Utena: Outside The Birdcage

[Utena Content Note: Abuse, Child Death]

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 39: "Someday, Together, We'll Shine"

We don't even get an opening song, just a repeat of Anthy stabbing Utena as Akio waits. Anthy whispers that Utena reminds her so much of Dios when she loved him. [Kissmate: "Oh, the merry-go-round. This happens again and again, in a cycle."] She says Utena can never be her prince, because she's just a girl. (Female or child? She leaves that ambiguous.) She peels Utena's sword from her hand and Akio walks up as children laugh.

Saionji is about to take off his rose crest when Touga stops him, saying she's entered the arena representing the duelists. Nanami, god bless her, is grilling kabobs and idly mentions she's already taken hers off. Juri tells a story about how her sister nearly drowned as a child. An adult rescued her, but a boy who jumped in to save her was washed away. He did a heroic act, but is forgotten instead of celebrated and successful; he wanted to be a hero, a prince, but the danger was real and not a fairytale, and he wasn't ready. [Kissmate notes the biggest danger in drowning cases is that the victim will try to climb the rescuer and they can both sink; Anthy is taking Utena down with her.]

Akio tells Anthy to give him the sword, but she hesitates. He asks if she has regrets, then reassures her that this is all his fault. Perhaps if he could be a better man, the prince he used to be, no one would have to get hurt. This is just pitch-perfect gaslighting right here on the screen: this is the honeymoon period abusers engage in to groom their victims to accept more abuse. "Your pain and your suffering: I feel them always, as a part of me." How far we've come from him revving the car to go faster while she gasps in pain and he says, hey, it's not MY fault you're hurting.

Anthy steps to him and gives him the sword when he tells her in so many words that only he will ever love her. He walks away under a fractured pink rose and leaps over the precipice young-Utena once leaped over. He faces "the Rose Gate. The portal which seals the power to revolutionize the world." He yells "here they come! Anthy!" and she steps forward, only for Utena to call her name and catch at the hem of her dress. Anthy thanks her for the taste of true friendship she gave her, and says farewell forever. She disappears from her dress and it billows to the floor.

Millions of swords rise from below the tower, "stirred by the sight of the prince's sword." We hear the voices, again and again, calling out 'witch' at Anthy. She stands poised with one sword through her hands, stigmata-style, and the handle is pink. Kissmate notes that her protector, Akio, has left her hanging up for the slaughter; though he called out to warn her that they were coming, he's essentially letting this happen--he's not standing in front of her the way Utena did when the cars came at them (or, really, all the other times Utena stood between Anthy and danger).

The song that rises around them is about the missing link, the lost link in the chain. "Though I am disconnected even so I continue to evolve." Anthy is completely cut off from humanity, but she isn't stuck in stasis emotionally. She can change. "Even so, I have the power to join." Akio says the destiny of the Rose Bride is to take the swords in place of the prince. [Kissmate: "Wow, she's a guilt scapegoat." Me: "Which ties back into the virgin/slut, princess/witch dichotomy. Nanami was Touga's princess until he needed a scapegoat and then she was a witch." Kissmate: "If swords are supposed to be relationships, this is her relationship with the world. They would rather hate her than hate the pristine white socially-acceptable prince. Even though the swords react to the Prince's symbol, the mob mentality turns on the woman. Oh god, is this a feminist anime?" Me: "YES. (cackles)"]

As Akio walks to the rose gate, he says Anthy chose this for herself. Utena drags herself to her as Akio reaches the seal. He gloats that the door to a new world shall be opened. He attacks the pink roses on the door as Utena writhes in agony. Still, she begs him to help Anthy as the song rises saying this "happens over and over again". Dios appears to her on the merry-go-round, calling her a gentle girl and saying that behind the rose gate lies eternity, the power of miracles. "With that power, anything is possible. It's too much for you. You're just a girl, aren't you?" Dios tells her she's tried so hard, and says a kiss to her rose crest ring is all the comfort he can offer. Instead, she slams her fist into the floor (her uniform is on again, the rose bride princess costume is gone!) and pushes herself up by sheer force of will.

With one final attack, Akio breaks the sword against the seal. "So, this sword won't work, either. When will I finally regain the Power of Dios? Oh well, the Rose Bride still belongs to me." (How quickly we've gone from her every pain hurting him to being a consolation prize!) He turns around and is shocked to see Utena has jumped the chasm to join him, though she's barely able to stand. Her color scheme is now almost entirely pink; all her reds are now pinks. Akio says she can't open the door when the Prince's sword has been shattered. He runs forward to catch her, trying to be all princely dignity once more, but she just puts her hand on his face and pushes him off, using the gesture to propel herself forward.

Clawing her way up the pink rose vines, Utena is able to stand in spite of the thorns. She looks back at the swords covering Anthy and calls to her, trying to open the door with her bare hands. Akio reminisces with himself, fruity drink in hand, that Utena reminds him of himself when he was younger and thought persistence had merit. But it's not enough, he says; you need power, or you're doomed to be dependent on others. Utena screams for him to shut up and whispers to Anthy that she needs to know: the only time Utena has been really happy was with her. A tear falls and it makes the same sound and ripple effect as the gate into the arena. The swords in the air just... stop.

Akio stands, shocked by the change, and the door Utena struggles with is now a coffin--the coffin she was in before, the coffin Anthy was in before. It stands at the heart of where Anthy dangled in Utena's flashback. Utena tears the lid open, her hands bloodied from the effort, while Akio screams for her to stop. The swords fly apart and Anthy is no longer at the center of them; they swirl in rapid anger around them.

We see a shard of light and Anthy resting with her hand over her heart. She opens her eyes and turns to the light, bathed in green. [Kissmate: "A choice?"] She asks who is there and young-Utena says "I came all this way to be with you. Don't be afraid of this world where we can meet." The door open and Utena is there, begging Anthy to give her hand. Anthy refuses, saying to get out of there before the swords turn on her now that they don't have a Rose Bride to attack. Anthy cries and bites her finger, unsure what to do, but reaches up her hand. The arena breaks and Anthy falls away, crying. Utena watches over the end, weeping that in the end she couldn't be a prince after all. The swords focus on Utena and we cut away before the blow.

At Ohtori, the students talk about the future and what they'll do after they graduate. They talk about someone who has found the man of her dreams, though she used to be all "Miss Utena, Miss Utena"... but, "hey, who was Utena, again?" They remember her only as the girl who used to dress in boy's clothes, who got hurt and had to be hospitalized before transferring to another school. Rumor has it she got hurt by her friend, or her boyfriend, or that she got in trouble with the chairman and got expelled. Anthy walks by through this, unperturbed as she listens. [Kissmate: "She's not in the birdcage. She's walking by it, but she's not even looking at it."]

Miki tutors a blushing Tsuwabuki while Kozue watches from the piano. Touga spars with Saionji while Nanami serves tea for the three of them. Juri captains the fencing club while a smiling Shiori is an enthusiastic member of the team. Wakaba enjoys the fine day while a girl jumps on her back, happy to see her. [Kissmate: "She's in Utena's place now! She admired the prince so much she became one herself."]

In the Chairman's tower, Chu-Chu sits on the desk with his ears folded in submissive defeat. Akio muses that so little time has passed but Utena is already forgotten. "As I thought, she caused no revolution to occur." He says he's rewriting the rules of the Rose Crest and that he'll be counting on Anthy's help.

Anthy lays her glasses on the desk while Chu-Chu lays his tie and earring. "You really don't know what's happened, do you?" He looks up at her, confused, but she continues on. "It doesn't matter. By all means, stay in this cozy coffin of yours and continue to play prince. I have to go now." He asks where she'll go. Anthy says, "She hasn't gone at all. She's merely vanished from your world." [Kissmate: "She broke the shell! She broke out of his world and now Utena is free and so is Anthy."] Akio screams for her to wait and she tells him farewell forever as the bells peal.

We see her wearing pink and white, without her glasses and a smile on her face as Chu-Chu climbs her shoulder. "This time it's my turn to go. No matter where you are, I swear I'll find you. Wait for me, Utena." She walks out of Ohtori, triumphant and free, no longer a prince or a princess or a rose bride. [Kissmate: "She's a normal girl. What Utena wanted for her."] Utena and Anthy are framed in a pink picture frame together, holding hands.

We have to ask: Was it really such a good idea to be a Prince? Was it? I still don't know. I can see both sides. This is a story about toxic masculinity and the way society treats people perceived as men versus people perceived as women. If the Prince is inherently a toxic masculine ideal, then the only way to win is not to play at all. To take a third option. To reject the entire system, walk away, and find a way to help people that isn't riding up on a white horse and saving them. But if the Prince is a masculine ideal that has merely been infected by toxicity, then the way to win is to do it better than the toxic men like Akio and Touga who have encouraged that toxicity to their own benefit.

Akio said one true thing: Anthy was with him by choice. It was a terrible, unhealthy choice that was informed by years of abuse and codependency, but she did have agency. It would've been easier if she were under a spell that needed to be broken, but no. He threw her at Utena knowing that Utena thought Anthy was an innocent, knowing she would put Anthy behind her, and knowing that Anthy would stab her in the back. Anthy was choosing, throughout the series, to do what she did; she was no puppet, and I think her green eyes are important to that fact.

Utena's act at the end--to leave Ohtori and trust that Anthy will follow if she wishes--accepts Anthy's agency and respects it. She's not Touga or Akio, forever trying to force her lover into the princess role for her own good whether she wants it or not. Instead, she walks away and lets Anthy make the choice to come with her. That could be seen as rejecting the role of the prince entirely, or doing it better than the other princes we see on-screen: her version of "saving" people is to help them only as much and as far as they want. Perhaps. Who can say? Not me.

One more thing: I think it's important that the prince is an idealized vision that society both loves and hates. (And they do hate the prince, the swords stir towards the prince, but they would prefer an idealized witch to stab if they can.) In that context I think the gender issues in this series are so important because *of course* the idealized hero of the world would be masculine in the eyes of patriarchal society. Utena has to keep reminding people that she can be a girl and a prince, not because girls aren't strong enough or aren't good enough at swordplay, but because people are so primed to expect a hero to be male instead of female. Women are supposed to be victims (princesses) or villains (witches), not heroes. In that respect, again, I can see the answer being either/both on either opting out of the system entirely or doing it better than the cis men born to the privilege Utena was never extended.

One-one more thing: If the Rose Seal opens to a miracle, then the one who opens it gets whatever they want. Utena opened the door and the thing she wanted was so incredibly, perfectly, childishly simple: for Anthy to not be in that knot of swords anymore. For Anthy to be there, within reach, within sight, and not hidden away from Utena by all that violence and abuse. Anthy got to feel one single pure moment without pain after an eternity of it, and I can say as a chronic pain survivor just how miraculous that is. For Akio, it would've seemed like a stupid waste of a wish--she had unlimited power at her hands and wasted it not on revolutionizing the world but on making a single woman more comfortable for a moment. But for Anthy, it was precisely what she needed to motivate her to walk away from Akio forever.

And, oooh, the walking away scene. The way Anthy and Chu-Chu pretended for months to be beaten and submissive, until that final moment when she was ready to walk out the door with her bags. That's how to leave an abuser safely, and Anthy pulled it off with flying colors. We stan a legend, etc.

Last of all, Kissmate wanted to talk colors some more. If we look at the colors like light, then white--the color of the prince--is the combination of all colors in balance. Red is the color of self and conviction; a prince shouldn't be someone who only does things by half measures and is unsure of himself when the time comes. He should be ready to fight with no hesitation and see the battle through to the end. Orange is love and miracles; he shouldn't hide away their emotions and the fact they care for others. They should be emotionally expressive and in touch with their spiritual side, believing that the impossible is possible--because otherwise why would they strive against overwhelming odds?

Yellow is adoration; the prince should look to others with respect while earning it in return. Green is the color of choice and friendship; the prince isn't born to his role but rather chooses to fight his battles in defense of his friends. (I'm reminded of the duelists gathering to say that Utena was representing them all in her final battle.) Blue is the color of logic and reason; a prince shouldn't fight recklessly or in rage. He should be calm and careful. (I recall how Saionji's sword always struck an aggressive contrast to Touga's patient style of waiting for the first strike.) Purple is the color of revolution and disdain; in order to desires revolution, you have to hate the injustices which exist. All of them combined in balance make white, the color of the Prince.

Black and pink had no duels to represent them. If white is the Prince, black must be the anti-prince. Like the anti-christ (anti-Akio), Utena possesses all the strengths of her foil but society doesn't accept her as a prince because of her gender. Pink, the color of protection and of the rose seal, would logically be part of the prince but there's no duel to represent it. Why? My theory hinges on the fact that *Akio* created the duels and his system is inherently flawed. He doesn't think about protecting Anthy because it's no longer a priority to him. It was once, when he was a prince, but he's not been that prince for so long that he can barely remember how much it was a core part of him. Even the "princesses" he interacts with now--women other than Anthy--are tools for him to use and abuse; it just doesn't occur to him that a good prince should be measured by how protective he is, because Akio *isn't*. Kissmate adds he doesn't think to protect something that can't die, which is why he can't understand why Utena wants to protect her from the swords. He doesn't understand that protection is more than just keeping someone alive.

I always thought Utena's rose bride dress was pink, but Kissmate believes it's purple: that the pale purple is meant to mirror Akio's hair, and the pale green his eyes. He's dressed her as a pale comparison to himself when really she's his superior. He thinks she's a watered-down version of himself, even says she reminds him a little of who he used to be, and considers both her and his older self to be weaker, less powerful, less effective princes than he is.

What might have happened if Utena hadn't been at Ohtori for this latest attempt at the rose seal? Touga would've been the one to pass all of Akio's tests, though Touga is a poor fit for Anthy as a friend or lover: he doesn't feel protective towards her in the slightest. He would've passed Akio's tests not because he fits the princely ideal but because Akio's tests are weighted towards finding someone like *Akio*. Akio is so self-deluded that his measure of a "good prince" is a measure of someone who reminds him of himself, even though he can clearly state that he's not a prince anymore. He's fallen from grace but is too vain to understand his own flaws and how he fails as a prince and a brother. [Kissmate: "Oh my god, Lucifer's sin was pride. Of fucking course."]

And I think we'll leave with that. We're going to try to watch the movie, which by all accounts is absolutely gibbering fuck-nuggets. Wish us luck.


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