Utena: Unreliable Memory

[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 22-23: "Nemuro Memorial Hall" and "The Terms of a Duelist"

We open with Dios and Akio again. Akio observes they're at the last of the black roses and questions whether Mikage will fight. While Anthy tends pastel pink, orange, and yellow roses, the council members researches who these new duelists are.

Juri notes that Nanami seems especially irritated after her brother was targeted. Symbolism returns in full force, with a railroad crossing flashing as Juri observes that she'd thought Rose Crests could only be possessed by those chosen by the End of the World. Miki suggests that perhaps this is still true and the EOTW is moving in shadows; behind him, the gate arm descends to block traffic. Nanami says it's obvious that the EOTW is backing the duelists as wind from the railroad almost completely blocks out her voice. [Kissmate: "She's so childish and ill-informed that her opinion adds nothing but wind?"] Miki adds over the wind that the instigator must be on campus. The wind stops, the gate arm rises, and Juri apologizes for being unable to hear them. Not entirely sure what to make of this one: something deadly is rushing by them?

Utena looks for Chu-Chu and ends up around the memorial hall; Mikage is holding him and surprised to see her. He admits he's had his eye on her for a while and asks her to join his seminar. He tells her about the building and how 100 boys died here. There was a Professor Nemuro. When a fire trapped him and his students inside, they all burned to death. [Me: "That might explain why the duelists always fall forward onto their stomachs when they 'die'; if you're dying from smoke inhalation, you fall forward I think."] The hall was rebuilt afterwards and renamed.

Utena visits Akio but he's not there. He's in Mikage's office, giving him a letter. That answers the question: the EOTW is backing the duelists and the council was right. [Me: "Does knowing that the council was right shed any more light on the council scene?" Kissmate: "I think it just means they're stalled, like pedestrians unable to walk past a railway gate."] Mikage reads the letter and observes that he and Akio are partners; he's under no obligation to obey.

Under a yellow sky of adoration, someone calls Mikage "Professor Nemuro". The boy talks to him about the strange secrecy of a project to "revolutionize the world" and "attain eternity". Kissmate notes that Mikage is wearing a lot of purple; though he's admired by others, he doesn't care about them. The boy is wearing a rose crest and Mikage asks him what it means; he spreads confusion by saying they're "just fashionable". Everyone is confused about what everyone else is working on, while Mikage is confused by the rings. Green is everywhere. The boys talk about Mikage and note that he acts aloof and pretends to be "uninterested in everything"--the purple coat and glasses.

A woman waits in his office to talk to him. A green hourglass marks that the time of confusion is closing. A blinking hand points out to us a black cat, a tea kettle, and a blue butterfly framed on the wall. She talks in generalities and social niceties while Mikage tries to provide precise project status and keeps her at an emotional distance. The hand points out two black cats, then three [Kissmate: "The number of people in the scene. The pale purple roses between them suggest they don't really care for each other. The smaller cat is the smaller brother."], then two students holding hands in a group shot. [Kissmate: "The fact that he knew these people personally and just keeps ejecting them into the flames is so macabre!"]

Mikage notes that the 100 extraordinary boys spread rumors that their research is to revolutionize the world and attain eternity. He says eternity is an impossible goal, like a perpetual motion machine, and people should be grateful for what God has given them. [Kissmate: "He's warning her that the task is impossible and she should spend more time with her brother in the limited space they have."] The hand points out red lipstick (conviction?) on the woman's teacup. She speaks to her brother, Mamiya, in a greenhouse scolding him for not resting. He's out of bed because he's worried about the roses. Chida is financing the research, I think, because she wants to find a cure for her sick brother.

Chida puts Mamiya to bed, then confesses to Mikage that the doctors have told her to give up but she still hopes Mikage's project will succeed. Mikage tells her that even if the project succeeds it won't cure her brother's illness. Chida asks if it's possible for a genius to love, and here is where I stare at the ceiling and think... maybe pink is Protectiveness? A sort of "love" that isn't passion (orange) but instead steeped in protection. We keep noting how often it shows up with the princess, and what is the job of a princess except to be protected by her prince: the person who looks at her and sees pink roses.

In the scene with Chida and Mamiya, all the roses on her side are pink (protectiveness) and red (conviction that a cure is coming). The roses on Mamiya's side are mostly yellow (admiration, when he says he admires his sister), pink, and a little red. Mikage walks up and is struck dumb, mouth wide open, and surrounded by pink roses; it looks like he's fallen in love, but there's no orange. When Mamiya says he respects Mikage, Mikage is again surrounded by pink roses. When we see Mamiya again, he is surrounded by mostly yellow (his confessed admiration) but hints of pink creeping in.

Then in the scene with Chida and Mikage where she asks if he can love, pink roses on the mantelpiece in a green vase suggest a relationship based in mutual protection. Earlier the flowers between them were purple--disdain--but now that he's met Mamiya, that has changed. We immediately see this in his work; the boys on the project note that he's "been working like a man possessed lately." He's gone from defensively insisting he's done more than enough, to working overtime for something he believes in. I don't think he loves Chida or Mamiya; I think he wants to protect him.

Also: This would work so well with Utena's hair. She's consistently motivated by wanting to protect people. Her first duel is about protecting Wakaba. Almost all of the following duels involve a desire to protect Anthy. She even tries to protect Tsuwabuki and Nanami at times. She protects people she barely knows or has every reason to hate. Yes, she's trying to be a Prince and a Prince protects, but there's more to a Prince than protection. Utena strips away the extra trappings down to the bare desire to protect others. And now we see why Mikage--who otherwise seems so different from Utena--shares her hair color: they are both motivated by a desire to protect.

(Does that make dark green, the opposite of pink, selfishness?)

Mikage visits Mamiya at home and Mamiya shows him the roses his sister preserves. She doesn't like to see flowers die, so she does what she can to prolong their short lives. "I wonder if the flowers like being made to last longer." Pink and yellow roses surround the two, while dead black roses sit on the table between them, the social taboo keeping them from talking directly about Mamiya's illness.

Hands blink at a framed leaf where the butterfly was. [Kissmate: "We're going deeper to the heart of the matter."] Mamiya promises to tell his sister how worried Mikage is for him. In Mikage's office, another lipstick mark on a cup of tea. Mikage can't seem to solve an equation until Akio appears to give him a letter and a rose crest ring, which "symbolizes a contract made with me". [Kissmate: "He's making it sound like another business offer." Me: "What I want to know is: what is Akio telling him to do? Because I guarantee it's not fencing."] Mikage follows a gurney down the hall and sees Chida sitting on Akio's lap, kissing him in a yellow-and-white room. Kissmate notes that Akio is sitting where Mikage sat earlier when making an offer to Miki, suggesting that he has become a new Akio.

The building burns down. [Kissmate: "He burned down the building!" Me: "Did he? Why?" Kissmate: "He was told to! He said he couldn't possibly do what the letter said. And... he said the professor died inside." Me: "Professor Nemuro. Then he took a new name. His old self died."] Mikage and Mamiya watch from the outside. Chida runs up and accuses Mamiya, who admits it. Mikage says this was necessary; that ancient creatures died to become our fuel, now death must fuel the path to eternity to be opened from this school. He says that such sacrifices will always be needed.

Mikage tells Chida that Mamiya did the right thing. (Is he lying or telling the truth? Who burned down the building?) He's white and pink, while she is orange and purple. She still wants a miracle and hates him for taking it away from her. He's embraced Akio and his methods (the white) out of a sense of protectiveness for Mamiya. Maybe he thinks the eternal gate will open before Mamiya dies, or that it will be able to bring him back? The sky is bright red: conviction and manipulation.

I think Mamiya took responsibility for the fire because you're not going to send a dying child to jail for an accident? If he really did do it, then the letter must've told him to get Mamiya to burn down the building.

In the present, Chida lays roses on a grave or memorial. She passes Mikage in the hallway and stares at him, but he doesn't even seem to notice her. Shadow Girls appear, showing us an ageless robot that does not tire or age or grow lonely. Chida notes that it breaks her heart to see him like this. Mikage has become the "living computer" that people always said he was as a genius. Back in Akio's rooms Chida visits him. "[Nemuro] is just like you," she observes. "He hasn't aged a bit since then."

Mikage watches Utena talk to Anthy and imagines Mamiya and Chida. [Kissmate: "That's why he hates Utena; she 'doesn't understand' his work and what he's doing here."] Akio says so long as people stay in the gardens called schools, those people never become adults. Chida says she's living a good life now but came to visit her brother Mamiya's grave. She asks if he knows that for a plant to bear fruit, its flowers have to die.

Episode 23!

The water tank. They're down to one last black rose. Mamiya's voice talks to Mikage but he appears to be alone in the basement. Both Mikage and the student council question whether they should ask Utena to join them. Nanami says they need her as friend, but Juri corrects her: they aren't friends, they're Duelists.

Utena looks for Anthy but can't find her. Mikage approaches her and observes how exciting it is when the scent of many roses compete with each other. [Kissmate: "He's talking about the duelists."] He asks her again to join his seminar, saying he wants to be closer to her, and imagining Chida when she talks. He offers to help her, or any of her friends, with problems they might have.

She returns to their room and dreams of wanting "something eternal" as a child. When she wakes, Anthy is there holding her hand. Utena asks if she can't quit being the Rose Bride. The next morning she goes to the seminar hall while Anthy rests in bed and wonders why she's been so sleepy lately. A woman is dismissed from Mikage's service as a secretary. We see a picture of Chida and her brother on the wall--a picture that no longer looks like Anthy. Utena is then alarmed to see pictures of all the Black Rose duelists on the wall.

At a banquet attended by invisible ghostly duelists, the boys talk about the door to the arena being opened. They seem confident that Mikage will be defeated and they'll carry on without him. Upstairs, Mamiya is upset, saying that "opening the way to that area where the castle appears" was Mikage's doing. Mikage says he won't duel with the boys and Mamiya asks why, saying that the castle is where eternity dwells and doesn't he want to revolutionize the world? "I want eternity!"

Mikage meets Utena in the hall and calls her Chida, saying he knew she would return to him. [Me: "So he sees ghosts. Is Mamiya dead?" Kissmate: "What if Mamiya is Anthy? Like, Anthy is the one helping him and that's why she's so tired all the time."] Utena asks why he's been manipulating everyone, and Mikage says these were all members of the seminar who had memories they couldn't forget. They all had "precious memories" and tried to change their lives according to their memories. [Me: "Is that why Tatsuya was a dud? He barely remembered Wakaba!" Kissmate: "Yeah. He was lying."]

Kissmate notes that this makes the butterfly thing interesting because they've done studies on whether butterflies retain memories from being a caterpillar (they do) even though the chrysalis phase could've destroyed the memories.

Mikage asks "What about you?" and we see a picture of young Utena on the wall. He tells her she deserves to make her memories eternal and begins to give her his spiel about revolutionizing the world. Utena slugs him. (WE STAN A LEGEND.) Mikage says that her memories support her and she can never stop wishing for her memories to be eternal. Utena challenges him to meet her in the arena, and Mikage retreats to the elevator and the caterpillar. Mamiya asks him why he called Utena here and Mikage offers him a tear before accepting a black rose.

Wakaba pounces on Utena as she used to and the Shadow Girls appear. A man continues to bring up that *he* used to be the class representative, to the point of demanding to go to school instead of his daughter. He's living in the past, re-living his glory years, rather than grow up and move on.

In the arena, the picture of Mamiya and Chida appears on each desk. The song is about puppets given life through science, like the black rose duelists, and the world being controlled by one person. Mikage insists that those who fought for him came to the arena of their own free will. He says she can enter the dueling arena because there's someone in her past who changed him.

Utena leaps backwards and Mikage anticipates it, knowing her fighting style. Anthy calls for her and moves to intercept in order to help somehow. Mamiya tells Mikage he's going to lose and Mikage draws up short, looking wildly around at the desks. Mamiya's picture has changed, no longer looking like Anthy anymore; now he's a pale boy with freckles and shaggy hair. Utena presents the sword up to Anthy, who caresses it in a power-up. Mamiya tells Mikage that he can never beat Chida, since she dwells in his memories. You can't beat the ghost of your past.

Dios descends and Mikage rants at the memory of Chida. "I took everything upon myself! Even your brother's crime!" She raises a hand to slap him, his glasses fall, and Mikage is the one holding the candles that Mamiya previously held. [Me: "Did... did Mamiya die inside the building? Did Mikage say he was the one who did it? THIS IS THE PROBLEM WITH UNRELIABLE NARRATORS."] "Who was really there? Who wasn't there? Who was it that really set the fire?!"

Mamiya appears in new flashback scenes now (once more with clarity) as the pale freckled boy with green eyes and a deep masculine voice. The pictures on the arena desks begin to fall forward, a sign of moving on. Utena lunges and the phone rings in Akio's rooms. Akio addresses Mikage, saying that his companion Mamiya was produced by his "lingering regret" over Chida and that Mamiya died a long time ago. Mikage treasured the memory so much that time actually stopped for him, though decades have passed. Akio tells him he's no longer useful to him and he must now graduate from this place.

We see Miki and Utena searching for Anthy again, but this time the Nemuro hall is in shambles. (THIS WHOLE ARC IS A MIND-FUCK.) Miki says something terrible happened here but "no one was hurt in it". He doesn't even remember the name of the hall. Akio places a hand on "Mamiya"'s shoulder and asks if he has sympathy for Mikage even though he isn't at school anymore.

Hang on. Wild theorizing. Mikage's memories had the power to stop time. He didn't age. The building remained the same ("rebuilt") and people knew about the tragedy even though it was decades before. When Akio turned Mikage out of the school, the magic of his memories stopped and both he and his history faded from the minds of the students. The building fell into ruin, the records were lost (as Miki says), the history forgotten. We aren't seeing "what really happened" with Utena and Miki at the building before--we're seeing how they remember it now that Mikage and his magic is gone.

Coming back to Akio, he says Mikage was never really here in the first place (GODDAMN IT), "just like you." Mamiya turns into Anthy, who looks back at him (us?) and smiles. [Kissmate: "What. Is *she* not here?"]


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