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> 4.0 Excursus – Revolutionary Girl Utena and The Shell of the World

Cosmopolitan Designs in Salman Rushdie's 'The Enchantress of Florence'
and Hermann Hesse's 'Demian'
(Including an excursus on Kunihiko Ikuhara's anime-series 'Revolutionary Girl Utena')

This analysis was donated by Meike Nederveld.

4 Excursus – Revolutionary Girl Utena and The Shell of the World

If it cannot break the shell of the world,
the chick will die without ever being born.
We are the chick, the egg is the World.
If we cannot break the shell of the world,
we will die, without ever being born.
Destroy the shell of the world!
For world revolution!
   (Shoujo Kakumei Utena)

Wer geboren werden will, muß eine Welt zerstören.
Der Vogel Kämpft sich aus dem Ei.
Der Vogel fliegt zu Gott.
Der Gott heißt Abraxas.
Das Ei ist die Welt.
   (Demian, P.107)

     Kunihiko Ikuhara's multimedia Bildungsroman Shôjo Kakumei Utena was (almost) simultaneously released as a manga-comic12 (1996) and an animated TV-series (anime) (1997). In 1999 a theatrical movie followed13. There is also a video game and a musical14. With the exception of the videogame, which tells a standalone story set between two episodes of the series, all its iterations tell roughly the same story revolving around the same key characters, but with different priorities. Common themes of all are coming-of-age, sexuality and gender, "forbidden" love, abuse, friendship, magic, the devil, roses and cars.

     Ikuhara was creatively involved in all these works, but as a director he was most involved in the series and the movie, the former of which shall be the one most referenced in this paper, since of the two the series came first. An occasional reference to the movie might be made, however, to highlight certain points.

4.1 Outline of Plot and Characters

     Shôjo Kakumei Utena is set at and around the campus of Ôtori Academy, a multi- branch boarding school including every level of education, from kindergarten to university. Against this background, an allegory of youth itself, the heroine, 14 year old Utena Tenjô, has asserted the role of the slightly awkward tomboy, successfully hiding her own insecurities behind a mask of righteous strength and nobility. Utena wears a stylized boy's uniform and refers to herself in the masculine form "boku", mimicking the memory of a fairytale prince who comforted her when, as a little girl, she had just lost her parents. In her righteousness, she soon comes into conflict with members of the student council, in truth a dueling fraternity with occultist rituals reminiscent of freemasonry, and in a duel, unwittingly, wins the coucil's "prize": Anshi Himemiya15, a girl of (apparently) Indian origin, dubbed the "Rose Bride". Anshi is now Utena's "fiancée", and can summon a magical sword from her bosom, with which Utena must fight the members of the student council, who in turn try to win Anshi back, because the Rose Bride is said to be the key to the "power of world revolution". The series spans four major story arcs, three of which cover the duels for the possession of the Rose Bride.

     In the first arc, the members of the student council are introduced and subsequently challenge Utena: Saionji, the tragically comic samurai-spirit who is madly in love with Anshi, but regularly abuses her, Miki, the shy genius who longs to relive the early childhood closeness with his twin sister by being close to Ashi, Juri, the captain of the fencing club who hates Anshi and the very idea of the mystical, because she gave up on seing her own lesbian desires for another girl (miraculously) fulfilled, Tôga, the council president who knows more about Utena's past than he lets on, the only one to actually beat her in a duel, and Nanami, Tôga's little sister, whose incestuous desire for her brother arouses her jealousy of Anshi, the Object of the dueling "game". This way, she also becomes the protagonist of a few comic relief episodes, in which she tries to sabotage Anshi, but constantly has her plans foiled by strange happenings involving body- switching curry, wild elephants or being turned into a cow.

    The second arc – "Black Rose" – introduces three more players: Mikage and Mamiya16, figures, as it turns out, of a past long gone, who share an uncanny resemblance with Utena and Anshi, though gender-inverted, and, most importantly, Akio Ôtori, the school's principal and Anshi's older brother, who turns out to be the one behind the dueling game and all the powers of the mystical surrounding it, and whom Utena, oblivious to this, starts to look up to as an advisor. The arc deals with the "shadows"17 of the charismatic main cast, the tragic extras to their stories: Akio's fiancee, Tôga's admirer, Nanami's grade school henchman, Juri's crush, Saionji's replacement for Anshi – and Utena's best friend. Each of them have their brief moment in the spotlight, before they, too, are defeated by Utena, but in the end, by a narrative twist, the whole arc is declared nonexistent, and the action continues where it left off after the first arc.

    The third arc explores the conflicts raised in the first two arcs in more depth, while Utena and Anthy move in with Akio, who resides at the principal's tower, a gigantic phallic object overlooking the campus. The two girls now sleep in adjoining beds, and talk each evening, the subject and manner of the conversation slowly turning more and more eerie, as Utena remains impervious to suggestions that Anshi may be hiding a horrible secret. The secret is revealed when Nanami stays at the tower and discovers Anshi and Akio's incestuous relationship. Utena, still unaware of this, and by now infatuated with the principal, accompanies him on an outing. They end up at a hotel, where he seduces18 her.

    The last arc is permeated with flashbacks, explaining what happened when Utena lost her parents, and how Akio and Anshi came to be what they are: Akio was once the prince "Dios", the champion of the people, but when he lay suffering from a wound, his sister seduced him to make him "disappear", so he could not be made to fight. When she confronts the masses, saying that he now belongs to her, she is called out for a witch and stabbed by a thousand swords. Her brother, no longer "Dios" is now "Akio" meaning the "morning star", latin: "lucifer", and Anshi, the witch, is the source of his power. It turns out that Utenas encounter with the prince was actually an encounter with Anshi, the sight of whom, impaled by countless swords but immortal, incites her sympathy, and she vows to be the prince who saves her – the prince her brother cannot be.

    During the final showdown between the three, however, Anshi is unable to put her trust in Utena, runs her through with the prince's sword, and finally volunteers to face the thousand disembodied swords again, to enable her brother to seize the power of revolution. Her ritualized sacrifice is a symbol of how the power of patriarchy stems from the penetrability of the female body. He fails to open the symbolic gateway, however, but Utena, still clinging to her ideals, manages to pry open the doors of revolution, seeking still to save Anshi from the swords. Behind the door, she finds Anshi in a coffin, where her true self had been locked all this time, and they touch for a brief instant, before Anshi and her coffin fall into the abyss and the thousand swords, having crushed Akio, then smash into Utena. This final image is rather disturbing as it can be read as symbolizing corrective rape, the swords turning on the lesbian woman who poses a threat to patriarchy as she removes the female body its power is built on, but on the other hand, the destruction of the heroine Utena is part of the process of destroying the "shell of the world", so the adult Utena can be born in the outside world.19

    The aftermath shows life at Ôtori Academy going on as before, with only slight alterations. Akio plans to set up a new dueling game, but Anshi, having discarded her school uniform, leaves him and the school to go search for Utena, who she is convinced now lives in the outside world.

4.2 Shared Themes

     Hesse's Demian is usually cited as the literary model for Shôjo kakumei Utena20 Like Sinclair, Utena first encounters the supernatural when she is very young, and the encounter leaves a mark. While in Demian this mark is abstract and invisible, Utena is given a tangible sign: a signet ring depicting a rose. The rose functions as a replacement for Demian's sparrow hawk21, as a symbol of that first encounter, a guide towards reunion, as well as a reminder of the greater context of the characters within a community. In both cases, the encounter in early childhood is, however, laden with the taboo of a sexually charged abuse – Sinclair feels violated by Kromer (who also poses a threat to his sister's sexual integrity) and at the same time feels a masochistic delight when imagining Demian in Kromer's place, while Utena witnesses Anshi writhing in pain from a multitude of swords driven through her body – and both rationalize their experience through the heterosexual (though the objects in both cases are rather androgynous) desire for an idea personified. It is only once they have moved beyond this desire, that their homoerotic attraction resurfaces, albeit amidst the catastrophe.

     A very interesting feature of Utena in relation to both Demian and Enchantress is the localization of the origin of magic in India, as it draws precisely from the point of thematic interface between Hesse and Rushdie. In Enchantress, europe and the middle east are the realm of potato- and polenta-magic, and of necromancy, while the true magic, bordering on the divine, either comes from, or happens in, India. In Utena, Anshi also wields petty magic to thwart Nanamis Plots – such as curry magic or controlling elephants. This sort of magic is stereotypically indian, while Akio's petty magic – using his planetarium's projector to create illusions and seducing women and men with his sports car – is technical trickery, but the real divine magic that she and Akio control seems far more universal, just like the Magic of Qara Köz and Akbar.

     The most striking similarity between Utena and Rushdie's Enchantress, however, is the way both deal with taboo and society. Rushdie italicizes the word "witch", which Qara Köz identifies as „the word that made it unsafe for her to remain“ (Rushdie 296). "Witch" is also stressed again and again as Anshi's "true identity" within the embedded narrative of a stage play that tells the stylized story of Anshi and Akio's origins. It is also the word cried by the mob attacking Anshi, and whispered by the thousand swords. The other word, mirroring „witch“, similarly introduced and italicized, is "incest", "a word so powerful that it could severely damage the esteem in which the emperor was held, and maybe even rock his throne" (Rushdie 325). The taboo of incest, as Akbar suggests, is one of the constituting features of human society (Cf. Rushdie 338), which also holds true for the society depicted in Utena. While Nanami flirts with the idea of a romance with her brother, actually seing what it is she naively desires, looking at the face of the taboo played out, traumatizes her. Still, in Utena, as well as Enchantress, both the witch and the unholy communion of incest are not presented as purely evil, but ambiguous. The witch is at once the enchantress, and through incest, magic is born. Niccoló Vespucci, the androgynous enchanter, is the product of incest, and only the incestuous love of Akbar for Qara Köz, whose ambassador he is, can realize the middle passage her magic has forged, and make the world round – that is to say, enable it to revolve, revolutionize it.

4.3 Queerness as a Version of Cosmopolitanism

    Most of the central Characters in Utena have a certain queerness to them. Utena crossdresses, and her sapphic tension with Anshi is a central motive of the series. Saionji and Tôga, the Kendo sparring-partners, are childhood friends, but their relationship is charged with homoerotic imagery22. Miki and his twin sister are mirror images, reflecting the male within the female and vice versa. Juri is a lesbian. Even Anshi, usually femininely demure in the role of the rose bride, is at one point transformed into the boy Mamiya to enable Akio to manipulate Mikage, who is bisexual, and fixated on Mamiya. Only Nanami, who drifts in and out of the student council, never really becoming a part of it, is almost painfully in line with gender conventions23, even calling out the others for their "abnormal" behavior. Lastly, Akio, the rich, sportscar-driving playboy antagonist, is the epitome of male sexual power, that only cares for the hierarchy of penetration, less so for the gender of the penetrated.

     In the earlier chapters I hope to have established Rushdie and Hesse's cosmopolitanism as requiring a noble predisposition. The citizens of the world are drawn, by curiosity, by trauma, by love, out of their native contexts into a world that is strange to them, or they are confronted with the strange as it enters their world, but they are already significant when their call arrives. In episode 20, when Utena wonders why her plain friend Wakaba suddenly seems illuminated by some inner light, Akio puts it this way:

Akio: There are special people in the world.
Akio: And they are always noticed.
Akio: For example, like yourself...
Akio: That is the special quality that you carry from birth.
Akio: Most people are but a single person amongst multitudes.
Akio: However, given the slightest chance, they will shine with a light that they have never had before.

     It is clear that the "special people" are the main cast. They are separated from the rest of the student body by both the way they dress, and the colors associated with them. Their uniforms are different, and mirror their hair colors - primary colors and their complements, plus Utena's "girl"-pink. They all excel at something, are rich and/or beautiful, and as a result of this are revered by the other students. They also form the „true“ government of the school, controlling students and teachers alike, and serve as tutors and advisors. This is the very image the stoics proposed as the ideal citizen. The androgyny of their dress, especially in the case of the women, Juri and Utena, can be read as the negative claim of the cynics: I am as a prince among men, thus I do not have to adhere to the standards of gender. Lastly, the idea of human rights advocated on the background of an impartiality towards, in this case, social conventions of gender, aligns with 18th century ideas of cosmopolitanism. Utena uses her special status to defend other people, or to act as a go-between, never judging. However, her impartiality is an illusion insofar as others will still stereotype her, namely Akio and Tôga, who both attempt to put her in a dress, and make her conform to the role she is born into.

    Anshi, in this scheme, is the passively displaced. She does not choose queerness, but being a victim of sexual abuse, she is already outside of the normative system of sexuality, and is additionally forced to be "engaged" to whoever wins her, no matter the gender. The magic she employs, thus, is a strategy for survival. She grants her powers to the victor to avoid being displaced again, but switches sides24 once he is defeated, just as Qara Köz does.

     Finally, the very idea of world revolution is born of cosmopolitan thought. For Demian, Hesse draws strongly from anarchist and trotzkist thought, and the revolution to come is "der Wille der Menschheit [...], den unser Europa eine Zeitlang mit seinem Jahrmarkt von Technik und Wissenschaft überschrien hat" (Hesse 160), a global happening which will impact all humankind. In Utena, set in a limited subspace of the world, a microcosm, this revolution must be limited as well, so where Demian's revolution turns out to be the first world war, Utena presents the viewer with a bisexual, fatal love triangle, the question whether or not to wear a dress, and the removal of the pillars of patriarchy.

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10 One could even argue further that Akbar, who is introduced slaying another ruler, a "holier- than-thou type of youth" (P. 35) and whose last chapter begins "He was Adam's heir, not Muhammad's", is, in this way, even more explicitly likened to the figure of Cain.
11 Citing page 139 of Jung, C.G. Synchronicity, an Acausal Connecting Principle. London: Routledge, 1972.

Personality + Relationship + Narrative + Miscellany + Music

Introduction + Characters + Reference + Submission

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Analysis of Utena + Empty Movement

Akio is no rapist, he is just an opportunist that makes his home a school full of emotionally compromised teenagers. This frame is actually pulled from the Metropolitan Museum of Art archives.
I considered making this a time gif that would occasionally flash Dios as having a ponytail. Then I got lazy.
I know this layout is sort of a spoiler, but so was the closing of the first season, so suck it.
This is far and away the most complex layout I have coded, and I know it does not look like it.
So are they waltzing or foxtrotting or what?
Because according to Ikuhara, if it were Akio, they would be doing the lambada.
These swords ended up looking like the crosses in Evangelion. I left it on purpose because hellz yeah.
I wanted this layout to look like a fairy tale. It ended up looking like a French textile exhibit. Oops.
Polly want some C4? Sorry, coding and Colbert do not mix.
It is March. It is snowing. It is Canada.
You know what is an awesome idea? Coding on your rag. That is smart.