Utena: More Cowbell

[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 16: "The Cowbell of Happiness"

We get the opening again! Was it really such a good idea to become the prince?

Anthy is watching late-night commercials while eating chips, and we have to pause to go get chips. Goddamn. She's wearing blue while sitting at a purple table and I crack up. [SPOILERS] She's doing all this for a very specific reason (blue) and that reason is she hates Nanami (purple). [/SPOILERS]

We flash to a party and the camera lingers on Nanami as she's surrounded by friends who compliment her accessories. Nanami has thrown the party specifically to celebrate a new piece of jewelry and is embarrassed when Juri shows up with far better. Nanami is stuck for something to say and is saved when a valuable piece from Sebastion Dior arrives.

A side note: Nanami doesn't know anything about designer brands, and her accessories are garish and clash. We know she comes from money; she would be able to research and learn about this if she wanted. Instead, she's become a crackerjack duelist with a handwave about "watching her brother" even though their fighting styles are completely different. I don't think she actually *cares* about feminine pursuits, and I think it's worth noting that her way of "helping" Touga while he is sick is not to wait on him at home but instead to leave the house and take over his masculine job.

I've been saying that Nanami feels like a secondary revolutionary girl to me, an understudy to Utena, and I think we see that again: Utena was so impressed by her prince that she tried to become him; Nanami is so impressed by her prince that she tries to become Touga. Only his manipulations have kept her restrained in the helpless princess role all this time; she's sure as hell not interested in femininity for her own sake or she'd be better at it than this.

Nanami opens the chest and unveils... a cowbell. Pleased with everyone's speechless reaction, she resolves to wear it everywhere. While everyone talks about how weird the cowbell is on campus, Anthy knits a red sweater. [Kissmate: "She's creating her own Self!"] [SPOILERS] Or she's manipulating Nanami and playing her like a harp. [/SPOILERS]

Kissmate notes that she's wearing bulky social acceptance around her neck, which mirrors how hard she works to be the perfect princess. Tsuwabuki, the youngest and most innocent, even asks if that isn't too heavy to wear. Nanami shuts him down but Utena is right there, insisting that the cowbell is weird. [Me: "Utena is an innocent. She says things in all innocence and it hurts people. Like with Juri." Kissmate: "That's why she's socially rejected. The black uniform."]

*GASPS* Nanami literally calls her "the boy-girl" and we're screaming because that's what Kissmate calls me (and I love it because genderqueerfluidfeels) and that is actual textual canon I forgot.

I love how the guys-who-follow-Nanami have green uniforms, like all the other nameless NPCs. They had to give the NPCs a color of some kind and they picked green: the color of friendship, yes, but also about being defined by your relationship to others. We literally only know these guys because of their relationship to Nanami; they're like Gaston's "bimbettes".

Nanami dreams in purple of waking in hay with a bovine shadow. Touga visits her and feeds her hay while a masculine voice sings about a calf being taken to market. "Such a sad look the calf's eyes hold." [Kissmate: "Does he think her no more than just cattle for the slaughter? A creature to work until she's no longer useful?"] She's loaded up into a cart and driven away from her brother--who then cuts away to a sizzling fresh steak. "Time to eat!"

She wakes distressed before continuing to school; we see her hauling gym equipment in a manner that looks precisely like a yoked cow while she wears speckled black-and-white clothes. [Kissmate: "It's hemmed in green! Confusion... or choice? I think it's choice? Look how stubborn she's being!"] She starts being more placid and quiet, standing in line patiently for the first time. [Kissmate: "Like standing in line in the slaughterhouse!"] She's becoming, literally, more "bovine". She's worn this heavy social acceptability for so long that this heavy thing has started to repress her. Coming back to the queer themes, I think this is how when you wear a closeted face for so long, you learn to accept the burden--like a yoke. She eats alone in a green field of grass and even her voice slows to a complacent moo. After eating, she lies down to sleep.

Nanami descends deeper into bovine behavior until a panicked Tsuwabuki brings Utena and Anthy out to the park to find her eating grass. The Shadow Girls dress up as mice and discuss putting a bell on the cat. One of them says she's already belled the cat, then tells the cat they accepted the lie and will sleep unwarily tonight: placid cows to the slaughter. Kissmate notes the traditional "bell the cat" story has the mice *tricking* the cat into wearing the bell--so beautiful a collar! such a pretty sound!--and this is a subversion. The false mouse is eaten by the cat and Tsuwabuki notes "you reap what you sow".

[SPOILER] Nanami tricked Anthy into wearing the green dress to the party in season 1. Anthy has retaliated by tricking Nanami into wearing a cowbell, and the trick was staged at an almost identical party. Nanami is reaping what she sowed by being tricked into wearing something humiliating and detrimental to the self. [/SPOILERS]

Nanami grazes in a field while Utena argues with her and Anthy continues knitting red. Utena is only able to convince her by pointing out that the bell isn't a Sebastior Dior--it's a Cow-stian Dior! [Kissmate: "It's a false knock-off, like the mouse was false!"] Utena scolds her for behaving like a cow in the sense of just following along a trend without knowing what she was doing. Nanami is shocked just as the sky turns red. [Kissmate: "That musical sting and visual is what happens right before a duel in the forest. This is like a duel."] Nanami sputters that she can't possibly become a cow. [Kissmate: "See the blue behind Nanami? Logic is hiding behind her, she can't see it."]

Anthy finishes her red sweater and gives it to Utena, who waves it about causing Nanami to see red like a bull--and her eyes have lost their white sclera. She actually turns into a cow as the song returns with a feminine voice now. (Herself singing instead of Touga?) Utena dodges like a matador and eventually manages to spear the cowbell from Nanami just like a duel rose.

Me: "You were right! It was a duel!"

Kissmate: "Oh god, it didn't look like lips, it looked like a rose."

Me: "...This *is* why roses are a yonic metaphor."

Kissmate: "And the weapon came from someone else! Tsuwabuki."

Me: "Is there any hay (haha) we can make of the weapon, given your theory that the swords are relationships? Oh! You actually called that way back in, like, the first kendo practice when you noted that the kendo swords were women!"

Throwing out there that the pitchfork is brown and purple in the final blow. We're not sure what to make of that yet. With the cowbell gone, Nanami falls down like the black rose duelists. From afar, Juri scoffs at Nanami's foolishness while covered in shining jewelry. Miki wonders who sent the cowbell in the first place. Anthy washes her "pet cow", which now wears the bell and who she says she calls "Nanami".

So let's review. A reason-blue dressed Anthy sitting at a hatred-purple table ordered a bell in order to trick Nanami in the same way Nanami tricked her: into wearing something humiliating at a party. For the rest of the episode, Anthy slowly and patiently knitted a manipulation-red sweater. And Nanami--someone Anthy hates--continues her theme of having terrible luck with animals, while Anthy is the Disney Princess all the animals love and obey. What I don't think Anthy did was the dream in which Nanami imagined her brother willing to dispassionately kill and eat her. I think Nanami came up with that on her own.


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