Get out your cameras kids, because this episode is the last time we’ll be seeing any adults besides The Worst Counselor and Handsome Astronomy Predator.
Episode Specifics: We’ve come around to the first episode focusing on Jury (yeah, I like the Romanization with an ‘I’ better also, but I’m not gonna fight the subtitles for the next eight months). She’s bitterly determined to prove that miracles don’t exist, scarred by a middle school love triangle where her male and female besties started dating and left her out, and burdened by unspoken and unrequited love.
I’m not sure if it’s the show’s 90s-ness or my deep entrenchment in queer media, but it seems like the episode makes exactly zero effort to pull a fast one on who the object of Jury’s affections is. Her line of dialogue ‘I was in love’ cuts directly to a close shot of Shiori. It’s like the episode is quietly laughing at a default assumption that Jury liked Boyfriend McNameless. I like that.
The dueling music this week hits several notes: there’s the juxtaposition of light and darkness that ties back into the ‘two faces’ of Jury’s reputation; the particular use of the Morning Star/Lucifer, the most beautiful angel felled by pride (Jury’s nobility becoming bitterness, particularly highlighted in her nighttime conversation with Utena); the ‘two sexes’ bit referring to Jury’s mixture of gender roles and presentation, even more so than Utena; and the final, resounding lines that reveal pain beneath all that godly light and bluster. Jury is ‘hollow’ in that she’s as much a child as any of the other duelists, lashing out to conceal and manage her broken heart.
Trying to make literal pin-up boys now?
In other news, I found the Student Council Shenanigans quite appealing. The idea of throwing knives plays neatly into the position of the whole cast’s age group, but the council members in particular: pose just right inside the lines (theoretically thrown by expert hands but as likely to be haphazard as anything) and it makes an artful, seemingly effortless picture; one step out of bounds and you’re completely shredded.
Creator Commentary: This story came together quickly as a “story about relationships.” “He” and “she” only appear within Jury’s memories. The ending in the final script is different than it was in the first draft. The endgame is still about getting an idea of who Jury really is; that didn’t change. But the first draft ended on a “Could it be?” sort of a note. As the script was finalized, I decided to come right out and say, “She was in love with a girl.”
Jury’s story is “a metaphor of unrequited love.” If you watch it from that perspective, I think it’s an easy one for anybody to understand. Shiori’s design referenced the heroine of Ms. Saito’s short manga Himegoto no Natsu. It’s about a brother and sister entering a forbidden relationship; I enjoyed the total mismatch between the heroine’s sweet prettiness and the story’s bold development. I think we borrowed her looks because we wanted to hide something behind prettiness.
This whole conversation is one big flail of ‘MY IDENTITY IS NONSTANDARD AND THAT SCARES ME, ALSO MY COPING SKILLS ARE ADOLESCENT AND THEREFORE POOR’
Character Spotlight: Making oneself weak to others is terrifying, and others can hurt you before you even get that far. In that sense it’s better to hurry into adulthood, preferring to view uncertainties like love as childish rather than risk that uncontrollable pain. Thus can one convince themselves of their maturity whilst hiding from life’s emotional complexities.
The nighttime argument highlights a particular extension of this that I’ve seen fairly often around…well, high school girls. Jury attacks Utena for only being motivated by ‘some guy,’ and that that reasoning makes her weak and undeserving. Now, it’s a fair argument that Utena is immature yet, and that she hasn’t considered what she truly wants from life or how her desires affect others. But that’s not what Jury is saying – she’s taken a brief story and cast her own aspersions on it, seeking to punish Utena for not living up to the (flawed) standard she’s set up for herself.
Jury, were you posting on Deviantart a lot circa 2005?
Consider now the amount of hate that female characters get within younger and less experienced (I hope) fandoms. That they’re bitchy, or slutty, or ‘weak’ for having feminine traits or because of romantic entanglements. Now, often these barbs are sniffing around some important, complex issues about how female characters are written and represented…but that’s not how it’s phrased. Instead they’re marked out as the Other, the aberrant, the ones who fail to live up to the standard of a viewer who might think of themselves as ‘not like other girls.’ It’s a serious problem stemming from a society that pushes female competition over male attention (and strict and arbitrary gender requirements generally). Jury, finding herself trapped and agonized by feelings she is not allowed to voice by the world around her, lashes out at those like herself rather than the system that set it in motion. Trapped in her pain, she’s not yet able to see the shell, much less break it.
Have You Heard: Today, a fairly straightforward comment on Jury’s feelings. Like the shadow girl she’s deeply wounded at being excluded from something unique, something that everyone but her seems to have been party to (that’d be the experience of having her feelings returned, or perhaps being part of the perceived norm of heterosexuality). To cope with that feeling of disappointment, she pretends she never wanted anything to do with it (despite wishing, deep down, that she could have ‘been there’ too) – in this case the reality of miracles, embodied by Shiori’s acceptance of her feelings.
Anthy Watch: Delicious subtlety for everybody! Anthy showcases two of her most prominent modes (re: her early series personality) this week, notably staged as the same action given in different contexts. The first is the scene in the hallway, when Anthy eggs Jury toward making a challenge by deliberately mimicking the pose, flower color, and expression Shiori once used – given her status as a ‘false’ body, I presume she’s either been watching the prospective duelists or is fed details from Akio (on whose order she would have originally acted).
And then Jury smacks her clear across the hall. And so Anthy quotes Shiori again, this time right on the heels of Jury’s loss. It reinforces her failure not only in the ring but with Shiori, twisting the knife a little deeper. It’s the only way that Anthy can take back a fraction of power for herself, and time has made her very good at it. As we’ll see, she can be very cruel indeed, but it’s as much a defense mechanism as it is a weapon. After all, abuse victims are statistically likely to become abusers themselves, paying their torment forward because they’re unable to break away from their own abusers.
Themes: Jury’s character is one that rings particularly true to my own adolescence, hence the purple reverie in the spotlight bit. What I find uniquely fascinating about her arc, particularly as an adult, is how removed we are from the why of Jury’s feelings. While we might extrapolate on what about Shiori caused Jury to fall for her, it’s never addressed and we don’t really see many happy times before the whole boyfriend fiasco. That’s what makes it so good as a distilled essence of the unrequited love story.
For all that unrequited lovers can pluck plaintively at an audience’s heartstrings, yours truly’s included, it’s more often than not (unless you are Tomoyo Daidouji or Franz D’Epinay) a selfish position. Unrequited love is about the love object in that they represent a lack in our POV character – something they cannot, whether by internal or external circumstances, achieve. Often the character pines and grumbles about how the love object won’t notice them, romanticizing themselves in a mini-tragedy. And to have that love returned is not a union of two people but a reward to validate the self.
The subset of queer unrequited love is too often a woeful burden the character seems content to bear, throwing away their life in devotion to someone who can’t return their affections like some kind of bizarre penance for the facts of their existence (dear writers, particularly of less thoughtful series: that is totally a thing, but it’s a thing most functional individuals get over when they step out into the world and realize they are not alone. But I digress).
At this point my suspension of disbelief was tested to its max, because no one has EVER crammed a photo successfully into one of those chintzy antique lockets
In the context of Utena, Jury’s story has a unique place. Because of the many permutations of attraction in the series, queer and hetero, her burden becomes not ‘THE TRAGEDY OF GAY’ but about her inability to break from her obsessiveness, and that same selfishness I discussed before. Jury’s story is marked out because it is about an individual’s desire to use someone to fill a hole in their life (notice the very forceful word choice of ‘make you realize’), to varying levels of consciousness (and Shiori is doing the very same thing in a different way, which we’ll get to later). It’s not about that person but what they represent, while Utena’s relationship with Anthy is ultimately triumphant because it becomes a relationship of equals.