The Black Rose in the Abyss (Utena Ep. 14)
Let’s begin with the end. Utena apologizes to Anthy for injuring her brother’s fiancée. Anthy tells her not to worry because it’s not her fault. I am sure absolutely everyone will recognize and accept this ethical problem and Anthy’s solution immediately, but for the sake of clarity I’ll spell it out: Utena is not responsible because it was Kanae who attacked her, Utena’s intention was not to hurt Kanae but to defend Anthy and herself.
Backtrack to the duel song, which begins as Utena unsheathes the sword from Anthy. This song has got some insane syntax in the Japanese, there are a lot of images jumbled up and the end result is that there are tons of ways to translate it. But the first half of it revolves around a single subject, and this is what’s important. The subject is 「奈落の底意」 or “naraku no sokoi”. “Naraku = hell”, “sokoi = underlying motive/intention” so “hellish intentions” or “evil underlying motives” could be acceptable translations. But I should add that “naraku” has gradually been used to mean things other than an actual Hell for evildoers: it can be used to describe a deep pit, an abyss, or the farthest reaches/ends of something.
So the song goes on about how these “naraku no sokoi” are to be found in both good and evil, in both angels and demons, everywhere, no matter how pure you are or how impure you become. I think it’s safe to assume that, because of this duality, “naraku” ought to be translated as a “bottomless pit” or an “abyss” and not as Hell. “Naraku no sokoi” are not necessarily good or evil, and are found on both sides of morality. They are our deepest, most secret motives, impulses and inclinations.
Just before this song kicks in, Kanae claims that the Black Rose has given her the power or courage to be herself, not to be a phony. Utena (and I magine Anthy too, but who knows what she’s thinking!!) thinks just the opposite: the real Kanae is absent and this evil woman is a phony. Incidentally, the head of the Black Rose society himself views himself as a manipulator and so would seem to support Utena’s standpoint. But who can really tell what Kanae’s “naraku no sokoi” are?
Even if we can determine Kanae’s deepest impulses, many people would judge her very differently whether she acted on them or not. That is, even if Kanae truly and desperately wants Anthy to die, whether she kills her or not makes a huge difference. Now, certain people like Wang Yangming would argue that you always act on your “naraku no sokoi”. If you believe in something, and you don’t act on it, then this is just evidence that your “naraku no sokoi” are something else altogether and you’re simply fooling yourself.
But I think Yangming’s thinking isn’t very popular these days. The most straightforward way to break this down is that either A) the Black Rose ring brings your “naraku no sokoi” to the surface and gives you the courage to act on them, or B) it perverts your “naraku no sokoi” in a new direction. Whatever the answer, it reminds me of getting intoxicated.
The Japanese (the ones I’ve met at least) have a curious attitude toward alcohol consumption and its effects on people. On the one hand, they agree with the dictum in vino veritas, believing that what you say and do when you’re drunk is based on your true intentions, your “naraku no sokoi”. HOWEVER, they also believe that whatever a person does when they’re drunk should be forgiven and passed over.
This fascinates me. The way I see it, if you forgive me when I do something bad under the influence of alcohol, it must be because you don’t think that’s the real me. And conversely, if you think that the real person comes out when drunk, then any misdeed while intoxicated should be immediately punished. But these Japanese think differently.
I guess they are accepting that Repression is a big fact of life and that controlling and concealing your “naraku no sokoi” is a the proper thing to do. I wonder if the treatment of the Black Rose duelists in Utena couldn’t be better explained along these lines…
MORE ON NARAKU:
Mikage mentions that the spot where they have descended to leads to the End of the World. One of the definitions of “naraku” I have found is 「果ての果て」 or “the end of the end”, this word I translate as “end” here is the same as that in End of the World. The people engaged in the Mikage Seminar are in every way descending into the abyss, not necessarily a hell of punishment so much as the location of their deepest inclinations [though of course, being forced to face those depths might be considered a form of punishment itself]. Also worthy of note is that the basement under a Japanese theater stage is called “naraku”, which links this duel song with Miki’s “theater vs. spira mirabilis” song in episode 5.