Mark Watches ‘Revolutionary Girl Utena’: Episode 21

In the twenty-first episode of Revolutionary Girl Utena, Mikage tries a different approach to killing Anthy by going through Nanami’s minions. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Utena.

Trigger Warning: For talk of emotional manipulation and a brief discussion of homophobia.

  • It just sort of hit me while watching this episode that I really could have used a show like Utena in high school or even college to show me how toxic a lot of my relationships were. I’m beginning to understand how much of this show is dedicated to tearing down the idea of putting anyone on a pedestal. Adoration and obsession are key themes of Utena, and this episode is yet another fantastic example of how this can go wrong.
  • TRUE STORY: “Vermin” hit so close to home because I was Keiko in high school and junior high. I’m not kidding y’all. Until I learned better, I used to do the homework of dudes I had crushes on, all in the hope that if I was nice enough and enough of a good friend, then maybe someone would finally love me. Misguided? Oh gods, of course. It was a terrible thing for me to do on a number of levels. But I truly believed that it was possible! I really thought that all the extra work I did would pay off.
  • Now, there’s a lot to be said for my mindset at the time, particularly if I’m going to discuss my junior year of high school. I had ran away from home, was jumping from couch to couch on a weekly basis, had an extreme need of any sort of positive affection or attention, and I lived in an environment with absolutely NO resources for a young gay kid, let alone a queer kid of color. Oh my god, do you know how badly I could have used any guidance at all that would have told me to STAY FAR AWAY FROM STRAIGHT BOYS? But when your entire high school has maybe one or two guys or girls who were out at all, I thought this was how you navigated the world. You were nice enough, and someone loved you back. Thank you so much, homophobia, FOR ALL YOU HAVE DONE FOR ME.
  • I think there’s also a very important sub-narrative that you could make of this, and I don’t ever see commentary on it: I totally bought into the bullshit notion that popular films and shows imparted on me that niceness means you’re entitled to someone’s love or adoration. That plays a huge part in Keiko’s journey in this episode, too. She is overly and unnecessarily kind and subservient to Nanami in the hope of gaining Touga’s affections. Her decision to shield him from the rain is nice, sure, but it’s offered with an ulterior motive, you know? And shit, it’s such a personal thing for me! I know my situation was awful, and it sucks to want love and affection and not get it from anyone, but that doesn’t mean I am exempt from that sort of behavior. So yeah, I rarely see conversations about how Nice Guy bullshit spills over to gay men just as much as it does to straight men. I know it happens all the time. (And hell, one specific person who I’m acquainted with certainly fits the model to the T. HE’S SO AWFUL ABOUT IT.)
  • So watching Keiko try to win Nanami’s validation was so horrible to watch. I saw myself in it, and and I saw exactly how it was going to play out. To Nanami, these three girls – Keiko, Aiko, and Yuuko – are nothing more than “vermin” to her. Oh, she’ll use them to get what she wants, to absolve herself of responsibility, and to make her life easier, but in the end? They’re all potential threats, and they’re all less than human.
  • Which then makes me wonder what the fuck is going on with Anthy and Akio??? I’m worried about the way that Utena is growing closer to Akio because SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH HIM. But now, I have to begin looking at Anthy differently, because “Vermin” heavily, HEAVILY implies that Akio is having her manipulate Utena, too.
  • WHAT
  • Anyway, I initially thought that perhaps Mikage was manipulating Nanami to become the next Black Rose Duelist, but oh god, STILL WRONG ALL THE TIME. He was manipulating her, of course, by nudging her towards seeing Keiko as a threat. This episode doesn’t totally explain how he did this, but I kind of like the idea that he’s this ambiguous, omniscient threat. He always knows the deepest fears and insecurities of the people he exploits, and part of the terror around him is because we don’t understand how he’s able to do what he’s able to do.
  • Regardless, he’s able to exploit Keiko, and as I said on video, it’s even more frustrating as usual because Keiko’s hatred of Nanami is justified. It’s not like Mikage is implanting false thoughts or misdirecting Keiko to make her feel like she’s being mistreated. SHE ACTUALLY IS.
  • And in the process, she’s the next Black Rose Duelist.
  • AND I AM UTENA, BECAUSE I DO NOT UNDERSTAND THIS YET. Oh god, can someone explain all of this to Utena because then I’ll learn, too?
  • (this is great i love it)

The video for “Vermin” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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