Touga and Saionji belong together. A defeated nerd boy has an open shirt after a violent fight (Mitsuru does not).

Small children wear pull-over-the-head clothing that cannot be opened. They are too young, and cannot signal sex. Examples: Little Utena in the church, younger Mitsuru in episode 6, little Nanami in Nanami’s Egg. Little Anthy on the hay with Dios is an edge case; her dress cannot be opened, but it does hang loosely. Utena’s date clothing in the First Seduction and the Routine Date does not open, and may mean that she is too young for the relationship. In the First Seduction, the straps of Utena’s date dress fit snugly before the sex scene, and in the car afterward hang loosely like little Anthy’s dress.

Rings likely always refer to the dueling rings. A circle represents oneness and eternity—the basic meanings of wedding rings. Zero represents one. Wacky. In Utena marriage is sold as a promise of an eternity of love. Akio and Chu-Chu wear matching rings in their ears - Anthy sometimes wears rings around her left arm and right ankle - Anthy’s bird cage greenhouse has a ring on top “to hang it from” - candles on Touga’s birthday cake are arranged in a ring - clocks are circular and their hands trace a circle - the basketball hoop is a ring - the crenelations of the dueling arena form a ring - a crowd rings Anthy (who is also on a grid) in episode 3 - earrings are at least named after rings - the ferris wheel is a ring - halos are rings (or sometimes disks) - the merry-go-round that Dios rides in the final episode is a ring of fake horses - many rose emblems include an embedded drawing of a ring - Nanami’s egg hatches into a monster which fires beams of yellow rings - the nose ring of a cow (with many appearances in episode 16) means that the dueling rings are for leading recipients by the nose - Saturn wears a ring - the Swords of Hatred surround Anthy in a ring - tires are rings - water ripples are also tied to teardrops. I doubt I remembered them all.

Little Utena is given her ring in the final version of the prince story. Juri tries to steal it in episode 7. Utena drops it near the start of episode 37 and puts it back on at an unspecified time later in the episode.

The dueling rings are pink, Utena’s color. As keys to the dueling arena, they represent male power. As engagement rings, they represent marriage and therefore control of women—more male power. In other words, a ring is both a key and a lock. Rings are circular and metaphorically female, with a hole for the male to exploit; again the key and lock.

Sleep and forgetting. Sleep is associated with forgetting. See Hypnos, god of sleep. Lying flat on your back, as if asleep, is also associated with forgetting. It might be because sleep is associated with death, an extreme case of forgetting. It is definitely because sleep comes with dreams, which are a kind of illusion. Dreams are often forgotten. Akio depends on forgetting to rewrite the remembered past. Anthy becomes sleepy and forgets her role as Mamiya - the Black Rose is a dream and is forgotten - Black Rose duelists (represented by murdered boys) forget after losing - drugging Utena - Nanami’s cow dream - Nanami’s cowbell removed - Utena’s regret after the First Seduction - Utena’s regret after the Second Seduction. In contrast, being awake allows realization and remembering.

Specialness lasts only a short time is a specific case of “nothing is eternal”. Akio - Astraea - Cinderella’s gifts disappear at midnight - episode 20 shadow play with the fox’s wedding - The Rose of Versailles opener - Utena leaves the Academy - Utena removes Nanami’s cowbell - Wakaba loses her duel. See also a tennis comparison. We can infer that Akio’s specialness will also end.

The forest gate with its spiral.

Spirals stand for time passing, especially the passing of generations. Logarithmic spirals from the episode 2 duel song stand for the stasis (aka eternity) of generations passing down their values without change. It’s because logarithmic spirals have a self-similarity property. That duel song also includes a whirlpool which corresponds to the blue spiral on the dueling forest gate, which itself corresponds to the corkscrew stairs up to the dueling arena; the dueling arena is a whirlpool you can be trapped in. Animals with shells in the shape of a logarithmic spiral are snails in episodes 4 and 18 and ammonites in the duel songs of episode 2 and episode 5. Candles in episode 10 (Touga’s birthday cake) and episode 27 (Touga and Nanami dine) have spirals. (The candles of episode 30 do not.) When Akio’s car is driving toward or away from the Academy, it mixes straight runs with curves that are always in the same direction: It follows a spiral path. The path the characters follow to go to The Tale of the Rose play in episode 34 is a short, angular spiral. Some renditions of the Utena rose resemble spirals. The simplified rose emblem in the dueling arena is one.

Spirals are related to rings. Clocks also stand for time. Clock hands turning trace a circle, which is a degenerate case of a spiral (think of a corkscrew flattened lengthwise). The repeating circles of time also suggest regeneration without change and therefore stasis.

It matters whether the spiral turns left or right as it grows; see turning left.

Swords of Hatred represent society’s malice and afflict Anthy, and in the end threaten Utena. Akio controls aspects of society, so they can stand for Akio’s malice too. My idiosyncratic usage of the term - Akio’s fear - Anthy’s corruption - Anthy’s obedience - Anthy’s pain corresponds to the Little Mermaid’s knives - Anthy’s sacrifice is not genuine - similarity to The Rose of Versailles opener - similarity to Queen Serenity’s death in Sailor Moon. Mentions from specific episodes: Forks represent the Swords in episode 32 - Anthy meets the swords in episode 34 - little Anthy pierced in the prince story of episode 34 - little Anthy is pierced in episode 34, alongside Utena’s vision in episode 35 - wind in Utena’s vision in episode 35 - Utena’s brief dream in episode 36 - in Akio’s car in episode 37 - in Akio’s car, another mention - Utena’s vision in the final showdown - the Swords gather below Akio - the Swords circle around Anthy - they threaten Utena at the end.

Threes. Utena events that challenge a hero often come in threes to match the three-challenge plot of a fairy tale. Utena is the prince and hero of her tale and Akio is the prince and hero of his tale. On the largest scale, Utena is challenged by three series of duels, one each season. In episode 30 with the three candles, Akio must tempt Utena into corruption three times before she is corrupted, once for each candle. To reach the final showdown, Akio must defeat Utena’s boyish side three times by sex, that is, by piercing Utena with his metaphorical sword: The First Seduction, the Second Seduction, and the Routine Date. In the final showdown, Akio presents Utena with three challenges. Many of these events are themselves divided into three parts.

Utena plays three basketball games (and we see snippets of others). They don’t seem to be challenges. Utena wears girlish clothing three times. Objects and characters often come in threes as well. Objects commonly have three points. There are three sets of three characters: The shadow girls, Nanami’s minions, the nerd boys.

Besides events, many other things in Utena come in threes, or have three points or three parts. Utena has three elevators (plus a “gondola” to the dueling arena, which is equated with the elevator to Akio’s tower room). There are three sets of three characters: Shadow girls, Nanami’s minions, nerd boys. Most importantly, when Utena’s cheek hair is divided into three, it is a sign that Utena’s life is nearing its end.

Time reversal. Time is confused in Utena, and sometimes runs backwards: The clock hands are turning counterclockwise, a symbol of illusion. The butterfly regressing to an egg in the Black Rose confession elevator - counterclockwise movement - Nanami’s moon rabbit allusions in the cowbell episode - the reflected hourglass - a time-reversed reference to The Rose of Versailles in the First Seduction - Touga regressing toward childhood - the water drops of the dueling forest gate and the Rose Gate. Utena has many other reversals besides reversed time.

Translations. Translation notes. The word apocalypse. I translate some on-screen text - the sign at the school entrance (episode 1) - basketball jersey character - Utena’s math book (episode 4) - direction signpost (episode 6) - Saionji’s exchange diary (episode 8) - the kendou club’s bucket (episode 9) - final exam schedule (episode 15) - potato chip bag (episode 16) - Nanami’s cafeteria book (episode 16) - papers on plates (episode 28) - reporter’s armband (episode 35) - the shadow plays signboard (episode 37).

Utena’s hedges. When saying something to Akio that she imagines he will not like, Utena hedges, softening her claims. In episode 30, she says he is “a little naughty.” In episode 34, she tells him she “probably” wants to meet her prince (see Akio-Utena date parallels - regret). Utena hedges only when she is being girlish; in the final showdown when she is being a prince, she accuses Akio of misdeeds directly and forcefully. The hedges show Utena bending to Akio’s power, and starting to accept his views. She is being forced into the subordinate female role he wants her to play.

Utena’s self-excuses. After she is corrupted in episode 30, Utena makes escalating excuses to herself to minimize her violation of her own ideals. In fact they constitute further violations. She doesn’t speak her excuses, but they are made available. At the end of episode 30 when she is corrupted, she lies to herself, denying any wrongdoing. In the shadow play of episode 30, the shadow character representing Utena carries the red shoes but does not put them on. She has had (what she considers) sinful thoughts, but she insists that she has taken no sinful action, therefore she has not sinned. At the end of the First Seduction in episode 33, she tells herself that she only meant to deliver roses. She did not plan for sex, but she definitely intended more than delivering roses. She disclaims responsibility for her sin (she was manipulated into it, but her excuse is dishonest). In the shadow play of episode 37, the character representing Utena admits she has sinned. She wants just a taste of the life of Hollywood scandal, and then she’ll go back to being good. She lies to herself again. Earlier, Utena ignored Akio’s proposal of marriage, but that is because she was in a period of regret which soon ended. In the final showdown, she came within a hair of agreeing to marry Akio despite knowing that he is abusive.

Compare episode 4 when Utena is embarrassed to admit to Miki that she has to take a make-up test. Utena has pride. Imagine how much more ashamed she is to admit to herself that she is violating life-long ideals.

Utena’s unfinished babble “Today...” in the First Seduction could be a self-excuse that she starts to voice but thinks better of. She might be thinking “Today is a one-time thing.”

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 9 July 2022
updated 19 May 2024