Utena: Naked Ballroom Dancing

[Utena Content Note: Domestic Violence]

Utena Recap: Utena won her second duel against Saionji, choosing not to throw the game and lose Anthy, the Rose Bride. She's still uncomfortable with the situation, but she can't let Anthy go back to an abuser.

Links: Froborr's excellent posts and color symbolism guide are here. My live-tweets for each watch are here. I'm watching the subtitled episodes contained in the blu-ray collection here. There is an HD remaster coming out in December that is available for pre-order here. If you wanted to watch before you buy, you could find this episode on YouTube here.

Revolutionary Girl Utena, Episode 3: On the Night of the Ball

Yesterday I promised you naked ballroom dancing and today I will deliver.

First we reopen with the frame story of the princess. This seems like unnecessary padding (we already know all this!) but it's important to see her yellow dress and associate it with childishness. I cannot recommend gushingly enough Froborr's post on color symbolism in the series, because it's so important for understanding this episode. The princess' yellow dress of childishness will tie into Nanami's yellow hair and dress later when we meet her: she is a princess and an immature child.

Second, Utena awakes from her dream of the Prince with doubts. She barely remembers the incident from her childhood, and the only proof she has that she met the prince is her ring. What does the ring signify? Has it led her to the dueling and the rose gate? And what about the promise she made to herself to become a Prince? After all these years, is she any closer to being the Prince she wants to be... or is she still the Princess she was?

This scene hits close for me on the genderfeels. Utena reminiscing about her past reminds me of how I often find that I'm most likely to misgender myself when I'm thinking about my past. I slip into using old words that didn't fit at the time and don't fit now, but they were all I had to describe myself with. So I resonate with Utena finding it harder to see herself as a Prince when she thinks about her childhood sorrows and weaknesses.

We cut to Utena playing basketball and some of her confidence has returned; it's easier for her to feel like the Prince when she plays amazing sports and can show off a little her masculinity. God, I understand this so well. How hard it is to feel like the Prince when she remembers how she used to be a crying Princess and had to be given a ring; how much easier it is to feel like the Prince when she can put that behind her and look at all she is and has achieved now. GENDERFEELS.

Anthy arrives with breakfast and they eat together alone. Utena worries that Anthy doesn't seem to have any friends. This isolation seems unhealthy! Especially given Anthy's whole "I'm engaged to abusive people who fight over me!" situation. Utena analyzes the situation and decides to apply some judicious savioring: she strongly encourages Anthy, this girl who feels compelled to obey her fiance in every respect, to make friends and stop using deferential titles with respect to Utena.

In response to this, Anthy gently points out that she ought to use a deferential title to Utena because she is the Rose Bride and Utena is now engaged to her. Utena gets frustrated and snaps that she's a normal girl who does not need a bride and is looking for a normal boy like all normal girls do. Touga--resident gorgeous manipulative bastard--takes this opportunity to pounce: "I'm Touga Kiryuu, student council president and totally normal boy." Imagine all the suggestive eyebrow waggling you can cram into that sentence.

Touga has been watching Utena. He was surprised and alarmed when she beat Saionji so decisively in the last duel, recognizing that she is a threat to Touga's plans to leap in and be the best after the other student council members have cleared the way. The best way to address the threat that Utena presents to him now is to completely defang her by pressing her into a new role. Instead of addressing her as a fellow Prince and duelist, Touga tries to push Utena into a Princess role. He flirts with her and touches her hair in an intimate manner until Utena bats him easily away and asserts herself as a Prince.

Just like before with the dream and then the basketball, we see Utena grappling with her identity: Prince or Princess? She just said she was a normal girl seeking a normal boy, but when a boy tried to flirt with her, she shut him down in a distinctly masculine manner, rather than in a more feminine way. We see Utena at odds within herself over what she wants: she says she's a "normal girl", but she doesn't seem to want to be.

Touga slyly suggests they be friends and shows her the rose ring he wears and which matches hers. Utena instantly falters. Is he... the Prince she's been seeking? But if he's the Prince, what is Utena? Can they both be the Prince? If not, and if he is the Prince, what role does that leave for her? Does she have to be the Princess by process of elimination? She freezes up and Touga murmurs he'd like to get to know her much better. Bells ring: the bells that usually mark a duel winner. In this round of social combat, Touga has succeeded in unsettling Utena and undermining her confidence. In presenting himself as the Prince, he has left her floundering.

[Spoilers] Student council scene! Miki has his watch. Juri has her blistering irritation.We learn that Saionji has retreated to his room with a Broken Heart. We cut back to the heart of the school and find a group of girls punishing Anthy for hurting Saionji. Here we receive a good glimpse of the archetype of the Witch, and how her role is to be punished by a misogynistic world: Anthy has done nothing to take Prince Saionji away from the people--he chose to withdraw on his own--but she will bear the brunt of blame for it, because the girls want someone other than him to hate.

Nanami appears and seems to "save" Anthy; she tells the other girls to leave her alone. Both her hair and her frame roses are yellow: the color of the princess, the color of immaturity and stasis. The princess is "immature" in the sense that she is virginal and innocent, and she is static because she must remain that way. The princess cannot move or grow or make mistakes or mature in any way or she will eventually make the people angry and they will brand her a Witch. *feminist look to the camera*

Nanami informs Anthy that she's a nominee for the Dance Queen, and states that she would like to be Anthy's friend. Back at the dorms, Anthy receives a dress from the Student Council and Utena receives one from Touga. Anthy's dress is green, the color of friendships: Utena wants Anthy to make friends, and Nanami says she wants to be Anthy's friend. Utena's dress is pink and frilly. She looks like a delicate princess when she wears it--the princess role Touga wants to maneuver her into.

Smash cut to the Shadow Girls! They call the ball a "man trap" which is ironic because it's actually a trap set for the girls by men. Nanami is, of course, the immediate villain but she's being guided and manipulated just like everyone else at the academy. We're about to go into a charged social situation with a genderqueer girl who has genderfeels and a socially anxious isolated girl. WHAT COULD GO WRONG?

Utena enters with Anthy on her arm and girls lose their shit adoring Utena because she looks gorgeous in her frilly dress. Yet in spite of all the praise, Utena feels out of place and uncomfortable. Nanami reveals in an aside to the audience that she arranged for the dress and invitation to Anthy, since her brother Touga talks so much about her lately: the green dress of friendship is a trap. 

Touga creeps on Utena and tells her how gorgeous she looks. "This doesn't suit me at all!" she complains. GENDERFEELS. "It would be my pleasure if you danced with me in that dress," Touga says and it... is such an interesting framing. Because I am coming at this as a genderqueer enby who has very recently been told that I'm only loveable when I'm girl-presenting. So Utena being told that it would be a pleasure to dance with her as long as she's presenting this specific feminine way, is something that hits very close to home for me.

Touga's goal here is fairly simple: he's trying to maneuver Utena--who he sees as a dueling threat--into a Princess role, to remove her from the game. If he can woo her into being a feminine princess for him, he thinks she'll give up her pursuit of Prince-ness and drop out. "Don't you think we make a picture-perfect couple?" and for a moment, Utena is tempted. This show is about roles. The roles we slip on as we struggle to find ourselves. Utena understands this role. It would be so easy to give up her Prince-ness, put on this pretty Princess role, and date the most eligible boy in school. She has her doubts about his character, about the sincerity of his offer, but the role is one she could fall into without having to try hard. It might not be fulfilling, but it would be easy.

While Utena wrestles with her gender identity, Nanami leads the object of her jealousy--Anthy--to the dance floor. Anthy is frightened by the faceless crowd and [spoilers] she has good reason to be: people hurt her. Nanami arranges for Anthy's green dress of friendship to get wet and it turns out it's made of dissolving tissue paper. Anthy is left naked and afraid on the ballroom floor. Her scream of terror cuts through Utena's genderstruggle.

A damsel needs saving! A prince is needed! Utena doesn't even pause to think. She tears her own dress off and she's in her boy clothes! She leaps into the crowd, whisks a tablecloth from a nearby table, wraps it around Anthy into a gown, and asks her to dance. All the confidence Utena didn't feel before when she couldn't meet Touga's eyes or even look at his face is here now. She's not scared or shy. She beams at the crowd. She's a Prince. Her facial expression, her eyes, her smile are all subtly more masculine. She's confident now and firm in her resolve, certain and sure. Utena guides Anthy around the dance floor and they look so perfect together. A Prince and her Princess.

Utena looking subtly more masculine.

Utena leads Anthy in a dance around the room.

Anthy's tablecloth gown.

Utena again looking more subtly masculine than before.

This isn't to say that confidence is itself a masculine quality, but that Utena feels confidence when presenting as masculine. Anthy and Nanami are confident and certain of themselves while being feminine. But Utena, when femme-presenting, is not. (This is one of the many reasons why I identify with Utena and with her genderqueer feels.) Utena and Anthy dance beautifully around the floor and technically Anthy is naked and wearing a tablecloth, but she makes it work. Touga tells Nanami to show more restraint in her pranks and then (possibly foolishly) gushes about Utena to his little sister. "It's a shame she took off the dress I sent to her."

Clothes in this show are roles and when people change clothes, they take on a role. Utena tried on the feminine role Touga offered her, but she wasn't comfortable in it. She took it off when Anthy needed saving. Anthy tried on the green dress of friendship, but the offer of friendship and the dress were lies and they dissolved, leaving her alone. But it's interesting that the tablecloth Utena wraps her in is white. White is the Prince's color. (She even--as a Twitter reader points out--makes her own gown for Anthy rather than giving her Touga's dress.) I think Utena, in stepping into the role of the Prince, wrapped Anthy in her own color and own dress to protect Anthy and mark her as someone under her protection. 'This is my friend, she is under my protection.' Utena is gradually trying on the role of being the Rose Bride's fiance.

Thus ends Episode 3! But remember: both the Princess role and the Prince role are toxic. We'll get there.


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