Everyone is a pile of neuroses and sadness, but it will probably work out in time. Or, the day Utena figured out what it wanted to be.
Episode Specifics: We pick up where we left off last week, with Miki’s burgeoning crush and correspondingly underdeveloped maturity – he wants to do the right thing, but ultimately finds his self-interest is more easily swayed by Touga’s pretty justifications. If you can convince yourself that what you want is best for everyone then it’s all copacetic, right?
We’re also introduced to Kozue, and the fact that Miki is far more integral in the strained sibling relationship than we’d previously been lead to believe. The delicacies of that relationship will have to be shelved for another day, though.
The dueling music this week comes down to performance, and the performance of ideals in particular (theater, the creation of an idealized world, and so on). By the same token, Miki’s duel is a performance of what he thinks adulthood should be, and the kind of role he must perform in order to attain his goal (Anthy, or more accurately, the Rose Bride). Because he hasn’t the context to understand his feelings or how to approach romance, he looks at the roles performed by those around him, and winds up being led astray.
Creator Commentary: Around that time in production, I read an interview with a certain pair of pop idols in a magazine I was thumbing through at the store.
“Our motto is ‘get hold of eternity’ It’s a brilliantly glittering thing.”
I was a little surprised.
“Get hold of eternity” was such an abstract phrase, and yet for some reason, I readily accepted it. It was as if from that single phrase I could indirectly sense the details that shaped their personalities: the look of the place where they grew up; what they saw of current events on the TV news; the manga, anime, and popular songs that affected them. Call it the empathy between contemporaries, I guess.
When I brought it up with Enokido, who was doing the screenplays, he was onboard. Up until that point, we’d spent a lot of time arguing in the abstract about the spirit of the show, but I felt like it was a few words from these pop idols that got us to the heart of the matter.
At the same time, the process of producing this two-parter set of episodes brought home to me again that Utena is a story about the relationships between characters. When you get right down to it, this is a story about the relationship between Utena and Anthy. So I decided to apply that same style to the stories of the supporting characters, too.
From then on, I would be very conscious of “get hold of eternity” and “a story about relationships” as key motifs of the show.
Character Spotlight: Miki holds a unique role in the show as the youngest of the primary cast. While Kozue has chosen oblique markers of femininity, like lipstick and the female uniform, Miki’s sense of gender and role is fluid yet. He wears a unique uniform that’s similar to Jury (another character blurring lines of gender performance), has delicate features and strong shoulders; and while crosscasting female voice actors for young men isn’t uncommon, it’s fairly noticeable how little the actress is going for a ‘masculine’ voice. Whether on purpose or not, it strengthens Miki’s image as a person without gender – something that’s not intrinsic or black and white, but a spectrum of grey that comes with figuring out identity and that eternal specter of adulthood.
At the moment Miki has been caught in chasing the cultural idea of masculinity. He’s not yet old enough to have formed his own impressions, so we see him parroting the lines of others but never his own – he repeats Utena’s dialogue when he goes to the council, strong influenced by her passionate sense of justice and how it plays to his love for Anthy. But when Touga is able to play to his insecurities he finds himself repeating those words instead, in both cases trying to find an answer to the raw emotions and disappointments within himself.
No wonder Akio takes him on as creep mentee numero uno
By the way, knowing that there’s an alternate universe Utena novel where Touga actually does sleep with Miki makes the whole flirtation ‘hey I totally just fooled around with your sister’ scene even more uncomfortably disturbing.
Have You Heard: Pirates searching for treasure, because of course. The idea of someone obsessively collecting ‘obvious’ treasure (usually of a material nature) because it fills in for a void of what they really want. In this case, it isn’t even clear what the ‘real’ want is – crisis intervenes before too much introspection can get underway. And while it applies well to Miki specifically that’s also…kind of just adolescence in general. Moments of near clarity brushed aside for immediate concerns that may or may not be as dire as they seem at the time.
I’m banking on the fact that you’re completely unobservant,
and won’t remember how much Utena didn’t want this at all!
Anthy Watch: This is one of the earliest points in the show where a sharp-eared listener might begin to wonder if there might perhaps be something more to Anthy. She says the exact things that will corroborate Touga’s manipulation (itself probably prompted by End of the World) and egg Miki back into being a part of the duels (presumably his unique personality is important to include as a kind of test for Utena).
But at the same time, she openly cheers for Utena during the duel – perhaps to rile Miki, or perhaps because it’s something she truly feels, against an opponent who won’t lash out against her for being so open. Perhaps, even if she doesn’t trust it, she is happier than she’s been. And finally, she tells Miki that they should study together again after his loss – an admittance that she has enjoyed his company rather than simply enduring it, and the coded equivalent of ‘it’s just business, kid.’ She’s done what she must to survive, and her own feelings are beside the fact.
Themes: At the end of things Miki’s duel focuses on a troubling aspect of the word ‘ideal,’ an important one that’s often ignored in favor of focusing on its positive connotations – ideals are lofty things, but they are also rigid. And when one becomes too focused on them they can warp to a mythic status, they can begin to hold both themselves and others to a standard that is impossible.
For all that Miki says he blames himself for falling ill (an easily pinpointed moment of trauma that ignores the building sense of fear, discomfort, or discontentment Kozue describes in her brief recollection – something harder to compartmentalize and shift through), he clearly resents his sister as well. He treats her coldly for being sexually active, and there’s the implication that he’s tried to get her to take up piano again despite The Incident. When he speaks of her, it’s almost like a mourning of the dead.
“Why won’t anyone facilitate my crippling codependency?”
But of course, all that’s died is Miki’s nostalgic remembrance of the little sister who loved playing piano with him, even if Kozue’s own words tell us that person never existed. And as that nonexistent person becomes immortalized it slowly loses reality, becoming a crystalized ‘good old days’ that represents a supposed lost state of happiness. And his interest in Anthy is less to do with her individual identity as the relative ease with which he can work her into that restricting ideal (this is why there’s that recurring dialogue about being unable to get ‘the song’ to be what he wants it to be).
It’s a toxic state of being, one that will always leave him lonely until he’s able to discard it and recognize people’s flaws. It’s why he falls for Touga’s words – because part of him does want a girl that he can mold rather than one he can grow with, even if he reframes it in sympathetic terms. And because he can’t recognize the falseness of that desire he can’t truly be introspective, and is destined to lose his duel.