Rainbow Revolution: Color Symbolism in Revolutionary Girl Utena

At the request of Ana Mardoll–who has just started a blog series on Revolutionary Girl Utena that you really ought to read, because she’s awesome–I am compiling all my thoughts on the use of color in Revolutionary Girl Utena in one place. This is a more than usually off-the-cuff post, drawing together (and in some cases copy-pasting) stuff from a bunch of different blog posts I’ve written and notes I’ve taken, so I’m not worrying to much about flow.

The main, most solid sources for what color means in the show are two episodes, “Tracing a Path” and “The End of the World.” The former is a clip show that assigns names to each of the duels in the Student Council Saga. As each duel is named, a stained glass panel is displayed showing the French word for the concept the duel is named after, and dyed the same color as Utena’s opponent’s hair. The latter episode then shows a similar panel as Utena faces off against Akio in the Duel Named Revolution. However, almost every episode has some use of these colors, and there are several prominent colors not assigned duel names, so ultimately the only source I can give for this is “the show as a whole, watched many times.”

So, let’s get into the colors.

Green

Green is associated with the Duel Named Friendship and the Duel Named Choice. That is, therefore, what green represents: friendship and choice, interpersonal connection and free will. Generally speaking, a character’s hair color indicates what their path or destiny is–what road they are on. Thus, Saionji’s hair is green to indicate he is seeking and defined by his relationships, his friendship with Touga and his (imaginary) romance with Anthy. It is also the color of the dress Nanami sends Anthy to wear to the ball; at the time, Nanami is pretending to be Anthy’s friend, and Utena is trying to get Anthy to make choices for herself. (When characters wear something other than their usual uniform, it generally indicates they are taking on a role or playing a part.)

Green’s opposite color is red; hence it is also the color of the concepts in direct opposition to red’s: doubt or confusion (opposing conviction) and loyalty (opposing the self in both senses of selfishness and self-reliance). Again, these are strong traits in Saionji, who frequently misinterprets situations (such as the whole exchange diary fiasco), and whose loyalty to Touga remains unshakable even when Touga repeatedly demonstrates he doesn’t deserve it.

Blue

Blue is associated with the Duel Named Reason; blue represents reason, the intellect, and the mind, memory and self-expression. Miki’s blue hair indicates his genius, both academic and musical, as well as his fixation on a specific memory he wants to return to, the feeling of playing piano with his sister. Ruka’s blue hair, meanwhile, indicates his calculating, ruthless approach to dueling.

Blue’s opposite color is orange; hence it is also the color of possessiveness (opposing love), the idea that another person is “rightfully” your property. Again, see Ruka; also, that is frequently how Kozue presents herself, and even Miki in his focus episodes tends to start seeing Anthy as someone who “ought to” belong to him.

Orange

Orange is associated with the Duel Named Love; orange represents love, passion, and yearning. Juri’s orange hair indicates that she is driven by both a specific lost love, and quest for love in general–she is a closeted lesbian, and wants the power to revolutionize the world so that she can achieve the miracle of being allowed to love, and being loved in return.

Orange’s opposite color is blue, so it is also associated with that which cannot be understood through reason, the miraculous, the mystical, the spiritual. Again, Juri is seeking a miracle.

Yellow

Yellow is associated with the Duel Named Adoration, and represents that which is placed upon a pedestal, the object of worship and protection. Nanami’s yellow hair signifies both her adoration of her brother, and that she is an object of adoration, the queen bee of the school. Similarly, Tsuwabuki’s yellow hair represents his adoration of Nanami.

Yellow’s opposite color is purple, and so yellow is also the color of stasis (opposing revolution). In the context of Utena, this stasis takes the form of an inability to age or mature, a perpetual childhood or adolescence. The adored child who must be protected and cannot grow up is the Princess, which combines all the meanings of yellow in one; hence the princess in the fairy tale that opens the first episode is wearing a yellow dress, because at the beginning of that story Utena is playing the role of the Princess.

Red

Like green, red is associated with two duels: the Duel Named Conviction and the Duel Named Self. Red is the color of belief, selfishness, self-reliance. It is the color of knowing who you are and what you believe, and acting accordingly. Touga’s red hair and Utena’s pink both represent characters who are confident, proud, certain of their own identities, and always ready to act on their beliefs; the difference is that Touga’s beliefs are cynical and Utena’s idealistic.

Red’s opposite color is green, so it is also the color of manipulation (in opposition to friendship) and power (in opposition to choice). Touga, Utena, and Mikage are the strongest duelists, and all three are highly manipulative in very different ways: Touga uses promises, lies, and seduction; Utena swoops in to save Anthy and in so doing pushes her into performing Utena’s ideas of the savior-prince narrative; Mikage discovers the darkest desires of others and twists them to his purposes. And, of course, red is the color of Akio’s car, where he demonstrates his power and manipulates the duelists into fighting Utena again.

Purple

Purple is the color of the Duel Named Revolution. It is the antithesis of yellow, which is adoration. What is adoration? It is looking up to the object of one’s love, putting them on a pedestal, worshiping them, perhaps not even noticing how that degrades yourself. It is the princess, the Nanami, the one who plays by the rules and is accepted by society as “good,” no matter what she’s really like.

Purple is hate.

Purple is the witch.

Purple is what they’ve all been fighting for all along.

It is that which dwells in the castle.

It is something shining: the morning star, the deceptive beauty, the light which casts the shadow.

It is the power of miracles: the terrible sacrifice, the dark magic of blood and death.

It is something eternal: suffering that never ends.

It is the revolution of the world: the apocalypse.

Purple is the end of innocence. It is corruption and it is maturation. It is stasis and it is change. It is Da’at, the terrible black abyss that is nonetheless the path to enlightenment.

Purple is time.

Purple is putrefaction, the endless decay that endlessly brings forth life.

Purple is Anthy.

Other Colors

There are three prominent colors in the show that are not associated with named duels: white, black, and brown.

White is strongly associated with the Prince: it is the color of Dios’ clothing, Utena’s rose, and the rose frames that appear around Touga when Utena thinks he might be her prince. Lighter colors thus indicate closeness to the Prince and what he represents, so for example Utena is closer to the power of Dios than Touga–pink is red and white combined.

It is tempting to conclude that white is therefore “good” and black “evil,” and to an extent that’s true, but it’s important to remember that one of the strongest influences on Utena is Herman Hesse’s novel Demian (among other things, it’s where the egg speech comes from, as well as the use of apocalypse and global revolution as metaphors for growing up). In Demian, “good” does not mean acting ethically, but rather conforming to social norms, and likewise “evil” does not mean doing harm or violating others, but rather defying social norms. In that respect, it might be more accurate then to say that white represents that which is accepted and black represents that which is rejected, white is the socially acceptable and black the abject.

Sometimes, this aligns with morality: Ruka’s hair is a darker blue than Miki’s, and Touga’s a darker red than Utena’s, and they are definitely much worse people. However, that’s not why they’re darker; Ruka’s blue is darker because sexual assault is less socially acceptable than Nice Guy Syndrome, and Touga’s red is darker because being a lying, cheating playboy is less socially acceptable than being a heroic savior. To use an example where it definitely isn’t aligned with morality: Anthy’s skin is dark because she is utterly abject, the Witch whom society seeks to punish eternally for the sin of being a person instead of a perfect little princess.

Pure black, as we see in the Black Rose Saga, is thus that which is completely rejected, that part of ourselves which we push away so hard that we start to deny it even exists–the Jungian Shadow, in other words. Each of the Black Rose duelists descends into the deep darkness underground and the darkness within themselves, expressing and demonstrating the hidden parts of the people whose heart-swords they wield. For example, Kozue acts on the possessiveness that Miki tries to deny he feels toward Anthy; Wakaba acknowledges feeling unremarkable and overshadowed by her more popular and athletic best friend, while Saionji tries to deny that he feels this way about Touga. The darkness of the Shadow is not the darkness of evil, however, though it is where the idea of evil comes from; the Shadow is dark because it’s hidden. It must be not only faced, but accepted–Utena fights and defeats her Shadow Mikage, and in so doing rejects the aspects of herself he represents, allowing Akio to use those very same traits to manipulate her in the next arc. It is only when she admits and accepts the ways in which she has used Anthy–the same ways Mikage used people–that she becomes able to face Akio in the final duel.

Finally, there is brown, the drab color of the plain, ordinary, unspecial people. Wakaba, in other words, as well as Nanami’s hangers-on, that trio of boys always hitting on Nanami, and the vast majority of the unnamed masses who populate the school. But again, this doesn’t mean that brown is bad, just that it’s neutral; it is the color of not being particularly any one thing. In a way, the brown-haired characters are lucky–they have conventional dreams and acceptable desires, and therefore don’t need to break the world in order to become truly themselves. They get to just be.

Panel Video: Weaving a Story: Narrative Traps, Collapse, and Substitution in Anime at Anime Boston 2017

A panel I gave at Anime Boston 2017, talking about narrative structure in anime.

Early access to all videos for Patreon subscribers: http://patreon.com/froborr

The first three chapters of Animated Discussions cover the same topics in greater depth. Buy it any of the sites listed at that link!

Utena Dump: Episodes 36-39

And so at last we come to the end of me dumping thoughts about Utena. I’m a bit sad. For things I literally just dashed together as comments on someone else’s blog, I feel like there was some good stuff here. Also any time spent thinking about Utena is time well spent.

Next week is another Sailor Moon liveblog. Week after that, a new feature that’ll run on alternate Wednesdays through, if I’ve done my math right, most of the rest of the year. (I probably haven’t; calendar math is hard.)

Episode 36:

There is a fairly slim chance that the “doorway of night” is a Tolkien reference. Specifically, the Door of Night is the gate between Arda, the universe of material existence that includes Middle-Earth, and the void. It was created at the end of the First Age to seal Morgoth, the first and most powerful Dark Lord [ed: and blatantly modeled on the popular Christian conception of Lucifer, so there’s your connection to Akio], into the void. So if it’s opening…

More likely, however, it’s just a cool- and ominous-sounding phrase that evokes darkness and the day’s end.

Actual thoughts on this episode mostly involve Touga and Saionji’s friendship, and what I think is going on in the sidecar scene. Like a lot of conversations in this show, it’s heavy on fugue, which is sort of halfway between code and subtext. It’s like a code that is perfectly understandable to the people using it and opaque to everyone else, not because they’ve agreed on some symbolic schema beforehand, but because the people using it know each other well enough to understand what the other person means.

So for starters, this is CLEARLY Touga doing his “Akio Jr” schtick, and Saionji wanting none of it. From there we get Saoinni saying he doesn’t like Touga’s manipulation of him. Touga’s response is care and concern for Saionji, his way of saying “I actually don’t like hurting you and I’m sorry I’m a dick.”

And from that point on, Saionji is snarkmaster, no longer chasing after the incatchably pedestal-occupying Touga ribbing and advising his friend. And Touga accepts this with good grace. They’re equals…

…which means they have the closest bond of any pair Anthy and Utena have ever faced, and are therefore the most dangerous foe. The false Rose Brides have previously always been associated with the cars, and here for the first time both cars and duelist attack Utena. Touga and Saionji are working together, and therefore almost as dangerous as Utena and Anthy.

Which brings us to the ending. As others have pointed out, Anthy knew Utena was not really in bed and likely to wake up. It’s very probable she planned, or at least hoped, for Utena to see her. One final effort to drive her off?

Episode 37:

So. Very. Much. is happening in this episode.

[Last episode] I talked about fugue. Today is the best example in the series, the poison scene. But sometimes fugue and implication aren’t enough, which is why we get one of the most important moments in the show… But more on both scenes below.

Mostly, this episode is a reflection of Episode 12, “For Friendship, Perhaps.” In that episode, Utena’s confidence was shaken by her defeat at Touga’s hands, and she temporarily abandoned her quest to become a prince and became more “girly.”

Here, Utena is not trouble by a [personal] loss, but rather by a feeling that she has lost her nobility and worthiness. She feels betrayed by Anthy and Akio, confused, dirtied by the echo between what she’s done with Akio and what she saw Anthy doing, and she feels she can no longer be the Prince. On her date with Akio she wears a red sweater like the one Anthy made in the cowbell episode; as always, costume changes suggest a character is filling a new role, and in that episode the sweater represented Anthy weaving the bizarre situation. Here Utena is playing the part of Anthy’s victim, wrapped in her spells and manipulations, seeking rescue by the Prince from the Witch.

But Akio isn’t interested in the stars. He isn’t interested in romance or playing the role anymore; there is no salvation for Utena with him, only another trap. Utena even begins to recognize this–Akio’s comments about how girlish she looks are couched as complements, but really they’re statements of contempt. Sure, she can become his Princess in the castle, but in so doing she is just another Rose Bride, forced to play nice or else be labeled as Witch, blamed for everything that goes wrong in everyone’s lives, and stabbed by the swords of humanity’s misogynistic hatred.

Nonetheless, even Akio knows the choice belongs to Utena. She can still choose to reject the roles created for her by others, if she can withstand humanity’s judgment. But does she even want to? She sought to become a Prince, joined the duels to save Anthy. Now–just as in Episode 12–she questions whether Anthy is even worth saving. Both times it was because Anthy “cheated” with the person Utena was starting to think might be her Prince. But this time Anthy is still around for Utena to vent her frustrations, and she shreds the letter inviting her to the final duel. Akio is on the verge of victory; he feared the relationship between Utena and Anthy, and it is on the verge of falling apart.

But then comes the glorious, glorious badminton game, where Utena sees that her friends–and Juri, Miki, even Nanami are now clearly her friends, though Nanami remains one of those people who expresses their concern by yelling at its object—support her. Maybe she has to choose between surrendering to Princesshood or becoming a Witch in the eyes of the world, between the trauma of breaking the world’s shell and dying without ever truly having lived as herself–but she doesn’t have to do it alone. There are people who support her. Who know who she is and see that she isn’t the Princess and value her anyway.

It is here that Utena realizes what a terrible friend she’s being to Anthy. The Shadow Play is all about the trap Anthy is in, where the only way for B-ko to find her place in the world is to play the “whore” part of the Madonna/whore complex; the casting couch is a horrible thing, but our social structures force B-ko to use it (and the media-scandal route to fame, which is a sort of media equivalent) if she is to get the role she sees as the only path to her dreams. However, just because this is the way our society is constructed does not excuse C-ko’s judge character from moral culpability for his choice to benefit from it, any more than Akio’s claims that “the World” is the source of Anthy’s pain excuses him from his choice to aggravate it.

Utena soon realizes she’s done something similar to Anthy, judging her for her “choice” to sleep with Akio when there is every reason to believe she’s being coerced. And all it took was some friends showing they support Utena for Utena to realize she has the strength to break out of society’s Princess/Witch trap; maybe she can do the same for Anthy, and the fugue/poison scene is her attempt to do just that, to find out what Anthy would do if she weren’t trapped and support her in that goal. Unfortunately, in light of episode 38 it’s clear that Utena and Anthy were reading that scene differently; what I posted above is deliberately the read of a person who (like Utena) doesn’t know what’s to come (paraphrased):

Anthy: Are you familiar with cantarella? Also, do you like the cookies? I made them myself. (I’m dangerous, poisonous. I’ve hurt you and will continue to hurt you.)
Utena: I poisoned your tea. (I hurt you too.)
Anthy: It’s delicious. (I know, and I still value your friendship.)
Utena: So are the cookies. (Likewise.)

But Anthy knows what’s coming, so to her the conversation is very different:

Anthy: Are you familiar with cantarella? Also, do you like the cookies? I made them myself. (I am going to betray you and hurt you very badly. It might even kill you.)
Utena: I poisoned your tea. (I hurt you too.)
Anthy: It’s delicious. (You aren’t a threat to me.)
Utena: So are the cookies. (I’m too naïve to recognize how dangerous you are.)

(Cantarella is a great choice of poison, too, given its association with the Borgias. Lucrezia Borgia is the most famous of the family, supposedly for killing a whole bunch of people. Historians agree that she almost certainly didn’t, and everything written about her is basically centuries of people piling lurid, made-up detail on lurid, made-up detail, until what actually happened is utterly obscured in favor of a depiction of a most likely ordinary woman as a terrifying monster. Sound familiar?)
Utena’s ensuing promise, revealing she forgives Anthy utterly–that Anthy’s last and most desperate attempt to drive Utena away before she is destroyed by the powerful energy field of fucked-upped-ness that surrounds Akio and Anthy has failed–forces Anthy to an even more desperate move, a suicide attempt. I’ve seen some fans questioning whether Anthy can even die–aren’t she and Akio heavily implied to be eternal?–but that’s mistaking this for what Gayatri Spivak dismisses as “gossip about imaginary people,” the form of reading/watching in which fiction is treated as a window into a consistent and coherent other world, as opposed to a deliberately constructed artifice in which all elements are entirely invented and entirely under the control of the author(s). Anthy wants to die so she tries to die; it doesn’t actually matter whether at some other point in the story she survived being impaled with hundreds of swords. Or, to put it another way, in real life there are “layers” of reality, sets of experiences which vary in how real they are, with material reality the most real, followed by the consensus reality of social constructs and perception, and then the unreal, such as fiction and dreams. Most fiction mimics this structure, but there is no actual requirement that it must, since of course all layers in a work of fiction are part of the unreal layer in real life. Utena is an example of a series that doesn’t bother; the events we see unfolding around the characters when they are awake and active are no more or less real-within-the-show than a Shadow Girl play or a dream sequence.

Or if you prefer, maybe the Rose Bride is eternal but exists on the layer of story, while Anthy is mortal on the material layer–in other worlds, she’s only immortal and eternal when she’s playing the role of the Rose Bride.

Regardless, this suicide attempt, on which more when I talk about episode 38, serves to patch things up for Utena and Anthy. Utena now realizes her real role; she is not the Princess or the Witch, and maybe not even the Prince. She’s the Fool, one of the great literary archetypes—she belongs in a class of characters that includes such luminaries as Twoflower, Sam Gamgee, and (he grudgingly admits, still hating the characters) Isaac and Miri. [Note for non-Watchers: I picked these three particular characters because all three works, The Colour of Magic, The Lord of the Rings, and Baccano!, had been covered by Mark Watches at the time I originally made these comments, and thus could be presumed familiar for the audience.]  She’s the one who has no idea what’s going on and therefore can cut through the biases and assumptions of others. The one who, in her obliviousness of what is and isn’t possible, can accomplish the impossible. The one who, precisely because the normal sources of wisdom are denied to her, possesses intuitive knowledge unavailable to the wise. The one who possesses the power of an adult and the naivete of a child, and therefore can bring about new beginnings.

She is the One Who Brings the World Revolution.

And, Anthy at her side, she is heading for the arena.

The Duel Named Revolution has begun.

Episode 38:

So, one thing people occasionally ask is whether and how much Akio was manipulating Touga. The answer is Yes and Lots. But I think, given the amount of panic he shows when he first says it, that Akio is honest about wanting someone to beat Utena in the Car Saga duels. He clearly wants to take the heart sword of the One Who Brings the Revolution of the World, but he’s also clearly worried about Utena and Anthy’s closeness–Anthy is also necessary to his endgame. So plan A was to work with Touga to get someone to beat Utena and become the OWBRW. But Akio is a master manipulator; he knows better than to assume Plan A will work. So Plan B is to get close enough to Utena to drive a wedge between her and Anthy and make her surrender the sword herself, becoming a pseudo-Rose Bride. Plan C is to take the sword by force in a duel. And Plan D? Anthy backstab.

So he reveals himself as the Prince, and nearly persuades Utena to become his princess. But as he feared, she is too close to Anthy, unwilling to leave her behind and ascend to eternal bliss with Akio. The key moment is Utena’s flashback to the aftermath of last episode’s suicide, the overt version of what was merely implied in the cantarella scene: Anthy has been manipulating and using Utena both in an attempt to alleviate her own pain and at her brother’s behest. But Utena doesn’t blame her; Utena at last realizes her own greatest flaw, her “cruel innocence” and savior complex.

As I mentioned before, a key theme of this series is that the concept of the savior, the “prince” in the show’s own parlance, is inherently flawed. Saving others is about providing the help you want to give to the problems you perceive them as having–it is entirely about yourself. Helping others, by contrast, is about reaching out to them and letting them decide what you can do for them. It renders you vulnerable, but is the truly altruistic option. For the first time, Utena realizes that in trying to save Anthy she has been treating her as an object, talking over her, perpetuating a system that victimizes her, failing utterly to try to learn Anthy’s point of view.

Utena recognizes this at FOURTEEN. Some people spend their entire lives without understanding the difference. This is a pretty huge achievement on Utena’s part.
So Akio falls back another technique, a classic tactic of the abuser: gaslighting. That is, he attempts to convince Utena of things she knows aren’t true, so that she will lose confidence in her own perceptions and attitudes and rely more on his. His opening move is to reveal that the castle in the sky is (as Saionji said it was in the first episode!) an illusion created by his planetarium, the dueling arena itself simply his bedroom. Everything that Utena experienced there, he claims, was his creation. (This is nonsense, of course. Even if the imagery was his, the dueling arena has never been about the images; it’s about the emotional realities of the clashing characters, and that is their own creation, even if Akio has been exploiting it.)

He tries to undermine her moral sense, too, pretending that a 14-year-old girl being seduced into an adulterous relationship by an older, more experienced man is just as bad as an adult who rapes and abuses his underage sister. Unfortunately, Utena doesn’t have the words in the heat of the moment to articulate why it’s different–again, this is classic gaslighting. Finally he tries to convince her that her goal is false; Anthy does not want to be rescued and there is no such thing as a prince.

But Utena stands firm, and forces the duel.

I adore this scene with the Student Council that follows, the first time all five of them have ever been in the same scene together. The egg speech has always been another core theme of the series. As I explained before, it is a Hesse reference, and describes the necessity of either breaking the world’s shell, the social structures that both maintain society and oppress individuals, or living out your whole life and dying without achieving your fullest potential. It is the arc of most characters in the show: In the beginning is the fairy tale of childhood, where you are safe and protected and powerless like the princess. Then comes adolescence, where you begin to assert the power that all human beings naturally possess, albeit in varying measure–physical power, social power, moral judgment, sexuality–and become aware that the world is not a safe and comforting place, but corrupt and full of darkness and dangers, as well as confining, arbitrary social norms that deny you full self-expression “for your own good.” That is as far as Akio can reach–but the other characters, most notably Utena but the entire student council as well–is on the verge of reaching beyond that, to adulthood, where you recognize that much of what holds you back is your own shortcomings and start working to overcome them; that much of the rest of what holds you back is arbitrary judgment by people you don’t actually have to listen to, so you stop listening to them; and that what remains can be defied and fought.

The Duel Named Revolution is fought against the world, yes, and all the judgmental and manipulative bastards who want to prevent you from being who you are, too, but it’s equally fought against oneself. (That’s a clue to whose duel this really is, by the way. Utena’s internal conflict here is nothing compared to Anthy’s.)

But mostly I love this scene because the five of them have finally come around to supporting Utena wholeheartedly. She represents them all against Akio–and they all have some pretty darn legitimate grievance against him!

Their five colors plus the Prince come together as one: Utena’s pink.

At last the duel proper begins, as Akio talks about his unstated “ideals” which are so lofty that Utena cannot comprehend them, and which justify his actions. The planetarium immediately belies his words, displaying Black Rose Saga-style desks with nothing on them. The Black Rose duelists all had a signature object that signified what it was they were seeking after; Akio has nothing. He believes in nothing, and his ideals are as much an illusion as everything else.

And Utena reveals that Akio has failed; she will not abandon her own ideals. Here the prince has ceased to be Dios, the savior, the empty myth that becomes Akio; now the prince is the ideal self, the Utena-who-is-a-better-Utena. Dios shatters, the castle crumbles; Utena has taken the concept of the prince away from Akio and made it her own.

Anthy wakes, and sees that Akio no longer has the power to face Utena. With no other options left, Akio throws Anthy at her. And for just a moment, it is almost enough… Anthy hesitates.

But in the end she does what her brother wants. The world revolution is too new, too frightening; better the eternal familiar agony than the danger of hoping and being disappointed.

Anthy stabs Utena, her dress spreading out around them like a pool of blood.

The Duel Named Revolution…

…continues.
Episode 39:

Akio’s greatest weapon is the internalized misogyny of others, as Anthy demonstrates when she explains her reason for stabbing Utena: girls can’t be princes.

Akio’s second-greatest weapon is blaming others for his own treachery, as he does when he tells Utena he warned her.

Juri’s story is interesting; it is again a story of the prince, and showing yet another flaw in the ideal: you might fail and be forgotten. Fooooooooooooooooreshadoooooooooowiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing.

But there is another source of foreshadowing here: Anthy hesitates to give Akio the sword. She cares about Utena, regrets stabbing her—and Akio deftly makes it all about him. Subtly he blames Anthy even while forgiving her (arrogating to himself the right to forgive her!): She knows he blames her for him no longer being the prince, so when he says this might be different if he were still the prince, it’s a subtle way of blaming her while appearing to blame himself. Their oddly ritualistic exchange about knowing and loving is similarly abusive; Akio is saying that someone who truly knows Anthy and still loves her is rare. It’s the classic “no one could ever love you but me” trick; like gaslighting, its goal is to undermine the other person’s confidence and increase their dependence on their abuser. (The Raven pulled precisely the same trick on Rue in Princess Tutu.)

Anthy’s dress stands empty. The Rose Bride was as much an illusion as the arena. The true Anthy is, has always been, impaled on a million swords of human hatred, imprisoned in the realm of the rose gate. This is the true function of the Rose Bride: to be Eve. To be the woman blamed, to take the swords of humanity’s hatred in the place of the prince, the savior, the true villain who wants humanity to suffer so he can play at rescuing them.
The Rose Gate is, of course, the same as the gate to enter the arena way back in the first episode. It’s as yonic as ever, and Akio approaches it by attacking it with a phallic symbol. He is wielding the sword of Utena’s heart destructively, and it puts her in agony.

Meanwhile, the “true” prince appears, and he’s not all that different from Akio, looking down on Utena, seeing her as weak and childish and in need of protection. Akio isn’t the corruption of Dios; they are Abraxas, one being with two faces. The “good” and “evil” faces are both masks over a single underlying reality, a being that sees itself as superior. Akio, Ruka, Touga, Wakaba’s Onion Prince; all are the same twisted approach to life expressed in different ways.

And Utena is having none of it. She stands. Even as her heart(-sword) breaks, she stands. She shoves the prince, the ruler of the world, out of the way, and as she does we see a brief glimpse of Wakaba. Wakaba, Utena’s friend for whom she started this all. Wakaba, loyal, loving Wakaba who faced and overcame her desire to be special in the Black Rose Saga; Wakaba, who doesn’t need to save others, just to be with them. At the same time, Akio speaks of his quest to win the power to revolutionize the world, because power is all he knows and all he understands. He wants to stand alone, to wield the power alone, and looks down on those who depend on others.

Which is his mistake. He insists on being the one with the power, on refusing to become vulnerable. Utena doesn’t. She admits that she loves Anthy, that she needs Anthy, that she cannot ever be truly happy without Anthy. Utena’s tear falls and becomes the drop of water that opens the gate. (Yes, once again and as always, the key to making the flower open is getting it wet.) But less crudely, the swords stop, as they must. They represented that the world hates Anthy, that it refuses to accept a woman who chooses not to be a princess. But the world doesn’t hate Anthy; misogynistic assholes like Akio do. Utena loves her.

Utena opens the coffin, her coffin, which is Anthy’s coffin. The eternally pierced Anthy was an illusion too; the real Anthy is the cowering, frightened girl, hiding in a terrible dark place because she fears the world outside is even worse. But Utena holds out a hand and lets Anthy decide whether to take it; no longer saving, but helping, letting Anthy make the choice. And as the heartbreaking strains of the series overture swell, Anthy does it. She takes Utena’s hand, willingly tries to take her hand. The arena, Akio’s corrupt system for controlling and manipulating others, Anthy most of all, falls apart as Anthy rejects it, choosing real love over the abuse she has known.

And then she falls.

Because the danger of helping instead of saving is that it means surrendering control. The other person might fall, leaving you with hand outstretched. Even worse, the world loves a savior, but often hates a helper. By helping someone the world has targeted you become a target yourself. Utena is not a princess, not a prince; in the eyes of the world, she must therefore be a witch.

Yet the series is not over. The shadow play girls step in to discuss the future–yet, oddly, there is no shadow, the familiar buildings emerging instead into light. Utena has been forgotten, and yet, much as with Mikage’s erasure before, some of the changes she helped create remain. Miki is teaching Tsuwabuki to use the stopwatch; Miki is moving on and needs someone to take his place. Saionji has abandoned dueling and wants to move ahead with his studies; he and Touga interact as friends and equals once more. Nanami has a tea dispenser similar to the one Wakaba had when she was living with Saionji; it’s ambiguous, but I think it’s an implication that Nanami and Saionji are dating–and their interactions and growth in the last arc suggest to me that they might possibly be good for each other. Or spectacularly terrible; either way, it implies both of them have moved on from their respective obsessions. Juri is still captain of the fencing team, but Shiori is now on the team with her; their relationship, too, has moved into new territory. Even the barbershop trio have transferred their interest from Nanami to her former minions, who appear to now be an independent gang of their own. Most interestingly, Wakaba seems to be shifting into an Utena-like role… (Who is that pouncing on her, anyway? A-ko? Keiko? [Another Mark Watches commenter suggested it is the girl from the first episode who told Wakaba her “boyfriend” Utena had gone on without her. This appears to be correct, and is intriguing.])

The only one who hasn’t moved on is Akio. He has moved backwards, intending to start the cycle of duels over again from the start with a new batch of duelists. He can’t move on, because he can’t let go of his power and control. As much as he uses his power to manipulate others, in the end he is enslaved to it more than anyone else, a pathetic figure gnawing away at the bottom of a pit that he’s persuaded everyone is a giant phallic tower. But he may have no choice but to change now, because the unthinkable has happened: Anthy rejects him and walks away.

And then we come to the closing credits, as my favorite track in the entire show, the triumphant “Rose and Release,” plays. (And for the second time in the episode, the first being “Overture,” I cry. Even on what must be my 20th viewing by now.) Anthy walks out of her prison, as she always had the power to do and yet never could before. She is free; she can grow up.

Of course she is doing it to find and save her love. Clad in Utena’s pink, she takes on Utena’s role as quester, protector, bringer of revolution, fool.

And what is it she walks out into? What are the images behind the credits? A gate. Trees, suggesting a forest. A long road winding into the distance. The common element is that all of these are liminal spaces, places you cross on the journey, not destinations in themselves. And indeed, we see Anthy walking ceaselessly and without hesitation through them. She does not stop until she is past all of them.

And listen to that song again. “Rose and Release” is very obviously the opening credits music, but with the lyrics replaced by vocalizing. They are ostentatious by their absence, so let us consider them.
Heroically, with bravery
I’ll go on with my life,
just a long, long time.
But if the two of us should get split up
by whatever means,
let go of me,
Take my revolution.

“If we are separated, one of us will have to change the world.”

In the sunny garden, we held each other’s hands,
drew close together and soothed each other with the words,
“Neither of us will ever fall in love again.”
Everytime
Into this photograph of us
smiling cheek to cheek,
I took a bit of loneliness,
and crammed it inside.

This is clearly Anthy talking about the keepsake photo she took with Utena, which appears again at the end.

Revolution!
Even in my dreams, even through my tears,
even though I’m being hurt,
reality is approaching now, frantically.
What I want now is to find out
just where I belong,
and my self-worth, up through today.

Again, very clearly something Anthy would say, and not Utena. This and the preceding section establish this is Anthy’s song.

Heroically, I’ll throw away
my clothes ’til I’m nude,
like the roses dancing all around me, whirling free.
But if the two of us should get split up
by whatever means,
I swear to you, I will change the world.

“Wait for me Utena! Even if it means destroying my brother’s system, I will find you!”
Song and imagery taken together make it clear: Yes. Anthy finds Utena. They are together in the end, hand in hand. Someday, together, they shine. (Note that the title of the episode replaces the normal “to be continued” card. This is the end of the show, and the end of the show is Anthy and Utena, shining, hand in hand.)

Utena failed to save Anthy and failed to be the Prince. That’s because, as I’ve said before, the ideal of the savior is fundamentally self-contradictory and flawed. But, perhaps without realizing it, Utena helped Anthy, gave her the tools she needed to finally walk out of Ohtori Academy and the cycle of abuse she’d been trapped in for what seems like centuries. Utena is the vehicle by which Anthy escapes Ohtori, but it’s Anthy in the driver’s seat.

Which brings me to one final image and question: every duel in the series ends with the clanging of bells as the winner is revealed. But when the swords destroy the arena, there are no bells.

Not, that is, until the end of the episode, when Anthy tells of Akio and walks out. Then they ring riotously as Anthy sets off. In other words, the duel didn’t end with Utena’s defeat, it ended with Anthy’s liberation.

The Duel Named Revolution is over.

Anthy won.

Utena Dump, Episodes 31-35

Yes, two Mark Watches Utena comment dumps in a row. There was no Sailor Moon Crystal this weekend, because it’s not biweekly, it’s ever first and third Saturday of the month. In those rare (though not as rare as Tumblr would have you believe) months with five Saturdays, there is no SMC on the fifth one.

31:

Nanami’s world comes crashing down around her as she learns she is not Touga’s sister. Anthy has tried and tried to get that tap flowing. But now that it is, can she control it?

Nanami has always been the Fool, the child, the butt of every joke, the one who brings disaster upon herself. It is the prerogative of the Fool to see the world that is hidden from others.

No one ever said it would be pleasant for the Fool.

Nanami was the innocent (painfully, cruelly innocent) princess, living comfortably in the castle with her prince/brother… but only as long as she wasn’t “the sort of girl who lays eggs.” Anthy’s revenge, ultimately, is forcing Nanami to grow up and move on. But what is she, if not her brother’s princess?

A girl who cannot be a princess…

32:

…has no choice but to become a witch. Nanami has heavily internalized the Madonna/whore complex society thrusts upon her, and so her hatred of the “vermin” that swarm her brother turns on herself. This is inevitably blended with her discovery of Anthy and Akio’s abusive sexuality, which given her innocence is probably the first time she has ever seen sex.

So she blames Anthy, as everyone always blames Anthy, and challenges Utena to a duel. Which she loses… massively, crushingly, leaving her with nothing. She is not the princess. She is not the witch. She has no idea what she is.

But another word for “without identity” is “protean.” Now that she is no longer trapped by the princess/witch binary, Nanami can become anything. She’ll be all right. Like Juri before her, her pain at the end of the duel may well be the birth-pains of a new self, the agony of newfound freedom.

For Nanami, this is the Absolute Destiny, the Apocalypse. This is her Revolution.

33:

Akio went out to get the flowers.

“Utena” is Japanese for “calyx,” the protective sheath around the budding flower.

Akio tells Anthy he took the flowers.

He deflowered Utena.

“Anthy” comes from the Greek for “flower.”

Anthy doesn’t seem too happy about all this.

34:

How much truth is there in the Shadow Girls’ play? How much truth is there in any of their plays? Exactly as much as there is in anything else that we see in this show. Which is to say, none whatsoever. All fiction is equally fictional.

Which is to say, it’s all real.

There is a line missing from the speech the Student Council used to give almost every episode. After the chick breaks its shell: “The bird flies to God. That God’s name is Abraxas.” Abraxas is present in the show, though; the organ piece that plays during that speech is called “That God’s Name Is Abraxas.”

He’s present in more ways than that. Abraxas is the two-faced god of the Gnostics, above both good and evil because he is the creator of both. He is the equivalent of Zurvan, the supreme creator god of the branch of Zoroastrianism named for him, who is likewise father of both good and evil, and Lord of Time. (Yes. Your suspicions were right all along. Akio is a Time Lord. Anthy is a TARDIS.)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Once upon a time there was a man and a woman and an apple, and everything was the woman’s fault. Awhile later the man got pierced and suffered and sacrificed and so he saved everyone. Except that everything was still the woman’s fault.

Or maybe it’s the one where the woman insisted on acting like she was the man’s equal, so she was driven off, tormented by angels until she became the mother of monsters, the succubus, the witch.

None of it’s true. Here’s what really happened, for certain values of “really”: The woman saved the man. Nobody was supposed to do that, so they sacrificed her instead. But that wasn’t how it was supposed to go, so humanity pierced her with a million stiff pointy hard things and made her suffer forever and take all the blame for everything. And the man, prevented from his dramatic and heroic act of self-sacrifice, who loved his sister and hurt to see her hurt, came to blame her for that pain, came to hate her, torment her, abuse her forever and ever. She trapped him in life, so he traps her in his castle, and blames her for everything.

Another girl saw them. She decided to save the woman from her pain. “But is that really a good idea?” No. No it isn’t. Saving others is about your own ego, your own desire to be the savior. Wanting to be a savior is wishing for others to suffer so that you have something to save them from, isn’t it, Homura.

Helping others is different. It’s much scarier than saving them, because it involves putting yourself out there, making yourself available, vulnerable, and letting them decide how to use your assistance. You may well end up with the hand you offer just hanging out there in space while they decide whether to take it. That’s the price of respecting the agency of others.

And now, at long last, we can talk about one last color: purple. The antithesis of yellow, which is adoration. What is adoration? It is looking up to the object of one’s love, putting them on a pedestal, worshiping them, perhaps not even noticing how that degrades yourself. It is the princess, the Nanami, the one who plays by the rules and is accepted by society as “good,” no matter what she’s really like.

Purple is hate.

Purple is the witch.

Purple is what they’ve all been fighting for all along.

It is that which dwells in the castle.

It is something shining: the morning star, the deceptive beauty, the light which casts the shadow.

It is the power of miracles: the terrible sacrifice, the dark magic of blood and death.

It is something eternal: suffering that never ends.

It is the revolution of the world: the apocalypse.

Purple is the end of innocence. It is corruption and it is maturation. It is stasis and it is change. It is Da’at, the terrible black abyss that is nonetheless the path to enlightenment.

Purple is time.

Purple is putrefaction, the endless decay that endlessly brings forth life.

At last we meet, Anthy Himemiya.

35:

[Mark said:]I’m also curious what it is that Akio has promised Touga. There’s that hint in the previous episode when the Shadow Play Girls portray each of the duelists that each of them want something – the power to make miracles happen, the end to loneliness, the existence of something eternal – and I’m guessing this is how Akio has been able to manipulate them all through his End of the World identity. So what does Touga get? Why are all their scenes together so blatantly homoerotic?

This got me thinking. Touga seems to be associated (in the play, mostly, but also in the egg speech from the first arc) with “the power to revolutionize the world.” Then we’ve got his homophobic comments to Nanami that sound suspiciously rehearsed and directly contradict the homoerotic nature of his relationship with Akio, the weird ways in which his relationship with Saionji mirror the Shiori-Juri dynamic…

Then remember the context of the egg speech: in Demian it was about the fact that in order to be fully, truly yourself, it is first necessary to change the world to eliminate the outmoded and unfair social norms that hold you back.

So, what I’m starting to wonder: Is Touga possibly gay or bi? Does he–possibly even without realizing it himself–want the power to revolutionize the homophobic world so that he can openly explore that side of himself?

Dunno, just thought it interesting to consider. Honestly I think Touga just wants power for its own sake, because he likes controlling and abusing people.

Utena Dump, Episodes 26-30

I have a guest post on Doctor Whooves up at Phil Sandifer’s TARDIS Eruditorum. Give it a read; then, on the off-chance you haven’t already, read everything else he has ever written. He does to Doctor Who and British comics what I do to ponies and Madoka, only better.

If you’re coming over here from there, welcome! A brief explanation: what you’re looking at currently is a biweekly dump I’ve been doing of my comments on Mark Watches, another site at which I am a semi-regular commenter. As the title implies, this particular dump is my comments on Revolutionary Girl Utena, episodes 26-30.

If you’re looking for something more in-depth and Eruditorum-y, I recommend clicking on either of the two Readers’ Guides links in the sidebar. My Little Po-Mo is my ongoing project studying My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, while The Very Soil is my now-complete project on Puella Magi Madoka Magica.

Ep 26-7

[Due to illness, I never commented on Mark Watches Utena 26. My irate paragraph of comments on MWU 27 was an apology for this. We pick up with the second paragraph:] Fortunately, if I HAD to miss an episode, at least it was Miki’s Nest Box, which I find the least interesting episode of the series. I am pretty sure it is only there because the formula demands that a duel with Saionji be followed by one with Miki.

This episode is, fortunately, a lot more interesting. More than any prior episode, it really makes clear that for all her cruelty and posturing, Nanami is incredibly, toxically innocent. It is an important contrast to the Akio car and its offer of the adult experiences unavailable in Ohtori. As horrifying as that is, this episode is a reminder that being stuck in childlike innocence is no less horrifying. Whatever the path away from horror is, it lies through experience and out the other side, not cowering and clinging to a safe, comfortable past.

Poor Nanami. Her Tragedy is that her sense of worth is entirely wrapped up in the approval of others, and as the rich little princess that approval comes not from anything positive she does, but from remaining in her define place and following all the (impossible, contradictory) rules laid down for her. Of all the characters, she is perhaps the one who needs to break the shell most–and, interestingly, in this episode she metaphorically does so by exploring her maternal side in defiance of social rules that say when and how she is permitted to do so.

And Chu-Chu hatches, leading me to my latest theory: Chu-Chu IS the World Revolution. He is what breaking the world’s shell creates.

Ep 28

One thing that really stands out to me in this episode is the scene of Shiori and Ruka first meeting. First, it definitely foreshadows the end of the episode, but I’ve never seen anyone (myself included) actually catch it on first viewing: Shiori HAS to be lying about polishing his sword every day since he’s been gone, since Juri’s been captain of the fencing team since the first episode and Shiori only transferred in partway through the Black Rose Saga.

Shiori’s hair looks brown in the orange light bathing the lockers. Given that orange is Juri’s color, it may be a reference to how Juri makes her feel so ordinary and unspecial.

Anyway, I utterly despise Ruka, and this episode contains one example why: He lied about someone polishing his sword, and Shiori lied about being the one who did it, so apparently in Ruka’s eyes that makes Shiori a liar and himself cunning. Yay double standards!

It’s appropriate his hair is a darker version of Miki… he’s basically what Miki could become if he let his entitlement overwhelm his empathy and crossed over into full-on manipulative bastard–he’s basically the PUA to Miki’s Nice Guy Syndrome.

(Of course, “Miki lets his entitlement overwhelm his empathy” works as a capsule description for basically every Miki episode. When he’s not the focus, he’s a pretty cool kid who needs to mature up a little. Moment he gets to be the focus character, he starts getting all “Mine!”)

And then there’s Shiori, who… yeah, okay, she lied to get the boy she liked and was a willing participant in his schemes against Juri. But I don’t think she’s acting out of entitlement, but rather the same horrifyingly low self-esteem we saw in the Black Rose Saga. Shiori has always struggled with feelings of inferiority, and always believed Juri looked down on her. Compounding that now, Shiori also hates Juri because she believes Juri pretended to be her friend just to get into her pants. This doesn’t justify Shiori’s actions, of course, but it does help make clear how Ruka is able to manipulate her in this episode. (Surprise surprise, the proto-PUA predator went after the girl with low self-esteem that he could easily control. What an upstanding guy.)

Have I mentioned that I utterly, ferociously despise Ruka?

As for Juri… Eh. We don’t really learn anything about her we didn’t already know. After Miki and Saionji, that’s kind of becoming a pattern in he Car Saga.

Ep 29

Trigger warning: rape, homophobia, sexual violence against lesbians

Shiori is a WRECK when Juri talks to her. She really did develop feelings for that asswipe Ruka.
Ruka physically pins Juri and forces a kiss onto her. So we can add straight-up sexual assault to his list of sins. Then he threatens to destroy Juri’s most precious possession, all to make her hate him enough to duel him, even after she’s agreed to do what he wants, all so he can set her up as “to blame” or a “willing participant.”

And now that he has Juri doing “whatever he wants,” Mr. Sexual Assault takes her on a ride in the sexmobile so that they can take the role of bride and groom in the duel.

And then at the end of the episode we learn that this was all a scheme by Ruka, who’s got a crush on Juri, to “free her” from her destructive crush on Shiori.

So, yeah. He sexually assaulted the woman he’s interested in to end her same-sex attraction. That’s called “corrective rape,” and it’s a real thing that happens to lesbian women.

Ruka is a complete, utter monster who never shows a trace of doubt or remorse. He cares only about HIS wants and HIS perceptions, and uses his strength and fencing skill to violently force them onto Juri. He is the worst person in this entire show, and the fact that he’s deathly ill excuses NOTHING.
At least we get a fucking amazing dueling song?

And Juri is still, 29 episodes in, the only member of the student council Utena has never actually beaten.

But whatever, Ruka’s a homophobic, misogynistic, rapist asshole and we’re well rid of him.

/Trigger

Ep 30

What’s most interesting to me about this episode (besides it being just generally relentlessly uncomfortable) is how much like typical, non-fantastic, generic shoujo soap opera it is. I mean, Utena looks older than she is thanks to being a billion feet tall, so it would be easy for a viewer who’s never seen Utena before to think this is about a high school girl with a crush on her best friend’s kinda skeevy older brother, as opposed to RELENTLESS NAIL-BITING HORROR.

Utena Dump, Episodes 21-25

Continuing the fortnightly series of posts collecting my comments on the Mark Watches reviews of Revolutionary Girl Utena:

Ep 21:

The only real support for fans who regard the Black Rose Saga as a filler arc, so I’m going to limit myself to noting [in response to Mark commenting that, had he watched this series in high school, he might have avoided some toxic relationships] that alas, Mark, I’m not sure watching this would have helped. I DID watch this show in high school, when it was new, and I was still all Nice Guy Syndrome until my mid-twenties.

Ep 22:

Mikage’s chalkboard when Akio visits him in the flashback is interesting. For a big scientific research project, it contains very little math. It does have what look like I Ching hexagrams and an inverted symbol of Venus/feminine/copper. Something to do with the Eternal Feminine, maybe?

As several people have noted, time is SERIOUSLY broken at Ohtori, possibly as a result of the project Nemuro was working on. Clothing styles have gone from 70s to 90s, and Tokiko has aged from maybe early 20s to maybe 40, but Mikage and Akio haven’t aged a day. Neither has Mamiya, but either his death was faked or he’s undead. Meanwhile, there’s hints of time going faster than it should (the tea, the cats reproducing in the course of a conversation), slower (the stopped hourglass, the teacup still being there), and even backwards (the butterfly becoming an egg on a leaf).

Meanwhile, we see the duelists planting trees, and their sacrifice is so that one day the path to eternity can be opened from the school. Saionji stated that the upside-down castle is the place where eternity can be found; the implication would seem to be that the goal of the project was to create the dueling forest and arena.

The Shadow Girl play seems to be about Mikage, an apparently unfeeling robot. But note, it says it never gets lonely because it has the monkeys for company–that lack of feeling is just Mikage denying his emotions and therefore being controlled by them. (Hi there, Spock!) The monkeys he catches are, of course, the Black Rose duelists. The implication, then, is that his nefarious scheming is a doomed attempt to cope with his loneliness.

Of course, there’s another way to read the play: Who else do we know that hides (from) their true feelings, pretends to have no will of their own, and has a monkey for a friend?

Oh, and I forgot: on the time is broken thing? That’s the common fan theory on why Miki is always fiddling with the watch. He’s noticed, and is trying to catch time in the act, so to speak. Note also that he’s the first character to know anything about Nemuro Hall–I suspect he’s figured out its somehow connected to the time distortions.
Ep 23:

Best duel song of the arc, IMO. Weirdly straightforward Shadow Girl play, too: it’s pretty clearly about how pathetic it is to cling to past accomplishments instead of moving forward into the future and forging new ones.

Mikage/Nemuro’s goal, we learn, was to make his memories eternal. I’m guessing what happened was, roughly, that they opened the path to eternity just too late to save Mamiya, and Nemuro burned the place down in rage and grief, or possibly as part of a bargain with Akio to make his memories of Mamiya last forever. (It’s not Nemuro Memorial Hall because Nemuro died there; it’s called that because his memories are stored there.)

Either way, the result was a haunting. Anthy in the form of Mamiya stuck by Mikage (which is why she’s been so tired–being two people at once must be exhausting), and the two preserved memories–ghosts, in other words–lingered on the campus, stuck in their pasts.

(I mistyped the preceding line as “stuck in their pasta.” VERY different show, that would be.)

The question then becomes, what was the point of all this? What did Akio gain by manipulating Mikage into manipulating the students?

Well, it’s hard to say what he gained, but something did change: time is now even more broken. Mikage never existed to begin with, and the memories of the Black Rose Saga are, for Utena, seemingly erased? Did the Duels happen without them ever figuring out who was behind them? Or did they all just get a couple months’ break from dueling?

More importantly, Miki remembers that the building is called something Memorial Hall… But if it wasn’t rebuilt after the fire, that means it was named that BEFORE the event that caused it to be renamed!

So now the question shifts: Who and what ARE Akio and Anthy? It’s now clear that Anthy’s insight and the strange events that happen around her aren’t coincidental… She has power of some kind, and she’s actively working with Akio. But to what end? How much is her involvement willing and how much is it coerced, given the abusive sexual relationship between them? (Her smile at the end of this episode suggests that she did derive some pleasure from manipulating Mikage.)

And what on Earth could their goal be, that breaking time is part of it? Are they after eternity, or something else?

Ep 24:

I kind of perversely love this episode? I mean, objectively it’s not very good, but the sheer audacity of doing a clip show made of clips from filler episodes fills me with glee. The only clip show I like better than this is the Greatest Clip Show of All Time, from Clerks the Animated Series. (It was the SECOND EPISODE. They only had one clip. They showed it about 20 times over the course of the standard-issue clip-show frame story.)

Anyway, this makes perfect sense. It’s the end of the arc, so we need a clip show. But the conclusion of the Black Rose Saga retroactively deleted the entire plot, so what can we show clips of? Why, the not-plot, obviously!

There’s also something a bit subtler going on, too–the last episode showed that Anthy has (currently vaguely defined and of unknown origin) Powers, that her manipulations and insights are NOT an accident but tied in directly to the weirdness of Ohtori Academy. This episode thus does to the Nanami Has Wacky Animal Adventures episodes what the previous clip show did to the Student Council arc, namely recontextualize it to show how it all tied together into an ongoing plot orchestrated by a hitherto unsuspected shadowy figure.

EVERYTHING bad that has happened to Nanami thus far is Anthy’s doing. Remember the elephant she drew in the margins of her textbook during the study session with Nanami and Miki? And now we see that she fed her curry to the Barbershop Trio and elephants, creating elephants that wanted to pursue Nanami.

This is a silly, pointless filler episode–TVTropes calls it the only entirely dispensable episode of the series. Yet it’s also the episode that demonstrates PRECISELY how powerful, dangerous, and frankly sadistic Anthy can be when provoked. She is not the innocent princess–but that does not necessarily mean that she is pure evil either, of course. Thus far there have not been any purely good or purely evil characters in this show–even Mikage was more misguided than malicious in the end, and Akio, for all that he is a sexual abuser and Mikage’s puppet-master, has also been giving Utena actually pretty good advice all arc.

(Also, surprise return of the monkey-catching robot, who carts C-ko off into space in a ship that looks suspiciously similar to the one A-ko and B-ko left in at the end of the last arc. Does that mean we’re going to get a D-ko taking over Shadow Play duties? Or Shadow Play Girls In Space? Only time will tell…)

 Ep 25:

Oh man. So much momentous stuff happens in this episode. The new arc really kicks off with a bang. Too bad it then immediately loses all momentum while it spends the next six or seven episodes cycling through the contractually obligatory duels with all the student council members. Have I mentioned that I really dislike the Car Saga enough times yet?

So, big revelation number one: Akio is named after the Japanese name for the Morning Star, and I’m just going to quote (warning: the text I quote in the next few paragraphs is safe, but the rest of the article contains extensive spoilers for the Madoka Magica movie, Rebellion) myself on this:

There is a recurring myth in the ancient Mediterranean. In it, the Shining One (Hebrew: Helel, Greek: Phaethon) tries to usurp the Sun or the supreme deity, and is cast down or punished for his presumption. This is a familiar myth in our culture, due mostly to the Greek version. The Semitic version is less well known, in large part because one of the few written references we have to it has been lost in translation, Isaiah 14:12-15 (NIV version):
“How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” But you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit.”
The English term “morning star” is being used to translate the Hebrew Helel. We can imagine the mythology here fairly easily–the brightest star in the sky, refusing to share its place with the other stars, and instead jumping up into the sky at dawn, ahead of the sun. Then at sunrise it is wiped away, only for the story to repeat the next day, an endless cycle of celestial hubris.
Of course, most of us are more familiar with another translation, the King James, and another variant of the myth, which uses the Latin name for the morning star: Lucifer.

So that’s the first big revelation: Akio’s relationship to Dios, whose name comes from the Latin for God. Akio is casting himself here as the noble Satan from the common misinterpretation of Paradise Lost, who deems it better to “rule in hell than serve in heaven.” Of course, in the actual epic it’s blatantly obvious that Satan is expressing sour grapes and trying to look good in front of his followers when he says that–it’s still open whether Akio is the same.

His role as a Satan-analogue is even clearer in the car scene, where he tempts Saionji by showing him the world. It’s a pretty blatant reference to the story of Satan doing the same to Jesus, only with Saionji it, y’know, works.

Of course, he and Dios are also the same. The last two lines of the egg speech from Demian, which the student council always leaves out, are “The bird flies to God. That God is Abraxas.” Abraxas is the two-faced god who created both good and evil.

Second big revelation is that apparently the Black Rose Saga DID happen in some sense, even if no one except Anthy and Akio remembers it: First and most obviously, the gondola appears. It appears that, just as Mikage was used to create the path to the dueling arena in the first place, he was used again to create this new path, which apparently leads to a higher order of duels.

More subtly, Anthy and Utena are now close enough for Anthy to draw Utena’s soul sword the way the Black Rose duelists drew the student council’s. Notably, however, it is Utena who wields the sword; Mikage mentioned that most people aren’t strong enough to wield their own swords, but Utena apparently is.

Trigger warning: discussion of rape in the next two paragraphs
Third revelation is that Anthy definitely does have a will of her own, confirmed by the fact that Saionji says she doesn’t. Er, I mean, confirmed by the fact that she initially resists Akio at the end of the episode. So he rapes her. (There are fan theories that Akio is LITERALLY the Devil, but I think that cheapens his horrifying actions. He is a man, who chooses to do incredibly evil things to children. Pretending he’s some kind of supernatural, cosmic force is too easy, it lets us pretend that evil is somewhere Out There instead of right in here.)

(I am honestly not sure whether to call their previous sex scenes rape. The relationship is clearly abusive as fuck, but that doesn’t necessarily make the sex nonconsensual, and I’m not sure how age of consent applies to someone who may or may not have been 14 for the past several centuries or longer.)

Trigger warning over

Going back to the car, it’s common in the fandom to view it as a metaphor for sex. I think that’s true but incomplete. No one in Ohtori is allowed to grow up (which is one of the most horrifying things I can imagine). Akio is showing people trapped in a perpetual adolescence a glimpse of the adult world. Sex is definitely a part of that, but so are power, freedom, and sophistication. Notably, Nanami emphatically rejects the sex but accepts the temptation, so it must be more than just sex.

So, my interpretation is that Akio expected the Sword of Dios to vanish, but that Anthy helped Utena more than she was supposed to. I think this was a test of whether Utena has become strong enough to wield her own soul sword; the goal of the next series of duels is to refine that sword to the point that Akio can use it to open the Rose Gate after all. But then why is he upset by the end of this duel?

The only explanation I can see is that Utena was supposed to use her soul sword, but Anthy wasn’t supposed to help. The fact that she does so not only means she choosing to help Utena of her own accord, beyond her role as the Rose Bride; it also means that she feels a bond to Utena as close as the Black Rose duelists to the people they pulled swords from–siblings, close friends, years-long crushes. Abusers depend on isolating and controlling their victims, so Anthy developing that kind of bond is incredibly frightening to Akio.