Angelic Androgynous (The Song in Utena Ep. 28)
I will analyze the duel song “Angelic Androgynous” in this episode. Androgyny is a topic I’ve dealt with in this blog many times (go to the end of the post for references) and it’s also IMHO one of the main themes in Revolutionary Girl Utena.
The structure of this song, like most Utena songs, is a laundry list of items. I will break the song into lines based on the singers’ pauses. For convenience, I will number each line and give my commentary after it.
This mysterious word is a great way to open up the song 😀
2) Pleasure…Mandala…Genital Rachis.
The third Japanese term here is 生殖軸, which the subs I’m using translate as “reproductive cycle”. The characters literally mean “reproductive axis” and so “reproductive cycle” would be a nice translation except that this is a technical term in Japanese biology, and the proper equivalent is “genital rachis”. Genital rachis is a cord in echinodermal anatomy that is used for reproduction (look at Asterina minor below).
Pleasure and Genital Rachis pretty clearly indicate sex. And since echinoderms are pentaradial (e.g. the case of the starfish) then there’s a link to the initial image of the Pentagram. The place of the word “Mandala” isn’t clear to me, though I do know these are radial designs and so analogous somewhat to the pentaradial echinoderms.
3) Ideal and Reality.
A classic opposition if there ever was one.
4) Man and Woman.
Even more classic, if that’s possible!
Coming on the heels of the last two lines, I almost expect this to be an opposition. But notice the lack of the word “and”. Hmmm…I could see situations in which Dignity and Chastity would be opposed (e.g. in a boy’s high school where a senior student who remains chaste will lose the respect of his peers).
6) Mutual Desire…Large Lustrous Waves.
I cannot hear well the words here and so I’m going by the lyrics as they appear in numerous websites, but the problem is these two terms are nowhere in dictionaries (for Japanese or Chinese) and they don’t show up on Google at all (except in the lyrics to this same song!) so my translation here is pure conjecture based on what each character means. Maybe the echinoderms are having a wild time at sea 😀
7) I am Seraphitus, linked to the archetype.
The term I translate here as archetype is literally “ancient model” or “classical type”. As for Seraphitus, see below.
8] The androgynous pair…Seraphita.
The last two lines can be rearranged like this: I am the androgynous pair, linked to the archetype: Seraphitus and Seraphita.
This is a reference to Balzac’s novel Séraphîta, about an androgynous being who goes by two names (Seraphitus, Seraphita) depending on whether people think s/he is a man or a woman. This androgynous being is angelic, and his androgyny is supposed to go back to the ideal way things were at the beginning of creation. I haven’t read the book, so I can’t comment further.
9) One thing or Many?
Monism vs Pluralism. A fundamental question in metaphysics and religion across times and cultures.
10) Words or things?
One of the greatest debates in Western medieval philosophy was on the question whether universal properties (Red, Black, Male/Female) were actual things (the view of Realism) or simply words (the view of Nominalism). Are Male and Female independently existing concepts with definite boundaries or are they just inadequate words desperately attempting to classify phenomena beyond human control? This is the question.
11) The pending question becomes a symbol…Dioscuri.
The Dioscuri are Castor and Pollux. According to the most popular account, Zeus disguised himself as a swan and raped Leda. Leda gave birth to two eggs (or one, in some stories), out of which hatched the twin Dioscuri. They were transformed into the Gemini constellation after their death.
Variant stories make the brothers have different fathers, one of them being mortal and the other immortal. Maybe this is one way to see the Dioscuri as a symbol of the the question in line 10 (i.e. either the color Black is an immortal thing like the Realists believed, or it is merely a word for black things that are themselves mortal, as the Nominalists contended).
12) Universal androgynous chaos…Anima…Animus.
Anima and Animus are Jungian terms: the anima is the female quality in the male, whereas the animus is the male quality in the female.
13) Let’s hurry up spiritual perfection.
The next line explains this.
14) That is, the rediscovery of your inner self.
In view of line 12, this must mean that to become perfect we must be in touch with both our masculine and feminine qualities. Apparently, this is the theme of Balzac’s novel alluded to earlier.
15) The two people within me, right and left.
Check out this research abstract [here], it’s fascinating.
16 The entire universe…male sex and female sex…
There is neither denial of sexuality nor denial of the multiplicity (or at least, duality) of sexes, only an argument against the each sex denying each other.
17) A pair of heads-heads, a pair of bodies-bodies, a pair of insides-insides, a pair of outsides-outsides, a pair of genders-genders, a pair of me’s-me’s, a pair of fronts-fronts, a pair of backs-backs.
Notice the repetition in the terms, which is in the original. It gives this section of the song a nice rhythm, and it also makes the fact that we’re talking of pairs of things very explicit. This could be a description of the androgynous beings in Plato’s Symposium. The text in question is [here].
18) There are only two of me in this world [x 3]
Actually, the Japanese word for “only” here is slightly different each of the three times that the line is said, but it’s always the same meaning. It’d be like saying “There are only two of me, there are just two of me, there are but two of me…”
19) Two of me…of me two…me two of…two of me…
This swapping of syllables is most brilliantly used in the the pre-duel “Absolute Destiny Apocalypse” song, with the three syllables of the word “revelation/apocalypse” (Jp. 黙示 mokushi).
20) I am androgynous in the world.
The word “androgynous” is in English in the original.
21) Ah..oh [x 8]
Maybe the ah’s are one gender and the oh’s another?
We can call angels androgynous and no one will bat an eyelid. If we call them hermaphroditic, what will people say! I think the idea of ending the song with this word is great, because it really puts in relief what the issue is all about (androgyny has a nebulous quality to it sometimes).
All of these songs were composed by Julius Arnest Caesar, better known on the net as J.A. Seazer (real name: Takaaki Terahara). Caesar achieved fame in the student movement in the 1960s and was director Shuji Terayama’s musical man (for Terayama, read my post Cats and Emperors).
Mind you, there are those who assure us Caesar didn’t do much of anything, and his name was used to prop up the show. Be that as it may, the songs are in his style (I’ve listened to his 1970s film scores and some songs are very similar to those in Utena), which means there’s a lot of sense to this nonsense. Caesar and Terayama are extremely acute thinkers.
What is the point of echinoderms in this song? Well, one thing about starfish, sea lilies and the like is that they reproduce sexually, but they also have a great capacity for asexual regeneration of their own parts, and sometimes outright asexual reproduction.
Sea lilies in particular are very suggestive, not only for their exquisite beauty and the fact that it’s really tough to tell male and female apart, but because “yuri” (=lily) is associated in Japan with female-female relationships (sea lily in Japanese is “umi-yuri”). Kunihiko Ikuhara, one of the forces behind this anime, has stated his preference for yuri relationships in manga and anime. Oh, and sea lilies lay eggs, and sometimes even brood them!
If you type in the term 生殖軸 on Google, all the links are this “Angelic Androgynous” song, all but one. That one leads to a 1982 article by Atsuko Yamagata on the reproductive system of a tiny Japanese starfish known as Asterina minor (discovered in 1974). This is the article in which I found the term and its English meaning of “genital rachis”. The term forms a part of the title of the article.
Yamagata starts her article by talking of sexual variety in the Asterina genus (starfish):
1) Most species are dioecious (there is a male and a female gender).
2) In some species, hermaphrodites appear occasionally.
3) In one species (Asterina gibbosa), young males turn into females when they grow (sequential hermaphrodism).
4) In Asterina minor, “hermaphrodism is the normal sexual condition”.
The main body of the article examines Asterina minor’s structure, its different types of gonads and the resulting hermaphrodism. I have a strong feeling that this species was an inspiration for the imagery in this song. The article has been translated into English as “Studies in reproduction in the hermaphroditic sea star, Asterina minor: the functional male gonads, ‘ovotestes'”. If you have access to JSTOR then you can read the article [here].
Asterina minor seems to have generated a lot of interested among Japanese biologists because of this hermaphrodism, ever since its discovery in 1974. Another article (this one from 1979) adds an interesting detail: the species is sometimes able to self-fertilize. Yamagata herself was still writing articles on Asterina minor reproduction in 1988. She has also researched mouse embryology.
I’m not linking to them because it gets messy. Use the search bar 😀
Valentine’s Post is about Androgyny?! (My views on the topic as of two years ago)
Shin Mazinger 08: Aphrodai Comes Through (Baron Ashura’s androgyny in connection with Plato’s Symposium)
The Western Desert Campaign in Manga: Two Cases (Dissection of the name Ladios from Five Star Stories)
Prolegomena to my Study of Five Far Stories (Androgyny of the mortar headd)