Token attempts will be made to discuss the other scraps of plot development going on this episode, but let us not pretend your humble analyst hasn’t been counting down the weeks until this episode. This week’s all about one character – the interpretive cornucopia that is Oscar.
Not sure if idealized memory or really bizarre champagne commercial
Episode Specifics: Increasingly unhinged and desperate for Zenigata’s attention, Oscar has begun committing thefts under the guise of Fujiko Mine. Zenigata, wise to his lieutenant’s actions but unaware of his motives, removes himself from the case entirely. Sensing an opening, the owl men step in to twist Oscar’s weakness to their advantage.
The Revolutionary Girl Utena homages return in force this week, in keeping with the last Oscar-centric episode. This time around the ‘shadow players’ are borrowed, a conceit from Utena that was used to comment, morality play style, on each episode’s theme. Here the shadow play is in fact a shadow film (look at the tears in the screen, the deliberately fuzzed picture quality, and the projector noise) – marking out the owls’ plans for Oscar. And unlike the shadow girls, who were mysterious beings moving under their own power, the shadow film’s Oscar moves on strings, with no dialogue of his own.
Also returning (more on precedence than anything) is the concept of boxes and coffins, one of Utena’s most important themes – the entirety of the Owls’ plan hinges on getting Oscar to believe he must fill the role of the Bride (by way of a dress that eclipses its wearer – a designation that erases the individual person for the sake of the premade mold). The concept of “bride” itself is also of major import in Utena: the Rose Bride is not an individual person but an object that bestows power on her fiancé/owner, who has no power or will of her own – something she initially did for the sake of a loved one, only to find herself trapped and hated.
Gaslighting your way to restrictive gender and sexual roles for fun and profit
Oscar, likewise, has given up his subsumed his sense of self in the hopes of attaining what he thinks he wants, because to step outside of those roles leaves no place for him – something he does not yet know he would regret.
Fujicakes, you seem to be wearing a bustier-dentata
On the other side of things, a brief shout out to the black lingerie Fujiko is wearing during her stay at Goemon’s cabin in the woods. Like the stereotypical and impractical unzipped catsuit we discussed during the beginning of her breakdown, black lingerie is traditionally used as coding for femme fatales or other morally ‘fallen’ women (Hitchcock even used it for Marian Crane in Psycho, just in case you needed an excuse to watch that masterpiece). Using that wardrobe choice while Goemon attempts to play the ‘One Good Man’ (he’s shifted generic expectations now, so he’s going to ‘save’ her from herself) harps on the long tradition of characterization (which would be paradoxically current – Psycho was released a year before this theoretically takes place).
Lupin Lore: One thing I neglected to mention in the last go round is that Lupin’s had a run in with Oscar before – a curly haired law-keeper (in a manner of speaking) who took on the guise of another gender in order to achieve a goal. Of course that was the Oscar of Rose of Versailles (a hugely influential piece of early shoujo, and spiritual predecessor to Utena – you can even see their pointed homage to Oscar in Juri’s hairstyle), a biological female passing as male, but still. Lupin and Oscar met in Red Jacket’s “Versailles Burned with Love,” one of four fan-submitted episode ideas. And of course, that ubiquitous cabin in the woods, which made many an appearance in Green Jacket (there was only one, and the weekly villains all had a convenient timeshare) – including one instance of an extremely damseled Fujiko forcibly holed up there with a former lover and a deadly wound (physical, not emotional, but hey).
How long have you been doing that, again?
FUCKING OWLS: So, if Aisha’s entire plan revolved around manipulating, and later destroying, Fujiko, then why bring Oscar into it at all? On the one hand, it gives Zenigata a reason to come along to the Amusement Park from Hell, but wouldn’t Fujiko have come on her own? Nah, it can’t be that simple. We’re looking at the B-side of the experiment here.
So the dub line for this is explicitly ‘haven’t you manipulated me enough,’ which makes more sense (to me) given how much he would theoretically know about Almeda
Incidentally, worth watching this one dubbed solely for Josh Grelle
Oscar’s breakdown in the last few episodes has mirrored Fujiko’s own, without the added bonus of getting to see inside his head – we do get to see inside Fujiko’s head, though, so we have a rough estimation of what Oscar might be seeing, if indeed he did receive the implants. It could even be that he was one of the original cast-offs who was experimented on by Almeda, given the prominent and unexplained tattoo on his chest that matches Aisha’s foot brand (Fujiko, by contrast, has memories of receiving the brand but no actual marks). And assuming it’s been roughly 13 years since the events at the chemical plant, Oscar could well have been one of the last of the original batch of test subjects released into the world (if we consider him early 20s, the timeline about matches up). He’s the other great (and likely unintentional) “what if” scenario – what if Aisha had been male. Why, then, did Aisha’s focus shift to Fujiko?
Hey, remember how aggression was one of the effects of Fraulein Eule poisoning?
In the next major exposition dump, we’ll find out that all of the other ‘what-ifs’ killed themselves shortly after release (there’s even a grainy shot of a small, curly haired child jumping from a tall ledge). Oscar should have died jumping from that bridge, were it not for Zenigata’s intervention. It’s not too hard to imagine, given the tech of the time, that the owls lost track of him and presumed him dead until his paths crossed with Fujiko.
Given the complete reversal of Oscar’s demeanor pre- and post- bridge jump, I’d also postulate that he suffered some kind of head trauma when he hit the water, causing a bout of amnesia (much the same as Fujiko locked away her implanted memories accidentally, explaining why they begin to show similar trajectories once they’re re-exposed to triggers). By the time all this comes to light, however, Aisha is no longer interested in playing her game. She’s looking to destroy Fujiko now, not to watch her – so Oscar is not so much another toy to be watched as he is a pawn with pre-programmed buttons to push.
Zenigata knows many things. How to properly apply bandages is not one of them
Hint: they work better when they’re on the actual wounds
Oscar Watch: Oh, there is absolutely still stuff to talk about in this section. We’ve known about Oscar’s feelings for a while, but there’s a whole new (disturbing) layer to build in now. Take Oscar waking up in the tent – if we accept the amnesia precept, he’s tabula rasa in that moment. And the first thing he sees, and immediately attaches to, is his future father figure (it’s interesting to note that he doesn’t see Zenigata’s face until after he gets the coin back, and Almeda’s face is always obscured by the owl-hallucination). Quick, what happened with father figures in Almeda’s castle?
I’ll wait while you take that shower.
The most important relationship in Oscar’s life becomes warped over time (we don’t know how long he’s had these feelings, but it would seem that he’s isolated from any other significant relationships by his own choice). He was likely a shy and skittish kid, given our first introduction is him being chased and bullied, and no doubt made some enemies climbing up the chain of police command so quickly.
At some point, it becomes easier to idolize one person as all things rather than face the walls and fears one has built around themselves (in this way, he somewhat resembles Utena’s Nanami). His hero worship becomes affected by burgeoning sexuality (which, having no other outlet, also transfers onto Zenigata), and he begins to loathe himself.
Did not one person, at any point, stop and say,
‘I wonder why this small child has an enormous brand on his chest?’
The historically favored (and unspeakably problematic) interpretation would be that the history of abuse lead to a queer identity – that because of Almeda’s influence, even subconsciously, Oscar was somehow ‘turned’ gay. Which is of course a skin-crawling means of trying to somehow rationalize queerness used in many a 20th century story…but I don’t think it’s what Yamamoto was going for here. This is one of the best reasons I can think of as to why Oscar’s backstory has so many clues that aren’t commented on – and why the amnesia aspect is so important. Oscar clearly has a bit of a crush on Zenigata from the very first episode, but it neither makes him less effective nor seems to cause him much distress.
It’s only when he meets Fujiko, when his own memories start interfering and he comes face to face with the false societal roles he believes he must take, that his behavior becomes violent and self-loathing. It’s not that Oscar’s sexuality is unnatural, but rather that the cultural assumptions about and demonization of that sexuality are maddeningly toxic.
Themes: Let’s start with the episode’s title, because there’s a LOT to unpack there. The feast of fools is, most basically speaking, a celebratory day where the high and low members of a given society switch position (younger readers may recall it as that emotionally scarring scene in Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame). In its most recent incarnation (by which I mean medieval society and beyond) it’s a Catholic holiday held on the first of the year, meant to emphasize that beatitude about “the first shall be last/the meek shall inherit the earth.” However, like a lot of Catholic holidays, the holiday has its roots in Pagan traditions, co-opted for the sake of mass conversion but presented as originally belonging to the co-opter.
Why bring all that up? The first of the year is meant to be a time of newness and change, despite taking place in the dead of winter (Oscar’s desire for transformation and change). As we discussed, the insidious owl plan involved co-opting Oscar’s identity (as a gay man – given his strong attachment to the concept of strength and masculinity pre-breakdown, I don’t think we can accurately identify him as a trans individual) and telling him that he must instead fit into their fabricated social identities in order to achieve his goals (a very common depiction of gay men in the mid 20th century – take something like Kiss of the Spider Woman or The Boys in the Band and really soak in the musk of self-loathing). And on the most basic level of all, there is of course Oscar being played for a fool in all these machinations.
And finally, there is the very structure of the episode. Just about every viewer, I would wager, expected Oscar to be dead at the end of this episode. Not just because of the fake-out ending, but because that’s how these stories are expected to go. Anime in particular is guilty, when it includes queer characters at all (outside of the ghetto of BL and GL works, which have their own host of issues) of making them sexless comic relief characters or unrequitedly in love with one of the (obviously straight) main characters.
Never once is the audience expected to believe that the character’s affections will be returned. If it’s a comedy, it’ll be milked for “hilarious” awkward comedy (often centered around the main character being grossed out at the very idea of being hit on by the same sex); if it’s a tragedy, that character is getting the axe (either by suicide or noble sacrifice, if the show is feeling charitable). In the grossest scenario, the queer character realizes their feelings were a farce all along, and they go about falling for someone ‘acceptable’ (read: of the opposite sex – this one pops up in shoujo a lot). It’s not limited to anime, of course – the excellent documentary The Celluloid Closet explores the history of this phenomenon in western film – but anime gets special notice for it being relentlessly true about 95% of the time.
There is simply no narrative in place, no history to call on, where the pining queer character goes through heartbreak, recovers, and then…say…finds another queer person who might return their affections. By the laws of traditional narrative, the only one he’s allowed under the puppet strings of Aisha-Almeda (which are also trying so hard to ensnare Fujiko into the ‘damaged sexual woman’ trap) Oscar should be dead. But that’s not the case. So, whatever are we to do with a problem like that?