The Consulting Analyst – The Thorns of Death

inequality

The intro is here.

Eyyy, it’s a Jury episode! You know what that means: we’re gonna Talk About Queer Stuff.

Episode Specifics: Shiori, Jury’s childhood friend, has transferred back to Ohtori just in time for Jury to realize she’s not over that secret crush after all. Meanwhile, the Student Council continues to disbelieve each other just long enough for all of them to become sword-pulling victims. If nothing else, this arc is teaching me to be pithy.

mirrors
‘My ability to hurt others has filled the gaping emptiness in my heart!’
Now you just have to finish filling out that TMZ application

The dueling music this week is about raging against one’s reflection, as it were. We’re back to duality again, highlighting the tension between the self in the mind’s eye versus the self in the mirror (and the question of which is the ideal versus projected self, and where the real one might fit in at all – between who we think we are and who we want people to think we are, there’s often a third self that we show without even realizing it through unconscious behavior). At the same time, Shiori’s ‘mirror’ is Jury, and their reflections (that’d be images that are identical but reversals of one another) are their opposite approaches to their mutual feelings: Jury closes herself off with a cold outward appearance and nurtures her feelings for Shiori in secret, and Shiori actively tries to become physically closer to Jury while pretending that her feelings are solely of resentment, hatred, or pity.

Utena will later tell Jury that her feelings for Anthy are nothing like Jury and Shiori’s relationship, a quote long trotted out as the show’s great No Homo excuse. But that’s not it – it’s the issue of a marriage of equal partners, rather than two people holding each other at bay for fear of themselves and their feelings.

today's metaphor
Miki’s metaphor senses are tingling, I see

Speaking of the Student Council, we have waved the out and out flag (as much as this show gets, anyhow) that the sword-pulling is some shade of metaphor for sexual awakening. Of course, at the moment it’s expressed as a sort of rape, because all of our Black Rose duelists are attempting to forcibly reshape another person (for whom they do have true, if warped, affection) into the image they desire rather than acting as equal partners.

Creator Commentary: I finally realized the truth.

To think that she loved me back! What a miracle! But…

“The loser in love is the one who lets their heart be ruled by it.”

Everyone’s adopted a provocative attitude toward someone of the opposite sex that they like at least once or twice, to get that person to notice them. So it’s okay if I do that.

This love will crumble if we touch. But when people don’t touch, the love eventually dies away.

That’s why I decided to keep your love prisoner. To make sure that you love me forever.

That game will make our love “eternal.” I’m sure of it.

We were “lovers lost from the beginning*.”

*This is a reference to a film that has never been released in the US: a film made in 1971 entitled Arakajime ushinawareteita koibitotachi yo.

singularity
Not sure if rare moment of honesty or really long ploy

Character Spotlight: Shiori is probably one of the most hated characters in the show, a crown that is not exactly uncontested. On the surface, it’s certainly apparent why – while most recipients of stunted longing in the series are some shade of unaware, Shiori has not only caught on but uses that knowledge as a weapon. It’s inarguably cruel. But that’s not all there is to it, and by the end Shiori is the character most benefitted by this middle arc.

The difficulty, particularly for an unobservant or first time viewer, is that Shiori has little to no self-awareness. Her dialogue in the elevator frames her feelings toward Jury as inadequacy and jealousy, as if Jury was deliberately acting superior to her. The undercurrent of self-loathing to her words is quite powerful, and it’s not hard to see that Shiori is so wounded by Jury’s successes because she sees no inherent value in herself. Her coping trick, it seems, is to attempt to define herself through others: the unnamed boy she and Jury were friends with was her first attempt, but that ultimately ended in failure, thus teaching the lesson that ‘love reciprocated will crumble and fade’ (and there’s certainly room to read that the boyfriend was a feint to try and get Jury’s attention – she centers discussions of him around ‘I know you must hate me, but…’).

Shiori’s treatment of Jury is an experiment of sorts. Jury, who Shiori thinks of as something like the epitome of achievement, thinks that Shiori is lovable. This gives Shiori reassurance that she’s worth something, a feeling she’s incapable of generating on her own. And she feels the same, which gives her happiness but also fear – dating Jury would only cause that relationship to break down, while ignoring it would let Jury give up her feelings. Afraid to go forward and to be forgotten, Shiori (like Kozue before her) is trying to keep this pivotally important love of hers from fading.

Shiori’s duel item is (to the best of my knowledge after a good 30 minutes on various bird identification sites) a sparrow – the very same bird that hurled itself against the window. On the top level, the bird and Shiori are both running headlong into something they don’t understand (the glass and the duels) thinking only of what they see on the other side. The fact that the bird is wounded but still alive bodes well for Shiori’s small progress, much like Kozue and the milkshakes.

But, as Mikage is so fond of saying, let’s go deeper. Sparrows are the most common of songbirds – they sound pretty and people like them well enough (if their omnipresence in Disney films is anything to go by), but despite all of that they’re not thought of as anything special – people rarely think of them at all, in fact. Further, sparrows are highly flock-oriented birds, and almost never travel alone – playing into the dichotomy of lonely Shiori vs. chattering schoolgirl Shiori. Historically, sparrows were often depicted as surrounding Venus, and thus became associated with love. But! That came with a negative connotation as well, with classic literature often using sparrows as shorthand for lustfulness or vulgarity (it’s also been called a symbol of both good and bad luck).

underwear

Have You Heard: There’s layers to this one. Woolen, anxious layers. Let’s first take the ‘woolen underwear’ thing as Shiori’s attraction to Jury – something that (especially in 90s ani – oh, who’m I kidding, in anime) is typically responded to with melodramatic despair (and I super love that the voice of the ‘devil’ isn’t tempting her but instead the one telling her to be ashamed). Lo, comes another voice saying that lots of people ‘wear woolen underwear,’ and that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. But the despair continues, because of the multiple layers – in this case, the gymnastics our two girls are doing to push each other away – extra, unnecessary layers on top of a common, acceptable thing.

Utena’s advice to “take them off” might be the most straightforward, but easier said than done if you’re afraid of, say, freezing to death (or of that persistent voice in your head).

Anthy Watch: Anthy’s quite busy during this arc keeping the Mamiya illusion going, so we haven’t really been seeing too much of her. But speaking of, I do want to look at that scene with our second Rose Bride.

thorns
My instincts say ‘Awww,’ but my prior knowledge says ‘AGHHH’

The thorns are, as you might suspect, the thematic image behind the majority of the episode. Mamiya pricks himself so that Mikage will touch him. Shiori accepts Jury’s condemnation because it will put her in the forefront of Jury’s thoughts. And Anthy plays the powerless victim with the Duelists because it allows her to manipulate them without being considered any manner of threat (at the same time, thorns are a static defense, avoided with experience or proper observation – and Utena gets under Anthy’s skin by unwittingly acting in a way that strikes the remaining compassion in Anthy’s heart).

As an additional note: watching the next episode previews can be quite elucidating on the Anthy front. This episode’s preview, for example, has Utena’s “Jury should just forgive Shiori” speech but follows it with Anthy calling her naïve (she, of course, knows her share of putting on a sweet face with ulterior motives).

Themes: Last arc we explored Jury’s (seemingly) unrequited love – an episode that was structured with Shiori’s identity as the twist while at the same time being somewhat familiar ground. Jury fits the most traditionally masculine traits of the main female cast, after all, playing on a history of ‘butch’ coding (pants, deep voice, commanding attitude, very tall, so on)  to nudge the audience toward reading her as gay.

With that reading tends to come the assumption that Shiori is the ‘innocent’ target of these affections – problematic (take a shot at home, kids) reading on multiple levels. First off it plants same sex affection, regardless of how sexual the feelings in question are, as deviant and predatory. It assumes that female femininity (less a redundancy than you’d think) is inherently heterosexual as well, and more often than not that reciprocating those affections would only come from the demands of the other party (which has a nice ‘corrupting of the innocent’ vibe that feeds those delightful ‘you just haven’t found the right man’ myths) if at all. But what do we do with a queer Shiori, one who had feelings for Jury from the start?

The tempting thing, of course, is to categorize Shiori’s boyfriends as excuses to get Jury’s attention or to keep up appearances (a case that her later interactions with Ruka, at least, would seem to support). But doing so rubs me as a bit too pat, the opposite expression of the “it’s just a phase” mentality that fails to acknowledge the far from rigid boundaries of attraction and self-definition. It’s possible Shiori did love that boy, or was convinced that she did. The issue is the rigid standards that would expect her to.

Shiori fits into the idea of the “unchosen” by virtue of how apparently normal she is – as I said, an unremarkable example of the ‘quiet, pretty girl.’ She hasn’t been marked out as strange or exceptional in the way that Jury, Utena, or even Anthy have, who are in the beginning of rejecting a system that has already rejected them. But Shiori isn’t read as outwardly exceptional in appearance or deed, so she receives the full weight of ‘normal’ expectations: desire the affections of that “totally normal boy,” live unaware of even the possibility of abnormal desire; exist as an object of pining or a satellite for your boyfriend, too well liked and physically admired to complain but not appreciated as a real individual. You seem normal, so of course that’s what you are – pretty girls only like other girls for attention, or because they’re going through a phase, or because it’s the trendy thing to do. As Katy Perry’s rather despicable “I Kissed a Girl” song would have it, there’s always a boyfriend waiting at home. Even if you speak out, the overwhelming assumption will be that it’s a put on or an act, something to make yourself feel different rather than an honest expression of your character. Perhaps less dangerous a cage than those who are obviously, outwardly different; but no less soul crushing in the long haul.

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8 comments on “The Consulting Analyst – The Thorns of Death

  1. quixim says:

    I am so, so looking forwards to seeing your thoughts on Ikuhara In Rose Of Versailles ThemePark, or: the Ruka bits!

    • Vrai Kaiser says:

      Ohhh, it will be something I imagine. I’ve actually come round to a context in which Ruka ‘works’ after a few rewatches, but WOW is that whole plot eyebrow raising on the surface.

      • quixim says:

        Yeah! I’ve been talking it over with my friend as an Andre-Oscar paralell, and it’s obvious by Juri’s design that she evokes and sees herself in a rose-of-versailles context, and so of course the only thing that lights a fire under her ass is Ruka showing up and being appropriately melodramatic in response, at least that’s how we see it.

        • Vrai Kaiser says:

          Interesting. I’ve never gotten properly round to Versailles (aside of Oscar’s weird cameo in Lupin III and some historical reading) but I suppose I shall have to at some point.

          • quixim says:

            yeah! The takarazuka version of oscar is basically physically identical to Juri, and their character profiles and personalities are basically mashups of Oscar and Andre’s, including the noncon kiss (although Andre does it because he’s a peasant going blind and won’t ever see her again), etc. Unrequited love is a big theme there, and it seems to be the only thing that motivates Juri

  2. I like this analysis of Shiori trapped by her normalcy, so that even her attempts to express herself might be written off as meaningless, since everyone knows that normal girls don’t truly feel that way.

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