Utena - sparkling transfers

transfer by sparkles

Sparkles move from the castle in the sky to the dueling arena.

We see this when Dios manifests. I think the sparkles are transferring miraculous power from the castle to Utena. She builds up her capacity over time; I think this is when it happens.

It is a fantasy, but at the same time it has effects on the story world. Touga is able to see the prince descending (it shows in the Student Council arc), and I suppose others are too. Utena itself is a fantasy that hopes to affect the world.

Sparkling water drips downward.

Sparkling water of illusions and tears drips down to nourish the black rose in its tank, below the frame. The water is blue-green, the color of illusions, and the sparkles are red. When animated, the effect is nice and sparkly. It is an example of Anthy cultivating roses, meaning people, with water.

Mikage and Mamiya with the black rose in its tank.

The water falls from Mamiya, Akio’s agent. Mikage presumably does not have the power of illusions, so I guess Akio arranges to transfer some through the fake Mamiya, played by Anthy. Mamiya has jugs to pour “water” not only on his shoulders like Anthy, but also on each wrist: Mamiya is illusionary, so he is even more full of illusions than Anthy, and pours them out at every corner. Also, the real Mamiya is dead, and he is full of tears to pour out.

The water also falls when Akio visits Mikage in his office in episode 22. The power of illusions is ultimately from Akio.

Utena’s tears drip downward in the final episode.

In the final episode, Utena opens the rose gate with her tears. This is water of truth, not illusion, and sparkles white for the prince, with a touch of pink for Utena. Only the bottommost drop is the color of illusions, and represents Utena’s remaining belief in princes. Though her belief is faltering, Utena must remain a prince to Anthy, or Anthy will not leave the Academy. After Utena gives up that last drop of delusion, she graduates from the Academy and disappears from its world; she is no longer visible from inside Ohtori Academy’s coffin.

Sparkles fly as Anthy’s and Utena’s hands part.

Anthy’s and Utena’s hands are parting as Anthy’s coffin falls. Princely white sparkles of truth show their connection.

All four pictures have downward movement, and all represent transfer of power through a connection. The sparkles between Anthy and Utena do not show a transfer—they don’t move downward themselves—but we know that the connection is what gives Anthy the confidence to leave the Academy; the sparkles represent a transfer. In the other pictures, the sparkles show a downward transfer. This transfer goes in both directions: Anthy realizes her delusion of dependence on Akio and leaves the Academy, and Utena realizes her delusion of being a prince and leaves the Academy.

The transfer between Anthy and Utena is the only non-hierarchical one. They part as equals and fulfill episode 25’s promise to help each other. See Sleeping Beauty. So subtle and beautiful.

That must be why the hands parting in the opening animation, and the hands parting in episode 23, are side-to-side: To put neither above the other.

the water-drop gates

The horizontal water drop launches away from its splash.

The gate to the dueling forest, and the Rose Gate in the final showdown, are opened by drops of water. In the case of the Rose Gate, we see that it is a teardrop. I think the forest gate is also operated by tears; see The Rose of Versailles - water drops.

These are also transfers. They are part of the same complex of symbols. The water of illusions dropping into the basin of the black rose starts ripples in the basin water, just as the the water of tears to operate the gates gathers itself from ripples.

The metaphor of ripples and time reversal makes the opening of the Rose Gate, the culmination of the story, into a symbol of the story as a whole. The ripples of every event and every character gather together into Utena’s tear, in the same way that the ripples gather into the droplet that opens the forest gate.

It is also a symbol that you have to help people one at a time, drop by drop. Other drops strive forward, but only one flies the distance. At the same time it means revolution and gradual progress.

The water drops gathering from ripples are represented as illusions that exist separately from reality. We see ripples in a horizontal water surface; the camera cuts to ripples in a vertical water surface; then the image dissolves from the ripples to reality, with the water drop the only element that exists in both. The blue spiral on the face of the forest gate is reminiscent of water ripples, but the water surface is shown as offset from the face of the gate.

Juri’s locket

In episode 17, Juri throws her locket into a pond. We see the ripples. It mysteriously reappears in Shiori’s room. When Shiori opens the locket in the confession elevator, water pours out—even though she must have opened it earlier to know what was inside.

The water from the locket is the water of tears. They are Shiori’s tears: She was inside the locket and she was sad to be thrown away, though she doesn’t understand that. When Juri throws the locket, we can imagine it as full of Juri’s tears; she is trying to throw away her obsession that only hurts. Throwing the locket of tears into the water should be parallel to Utena opening the Rose Gate—but it’s not quite, because Anthy worked a miracle (“performed magic”) to move it to Shiori’s room. Alternately, Akio might have arranged it with illusions.

The locket is Juri’s obsession with Shiori, or something like that: It is her insistence that she must keep Shiori trapped in her heart. Utena releases Juri in episode 29 by breaking the locket in an unintentional miracle. The locket is a cage that imprisons Shiori, and she can only escape after the locket is broken. Juri weeps to let Shiori out. I don’t understand the chain of cause and effect, but Juri’s frustration makes it impossible for the two to connect; Shiori can’t understand Juri’s feelings and loses self-confidence, so that she comes up with theories like “Juri is making fun of me”; that’s roughly how the trap works. In the epilog, Shiori joins the fencing club and (in a brief appearance) shows more self-confidence. Juri’s release corresponds to Utena leaving the Academy—leaving Anthy behind with the expectation that she will stay in the Academy—and Shiori’s release corresponds to Anthy leaving the Academy to follow.

The locket is Juri’s heart. Earlier in the episode, when she fingered her locket under her uniform, it was at the left of her chest, the notional location of her heart. It’s the same place the target rose goes in a duel, including the black rose, which is “your new heart”. Shiori is trapped in Juri’s heart and thrown away, then recovered, then released from the trap by Utena, which helps Juri and Shiori’s relationship. The story is “if you love them, set them free.” Shiori becomes free to seek Juri, just as Anthy becomes free to seek Utena at the end of the series. In the same way that Juri releases Shiori in losing her locket, Utena releases Anthy by giving up on being a prince: The prince exists to maintain the patriarchy and keep Anthy in her place. As long as Utena wants to be a prince, Anthy remains trapped. See final showdown - victory of the couple.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 21 January 2022
updated 16 March 2024