was donated by Ashnod
The earliest appearances of Juri reveal just enough about her to
make her an antagonist to the far more likeable Utena. Ikuhara himself,
in the director's commentary to the UTENA movie, all but says that
Juri was developed specifically to play against Utena, despite their
similarities. Certainly, we see her being fairly polite with Miki
and carefully observing his duel with Utena from a distance. But
it's the slap at Anthy in Episode 7 that most viewers identify with
Juri. It's not until much later in the series when it's made obvious
how much Anthy was baiting Juri in that moment, but by then, the
damage is done. The berating of Utena at the fountain later in the
episode amplifies this. Only her acknowledged dislike of Touga and
his manipulations keeps her from remaining a completely unsympathetic
character until the Black Rose saga.
However, just before the Black Rose saga, something important happens.
Juri actively works to help Utena defeat Touga to regain the status
of the One Engaged. From a narrative standpoint, the simple donation
of her sword to Utena seems out of place: this moment is far more
suited to Miki, who was not only on far better terms with Utena
but had far more reason to work against Touga (Kozue's tryst with
Touga a few episodes earlier). This becomes focal when examining
the totality of Juri's character in the series.
Her story with Shiori paints her to be the sympathetic party, and
it's interesting to note that Shiori is the most negatively written
of all the Black Rose duelists. Unlike Kozue, Tsuwabuki, Kanae,
Keiko, and Wakaba, only Shiori actively wants to hurt the person
whose sword she takes, and only Shiori continues to torment the
object of her obsession into the next story arc.
Shiori's statement to Mikage in the elevator is confusing: Juri
is popular and loved by all? When did that happen? We know that
Touga and Saionji have hoardes of devoted girls, but Juri? This
is the character that everyone not on the Student Council fears,
including teachers. As Shiori and her companions pass by Juri at
the end of the episode, even her companions take time to mention,
"Isn't Arisugawa-sempai scary?"
Come the Ohtori Akio saga, we're finally given a glimpse into the
person Juri really is. One of her fencing students is injured, and
Juri takes the time to console her and visit her in the hospital.
This is quite unlike the imperious girl we've seen throughout the
series, but it's focal to understanding who she really is. This
is a girl who has a very high sense of duty and honor, and who honestly
cares about those she's responsible for, but in the sense of the
overall narrative of Utena, someone who has to be seen as an antagonist.
Her portrayal as a bitter and cold victim is played up to give her
a reason to duel and to oppose Utena.
Note: Juri is the only Duelist that Utena never defeated. Every
other member of the Student Council had their rose cut from their
breast by Utena, but even with Dios' power Utena could not defeat
Juri. That the Sword of Dios fell EXACTLY where it needed to (also
completely impossible by the angle Juri took it out of Utena's hand
from) was not a miracle in so much as it was Anthy intervening to
prevent Utena's defeat. (This was not something Anthy could do against
the first duel with Touga, as Utena walked mindlessly and broken
into Touga's trap. And it’s also possible that Anthy let Utena
lose, knowing how Utena felt about Touga at that time.) Anthy is
certainly capable of it: she demonstrated obvious free-will in distracting
Miki and betraying Touga in other duels, and it's obvious by her
consistent torture of Nanami and the body switch with Utena that
she's capable of magic. Utena was no closer to defeating Juri in
their second duel when the Dios lunge took the one thing that would
prevent Juri from continuing the duel: the locket with Shiori's
picture. As significant as the first duel was in illustrating Juri’s
fencing skill, the second duel brings up a far more interesting
facet of her character.
Was the locket strike a distraction? There’s a lot of conjecture
that Utena/Dios struck the locket for the purpose of freeing Juri,
but another possibility exists. After all, none of the other Duelists
had such a favor granted them by Dios, and it’s highly doubtful
Utena knew to take the locket, which leaves the lunge in Dios’s
control. Why the locket and not the rose? First off, Juri had blocked
the Dios lunge before. It was therefore unlikely to succeed on a
second attempt. Additionally, Juri wasn’t expected Utena to
try to the locket. Utena didn’t even realize it. She wouldn’t
have been defending there and in all likelihood, was defending the
rose. Finally, taking the locket eliminates Juri from being an effective
opponent. It’s a tactic that Ruka used earlier in the episode
to infuriate Juri sufficiently so that she was easy prey for him
in their duel. Even if Juri hadn’t forfeited the duel after
the locket broke, it’s doubtful she would have been emotionally
able to put up a reasonable offense against Utena after that. Either
way, Utena wins.
Concurrently, Juri is also the only member of the Student Council
that wasn't coerced into dueling by Akio (or working with him in
some fashion). Her agreement with Ruka was made before Akio showed
her whatever it was he showed the other members of the Council.
This is important because unlike Ruka’s duel one episode previously,
Juri is dueling for entirely selfless reasons. At this point, she
knows she isn’t going to win Shiori over. She can’t
move past her, but she recognizes that her love will always be unrequited.
She’s dueling to free Shiori from Ruka, and isn’t expecting
to get anything out of it except that. Ruka, as a comparison, obviously
wants something from Juri even if it is only a kind word for his
help, or acknowledgement that he was in some way important to her.
Which is why his duel failed as much as Touga’s third duel
failed: both of them were dueling for another but not completely
selflessly. Juri, on the other hand, was dueling selflessly at that
moment and that makes her, in the second duel, Utena’s equal.
As Utena duels for Anthy, Juri is dueling for Shiori. In some ways,
Juri’s nobility goes completely unrecognized here. She is
dueling for someone who by all appearances despises her. Dios can’t
defeat Juri, since Juri is now operating on the same plane of nobility
as Utena and is a far better swordswoman. The only option open to
prevent Juri from winning is to make Juri lose heart, ergo, take
the locket. That Juri isn’t over Shiori after the locket’s
destruction indicates that it’s doubtful Dios (possibly Anthy?)
was doing Juri a favor by destroying it, and instead, knew that
Utena was going to lose otherwise.
aspect of Juri is marred, almost irreparably so, by the focus on
her love for Shiori, her cold nature towards Utena and Anthy, and
her fear of having her lesbianism discovered. Utena reminds Juri
of the person she used to be, innocent and idealistic. Of course
Juri is going to react negatively to someone so similar. She sees
more of herself in Utena than she sees Shiori, despite her own words,
and it frustrates her to think that she was ever so vulnerable.
Juri is what Utena would have been had Utena been crushed as Juri
was. Utena, on the other hand, is what Juri used to be and showed
the potential to be again: a Prince. Albeit a broken Prince, but
the strength and nobility that is admired in Utena was present in
Juri as well.