Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky. (slithytove) wrote,
Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky.

rachelmanija asked a few posts ago whether I might comment on Revolutionary Girl Utena as I watched it. I've been considering that, and I think I will. I can't do it on a daily basis, but I will slowly work my way through the series. I'll rot13 major spoilers, but not minor spoilers, or everything would be rot13'ed: there's lots of foreshadowing, and themes and symbolism that echo throughout the show, and it's almost impossible to talk about early episodes coherently without making any reference to later episodes. There was a nice discussion of SKU's first episode on yhlee's LJ a while ago, so I'll start with Episode 2.

Opening shot of Utena walking to school with her classmates. Three girls, blushing, address her as 'Utena-sama', and she responds with perfect noblesse oblige. Ditzy protagonists are common in both shoujo and shounen anime Miaka (Fushigi Yuugi), Usagi (Sailor Moon), Shinji (Evangelion), and Tenchi (Tenchi Muyo!) come to mind. Perhaps the viewer is supposed to be more comfortable in the presence of weak characters because they can feel superior to them. Utena, though, is the opposite. She is, from the beginning of the show, confident, accomplished, 'comfortable in her own skin', and recognized as such by her peers. "Kakko ii!" they squee.

I've said before that I conceive of Utena as a 'pre-modern' hero. Beowulf and Odysseus spend little time in tortured self-doubt, nor does Utena. We were introduced to this confident, heroic Utena, admired by her peers both male and female, at the beginning of Episode 1, and the beginning of Episode 2 briefly reinforces this. And that's it, IIRC: Utena's character has been established, and this sort of scene showing Utena in what amounts to a ceremonial hero's progress or triumph doesn't need to be repeated again in the show. The music that plays is Utena's theme, "Campus Scarlet," a pomp-and-circumstance-y 'drum and trumpet thing'.

Next: quick shots of the campus.. The architecture of Ohtori Academy is curious. It's very European, like most things at Ohtori. Some of it looks Gothic to me (the arches that form the stairway to the dueling platform), some has the flavor of Italian Renaissance: there's one architectural element that resembles Venetian bridges, such as the Rialto.

The first two scenes are grounding: "Here is our heroine, here's what she's like, here's where she lives," in quick montage of images and music. The music also sets the tone. The music says to us, this is to be a story, and a person, appropriate for drums and brass: great deeds, heroism, revolution, a story of historical, political, perhaps even metaphysical importance.

Utena and Wakaba in the classroom: Wakaba has gotten over Saionji (at least for this arc), and leaps upon a blushing, semi-SD Utena as her 'one true love'.

Except for a few deranged fanboys, no one believes there is homoerotic feeling between Utena and Wakaba. However: is their relationship in some sense a parallel of Utena's and Anthy's? A comic, SD version of SKU's central and very serious relationship? There are other mirrored relationships in the series: the three sets of brothers/sisters, for example (Akio/Anthy, Touga/Nanami, and Miki/Kouze). Touga's and Nanami's relationship is a sort of farcical version of Akio/Anthy.

And speaking of mirrored elements, here comes a Student Council Elevator scene and the 'Chick Speech'. The Student Council elevator is one of the three elevators in the series, each of which takes the characters from the real and mundane world to another place, where surreal things happen that could not happen in the real world, the world behind the scenes of Ohtori.

The Student Council is playing cards. "Have you received your letters from The End of the World?" asks Touga. "The End of the World" is the usual translation of "sekai no hate." However, I have read that this is a mistranslation, that it actually means 'the ends of the earth', i.e., far away in space, not far away in time, and not implying the destruction of all things, which is the connotation of 'end of the world' in English. Anyone more fluent in Japanese than I is encouraged to offer an opinion on this.

The Student Council gives us exposition on the Rose Ring, the Castle, and so forth, while playing cards. Even at leisure, they are competing with each other. A letter from The End of the World is thrown onto the pile with the other cards. (Why are they discarding pairs? Ideas?)

Utena and Wakaba: Utena has been assigned a single room in an unused dorm. Its elevation and interiors look extremely Western. Note the Moravian star lamp in the atrium. Utena opens the door to her room: desolation and squalor. She closes the door, and sinks to the floor in despair. (Wakaba teased her a few minutes before about the effort of having to clean up a 10-year disused room.). Utena opens the door again: the room is spic and span. Anthy in dustcoat and cap is busily doing housework. Utena flops onto the recliner, clicks on ESPN, and yells, "Hey, honey, get me a beer while you're up, okay?"

Okay, ignore that last sentence. But the gender roles in this scene are glaringly obvious.

Question: what happened here? Did Utena open the door the first time merely in her imagination, and only the second time opened it for real? Or was her initial view of the room real, and Anthy magically cleaned up the room in the few second interval before Utena opened the door again? I can't decide. Either is possible.

Anthy tells Utena what the deal is with the Rose Bride, but says she doesn't know what's up with the castle or the sword in her chest. Tsk-tsk, untruthful Anthy. She knows perfectly well what's up with that.

Utena meets Chu-Chu for the first time. While a cute animal sidekick is standard for female characters (and some male characters: e.g.,  Haro in the Gundam franchise), there's probably something more going on here. Rot13: Nagul vf n jvgpu, naq rirel jvgpu unf n snzvyvne. It's also been suggested that Chu-Chu is a manifestation of a side of Anthy that she can't normally show in public: he's mischievous, shameless, and crude. He also pulls some dirty tricks that seem to be what Anthy wants to have happen, as we shall see in future episodes. He's more than a cute sidekick, he's a manifestation of Anthy's will.

It may be significant Utena's first act, on meeting Chu-Chu, is to save him: he eats too much, turns blue, and she offers him a sip of tea, which makes the food go down. Tenjou Utena: always the cavalry.

"Cut it out with the 'Utena-sama'," Utena says to Anthy. Indeed, Anthy always addresses Utena with the 'sama' honorific. Utena's fan club of schoolgirls also use it, but as Utena points out (in the next episode, IIRC), Anthy is the only one who says 'Utena-sama' with utter seriousness. And she invariably uses 'sama' when speaks of Utena through the entire series—except one time. But we've got a long way to go before we get there.

Anthy tells Utena that because she wears the rose ring and has won the Rose Bride in a duel, all others who wear the rose ring will challenge her. Nonsense, Utena replies. She won't fight those 'meaningless duels'! Q.v., the 'hero's journey'. The hero, having been summoned to the quest, initially refuses the challenge.

Saionji, at kendo practice. In the very Western-flavor world of Ohtori, Saionji is a notable exception: he practices a classic Japanese martial art and wears traditional Japanese clothing while doing it. Saionji isn't much liked by SKU fans, and it's hard for anyone to like someone who slaps Anthy around as much as Saionji does. I've heard it suggested that Saionji may be more acceptable to Japanese viewers, who recognize in him a type of traditional Japanese man, who is fine in his own element, but feels threatened and doesn't behave well when confronted by the modern world. When we meet Saionji as a much younger boy in later episodes, he seems a nicer person, more honorable, more innocent, and more vulnerable than his friend Touga.

We learn that Saionji and Anthy keep a gun on the mantlepiece an exchange diary.

Utena dining alone. Are they always going to live in the otherwise abandoned dorm, she wonders? I don't quite understand the meaning of Utena and Anthy alone in a dorm. Ideas?

Chu-Chu, pantomiming with a fork, alerts Utena that there's trouble afoot. Outside, Saionji accosts Anthy, and refuses to accept her being engaged to Utena now. Like Utena, Saionji is in denial about the importance of the duel system: he was fine with it when it gave him Anthy, but now that it has taken her away, he wants to imagine that Anthy was engaged to him because she liked him, not on account of the duel code. Anthy knows better.

They are outside the dorm. Beside them on the grounds is a small obelisk, surrounded by zodiacal symbols. Again, a very Western motif. And an odd one for a school. An echo, or premonition, of Akio's interest in astronomy and his planetarium, perhaps? A phallic symbol? Or is sometimes an obelisk just an obelisk?

Again Utena tries to refuse to duel with Saionji, but finally decides to fight him, but deliberately lose. Lotsa luck.

Note that from this point on, Utena will fight all her duels for Anthy. Her first she fought for Wakaba. She never fights any duels for herself, unlike the rest of the Student Council, or any of the Black Rose duelists. She never wants to fight duels at all. Alone of all the duelists, Utena never wants anything from the Castle Where Eternity Dwells. Or at least, she never realizes she wants anything, until very late in the game.

A-ko and B-ko as cowboys, on carousel horses, with a cameo appearance by a cactus. Thrift, Horatio, thrift! Both the cactus and the horses make other appearances later in the show.

The duel song recapitulates the geologic history of the earth. I love the duel songs, but I have a hard time relating each song to each individual duel without it being too much of stretch.

Touja watches through opera glasses. Yes, what is happening here is theater, in deeper ways than the viewer at this point realizes.

Saionji not only nearly defeats Utena, but humiliates her. Uh-oh. Her rose ring glows, and the spirit of Dios descends, merges with Utena's body. Utena drifts upward, as if floating in liquid. (This is really OT, but it's how I imagine vampire Elvis moving in matociquala's One-Eyed Jack) Her eyes are closed. Then they open, we get one of those neat-o sword reflection moments, and Utena/Dios decisively settles Saionji's hash. Everyone is shocked: Saionji, Anthy, and the watching Touga, who saw Dios descend. Note that this moment of possession is exactly what Utena wants: she has, for a moment anyway, become a prince.

Denouement with Anthy, Utena and Chu-Chu. When Utena says she won the duel so that Saionji wouldn't tease Chu-Chu, Anthy's eyes do that anime 'tenderness' thing. This may be the moment in which Anthy first develops real feelings for Utena, beyond merely being relieved that she's engaged to someone who isn't constantly slapping her.


yuru(i), yuru(mu), yuru(meru), yuru(yaka),
meaning: loose, easy, slack

緩慢 == kanman == (noun, adjective that takes な) slow, sluggish, dull
緩急 == kankyuu == (noun) in case of emergency

Left radical is 'thread' (糸), which here means 'cord'. The right radical is a Non-General Use character meaning 'draw to oneself', which acts phonetically to express 'loosely'. Henshall suggests thinking of the right radical as three different versions of the 'hand' radical, and as a mnemonic: 'Three hands result in loosely tied thread.'

Info from Taka Kanji Database
List of compounds including this character from Risu Dictionary

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