Ruka is helpful in the same way gasoline helps a forest fire. If you then used the gasoline tank to kick some trees over for good measure.
Episode Specifics: Shiori is heartbroken over Ruka dumping her, withdrawing from the world almost entirely. And while Jury had been adamant that Ruka stay away, now she demands the he take Shiori back to end her heartbreak. Ruka agrees, but only if Jury can beat him in a duel. Lose, and he earns the right of acting as her bride in a duel against Utena.
No student council this week, though we’re made more aware than ever before of the power (though sheer force of whispering numbers) of the Ohtori student body as a whole. Last episode was about a shifting triad of individuals framed by two similar beings, and this episode throws on an added element of those individuals within a cultural setting (or, “hey look, let’s legitimize Shiori’s terror of acting outside the norm/noticeably by putting her in a position where she is publically disdained/shunned by the populace at large/in effect punished for an overt display of raw and ugly emotions. Because, intentions aside, Ruka is sort of the worst).
Our dueling music this week is about shields; heraldry, rather. Patterns made up of symbols standing, historically, for noble houses (and lower class families might pour a whole bunch of money into GETTING a family crest just to give themselves the appearance of status whatever their day to day life is like). Each crest, in theory (if you have an approved, fancy one), is unique despite being made up of a common set of images. And it becomes both your announcement of self and status to strangers and a beacon of invasion or defense in battle for yourself and those who’re loyal to you. Our little heartbreak trio, fittingly, are high profile (or at least very visible) individuals who present images of their identity to the school at large while protecting their inner “truths.” And despite the nobility of the goals they tell others (and themselves) they’re striving for, they do more harm than good.
Creator Commentary: The boy who does nothing but transfer schools.
The boy who was supposed to be gone, came back.
He was always appearing at the same specific time. Frankly, I don’t like him. He always…he always prods mercilessly at the exact places I don’t want prodded.
One day, I’d noticed that I’d changed. I’d always hated myself so passionately, but somewhere along the line, that suffering had vanished. Was that his doing? Even if it was, though, I still hate him. And somewhere along the line, he’s left again. People say he changed schools.
At a hospital, I dropped by to visit a sick friend. I overheard the nurses talking. It sounded like one of their patients had died. Apparently at a certain specific time, he always used to slip away from the hospital and go someplace. Where?
He told the nurses, “I go to visit someone dear to me.” And he left a request with his family: “If I die, please don’t tell anyone.”
…It couldn’t be. It couldn’t. I mean, he transferred schools. I’m sure I’m just overthinking this. I’ll be waiting for him, my dear him, to transfer back here.
I created an episode around that incident.
Does anybody else see the jerk on the astronomy tower up there?
Character Spotlight: Ruka is hard to analyze on the grounds that he’s very nearly not a character at all. He’s so boiled down to trying to make the most of what little time he has left through big gestures that the individual himself almost vanishes inside the shakeups he creates in Jury and Shiori’s lives (the painful, arguable making everything worse shakeups). And in that respect he’s also unique – unlike the other students he doesn’t exist perpetually as an adolescent, and while it’s within interpretable reasonability we’re not lead to think of him as “graduating” either (it’s not that he’s overcome or come to peace with his feelings for Jury, not really – he’s just boiled it all down to one last gambit). He’s not so much a person as he is a force of nature, despite the truth of his feelings for Jury (which she doesn’t even realize, just to make that finale a little more bitter).
He’s the worst kind of mirror for Jury: when she talks about “making Shiori realize her feelings” way back in her first duel, we have the unfiltered ugliness of that thought made action as Ruka’s assault. Her perfectionism as a duelist and disdain for Utena’s prince is Ruka’s hate for Shiori and determination that he can help her find her “true” potential by way of the duels.” They never look at one another, constantly staring in the same direction (particularly during the entirety of the Questionable Carsent Ride). Every time Ruka seems to think he’s helping her, he only becomes a reflection of the worst of her.
And in a way it’s probably important that he be part of the story. I see none of the longing-realized-too-late from Ikuhara’s commentary in this story, but one part of it does ring absolutely true: we all have at least one figure in our lives who we remember less as people and more as the Big Realization they provoked, or the internalized doubts they roused with their mere presence. And we’re all that person for someone else, leaving ripple effects that aren’t necessarily the ones we meant to impart at all.
I don’t have a quip, I’m just admiring the gorgeous lighting on this scene
Have You Heard: An odd case, this one. It’s one of the only shadow plays that departs from the mechanic of the stage (and the first to take place outside of one of two walls in Ohtori). It helps the undercurrent of alienation: we’re told outright, with all the visual cues to put it together, that what Ruka did was out of an attempt to “free” Jury from the weight of her feelings (and that he did so out of his own unrequited love for her). But Jury doesn’t realize it. The shadow girls don’t know what he wanted to free her from. The only way to put it altogether is to be outside of life altogether, able to look at all the pieces. And none of the “real” people in the world of the story (nor we ourselves in our own lives) will ever be able to zoom out far enough to gain that concrete a level of context on our lives – and on a meta level, we’re deliberately thrown out of the way we’ve been taught to “learn a lesson” by having it no longer presented within the safe confines of the theater.
Meanwhile, in front of where we’d expect to see our play we see Shiori, the “actress” in all this business. Whatever the intention, the message, the what-have-you nebulous idea that motivates the events of this two-parter, the episode takes time to show us that all of that becomes background for the very real person being affected by all this. Shiori’s no saint, as we’ve discussed (starting with her codependency, rock bottom self-esteem, and favoring of emotional torment), but she’s also a kid like any of the rest of them. A real human being that one has to contend with when all the talk of miracles and who deserves who is over.
Anthy is finally free to show how many fucks she does not give about the Student Council
Anthy Watch: Predominantly Anthy’s in the background here, though we might take note on how she’s allowed herself to drop the veneer of polite interest when Utena is the only person paying attention to her (she’s distracted or looking out the window or otherwise disengaged pretty much every time Utena gets involved with school life this episode). Her speech about “part of” Ruka’s true feelings is less important for him than for her – she wants very much to trust Utena, and we can see that in how close she comes to confiding in her before drawing back. But feelings are complicated, whether in a “normal” human or someone who’s been made less person than symbol. One positive emotion doesn’t automatically free you from the burden of your pains, fears, and obsessions.
No, no, no, you have to let the actor find it on their own!
Themes: Hey, does this writeup seem weird, you might be asking yourself? I cannot lie to you, darling readers. I did not want to write about this one. While it’s an important episode it also stands, hands down, as my least favorite episode in the series. Part of that is admittedly quite subjective: Jury’s character is in some ways the closest to elements of my adolescent experience, and that often puts me defensive on her behalf in watching this one. But on a level that at least pretends to have something to do with critical reliability, this episode is just so damn bleak. Maybe the most so of any of the Student Council duels.
You know what it is? It’s Sartre’s No Exit with anime eyes (to boil it down to The Famous Quotable Bit: “hell is other people”). These three all eschew honest communication in favor of trying to hurt each other, all in some deranged attempt to protect their own fragile hearts, and there’s no outlet for it. Ruka is dead. Jury never realized his feelings (and wouldn’t have reciprocated them even if she had). Shiori still resents Jury, perhaps even more than she did. Everything is more terrible now, and any shred of progress the characters might’ve made is a smoking pile of ashes.
And saddest of all is the way it incorporates the use of the dueling system. Akio and Touga do almost nothing this entire episode, beyond giving the bare minimum of “cue” lines. Ruka and Jury do all the talking to push themselves into the car, into the duel, into their mutual torment. They’re so enmeshed in the damaging mentality of the dueling system (which, amongst all the other things that it represents, reduces human beings into binaries of winner/loser, victor/prize, good/evil, and so on) that Jury’s first instinct is to challenge Ruka to a duel to sort out their conflict. It makes sense on a mundane level in that they’re both in the club, but going deeper it’s almost frightening – taking part in the system isn’t limited to its obvious trappings anymore, but clearly evident in the day to day actions of the characters. For all that the duelists say they’re creating a revolution, they’re truly being taught, over and over again, to become parrots of Akio’s view of the world. From the structure of the world down to the minutiae of one on one interactions. Any hope they might’ve had of growing up, becoming better people, is utterly hopeless as long as they keep relying on that system. And that’s almost too heartbreaking to bear.