The Black Rose Arc (Revolutionary Girl Utena)

First off I’ll recommend ghostlightning’s great post on the arc, with the thunderous name of Lies, Murderous Intent, Remembering Love Wrong, WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS Black Rose Society Arc of Revolutionary Girl Utena.  It’s really worth reading (and seeing) in full but I’ll lay out three observations/responses I had to it here:

a) ghostlightning notes that all of the duels in this arc end up with the  power of Dios descending on Utena EXCEPT for Wakaba’s.  I’d already noticed that in a series of duels where Utena was superior, Wakaba’s stood out as extremely lopsided, but ghostlightning links this to Saionji: Wakaba fights with Saionji’s sword and skills.  This duel is a (further) humiliation of Saionji.  It’s a lovely observation.

If I ever dreamed about Revolutionary Girl Utena (I haven’t yet) I am sure I’d be Saionji in it.  And this for two simple reasons: 1) I like Anthy and 2) contrary to Freud’s theories, my wishes are never fulfilled in dreams.  I am far more successful in life than in my dreams, which I guess is something to be thankful for…I guess.

b) ghostlightning paints Mikage in tones that remind me of Gendo Ikari of Neon Genesis Evangelion.  In short, let the world burn up to cinders as long as I am reunited with my beloved.

c) “Remembering Love Wrong” is an interesting concept.  It disturbs me, of course, since every time I hear the word “wrong” I reach for my gun, but ghostlightning makes a good case of it.  There is something Frankensteinian to this arc.


I’m going to write my own interpretation as I see it right now.  If you’ve watched the whole show then giggle in your own home but don’t spoil it for me!!  And if you haven’t watched up to episode 24 of Utena, then you shouldn’t read this at all!!  OK, here I go:

o. In the more or less distant past, genius (young Frankenstein) professor Nemuro (“nemuru” means “sleep”)  is hired to work on a project having to do with eternal life.  The power behind the project is mastermind man of mystery Akio.

1. Nemuro is brilliant but unmotivated.  Akio comes up with a plan: send his beautiful assistant Tokiko (who of course, he himself has already slept with) down Nemuro’s way.  Tokiko’s son Mamiya is terminally ill.  If Nemuro falls in love with Tokiko this will spur him to work harder on the project so he can please Tokiko by saving Mamiya.  Nemuro falls for Mamiya, not Tokiko, but this doesn’t affect the effectiveness of Akio’s scheme.

2. At a critical point in the project, Akio hands a letter/memo to Nemuro with a horrible suggestion on how to advance things.  This involves burning the 100 duelists inside the building.

3. Nemuro goes through with it.  In the short term, it doesn’t work, since Mamiya dies of his illness.  But eventually it does and Akio and Nemuro both stop aging.  Nemuro officially “dies” in the fire and so he adopts a new name and identity as Mikage (=”soul of the dead” in Japanese).

4. In the present time, Utena has just vanquished the entire student council and is getting bored.  Akio wants to keep testing her so he decides to manipulate Mikage a second time.  He sends Anthy (who of course, he has already…) down Mikage’s way.  Anthy tricks Mikage into believing she is Mamiya.  This is easy, considering Mikage is psychologically disturbed and Anthy has likely been coached by Akio on every little detail of Mamiya’s life so she can have nice conversations with Mikage.  So the image of Mamiya that we see through the arc is quite literally a merged Mamiya-Anthy, which is what Mikage himself sees.

5.  Mikage believes Mamiya is alive, and this Mamiya-Anthy convinces him to try and defeat Utena as a way to maintain him alive.  Thus we get the arc.  THIS MEANS ANTHY PRODS MIKAGE TO KILL ANTHY, WHICH IS NUTS!

Three further points: in Mikage’s memory Mamiya sets fire to the building.  This is not so much a shrugging off of responsibility as wish-fulfillment: Mikage wanted Mamiya to live forever, but the boy himself was never happy with this goal (like Frankenstein’s bride).  Mikage’s revised memory has Mamiya accept Mikage’s mission and wish for eternal life.  This is why in Mikage’s memory when Tokiko is arguing with Mamiya during the fire Mikage immediately comes up and supports him.  He’s not feeling guilty, he’s just glad Mamiya agrees with him.  Ultimately, Mikage can interpret Mamiya’s acceptance of eternal life as a declaration of love.

The second point I wanted to make is about Tokiko.  I don’t think Nemuro/Mikage was ever even remotely interested in her.  To a certain extent he is unwilling to accept that he loves the boy, though, and so he is probably in a twisted way trying to become interested in Mamiya’s older sister to provide himself a rationale (psychologically) and a screen (socially).  “Toki” means “Time” so in a fundamental way Tokiko is his enemy.

The third point is about the suggestion at the end of episode 23 that the Nemuro Memorial Hall is in ruins and even Miki’s memories about Nemuro seem to have been erased.  I don’t get it, but I’m sure Akio is behind it!


It’s a break, an intermission, but the content is very deliberate.  In my opinion, this is a recapitulation of the motifs of the Black Rose Arc.

First of all, Manipulation.  Nanami is scheming and scheming, but Tsuwabuki seems to be scheming behind her.  It’s a comical version of the Mikage-Akio relationship.

Secondly, Dreams.  Tsuwabuki wakes up from a horse-inflicted injury (but does he really wake up, he could be dreaming it all).  Then at the end Nanami wakes up.  Dreaming and hallucinating is of course a big part of the Black Rose Arc.

Finally, and this is purely speculative, Ultra Manipulation.  Notice that most of the action in this episode is narrated by Utena and Anthy, in the shadows, as it were.  They are reading from Tsuwabuki’s little book, but can we really trust them to read it accurately?!  Remember, they think that Tsuwabuki is unconscious so there’s nothing stopping them from saying anything they want to rile Nanami up.  People “fake-read” all the time.

I could be totally wrong, but so far Utena and Anthy seem to be only characters that never conspire.  They might take part in conspiracies but always acting on other people’s plans, never their own.  They are eminently anti-artificial, they are natural.  And yet of course from a larger perspective Nature conspires (but naturally, that is, without being deliberate).  Is this whole thing Utena and Anthy’s game???  (DON’T ANSWER THAT, PEOPLE WHO’VE FINISHED THE SHOW!!!)

No spoilers beyond episode 24 please!!!

~ by Haloed Bane on April 11, 2011.

4 Responses to “The Black Rose Arc (Revolutionary Girl Utena)”

  1. I won’t comment much on the speculation part at the end because that would indeed result in spoilers.

    The observation on the Anthy manipulating to destroy Anthy stuff is pretty interesting though. It doesn’t make sense to me as well unless… no it doesn’t make sense either.

    As for Akio benefiting from the extended youth … wouldn’t it be safe to say that… oh shit, it’s impossible to discuss this without spoilers!

    Let me just say that you’re pretty much spot on with Tokiko, someone I felt I wasn’t able to explore as much as I wanted to. Does it seem that she is now wise to things, including Akio?

    • I realize there’s pretty much no way for you to comment without spoilers, thanks for your heroic effort!!

      Yeah, I guess Tokiko has a good hold on what Akio is up to. She seems to have always understood the project better than Nemuro did. By the way, she reminds me of Kabuto’s mom in Shin Mazinger for some reason.

  2. I noticed Anthy and Akio wear the same mark on their foreheads, a mark that is ordinarily worn exclusively by women. Something is up with that.

    • I was just discussing this with someone about the new show Mouretsu Pirates. There’s a character there that seems “Indian” and she has a dot on her forehead. But she’s a young student and likely not married. It’s possible that Japanese animators think that everyone in India wears these things.

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