Revolutionary Girl Utena Newbie Recap: Episode 14, “The Boys of the Black Rose”
"Your only choice is to revolutionize the world."
Like any good arc opener, this latest episode of Utena lays the groundwork for future conflicts, but before they can reeeeeally move with them, we have a whole new cast of characters to consider — the Black Roses, as well as another shadowy figure. Last week, we got a taste of what Utena and Anthy are up again (and it might involve Utena’s prince). This week, let’s meet them.
In the same creepy underground glowing box room as shown in the episode before, a black rose blooms underground. A person in a pink-haired lob (that’s a long bob) and a person with a purple-haired bob tend to it, looking nothing less that dark mirrors of Utena and Anthy; they appear to be students, and chat about Touga’s absence and the peace that seems to be the norm of the school. That’s sure to last!
(Also: I’m interested in the gender presentation involved in the character designs; after I’m done recapping the show, the first thing I’m going to do is read up on that, and the gender politics at work throughout the series.)
Aboveground, Utena comes home from school to find Anthy’s not there, and remarks that Anthy is particularly never home on Saturday nights. Right on cue, Anthy comes home and tells Utena that on Saturdays, she visits her brother. Her brother??? Utena is floored by this information, so Anthy takes her to go see him — at school, in the Chairman’s house, where they find him and his girlfriend making out on a planetarium projector.
Akio Ohtori has a long purple ponytail, and is the acting chairman of the school. The father of Kanae, his blonde-haired girlfriend, is the actual chairman of the school. They meet and chat with Anthy and Utena, but upon first viewing, there seemed to be some unspoken tension between Anthy and Kanae. Wonder if that’ll be important later!
Meanwhile, we meet one of the people tending the black rose: Souji Mikage, who’s apparently a powerful genius. He does work for professors but doesn’t take money, instead accumulating a powerful private circle called “The Circle of the Black Rose” — a seminar, of sorts. Miki, sweet Miki, is invited to meet with Souji and get invited in, but declines the invite.
As Utena and Anthy come back from visiting her brother, who doesn’t know her secret, they bump into Miki as he’s researching something. Utena, of course, doesn’t know the research building, but Miki reveals Nemuro Memorial Hall’s dark history: one hundred boys were buried alive there. Chillingly, the image that flashes up is the same as the one used in the final creepy moments of last week’s episode.
As they speak, Souji meets with his Rose Bride — Mamiya, the short-haired boy he’d been with in the episode’s opening. Though Mamiya should be the Rose Groom, forget those gender norms! But, yikes: Souji wants not only to make Mamiya the Rose Bride and gain the power of Dios, but he also plans on killing Anthy to make this happen. And to top it off, he too is in contact with End of the World.
Does that mean he’s challenging Utena himself? Well, it doesn’t seem like he knows who she is; he’s making his plans against an unknown Duelist, so he sets up a test. None other than Kanae shows up at Nemuro for an “interview”; during a long and flickering elevator ride down into its basement, she’s asked questions about her relationship, and reveals that it and her future marriage to Akio are arranged. It’s alright with her, except — Anthy doesn’t like her, and no matter how much she tries to get Akio’s little sister on board, Anthy is cold and alien. As this conversation gets deeper and more desperate on Kanae’s part, a decorative butterfly in a box, part of the elevator’s contents, devolves into a pupae, then a caterpillar, then a leaf. Souji enters the elevator, and tells Kanae that the path she must take has been prepared for her.
What’s this path? At the end of the elevator is a room with what I’m certain are a hundred pairs of shoes and what look like crypts on the wall, marked with black rose insignias. Apparently, the hundred boys of legend, all Duelists, “sleep” there, this room that apparently leads directly to End of the World. Souji opens a crypt and shows that a Duelist’s body is still there, as well as his rose crest ring, which turns black when the bearer dies. At this moment, Mamiya gives Kanae a black rose, and appears to stab it through her heart; as she protests, Souji gives her a black rose ring, and Kanae’s fate is sealed.
Later, Wakaba and Utena are hanging out; the former’s lamenting the peaceful state of the school. Utena then discovers a Duelist invite in her locker. She’s shocked; she really thought she was done. Here, a Shadow Girls skit: “At last, what I feared has come!” Remarkably, when one of the Shadow Girls asks what to do about a hypothetical wisdom tooth, Utena actually responds to her, saying, “Pull it out?”
Then, the duel, but when Utena enters the dueling ground, she finds one hundred desks set out, each topped with a bouquet of white lilies. On the ground, these desks are surrounded by sudden red silhouettes… of bodies.
Utena is shocked to see Kanae is the duelist, but Anthy seems to understand that Kanae’s changed. The blonde-haired girl, with a curdle in her voice, says she’s going to kill Anthy after the duel, but also lets slip that the black rose at her breast is what’s controlling her. So, they get to fighting, and Kanae is actually surprised by the fact that Utena channels the prince’s spirit in the duel. After Utena slices the black rose, Kanae is in agony: the ring dissolves into dust, the desks rearrange themselves, and Kanae falls into one of the red silhouettes on the ground. At the same time, in the Duelists’ keep, something jettisons one of the coffins/bodies into the dark and then into fire — the one from whose finger Kanae’s ring came.
In this way, Souji finds out that Utena is the Duelist, which changes his plans. He was originally going to just “freeze” other peoples’ hearts with the power of the black roses, but this won’t work against her and her prince power.
Later, Anthy goes to visit her brother. Apparently, Kanae doesn’t remember anything leading up to the duel, and Utena doesn’t feel like asking, but her guilt is undercut by curiosity.
But when Anthy visits her brother! She takes off her glasses, the planetarium lights go down, and… scene. The subtext, as well as Akio’s line deliveries, is incredibly creepy; and you thought Touga and Nanami were strange. I actually rewatched this scene several times, each time asking myself if I was reading too much into it. I don’t think I am.
WELL. There were certainly a lot of twists and turns here; the student council was child’s play compared to the mythology and mechanisms at work here. What’s Souji’s next move? When will we meet the short purple ponytail man again? And, how does this all fit in with whatever’s going on between Anthy and Akio? Until next time.
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Lilian Min has written for The Atlantic, Nylon, BuzzFeed, and others. Read her work here and tweet her here.
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