Utena: Roots of Hatred

[Utena Content Note: Abuse, Sexual Assault, Stalking]

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 21: "Vermin"

We open with Nanami walking in her dueling uniform. (I would love an analysis on when she wears her duelist uniform vs. her girl uniform with the skirt and tie.) Her cadre of three girlfriends appear behind her and walk in silence before effusively praising her. Kissmate points out that they're ten or even fifteen feet behind her while enthusing how happy they are to "be near" her; the juxtaposition between their words and their actions is noteworthy. Everyone else in the school gives her a wide berth--Kissmate notes that *no one* is close to her, not even the people who claim to be.

A flashback with a yellow rose; the three girls are asking Nanami if she's in their class and if she'd like to be in their group. Touga congratulates Nanami on her opening ceremony and the girls are shocked to realize she's Touga's sister--Touga, the student council president and highly desirable. They're grateful that Nanami "chose" them to serve her, rewriting the narrative from them approaching her to her approaching them. (We learn their names are Aiko, Keiko, and Yuuko.)

Back in the present, Nanami plans a party to cheer her brother up. The girls issue invitations to everyone at school and we're pleased to note that Wakaba is both invited and looks like she's happy again. One of the girls (Keiko) plans her party dress--pink for princess?--and muses on how much she wants to see Touga again. As she puts the finishing touches on the party, Keiko is clearly excited and wearing a new dress. Nanami comes downstairs and sends her off to finish some "student council paperwork" at school, not wanting Keiko to be around her brother.

Keiko thinks how long she's watched Touga from afar. The only girl who can get near a prince is a princess. With her green eyes and orange hair ornaments, she's the most friendly and loving of the girls, but she's fundamentally "common" with her brown hair. Running away back to her room, she sheds her pink dress and removes her orange hair ornaments, trying to shed her love, her desire for a miracle, her attempts to be a princess. Kissmate notes that the removal of the childish crush actually caused her to look more mature, which I think ties back into the moral of Tsuwabuki's arc.

Nanami confronts Utena after the party, jealously staking out an exclusive right to her brother and announcing she won't let "vermin" near him before stalking off with her cadre. Utena and Anthy visit Akio and discuss the Pleiades, the constellation of sisters, and I wonder if this isn't a reference to Nanami's groupie girls. Akio approaches the girls and compares them to the Castor and Pollux of Gemini, calling them "friends" and close sisters. Kissmate finds this interesting in light of the fact that we're shipping Utena and Anthy romantically and here Akio is framing them as platonic and familial instead. When Utena leaves, Akio orders Anthy to remain close to Utena. Kissmate notes that this is the first time we've seen Anthy taking orders from someone she's not engaged to.

Keiko walks in the rain with an orange umbrella (love), yellow blouse (adoration), and pink shorts (princess?). When she sees Touga a white rose rotates in the corner of the shot; she's looking at her prince. He has no umbrella and is getting soaked. Kissmate notes that umbrellas are love symbols in Japan; Keiko is walking around with love and Touga has none. Keiko runs to him and offers to share her umbrella so the rain doesn't make him sick. Nanami runs into the shot with a purple umbrella and stops short when she sees Touga and Keiko walking together. In the basement, a black rose is plucked. (Whose darkness has it absorbed? Nanami's? Usually the darkness comes from the eventual duelist!)

Nanami calls Keiko to a private meeting and informs her she's out of every social group and committee in school. Angrily, she rants that the "worst vermin of all" was under her nose this entire time, and that she'll wipe out anyone who gets close to her brother. Keiko begs her friends to intercede for her, but they pretend not to hear her. Keiko is now a social outcast.

In the interview room, Keiko talks about her admiration for Nanami and how happy she was to serve her. But she was deceiving herself, only staying close to Nanami in order to see Touga. Keiko laments she thought she could love whoever she wanted to. I'm struck by the similarities between this episode and the Wakaba one: they both wanted to love a prince. In Wakaba's case, she was rejected by the prince himself; Keiko has been rejected by society. Mikage tells her she must revolutionize the world, and it really feels like Nanami should be the sword-source here, since the episode focuses on Keiko's relationship with Nanami so much more than her relationship with Touga.

I will note here that, if I understand correctly, Touga's role in season 2 had to be vastly reduced from what was planned because the voice actor was ill or otherwise temporarily unavailable. It would make more sense if the plan had been for this episode to be more Touga-focused, since he's the eventual sword-source (de facto Rose Bride?) in this one. Possibly the focus on Nanami was making the best of a logistically bad situation.

Keiko approaches Touga in his home and opens the orange umbrella to shelter him. [Me: "This is interesting! Usually once they've been black-rosed they become hateful to the person they love." Kissmate: "She's hateful to Nanami! She still thinks Touga is her prince. This is like Kanae and Anthy all over again."] She darts her hand into his uniform and lovingly draws a sword from him, nuzzling the sword with her face even as he stiffens in pain. It's a wonderfully messed up scene and eerily tender, like a stalker who thinks they're in love with their victim.


Me: "If people with close relationships have 'connected' hearts, then maybe it makes sense that she can pull her relationship with Nanami from Touga's heart because those two are so close?"

Kissmate: "I don't think so. I think this is just her one-sided love for Touga. She wants to be with Touga but Nanami's presence has darkened and twisted that love into something furtive and stalkery."

Me: "So the black rose being plucked wasn't because Nanami saw them. It was because Keiko made the choice to *not* 'give up' her love and instead start actively pursuing him. The darkness wasn't hate; it was twisted stalkery 'love' all along."

Kissmate: "Her eyes are green. She makes choices. She's the little leader of the groupies, making their choices for them."

Me: "She actually *is* hateful to Touga here, it's just that twisted hate that stalkers think is love. Seeing that, it actually works really well that Touga doesn't speak the entire episode; he has no relationship whatsoever with her. Keiko's obsession with him is entirely one-sided. It's strong enough to produce a sword, but not because of anything he has with her."


Shadow Girls! A butterfly runs from a mantis until insecticide kills them both. The mantis seems to be Nanami, looking for "bad bugs" (like vermin) to exterminate. An innocent butterfly (Keiko) runs from her. I think the aerosol spray is the weaponized social disapproval that Nanami employs against Keiko. Sure, it will kill her, but the nature of misogynistic social rebuff is that it's a grenade and not a scalpel. The same social fury can turn on Nanami at any time. [SPOILERS] I think we'll see more of this later with Anthy. See also: How often girls have attacked her over Saionji, Miki, and so on. [/SPOILERS]

In the arena, orange umbrellas adorn the desks. Keiko's orange hair ornaments have turned black, and she wears red conviction and black social disapproval on her chest. Keiko promises to fight with Touga's sword and even Utena is confused how this girl knows him. Anthy holds a red umbrella with pink frills. Pink for Utena? Red for manipulation? Akio told her to get closer to Utena. [Kissmate: "You have all these Princes fighting to protect their Princess, but the princesses are manipulative." Me: "And it's not just Anthy. Nanami was manipulative of Tsuwabuki." Kissmate: "It's all the princesses? Shiori, Kozue, Anthy, Nanami. They're all manipulating their 'prince' in some way. And never in a good way."]

The duel song is about everyone else vanishing and fading away. Keiko wants her and Touga to be the only two people in the world. She wants the power to kill Nanami, that's her revolution, but even the thought of Nanami causes her to hesitate and Utena slices the rose away. This is a mirror to the Utena/Touga fight, where the fight wasn't won by martial strength but because a relationship distracted one of the fighters. Whereas Utena was distracted by her feelings for Touga, Keiko is now distracted by her feelings for Nanami. [Kissmate: "Does she want to kill her or fuck her?"]

All the umbrellas fly away and Utena observes that she doesn't even know this girl's name. "I always thought she was Nanami's friend. It's scary how the roots of hatred spread under the surface where you can't see them." That's an interesting thing to say in an episode where we just saw Akio order Anthy to "get closer" to Utena. For once, we don't even get to see the boy in the morgue locker; he is as unknown to us as Keiko was to Utena (and Touga).

Keiko rejoins Nanami's cadre, cheerfully observing that there's no way someone like she could have Touga. Nanami tells her to "stay with me forever" and Keiko agrees. Utena confesses her confusion how Keiko could just give up on Touga when she has feelings for him, but Anthy says "That's easy. If it's for someone you love, how you feel about others doesn't matter. You keep lying to yourself as long as it takes." [Kissmate: "The surface level meaning is that Keiko is giving up Touga so she can have her friends again. The subtext is Anthy saying she'd do anything for the one she loves and doesn't care about anyone else. She loves her brother and is doing things which are normally against the rules for the Rose Bride. It's going to come down to who she loves more: Akio or Utena."]


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