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Revolutionary Girl Utena Newbie Recap: Episode 13, “Tracing A Path”

"All of the power of Dios might be revived with her."

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Last episode certainly ended on a high note, but what other trials await Utena? Is the student council, or at least its scheming president, out of the picture? And, what’s Utena’s next challenge? Welcome to the escalation arc. Many of you have been waiting for this.

A note: For those of you who’ve been reading along, I’d recently started doing these recaps with .GIFs. For whatever reason, I’m having issues converting this latest episode into a GIFable file format (D:), so we’re back to regular old screencaps. This will be the least interesting thing you read in the rest of the piece.

Well. WHERE. DO. I. START. The episode began with the full princess/prince mythos, which led me to believe that this was going to be a regular recap. Straightaway, I knew something was up: the episode began with the Shadow Girls, whose skit focuses on the “troublesome hero” being called to the path of battle once more. Continuing from the last episode, they’re in full-on UFO mode; this appears to be relevant in a way their skits were not previously.

But first, a victory lap. Nanami catches Touga listening to a recording on loop. What is it? None other than his own voice insisting “If we don’t crack the world’s shell, we will die without being born” on tape, on loop. It’s a depressing look at the once only unflappable character in the series. I’m glad he’s suffering, but I doubt he’s totally out of the narrative, or that he won’t continue to push up against Utena.

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This would be sadder if you weren’t such an asshole.

However, he’s the least of Utena’s worries now, because PURPLE PONYTAIL HAS ENTERED THE STORY.

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Unrelated: that’s kind of a big hair tie, no?

I initially thought this man was the purple-haired prince, and I hope we get some character names soon to make the distinction a little less flippant, because for now, I’m just going to use “Ponytail” and “Prince” to demarcate between the purple-haired men. Anyway, Ponytail arrives at the empty arena and zhooms up into the floating castle (really, the duel platform rises to the castle), where the actual Prince is resting on… A GIANT EGG. That’s right: we’ve reached the episode where Things Start Making Sense.

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Not pictured: the emo music playlist he’s definitely secretly listening to. 

Ponytail reveals that Utena’s duels, beyond just being done against foes carrying the rose seal, are a calculated route to something ~*big*~. Her latest, her seventh, is themed as “Self”/”Soi” (French-ish?, in keeping with the rest of the show’s universe), and it’s her ability to push past her own doubts that has Ponytail bemused, but in a kind of troubled way. As the Prince mutely looks on (I assume; he’s not given facial details), Ponytail implies that the Rose Bride is actually against Utena winning, but also that the Prince is tacitly hoping for Utena (though not in a “winning duels” way; more on that later) to succeed, and has been pulling for her since the first duel, “Friendship”/”Amitié.”

It’s here that the past twelve episodes slowly click into place. Each duel is revisited and recapped, but instead of it being a chore, those episodes are edited down to their choice, telling moments. Every duel is given a color, based on the duelist facing Utena; rose and hourglass motifs are in abundance. What could’ve been a rote filler is given fantastic life. This is the kind of escalation storytelling that makes the Great Shows that Great—you didn’t know what you were missing until the path is revealed.

“Friendship”/”Amitié”: the duel against Saionji, in defense of Wakaba’s honor. “Choice”/”Choix”: Utena choosing to battle Saionji again, and the first time she and the Prince’s spirit combines, thus breaking the power of Dios on the Prince, which suggests he’s being held against his will. Then there’s the trio of more personal battles, which Ponytail seems to weigh less than the others.

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To put it lightly.

“Reason”/”Raison”: Miki talks himself into believing Anthy can be his twin mirror again, but is snapped out of his unreason by Utena and Anthy. “Love”/”Amour”: Jury, who’d been scored by love and scorned others passion for miracles, heads up against the breathlessly belief-heavy Utena. I’d forgotten how absolutely thrilling this duel had been until I saw it edited to its starkest bones. “Adoration”/”Adoration”: Nanami did what she thought would get her adored by her blessed big brother, who had actually set her up for a fall. “Conviction”/”Conviction”: Touga tests his plan against Utena, and Utena has to prove her own commitment by not giving up afterward.

The implication by Ponytail is that she shouldn’t have made it through all seven trials as a duelist, and asks, Could she be the one they’ve (as in he and the Prince, but who knows who else) been waiting for? And finally: the final duel will be named “Revolution,” and then the Prince will be released and presumably the power of Dios with him. But the Prince doesn’t seem too happy about this, though Ponytail suggests that they’ll both “profit” at the end. What does that mean? We’ll soon find out, as Ponytail delivers this ominous degree through a dissonant twist on the show’s background music: “But, a new stage is about to begin. How will she fight in the battles to come?”

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And, who’s that second figure in the background?!

As for our leading ladies? They’re hanging out together again in pajamas, when Anthy notices clouds gathering and moving in the distant sky. There’s a shot of a glowing blue box; another of a butterfly in a box; then, the Shadow Girls’ UFO lands, and we see the single black rose suspended in the glowing blue box. Then, scene: and the words ABSOLUTE DESTINY APOCALYPSE. This can’t be good.

Full confession: I’ve peaked into the comments sections of previous recaps before, and knew something involving black roses was coming up. That said, none of you could’ve prepared me for the sheer thrill of going through this episode. Sure, the amount of previously used material made it much easier to write this thing, but it all goes to show what amazing writing and good story planning can do to elevate something from Great to Oh My God, This Is Going Down In History. Utena, of course, has a while to go before it ends, and we’ve all known shows that have laid down potential, only to squander it at the finish. Here’s hoping we’ve got a wild, thrilling ride ahead of us; until next time.

Tweet your thoughts on Episode 13 of Revolutionary Girl Utena to me here. This should go without saying, but NO SPOILERS PLEASE!

Lilian Min has written for The Atlantic, Nylon, BuzzFeed, and others. Read her work here and tweet her here.

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