Mark Watches ‘Revolutionary Girl Utena’: Episode 39

In the thirty-ninth and final episode of Revolutionary Girl Utena, Utena makes a promise. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Utena.

Trigger Warning: For talk of consent, suicide, and manipulation.

I’d like to think that the importance of choice is at the heart of Revolutionary Girl Utena. Utena makes a conscious choice in the finale of the show: she decides to lift her body off the ground, despite that she’s probably dying, and save Anthy when no one else will. And even though the act may kill her, she presses on. That choice is then mirrored by Anthy when she disavows herself of Akio’s cycle. There’s an unknown future for both characters; their choice is risky and dangerous, but they go through with it anyway because it’s right. God, what a journey it is to that point. This is an agonizing episode, one that’s been tragically foreshadowed for a while. All that talk about what Utena and Anthy will do together in ten years? The oath Utena made to protect Anthy? Saionji’s assertion that they were all trapped in coffins? OH GOD, it’s all unfolds in heartbreaking detail because for a moment, Anthy believed that she could not escape her destiny.

Utena is not easy to dissect, though, and this episode confirmed my suspicion that a great deal of it would be left up to interpretation. That’s perfectly fine with me, and I think there’s enough here in the finale to piece together a general idea of how this all went down. In the last review, I questioned the chain of events that led Anthy and Akio to become who they are in the present time, but I think I already had enough information before this: they grew up. In Akio’s case, I felt like his behavior in front of the Rose Gate solidified my theory that he’d lost whatever it was that made him the Prince in Utena’s past. Here’s a man who relied on his sister betraying the woman she loved in order to steal her soul. (I really like the idea that the swords pulled out of the various duelists in Utena either are the soul or represent it.) He uses someone else’s sword to attempt to break through the gate that seals the power of Dios within it. But what is that power? What does revolution actually mean in this case? What did Akio lack that Utena had?

My guess – which is probably wrong, but I’m okay with that – is that the power to revolutionize the world is imagination. If you compare the Prince’s attitudes with Akio’s, you can see a moral disparity. While the Prince could not free his sister from the swords that pierced her body, he gave Utena hope that she might be able to do it. What do we hear from both Akio and Anthy in the present time? Both of them decry Utena’s ability to be the Prince because she’s a girl. If we accept that Anthy was under the spell of Akio’s manipulation, then I think you could argue that Akio is responsible for his lack of a belief in possibility. There is no possible world in his mind in which Utena can get past the Rose Gate. He is only certain that he can do it and that he deserves it.

But Utena, the Prince who refuses to give up, believes so wholeheartedly that if she can just make it to the Rose Gate, she can save her best friend. Even though many years have passed and she may have lost her sense of nobility, Utena is still the same girl on that red carpet, crying over the pain and suffering that Anthy is feeling. She never lost her imagination. So she doesn’t need a sword to tear open the Rose Gate. SHE DOES IT WITH HER BARE HANDS. It’s a brutal sequence, and I loved all the little details on her fingers and face that suggested that she tore up her own body in the process in order to open the gate. And even the imagery of Anthy in her coffin is a deliberate mirror to Utena in her own coffin. Which is when she believed that there was no reason for her to live! Isn’t that the same state Anthy was in? And just like Akio once gave Utena hope, Utena stretches her hand out to Anthy to offer her hope: someone wants her in this world. Someone wants to save her. Someone values her very existence.

It’s not lost on me that this is the first and ostensibly only time that Utena ever gets to see the real Anthy. It’s not lost on me that in her attempt to save Anthy, Utena gives herself up to the swords, allowing Anthy to escape them. And I can’t ever forget how crushing it is to know that their fingers brushed one another in the most bare-bones hold imaginable, only for Anthy to slip away. Heartbreaking isn’t even a strong enough word. It’s unfathomable. It’s painful. And when the show cuts back to Ohtori Academy and the rest of the student body have no idea that the arena is finally crumbling, we’re given a world without Utena in it anymore. 

Initially, it’s… well, I thought it was cruel. Losing Utena was bad enough, but for her to simply pass out of memory of everyone she affected? Miki and Juri don’t know what happened to her. WAKABA HAS A NEW BEST FRIEND. Nemuro Memorial Hall is still in shambles. And while Utena existed for a time, she’s simply… gone. I WAS READY TO SCORCH THE EARTH IN FURY until the final scene reiterated the power of revolution. Akio was so ready to start up the duels again, to begin manipulating everyone once more, all so he could take the power of Dios for himself, BUT ANTHY REFUSED TO BE A PART OF IT!!! It’s clear that whatever Utena did, her sacrifice allowed Anthy to refuse to consent to being the Rose Bride. Not only that, but in a stunning transformation sequence, Anthy, wearing her own choice of clothing, heads out to find Utena in whatever world she may be in.

It’s possibility, y’all. There is still a possibility that in ten years, Utena and Anthy will be together, and they’ll be laughing over a cup of tea.

I have no idea where the movie fits in with all of this, as I’m unspoiled about it, so I’ll save my final thoughts on the series as a whole until then. But for now? I’m heartbroken over this ending, but there’s still some hope. I loved this show, as bittersweet as it is. And I’m really excited to see what this film actually is.

The video for “Someday, We Will Shine Together,” which has the cruelest fucking name in the universe, can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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