Thoughts on the Student Council Arc of Revolutionary Girl Utena (01-13)
Well, obviously this post will contain spoilers for the first 13 episodes of Revolutionary Girl Utena. At the same time, it won’t contain any spoilers for anything happening beyond that because I neither have seen past this point nor have read anything relating to it. Do keep that in mind if you comment 🙂
I guess if I were to do a one-page essay on this arc, I’d title it something like:
The Student Council is a Shameful Sham.
It sounds shocking, and I think I could make a good case for this interpretation. There’s two levels to the sham.
The first level comes into view around episodes 9 and 10, when Saionji is tricked by Kiryuh and ends up being kicked out of the council. Aside from the fact that Saionji did technically break the rules, Kiryuh’s ability to forge letters from the End of the World throws into question the whole structure of the Student Council. Tohga is rigging this. His granting of a ring to his sister Nanami is just as suggestive of his power.
The second level comes into play at the very beginning, and it shows us that the council president is being outfoxed in turn. The second duel between Saionji and Utena [thank goodness for the ep 13 review!] seems to be decided by the miysterious prince’s actual possession of the new duelist. This possession also happens later on.
If the structure of the council is in doubt, and even the outcome of each duel subject to outside (Dios ex Machina?) forces, then what’s the point??? It really does look like a sham.
Tohga, I’ll grant, is a great character. He exudes coolness, as Fuzakenna! puts it so well in the post A Fake-Ass Bitch and a Real Playa. But he does betray at times a substantial, maybe even fatal, vulnerability. His philosophy, revealed in episode 11, comes to something like this:
When you have feelings for someone, they will end in you being betrayed. The stronger your feelings are, the greater the betrayal will be.
I detect weakness in these lines. I agree with them to some extent, mind you!, but they show his weakness. He’s basically telling us he’s repressing his feelings, as no doubt he does have them, and in this way he is weaker than the ideal Tohga who’d be able to cope and deal with betrayal. anyone remember Kuze from ef – a tale of melodies?
This does not at all mean that he isn’t a player. Gah, if you’re doing practically everyone in your school you are a player, period. But there’s weakness there too…
As for the symbolism, I feel it’s safe to say [for this 13-ep arc, at least] that it is both profuse and superficial. The symbols are everywhere, but they tend to be one-step or two-step associations.
For example, at the end of the 12th episode each of Utena’s 7 duels so far gets associated with an abstract noun. It’s quite easy to make out the connections in each case: Utena’s choice to play the Student Council’s game in her second duel, Nanami’s adoration for her brother in the fifth duel, and so on.
Utena Tenjoh’s name can be translated as castle in the sky.
The shadow plays, which I absolutely love [primarily due to the quirky voices], might sometimes be hard to crack but in every case they simply reflect the duel about to happen. Once you figure out the relationship, it’s one step from the story to the duel. This is what I mean by superficial (=on the surface), and not anything negative. So far the symbolism seems more aesthetic than anything [I guess you could make the case for Evangelion working the same way…]
Looking forward to the next arc, I’ll be curious to see how Utena’s masculine/feminine issues continue to develop. It really seemed like in the last few episodes she has begun to exhibit some classically feminine characteristics, paradoxically, through her efforts to be a prince for Anthy…
The best fight sequence of the lot, and they’re all good, was the duel with Juri Arisugawa. I love how the fight ends with the miracle that Juri wished to deny by her very fighting. The shadow play, where one of the girls is glad she’s sick and can’t go to the zoo, only to confess at the end that she really wanted to go, mirror’s Juri’s real wish and makes me believe she might ultimately be happy [or at least hopeful] with the result of the duel.
The best outfit’s gotta be Nanami’s power yellow suit. The way I see it Nanami is the pessimist of the show: you can see in her eyes how even though she’s got loads of energy she just knows it’s all for nothing. If there’s anything fake-ass about her, is how she covers up her fundamental feeling of hopelessness with a whole lot of feistiness.
I don’t really have much to say on the new content in episode 13. The “prince” and the other dude talking was all very interesting in a “OK, so let’s see how this develops” kind of way. The timing of Anthy’s return to the dorm, and her unwillingness to tell Utena where she’s been, can make one speculate the conversation between the two mystery people was taking place inside of her [as we didn’t see her with them and the place was dark]. Who knows?
On with the Black Rose!