Utena Dump 2

Given it’s been over a month, here’s a link back to the first Utena dump. Basically, I’ve been watching the show along with the Mark Watches crowd, and these are my comments on each episode. This second dump covers episodes 6-10.

Episode 6

Yes Mark, there are a lot of runaway animals in this episode. It’s almost like Nanami pissed off someone three episodes ago who was shown to have a whole bunch of animals available to her two episodes ago.

That is, for the record, what I believe is happening in this episode: Tsuwabuki’s schemes to get Nanami to notice him are colliding and interacting Anthy’s ongoing schemes to torture Nanami. “Nothing that can be traced back to her” indeed.
As an aside, a theory (even SILLIER than my theory about martial prowess mapping to the Kinsey scale) on what Ohtori is that I haven’t seen before: a Witch’s labyrinth. Yes, from Madoka. Anthy is the Witch of Stories. She contracted with Kyubey to save her brother Dios from having to constantly save everyone. Given that the Tale of the Rose has echoes of both the Eden myth and Lucifer’s fall, she may have been the very first Puella Magi.

Silliness aside, I do believe that is basically the extent of Anthy’s power: she can do anything as long as it’s consistent with being either a fairy-tale princess or a fairy-tale witch.

And yes, I’m including the bull attack that Tsuwabuki remembers happening years prior to the ball. This is Ohtori. Time is broken. Memories are created at the moment of remembering, and the world shifts to match—the end of the Black Rose Saga demonstrated that much, which was kind of the whole point.

Anyway, Tsuwabuki. I hate him? Like, I think he’s probably fifth on my most-hated Utena characters list? (Saionji, Touga, and two characters who haven’t shown up yet round out the list. One of them is one of the characters you’re probably thinking of, the other isn’t.)
I mean, I think given the way Miki sort of oscillates on the edge between nice guy and Nice Guy Syndrome, the writers are aware that Nice Guy Syndrome exists, even if AFAIK it hasn’t been given a name yet in 1997. (A quick and dirty review of the literature does not reveal any references earlier than 2002 that I can find.) It was definitely around, since there are fictional instances of it at least as early as Shakespeare. (Unsurprising; romantic comedies are pretty much Nice Guy Syndrome as a genre, and Shakespeare more or less invented the genre with Much Ado About Nothing and The Taming of the Shrew.)
Anyway, Tsuwabuki is Nice Guy Syndrome and White Knight in their purest forms. He is deliberately inflicting danger on Nanami so that he can fulfill his fantasy of swooping in and saving her (oh look, Utena is anticipating yet another thing Madoka did by critiquing moe almost before it began), and then acts as her servant just so he can be “close to her.” Saionji claims that “just wanting to be near the one you love” is “a kind of love”—Utena rightly points out he’s full of shit. That’s not a kind of love, because it reduces the object of love to, well, an object, a location, treating reciprocation as irrelevant, which is to say, treating the feelings of the loved one as irrelevant.
Of course, the mere fact that Saionji relates it to his own imaginary relationship with Anthy helps clue us in on what this (otherwise easily mistaken for filler) episode is doing: after all, isn’t Tsuwabuki’s role in Nanami’s life very similar to Anthy’s role in Utena’s? The Shadow Girl play calls attention to it as well, being all about self-deception and the way that we use narratives to shape our lives, sometimes clinging to them even in the face of a contradictory reality. Utena has her narrative as a heroic prince, and cannot see through it to the reality that she won Anthy in a game. Nanami cannot see through either the story she usually tells herself about the incredibly close brother and sister who need no one else, or the story she tells herself in this episode about her brother and Anthy plotting to kill her. And Tsuwabuki cannot see past his own story in which he sees himself as the heroic “elder brother” saving Nanami.

 (Note, by the way, that Tsuwabuki is motivated by, and driven to his incredibly unchildlike and creepy behavior, by a memory. Yet another blue-eyed character led astray by their memories…)
Speaking of colors, I mentioned back on episode 3 that yellow can mean childishness, so it’s no surprise that the two most immature characters, Tsuwabuki and Nanami, are blondes. Of course, the stereotypical fairy tale princess is also a blonde, and that’s the real source of yellow’s meaning in this show: it is the princess, and by extension all that is associated with her: traditional femininity, innocence (including innocent cruelty), lack of experience/ignorance, childishness, and foolishness; the Madonna side of the Madonna/whore complex (which brings us right back to Tsuwabuki placing Nanami on a pedestal; she’s the Madonna, he has the complex).

Of course, the logic of the show in equating princess to innocence to inexperience to foolishness means that Nanami and Tsuwabuki are also the Fool, and often in fiction the Fool is able to see things that the Wise cannot. Thus Tsuwabuki is the only one who sees through all of Nanami’s schemes, and, more importantly, Nanami is the one who gets to really see just how messed up things at Ohtori are.

So far, other than Nanami’s and Tsuwabuki’s hair, indicating that they are both on the path of the princess, the main instance of yellow in the show is Utena’s dress in the flashback to her encounter with the prince, signifying that in the memory she is adopting the role of princess.
Three more observations that didn’t particularly fit anywhere:

  • Gee, it sure is entirely unsuspicious that, in an episode involving a guy plotting to create dangerous scenarios for Nanami so he can swoop in and rescue her, thereby earning her trust and affection, a dangerous situation JUST HAPPENS to occur involving Nanami so Touga can swoop in and rescue her, since he JUST HAPPENED to be wearing boxing gear, and this JUST HAPPENS to earn him back Nanami’s trust and affection.
  • Kids, don’t get in fistfights with kangaroos. They will straight up murder you. They will use their forelegs to hold you in place and then tear your intestines out with their immensely powerful legs and sharp hind claws. It will not be a pleasant diversion for you, although it might possibly be one for the kangaroo.
  • Current theory on why Nanami suddenly has recording/listening equipment: It represents the rumor mill.

Utena 7

 Juri episode! Yay! Juri is among my favorite characters, so I’m really happy to see her here. I mean, she’s honestly a really unpleasant person, but she’s also utterly fascinating to watch.

I honestly can’t remember if it’s ever explained what sort of hold Juri has over the staff that she can outright bully them. Touga’s reputation doesn’t seem to include that power. Though, did they ever establish what her role precisely is on the student council? Touga and Saionji are President and Vice President, IIRC, and Miki is Secretary… does that make Juri the Treasurer? And given what the Vice Principal says to her at the beginning of this episode… it’s possible that she’s got some influence over the school’s funding? Which seems utterly ridiculous for a student to have, but, well, this is the most ridiculous super-serious overpowered student council ever, so. (“If elected, I promise to have pizza available in the cafeteria every Friday. Also I will win the Rose Bride and use my power to revolutionize the world to cancel finals! Woo! Go Krakens!”) (Yes, the Ohtori High mascot in my imagination is the Krakens. You can blame Mark for that.)

Anyway, this episode should really annoy me because it’s another standard-issue Skeptics Are Willfully Blind Because They’re Bitter piece, and that’s a really boring, not to mention wildly inaccurate, cliché. But it largely redeems itself with the final twist, which turns Juri’s skepticism into a metaphor about being closeted. “The miracle” has nothing to do with religion here; it’s the possibility of a lesbian finding love when she’s unable to come out and has no access to any sort of LGBT community.

Up to that point, it’s a pretty standard version of the cliché, though I will admit to liking the scene with the knife-throwing. Something amazing and borderline impossible is happening while Juri is looking the other way and refusing to look.

The one thing I don’t like about the final recontextualization is that, looking back on scenes like the knife-throwing, it kind of implies that it’s Juri’s fault she’s lonely—that if she just turned around and looked (i.e., came out of the closet and tried to meet women) she’d be okay. And it’s true that the school does seem to be pretty accepting of things like Wakaba calling Utena her boyfriend or Anthy and Utena being engaged. But we never get to really see Juri’s reasons for keeping her sexuality private; it’s likely that she has some pretty good reasons for doing so.

Anyway, Juri’s path is obviously the miraculous, which is what orange signifies. There really hasn’t been much of any orange in the series so far; pretty much just Juri’s hair and rose. (Note, by the way, that her rose color suggests that deep down she really wants the miraculous to exist. Compare the Shadow Girls play in this episode.) Juri’s green eyes, of course, mean that she is focused on a relationship, specifically her feelings for the girl in the locket.

(It is no accident, by the way, that reason and the intellect are blue in this show, while miracles and the spirit are orange. Opposite colors have opposite meanings.)

Other than that, my only real comment is that this is my single favorite duel song in the series. I’ve not particularly tried to work out what it means, I just really like how it sounds and how it fits with the duel (which is the most intense in the series so far). My initial suspicion, given the large number of contradictory phrases and a reference to the hierarchies of Heaven and Hell, is that it’s about the futility of trying to approach the spiritual rationally.

Episode 8

I love this episode. It’s hilarious! Surfing elephants! Presumably the same ones Anthy animated back in episode 4. Although the ep about Tsuwabuki’s diary suggests Anthy also swapped the minds of the barbershop trio with elephants, which explains them chasing Nanami all episode and is yet another case of her using masculine entitlement and possessiveness of women to do her dirty work.

Now that I know that this and episode 6 are swapped, it seems really obvious. Utena initially assumes Touga is behind it because she hasn’t seen the shenanigans Nanami gets up to, while in ep 6 her dismissiveness regarding the threats to Nanami and question about who Nanami’s screwed over recently makes more sense if the Nanami curry adventure happened first.

Not much else to say about this one, except a horrible thought for people who’ve seen the whole series: How long do you think Nanami’s adventure took? Was she gone over a weekend? Did Anthy-in-Utena’s body have a visit with her brother?

Episode 9

I think they mentioned at some point that Saionji is captain of the kendo team, so I think he and Touga were dueling in that capacity, rather than as Duelists. Japanese culture note: a hundred years ago, Japanese physical education consisted of kendo and nothing else (for boys, anyway–I think girls may have leaned naginata fighting? At least in Fushigi Yuugi Genbu Kaiden they did). I believe it is still a significant part of many/most schools’ gym and sports programs. Actually knowledgeable people feel free to correct me.

Anyway, I’m having to do a lot of rethinking of how I constructed the color symbolism… but the episode that made me rethink it isn’t until next week, so let’s leave that be for now and just focus on the one color, green.

Green, you see, has two meanings, I’m coming to understand. One is the one I already identified: friendship and everything associated with friendship, like loyalty. (Notably, it is NOT other kinds of relationships, and specifically NOT romantic love. That was an error on my part, and one I’ve been making for years.) The other is choice. That may seem like a weird combination, but this episode kind of shows where it’s coming from, as Saionji is utterly undone by his poor choice in friends. (Dear Touga: You suck. I can’t stand Saionji, but nobody deserves YOU for a friend.)

We also get to see what drives him: his desire to defeat Touga, to find something eternal that he can depend on, his unfulfilled need for meaningful relationships, and the feeling that he somehow failed that girl (Utena, of course) long ago and has to make up for it with Anthy now, all converge to create a confused, angry young man who lashes out at the people closest to him. (Remember: explanations are not excuses. Knowing why someone does something does not require forgiving them for doing it.)

And the thing is, we all need friendship, companionship, to feel like we are part of a community and have bonds with others. It’s a fundamental human need, the emotional equivalent of food and water. The problem is, in order to not be overwhelmed with social anxiety, we need to believe in unconditional love, that our relationships can last forever… which has the slight problem of being factually untrue. People change, they leave, they die, they fail. Every relationship is built on sand.

So we have to choose to believe contrary to the facts. Some choose to simply not think about it and believe that their friendships will last forever until and except when they don’t. Others believe that they and their loved ones will be reunited someday, in the next life or when the Chosen One (Hebrew: Moshiach, Greek: Christos) fixes everything. Still others believe in a castle in the air somewhere where some eternal prince loves them forever, and where they and their loved ones can dwell in eternity.

Today that castle fell on Saionji, and he lost everything. I do pity him; he stands revealed as just through and through a complete loser in every respect. He chose poorly, and in the end had no friends to stand by him.

Episode 10

Nanami killed a kitten.

I mean, literally. That’s the kind of thing you say as hyperbole, to suggest someone’s an absolutely terrible person, isn’t it? “They kill kittens.” Nanami actually DID.

On the other hand, Touga looks about the same age as in the 10 years ago ish flashback, so Nanami is what, four? Five? Young enough that it’s possible she was just trying to make the kitten go away, and didn’t really understand she was KILLING it until it went over the waterfall–at least, that’s how I read her gasp when it does.

I have little evidence for this, but something about the interplay of the flashback with Nanami crying and begging forgiveness makes me think she never told anyone what happened to the kitten, and has kept it a secret shame for years. She’s definitely genuinely regretful here, as opposed to the big show she put on in the curry ep.

Speaking of which, if the two Nanami comedy eps hadn’t been swapped, we would have had a progression of Touga saving Nanami, then saving Utena, then comforting Nanami at the end of this ep. I think he’s intentionally putting on a show of being “princely” for Utena.

Revised view of what yellow is: “the princess” is actually a secondary, not primary, meaning. The primary meaning is hero-worship or adoration, and the baggage that comes with that: submission, passivity, the princess waiting to be rescued. It is that last which then, in turn, identifies yellow with traditional femininity. (Yellow and green, by the way, are the biggest challenges to trying to interpret the color symbolism according to the traditional language of flowers, since yellow roses mean friendship, but Nanami doesn’t seem like the character to associate that to.)

One thought on “Utena Dump 2

  1. It just occurred to me that I haven't watched Utena in over a decade. I should probably do that.

    Speaking of anime, any chance we could move this Saturday's stream an hour early?

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