In the thirty-fourth episode of Revolutionary Girl Utena, I finally get some answers, and even then, the show still teases me. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Utena.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of suicide and consent.
WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO SAY AFTER ALL OF THAT?
- Y’ALL, THAT WAS THE ACTUAL SHADOW PLAY GIRLS. Granted, we never saw their faces; the entire time they spoke to Utena, asking her to be a part of the school’s drama club, their backs were to us. STILL. I didn’t actually think they were characters in the school.
- (Of course, there’s a clear explanation for this: They aren’t actually real. Wakaba makes a great point after she finds out Utena is going to a play. Since when did Ohtori Academy have a drama club? Given that this episode reveals just how surreal and fantastical reality is, it’s possible that they aren’t real people and that they’re part of the magical force that put the Rose Bride and the Prince into the world.)
- I figured that this was just going to be one of those episodes where some everyday occurrence at the school would be the impetus for exploring a theme or a character, but the second I saw that the auditorium was completely empty (aside from Anthy, Utena, and Akio), I knew that THIS WOULD NOT BE THE CASE. Something was wrong. SOMETHING WAS VERY WRONG.
- I wasn’t ready. I WASN’T READY.
- At first, I thought that Utena was leaping straight into SUPER META, where the show’s own meta-narrative (in the Shadow Play Girls) was now the main narrative, except it was commenting on the narrative. And I thought that this was the only gimmick we’d get, almost as if it were another clip episode.
- I shall laugh at how unprepared I was.
- BECAUSE NOPE
- THIS IS HOW UTENA DECIDES TO EXPLAIN TO ME WHAT EVERYTHING IS
- THROUGH A SHADOW PLAY
- Which?!?!?!? Y’all, do you realize how brilliant this is? I admit that most of my commentary on the actual shadow plays has been in the videos. A lot of the time, I didn’t understand them. I didn’t know what to say! I thought they were an important part of the fabric of Utena, but I honestly didn’t analyze them as much as others. And then it turns out that this is how the show tells me what’s going on. I love it. I LOVE THIS CHOICE.
- Even then, I was unsure that I should take the play at face value. As the Shadow Play Girls begin to act out the tale of the Prince and the Rose Bride, they quickly deviate from what we know of Utena’s story, and then
- AND THEN
- WHAT THE FUCK
- The prince was tricked by a witch?
- WHO TRAPPED HIM IN AN UPSIDE-DOWN CASTLE IN THE SKY?
- WHAT THE FUCK STOP THIS WHAT THE FUCK!!!!
- Up to this point, I was very certain that Akio was the End of the World/the Prince, and then this happens, and I’M VERY CONFUSED.
- Even more confusing? The very suggestion that Anthy is the witch, and that she was the one who trapped her brother in the castle, and that she is actually the true instigator of everything. IT RUINED ME. I couldn’t understand it! Akio has always been a clear antagonistic force, you know? And my confusion over his identity isn’t even the point here. (Though I do think Akio = the prince = End of the World.) It’s the fact that he’s been the one we’ve seen openly manipulating everyone around him. Even before he showed up, if you accept that he sent all the letters to the Duelists in the Student Council, you can see his malevolent influence in everything.
- Which isn’t to say that Anthy is absolved of all responsibility, either! I’d say that from “Qualifications of a Duelist,” we’ve been forced to admit that Anthy is at least helping out her brother. But why? And how much of it is because she has no consent here? Is she being controlled? Constantly threatened? Does she have any choice about what she does?
- I think the answer to these questions (and many others) are in Utena’s dream. The second half of “The Rose Crest” isâ€¦ christ. It may be the most importance sequence in all of Utena? And I don’t say that because it obviously gives us the full flashback of what happened when Utena wanted to die. It’s important because it’s in a dream. It’s important because issues of love, ownership, identity, and consent are roots of this entire conflict, and the origin story makes this evident. It’s important because it casts the fairy tale tone all over Utena. And it’s important because it explains Anthy so much.
- Truthfully, it’s one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever seen, and you can basically see me being totally numb in the video during this sequence because I HAD EXPIRED ALL EMOTIONS FOREVER.
- There’s a timelessness to the flashback, too, suggesting the fragile nature of this reality. I mean, we can’t forget that an entire character was wiped out of the narrative, right? Mikage disappeared, and it was as if he never existed in the first place. If this reality is this malleable, then this flashback seems to suggest that the world of Utena can be rewritten as much as is necessary. I say that because the story feels like a cycle. How many times has this repeated? How often has the Prince failed to free his sister? How many other people have failed to free the Rose Bride?
- This origin story relies on possession, though, and I can’t escape how frequent that theme is on Utena. (NANAMI? TSUWABUKI? SAIONJI? AKIO? WHO DOESN’T ACT POSSESSIVE ON THIS SHOW?) The Prince, injured and hurt from some unknown force, still desires to help out the very people who feel like they own him, all so that he can save their princesses. It’s important that all of the “subjects” of the Prince are faceless and nameless. There are so many of them that they just form an ambiguous mob, but they’re a mob that is terrifying.
- The Bride, seeing how her brother has been torn apart to please others, refuses to let him sacrifice himself so violently for others. So she tells the crowd that the Prince is now hers, that they can’t use him anymore, and that he is somewhere they can never reach.
- SO THEY ALL STAB HER WITH THEIR SWORDS
- OH MY GOD
- THE APPLE
- OH MY GOD SHE SACRIFICED HERSELF TO SAVE THE PRINCE
- And this is what Utena saw all those years ago. This is the reason she wanted to be noble. This is the reason she was given the Rose Crest ring. This is the reason she wanted to be a prince. She saw Anthy’s perpetual suffering and was so horrified that she decided to dedicate her life to freeing her from thatâ€¦ thing. That existence.
- I can’t do this.
- SO MUCH OF THIS SHOW MAKES SENSE NOW, HOLY SHIT.
- How can Utena free Anthy? Does this explain all those comments about how Anthy has no free will? How does Akio play into this? HOW AM I STILL SO UNPREPARED FOR THIS SHOW?
- Baby Utena crying: the most heartbreaking thing in the universe.
The video for “The Rose Crest” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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