Welcome back! Nanami is Mothra’s mom. That’s totally a canon thing now.
Episode Specifics: Ikuhara cashes in his “puberty metaphor episode” card, with a bonus helping of “wacky miscommunication hijinks.” Nanami wakes up one morning to find an egg in her bed, goes through the five stages of grief in her own theatrical way, and comes to realize that hatching monster eggs is All Part of Growing Up. Kind of. It’s really hard to recap the Nanami episodes in any kind of plot event fashion, particularly in the arc that kicked oblique narrative structure out the window a few episodes back.
The horse corpse is being flogged just to the left there
What’s might be most interesting is that the episode doesn’t settle on one aspect of puberty to be “about.” There’s menstruation subtext in how she finds the egg and all that “late bloomer” business, unexpected pregnancy in Nanami’s terror and motherly doting, sexual activity in Touga’s shaming talk about the “sort of girl” who lays eggs, and so on. It’s brilliant, in a way – these aspects of female adolescence occur separately from each other, but they’re all connected in a bundle of what it means (physically) to “be an adult,” and how that change alters how a young woman is perceived and how that shift in perception then alters how they move through the world. That the story is tied intrinsically to the idea of ‘loss’ is a poignant one – that all of this that should be a badge of growing up (the thing that all this break the world stuff is about, what the duels themselves are about for many of our characters) ends with Nanami losing the thing she put so much effort into caring for, just as she’s had a genuinely mature revelation. To grow up is to lose a piece of oneself, something Anthy (and now Nanami, though she may not be able to put it into words yet) has become well aware of.
Speaking of loss, both Utena and Anthy’s talk and the music playing over the scene deal with it; namely, the idea that children are a means of the last generation passing on their thoughts and memories, and that adults can only really live on through the memories they’ve created (a stopped clock, tied to Mamiya-Anthy’s past lamentations about eternity just being an infinite loop of the same small sliver of experience). We’ll come back to this in Nanami’s next episode, but for now it’s enough to wonder: what is the cost of revolutionizing the world (this is a literal egg that ends in a birth and a broken shell, after all)? When one grows up, what effects does that have outside the self (and is part of adulthood not just having power and the ability to wield it, but recognizing the worth and existence of those outside the self/shell)?
Creator Commentary: I wanted to use a song called “Blue Light Yokohama” in this episode, but I was told it was impossible because of rights issues. I still regret that. As to why I wanted that particular song, I think it’s probably because this episode reminds me of the “adult dramas” I saw on TV as a little kid. In other words, this is a story about “childhood dreams.” An “I want to be an adult” story.
Anthy’s sad expression in the last scene…
Becoming an adult means learning countless sad truths.
For some things, it’s best not to think too deeply about them.
Nanami must’ve seen a lot of Takarazuka revues as a child
Character Spotlight: What is Nanami’s fear, exactly? It’s not so much the egg, not after the first day. It’s not that she can’t take care of the egg, or that she’ll be hurt or hurt it – she seems to be pretty good at taking all that in stride (the upswing of childish self-centeredness, I suppose). Instead, Nanami fears for how she’ll be perceived in the world. Each person she goes to in the beginning expresses some manner of genuine concern (or Miki and Tsuwabuki do, anyway), but all she hears is the breath before they turn on her and cast her out of the group. An interesting shift, that. We’ve seen less and less of Nanami as the “queen” of the campus, and now she’s barely keeping it together out of fear she’ll be excluded entirely. And if we know anything from our current place in Ikuhara history, to be excluded is to die. More curious still, Nanami’s fantastical taunters always use the word “alien” to mark her out. And if you’ll remember, that’s the word that the shadow girls used to identify them as ‘other’ when they fled Ohtori in the first place. It’s the word tied to Utena and revolutions. It’s a word Nanami wants to get as far away from as possible, despite being a duelist and member of the Student Council. She’s a walking paradox at this point: she might have grown the most out of all the Council members, but she clings to her place in the school hierarchy and at her brother’s side out of some belief that it will make her happy. In fact, this is the first time we’ve seen her go directly counter to what she thinks she ‘ought’ to do for her popularity’s sake (I’m not counting the cowbell, since that was all to do with status before the cow-effects set in).
How fitting, then, that the episode sets her up against Saionji right at that very moment – despite the fact that these are the two people closest to Touga, this is one of the only times we ever see them interact, and it’s over eggs of all things (I actually lament this fact considerably – I want nothing more than tiny Nanami and tiny Saionji most definitely not having their feelings hurt when Touga starts ditching them or acting weird, and generally being in tightly wound denial all over the place. I want it so much, readers). Think back on Saionji’s last episode, if you will: he made an active choice to leave the dueling system, only to be drawn back in by his unsolved complexes. Nanami is slowly growing, naturally, outside of those parameters but is consciously balking at that idea – and she too will stay in the system. They’ve both recently had their worldviews fucked up by Touga (who is himself Akio’s unwitting puppet), and are wandering out in the woods (a place traditionally associated with the breakdown of society and change, though it isn’t able to stick for either of them).
How, in the grand scheme, is this the weird thing?
And while it might not play into the Deep Metaphor going on in the episode, it’s a surprisingly sweet moment when Saionji’s cooking: Miki studies the egg, Nanami’s posse wonder from afar what’s wrong with her, Touga shuts down Nanami’s questions, and Saionji…offers to make her some eggs. He doesn’t get what she’s upset about, but he’s willing to do something about it for her (because these two characters most of all, when they’re away from the observing eye of the system, are just awkward sweet kids).
Have You Heard: Don’t insist on one solution to a problem and ignore other points of view – it may be the situation is entirely different than what you assumed it to be, and you’ll make things worse. Lo and behold, Nanami’s fantastic miscommunications all over this episode and the deepening disasters they cause for her. Look, the shadow plays for Nanami’s episodes are usually one big misdirect, what do you want from me?
World’s pro-est troll
Anthy Watch: This episode gets a considerable boost from that pet theory of mine, the one where part of Anthy’s torment of Nanami (she sent her that egg, she totally sent her the egg) is because she sees herself in the girl and is attempting to push her down a different path. On the one hand, giving Nanami that egg is another opportunity to send her into a (mostly harmless) frenzy for the benefit of entertainment value. On the other, there seems to be some real effort behind it – it’s notable that Chu Chu is gone all episode, only to return when the egg’s hatched and the whole affair is over (if we, likewise, take Chu Chu as an extension of Anthy. But it’s expected for a witch to have a familiar, isn’t it?).
And then there’s that ‘loss’ thing. Ikuhara mentions Anthy’s sad expression in his commentary, and the idea of learning sad truths. And the fact that she brings up all that business about reincarnation suggests she’s not so outside what’s going on with that egg as she appears to be. But putting those things together also suggests that she’s fairly invested in it, too.
The egg does seem to be the first trick done for any benefit on Nanami’s part rather than Anthy’s amusement/vengeance. And one of the chief lessons tied up in that egg is bonding and protectiveness – something one would think Anthy would be quite soured on after her experiences with Akio and Dios (just one Nanami episode ago, the cowbell story stressed self-sufficiency and independent thought). So maybe we’re seeing a bit of change on Anthy’s part without her even realizing it – a willingness to admit that care for others isn’t inherently toxic (now that she’s finally opening up to Utena herself) even alongside that stressing of loss and the cost of growing up (it might even be something of a kindness to call it practice for growing up, a conjured scenario for what losing her brother and the world’s approval might look like for the sake of something she wants).
GORGEOUS CINEMATOGRAPHY ALERT: black and white figures surrounded entirely by shades of grey, and beyond that nestled within many layers
Themes: I know, I know. You’re really just waiting for me to talk about those two minutes, and the other two minutes I put off a few weeks ago. So. Touga’s speech. He’s a gigantic ginger hypocrite.
But it would be unfair not to dig a bit deeper than that.
There’s a couple angles we can come at this from (the cinematography practically demands it, with all its LOOK AT OUR LAYERS visual layout), with some shading plus or minus whether we’re choosing to incorporate movie!Touga’s backstory. But what we know before the speech is this: Touga is sleeping with Akio in order to gain influence and information. He’s a teenage Bond girl who’s in way, way over his head. And these few lines of dialogue offer one of precious few glimpses into his head.
We know that Touga fancies himself a prince, though he doesn’t seem to grasp what that really means (and Akio is not helping that, I’m sure) – as a child he declares himself a friend to all women, he pursues Akio because he helped the girl in the coffin, and he’ll eventually come round to honest feelings for Utena; but he only wants to help women on his terms (which are the terms of the system, AKA Akio), and if he can play the hero and the center of the story, and he’s warping into a right controlling bastard because of it. Also, smug. Did I mention smug? In keeping with the Helpful Prince ideal, he starts off with very formal speechifying, practically like he’s quoting biblical text. “Do as I say, not as I do,” if you will. If we’re kind, we might attribute this to Touga wanting his little sister to have the best ‘chance’ in the world structured around princes and princesses (and obviously SHE should change to fit the system as it exists, rather than changing the system in her favor)…though his later dialogue leans more to the idea that he’s concerned about how her actions will affect him and his status.
But there’s that one niggling bit that sticks out. “No matter how good it feels,” he starts out. And this is why it’s important to come back to Saionji’s duel, and the conversations between Akio and Touga in that car. Touga’s not old enough to drive, remember. As much as he plays the adult, he’s a teenager – and it seems like all of his previous relationships (from girlfriends down to Saionji and Nanami) have been with less mature people whom he could hold at arm’s length or otherwise be mentally/emotionally ‘above.’ And he seems to have assumed he could do the same with Akio, not realizing that his presumed cleverness was due to starting out with an advantage over the other person in the relationship. There is no way that Akio doesn’t know that, and it’s obvious that he’s playing to it (offering Touga the chance to drive, spelling out the inconsequential parts of his plans like they’re big secrets, letting him play the herald).
Akio’s got the clear advantage, emotionally and sexually. The subtext between Saionji and Touga aside, it’s pretty clear that Touga’s only intimate experience is with women – and you can bet Akio takes advantage of that too. As for how Touga feels about it…well, look at that dialogue. He’s been put off his game, though he may not yet realize that he’s being played for a fool. On a purely physical level he enjoys that aspect of his relationship with Akio, despite making no bones about how wary he is of the man. And so he’s overcompensating in his sister’s direction, making big flowery speeches that sound like something a prince should say – because maybe he doesn’t fit the exacting mold of what a prince is supposed to be, if he’s having those feelings and doubts. Maybe he can’t conceive of a world where he can have power (and that’s something he can’t fathom giving up) and bend the rules of what a prince is or isn’t, and so rather than acknowledge that he might be a failure as a prince he comes back even harder to the Ideal of it, and lies to himself. The Kiryuus are good at that.
I’m not really sure it’s accurate to read our Western perception on Age of Consent into Japanese Media.
Regardless of the fact that their laws are different, relationships between teenagers and older people seem pretty standard in Anime. Usagi is in Middle School and Mamoru in Collage.
Getting into a numbers game is going to be pretty pointless (the general concept of Japan’s consent laws are pretty poorly understood here on the internets, particularly that old chestnut that’s trotted out to justify ogling 14 year old camel toes, but in reality there’s variance enough in different prefectures that the country-wide age of consent averages out to 18, and in places that DO have a younger age of consent that tends to only be applicable for sexual activity between mutual 14-17 year olds) but I DO want to point out that the tone of Akio and Touga (and later Akio and Utena)’s relationship pretty much encompasses all the reasons to have consent laws in the first place: the power is hideously imbalanced (Touga has exactly zero influence over Akio, and no ability to change what happens if he wants the relationship to continue), with sex existing as a kind of currency or coercive factor Touga gives in order to get something else out of the relationship (which we know from his eventual shirtless talk with Saionji) rather than something he wants for its own sake. One party having complete (non-consensual) power over the other is not healthy, and in this case it’s all tied up in the privileges Akio has as an ‘adult’ versus how Touga is limited as a ‘child’ (something even more starkly evident by how Touga is on the cusp of adulthood in terms of numbers).
You are right in that there’s a certain tradition of the fantasy of the mature older guy love interest (Usagi and Mamoru are a somewhat poor example, since he’s likely no more than 18-19 at the outside – no break between high school and college in Japan, commonly). It’s all over shoujo manga (Yu Watase springs prominently to mind): the image of an ambiguously ‘older’ guy who’s mature enough to sweep the heroine off her feet and show her new and exotic things, but still emotionally on a level where he’d be invested in the interests and mentality of a young teenage girl. And you can bet Ikuhara knows about that archetype too – and that Akio is a deliberate commentary on it. On what kind of creep and adult would have to be to prey on emotionally immature teenagers, and the unhealthy dynamics that such a relationship is more than likely to entail (relationships across age gaps are not necessarily unhealthy, of course – when both parties are adults, capable of making adult decisions and with the emotional experience necessary to know what is or isn’t healthy for their life and mental wellbeing. None of the teenagers of Utena fit that bill).
I agree with having Statutory Rape laws, but not with how Simplistic they are. Each situation still be considered intimately on a case by case basis.
But I think ti’s really absurd that in some states you can charge someone as an adult for Violent crimes including murder who it’d be statutory rape to have sex with. I personally was “mature” enough to comprehend Sex well before I did Death.
I don’t think the Sailor Moon anime was ever really comfortable with the Usagi/Mamoru relationship, at least judging by how frequently he’s either absent or comic relief, how rare their love scenes are and, well, how they aren’t having sex unlike in the manga. I can definitely see Akio being Ikuhara and Enokido’s way of attacking the trope directly after sidestepping it with their handling of Mamoru.
There’s certainly all sorts of other interesting echoes of Sailor Moon in Utena, along with the more commonly discussed allusions to Riyoko Ikeda. Aya Hisekawa plays another blue-haired teen genius, Utena Tenjou’s last name is one sound away from Haruka Ten’ou’s, and the heroine’s muggle best friend tries to reform a male villain with her love, which works significantly less well here. Even Juri and Utena’s “girl you so bisexual” talk is somewhat similar to a post-Ikuhara Sailor Moon scene where Michiru brings up the romantic undertones in Usagi and Rei’s relationship to the latter.
I agree… but I wouldn’t say Mamoru is a poor example. He probably is around eighteen–and indeed in the manga he’s in high school at the beginning and “about 17-18”–but Usagi in the beginning of both the anime and manga is fourteen and in eighth grade. Speaking as a 17-year-old, 18 or even 17 is definitely too old to be dating someone /that/ young.
Do you think there is any significance to the parallel colour schemes between Nanami’s Egg and Utena’s soccer outfit? I was wondering if there might be another metaphor in the episode, with Utena being the Egg to Anthy. At first she doesn’t want it or care for it(her), but gradually begins to grow attached, even suddenly saving it(her) after seemingly abandoning it(her) to its(her) fate [see ep. 25], and now, despite her older brother’s wishes, seems to genuinely care for it(her)…..