Utena: The Perfect Couple

[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 28: "Whispers in the Dark"

We open with Juri talking about the whispers in her heart. She looks at the empty spot on the bench beside her.

A fencing match and a locker for a boy named Ruka. A boy not on the roster challenges Juri. [Kissmate: "He's literally towering over everyone."] Miki blushes and yields his space on the roster. (My little gayby, I just.) Kissmate notes the newcomer's hair color is the opposite of Juri's: dark blue to her orange. The match ends with a draw; Utena notices that Juri was slower than the newcomer in her lunge. He says he'd hoped Juri would improve, but didn't. Juri calls him Captain. Ruka pulls off his mask in a white rose frame: the Prince.

Student Council. Juri stands away from the table, which is set like a fancy dinner, and tells the others that Ruka has returned. She calls him Captain again, insisting that she was just filling in for him. Nanami asks why he's returned and he walks onto the scene and playfully asks if that's any way to talk to an upper classmate. He talks about returning from his illness and serves a plate with a rose-sealed letter, saying the End of the World "seems to be upset with you". They're serving news in this scene and Nanami eats it up while Juri steadfastly refuses to partake. She simply notes that Ruka wears a rose crest and has been chosen. Ruka says he plans to enjoy school life for a while before making any challenges.

Girls scream in crowds for Ruka while his hands linger on the blushing girl he's teaching. Juri watches with disdain while Shiori looks from Juri to the newcomer. In an orange locker room, Juri's locker is beside Ruka's and Shiori runs her fingers over Ruka's nameplate. When Ruka approaches, his sword falls out of a nearby locker. [Kissmate: "Welp, now they have a relationship. Because swords are relationships."] Ruka says someone polished his sword every day while he was gone and it must have been her. He thanks her and kisses her while she blushes. We see the Ohtori tower and a white rose.

On campus, Ruka and Shiori are a couple now--a perfect couple, as far as the school is concerned!--framed by white roses and social acceptance. My going theory is that Shiori knows Juri despises him and is hooking up with him to make herself more despicable to Juri. Kissmate notes that Shiori might not know Juri's love for her, since the Black Rose saga was retconned out of people's memories with Mikage's departure. When we see Shiori close up, red roses frame her. [Me: "She's only with him to manipulate Juri?" Kissmate: "Or she's being manipulated by him?"]

Juri tells someone she wants to meet with them at a usual place. We see her standing by the bench while Ruka lounges with confidence and reminisces about their old matches. A younger Juri with shorter hair sits on the purple bench with him while the orange sky glimmers before them. [Kissmate: "Purple bench for a rivalry?" Me: "My guess is going to be that maybe she dated him or pretended to love him as, like, a closeted protection thing but deep down despised him." Kissmate: "Either way, she's out. The bench is white and she stands apart from him. He's not a rival or a lover anymore."] Juri tells him he can have the fencing club, he can have the duel ring, but to keep his hands off Shiori. She says Shiori is an "old friend" and he walks away saying he reads her "loud and clear" but he's free to fall in love.

We see the repeated "Utena and Anthy laying down" motif. I'm still not sure what to make of this motif except that the positions remind me a little of the dual-sister goddess statue in Claymore. Kissmate notes that the silhouettes are mirrored images that cross each other at the heart (when they lay down) so we have two different-yet-similar people coming closer together. They have nightly talks ("heart-to-heart") and hold hands, which is a degree of closeness greater than their previous bunk bed arrangement. [Kissmate: "The previous room had Utena on top and Anthy on the bottom, which she was as the Rose Bride. Here they're more equal."]

At night, Juri watches Ruka kissing Shiori beside the school fountain. Shiori's eyes are closed but Ruka watches Juri and smiles. It wouldn't surprise me if Shiori entered this relationship to needle Juri but is starting to get caught up in it: the blushing, the heart racing, all seem to suggest she might actually be falling for him, or at least for the feeling of being loved--and by someone socially acceptable, a Prince. The water in the fountain dries up as Juri grapples with the realization that he knows this is upsetting her. Her faith in him, any respect she had for him, is gone.

Juri sits by a clock and waits while she studies Shiori's locket. Beside an orange sky in an empty classroom (Juri still loves her), Shiori greets Juri when she enters. Juri tells Shiori that she's worried about her and she can't trust Ruka. Shiori calls Juri "the worst" and leaves her stunned and hurt. The room is pink: Juri was trying to protect her. At night, Shiori races back to the fountain and is surprised to meet Touga. The fountain stops. Okay, new theory: The fountain only flows when Shiori is there to power it with her arousal. It stopped before because she'd left the scene.

Touga says he has a message from Ruka, who wants to lead her to a fantastic place. CAR SCENE, but this is the first time we've seen a non-Duelist being approached. Kozue was taken to the car, yes, but by Akio directly. The fountain starts up at the sound of the car and, when the waters part we see the car behind them with Ruka and Akio inside. Shiori sits beside Ruka and blushes at him and she definitely feels emotionally engaged. I don't know what motivated her precisely to start this relationship with a guy Juri disrespects, but she's in it for real now. [Kissmate: "Maybe she didn't see Juri's face; her back was to the catwalk. And she's not great at reading Juri at the best of times. We know she takes the men Juri 'loves'. Maybe this is the new brown-haired boy, as far as Shiori is concerned. Taking him to hurt Juri." Me: "That explains why she said Juri is the worst: if she thought the warning was motivated by ulterior desire to have Ruka for herself. Shit."] Ruka and Shiori undress each other and throw their heads back before disappearing (lying down?) for the Akio hood-jump.


Kissmate: "Looking forward to the Akio hood-jump. Wait! What if that's why the car crashes in the arena: because no one is at the wheel? He guided them through the fun parts of adulthood but then bailed. 'Here's sex, have fun.' 'Wait, tell me how to do taxes and deal with emotions!' They're not adults, they're teenagers playing with adult things and getting no real guidance for how to adult safely."

Me: "...that's beautiful."

Kissmate: "Akio's giving out free samples but when it's time to pay the piper he's nowhere to be found."

Me: "If one of these kids gets, like, pregnant from this he's not going to help."

Kissmate: "Nope! He's got a brothel on wheels and that's it. He's just renting out the love hotel for the teens and watches their lives spiral out of control because they think sex gives them power."


In the greenhouse, Chu-Chu showers under a light watering of roses while Utena says "always so pretty" and shyly clarifies that she means the roses and not Anthy. [Me: "Oh my heart. We have *just* linked water with arousal and here Utena is telling Anthy that she's pretty."] Kissmate notes that the roses around Anthy are white--she's spending time with her prince--while the roses around Utena are pink. Behind them, pink and yellow roses bloom: protection and adoration.

Ruka and Shiori visit the greenhouse. Shiori plucks a white rose to give him, and he uses it to challenge Utena. Shadow Girls! They're fishing and though there are plenty under the bridge, they only catch trash (sandals, kettles, and tires). I feel like this could equally apply to Juri, Shiori, and Ruka? All three of them could date better people ("plenty of fish in the sea") but instead Ruka and Shiori are using their precious love lives as a means of hurting ("trashing") Juri, and Juri is pining for someone who actively seeks new ways to harm her. Y'all know I love Shiori and carry a lot of feels for her as a fellow self-hater, so I hate to compare her to garbage, but for Juri *at this time* there's really no other way to describe her: she's toxic.

Arena! Kissmate theorizes that the new gondola might be suggestive of the themes in this arc of trying to grow up faster or take shortcuts to maturity. (Side-note: I love the Rose Bride outfits and I hate myself for wanting to get married in one because it misses the *entire point* but goddamn that aesthetic is a Look.) Shiori is here as a purple Rose Bride with a blue rose on Ruka's chest. I've been trying to figure out why he's blue and the best I have right now is that he's acting according to plan and that plan is how he intends to hurt Juri.

Ruka fights with confidence but when Dios descends Utena wins. Only Shiori is injured in the car crash; Ruka is standing without a blemish. She's the only one who was invested in their relationship, and the only one devastated by the loss. Shiori recovers and tells him they'll win next time, but Ruka says they can only lose: that he lost because his Bride wasn't strong enough. "Do you have any idea just how much I cared about you?" she cries. "She reminds him of polishing his sword every day" (I cannot believe that isn't a deliberate metaphor but set that aside) and he says she has a "talent for ad-libs". He made up the sword story to force-team with her and pull her into a relationship. My guess is he was looking for someone who would go with the lie and let herself be rushed into a more intimate relationship because of their "history" he made up. If this is a common tactic of his, it also explains why Juri warned Shiori about him; she really was worried about exactly this: Shiori fell for him, and he's spurned her.

I want to here draw a difference between Ruka and Touga, who both have a lot of similarities as playboys. I think Ruka pursues relationships in order to have power over someone else; I don't think he would've been up for casual sex with a confident partner. Shiori is precisely his preferred type of prey as someone who self-hates; he could manipulate her into feeling for him while he felt nothing at all. Touga, in contrast, we have seen as someone willing to have casual sex with equals or otherwise confident people: Akio is the most recent, but even back in season one he was willing to mess around with Kozue so they could mutually fuck with Miki's head. Touga uses sex as a means to an end, while expecting others to do the same with him (and how many school groupies have fawned over him just for the popularity boost) but Ruka wants someone he can control.

Rewinding for the duel song, we have another song about duos and opposites: left and right, heaven and earth, head and body, inside and outside, chastity and carnal pleasure, male and female, androgyny and hermaphodism (assuming they mean the former to be sexless and the latter to be two-sexed). Juri's song was about duos and opposites, and I felt that was a metaphor for her closeted face versus her public one. Perhaps this is about how two-faced Ruka is about to be revealed to be? He seems to be the perfect prince in love with a pretty princess, but he was only using her in order to control her? "We're the only two people in the world" is a common love phrase, but also a very real feature of abusive relationships: abusers groom their victims to avoid all others and depend only on them.

Kissmate notes that the song could be a reference to Juri again: she's the only other person on campus who wears a boy uniform like Utena, and she's definitely composed of dignity and restraint. Ruka is her foil, her equal and opposite; they're both captains, both on the student council, both share a history, and yet are complete opposites and enemies. My thought is that if the song is about Juri and Ruka then Shiori is just sort of... there, and yet that's honestly actually spot-on. Shiori is just "along for the ride", both in the literal sense of the arena car and in the figurative sense of the relationship she has with Ruka: a relationship which is actually about Juri.

A note: The fact that Shiori can draw a sword from Ruka at all suggests that the relationship *can* be one-sided. Tatsuya was useless because he was nothing to Wakaba and she was nothing to him. But Ruka can draw on Shiori's passion for him though he has no feelings for her. The Rose Bride's feelings for her Prince does affect the strength of the sword, as we saw in season one with Anthy. Presumably the strongest sword would be one where the Rose Bride and the Prince both feel strongly for each other and work towards a combined goal.

On the bench, Juri sits miserably while Ruka stands nearby and says Shiori made her choices.


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