Lies, Murderous Intent, Remembering Love Gone Wrong, WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS Black Rose Society Arc of Revolutionary Girl Utena

The contents of a person’s heart are veiled, as though with thin silk.You may think you can peer into it, but you can’t really. And people seldom understand…  the princes other people keep in their hearts. Still, I am a bit jealous when I see young people in love.

Ohtori Akio

I struggle to make a unified essay on the arc as a whole due in part of its nature to keep me guessing in terms of who is lying and who is telling the truth. Who is really on whose side? I don’t really know, no idea anywhere in the vicinity of confidence. As such I have very little to say about Ohtori Akio, and Himemiya Anthy; despite how significant I think they are not only moving forward, but within the arc as well.

If my analysis is rather peripheral to what could be the core of this arc, then that failure is entirely my own. Well, this is not to say I have very little to say about the arc. I think it’s a cleaner, more efficient narrative than the Student Council arc. It maintains patterns even more religiously than the previous arc, and it’s very powerful too; often building on the narratives of the defeated duelists of the student council despite not making them the ‘lead’ actors in Utena’s conflicts. Except, perhaps Kiryuu Nanami who, even as the show alternately humiliates and punishes her.

Then, it justifies such ends by continuing to reveal her as petty kind of evildoer somehow became my favorite character in the series. But that’s just me (and her golden forehead).

What Changed in the Black Rose Society Arc?

I think an important change is how the duels that Utena faced never felt truly threatening. Between the Sword of Dios, Anthy’s buff/power-up effects on it mid-duel, and the ‘death from above’ possession by the still mysterious Prince, Utena’s victory in each duel was certain. Certain I tell you!

The very structure of the arc, which is predicted by the number of student council members previously defeated by Utena in the previous arc tells us that Utena was not going to lose, at least up until the final boss; and even he never felt like he truly threatened Utena in their duel (the way the Student Council members variably did, and especially Toga who actually beat Utena).

While I was pondering this futility of how the different ‘possessed’ duelists dashed themselves upon the fortifications of God-mode Utena, I was already problematizing how ‘unexciting’ these duels are since the ends were never in doubt… Only that they were actually very exciting anyway, and that the result of the duel in terms of victory and loss never became the point.

I only fully realized this on episode 21 when Keiko was fighting using Toga’s sword… For the first time, killing the Rose Bride wasn’t the goal… contradictory to the purposes of the Black Rose Society that gave her the means to possess Toga’s sword in the first place.

Every single black rose duelist was doomed, and this was telegraphed rather clearly; we can all see it coming, even Mikage when his turn came.

The Black Rose Society arc is a litany of tragedies. It’s really very sad, pathetic, and rather dark. The prize in watching the duels is not anticipating Utena’s victory over long odds, but rather how the motivations of the doomed assailants are laid out in the open. Here is the structure of each ‘tragedy’ within the arc. I’ve attempted to make a clearer presentation of this via slideshow (feed readers will not be able to see it without going to the post page on the site).

To recap:

  1. The build up in internal monologue happens in the first half of each respective episode (the characters voice internal responses to the mounting indignities they suffer) … self to self (tempter makes move afterward); individual is powerless.
  2. The confessional in the dark elevator (This is very sinister and amazing) … self to mirror + tempter; the individual is in abject powerlessness; this is the elevator to rock bottom.
  3. The duel, where the motivations are confidently communicated, while the confessor/duelist is filled with power. THEY LOSE AT THE PEAK OF THEIR POWER (to God-mode Utena — save for Wakaba who used Saionji who was thereby humiliated further by the narrative).

That’s the tragic structure, interestingly undermined by amnesia — which allows the arc to ‘progress’ in sequence; there are no lasting consequences. Rather, the consequences can be revealed with dramatic timing later on in the narrative in its entirety. The convenience of forgetting the murderous intentions acted out may be a cheap conceit, but it’s entirely consistent with the motif of repetition and variation throughout the arc, and the show as a whole. I don’t mind it at all. Also,

Only those who hold beautiful memories are allowed to wish. To wish for that time to go on and on… to wish to never change from what you were.
Mikage Souji

The Black Rose Society arc is a corruptive act of remembering love. Those who failed in their duels forget the power they had held, but also how far they went (and got) to achieve their wishes. While the defeat may be a terrible memory, and also their dark turns and hitting rock bottom maybe unpleasant to say the least, but it is also beautiful. Yes, I certainly think so. Painful memories are beautiful too.

If it’s for someone you love… how you feel about others doesn’t matter. You keep lying to yourself for as long as it takes.

Himemiya Anthy

When a duelist like Wakaba is defeated, not only does she forget the beautiful memory of her fighting for her love, she is deprived by this amnesia of the ‘privilege’ of wishing. The privilege of wishing being the power granted to bring the world to revolution as the path prepared for them by Mikage. When Mikage loses his own duel, he is shown not only how his beautiful memory is a lie, he is literally deprived of any ability to make that time go on and on: He ‘graduates’ from Ohtori academy and will no longer remain young and ageless.

Where does Utena actually figure in this arc? WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS

In this arc, Utena is even more passive — or I should say reactionary. She basically reigns as the champion duelist, and take on all comers. While this was the case as well in the Student Council arc, she was then trying to learn more about her Prince, to the point of mistaking him for Toga. Here there is no motivated or overarching goal that she pursues.

Nonetheless, Utena is a hero: she stands for justice… as she imagines how her ‘prince’ must stand for justice (this is part of why she emulates him, or at least her ideal). While the Student Council arc was more about (in relation to Utena’s purpose and motive) setting Anthy free from the role of the Rose Bride in the midst of those who wish to possess her as such, and the Black Rose Society arc is more about protecting Anthy from those who wish to kill her, this is not quite the precise conflict Utena herself confronts.

The injustice that Utena fights against is how the duelists she faced intend to kill Anthy as a result of manipulation. She believes these were not actions borne of free choice. Mikage is the culprit, and thus she challenged him herself. Mikage argues however, that all these duelists acted on their free will. They were all there to ‘make their memories eternal.’ He only prepared a path for them to achieve their wishes.

These are all members of the Mikage Seminar. The girls all had memories they couldn’t forget. Very, very precious memories. And they all fought to preserve those memories. In short, they are people… who tried to change their lives according to their memories.

Mikage Souji

Mikage too, wants to preserve his memories for eternity; and to do so is to kill Anthy and replace her with Mamiya as the Rose Bride. This is the same path he prepared for each of the duelists. However, how does this exactly work for the duelists should they win? While I can easily imagine how it can work for Mikage, I don’t see how it could work for Wakaba and the others.

The question that Utena engages with swordplay is: Where does the responsibility of the duelists end, and where does Mikage’s own begin? For me, all of them bear responsibility. However, Mikage is the evil one. How exactly? He values the welfare of the duelists very little. They are expendable to him. We know this for certain because he is responsible for the deaths of 100 students bearing the rose signet ring, to preserve his memories for eternity. The lie he tells himself is revealed in the end:

Nothing in this world is eternal. Although… a heart that longs for eternity could be considered beautiful.

Mamiya Chida

It isn’t Mamiya, who has been dead for a while now. The Sixth-Sense-ish reveal, sort of put me off — but not much. I am also forcibly reminded of the big reveal of Guld Goa Bowman in Macross Plus. Mikage was not only a prisoner of his own memory, the memory was completely false as well.

It made him a victim of a projection of wrongdoing onto Tokiko’s brother, but to me this undermines any sympathy I may have felt for him. Being right about the responsibility of the duelists he invited to the seminar doesn’t absolve him of his own responsibility for attempted murder in the name of eternity.

Further Reading

A heroic attempt at understanding the Black Rose Arc (OGT 2009/01/07)

An exciting look at a high-point of the arc: the seduction and corruption of Wakaba Shinohara (animekritik 2009/12/01)

Painful memories are beautiful too, find them in this series of posts called Diary of an Anime Lived (archived by 21stcenturydigitalboy on Fuzakenna!).

The previous arc: Victory and Authenticity in the Student Council Saga of Revolutionary Girl Utena [->]

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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49 Responses to Lies, Murderous Intent, Remembering Love Gone Wrong, WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS Black Rose Society Arc of Revolutionary Girl Utena

  1. I have nothing to add, but I read it, and I think you’re pretty spot-on. Good on ya~

  2. animekritik says:

    Great read. Mikage reminds me of Gendo in Evangelion. : trying to manipulate everything in order to reunite with his beloved somehow, but getting outplayed in the end. Is Akio’s surname Ohtori?? Then that’s the Academy’s name too! Hmmm….

    Utena, as you said, is very much a stock character in this arc: she’s basically the dragon in the cave. Except we’re supposed to believe in this story the dragon is good and the heroes marching on to meet their doom are deluded.

    Great quotes all over this arc too!

    • If anyone can be compared to ‘Ikari’ Gendo, wouldn’t it be ‘Ohtori’ Akio? Why isn’t he named Himemiya? The ‘authentic’ Ohtori is Kanae, who is the daughter of the owners of the school. Akio’s position is entirely contingent on his engagement with Kanae.

      What I find fantastically strange is his taking the Ohtori name PRIOR to getting married with Kanae. Gawd, I wish I thought of this while writing the post. Well, I wouldn’t have thought of it if you hadn’t mentioned Gendo, who took the name of Shinji’s mother.

      Utena being the subverted dragon in the cave is a great way of putting it. It’s a delicious subversion, now that you’ve pointed it out.

      Yes, delicious quotes all over this arc.

    • A.r. says:

      I can see the Gendo in Mikage, though IMHO he (well, Nemuro more than Mikage) is also an eerie parallel to 08th MS Team’s Ghinius Sakhalin. The one-minded obsession on a single goal that he believes will make everything better, and making sure nothing stands in the way of said goal (be it 100 black rose boys or a number of men under and over him) to the point where he goes from seemingly amoral to undeniably delusional, and that the obsession with saving Mamiya/completing the Apsaras is actually a defense mechanism to cope with the abandonment/betrayal of someone he was close to (Aina/Tokiko) is scary close in presentation. I think they’re both fascinating antagonists, and both very tragic as well.

      The difference in the Gundam fandom’s reaction to Ghinius vs. the Utena fandom’s reaction Nemuro/Mikage is pretty clear though (the latter being viewed widely as screwed up though complex and sympathetic, while the former is almost universally detested). Has much to do with demographics of the fans and that 08th and Utena are pretty different shows with pretty different reasons for existing methinks, though that’s something I’d rather tl;dr on when I’ve woken up more and eaten something 😮

      • Wow, I didn’t see the Gundam comparison coming!

        the obsession with saving Mamiya/completing the Apsaras is actually a defense mechanism to cope with the abandonment/betrayal of someone he was close to (Aina/Tokiko) is scary close in presentation

        Good stuff!

        I myself prefer to contextualize Gineas/Ghineus as a symptom of the Zeonic obsession with the ‘techonological silver bullet’ e.g. WHEN THE BIG ZAM IS MASS PRODUCED…

        • A.r. says:

          Yes, I think the silver bullet mobile armor frenzy certainly encouraged his madness, though I feel that Aina’s “betrayal” was the real straw that broke the camel’s back. One of the big differences between them is that while Nemuro was obviously thrown off the deep end by Tokiko’s fling with Akio (like Ghinius with Aina’s fling with Shiro), I don’t think he had any issues prior to that, aside from the “living computer” thing. Ghinius, on the other hand, strongly comes off as having some pretty deep-rooted trauma stemming from early in his life (i.e. the mother thing). It’s sort of Asperger’s vs. PTSD or Borderline Personality Disorder I guess.

          Ghinius possibly was meant as paragon of the mass produced Big Zam craze, hell I think I agree with that analysis to an extent. Though I do believe he’s got more to him than that, unfortunately that fact wasn’t made anywhere as clear as it should’ve been. Part of his (and Nemuro’s) depth comes from subtle body language, symbolism, etc, since he spends more than half his screen time putting on a facade of cool and in control (even though that’s not what’s really going on internally). And while subtleties and symbolism are one of the main driving forces in Utena, a giant, flashing hand pointing to a symbolic nuance in the background would look pretty damn out of place in Gundam.

          I think there’s still a huge example of symbolism in 08th though, and it’s one of the biggest things that paints Ghinius as a bit more than a simple superweapon-obsessed lunatic: the Apsaras itself. Specifically, the meaning of the name, certain aspects of its design, what it’s compared to in canon, and thus what it’s really functioning as for Ghinius. It many be the route his insanity and issues took, but it sure as hell didn’t cause them. He valued the thing before it became an obsession (i.e. episode 2 and episode 4), but it alone didn’t drive him off his rocker.

          Likewise, while obsessing over finding eternity and saving Mamiya was the route Nemuro’s dysfunction took, it wasn’t the cause; his feelings for Tokiko and her “betraying” them was. Did Tokiko realize that would happen? Lord no, and neither did Aina I think. I think Aina also had some pretty serious issues of her own, though that’s another tl;dr for another time.

          Hope that doesn’t sound just like something a delusional fangirl would pull out her ass. I admit I tend to over-analyze and get stupidly defensive over Ghinius, plus I’m lacking in food energy at the moment ._.

          On a related note, I swear Giren Zabi isn’t just Hitler 2.0, he’s Hitler’s lovechild with Akio. Which is even more frightening IMHO.

          • Bravo. You make fine, fine points. If you don’t have your own blog yet, consider making some of these as full-fledged blog posts. I’ll be more than happy to let you guest here.

            I would certainly want to see that exploration of Ghiren when the time comes, but before that by all means let’s make this 08th MS Team post happen.

          • A.r. says:

            Really? Lord, here I was worried I’m just coming across as a nut who over thinks things about a shitty villain no one cares about 😮

            I do plan to organize the Nemuro=Ghinius thing into an essay at some point, though I need to rewatch Black Rose first. I also find the difference in how the two are received by the series’ fandoms fascinating (though at times pretty annoying), because I’ve yet to see Mikage/Nemuro get bashed (I’m sure he has, since there’s no character everyone’s going to like, though the Utena fandom I’ve seen is pretty reasonable about explaining dislike of characters civilly), but Ghinius has to be one of the top 20 names I see pop up most often in “Gundam characters you hate/Biggest douchebags in Gundam/People in Gundam who need to DIAF”-type threads (possible in the top 10-15 if you just count UC). While I know he’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, I think the hate he gets doesn’t just stem from just his actions (since I think Char’s actions are significantly more deplorable, though he doesn’t show up in those threads any where near as often). The nature of 08th and the UC fandom is pretty different than Utena’s, and I think that’s one of the biggest things at work as to why Ghinius is so heavily disliked while Mikage isn’t.

            An essay on that would be a good way to ponder fandom social psychology and how it contributes to viewing similar characters with tremendous double-standards, something Ghinius is far from the only sufferer of. Maybe it should be a follow-up to the initial Ghinius=Nemuro thing?

            I’m kind of worried/self conscious the response to the posts will be UC fanboys dismissing my opinions with “I don’t think he’s that complicated you silly fangirl!” or “Ghinius is a shallow character we’re supposed to hate, wtf you’re stupid for trying to defend him!”. I’ve gotten that kind of response before (granted many things I’ve posted in the past were far from graceful), so I guess that’s hurt my confidence a bit. You think I’d have to worry about that from your readers/commenters?

          • Very few haters visit the site. I invite you to read the archives, not just for the Utena posts but the Gundam ones (there’s quite a few if you search for them). You’ll find the discussions quite healthy and friendly.

            You needn’t take a stand of ‘defending’ or ‘attacking’ a character. Rather, it’s more like exploring a character. Those who insist that there’s nothing else from what they see are the ones risking ignorance.

  3. otou-san says:

    Well, in my mind you got it. Preserving memory, that’s a key quote, because it really explains Mikage well. I like your question of what exactly he gains if one of the duelists (other than him) wins, but at this point I’m ok with thinking of it as more patterns and allegories. I found that Utena held together for me much better in general as I went along if I thought of it less and less as actual events happening and more representative. In the end that was one of the strongest points of Utena as a whole for me, the ability to see it in multiple levels of abstraction and still have it work.

    I would have liked to put together an analysis of this arc as well, but it’s a lot of work and it’s admirable that you did it.

    • Thanks man!

      While I wouldn’t mind forcing the conceit of not thinking through the consequences of a Wakaba winning, I’d rather that it has more heft than being an exploited pattern. How’s this for speculation?

      Killing Anthy would make the Sword of Dios disappear, if temporarily. In a fight, Mikage would have some advantage over the duelist (no Sword of Dios, no Prince H4xx0rz). Dispatching the duelist (which may involve actual murder — it can’t be put past him), he could now install his ‘Mamiya’ as the Rose Bride.

      But don’t get me wrong man, I’m totally behind you that the multiple levels of abstraction is the total jam here. As I mentioned to digiboy above, even as I am blown away by the force of the Akio Car arc, I still think this one is the most solid I’ve seen. It’s so beautiful!

  4. The entire Black Rose Saga is research by Akio into the use of soul blades. Clearly the blades are weak in the hands of people who bear one-sided loves for the blade-bearers. Utena’s victory is never in doubt — but then Akio never intended Mikage to win any of them.

    And so the Revolution Arc begins.

    • Etrangere says:

      wow, can’t you be more careful with the spoilers?

      • projectotaking says:

        Erk. I was assuming that since this was an in-depth anime discussion blog, I could simply get into discussion without spoilers. Sorry if I messed it up for you.

    • This makes Akio very interesting, and Mikage even sadder. It’s very rare for a character to win it all, if he’s introduced in the second act of the narrative. You’d have to watch Zeta Gundam for that.

      • projectotaking says:

        The Revolution arc is pretty much where all innocence and naivete is shed. Utena so far manages to stay ‘noble’ and keep her illusions even though everyone else around her during the Black Rose and Akio Car Arcs attempts to shatter her with their own disillusionment and heartbreak.

        So the question becomes, can Utena stay noble after her world’s shell is shattered by a scheming prince?

  5. coburn says:

    Mikage really is an odd one. He probably does rank as evil, but I’ve always been interested in his reaction to that normal bloke Wakaba rejects – Mikage’s coldness towards his duellists strikes me as a sort of projected self-loathing, when he comes across someone who rationalises a path through frustration Mikage is almost admiring.

    The whole beauty of deranged longing thing kind of reminded me of a passage in the play Equus where a psychologist angst-trips over re-educating and normalising a patient as an intrusion on his individualism. At school that struck me as a pretty badass line in angst. What I enjoy about this arc as a concept is that the self-obsession of the duellists (including Mikage) is presented as something easily manipulated, rather than a product of immaculate internal logic. The insanity isn’t autonomous, and the role of memory (so, other people) in building personal identity is foregrounded.

    Corruptive remembering love line = internet high five material.

    • The Onion Prince! He doesn’t know how lucky he is… then again, I realize how the actual duelists remember nothing of the humiliation they suffered after their defeat at the hands of Utena. I mean how far do they forget?

      Considering this, The Onion Prince may remember all his rejections: Utena (I don’t think he’d mind so much), wakaba (ouch), and Mikage’s (ouch)… and yet none of these are beautiful enough memories that give him the privilege of wishing.

      I almost need to rewatch his episode just to really get this!

      I really enjoyed how you put it:

      the self-obsession of the duellists (including Mikage) is presented as something easily manipulated, rather than a product of immaculate internal logic

      I think I couldn’t see this far (Mikage), for my inability to account for Akio (and Anthy! HURR), but man, this is spot-on. But the manipulation process is a beautiful one — with such set pieces like the Seminar building, it’s chairs with invites, the freaking elevator (less directly the fire/crematorium)… and the ‘power words’ (e.g. “The path has been prepared for you…”).

      Lastly yes, /high fives (^_^)

  6. Etrangere says:

    Awesome analysis of an awesome arc!!

    In your previous post I mentioned that every Duelists were fighting to return to innocence/childhood. The second arc, as you summarised with the emphasis on memories, makes it all the more clearer (“Qualification of a Duelist”, indeed); as well as the fact that there’s a lie, a self-delusion in every one of those memories – and that Mikage do not so much fight to get back to that past, as to maintain the delusion he needs to assert on this memory in order to remember it fondly. As it is for Mikage, who is manipulative, but manipulated himself; it is so for every Duelist; including Utena. (In fact Mikage’s character design intentionally mirror Utena’s).

    The quotes you put on emphasis? They are all very, very important and pertinent!

    Mikage is an interesting character, and easily my favourite of the various antagonist in the shows. For all that he’s such a corruptive and manipulative influence, I find it funny how strangely naive and even innocent he is. In fact his fleeing of his responsibility is very childlike; and very fitting for a character who was treated as an adult even though he was little more than a child merely because he was a “genius”. Tokiko, who went out in the world and grew old, was, for all that she also wished for eternity for her brother as well, much more responsible in the end. Mamiya of course, the real Mamiya, was much more smart as well.
    With all the characters wishing for eternity, he’s the first one who says it’s not something to wish for. Smart boy.

    Except, perhaps Kiryuu Nanami who, even as the showHimemiya Anthy alternately humiliates and punishes her.
    Fixed for you. That much should be clear by now :p

    Then, it justifies such ends by continuing to reveal her as petty kind of evildoer somehow became my favorite character in the series. But that’s just me (and her golden forehead).
    *snorts* not just you!

    • Thank you! You mention a lot of interesting things as well!

      I didn’t catch on Mikage and Utena’s character designs mirroring each other, but god damn, now it does make sense! The pink hair! An intellectual genius to contrast with Utena’s physicality, a manipulator to Utena’s liberator.

      I’ve been blind to this because I got strung along myself with the Tokiko/Utena binary, or forced similarity. See, even I can fall victim to Mikage’s manipulations and self-delusions!

      And yeah, THAT ANTHY! Poor Nanami. I’ve been holding off watching the last true Nanami-centric episode (31?) though the Akio Car arc is blowing me away. But going back to the Black Rose arc, it’s easy to overlook how sinister Anthy is towards Nanami because the moment you start feeling sympathetic for her (especially after how caring she becomes to Tsuwabuki, to the point that she became vulnerable to him drawing her ‘soul blade’), she’s utter shit towards Keiko. I mean, that was really harsh.

      • Etrangere says:

        haha, Anthy is awesome. She’s one my favourite characters, period. I love how… sneakily manipulative she is, which is only something we realise verrrrry slowly as we go along in the series. It’s very fun to watch back early episodes and see hints of that early on. I love the Nanami episode you’re just on the point of watching, I… shall not say more XD But it’s got a lot of great stuff with Nanami, Anthy and even Keiko (who can all be cold, mean bitch when they want to, although i can still sympathise with all three of them ^^)

        • You know, it’d be really great if you can spot all those hints… screen cap them and make some notes… and I’ll make a slideshow for it in a future post. It’ll be like a collaboration, and it’ll be awesome. Think about it, then contact me via email, twitter, chat, and/or google wav (ghostlightning[at]gmail[dot]com, @ghostlightning, rubio[dot]michael[at]gmail[dot]com, ghostlightning[at]googlewave[dot]com).

  7. Pingback: Coburn on the Beauty of Deranged Longing in Revolutionary Girl Utena « The Ghosts of Discussions

  8. kadian1364 says:

    My head always goes to fumes when it’s trying to analyze Utena, there are many substantial layers one can peel away at, and we could easily run in circles for days examining every detail, yet I was quite satisfied with only a relatively shallow impression of these episodes.

    For me, the Black Rose Arc was when I “got it”, when I understood intuitively what this show was about, even if I couldn’t put it into words or predict where it would go. The darker and tragic themes, meaty character studies, unifying motifs, Utena turned it up a notch from the Student Council Arc, which just sets you up to blow you away when everything’s ratcheted up to 11 in the Revolution Arc. Nanami’s egg episode especially made me giddy for unknowable reasons.

    • I actually agree. It took me time, and a lot of ‘guidance’ c/o ‘Mayama’ and Mikage at the recap of the Student Council arc to begin to make sense of it in an organized way.

      Nanami’s Egg, however, words fail me. I have no idea how to understand it beyond the presentation of Nanami being a prisoner of her need to fit in clashing with her need to dominate… layered by her need for Toga. Can I look at it as the contrast of Nanami as an immature ‘chick’ trolled with/by forcing her to become maternal?

      Also, Anthy… what does she get out of all this? But this question should be answerable via plot resolution.

  9. animewriter says:

    As I read most interpretations of Utena written by western viewers I feel they’re missing the most important point of the whole series; this situation is almost the same as how western viewers saw the ending of TM 8.0 completely different from how Japanese viewers interpreted that very same ending.

    I liked how you used wrong in the title of your post because from the very first episode of Utena, we the viewer, can see that EVERYTHING is wrong about the Ohtori Academy, and most of its students. The Othori Academy is an example of traditional Japanese society that has fallen off the path of social obligations and proper respect for one’s duties, and the concept of wrong memories, wrong motivations, and wrong self-identification fits perfectly.

    If you take away the surrealism of the situation and look at the series and judge the characters by how they either conform or deviate from expected cultural norms it’s not hard to see why most of them have a bad end.

    Almost all of the characters, Utena included, have given into their personal desires (ninjo) and have forgotten their social obligations (guri). Even in modern Japanese society, a great deal of weight is placed on the Confucius values of knowing one’s role in the family, and society (school, government, and so forth).

    So, on first principles, A is A: Aristotle’s Law of Identity;

    Everything that exists has a specific nature. Each entity exists as something in particular and it has characteristics that are a part of what it is. “This leaf is red, solid, dry, rough, and flammable.” ……….To have an identity means to have a single identity; an object cannot have two identities. A tree cannot be a telephone, and a dog cannot be a cat. Each entity exists as something specific, its identity is particular, and it cannot exist as something else. An entity can have more than one characteristic, but any characteristic it has is a part of its identity.

    Taken from

    So, most of the characters fail to realise what they are and what their proper role is “if you’re the eldest son, be the best eldest son possible; if your a member of the student counsel, try to be the best one possible; if you’re a prince be the best one possible”. Using this line of thinking you can pretty much see that Utena is not an unique character in anime or manga, you can see parts of her in Princess Sapphire from Princess Knight (1967) where Princess Sapphire was born with the heart of boy and the heart of a girl, and you can also see parts of Utena’s struggles in Lady Oscar from the Rose of Versailles (1979).

    So, what I’m getting at is A is A; Utena should arise from the flames like the phoenix as (?), or emerge from her coffin and be reborn as (?), well, that’s the question. I’m waiting for your end of the series post so I don’t have to worry about any spoilers, and we can let it fly.

    • Excellent! The social obligations in relation to individual identity framework of analysis is exciting.

      I should have caught on this more in the Student Council arc when I discussed the theme of ‘self’ but I think I don’t have the chops to break down Japanese weltanshcauung at all. That said, what you said about Ninpo makes a lot of sense to me.

      I’ll be interested in bringing postmodern perspectives on identity and meaning into the discussion to contrast with the Aristotelian (Platonic) fixed-meaning ideas; as I have no problem contextualizing Revolutionary Girl Utena as a postmodern darling of an opus.

      The end of the series post won’t come that soon, as I have less and less time watching, let alone writing. But when I do write it I’ll give it everything I got.

      • donkangoljones says:

        I have to admit that the social obligations/responsibilites aspect of Utena, which is really the main part of this story, is also my weakest point in relating to it. While I have a definite love for japanese culture and history, my actual values are very American. I often forget that in viewing anime, especially in my early days of viewing.

        I can be very childish like that sometimes.

        • We cannot have values other than our own really, at least authentically. I don’t see this as a big problem when watching a show, especially this one. It becomes a problem only when we unthinkingly dismiss or glorify things we see, where our preconceptions do the thinking for us.

  10. Pingback: Animewriter on Ninpo and Revolutionary Girl Utena « The Ghosts of Discussions

  11. 2DT says:

    This was a pretty mind-blowing read. You really got into it. Having not seen more than the first few episode of Utena, I’m afraid I was lost for most of it. But you make it sound really interesting… I just have to get over the inertia of not wanting to commit to a huge show and watch it myself. Cheers.

    • Part of me wants to scream at you for reading this and spoiling yourself. But the better part just wants to tell you to go watch this show. This is good stuff.

      otou-san told said it well (to me) when he put it as: Revolutionary Girl Utena is great the way anime is especially great. We can look at works like Cowboy Bebop, or even Legend of the Galactic Heroes and can easily imagine them as live action pieces that have a chance of being transcendent entertainment. The work in Utena, however, stands out as distinctly anime.

      While I’ve only seen parts of Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei, and Bakemonogatari isn’t even finished yet, I think many of what Shaft/Shinbo’s visual and/or storytelling techniques fall within the tradition of what J. C. Staff/Be*Papas did here (I won’t speculate on influence).

      It is worth your time, and I for one would love to read your own writing on this show. Don’t be fooled by the amount of work in this post; it’s not comprehensive at all (as the comments by animekritik, animewriter, and Etrangere above attest).

  12. donkangoljones says:

    I really enjoyed the post, in part because I the Black Rose arc was one of my favorite arcs in anime. Strange considering, as you said, that the Black Rose duelists were doomed from the start. You don’t have to notice this during the first couple of duels, but eventually you’ll get it. Come on, their goal is to kill the Rose Bride who IS the end game for this story. This series isn’t ending at episode 20.

    The arc struck me as more instense than the previous though. Utena may have been the Big Good (that may be the one & only time I use that phrase) in this story, but that also pushed the focus away from her. She was just a target, a goal, a scapegoat and an obstacle to these lost hearts.

    The Black Duelists served more than one purpose for me. They served to educate the viewer not only of their own motives, but to further help the viewer understand the Student Council members that tied so much of their hopes and dreams to. They also helped change the perspective of the series.

    We went from Utena’s view, which is not necessarily desperate, but righteous. So while she can’t afford to lose (though she has once up to this point), she’s free to continue. While she walked through life, she noticed her moment from a distance. She starts her journey not realizing that this is a long and winding path towards what her soul has been craving. During the Black Rose arc, she stands atop the summit with Anthy; content to defend her from all comers. Well all, except for Mikage, she actively sought him out.

    The Black duelists start out differently from Utena. They are sought out and coerced. While they still had the choice to accept their invites and seek “help”, you have to admit that once they arrived there was a considerable “push” from Mikage. When it comes to the duels, I thought the Black Rose duelists were desperate. This was their one chance to change everything. They face “the dragon” knowing that they’ll leave a champion or nothing. Needless to say the result became “or nothing”.

    Strange as it may seem, I found it terribly interesting to see these side characters and ghosts of the past and present become monsters. And then watch that all stripped away as if by exorcism, leaving them standing next to that ominous building as if nothing had or would ever happen. It’s a bit dark and poetic.

    I hope you’re enjoying that final arc, so many surprises to come. ^_^

    • I’m really glad you enjoyed reading the post, as it was very much my intention to write the kind of post that showed how much I was into the show.

      The Big Good is an excellent term. It’s an inversion of course, but consistent with what animekritik above called ‘the dragon in the cave.’

      I particularly like how you noted that the duelists had at least one contact with Mikage before seeking him out. The push that you mentioned was the entire descent on that awful elevator.

      However, I don’t know if they were still aware of the risks when they sought Utena. They knew nothing about fencing and swordplay — only the sudden rush of power once they felt the soul swords of their love objects move them. They have no appreciation how these skills ranked against others — let alone against the Sword of Dios AND the Prince from above.

      They only had victory in their minds, the nothing you speak about isn’t so much the alternative to victory, but rather a literal nothing. They never considered it.

      The Akio Car arc isn’t the final arc, but I’m having a roaring time of it. It will take me some time before I finish writing about it, let alone the whole show…

      But if your soul hasn’t truly given up, you can hear the sound of my post roaring through the end of the world.

      • donkangoljones says:

        I suppose I got a little “romantic” in my rememberance of Utena. Sometimes remembering love can be fuzzy. XP

  13. I watched the bulk of Utena two years ago on Hero, and enjoyed it. But of course, Utena demanded more than just one viewing to get the full effect, as it’s obvious that I have to delve deeper into the symbology and double-meanings. Every duel has a meaning, and what’s ticking in every duelist and the intent, and what consequences he or she reaps for trying to win… more often they lose damn hard when Utena kicks their asses the other way around.

    By the way, Nanami was pure comedy gold. xD

    • I think Utena can be enjoyed on many levels, and I while I love speculating on meanings and interpretations, I don’t posit that it’s the best way to enjoy the show. It’s my preferred way, is all.

      One can merely just love Nanami and her trials.

  14. Pingback: Revolutionary Girl Utena: A Diary of the Akio Car Arc Lived « We Remember Love

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  18. ayame says:

    may I ask what template did you use for your powerpoint presentation? it was lovely 🙂

  19. Pingback: The Black Rose Arc (Revolutionary Girl Utena) « Kritik der Animationskraft

  20. Pingback: We Remember Love Says Goodbye, and Thank You For All The Memories | We Remember Love

  21. Foxy Lady Ayame says:

    Reblogged this on compass on my field trip.

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