It’s been a while since we had a two-parter. My exhausted fingers thank you.
Episode Specifics: Turns out there’s an epidemic of childhood friends transferring into Ohtori this semester, including Wakaba’s “Onion Prince,” Tatsuya. He seems more intent on wooing Utena, but in the way of teenagers this is their way of dancing around each other. Tatsuya admits his feelings just in time for Wakaba to misunderstand his confession and run home to her ‘prince’…..Saionji.
I think this is as close as we’ll get to a StuCo slumber party,
and that saddens me
It seems that for all that they involve digging into the nastiest corners of the duelists’ minds, the Black Rose duels are ultimately beneficial things. Each duelist emerges on the other side at least a step or two closer to something like healthy functionality (though for some of them, there are many, many more steps to go). You have to lance a boil before it can heal, as it were. And this week it seems like the Student Council members are better off too. Far from the isolating rains of the last episode, now they’re able to joke with one another – and to talk and tease each other about what had previously made them pained and defensive.
Utena: Making stock imagery work for YOU
This is the flip side of the ‘unchosen’ theme, in a way. All of our duelists are fighting to be ‘chosen’ ones, but the council members seem more than ever to be aware of the scrutiny that actually being chosen places upon them. They became abstracted idols tormented by interiorized complexes, and it was only in losing that observed status (though you will note, now as ever, that we and Akio still have at least one shot observing the students through the Rose Seal window). The trick of it is that being chosen or unchosen, as it’s currently defined by the duels, takes the power out of the duelists’ hands. They can fight for whatever they’d like, but if neither Akio or Mikage pick them then it ultimately means nothing, and without Anthy they can affect nothing. That’s part of what makes Mikage’s seeming revolution doomed to failure, and why the exploration of ‘partnership’ will be so important in the next arc.
Creator Commentary: Why is it that “the path he must take does not lie here”?
In any other show, a character like him probably would have been designed to gain the audience’s sympathy. However, this is Revolutionary Girl Utena, and the Black Rose arc no less. Anyone to open the door must be baptized.
There are many things in this world that don’t go the way you want them to. But even so, the onion girl is trying to be someone special. She’s fighting.
Isn’t that exactly the story that the Black Rose arc is trying to tell? That’s why there’s no path here for the boy who’s decided to just pray for her happiness from the sidelines.
In most cases, the things that don’t go the way you want them to have been decided by a system. How should we fight when we’re up against a great power, one difficult to oppose? That’s why there’s no path here for the boy who’s quit opposing it and decided to just pray for her happiness from the sidelines.
I don’t hate you, adorable child. Just everything you represen
Character Spotlight: So it was a few days between screencapping and actually writing this analysis, in which time Tatsuya’s name had expunged itself entirely from my brain. As Ikuhara says, Tatsuya is ery much an anime protagonist type…which is to say, he’s unmemorable. Vaguely pleasant, easy to channel emotions through, but infinitely less interesting than the characters surrounding him. Also, he’s a Nice Guy. Which requires a bit more exploration.
Now, the Nice Guy archetype (which is predominantly male in execution, but let us not forget the Eponines of the world) – that is, the character who’s very close good platonic friends with the person they like, never saying anything but desperately hoping their friend will come around to thinking of them romantically – has been very deservingly shredded as cowardly and creepy in its worst forms, focusing on pressuring the object of affections into reciprocation by virtue of your overwhelming niceness rather than, say, their independent desires or ability to make their own conscientious dating choices. That’s a pretty toxic archetype that gets held up as the ideal a lot.
But Tatsuya is basically the ideal of the Nice Guy archetype, without all the cryptic nastiness attached to it. He truly wants to make Wakaba happy (though the intimation that she’ll be terribly unhappy with anyone else and will therefore come back to him is…concerning), and he’s willing to back off and get over it when she rejects him. And there’s a wrench in the works because she does seem to like him back, and he does confess. Or, he tries to. He never actually says he’s the one who likes her in all his monologuing about The Prince, seeming to assume he’s the only one who could fit the title. The fact that he’s an apparent ladies’ man doesn’t seem to hurt this fact. But in all of that, he never thought about what being the prince meant. He was able to realize he liked Wakaba, in his sweet adolescent way, but he never seemed to truly understand what that memory meant to her. Instead, he goes blithely through life accepting his fate, better able to avoid extremes than our duelists but also destined to avoid any greatness. He’s pleasant, well meaning, kind, and roughly as observant as a plant. Tatsuya is the wasted potential of the unexamined life.
Well behaved women rarely make history, as they say.
NEVER ADMIT YOU’RE WRONG. DOUBLE DOWN ON THE COMMITMENT
Very American of you
Have You Heard: Tire sales! And what is a tire, anyway? Everyone’s so eager to talk them up, and then to buy this thing that supposedly sounds so incredible, that nobody questions precisely what it is or what purpose it’s meant for. Words mean things, basically, and posturing about things you don’t understand will only leave you with a bag of inedible tires to cook dinner with. If you say you’re looking for “a Prince” without seeing who that person truly is, or ignoring feelings that aren’t directed toward what you’ve decided a “prince” is, you’re setting yourself up for heartbreak.
“I’ve convinced myself that my sister is an inscrutable Other,
So that I don’t have to feel bad about violating her basic human dignity regularly”
Anthy Watch: In other news, Anthy is still taking every small moment of screentime to break my heart. The chat in Akio’s rooms (or the Statutory Lounge, as I’ve taken to calling it) is basically laying a big old ‘THIS WILL BE IMPORTANT’ sign on the characters and where the story arc is heading. Utena, at this time, doesn’t truly understand Anthy’s pain or feelings, though she’s trying more earnestly; the Black Rose duelists don’t understand themselves, though they are fighting to expunge a ‘blackened’ part of themselves; Mikage doesn’t understand how to break the system rather than just changing the face of it (and thus, its true heart); and Akio thinks he understands it all, which will lead to his downfall in the end.
Themes: One of the key elements to our guest duelist, as pointed out by Ikuhara, is passivity: he’s happy at the sidelines. He’s a Nice Guy. And you know, in theory there’s nothing wrong with that fantasy: when you’re young heartbreak is the most terrifying thing in the world, and communication is something unfamiliar; it’s natural to fantasize about someone who already knows you well stepping in and also filling the role of romantic partner, while also being more aware and able to handle things that you don’t understand yet. It’s a fine fantasy. The problem comes when one lets it affect their expectations of reality (allowing it to keep them from acting) or comes to resent others for failing to fulfill the fantasy (passive aggression, pressure, and veiled self-aggrandizement).
And even when it’s meant earnestly, as Tatsuya (man, I almost forgot his name again) seems to mean it, it’s a wish that won’t fight for anything or take any chances. It won’t break any shells, and the idea of it is to avoid the frightening prospect of opening yourself to a new and strange person who might hurt you. In other words, you’re never going to revolutionize anything. And for the moment, Tatsuya doesn’t seem bothered by that. Which leads us to one last thing.
The Nice Guy, as portrayed so frequently in media, is the fantasy of the majority, the ‘target audience’ being catered to. As Ikuhara said, Tatsuya is the kind of character who would gain audience sympathy. He’s protagonist-ish. And what about our protagonist-ish character? He’s of the most commonly portrayed build and appearance, he’s straight, and he’s male. He’s the majority, and he’s never had to think about the prospect of being unchosen in some of the most basic of ways. In western culture, he’d be the Straight White Bro who stars in nearly every movie and escapist fantasy, whose presence and variety of roles is so ubiquitous that he wouldn’t even think to question it. Tatsuya is socially well adjusted, and everyone who meets him seems to take an instant fondness to him. Why would he need to duel for anything?
Tatsuya, in some ways, is the ultimate unchosen. Not because he’s rejected by Wakaba, or not chosen for the duels, but because he doesn’t have anything to fight for while still living within a broken system. Aside of the Tougas and Akios striving for power and control, the Saionjis twisted by impossible expectations, all of whom have at least some awareness or drive to change the world around them, there are many Tatsuyas: people basically good at heart, but also living without awareness of the world around them or how it might be changed for the betterment of themselves or others. To stay that way is to keep from one’s best growth as a person – as an “adult.” At worst, it’s to decay and become Akio. Or, perhaps, to improve and become Utena. Viewers need a Tatsuya, I suppose, if only to question his fate if they see themselves in him.
Something that really interested me about Tatsuya’s elevator session was the fact that Mikage told him “You are a truly good person” – something which I find disturbing from the perspective of Tatsuya’s extreme Nice Guy-ness. After spending some time thinking about it, I decided that the key difference between Tatsuya and the Black Rose duelists (aside from his passivity, which you already discussed), was the fact that he ultimately directs his anger and frustration inwards (“WHY AM I NO GOOD?!”) rather than towards an external target the way the Black Rose duelists do. I’m still skeptical that this makes him necessarily a “good” person, but it helps me understand why Mikage would see him that way. It seems to me that Tatsuya sees the fact that Wakaba isn’t interested in him as a flaw in himself, not one in her.
I wonder if, post-series, he will ever manage to overcome his passivity and actually grow, or if he’ll remain stagnant. He does appear next to Wakaba the last time that we see her, although he doesn’t have any dialogue (and I had to look up a screenshot of that scene to verify this – MAN, is that guy forgettable!), so maybe there is a glimmer of hope for him. I guess I don’t really care all that much for his sake; I just want Wakaba to be happy with all my heart and if what’s-his-face would actually make her happy, then I hope it works out for her.
That’s a good way of looking at it! (the inward anger being what redeems him as ‘nice guy). Relevant to that: since they share so many crew members, I’ve always sort of wondered if Tatsuya is a fairly gentle little nod/jab to Shinji. As in ‘yeah. you’re pretty alright, but your problems are not going to be solved in one fell therapy session.’
One could also take this a little bit more at face value…. Although he’s obviously being rejected for Mikage’s purposes, I don’t think the feminist condemnation of the “nice guy” was really Ikuhara’s intent at the time. We can presume he’s actually a non-twisted character (by the standards of SKU, at least) while still finding him lacking as a would-be Prince.
It’s interesting to contrast Tatsuya with Tsuwabuki in this regards. They’re both serving in a role as a “nice guy”, but Tsuwabuki succumbs to greater desire (and to smash that which he can’t have) and ends up in a position to be taken in by Mikage, while Tatsuya is immune by virtue of his genuineness.