In which the dysfunction train pulls into the station and makes plans for a long term stay.
Episode Specifics: I am coming to realize, dear readers, that recapping the Black Rose arc is not unlike enacting one’s own colonoscopy. They tend to provide interesting character information but not a whole lot in the way of proper plot (which is, pretty much uniformly, Mikage and Mamiya have ominous basement conversations, symbolic elevator therapy, duel, ominous star tower rendezvous). Anyway, this week, Miki’s sister Kozue, who seems to be more estranged by Miki’s doing than her own – she’s always trying to catch his attention through her dating choices and moving behind the scenes in the name of ‘protecting’ her brother. You can imagine that Miki’s strengthening crush on Anthy doesn’t sit well with her.
As with last week, the duel music is pretty straightforward: an impossible desire to return to childhood, which has been idolized as the time when one could be perfectly, innocently happy with no concerns. Much in the same way that by controlling Miki’s relationships with herself and others, Kozue believes she can preserve her importance in his life (the same as when they were children, and needed each other more than anyone else).
We also have a new student council mantra to go with the rest of the upheaval. Nanami’s refrain talks not about a shell but a cage, moving us from an unborn bird to a chick who is nonetheless trapped (though they’re not nearly so close to graduating as Utena, the Student Council members are doing their own work in growing, and thus have become chicks rather than embryos). This has a nifty dual reading: on the one hand, the cage is described to an extent as a necessary and comforting thing, reflecting Nanami’s relative status as a child compared to her brother; on the other hand, it ends with the same refrain of needing to break the cage, since she’s also, as a Duelist, taking her first few steps down the road to adulthood.
Bonus nod to the blocking and the abundance of pinwheels going on during the meeting: not only are our duelists facing away from each other, no longer unified as a group or willing to follow Nanami’s authority, but we have literal winds of change going on in the background.
Creator Commentary: This is something that happened quite a long time ago. I told a certain girl that I loved her, but she turned me down.
I’d thought there were good vibes between us. To think that it was all in my head!
“I love my big brother,” she said.
…That’s a lie. That story was fiction.
The reason sexuality is so often expressed in brother-sister relationships in the world of fiction is probably because there’s the illusion that “blood relationships are eternal.” It’s the dream of the “eternal lover.”
Continuing with the lie:
I tried pathetically, refusing to back down. I couldn’t accept it. “But you’re brother and sister!”
She declared that she was “not a woman.” Then she said, “My brother isn’t a man.”
So what are you, exactly?
“My brother’s body is a part of me, and my body is a part of him,” she said.
I can only conclude that these two were never
forced to take long car trips together
Character Spotlight: Codependency takes two, it seems. As strongly associated with blue as her brother, Kozue is her own brand of methodical and devoted to her goals. While Miki is struggling to find his shining thing by throwing his past onto a future relationship, Kozue has determined that the way to find happiness is by holding the elements of her past into stasis. At the same time, though, she distances herself from showing that need: despite claiming that she like milkshakes anymore they’re the central item in her duel, and despite avoiding Miki she wants nothing more than his love and attention.
There is, I suspect, a certain amount of a war for control going on here. Miki wanted Kozue to stay the same girl that he remembered, and when that didn’t happen he gradually shut her out of his life (partly to preserve the memory, and partly out of some belief that Kozue might go back to being the person he remembers her as). Kozue plainly doesn’t want to be that person – the piano doesn’t hold positive memories for her at all, so all she wants from the past is to have her brother beside her. However, she too only wants the sibling she remembers – the one who totally relied on her, who had a secret language (music) that was solely theirs and set them apart from the outside world (and while I don’t believe that her intentions toward Miki are primarily sexual, I fully believe that it’s a method of control she’d, like Akio, consider if it tied MIki further to her). A walled garden, if you will. So, while Miki’s attempt to prompt change is to distance himself from Kozue’s ‘poor’ choices, Kozue’s is to make sure that he keeps looking. If he disapproves of her he’s still looking at her, and she’s still consuming his thoughts. If she’s ‘protecting’ him from relationships that she deems harmful, he doesn’t have the opportunity to grow (and thus change) by way of interacting with others. So we have an episode title with a dual meaning: we’re framed by Kozue’s perspective, and she’s actively working to frame Miki’s world by controlling who he interacts with.
Butterflies, symbols of rebirth and change, rampaging through the
twins’ preserved memory garden. SYMMMMMBOLISM
The look away/look at me approaches are oppositional but dangerously complimentary, creating a gulf between them that only widens as they believe they’re doing what they must to bring their relationship closer together (in Kozue’s case this has had the particular side effect of causing her to believe that other humans are less real or pawns in comparison to herself and Miki, hence why she’s a Black Rose duelist – she’s not prepared to move into the final stages of maturation that being a fully aware Duelist entails).
Does the other side of that glass just open into a pocket dimension?
Have You Heard: Pretending you want to ignore something and making a great fuss about it, when truly it’s what you wanted all along. It raises a number of questions: who’s the audience? There’s no one on the train but the server and single passenger, and they’re performing their role/objection only for each other – but at the same time, it’s almost as if they’re also performing for an audience in their minds. And is the passenger protesting because it’s something they feel they’d be better off without, or because they believe other people (that audience of the mind, or even the server) would make assumptions about them because of their order?
In the case of our twins (or at least Miki), it sometimes seems too close to call. Miki sometimes seems to believe that they’d be ‘better off’ growing apart or growing up…but he doesn’t seem to believe it, if his quest for a shining thing is any indication. And Kozue has those milkshakes, the simple and straightforward closeness she desperately wants but denies, because accepting them means accepting affection on someone else’s terms, in a way that she can’t control. And that might mean things could change (and, terrifyingly, fall apart).
Anthy Watch: Since the topic’s brothers and sisters, it’s only logical that we see an echo of Anthy and Akio in Miki and Kozue. Watching a second time as we (presumably) are, you can see the teetering edge between love and control. More specifically, when control goes from a desperate expression of love (if I do this it will protect you/cause this desirable growth) to a means of itself (I love that you are someone I can control on every level).
Through the twins we see how the Rose siblings might’ve come to the desire to push one another into roles….roles that degraded into the wholly unhealthy relationship we see in the present. Anthy wanted Dios to be reborn so that he could enjoy the world without feeling the crushing weight of others’ desires…and he became the wholly selfish and hedonistic Akio. Akio made Anthy into the Rose Bride in the hopes of revolutionizing the world (which would, as far as they know, free Anthy from her burden)…and ended up using it to control her (while she in turn tormented him with her control over the games).
Additionally, a quick word on the milkshake scene: too oddly placed to be comic relief and too specific to be a throwaway shot (plus, no one can
eat 50 eggs drink 100 milkshakes without taking refuge in metaphor), Anthy drinking the milkshakes gives us a bit of tragic insight into her character. Remember, I’ve spent a great deal of time belaboring how those milkshakes are tied to Kozue’s bond with her brother. Well, Anthy has a brother too, one who made up her whole world as it is now with the twins. Anthy’s original decision to take on the swords (a feeling that lingered many, many years after, I suspect) was grown from her desire to bring back her brother’s health – and thus, in a way, the memory of their happier times together. Now, however, thanks to time and Akio’s deepening control and cruelty, Anthy can drink 100 draughts of that sweet, nostalgic connection and still feel empty inside where their bond once was.
Present working theory is that the spinning roses pop up during moments of
positive emotional maturation for the duelists in question
Themes: We’ll be spending a lot of this arc splitting time between the duelists and their respective student council members. As Ikuhara mentioned in one of his early commentaries, this is primarily a show about relationships between people: not just the relationships they form in the present, but the ones that shaped them in the past as well. Nobody, from the purest to the most evil, is created in a vacuum; moreover, their influence extends beyond what they perceive it to be, or even the direct results of their actions.
Thus we have the ‘not chosen.’ Not chosen in the sense of being counterfeit duelists, of being ‘normal’ students, and of being sidelined in the narrative. All of the characters who’ll be dueling this arc are individuals whose purpose in the narrative has been to shore up a main character’s arc, to provide them motivation in some way. And there are narratives aplenty where that’s all those characters get to be: paper dolls who orbit around the main characters and give them the appearance of being rounded. And that does a disservice to the characters and the world of the story both. We might broaden our knowledge of Miki this episode, but it’s Kozue’s story. And making her seem real (and not without sympathetic qualities, however deeply flawed she might be), the story invites much deeper investment from its viewers.
As a last component, we’re in the middle steps of what will become one long journey, not just for Utena but for everyone. We end up, more or less, with twin developments for each interpersonal relationship, befitting the frequent motif of doubles in the show. The first arc gives us the standard, expected component – the introduction of a central character and their hangups. The Black Rose duels give us the opposite sides of those characters, filling in the story they wouldn’t be able to tell (what with learning to become adults and thus understand themselves and others). And the final arc, before we come back down to Anthy and Utena, brings our Student Council members one step closer to graduation – each one not fully mature yet but over the brink of some realization or the beginning of a healing process, signifying that (as the uniforms imply) there’s hope for them (and their ‘double’ counterpart) down the road.