Well, see you folks next week.
Oh, WHAT. It’s a body switching episode, what do you want from me?
Episode Specifics: An accident in home ec class (instigated, to all appearances, by Nanami) causes Anthy and Utena to switch bodies. Many shenanigans are had at this reversal of fortunes, Nanami has to fly to India in order to reverse the situation, and it turns out that Anthy’s terrible cooking was the cause of the switch all along. Everybody laughs, freeze frame, credits.
Okay, despite the petulant tone I don’t actually hate this episode. Utena at its very worst is heads and shoulders above average fair, so even cliché situations like this one can reveal interesting things once put into context. The portrayal of bodies and gendered traits is particularly fascinating. And the running gag with the elephants is damned hilarious, persistent and sudden enough (surprise being german to good humor, never does the pace slacken enough to really allow Nanami and co. a moment of dread, just BAM ELEPHANTS) to leave me rolling on the floor.
I did spend the longest time pondering how it is that Nanami was able to go to India, given that Ohtori Academy is eventually revealed to be a pretty closed environment. I eventually settled on the explanation that because Ohtori is an extension of Akio (and Anthy’s) wills, and Anthy is bearing witness to the whole debacle, that Nanami’s trip was actually to an illusory India that would keep her busy for a while (hence why all that impeccably convenient timing, and why being repeatedly trampled by elephants had no long lasting effects).
Creator Commentary: As I said before, this was planned as episode 6. We’d originally contracted an outside studio to do it, but a few days before ADR was supposed to start, it became clear that virtually none of the production was done. We hurriedly swapped it with episode 8 (broadcast episode 6) in the schedule. The whole series of knockabout insanity that got bandied back and forth there was traumatically intense.
I don’t want to assign blame and try anyone in absentia here, so I won’t say any more about it.
But if you were to ask me whether I hate the episode because of that fuss, I’d say no, not really. In fact, there are many parts of it that I’m quite fond of. I think the colossal effort the staff put in with their backs against the wall like that sublimated the episode’s cheapness into solid humor.
That scene when our heroines’ daily lives with their switched personalities are strung together with snapshots…I’ve thought for a long time that the audio mix was kind of thin there, but in this 5.1 remaster, it’s finally got nice, lively sound.
Which reminds me: What had me worried during production was this episode’s “climax.”
“Which scene is the climactic one?!”, I agonized.
Looking back on it now, maybe it was the part when Nanami slipped on the banana peel?
Character Spotlight: Iiiiiiis mostly Anthy this week, unless we’re going to try to wring deep significance out of the quest du elephant. Eh, fuck it. The character this week is the bogglingly off-model artwork (a relative rarity for the series, which is extremely canny about spreading its budget out and timing the production – one presumes the Eva alums had something to do with that). I can’t especially be angry, though, because I’m too busy laughing at all the yaoi hands, and the fact that Touga’s face was copy pasted as everyone’s base model.
Stop making sense! Nobody expects you to make s…
Oh, I see what you did there
Have You Heard: …Well, thanks guys. You’re really striving to put me out of a job, here (I do like the repetition of the lesson, undermining it by implication – after all, despite Nanami’s harmful intent, she wasn’t actually responsible for any of what happened, meaning her karmic payback wasn’t in response to her actions at all).
Anthy Watch: This episode is way more interesting than it should’ve been on a second watch, once one knows all the details about Anthy’s existence. While it’s ultimately harmless (Utena is inconvenienced but never in any danger, as she can defend herself from Nanami’s posse and Saionji; Nanami, as I mentioned, is probably in a fantasy land where she gets kicked around but isn’t likely in any real danger, Saionji deserves to get his ass verbally handed to him at this point, and so on), this episode is pretty epic foreshadowing of Anthy’s string pulling abilities.
Nanami is tormenting her and/or her pets? Engineer a situation where she would’ve tried to do harm anyway, and exact some payback. Saionji is pressuring her in a way that she can’t directly shut down due to her façade? Send brash, opinionated Utena in to ward him off.
Her intentions toward Utena herself are a bit more subtle and interesting. On the one hand she’s absolutely figured out how to reverse-psychology Utena into doing things (see the diary scene in the dorm), but on the other I wonder if this isn’t a response to Utena’s ‘go make friends’ crusade. Almost as though Anthy, rather than shutting Utena out and taking what digs she can, wanted to show Utena what it was like to live in her shoes – likely the first attempt at trying to engender understanding she’s attempted in a very long time. While it’s a long shot to say she trusts Utena at this point she does seem intrigued, and is testing this duelist in her own, quiet ways as much as she’s keeping Akio’s game going. It’ll be a long time where that curiosity starts turning to (very alarming to Anthy, I’m sure) fondness.
Themes: While it might just be a translation quirk, I’m really stuck on that wording: ‘they’ve switched personalities.’ It implies that the true Anthy and Utena are their physical bodies, while their personalities and actions are mutable. We in the audience can see that this is false on several levels – on a first viewing because even in Anthy’s body Utena still thinks of herself as ‘Utena,’ and vice versa; and on a second viewing knowing that the Anthy at Ohtori Academy is a false construct. So we know that the self is the person’s mind or soul, while the body is merely the thing that houses it, failing to sway or dictate any of that person’s traits.
Pretty simple in theory, but people get boggled real fast when you bring gender into it. Gender essentialism is the idea that ‘girls are like this, boys are like that,’ and that that idea is tied to the individual’s sex characteristics. Their body determines who they are, in other words. It’s something that’s culturally assumed by many, without even thinking about it, thus tying back to the dialogue spoken by our ‘average’ (not duelists/trying to revolutionize the world) students.
Bringing that back round to what we know to be true of Anthy and Utena, the reality of gender is that it is a series of social constructs. What is ‘masculine’ versus ‘feminine’ changes across cultures and times, and it’s those expectations that form a person’s identity. Utena is trying to emulate the cultural image of a prince, causing her to deliberately pick pastimes viewed as masculine. Anthy’s role as Rose Bride requires her to fill the traits of complete submission coded as ‘female.’
So gender is all presentation – it should be no surprise that many people find their individual identity fails to match their sex characteristics (particularly in America, land of individual determinism, it boggles me how much confusion transgender and transsexual folks are met with). Indeed, it should be no surprise that an increasing number of people find themselves a mix of those societal traits (to be ‘between’ genders) or outside the spectrum altogether, particularly in a time where the body and mind are so abstracted by the existence of online communication!
That, I suspect, is also behind the commentary about the photos appealing to the entire student body. Once Anthy and Utena’s personalities are divorced from the expectations of their bodies (i.e. the locked in impressions of how they should be based on previously made assumptions), the traits themselves become charming. So not ‘masculine,’ but athletic, outgoing, casual human being. Not ‘feminine,’ but soft spoken, domestic, thoughtful. They’re attractions based on idealized traits more than on physical characteristics, not the dehumanization that glamor shots (or, more extreme, porn) tends to produce but a super-personalization. A magnetized bond based on the person, not their sex.