[THIS WHOLE POST IS A SPOILER]
When does love get real? I’ll tell you when. Love gets real in the face of betrayal. Nothing tests love, whether in the context of romance, friendship, or both at once, than acts of betrayal. The acts themselves need not be singular events, but could be long and drawn out ruses, frauds, or inauthenticities.
I actually won’t get into the playfulness that distinguishes the show. I intended my previous blog posts on Utena, as well as those I’ve linked to in the past demonstrate this playfulness (in terms of nuance, visual and directorial style, symbolism and structure, etc.) in this instance. The final arc of this show that I’ve come to love unleashed a dizzying series of betrayals, acts, and lies. From this chicanery of falsehood Revolutionary Girl Utena confronts me with truths about love.
I agree with this take:
The show through its remaining episodes ultimately deconstructs the notion of the prince, period. Utena’s prince, Dios, turns out to be a former ideal, while Akio, Anthy’s prince, is revealed to be the corruption of that ideal. Touga is shown to be a fraudulent prince. And Anthy coldly tells Utena she could never have been her prince after literally stabbing her in the back.
The inauthenticities in the show do not only exist in a literal plane, but throughout the show on a thematic level. The main quest of Utena is to meet her Prince again, but not as a princess but as a Prince herself. This is already problematic since a girl cannot be a prince (in the context of the narrative), but as adaywithoutme says, the very idea of the Prince as an ideal is torn apart.
Here is a summary of the mythological dynamics (wikipedia):
Dios is an actual prince who saves the girls in the world on a daily basis. The work eventually weakens him to the point of death, but the world still demands his services. Anthy ends up facing an angry mob alone in order to protect him, and is stabbed by a million swords. The swords quickly take a life of their own, eternally thirsting for a prince’s blood. To combat the pain, Anthy splits herself in two, and seals the part of her containing the swords beyond the Rose Gate, becoming the Rose Bride. This incident shatters Dios’ faith in the world, and he is also split in two. One part of him becomes an altruistic but powerless ghost, while the other part becomes selfish and manipulative Akio. No longer a prince, Akio loses most of his power, so he establishes the Dueling Game to regain it. Anthy accepts her role as the Rose Bride, despite the suffering it inflicts on her, because she does not want to live in a world which had tortured her and her brother.
Utena enters the Ohtori academy in a quest to become a prince worthy to meet her prince (Dios). While it was through her intercession on behalf of Wakaba that gets her in the Dueling Game, it’s her newfound regard for Anthy that keeps her in it. In Anthy Utena finds a friend, and a princess that lets her act like a prince.
The theme of her participation in the Dueling Game is to free Anthy, to protect Anthy, to protect Anthy’s freedom. This is all well and good, but Utena never took time to learn about the Dueling Game. She never bothered to ask the Rose Bride who was with her every day. This is important! Utena’s disinterest in the purpose of the game, and the objectives of the participants is huge. It tells us how naive she is, and perhaps how easily she can be taken advantage of.
And here comes perhaps the first of the inauthenticities: Anthy, in the spirit of the friendship offered, did not return it in kind. Instead she played the role of the Rose Bride throughout her relationship with Utena. She could have volunteered critical information, but she was busy playing the Rose Bride.
But there’s more! She wasn’t merely playing the role so as to be truthful to the function of the Dueling Game and the objectives of Akio. Anthy has lost faith in Akio, and does not see him capable of becoming Dios ever again. In Utena she finds someone who could be a Prince the same way Dios was. She indulged herself with Utena, and tested her.
True enough, Anthy’s inauthenticity is met with betrayal. Utena on her own accord slept with Akio, knowing he was spoken for. When Utena found out about the incest, she didn’t relinquish him for Anthy’s sake. She relinquished her identity as a prince instead. This is a double betrayal.
At first I wasn’t sure how Akio could have acknowledged Utena as someone who has retained her nobility, but how the whole thing ended validates this. But first, during the final duel with Akio, Utena was surprisingly holding up well and perhaps even getting the upper hand (as symbolized by the illusion of the castle crumbling)… until Anthy literally stabbed her in the back.
I’m not sure why Anthy did this. Akio threw her at Utena, which halted Utena’s charge. Utena characteristically stood in front of Anthy as if to defend her. It seems that Anthy merely followed Akio’s wishes in a moment of weakness. But Utena asks her why, and she responds with
You remind me so much of Dios when I loved him, but you can never be my prince because you’re a girl.
Anthy, you just figured this out now? And you immediately regret it too. Then we get this: Akio declares her love for Anthy, sympathizing with her regret, acknowledging his responsibility for Anthy’s stabbing Utena in the back. Anthy returns this, and it’s quite horrifying and beautiful.
Anthy: Knowing everything of the world, you chose this path.
Akio: And knowing everything of you, I love you.
Can I dismiss this as mere leniency between wrongdoers? I don’t think so. In the two statements we find acknowledgment, acceptance, and love, without contingency or condition. How can liars trust each other? How can betrayers trust each other? And without trust, how can there be love?
But see, trust is a condition that upholds relationship. It isn’t love per se. It is a condition for love. In the siblings we find forgiveness and acceptance, and the acceptance is inclusive of the risk of being a in a relationship with a liar and a murderer. It is horrifying because we are being shown this by ‘the bad guys’ who supposedly have no moral authority over us, especially to talk about love.
If things had ended here it would be interesting, but we are spared further anguish of this kind because Utena gets to show us the biggest love in the show. Run through by a sword through her guts, she sees Akio failing to open the Rose Gate, and Anthy pierced by the one million swords.
This is love too, right? To choose the role of the Rose Bride is to accept all the sword thrusts meant for the Prince. Anthy acknowledges how Utena showed her true friendship, even for a short while. But Anthy isn’t forsaking Utena because she intends to abandon her. Anthy has a mission of her own, albeit I am uncertain if at this point she is still hoping that Akio may find the Prince Dios within himsefl.
The Sword of Dios breaks against the Rose Gate. I am amazed at how calm Akio is, he easily accepts the failure of the attempt, perhaps certain that other chances will come his way. This is when Utena drags herself past him, just willing herself onto the Gate.
She has no Sword of Dios, no sword at all, and no hope. She tries to open the gate with her bare hands. In probably the most welcome bit of recycled animation ever, her tears fall and trigger the opening sequence of the first series of duels wherein the water of the Rose Fountain is the latch where the Rose Signet Ring serves as a key.
Utena opens the Rose Gate, supposedly granting herself the power that which shines, is eternal, and the ability to perform miracles. Dios told her that she can do anything with it, and you know what? She does, but not in the way we may expect her to.
Utena doesn’t save the day. She doesn’t stop the corrupted Prince in the form of Akio, who plans to resume a new round of the Dueling Game. She rescues Anthy, but this isn’t what saves her. Instead the swords all fall unto Utena as the Rose Gate crumbles along with the illusory dueling grounds Akio created. What she does is by opening the Rose Gate is to show it as the miracle itself – that is to love in the face of betrayal.
Within the Rose Gate is a coffin, a fitting symbol for a dead past. To live in the past is a kind of death. This life, this world represents the universe wherein Akio operates, where he gets to be The End of the World. The million swords make their way to Utena.
But in the end, Anthy saves herself. She forsakes the role of the Rose Bride, and sets forth to find her one true friend, wherever she is.
Among the many possible distinctions Revolutionary Girl Utena possesses, I make this one:
Stories about love often tell how love is won, claimed, and earned. Revolutionary Girl Utena shows how love is an act of giving, and often enough, forgiving.
By no means do I think I’ve analyzed this show in a comprehensive way. I think it’s incredibly rich and would yield so much further discussion. I merely intended to participate in the appreciation of this incredible animated series.
An interesting Feminist reading of Revolutionary Girl Utena (adaywithoutme 02/25/2010)
Contextualizing how revolutionary is Utena exactly (animekritik 09/24/2009)
I mentioned playfulness in the title right? This is what I mean:
Variation in the design of repetition in Utena (otou-san 11/10/2009)
Structural repetition in Utena (John Martone 08/10/2009)
Animated repetition in Utena (adaywithoutme 07/11/2009)
The complete coverage of Revolutionary Girl Utena here on We Remember Love [->]