Utena: Loss and Recovery

[Utena Content Note: Abuse, Sexual Assault]

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 11-12: "Gracefully Cruel, The One Who Picks The Flower" and "For Friendship, Perhaps"

Wakaba makes Utena lunch to show her love, but they're interrupted by Anthy bringing lunch to her. Touga approaches and Utena watches as girls crowd around him. I think she wonders if there's something wrong with her that she doesn't want him. Is she a girl if she doesn't want him? If she *does* want him, does that mean she's not a prince, that she's like the other girls? So many genderfeels and queerfeels about this arc.

At the student council, they discuss Nanami's defeat while balloons float by. Juri deduces (logical blue balloon) that Nanami fought in order to lose (because she wants to be a princess?). Miki, who has been Nanami's friend, calls out Touga's so-called brotherly love as a green loyal-friend balloon flits by. Touga observes that even if a trap was laid, it's the fault of the victim for falling in the trap. The stronger the feelings one has for someone, the more vulnerable they are.

Utena walks to the greenhouse and sees Touga meeting with Anthy. He tells Anthy that, because she's the Rose Bride, she needs to give up her hobbies (like cooking) and just tend the roses. "This birdcage is your domain and you are the lovely little bird who dwells within it. I wish to make this cage my own and I would never let you out of it... Ever." [Kissmate: "THE FLAGS ARE REDDER THAN HIS HAIR."]

Utena intervenes and tells him to stop ordering Anthy around and that she's just an ordinary girl, not a Rose Bride. Touga tells her that he has something important to tell her "as your prince". He moves to kiss Utena, pulling back when she closes her eyes, trying to feel if this is what it felt like when the prince kissed her. [Kissmate: "He's trying to beat her in a duel and make her a princess." Me: "Can we talk about the fact that if he does win the duel and gain her as a princess, he will also have a Rose Bride, though?" Kissmate: "Two Rose Brides!"]

At home, Utena muses on whether Touga is her prince or not. Utena compliments her on the lunch she made earlier for Utena and Wakaba and Anthy looks sorrowful, mentioning she wishes she had more friends. Utena promises to help her and says if she'd just open her heart, anyone would love to be her friend. She wants, more than anything, to turn Anthy into a regular girl--she won't give her to the others, not even if one of them is her prince.

Shadow Girls! An archer shoots apple after apple off his son's head, not just one. My thoughts are that a prince exists to save princesses but no one wants to be just one-and-done; they want to keep saving her in order to get that rush of admiration, gratitude, and a job well done. Touga just told us that his nature as a prince prevents him from seeing a princess in distress, but he keeps distressing Utena and Anthy (and Nanami) in order to swoop in and save them.

The arena fight begins. I note here without comment that Anthy wears a yellow crown of adoration in her purple hair of hatred and disdain. Utena flings herself at Touga and he remains patient and waiting, used to this sort of tactic from Saionji. Touga paces her, aiming for her face (not the rose at her chest) and egging on Dios to show his power. Dios descends from the castle and inhabits Utena, which would normally mean a win, and she lunges for Touga. But he lowers his sword and stands as a waiting prince, checking her step. [Kissmate: "He's treating her like a princess. You don't fight a princess."]

As for the song itself, it's about things which are timeless yet unchanging. This makes me think of Froborr's fascinating interpretation of the Shadow Girl play wherein she notes another interpretation of the endless William Tell-esque challenges: the arena duels feel like never-ending tests with no point or end in sight. Touga is trying to force a change on an unchanging system, which would normally make me on his side but in this particular case I want to eat his heart in the marketplace.

One of Utena's flaws that I like is that she doesn't seem to realize that people can be dishonest with her. When a wounded Touga falls at her feet and gasps that he wants to be her prince, she isn't sure how to feel about that for herself but it doesn't occur to her that he could be lying to manipulate her.

Touga tells her that she doesn't have to be caught up in duels anymore and Utena protests, saying that Anthy needs her and wants friends. Touga tells Anthy to parrot that she likes being the Rose Bride and likes not having friends and she does so. Anthy has to do whatever her master wants, and her apparent desire to be a normal girl was just Utena's desire being reflected back at her. She embraces Touga and walks away with him in an emotional gut-punch to basically everyone ever.

Episode 12!

Utena sinks into depression in her room, missing Anthy. Wakaba visits and is alarmed to find her still in her pajamas but not sick. We see a flashback of Anthy leaving, framed by white flowers which is odd. [Kissmate: "She has a connection to the prince...?" Me: "Or now she belongs to a prince?"] Wakaba finds a cut in Utena's uniform and offers to fix it, but Utena says she has another uniform; she shows up at school looking feminine in her girl uniform and my heart breaks all over again. Anthy appears, smiles, and greets her, but moves on and Utena is crushed all over again. Wakaba, bless her, assumes that the two of them must have quarreled and urges Utena not to let it get to her.

Student Council. Touga brings Anthy with him and Juri questions how he won. Kissmate points out that he only protected the bride from Saionji not because he cared about her safety but because Saionji was touching something he wanted to own. Anthy offers to leave but Touga says he wants her with him at all times while Miki covers his ears--the one who represents logic is closing his ears to this con-game Touga is playing, where he's convinced Utena he's her prince and Anthy isn't her friend.

At lunch, Wakaba demands to know what is wrong as Touga sidles up and asks Utena out to eat while fondling her hands and shoulders. Utena holds still, her face a sorrowful blank. [Kissmate: "Oh no, it's a callback to the last episode when Utena was begging Anthy to throw him off."] Wakaba throws a glass of water at Touga but he dodges and Anthy ends up soaked. "There's so much symbolism in *that*," Kissmate observes and [SPOILER] yes there fucking is, given the endgame reveal that Anthy is the eternal scapegoat who takes the damage meant for another. [/SPOILER] It's only when Wakaba accuses Anthy that Utena shakes off her depression for a moment and reacts, descending into a slap-fight with her friend. God bless Wakaba; I didn't always love her in earlier episodes, but she's a true and good friend.

Touga has tea in an intimate setting with Anthy, whilst ignoring her and flirting with other girls on his phone. Kissmate notes that Anthy just has to sit there and take it while everyone she loves is suffering. [Kissmate: "He is a literal red flag!"] When he leaves her alone and tells her to wait there, Anthy can't help but imagine Utena in his empty chair before staring longingly at Utena's handkerchief.

Utena approaches Wakaba and apologizes. Wakaba asks why Utena is even wearing a girl's uniform and Utena murmurs that this is normal, right? Wakaba explodes and tells her "This sort of normal isn't YOUR normal" and all my queer feels all over again. We see the shared dorm room all in green, with Utena alone as Anthy leaves. Green is friendship and loyalty, but also doubt and confusion. Anthy, her friend, is leaving and Utena is doubting who she is and what her entire relationship was with Anthy all this time. [Kissmate: "Even the girl uniform is green. She's putting on green!"]

Wakaba observes that something was stolen from Utena and she needs to "take it back!" and all Utena can think of is Anthy. Utena apologizes again and kisses her before agreeing that she needs to take back what she lost. In the greenhouse, Anthy waters flowers while Touga kisses another girl. Utena walks up and challenges him to a duel in the forest, startling both of them.

In the Shadow Girl play, they outright reject being normal including "fall in love normally, get married normally, have a normal family, have a normal life". Once again, this series is about queer people throwing off societal expectations (breaking "the world's shell") in order to live and not be suffocated. And while I know the gay liberation movement eventually solidified around the right to do all those "normal" things, it's important to note that the movement didn't *start* there. We wanted the right to NOT romance in "normal" (read: cis, hetero, and allosexual ways) and to have "our normal" be respected for us.

Utena walks to the forest to badass music and an amazing sword, which we realize Juri gave her. "SHE'S TAKING THE LESBIAN SWORD WITH HER," I scream before almost falling out of my chair. Really cool to note? She has not changed back from her girl uniform. "She's fighting him as the princess he made her," Kissmate says. "She's the kind of princess that will save her own damn self." I wonder, too, if this isn't a way of side-stepping the mind-game Touga has tried to lay for her: instead of getting embroiled into whether she's "enough" of a prince to fight for Anthy, she just refuses to engage in the question. (This is why I feel like Nanami is a good close second for Revolutionary Girl, because this hews strongly to her "fuck your rules, I came here to cause some damage" philosophy.)

[Me: "Take this! It's dangerous to go alone- er, to not be a lesbian!" Kissmate: "I, the seasoned lesbian, gift you, a baby lesbian, my sword." Me: "Seriously though, I love this music?" Kissmate: "It's not about revolution anymore; it's about kicking a man's ass because he took your girlfriend."]

Utena receives a pink rose, which is the first we've seen in a duel. Kissmate feels that pink has become the princess color, and that she's fighting as a princess rather than trying to be the prince; I wonder if it's not that pink is Utena's own color, and she's fighting as herself. I mean, tomAto, tomAHto, I suppose. Utena says she's here to take back something that belongs to her. Touga says she's here to fight for her "self". I'm not at all sure I agree with him; Utena certainly doesn't.

Touga forces Anthy to power up the sword with a metaphysical blowjob, praising her as the Rose Bride of Dios. Kissmate theorizes that maybe the duels are an attempt to find someone most like Dios so that he will have an avatar to inhabit. Anthy mentally notes that Utena can't match Touga and she pities her and hopes the fight will end quickly. Touga is relentless, breaking the sword and cutting Utena's clothes to ribbons, but still she fights on with a broken blade. "She could die. Why does she fight on?" Anthy questions. Utena notes that she might not know anything about Anthy or the Rose Bride, but she's fighting to take back what she used to be.

Is she fighting for her "self" or is she fighting to gain back what she used to be? Kissmate points out that if Utena were a cis guy, this would be the scene where he fights to regain his honor after a loss. Her honor is her identity; when Touga took her role as the prince, he took her identity away. What puzzles me is that she's wearing the girl uniform, but I wonder if it's a matter of feeling like she can't wear her old uniform until she takes back her old identity. The song line says "there's the possibility to be anyone" and I think that ties into it: possibility of identity and realizing it through action.

Kissmate points out that this is the second time Utena has continued fighting with a broken blade that began as a whole sword. "I do not accept your clitoris metaphor," I tell him, but he has a point. So either it's a clitoris metaphor or it's one about continuing on after being broken. For whatever it's worth, I note that Nanami pulled a small blade after her own initial apparent defeat. OH, and now I realize that Nanami not only didn't protect the rose on her chest because she didn't care about the game, she also didn't protect the rose because she didn't care about Anthy in the slightest. She was fighting for her Prince Touga, not a princess.

Anthy is stunned that Utena continues on and the sword's power suddenly dissipates, going from the pink power of the princess to green-shaded doubt. Utena throws him off and goes for the kill, shredding his red rose into pieces. "I've taken back what I was." [Kissmate: "She looks more like a princess than ever but she stands like a prince."] Anthy meets her outside and begins to give her the Rose Bride speech but Utena softens and interrupts her, saying to never mind that let's just go home.


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