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> Anthy as Viewer's Mirror

This analysis was donated by Azusa Kuraino .

Anthy as Viewer's Mirror; or, Embracing Our Inner Anthies

    Anthy has been interpreted by fans as everything from a literal witch to a goddess, a faerie to an alien to an innocent girl whose fate was forced upon her. Watching fan reactions to the series, and specifically to her character, is interesting because it generally reveals more about the fans than it does about Anthy. It is also interesting to me because, several years after watching the show for the first time (and under very different circumstances than those which I first watched it under), I found myself thinking that Anthy was really the character who was the most like me, not Utena or Juri or any of the overtly rebellious women the show gives us. (I'll let the reader decide what this reveals about me, as I have no clue.)

    I would respectfully submit that the character makes some viewers (especially female ones) uncomfortable because she reminds them of a good many traits she would rather not confront in themselves, and/or methods of resistance they almost wish they'd used in a world where the cards are already stacked against them by virtue of their gender.

    In ways, one could see her as Ikuhara's or Saito's attempt to force viewers to confront their own internalized double standards. When Akio (or Touga) manipulates, deceives, and leads people on, and does it all so well, the fans eat it up, and enshrine him as a sex icon. (Not to say he isn't or wasn't meant to be, but I digress.) When Anthy does the same thing on a lesser scale, fans call her a bitch, a slut, an unsympathetic character— essentially, the 'witch' that those who betrayed her accused her of being, and which Utena fiercely insists she is not. A case of fans missing the point, or are we meant to have to confront our double standards by our reaction to her?

    Anthy may seem to be the antithesis of a feminist icon, the passive, smiling Stepford Wife-like Rose Bride, who lets the man (men) in her lives use her in every way, including for sex. On another level, she displays the only form of resistance which is possible for a woman in her (hardly unprecedented) situation: she gains a form of control over the man who dominates her by making sure he becomes dependant on her, and making it clear to him that not only does she not need him in the same way he needs her, but that she won't always come through for support. Like many wives from time immemorial, she has to listen to him rattle off his list of sexual conquests, and then come back to her in the end when he wants someone who's guaranteed to have no resistance. Both of them know that, despite his philandering ways, at the end of the day, Akio still needs her more than she needs him.

    Utena is classified superficially as a shoujo series because of its focus on relationships and romance, but unlike in more conventional series such as Sailor Moon or Fushigi Yuugi, the protagonists are not meant to embody specific virtues, and not only do trusting innocence, love and faith in others' essential goodness not always carry the day, those who are too innocent and trusting suffer for it, becoming the exploited pawns of others. In this way, it is much more reflective of the real world than the typical 'love conquers all' shoujo outlook. Utena is not really a shoujo series in the traditional sense, although it masquerades as one; it defies attempts at simple categorization. It similarly defies attempts at easy analysis, even of its bit players; seemingly invites viewers to find allegory, but gives them no constant symbols to work with. In the end, as with the character of Anthy herself, few fans seem to be content to take it at face value, without searching for meaning that isn't.

    One of the more unusual aspects of her character is that, unlike any other character in Utena, she seems to shift drastically in age and appearance, going from a small petite schoolgirl in a uniform (when she's in classes with Utena and Wakaba) to a very mature and voluptuous woman (when having her liasons with her brother). Are we supposed to conclude that one of her many faces is the 'real' Anthy, and the others an illusion or glamour? Putting aside the unresolved (and probably unresolvable) arguments about whether Anthy is really a witch or not, whether her power consists of anything other than her emotional significance to the people in her life, and whether indeed anything we see in the show is meant to be objectively real, I think that instead the viewer is being shown Anthy as she appears to the other people in her life: she becomes a mirror not just for the viewer's attitudes towards her, but for those of the people in her life as well. To Utena, she becomes an innocent and passive schoolgirl; to Akio, beautiful and coldly remote as a goddess. When we see Anthy standing with her hair down in the planetarium, appearing to glow with radiant light while her brother ogles her from the couch, we see her through his eyes, his feelings about her translated into image: inhumanly beautiful and actively dangerous. This is his image of her which maintains a hold over him, as much as her own behavior does, and why he fears her. Is it reality? No, but neither is the small and passive schoolgirl seen by Utena. The one character in the series who is most humanly ambiguous is the one whom we are not allowed to see as she is, but only through others' eyes.

    Anthy can be called the most realistic character in the series for a number of reasons. She does not blatantly embody a single virtue or vice, as many anime fans are used to seeing in their characters; her motivations are often confusing, and probably unclear even to her, her behavior a paradox. She has some clear virtues— her love and compassion for animals, for instance— and a host of quirks which make her phenomenally confusing and difficult to live with; she swings from being remarkably childlike to displaying a very aged cynicism and sexual behavior which would be expected of a much older woman; she makes mistakes, sometimes very selfish and ignoble ones; she is a curious puzzle with no easy solution. She comes off as a human being dumped into a shoujo universe where every character except her is a morality play in miniature, and she, being human, has no clear 'message' to impart to viewers by her behavior or her life; she is what she is and no more.

    Whether her taking Dios away from the world which 'needed' him was a crime deserving of her ultimate fate is debatable. It is very difficult to watch the scene without concluding that she harbored some selfish motive and some malice towards the people who insisted on his help; it is also difficult for me to think that, even so, she wasn't delivering a well-deserved kick in the pants to a world which wanted someone else to be its savior rather than getting its own hands dirty, and to Dios whose excessive selflessness was literally killing him. In a way, Anthy is the antithesis of the typical shoujo heroine, in that not only are selflessness and blind trust not among her virtues, but she works actively to divest her brother (a male martyr for once) of these traits, seeing they will bring him no reward in the end, and forcibly confines him when he just won't stop. In most shoujo series, virtue is its own reward; in Utena, an excess of virtue is crippling. For an audience probably used to seeing love and friendship carry the day— and indeed, the beginning of Utena leads the viewer on somewhat, by playing up Utena's nobility and her compassion for Anthy, to think that this will be the same case— Anthy's all-too-human selfishness, jealousy and bitterness may seem completely morally unacceptable at first glance, never mind that most girls would have behaved much more like Anthy than like Sailor Moon in the same no-win situation.

    Of course, she is punished by a world which refuses to accept this from a woman, and perhaps she even saw her fate as an indication that she was right and the rest of the world was wrong. Witches cannot be princesses, but princesses cannot save themselves. Having voluntarily accepted a role, that of the 'witch,' which ensured her condemnation by society, she continues to rebel in her own ways. She does not accept her new role as a glorified Stepford Wife with smiling grace as her penance, but merely endures it, and chafes against it at every opportunity, though she perfects the blank smile. She allows herself to be overtly abused, but takes covert revenge against her tormentors— her brother by refusing to need him as much as he needs her, Kanae (who hurts her more by being her brother's trophy than through any intrinsic ill will) by refusing to show sisterly affection for her, and Nanami and her flunkies in... well, various ways— and likely enjoys doing it. This is taboo for most shoujo series, of course, but Anthy is a human dropped into a twisted shoujo universe (who wouldn't have thrilled to see the popular glamour-girl of the class, if they weren't one themselves, miserable and angsting?).

    One of the things that seems to go over many viewers' heads, perhaps simply through lack of life experience, is that some who suffer voluntarily for whatever reason, when confronted by an outsider insisting they don't deserve their fate, will often attempt to play up their worst and most malevolent traits in order to convince the other— and themselves— that they really deserve it; that they, without this, would be completely unsympathetic. Utena, not only by trying to convince Anthy that she doesn't want or deserve to be the Rose Bride, but by embodying the noble, hopeful innocence Anthy herself probably had at one point before she learned she could never be a princess, triggers this reaction in her.

    The essential problem is that if Anthy could be convinced of her self-worth, she would see not only the disgrace and futility of her own situation, but despair at the fact that she had no way to get out of it. Because she thinks she has no means of escape, she continues to reinforce to herself the idea that she is the witch the world names her; if she allowed herself to confront the idea that she didn't deserve this, it would magnify her own despair exponentially to see how she was trapped. Instead she allows herself to remain in her dysfunctional relationship with her brother, with him needing her (though he abuses her and calls himself the victim, as so many abusers do), nothing changing. Akio tells her to stab Utena in the final episode, but she also does it of her own will, to reinforce to herself the idea that there is and will never be any escape for her, that Utena was simply too naive and trusting to ever be her prince (although in her desperation she adds insult to injury by telling Utena 'it's because you're a girl'— who -could- be her prince?; she's too cruel, too stained and dirty). She once saw the door before her, and now she sees it closing; she shuts out all possibility that it could ever have been otherwise; she wants to deny to herself that she ever could have cared for Utena, that her heart had been soft enough.

    Of course, because Anthy is not a typical heroine, her ultimate 'rescue' is not a normal one either: although Utena shows her the way out, it remains her choice to take it, and ultimately, she rescues herself. She rejects the microcosm created by her brother, sees it as it is for a small, twisted power-play set against the scale of a much larger world, and finally turns her back on him. It may be difficult for viewers who have never been in a situation which they walked into voluntarily, but ended up trapping themselves in, which both tormented them and made them cruel, to understand how much courage it takes to turn around and not look back, and to trust that there is something better out there for them. Anthy's story is also the story of anyone who has ever been in a dead-end relationship, a bad friendship or peer group or family situation, any situation in which they allowed themselves to be confined because they felt they deserved no better, where the only power at their disposal was manipulation and subterfuge.

    Because of this, she remains to me the essential heroine of the series, more so than Utena, who came in with intrinsic nobility but was never shown having to strive for it. Her situation does not change; Anthy's does, and as a result of her own decision to turn away as much as because of Utena's obstinate caring for her and refusal to accept that she deserves her role. Indeed, at the end we see their roles reversed and Anthy, the more worldly and subtle of the two, setting out to be the one to rescue her prince, finding anew in herself the traits of good will, compassion and nobility, but having the experience to exercise them with caution (and, the viewer is led to assume, will use them to find a similarly wiser-for-wear Utena). Having earlier secured her own unhappy fate, she now becomes her own redemption and her own saviour.

    The idea that Anthy is not ultimately an empowered heroine, but simply a cardboard subservient female, is one which is laughable to me. (Who knew it was so simple? To just walk away, and not look back.) Akio, unredeemed by all the innocent trust Utena vested in him, remains at large, but still gets his unorthodox comeuppance: with Anthy, the center of his game, having discarded her role as the Rose Bride and walked out on him, the implication seems to be that his other players will one by one follow suit, walking away from his manipulations, whether figuratively or physically. Indeed, as Anthy departs from Ohtori Academy to find Utena, we see that although only one person remembers the girl who wanted to be a prince, Akio's power over the others seems to have lifted in portion: Kozue and Miki practice piano together, Shiori follows Juri as a friend with no apparent ill will, no longer bound by their obsessions and neuroses. With Anthy having finally seen the game for the illusion it is, the rest of Akio's world seems inevitably bound to come falling down around him, exposing him for a deceiver, a fraud, and— most of all— helpless without her. The revolution comes not by sword and fire, but simply through refusal to continue the masquerade. By making the choice to walk out on her brother, it is in fact Anthy herself— inspired by Utena— who brings the real revolution. If the one who had the most vested in her part can turn her back on the game, what reason is there for others not to follow her?

    Whether she employs it for good ends or ill, Anthy's real power comes from her acceptance of the darker parts of her own human nature, and her willingness to use them. She may smugly agree that they make her a 'bad person' who deserves her fate, a conniving witch, but she does not deny nor repress them. Though she only wields a sword once, she can arguably be called the most powerful of the characters, through her ability to stir emotions in people by reflecting unabashedly their worst qualities and to make others depend upon her. There is an undertone to Utena which cannot really be called Machiavellian, but which makes it clear to us that there are cases in which the ends do justify the means: the characters who ultimately bring about the most change and liberation— from major ones like Anthy to minor players like Ruka— often do it by highly unorthodox and manipulative means, but which nonetheless succeed in smacking other characters out of the navel-gazing status quo of their lives.

    Of course, manipulation won't get you everything in the Utena world— the title character herself shows that dogged faith and good will can have good ends (the events which lead to Anthy's release) as well as bad (her betrayal by Akio)— but it can go a pretty long way; and sometimes the only way to break free of manipulation is to become a manipulator oneself. Yet even for that, I find it difficult to see the series as cynical: one is left wondering if Anthy would have had the strength to turn away from her brother if she had not shared some of his more 'demonic' aspects. As I don't see Utena as being really didactic in the traditional sense, I can't go so far as to say that I think the message we as viewers are definitely meant to take is that we should embrace both our inner Utena and our inner Anthy, but I think without doubt on some level we are being asked to question our own moral systems, to identify with characters who embody often-denigrated qualities. "But was that really a good idea?" asks the narrator, of young Utena's desire to become a prince: and we are made to ponder this question not because Utena is a girl, but because we are shown in no uncertain terms that sometimes witches can get more done than princes can.

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.
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