Utena: The Castle Comes Crumbling Down

[Utena Content Note: Abuse]

Links: Froborr's excellent posts and color symbolism guide are here. I'm watching the subtitled episodes contained in the blu-ray collection here.

Revolutionary Girl Utena, Episode 9: "The Castle to Hold Eternity"

More opening thoughts from Kissmate: "Through the destruction when the prince awakes, the horses rise from the rubble and begin their fight-and-befriend jousting sequence. The blue filter when Utena and Anthy are separated... it's logical that Anthy will always be in danger of being taken from Utena, because of the Rose Bride role she fills?"

We open with Saionji and Touga sparring while women cheer them on. We don't see any actual girls, but rather their voices are dubbed over the swords as though the swords are the ones cheering. Kissmate notes that the two men "only see women as tools, weapons, in their fights. Saionji wants to use the Rose Bride to revolutionize the world, and it ties into how Anthy *is* the sword of Dios: women are weapons. These girls are training swords; Anthy is the real deal. Other women are just training wheels to cut your teeth on in preparation for the one that matters. Also: Saionji is posed with his sword up, power poised to strike, while Touga has his sword down, patient and waiting." (The broom tells them to shh and I think it's Juri. Because she's the council member doing most of the work, she cleans up their shit? Kissmate thinks the voice is a teacher and not Juri.)

Touga wins over Saionji, suggesting that patience and planning wins over fury and power. Kissmate: "That greenhouse is gorgeous, it looks like a birdc-- oh MY GOD, it's a fucking birdcage and she spends all her time there! She spends all her time there, growing roses for the duelists. She's literally tending to all of the people on the council, she has to do her duties and she's caged and can't get out, HOW DID I NOT SEE IT."

Chu-Chu plays with a pill bug, which is then eaten by a green frog while the green-haired character walks up--is Saionji as willing to eat Anthy as the frog was to eat the pill bug? (Kissmate theorizes that the pill bug is Utena, not Anthy. "She wears black, like the pill bug, and Anthy is messing with her. Green frog eats Utena--like Saionji wants to do--and the act distresses Chu-Chu the same way it would distress Anthy.") [Anthy is surrounded by yellow and pink roses as the other two talk. "Adoration and Utena. She's tending to Utena's adoration."]

A flashback shot of Touga and Saionji. ["Their swords are aligned perfectly, pointed in the same direction. But Saionji is the one threatening to hurt Touga, while Touga is taking a more defensive stance. It's like he's saying 'if you cross me, I'll cut through you, but hurting you is not my goal'. Brute force versus picking your battles. Touga is surrounded in white while Saionji by orange. Yearning and love and mysticism, or seeking the same."] Anthy asks if Saionji even loves Anthy and why is he bothering with these duels. Saionji yells that he needs the duels in order to beat Touga, and we see in flashback a wounded-in-the-fight Saionji having his hand bandaged by Touga: the act traditionally done by the Prince to his Princess. Even Saionji's hands are feminine in the hand close-up.

Saionji longingly touches Anthy's image through the glasshouse and notes that she desires "something eternal" like he does: he sees her as a kindred spirit. He wants a friend. We smash cut to him and Touga as children riding a bike together and being friends; they hold each other with close familiarity. Based on the position of the bandage, Touga is the one driving the bike and Saionji is the one holding him. ["His prince! The horse! Saionji is riding on the back like a princess would be. This isn't a knight and his squire; this is a prince with his princess. OH NO, there's a green cloud of doubt hanging over the both of them."]

Because I'm immature, Touga says "You're the only one I know who'll let me practice on them." But I actually do think this might be intentional given the earlier deliberate conflation of training swords with women and training matches with sex. ["They're crossing swords! IN A GAY WAY!"] The lights come up and Kissmate notes that their shirt match their eyes. "They're wearing their hearts on their sleeves? This is back in a simpler time when they were able to be themselves and love each other. Oh my god, I'm having feelings."

The two boys notice church bells and are told there was a funeral for two parents, and a young girl is missing. The boys sneak into the church and lightning illuminates the church. ["Two coffins are soaked in white light, the third in black."] Touga opens a coffin to reveal a little pink-haired girl nesting on pink roses. She begs the boys not to open the coffin and Touga promises not to tattle on her as he strokes her pink hair. ["He did that again the first time he met Utena! That's why she flipped out."]

The girl says that life is making her sick and she doesn't understand the point of living if everyone has to die. "There's no such thing as something eternal," she murmurs as Saionjo looks on in pain.

[Kissmate: "He's wearing a yellow band in his hair. He adores Touga. Oh no, this is why Touga is trying to force Utena into the princess role. He gave her the pink dress because he remembered this little girl as a princess and wanted to recapture that. She's been rejecting the princess role to be a prince and Touga was like 'I think you took a wrong turn somewhere. Here's a dress; be a princess'." Me: "I had thought he was trying to remove a competitor by convincing her to be a princess instead of a prince; I hadn't connected it to his childhood experiences that we see later." Kissmate: "He held her hair as a child and she passively accepted it; contrast that with touching her hair later and she shoves him off. Something changed, but he still thought he could 'fix' her to be a princess again."]

When the girl stops talking, Kissmate notes that the thinking Touga has had a shirt change from blue (logic) to green (doubt). Touga stands to walk out and Saionji protests, saying they can't just leave her. Touga tells him to "show her something eternal" and the bandage falls off: Saionji in that moment made the switch from a passive princess to an active prince: he's seeking something eternal in order to save the girl. I wonder if the source of Touga's doubt is a sudden uncertainty in his ability to be a prince: is that ideal even achievable? ("Was it really such a good idea?" the Shadow Girls sing, again and again.)

The girl came out and Saionji thinks Touga went back privately to console her, which he denies. We know that the girl met Dios and that he cheered her, but Saionji's trust in Touga is shattered because he thinks he's hiding the "something eternal" from Saionji. Meanwhile, Touga's shirt is blue again and he's confident once more. Either Touga really was Utena's prince all along or just seeing her "saved" (even by someone else) restores his faith in the system. I've talked before about my theory that an earlier draft of the material might have intended Touga as the prince all along, and it really hasn't worked but Kissmate points out we know Dios can grant his spirit to others as a blessing: he's done so in the dueling ring for Utena. Could Utena's "prince" have been Touga blessed by the spirit of Dios, as opposed to a physical Dios? (Probably not, but the idea interests me.)

Anthy has told Saionji that she wants to go to the castle in the sky, where something eternal dwells. Kissmate notes this is now twice that someone has wanted a "something X": Miki wanted his "something shining" and Saionji wants "something eternal". Utena muses on what she was told: that the ring would lead her to the prince. To the princess, it was her unmistakable first love and an engagement ring... but she notes all this in an emotionless voice like she's reading the prologue rather than talking about herself. Kissmate notes that "all the council members have that ring, and they all wear it on the ring finger. All of them are engaged to the prince. ...They're all Rose Brides!?!?"

Touga brings Utena a can of tea and says she looks lonely, then pulls her in close and seductively asks if her prince was someone like him--while white princely roses frame his face. Utena hurls the tea away and tells him to stop, shoving him back. ["He's still trying to make her the princess!"]

The Shadow Girls talk about things that only exist in fantasy: like UFOs, Santa Clause, wizards, princes on white horses, and kind-hearted friends. We pause here for my broken heart. Saionji thinks his one-and-best friend betrayed him by sharing the secret of "something eternal" with a strange girl rather than with him. Given the romance subtext, Saionji believes that the boy he loved went for some girl he never even met before... over him. His hair is the color of doubt and he doubts that real friendship of the kind he wants is attainable. I thought it was weird that he doubts princes exist, since he's trying to be one, but Touga was his prince and failed him: the fallen bandage. That was when he stopped believing in princes--and when he started trying to become one. Not because he wants a princess, but because he needs to be a better prince than the failed one he had.

I've said before that I have a lot of feelings about Saionji because he's undeniably an abuser, but he also tugs at my feelings. I think we're supposed to understand that the role of the prince is so inherently abusive that anyone who tries to occupy it eventually hurts their loved ones. Saionji and Juri strike Anthy, and Miki tries to control her, when they are trying to ascend to the ideal of the prince.

Saionji kidnaps Anthy to take her to the arena. Touga warns Utena and she goes after them, only to find Saionji alone and wounded at the base of the arena. They ascend together and find Anthy in a coffin the heart of an enormous rose. The coffin door opens and the little pink-haired girl ("Don't open it.") turns into Anthy in the coffin. As Utena races to save Anthy, the castle in the sky begins to disintegrate and fall. Saionji raises his hand in exhortation and we notice that his ring is gone. Utena's ring is missing too: combine the missing rings with the crumbling castle and I'm wondering if that means the prince has just, like, left the building: removed the spirit of Dios entirely. [Kissmate: "This feels like a gender-swapped Sleeping Beauty. The prince sleeps in the castle and these duelists are fighting over who gets to go inside and waken him."]

Or, here's my theory: Saionji doubts that princes exist. Maybe the crumbling castle and missing rings are showing him a world without princes, a world which (we assume) would be one without hope. Like, "You don't think princes exist? Okay, cool, I'll just take back my castle and my rings and my Rose Bride and you can do without. Is that what you want?" Kissmate notes that the letter from the End of the World said the castle was coming down tonight. "Less elevator, more demolition."

[Kissmate: "Back to the coffin, it's the same little girl as before: begging them not to open the coffin and saying there's nothing eternal. Anthy is curled up in the same way, surrounded by white roses. She's connected to the Prince." Me: "His sword literally comes out of her chest, so I should think so, yes." Kissmate: "She's the sheath to his sword. That's pretty fucking sexual. And the castle crumbles when she sleeps. Is he waking now that she's sleeping? The sky! It's turning from white to purple. From 'prince' to 'fuck you, you have all disgusted me'. The ground around Saionji is green; the Prince is crushing all the doubt and confusion."]

Utena flings herself across a sea of white and grabs the Rose Bride ["her princess!"] and the shaking stops. The crumbling castle was an illusion ["a taste of things to come"] and a warning. Saionji wails that he was supposed to be the one to save her, enter the castle, and revolutionize the world. Utena, meanwhile, is worried about Anthy--not about revolution. Saionji attacks Utena in a rage and Touga flings himself in front of the blow as bells toll and faceless flashbacks flicker. Touga falls wounded, having fulfilled his role of the prince by protecting a princess. Saionji, broken, drops his sword.

We cut to Touga in bed, surrounded by giggling girls, and he admits to the End of the World that *he* was the one who sent the letter to Saionji, the one promising the castle would come down. Saionji is being expelled. "A person who truly believes in friendship is a fool." In the end, Saionji wasn't wrong that his friend wasn't his friend.


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