Utena: Nice Guy Miki

[Utena Content Note: Misogyny]

Utena Recap: Anthy's first attempt to make friends ended in humiliation and shaming, but Utena leaped in and saved her like a good Prince should. But the underlying problem of Anthy's isolation remains. 

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 4-5: The Sunlit Garden (Prelude & Finale)

Today's post is a two-parter and we'll be talking about misogyny and madonna/slut complexes!

Episode 4 opens in medias res, which always makes me uncomfortable until I find my footing. Utena and Miki--a blue haired boy we've previously seen on the student council--are on the verge of a duel, which is odd because previously Miki seemed like the only nice guy in school! We learn that Miki is seeking a song he's lost and for that he needs Anthy as his muse. All this ties into his blue hair and with mental pursuits. Utena tells him that being seated at the piano suited him than a sword, and Juri (spying from afar) agrees.

Scene Change! Miki is playing at the piano and Nanami thinks his playing is lovely, the pride of the school. Miki feels out of tune, refusing to participate in any competitions. Instead, he just plays the same song over again when alone. Nanami decides she's going to have a crush on this boy, which is sweet but will lead to shenanigans later.

Math class! Wakaba is sad that she did poorly on a math test, but Utena did worse! She's usually better at this, but got lazy. Which is a nice touch! We're seeing how all this dueling and Rose Bride stuff has been distracting to her and she let her studies slip. I like it when fantastical events in a high school setting have real world repercussions on grades and the like. (Red Garden did this well, although by the end you did wonder why they kept attending at all.)

[Spoilers] Nanami has misunderstood Miki's vaguefeels about losing his sister to mean he's in love with Anthy (instead of *gasp* Nanami!), so now Anthy gets to be hurt again. And this is one of the parts that works so much better once you know the secret about Anthy and how she's the Witch. Being the Witch role means that Anthy is hurt by a misogynistic world that seeks to blame women for the hurts, pains, and imperfections of men--not because she did anything wrong, but because the world looks for a woman to blame. So we see girls hurting Anthy for making Miki "lose his confidence", but this is really just a flimsy excuse to blame a woman for the failings of a man.

[Spoilers] Miki arrives and saves Anthy, but just happens to notice that her schoolwork has music jotted on it. And here is yet another another bit where it works so much better when you know Anthy is helping to manipulate the duels, because we never saw her interested in music before now, so to have it suddenly come up now feels like a contrived excuse to make her interesting to Miki. Well, turns out it is contrived! BY ANTHY.

Anthy and Miki stroll and walk and talk, and Miki ends up tutoring her in math (and later also Utena). Utena turns angry when she realizes Miki has a rose ring, assuming he's here to duel for Anthy. He denies it, swearing he doesn't want to duel for the Rose Bride, and Utena softens. Miki seems like a genuinely nice boy! Anthy thanks him and Miki sees music again and suddenly I'm not so sure the music from before was in the notes we zoomed in on. But I'm going to say it was because I love the idea of Anthy lugging around sheet music for Miki to notice. The mental image is too perfect.

Utena softens when she notices Miki blushing and just straight up points out that he likes Anthy. This is just so perfectly in character for Utena and her cruel innocence. She doesn't realize he might not want her to say that aloud. She then goes off on how her and Anthy's grades have suffered because of all this dueling nonsense and it's just. so. cute. Miki offers to tutor Utena to help her pass her make-up test, and he's so close to being a genuinely nice boy and not a Nice Guy.

Scene change: Miki is at the piano again and his playing is richer than before. Touga notes that he seems to have found his missing muse.

Shadow Girls! Today's play is about a boy who falls in love with a girl, until he gets to know her and realizes she's not what he idealized. "The truth behind the girl... do you really know what it is?" I love how Froborr phrases this: "You cannot love a person from afar; all you can love is an image of them, which is your own creation." And I love the shadow play because it can apply equally well to Anthy and Kozue (Miki's sister) who we will see in Part 2. He idealizes them both, but Miki knows almost nothing about either girl. He doesn't love them; he loves an image he created.

Miki shows up at the dorm for tutoring and Nanami tags along, determine that Anthy not steal her latest crush. She has a plan and the plan is surrounded by yellow roses which means it's a very childish plan indeed. Nanami is going to put a snail in Anthy's pencil box so everyone will be upset but WHOOPS there are already snails in the box. We will now escalate to a snake and an octopus and Anthy turns out to already have some some weird animals of her own! "It's just like Anthy to keep a mongoose!"

This scene is of course totally ridiculous, but it is 100% setting up Anthy to be a Witch, as well as her revenge on Nanami. Oh, and Anthy is drawing and animating an elephant as if by magic. Yeah, this will come up again. I note here that I feel sorry for Nanami. We're set up to mistrust her as the mean girl, but she's on the verge of something. She recognizes that Ohtori Academy life seems to revolve around Anthy in a strange and unlikely way, and she's not wrong! More on that in a later episode.

Anthy steals away and plays the piano--the song Miki always plays--perfectly and beautifully. "I didn't know she could play the piano," Utena says, and again this makes so much sense when we know about Anthy. Miki declares that she plays just like his sister, and that he's found it: his muse.


This is a two-parter and now we move into the Finale. (Froborr and Mark Oshiro's recaps of this one are so perfect that I can only flail in comparison but flail I shall.)

In the Prelude, we learned that Miki is seeking the perfect childhood he lost and has come to fixate on Anthy as a muse he needs to possess. We open with Juri and Miki fencing. Juri is impressed that Miki finally beat her in a practice match. She points out he's become more driven. Miki laments his technique isn't perfect. That's his desire and weakness in this arc: perfection instead of growth. He plays the same song again and again, and wants to return to an idealized past where he was 'perfect'.

This drive for impossible perfect is a specific type of nonsense which creative people are susceptible to. Our earlier work seems better, purer, easier in retrospect than it actually was. Rose-colored glasses helps us forget the sweat and tears and pain that went into a polished final product. And I often feel as a writer like I'm getting worse or like writing is becoming harder, because humans tend not to see our present successes or our past hardships.

Juri urges Miki to let go of perfection, but he can't. He wants to be perfect and doesn't realize his quest only brings him stagnation. How can he try new things when all he does is play the same song over and over again in an attempt to perfect that one song?

Miki asks Anthy to play for him and she plays the song that he and his sister wrote and made famous. He'd been happy as a child prodigy with his sister, but then he "ruined" it all by talking her into a concert and then coming down sick. Rather than play without him, she ran away from the concert and never played again. Miki has missed her playing ever since.

Utena gently teases Anthy about the younger man who has fallen for her, and Anthy makes a point that she's Utena's bride, not Miki's. This is a nice touch because she's maneuvering him into fighting for her, but he is still the one who makes the toxic Nice Guy choice to possess her. Utena, being awesome, rants about the dueling system, saying she can't forgive a system that deprives Anthy of personal liberty.

Student Council Scene: Miki has called a meeting. He wants to dissolve the student council, insisting that the duels to possess Anthy are bad. "I can't follow a system that robs Anthy of her personal freedom!" He echoes Utena's words almost exactly and it feels like he's so close to understanding. Touga and Juri tell him you can't make an omelette without breaking the world's shell.

Cut to the school music room and a girl with dark blue hair slams into Miki as she comes out of the music room--it's Kozue, Miki's sister. She softens when she sees Miki, but he glares and tries to push past her. "I don't have any hope for you," he says coldly. Her clothes are in disarray as she quips that the music room isn't just for playing the piano. Inside, Miki finds one shirtless Touga. I do like the clear implication that Kozue was trying to give Touga time to cover up and skedaddle but he didn't want to: he's here specifically to taunt Miki into a duel.

"Your sister is as cute as you are" is Touga's opening salvo and I think I mentioned this series is hecka queer. Touga then applies social pressure, saying that if Miki doesn't "defend" the precious things he "possesses", people will take them from him. His meaning is obvious: if Miki won't fight for Anthy, then people will take her from Miki the way Touga has just taken Kozue. (This is obvious and utter nonsense, of course; Touga hasn't "taken" Kozue from Miki when Miki himself continues to throw away any chance of a relationship with her. But it's a very specific kind of misogynistic nonsense that a lonely young man like Miki is susceptible to.)

I really love what Froborr and Mark point out here: this is how misogyny perpetuates itself through social pressure. Miki overheard Utena being feminist and decided to adopt her attitude, even going so far as to call a council meeting and parrot her words to the other. But then he fell. He didn't follow through on his allyship and Touga pushed him back into line by threatening him with the loss of his muse.

I like also that we see this imminent failure of allyship in the way Miki treats his sister: he shames her and says he's given up hope on her. He'd previously talked about her like she was an angel, but the reality is that he's angry with her, and angry that she isn't what he wants. I'm sure she's hurt him too because that's what we do; we hurt our loved ones. But he can't break away from the madonna/slut complex he's layered onto her. As a child, she was virginal and good; as young woman, she's slutty and bad. He doesn't have any other framework for her than this. (Beware the male allies who seem social justicey but are shitty to their girlfriends and sisters.)

Touga explicitly points out to Miki that if they dissolve the council, Anthy will have free will and might choose to do something other than what Miki wants. Faced with the loss of his wishes, Miki falls to the Dark Side and realizes it's better to own her than risk losing his dreams. (We literally just saw Touga shirtless, but we get a recap of shirtless Touga, I honestly think because Miki wanted to see him again.)

Cut to a classroom scene: Utena is delighted to see Miki, her tutor and friend, arrive to talk to her. The look of betrayal on her face when he challenges her is heart-breaking. Her one male ally at this school and on the student council. (You know she went home and shitposted some vicious "Kill All Men" venting on Twitter that night.)

Shadow Girls! Today they play-act the role of a pirate, stealing and plundering treasures. But why? What does the pirate ultimately want? They don't know. Miki (and, to a certain extent, Touga) doesn't know what he wants. He wants to become perfect, but that's not possible and it's not even really specific. Perfect at what? That one song? No, it would be closer to the truth say Miki wants to be a child again, to be happy again, to once again have the innocent relationship with his sister that he had. But those things are impossible too.

(He reminds me a little of when I break out an old video game from my childhood. The game is good, don't get me wrong, but what I really want is to be a kid again and I can't. I can never experience the same joys and sorrows and highs and lows of childhood.)

Miki is unsatisfied, but plundering the Rose Bride--or a hundred Rose Brides--won't make him happy. What would happen if he won Anthy? Would he sour and turn abusive over time like Saionji? Would he force her to play the same song over and over, never caring how miserable she was? Was Saionji as innocent as Miki once? The Dark Side does terrible things to your soul the longer you dabble in it. Once you've accepted that it's okay for a woman to be owned and unhappy in exchange for your happiness, where does that take you? Miki steps to the edge of the precipice of abuse and readies himself for the swan dive.

Duel time! Miki's rose for the duel is blue: pursuit of the intellect. Utena is white: the Princely ideal.

[Spoilers] I pause here to note that what Miki wants is, in some ways, what Akio wants. Akio's pursuit isn't one of the mind, but he does want the lost childhood and innocent sister that Miki seeks. Throughout the series, Kozue and Nanami play sisterly counterparts to Anthy. Kozue was innocent and angelic, then abandoned intellectual pursuits and embraced sexual corruption (as Miki sees it). Miki wants that innocent childhood back, the little sister who worshiped him and was worshiped in turn. Kozue can (and still does) love and adore him, but he doesn't want this Kozue. He scorns her for not being that Kozue. Give him a few years without an improving influence like Utena or Juri, and Miki would be a young Akio.

Anyway, Utena yanks a sword out of her girlfriend's breasts like you do. The duel song is about the spira mirabilis, which I will just quote Froborr: "The perfect mathematical spiral that keeps returning to where it started instead of striking out into the world." So I learned a thing today because if I ever knew what that was, I've forgotten it to make room for RPG loot tables.

I think the most delicious irony about this fight the 2-part episode has been leading up to is how unnecessary it is: that's the point, as it's an indictment against misogyny. Utena would never have forbade Anthy from playing piano with Miki. Miki made himself paranoid over something that wouldn't occur. He wanted to own Anthy, not in response to a real threat (like someone trying to carry her off) but out of his own insecurities. Touga spotted those insecurities and pounced on them with a bellows to stoke them, but they weren't rooted in logic or reality.

Miki teeters on the edge of the Nice Guy here and when Utena calls him out he looks back at Anthy and sees "she really wants to be free!", which reminds me of this old Toast piece.

some people think women want to have a lot of “sex” or “husbands” or hats or whatever
but what we actually want is just basic autonomy

KING ARTHUR: ahh tytyty

But because Miki is fully committed to this Nice Guy thing, he decides to "free" Anthy by winning her, which is very Orwellian of him. And he might have won, except that Anthy cheered on Utena which she really did not have to do?

[Spoilers] It's so hard to tell Anthy's motivations sometimes because she IS helping to manipulate everyone, but I really do think the enthusiasm we see here is real? I think she loses herself in the enjoyment of watching Utena fight for her. The other two fights were to save Anthy from Saionji. This one is to keep Anthy. Sure, we can see Miki is a blossoming Akio--and I think Anthy can see that too--but Utena is just irked as fuck. She's angry and upset and pissed at Miki and it's kinda fucking hot? I think Anthy can appreciate that and loses herself in a cheer.

That cheer is enough to trip Miki the fuck up and his childhood memory shatters and he loses the duel because he's not evil yet. Cut to the music room and Kozue is playing The Song, but badly. She says she never liked playing and never had any talent for it; she only played for her brother's sake. Everyone assumed they were both prodigies, but really it was all Miki. Kozue fled from the concert because she couldn't play without him.

I'm kinda inclined to believe Kozue's version of events, while recognizing that both stories are true for them. Miki's story is about how he lost his partner after he failed her; Kozue's story is about how she gave up something she didn't like when she realized she didn't have to do it anymore. Now they've both lost each other and neither of them know how to fix it because they're missing a person who didn't exist and never did: Miki misses his piano-playing angelic prodigy sister, while Kozue misses the brother who loved her for herself and not for a talent she doesn't have.

Miki approaches Utena and says he "won't lose next time" and it's..... he's trying to be nice, but it's noteworthy that he hasn't given up the duelling game. Utena says "oh boy" as he walks away and her face is perfect: soft and affectionate and frustrated all at the same time. I know that look so well.

And that's the end of the two-parter episode! Next episode is #6 which I'm tempted to swap with #8 because of reasons.


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