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Revolutionary Girl Utena Newbie Recap: Episode 16, “The Cowbell of Happiness”

"I'm the talk of the school!"


Screen Shot 2016-04-23 at 11.51.56 PM

When I saw in the comments section that there was a Nanami episode coming up, I was sure nothing could beat the strangeness of the curry episode. Oh, I was wrong! I was so wrong. And, so the show’s strange obsession with Nanami and animals continues. (Definitely the perfect chaser for a slate of dark, twisty episodes.) (That was sarcasm, gimme some Black Roses!)

The episode begins innocuously enough. Like many of us, Anthy enjoys watching infomercials and eating junk food late at night. She spies a particularly fetching item on sale; a necklace from Sebastian Dior.

The next night, Nanami’s hosting a special party. Her flunkies praise every aspect of her outfit, but she’s yet to unveil her crowning jewel, the reason for the party: a gorgeous designer pendant. Alas, Jury walks into the party wearing an even more exclusive necklace (from a designer client, no less) and Nanami’s overshadowed, just like that.

Just then, a package from Sebastian Dior (whom Miki and Jury ooh and ahh about) arrives. The show makes a great scene of its opening, to find that this custom piece of jewelry is…


/insert Pulp Fiction joke/

…actually a cowbell. The rest of the party attendees think Nanami’s a freak, but she believes that they’re speechless at her overwhelming beauty and refinement.

The next day, Utena sees Nanami and her cowbell for the first time. With anime humor music (you know, those slightly rollicking, slapstick-y tunes) playing in the background, Utena calls the situation out as it is.


Saving this as a stock reaction .GIF

Still, Nanami’s feeling the cowbell, though none of the other students do and actively gossip about her. Tsuwabuki, her lil manservant, gets close to telling Nanami just how strange she looks. She stops him from finishing his thought, when Utena bluntly steps in and says what nobody else is. Nanami does get a decent parting shot; isn’t Utena’s boys’ uniform then also a little weird, in terms of standing out? They get in a shouting match, and Nanami seems her regular sassy self.

But then, a purple-hued dream sequence in which Nanami appears to inhabit the body of a cow. (I can’t believe I just typed those words.)



Luckily, Touga appears! But instead of being her kindly big brother, he feeds cow!Nanami and then… has her slaughtered to make steak, which he gleefully eats. (This is a very on-the-nose analysis of their relationship and that freaks me out.)

Yet, even after this disturbing dream, she still wears the cowbell. It appears to make her calmer, less proud, but she’s also started wearing a cow-print shirt, eating more meals, and replying in phrases with looooong voooooooowels. (This is a feature of the subs; in the audio, she’s actually just straight-up mooing, which is admittedly a little less subtle.)

Things escalate when she adds a cow ears headband.


…it’s actually kinda cute

Tsuwabuki later comes to Anthy and Utena in crisis. (Aside, of course Anthy falls asleep while kneeling and knitting.) They find Nanami under the glow of a full moon, eating… grass.

This episode’s Shadow Girls is, ironically enough, extra dark: a group of mice decide to put a bell on a cat to serve as a warning for them. One mouse says that they’d already put the bell on, but they’re actually colluding with the cat so the other mice get eaten. In exchange, the cat would spare the mouse’s life… except it doesn’t. Here, both Utena and Tsuwabuki respond: “You reap what you sow.” “Totally.”

The morning finds Nanami wandering into a grazing cow field, where Utena tries to talk real sense to her. That fancy logo on the cowbell? It’s actually Cow-stein Dior. (Aside: groan.) And hey Nanami, that cowbell is a c o w b e l l. Nanami still believes in her humanity, but then Anthy finally finishes her knitting piece—a red sweater. It then appears for a brief moment that Nanami comes to her senses. This is far from the case.

Triggered by the red sweater, Nanami turns into a cow.


I didn’t want to include a shot of the endlessly disturbing full cow!Nanami so this vaguely menacing headshot will have to do

Utena finally has to “duel” her, and in the process, breaks the cowbell off. At a later student council meeting (minus Nanami), Jury and Miki speculate as to the appeal of the cowbell to Nanami, and the mysterious sender of the cowbell.

Turns out that package was for, wait for it, ANTHY and her cow NANAMI which is more proof that Anthy might be secretly and deliciously evil, but in a righteous way. But there’s more—Anthy had also ordered a nose-ring, which was on its way. Of course, the episode ends with Nanami, face obscured, walking into the student council meeting. Judging by Miki and Jury’s reactions… yup, she’s wearing it. Well, the show’s creators couldn’t have anticipated that whole septum piercing thing, eh?

So. I have a decently high tolerance for wacky humor, even when it’s tightly juxtaposed against really, really, really dark stuff. That said, Utena is truly a show that takes this to an extreme. Will we ever find out the common thread uniting all of Nanami’s weird animal-related stuff? Is Anthy actually kind of diabolical? Hey, can we get back to the Black Roses? Until next time.

Tweet your thoughts on Episode 16 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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