Revolutionary Girl Utena Newbie Recap: Episode 11, “Gracefully Cruel – The One Who Picks That Flower”
"Those who fight with compassion lose their lives!"
Hello hello, Utena friends. This episode was so traumatic that when I started writing up a recap last week, I couldn’t figure out how to fully process my feelings and ended up sitting on this recap for another week.
Seriously though, I had been wondering since the advent of the duels about how the plot would advance beyond them. And while that part is still unclear, suffice it to say, things have gotten verrry interesting.
The episode began like a nice, normal Utena episode, with the pink-haired princess having lunch with her BFF/wannabe-GF Wakaba. Just want to say that this show’s idea of platonic embracing is quite revolutionary in its own way.
The occasion for their outside excursion? They’re having lunch, and Wakaba made Utena a bento. Then, Anthy joins up with her own super-bento; considering Anthy’s cooking history, Utena’s scared at first, but it’s all perfectly delicious normal food (that Chu-Chu then eats).
Beyond the girls’ impromptu picnic, Miki catches Touga spying on the unfolding scene. Touga, the increasingly cryptic creep, says that he’s looking at a “lonely princess” but doesn’t specify as to whom that princess is. It’s obvious that he’s presenting the idea of himself-as-prince to Utena, but the fact that he continues to push the prince/princess comparisons on his own time is interesting — does he actually harbor the idea that he is Utena’s prince, or is that façade for Miki’s benefit? And if that’s the case, is Touga playing the student council as well?
We don’t get a chance to speculate further — Utena sees Touga walking toward the group and steels herself to face her maybe-prince, until he’s jumped by a group of girls. But, the seeds of doubt have begun to bloom in her mind, and both Wakaba and Anthy notice.
During the next student council meeting, Touga, Miki, and Jury discuss Nanami’s duel, which Touga essentially set up in order to test Utena’s dueling ability one extra time. (And, also play the helpful prince role to Utena, though it’s unlikely that in a fair fight, she would’ve needed it.) Notably, Touga actually lays Nanami’s defeat on her, as though he didn’t toggle his affections onto Utena in order to spur Nanami into action: “Even if someone lays a plot, it’s the victim’s fault for falling into it.” COLD, BRO.
Notably, a bunch of color-coded balloons fly through this scene, creating a visual sequence as chaotic and disturbing as the information Touga lays down.
Later that day, Utena sees Touga and Anthy in the greenhouse, and asks a question that I’ve been harboring for a while — what’s their relationship? And finally, we get an idea: it’s bad, perhaps even worse than the one she had with Saionji. (And oh man, that was bad.) Touga actually compares Anthy to a bird meant to stay in her cage, both physical (the greenhouse) and not (her Rose Bride duties), and tells her that she’s meant to tend the roses, not dream of stuff like normal friendships and cooking.
Utena, of course, eavesdrops on this and barges into the greenhouse, demanding Anthy to share her REAL feelings. Finally, the normal placid Anthy taps into something approaching rage and says, from her own mouth, that she hates being the Rose Bride. It’s a real moment of GIRL POWER! and solidarity, and then —
Touga tells Utena that he’s her prince. Straight up. And while she’s still struggling to remember more about her encounter, she lets herself be taken up by the swell of her longing. When Touga leans in for a kiss, she doesn’t push back — but he doesn’t follow through. Anthy, for her part, is sad watching this happen; that sadness is amplified when Touga recomposes himself and tells Utena that two duelists shouldn’t be showing affection for each other in front of the Rose Bride. It. Is. On.
At home, a noticeably more quiet Anthy tells Utena that she wants more friends. Utena finally feels her own version of possession over Anthy — albeit, her version is to free Anthy into being her own person apart from the Rose Bride, but to some point, this came to be because of her outsized influence on Anthy. More on that later.
This week’s Shadow Girls skit is a bit more obtuse than last week’s: the girls recreate the William Tell story about the apple and the arrow, and the “father” figure just keeps shooting arrows. It’s unsettling in the way that all of the skits are, but I can’t quite figure out the parallel to the main plot that usually accompanies these skits.
And then, onto the duel: Touga asks Utena not to hold back, not that she literally ever has. However, Touga is easily the best opponent Utena’s faced; he’s the kendo team captain who beat Saionji, after all. And to him, Utena’s skill, though furious and raw, is still “amateur-ish,” and he seems to hold himself back. But for what? Well, for the Power of Dios to manifest in Utena — and when it does, it’s Touga that goes in for the kill.
(It is worth noting again that the Dios power’s projection actually looks like Utena’s prince, and always comes to her aid. Touga, meanwhile, is revealed to be the snake the viewer has been suspecting him to be all along. [Or at least this viewer.])
Bonded with the Dios power, Utena attacks Touga head-on, but at the last moment, he puts his sword down. This causes Utena to reflect on her recent past duel interactions with Touga—defending her from Saionji, intervening with Nanami—and on top of that, remembers his “revelation” that he’s her prince. This causes her to drop her guard, and in that moment! Touga slices her rose.
Despite her loss, Utena attempts to convince Touga to let the Rose Bride cycle go and release Anthy (but how?). But to Touga, Anthy’s assertions that she wants to be a regular girl are as contrived as his own lies; and when he asks her if she wants to be the Rose Bride, she agrees and says that she’s happy.
Touga then turns Utena’s plea against her: didn’t Anthy not complain about being the Rose Bride until Utena started pushing that idea on her? Isn’t it Utena’s statement that spurs Anthy’s? Utena says she wants to free Anthy, but hasn’t she been pushing her own ideas onto the more mild-mannered girl, even if they’re “better” ideas than the ones from the other duelists? “The wish to make her a normal girl was merely your own wish” — and then he walks away, the Rose Bride in tow.
WELL. This leaves Utena shattered, and also finally lands a dent in the viewer’s image of Utena. But we’ve also been given a taste of just how devious Touga’s always been, though we’ve been shown instances here and there. (Saionji’s exchange journal!) As for Utena, her entire storyline started with her bucking tradition, and her continued insistence on spreading her own personal ideas of revolution are likely to continue on. Whether or not it was her direct influence that swayed Anthy almost doesn’t matter, because isn’t that something that should happen? But, I still can’t land on a final opinion there, so the show’s succeeded in keeping me on my toes.
Until next week. (Promise.)
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