I know love triangles seem like a good idea the first time, but then it’s suddenly 3 am and you’re taking naked car rides with strangers. Don’t do love triangles, kids.
Episode Specifics: The previously unheard-about Fencing Captain, Ruka, has returned to school, both confirming my suspicion that the students of Ohtori have some kind of transfer student fetish and usurping Jury’s position (in more ways than one). In fact, he seems intent on downright flaunting his new relationship with Shiori in front of our Duelist, only to turn round and dump the girl by the end of the episode. Strange tidings, indeed.
It’s that old song and dance again: this is a two part episode in which character discussion hinges heavily in what happens on the second half (wouldn’t be an Utena arc without one!), so this will be another post on the short side. Also I’m seeing tiny spinning roses out of the corner of my eyes, and I’m fairly certain they make medications for that.
The dueling music relates to our overall theme point for the day, parallels, and by all accounts seems to apply more to Shiori than it does Ruka (and Jury as well – you’ll notice that triangles are all over the new architecture in this episode, so I’d wager it’s no coincidence that we’re meant to feel the point of this triangle even when she’s not there). The lyrics themselves have a core in Ikuhara’s commentary for this episode (and, by extension, Shiori’s Black Rose duel as well). Its lyrics deal first with duality, and the break between civility/societal expectations and carnal desires/the id: the separation between what one wants and what one ‘should’ want (or at least what one thinks they’re expected to want). But it moves on from there pretty quickly – we’ve covered that ground, after all. Next we have that duality, tied specifically to gender and the desire to fuse two people into one person, to create a world that is only for those two and subsume everything else. There’s a couple different ways to parse that: on the one hand it seems romantic, but it’s also isolating, playing into Shiori’s desire to ‘preserve’ Jury’s feelings; there are shades of pragmatism tied to Shiori’s words in the car, which isn’t a true partnership but a desire to use the other person to make a more complete, powerful ‘I’; or, if we want to take it to a more hopeful place (looking briefly ahead to the next episode, and the ambiguity Shiori and Jury are left in), it’s the melting down of dualities and binaries into one ‘androgynous’ being where love is acceptable and freed from the fearful tyranny of those social expectations.
Shine on, you precious diamond
On a lighter note, the Student Council provides one of my all-time favorite screenshots by having Nanami literally chew on the exposition that’s going down throughout the scene (if you are inclined to dig deeper, I suppose, note that Jury’s plate is untouched – while she is relaying this information she isn’t really processing anything, too unsettled by Ruka’s whirlwind entrance to think with any kind of clarity).
Creator Commentary: Shiori’s character is the embodiment of Jury’s weak point. That weak point is “love.”
Breaking apart the other person.
That means controlling the other person’s “life,” bending it to your own imaginings in the real world.
It’s an ultimate form of “romance.”
I see you deliberately obscuring the names not at all as a time saver, animators
I’m on to you
Character Spotlight: Ikuhara, bro, you are not making it easy for me to draw anything like a sympathetic portrait of Shiori here.
Well…maybe that’s the point. The Black Rose duel did a lot to humanize Shiori (particularly the lonely dorm scene), but it didn’t especially redeem her or advance the health of her relationship with Jury (beyond maybe the tiniest of baby steps). So now we’re coming round to the consequences part of the arc, making a clean cut from the ugly mass of emotions that’s defined this tangle of unspoken feelings for such a long time.
There’s still a fair amount of evidence threaded through that Shiori does carry true feelings for Jury, but she’s stopped from acting on them out of fear that doing so will kill the intensity/validity of those feelings. And she seems terrified of anyone else finding out about those feelings as well, perhaps for the same reasoning. That Ruka terms the scene in the locker room “ad-libbing” is very telling: she sees the opportunity to take advantage of Ruka’s power and status and acts on it, but that wasn’t a planned event. She was there, alone, for something else – and Ruka’s locker is directly next (as the camera takes great pains to show us) to Jury’s. The sunset colors of that lonely shot also match Jury’s contemplations at the beginning of the episode, giving us two lonely people in shared pining who can’t or won’t reach out to one another without causing some manner of pain.
That being said, at this stage Shiori is still operating to cover up her fears and weaknesses by using the power and influence of others, and the car scene is the biggest proof of that: Ruka says “we,” Shiori says “I.” Interestingly, while Miki and Saionji were both offered concrete things as proof of their adulthood, Shiori is only offered the vagueness of “miraculous power.” She’s so far withdrawn in her shell of self-loathing and toxic behavior that she can’t even conceive of a ‘true’ thing to want, or a specific way to dig herself out of her own mental hole. And so, no matter what action she takes or who she hurts, that hole in her chest continues to grow.
In what context is a whole fish a side dish?
Have You Heard: There are plenty of fish in the sea! You’re sure of it, you can see them right there, but all of them seem to be out of your reach, while you keep pulling in garbage. Well…maybe it’s the spot you’re fishing in. All three of our players are chasing after uninterested parties, or warped versions of what they want while they go on staring at the ‘ideal’ they’re certain they’re fishing for. But they’re going to have to make a break before they can get anywhere near it.
Hold on honey, let me spare you one of my patented Knowing Looks (Sympathetic Brand)
Anthy Watch: A positive one, for a change. Kinda. As Ruka’s line at the end of his duel reveals, this is an episode where we’re able to watch little signs of our two protagonists growing closer. From Anthy’s seemingly earnest prayer for Utena’s success (there may be a certain amount of putting on a show to it, but the fact that we’re allowed to see so cleanly through her glasses and to her eyes suggests a degree of sincerity), to Utena’s endearing awkwardness.
Speaking of Utena, both her accidental compliments in the greenhouse and her realization of her ‘pounding heart’ as she holds Anthy’s hand seem to point to the growth, beneath her conscious notice, of romantic feelings underneath the growing trust of their solidifying friendship. Ah, it’s a beautiful thing to see.
Am I still watching “Not What He Seems” right now?
It’s been a very intense week, and I’m seeing a lot of orange sunsets and triangles
Themes: Now, as I said: parallels (and triangles). Ruka and Jury’s scenes together all contain a mirroring element, giving us a clue to Ruka’s intentions before the big reveal in the next episode: they fulfill the Captain position, where Jury replaced Ruka but not in a permanent capacity (and the same could be said of Ruka acting as a ‘replacement’ for Shiori); their sunset scenes on that bench (surrounded by the trappings of a stage, since everyone involved in this little pyramid romance scheme is putting on a show in some fashion) put them sitting gradually closer together until they are doubled silhouettes; Ruka takes on Jury’s old position of seeming to tower over the council members, and there are a host of minor touches such as the side-by-side lockers or the focus on sword grips (I’m just going to leave any Freudian analysis alone. Ikuhara deserves better than that).
Not even Chin QUALITY can diminish the awww!
This two parter is also our first real look, despite having already introduced the Bride gimmick with Miki, at the concept of what makes ‘partners’ rather than just tools for winning or advancing the self. As always, the duelists serve as a measuring stick and foil to Anthy and Utena’s bond, and it’s incredible to see how far they’ve come from the puppet-illusion suffering through another narrowly focused fiancée and the girl who wanted a thing to save more than she was prepared to deal with another person in need of support. What a bond is versus what it isn’t, how to define oneself alone rather than through another person (and then, in turn, how to rely on and trust in other people once you know yourself) cleave pretty cleanly between this episode and what comes next, moving us into a new thematic zone apart from the illusion of the “new stage” (which, let’s all remember, is really just an illusion cast by Mr. Morning Star himself).
Some other reviewers are confused and think Ruka is the same person Shiori “stole” from Jury established in earlier episodes.
I tried explaining that he’s not but people still seem confused.
In fairness, there is a vagueness to it – we don’t know ‘his’ name, and the backgrounds of those early scenes look like the fencing club. Timeline’s wrong, though, and neither Jury nor Ruka reference childhood friend type history between them (moreover, I don’t think Shiori’s the type to go back to someone she’s already dated).
The beginning of their relationship here does not at all seem like they’d dated before. Shiori attempting to come off as someone who has a Crush they’ve never acted on.
I think this is the first of your (wonderful) writings with which I’m at odds. I really can’t see Shiori having romantic feelings for Juri.
Re-watching the scene, I see her ignoring Juri’s locker and go straight to Ruka’s. All the hurtful things that Ruka says to her after their defeat (that it was ad-lib, that it wasn’t his sword, that he lost because of her) have the explicit purpose to hurt her and humiliate her as publicly as possible, so I don’t think we can really take his word. He’s not talking to us at all there. His words aren’t information, but actions.
Moreover, if we (temporary) put aside all of Shiori’s negative baggage, her reaction to Juri’s attempts to have her break-up from Ruka are rather reasonable. If we (queer-sensitive viewers) weren’t conditioned by that point to cheer for Juri, the only openly and exclusively gay character of the series, voiced by Kotono of all VA, how would we react to her selfish and outright rude order that Shiori should not see Ruka again?
At that point, Shiori and Ruka appear happy together, and Juri would rather break that happiness than deal with the fact that Shiori will never return her feelings. When she visits Shiori after the duel, what does she expect, exactly, with what consequences?
I do not think internalized homophobia is needed to explain Shiori’s hate of Juri. When she makes a public scene in the courtyard at the beginning of the next episode, she doesn’t care about her reputation, and I don’t think giving this pathetic show to the entire school is any better or worse than being exposed as a lesbian. And yet she doesn’t care. That’s how much Ruka meant for her.
He was the prince she has been waiting for so long. Unfortunately, her prince doesn’t love her, she’s just being used as a tool like all gullible little girls clinging to childish fairy-tales about love. And incidentally, being used is also a karmic retribution for the pain she’s caused. I really see her as a tragic figure. A tragic, unlikable figure, that made her the perfect character to become the exact reflection and literal alter-ego of Utena in the movie.
Disagreement? Heresy! (I kid, I kid).
At any rate, I do strongly camp for Shiori-loves-Jury, has deeply fucked up issues. At least partly because of Ikuhara’s commentaries for this episode and “Thorns of Death,” which talk about Shiori’s (romantic!) feelings and her attempts not to act on them because then they wouldn’t be ‘special’ or would fade away. That’s Shiori’s logic – she hates herself, and she uses others to try and build up a sense of self worth without addressing that whole gaping internal hole thing (also hence why the duelist song keeps going back to expected v desired – I don’t think it’s all of it, but I’d say there is a small element of internalized homophobia there).
That doesn’t mean that Shiori doesn’t develop real feelings for Ruka – I think she does (and I think lesbian would be an incorrect categorization for her, too, in contrast to Jury…but in a sense that makes it much harder to live in the ‘system’ as well, where binaries are law) – or that she isn’t right to tell Jury off for trying to police her dating life (she totally is).
And Ruka’s end-of-duel words – they do strike me as truth. His entire mission to the school is to try and bring truth and clarity to this very toxic situation, for the sake of the girl he loves. He’s the sort of character who ‘sees clearly’ because he has so little time left, and the moments when his asshole veneer fall off DO seem to be the moments when he’s telling the truth. Next episode he’ll confront Jury about how poisonous her current relationship to Shiori is. And this time he tells Shiori that he sees through her act, and that putting on that sort of facade is pointless and pitiful (which isn’t…constructive, exactly, but probably something she needs to hear).
The director stated during the episode commentary that Shiori does love Jury but also hates her at the same time. She wants to see Jury suffer for being in love while at the same time she also admits she is suffering from not confessing her feelings but she believes the one who confesses is the one who loses. Her relationship with Jury is already pretty toxic and I agree even as a GBLT watcher this relationship is not the most healthiest of lesbian role models in Japanese anime work. However her feelings for Ruka are valid as well and the two had a better start since she know Jury for years her toxic feelings grew from believing Juri pitied her and seeing her as not being good enough. With Ruka however there is a fresh start a new beginning he is instantly in love with her HOWEVER despite that all lets not forget the fact Shiori makes a few lies to catches his attention. The other toxic factor: She seems to be interested in Ruka because she saw a strange moment between him and Jury. This is her downfall. She wants to create this perfect image of her character but she is manipulative and can at the moment only feel better by creating a wall between her and Jury. Ruka despite all his wrong doings is just like Shiori only he is a little more clearer on the situation he is just frustrated with the entire situation he wanted to free Jury from Shiori even if that meant Jury would hate him forever. He was going to die sooner or later he already knew Jury doesnt love him back but he is so full of anger that Jury cannot see that Shiori isnt the nice girl she build her up to be