Utena: Trailing Miracles

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

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 29: "Azure Paler Than The Sky"

Mind the trigger warnings on this one, okay? It gets pretty intense.

We open with a recap of Ruka dumping Shiori. In the center of the school grounds she causes a scene, clinging to him and begging him not to leave. The campus consensus falls on Ruka's side, as these things are wont to do because of misogyny, and Shiori stops coming to class. Juri continues teaching fencing, and Utena approaches her asking if she isn't worried about Shiori. [Kissmate: "She's almost sitting in a throne while Utena is making her case. ...Oh my god, the chairs are arranged in a love triangle--and she's walking away from it."]

I do love Utena's continued flaw of innocently hurting people. "Don't you care about her?" YES, UTENA, THAT'S THE PROBLEM. [Kissmate: "In an anime about teenagers trying to be adults, she's the childish one but... in a wholesome way?"]

In bed, Utena and Anthy discuss Juri. Anthy says sometimes people do or say things they wouldn't normally. Utena asks if she ever does, and Anthy hesitates. Shiori stalks Ruka by phone while he rides in the car with Touga and Akio. He's hatching a plan to beat Utena that has to do with Juri. A distraught Shiori tells Juri to leave her alone when she checks in on her, saying she only despises her more. In desperation, Juri asks Ruka to take Shiori back--she wants to make her happy. Ruka taunts her, listing Shiori's flaws and asking who would want a girl like that.

She lunges for him in anger and he pins her to the wall, insisting he wants her and forcing a kiss on her. Juri bites him off and he pulls the locket from her neck, threatening to crush it under his feet. When she dives to save the locket, he agrees to take Shiori back. [Kissmate: "Because he knows it will hurt her." Me: "I'm wondering if taking Shiori back is the same threat as the foot poised over the locket? 'I have something you care about and can crush it at any time'."] Juri challenges him to a duel before he leaves: if she loses, she'll do whatever he wants; if she wins, "he and Shiori-" Ruka doesn't let her finish. (I really need to know what she was going to ask. He stays with Shiori or he leaves her alone? Ruka doesn't care.)

Juri loses and sits on the ground, arms around her legs. Ruka tells Juri that her potential exceeds his but that she has a distraction, and that there's someone he wants her to meet. He coerces her into the car, then plays Shiori's phone messages for Juri. He ignores Juri when she asks if he really enjoys hurting Shiori as much as he seems to, saying instead that he "brings out" Juri's latent talents and the two together could defeat Utena and gain the power of miracles. Juri agrees to help him defeat Utena if it will save Shiori from him; that's all she desires.

Metaphor-wise, I'm not sure how to read this scene. I know a lot of people read it as a "corrective rape" scene against Juri, and I certainly did read it that way the first time around. But Ruka never leaves the front passenger seat, nor touches her, nor even looks at her, which is a stark contrast from the metaphorical sex between him and Shiori (as well as the previous metaphorical assault between Touga and Keiko). With Miki and Kozue, the fact that she never left the front seat to join him in the back led me to interpret the scene as Miki *watching* adult things occur: Kozue having sex with Akio, perhaps, or masturbating, given her provocative poses in the car.

Regardless, it's clear that Ruka is coercing Juri and it's equally clear he's not above sexual assault given what happened in the gym. He's deliberately hurting her through Shiori in order to force her to cooperate with him at something she doesn't want to do--and he has the gall to claim he's doing this for her own good, to grow her potential. Twice now she has agreed to his demands with a martyr's lack of boundaries: he can do anything to her as long as he doesn't hurt Shiori. (This isn't a criticism of Juri, to be clear; she and I are the same in this regard.) The question is: how is he dragging her into "adulthood" if we don't read the car as sexual in this case?

Kissmate's theory is that if people in the same row of seats have a connection, then by being alone in the backseat Juri is almost in a hostage situation. [Me: "That puts a neat spin on him never turning to look at her. What's the thing kidnappers don't let you see? Their face. Plus, that fits with the locket earlier. 'I have something you love; don't make me crush it'."] He's trying to get an emotional reaction out of Juri; he starts with Shiori's messages repeatedly and pathetically declaring he's the only person for her. When Juri remains calm, he just shuts her out with silence; that wasn't the reaction he wanted. He compliments her next, praising her skills even as he takes credit for them: classic abuser 101. She doesn't take that bait either, choosing to draw the conversation back to his pursuit of Shiori and herself. Then he brings up miracles.

Kissmate asks where we've heard this before: that miracles need a sacrifice. I remind him that Mikage said that about the dead boys. Shiori is another acceptable loss as far as Akio is concerned. [Kissmate: "Wait, are the Rose Brides sacrifices?"] Juri yells at him over this; he's finally gotten the rise he wanted out of her by calling Shiori a sacrifice and a tool. He reminds her that she's the one who believes in miracles, and Juri forces herself to calm down; she says her feelings don't need to be known. But we're back to the original question: how has Juri glimpsed adulthood?

What if we flip the equation? Before, Akio was showing the pleasant parts of adulthood and not the difficult bits. What if Juri is being shown the shittier parts of adulthood and none of the good side? She's seeing manipulation, unfairness, and cruelty. She's seeing firsthand someone she cares about in a destructive spiral and learning that there's nothing she can do fix it. She can't win this with a fencing duel or by going to a teacher. One of the hardest things about being an adult is the fact that sometimes there's nothing you can do to help someone who's determined to hurt themselves.

Kissmate: "She's supposed to be passion and emotions, right? The orange hair, the opposite of Miki's cool logic. We've seen her try to fix things as a schoolgirl: going to Shiori and telling her that Ruka is unkind. She didn't think about ulterior motives or the fact that Shiori might mistrust her; she almost naively assumed her warning--and her later offer of help--would be seen as sincere. When she approaches Ruka, her first request is for him to get back with Shiori because that will make her happy right now. She's acting like an emotional child; not in a bad way, but in a wholesome way. When she doesn't like the answer, she threatens him to a winner-take-all duel, trusting he'll uphold his end of the bargain. By the end, she's given up trying for a miracle and instead refines the terms of the deal: she'll help him with Utena if he leaves Shiori alone."

But where is the glimpse of adulthood here, I don't know. We continue on, hoping the duel song may clarify.

Utena is surprised by Juri's challenge. Juri looks defeated or pained, shoulders hunched and unwilling to meet her eye. Ruka lounges on the car nearby. Where we would normally see the Shadow Girls, we see Shiori looking pensive. I'm genuinely wondering whether the car was supposed to be a rape scene and the "oddities" here were included either to make the episode less traumatizing (Ruka being in the front seat and not touching her) or to keep from making light of the material (the Shadow Girls not showing up). But even that I'm not sure, given some of the things that I know are still coming.

Kissmate points out that if the car is meant to be a rape metaphor, we have Ruka in a position of relative power while Juri is in the backseat--the seat that has the least control over where the car is going. He's impersonal and cold, not looking at her or letting us see what he's thinking. There's no chance of mistaking the scene for a seduction; Juri doesn't want to be there and her response is basically for him to hurry up and get whatever he wants done and over with.

In the arena, Ruka takes the position of the Rose Bride and pulls the sword from Juri. I'm angry that he's not dressed in the bride costume and Kissmate points out it's because he has all the power in their relationship. Juri may be the duelist, but he's the one making her fight. Their faces are in shadow, eyes covered, and his blue hair is now almost black. We're not sure what to make of that; black is the color of the social outcast but society at large doesn't know he's hurting Juri. Who is disapproving of him such that his hair has changed for us? Is Utena's judgment enough here? Is the power of his sins so much that he's been color-judged even without his sins being known at large? I DON'T KNOW.

Fight Scene. Juri flashes back to her fight with Ruka as she fights Utena. She mirrors his movements, but hesitates rather than strike a finishing blow; she doesn't want to be here doing this. Only at Ruka's order does she continue. He and Anthy cut a strange comparison to each other: both calmly watching the duelists as they each fight unwillingly. Utena scores a lucky blow and the rose locket is ripped away and shattered. Juri stumbles wildly, clutching at her heart, and rips her duel rose from her chest. Raising her eyes to the sky, rain weeps for her. Ruka tries to console her, but she wants nothing from him. He might as well not even be there.

Duel Song. The figure in the mirror is a crest, family heraldry in the form of a human. Monuments are named; castles, islands, and churches, all extraordinarily beautiful. "All around, alive and living, forms of myself!" The human body is a monument and a crest. The comparison of Juri to monuments feels intuitive; we've been calling her "Queen" around the house, just because she's so noble and has high status around school. She's nobility, and heraldry, a shield--or trying to be. She's spent the entire episode trying to protect Shiori as a shield. 'Do anything to me, I can endure it' has been her refrain. But she forgot that *she* can be hurt too, that she has things she doesn't want to lose. She lost the most important thing she owns in a duel she didn't want to fight on behalf of a man she despises. Her ripping off the rose from her chest and throwing the fight would seem to indicate that she's aware of how futile all this has been.

Back at school, it's noted that Ruka is nowhere to be found. When Juri takes an injured fencer to the hospital, she overhears the Shadow Girls talking: a cute boy died in hospital yesterday. They remember how much he wanted to fence again, and speculate that he must've loved a girl in his club. He used to say he wanted to give the power to grant miracles to the one he loved because he wanted to free her from something. Juri listens to them without speaking, but her chair in the love triangle arrangement no longer directly faces Shiori's; now it is turned to angle between Shiori and where Ruka's chair was. Walking home, she thinks how much she'd like to ask him what he hoped to gain by pursuing the power to grant miracles, and who he hoped to help--all the while, Shiori silently trails her a few steps behind.

Kissmate notes that this feels a lot like Juri's council scene where something miraculous was happening (Touga's knife-throwing act with Miki) while Juri chose not to look. Something miraculous is happening again with Shiori trailing her, but Juri doesn't see it. Shiori's chair is turned towards hers now, too, but Juri is looking past her; focusing on something beyond Shiori's chair. She can't see the miracle she longs for.

Regardless, it's safe to say that Ruka is a fucking tool who should be hated. I think this is my least favorite episode because his terminal illness is used in a cowardly way of making him "sympathetic" when he's just a garden-variety abuser in his actions with Juri and Shiori. I understand why Juri as a person would soften towards him after death--I've been guilty of forgiving my own abusers after they're out of my life, so I get it--but I would've preferred a more resounding narrative condemnation because this is how you get people defending abusers and shipping them with their victims.

I still don't know what was going on in the car scene or, for that matter, how Juri saw and then subsequently backed away from adulthood, assuming she did at all in accordance with established narrative trends. If anything, I feel like Juri is *too* mature for these duels and childish maneuverings, but I'm not sure if we're supposed to read her as such. Then again, if she is then that might explain why she is the one duelist Utena cannot defeat.

P.S. Kissmate notes that at no point in the car scene did Akio talk about the throbbing of the engine. He introduced himself very perfunctorily but forewent the usual sales pitch.


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