Touga is one trilby short of a “milady.”
Episode Specifics: On the night before the final duel Touga takes Utena to the dueling arena, and the two share a quiet moment watching the castle in the sky. Confirming his feelings only makes Touga more determined to “save” Utena by defeating her, destroying what affection she might’ve had for him in the process. And so the duels are over, and Anthy is safe from the Student Council. But in that moment of peace Utena finally discovers the nature of Akio and Anthy’s relationship.
The Climactic Final Duel Music is appropriately momentous, dealing with end times and large concepts – fitting, since a revolution by necessity entails the destruction of the world that came before. The lyrical references are largely studies in opposites: the Nirvana Principle is a Freudian concept of a desire for stasis (or ”bliss”) in opposition to the self’s awareness of death/the death drive; Rabelais wrote from a perspective colored by self-determinism while Dante’s most famous work observed humanity locked into a predetermined cycle of endless suffering; Jonathan Swift was a pointed satirist of human nature who nonetheless existed within its constructs, and the Marquis de Sade is almost synonymous with the idea of “dangerous” sexuality and self-indulgence.
These polarizations circle around the song’s central lament of what seems to be a “natural” state of fate or preordained life conflicting with the desire to decide one’s own fate, eventually being forced to step back from the image one sees in their own mirror to the “mere” existence as an allegory – the show’s own conflict between the relationships of the characters we’ve come to care about and the very large concepts it’s grappling with.
Creator Commentary: It was determined from the very initial production stages, back when the show was still thought of as a normal shoujo manga anime, that Akio Ohtori was the prince.
Who, then, was Touga?
I racked my brains over it. He was a “cool guy,” but he wasn’t the “man of her destiny (Akio Ohtori).” In which case, who was he?
Well, no, there was one thing I did know. He had ambition. That was the keyword.
I’m always an ally to girls.
Touga once said those words to the girl in the coffin. And since then, he’s been continually tested by his own words.
See, Touga’s a cutely single-minded guy.
You’ll never get the chocolate factory with that kind of attitude, mister
Character Spotlight: The issue of “what exactly is Touga’s deal” hangs heavy over this end of the series. We see him don many faces, and it’s never quite clear which one can be called the “real” one. As we near the end of the duels, his relationships have become a study in extremes: he pushes his romantic-tinged teasing of Nanami to its breaking point, likewise capitalizes on Saionji’s feelings (to more success), moves at Akio’s beck and call while also internalizing his behaviors, and makes a full princely courting effort to Utena (the most sincere and last ditch of any we’ve seen).
As Ikuhara says, “ambition” is the key word here. Touga goes fully after things that he wants, expecting them to react in ways which will be useful to him. In his scene with Utena particularly, he’s trying very hard to be David Xanatos, rigging the options to suit himself. If she reciprocates his feelings that gives him “power” to convince her to back out of the duel (since he would be her prince over Akio). If she doesn’t, his reaction to that fact will confirm to him whether or not his own feelings are genuine, cementing the desire to “save” her through defeat (alternately if the feelings aren’t true, he can still defeat her to become the champion himself). He’s trying to factor for every possibility while being blind to a certain truth – but more on that further on.
First, a moment on that motorcycle. It’s such a perfect visual encapsulation of where our characters are: Touga insists that he hates Akio and is only trying to seize his power, but he’s still continuing to mimic the man – and to boot, he’s aping an inferior version with less scope and influence (a motorcycle can hold only one person, a sidecar can be detached, and it doesn’t have nearly the configuring/influence or long distance possibilities of a car); Saionji claims to hate not being in control (and wow with the sexual metaphor going on in those lines of dialogue), but he’s still chosen to get in the sidecar and follows Touga’s directives, either valuing the relationship more than his resentment or simply lacking the drive to act and pull away (most likely a combination of both). It’s one of the great weird comedic moments of the late game episodes, but beneath that it’s poignant in how it represents the stasis these two are strangling themselves with.
Lady Godiva, eat your heart out
(And if you think Touga would bat an eye at horseback riding naked through
town, we’ve not been watching the same show)
As a dueling pair, the imagery even goes out of its way to tell us how close a match these two are for Utena and Anthy. While previous opponents have done the sword pulling segment almost as a series of still images (positioning, the bride with the sword, the duelist holding the sword), Touga and Saionji have a full beat for beat animation sequence that parallels Anthy and Utena’s intimate contract (and wow is the matchup gorgeous – that one tiny bit of animation is one of my singular favorite moments in the series). Their bond, in other words, is the real deal, and what holds them back instead is the fact that they’re not fighting for the same thing (Saionji is turned away from the duel while Anthy watches, and only actively engages when he’s driving the little motorcycle that represents his and Touga’s relationship in isolation from the grander ideals at stake – i.e. the cars, adulthood, and revolutionizing the world).
It tells us not only something about the two of them, but about who Anthy and Utena have become without realizing – not only have they come to trust and rely on each other, a vital part of Utena being able to win the duels, but by that bond of trust they’ve also started to align their visions for what the future, the revolution, might look like. That’s what will make that one final betrayal such an important agony.
But who, exactly, is on first?
Have You Heard: Fun with linguistics! Our “prince” assumes that because he is coming into town embodying his own mental image of what a prince is, that he will automatically be acknowledged as the one deserving of praise. But because the girl who comes out to great him has a different context/understanding of the words, as well as her own ideas of what she wants in a “prince,” our announcer is completely passed over in favor of what she thinks of as the real prince of the white horse. Context, you see, is everything, and no one is immune from acting within their own (and when they think they are and try to apply their own understanding of the world as the default, it might come to end badly for them).
They learned well from the Evangelion School of Dead-Eyed Nudity
Anthy Watch: Knowing Utena is coming (she has to have, given the semi-implied omniscience she’s had regarding duelist secrets as well as her teleporting, illusory form), Anthy makes no attempts to hide the truth of her relationship with her brother. It’s the moment of truth, and it’s been coming for a long time now.
There’s a small but crucial change to Anthy’s dialogue this week: she starts asking things of Utena. Up to now Anthy has fully embodied the role of docile, subservient bride, and the only questions she’s asked have been for clarification or to make sure Utena is alright (putting aside any barbed intent she might have laced into her words). But in this episode she both asks Utena where she was the night before (she knows, of course she does, and so this is likely more of a test to see if Utena will lie to her – one that Utena fails), and she then (perhaps somewhat as a result) questions the validity of Utena’s vow in the elevator. Anthy’s existence as the Rose Bride is based entirely on shaping herself to the needs of others, and now she’s officially testing the waters of what relying on someone might sound like (more specifically, to see if Utena can accept the reality or merely the idea of “freeing” Anthy).
Because if I’m gonna hurt, you’re gonna hurt
But circumstances don’t exactly allow for that kind of slowness, and so it is that Anthy winds up ripping the bandaid off all at once. If Utena is truly bringing revolution, then Anthy’s life will change irrevocably one way or another. So she gambles every ounce of her fragile trust on letting Utena see her at her most physically and emotionally bare. And it…it….well, if you don’t remember then you heard the next episode preview. All of that, the trust and the promises, and Utena’s gut reaction is to blame Anthy and run to Akio’s defense. Is it any wonder Anthy came so close to falling into irreparable despair? The “doorway of night” isn’t just the end of the world, but all the hidden ugliness that still sits between our two revolutionaries.
I call this scene “they would be dreadful together but awwww”
Themes: Right, so, Touga’s approach to trying to become Utena’s “prince.” What we have here is someone who thinks they can act within and affect the system, but fails to see the ways in which the system is acting on them. To him, his failures are a mark of his failing to be as talented or powerful as Akio and nothing else. His own views (that women must be protected by a prince, that Utena was exceptional before and now is not because of her feelings for Akio, that power over the system as it exists is the only way to victory) are invisible to him because he’s internalized them as norms. They’re also validated by the system as it exists, so even when he’s moved by Utena to question himself that isn’t where he looks. His failing isn’t that he has been looking at girls wrong, but that Utena must be Not Like Other Girls!
His nighttime scene with Utena is a perfect example of this: while truly heartfelt on his part, Touga’s request is built on a hugely flawed premise. When he asks her “can’t I be your prince,” what he’s saying is “can’t you accept your role in the system if it’s under a more loving and understanding master?” He doesn’t yet know that Utena will reject Akio as her prince. To his mindset, if he lets her go now she’s doomed. She’ll be transformed into a princess, and as one she must by needs have a prince. Now that he’s seen her fall in love, he seems unable to process her continued existence as a strong individual, falling into an assumption that’s little more than a benign version of Akio’s coming ploy to shame Utena with the loss of her virginity. Even when Touga thinks he’s breaking free of the system he’s doing no such thing, and he doesn’t even have the self-awareness to recognize that fact.