Revolutionary Girl Utena
by Jacob Chapman,
I made such a radical departure in the second half of this that you might as well ask yourself, "Is this the same show?" I did it to solidify the positions of Nanami's and Anthy's characters, but by the storyboarding stage, Anthy was becoming even more of a mysterious girl (!). Meanwhile, Nanami became more of an entertaining girl.
Is that all right? Sure it's all right.
I decided to operate according to the rule "Never give a character only one personality." I didn't want to reject "fun" on the grounds of "I can't get this character to be uniformly consistent."
— Kunihiko Ikuhara, RGU Remastered Commentary for Episode 4
Do you know? Do you know? Have you heard the news? Someone has been trying to kill Nanami Kiryuu! But who would want to do a thing like that? (Okay, okay, put your hands down, geez.)
In all seriousness, this villainy wasn't supposed to happen in more ways than one! Due to production woes, this episode had to be swapped with episode eight at the last minute, which makes a ton of sense once you see the full picture of this first 12-episode arc. It's a minor goof, but I would definitely say that the original placement works better than what we ended up with for several reasons. Even if they're both "filler" episodes (aka Nanami episodes), episode eight (which was supposed to be episode 6) is much sillier than even this boxing kangaroo adventure, and it sets up a few running gags and sentiments that episode six (which was supposed to be episode 8) takes to greater extremes.
If the order was swapped, episode eight's (6's) wackiness would have felt a lot more welcome as a breather between duels, just like this episode six (8) does now. Unfortunately, since the swap places it between two more game-changingly dramatic episodes, "the curry episode's" weirdness is going to feel like a step backward that the show has already kinda moved on from, leading many fans to label it the worst episode in the series. (It's not strongly disliked, mind you, but it's just so—well, you'll find out later.)
More importantly, there's also the way this episode ends, with one more crack appearing in Utena's armor over her feelings for Touga. Her defenses were first lowered in episode three, when she began to suspect him of being her long-lost prince. This "strike two", where she first sees him acting like a real prince by protecting his sister from danger (without a shirt) would have played a lot better leading directly into episode nine, which explores their relationship and Touga's motivations in greater detail. Anyway, these are minor nitpicks, and there's certainly nothing wrong with watching these two very silly episodes out of order, but I'll come back to this moment of Utena lowering her defenses for episode nine's review, since it works a lot better than the ludicrous ending of "the curry episode." (Bananas are involved...)
Like all Nanami episodes, "Take Care, Miss Nanami!" revolves around Touga. Wait, that doesn't seem right. Maybe I meant Nanami? The truth is that Nanami has her own serious episodes for character development and dueling, just like the other student council members. But for complicated reasons we'll dive into later, Touga doesn't tend to get his own focus episodes, but rather slivers of everyone else's episodes that slowly peel away the cipher hiding his true nature. That's because Touga, like Utena, Anthy, and one more character we've yet to meet, is a central pillar of the main story rather than a supporting cast member with a tangential arc. His duel episodes will be more about Utena herself and the overarching story than about him specifically, and he remains a hard guy to understand for many reasons. So these "Nanami episodes," while comical in nature and lighter on subtext than the dueling episodes, are used not only to explore Nanami, but her brother as well.
Besides making you laugh (which it does a great job of!), episode 6 has just one main thematic goal: creating a vicious cycle. Of course, lots of comedy revolves around cycles and repetition, and "Take Care, Miss Nanami!" is no different, as Nanami gets attacked by progressively more absurd animals or she orders her "boyfriend" Tsuwabuki to take on progressively more absurd tasks. But there's a darker series of cycles being set in motion this week as well: the cycles of abuse and neglect. In this case, I'm not referring to the most common cycle of abuse, which refers to the patterns of behavior between one abuser and their victim, but intergenerational cycles of abuse, where people pass down a warped understanding of love to their children or other loved ones because they were abused in a way they perceive to be "worse." While this sounds very serious for such a lighthearted episode, it makes an eerie amount of sense when you dig into the details, and Nanami's relationship with her brother won't always be such a laugh riot.
While it's much more common for people to suspect and dislike Touga early on these days, that wasn't always the case in Utena fandom. Touga was originally intended to come across as an arrogant but misunderstood dreamboat, like so many other "princes" in shojo anime, and the show was wildly successful at creating this impression when it came out in the '90s. Most fans implicitly assumed the best of Touga and loathed Nanami right away, but once again, Utena's goal is to make you question those assumptions. We've seen Touga repeatedly manipulate his sister to get what he wants (currently Utena Tenjou's attention), while offering her almost no kindness or validation in return, and we just accept it because, well, she's a bitch, right? But was she always that way, or was she driven over time to this desperation we find so hateable? It's a question that will follow not only Nanami, but many other characters throughout the show's run, especially when they're female.
That said, it's actually a boy who reveals the danger of this cycle to the audience, when little Tsuwabuki joins the Kiryuu family. After being ignored by Touga for so long, to such an extent that she doesn't find it weird that he would even plot to kill her (it's played for laughs, but keep it in the back of your mind for later), Nanami has finally found someone to shower her with attention. Even though he's just a child, it's still technically attention from a boy that Nanami has never received before, and the validation she feels from having her own pocket-prince is intoxicating. Even when he can't protect her from a rampaging kangaroo by episode's end, Nanami insists that Tsuwabuki remain in her life as the outlet for the frustrations a neglectful older brother has thrust upon her. Tsuwabuki can never be a perfect substitute for the real problems at Nanami's heart, but she'll still wring him dry in the hopes of filling the void, just as her brother has done with her.
Of course, this kind of abuse can't continue without consequences, and Nanami soon discovers that all the threats on her life were actually caused by her pint-sized rescuer! Without ever realizing it, Nanami has become the Touga figure in Tsuwabuki's life, driving him to destructive acts in pursuit of her approval—and in imitation of her brother. It's an oversimplified breakdown of intergenerational abuse patterns (the topic could fill a whole essay on its own) for an episode that largely treats the issue like a joke, but this theme will follow Utena throughout its run, so it's worth exploring when it bubbles up around the corners of even a goofy episode like this. All these three "siblings" need the same thing from one another, but each finds themselves unable to give it because of their own outstanding needs and because the ways they've been hurt have warped their understanding of how to express love.
This begs the question of who opened up such a power-hungry void in Touga's heart that he's been seeking to fill with Utena, the Rose Bride, and the power to revolutionize the world. I guess we'll find out later! For now, the climactic appearance of that kangaroo certainly was suspicious. Tsuwabuki couldn't have been responsible that time, but Touga already had his boxing gear ready to take care of the threat. Given the advantageous effect his rescue has on Utena, my own pet theory is that Touga was responsible for this marsupial madness, but I guess we'll never know for sure...
- Shadow Girl Corner: This week's shadow girl skit is actually the clearest indicator that this episode is about the psychology of abuse, as the girls down a "delicious" meal of curry on a camping trip in the wilderness. It's "delicious" because eating horrible poorly-cooked curry by a campfire under the brisk night air is supposed to be part of the experience so shut up and enjoy it. I get the feeling Ikuhara isn't a big fan of camping trips, but more importantly, this acts as a metaphor for the leniency with which victims accept even table scraps of affection from neglectful loved ones. When it's all you have available, and you've been conditioned to think that you don't deserve better, it's easy to convince yourself that bad food is just the best you can expect for your situation.
- While it is hilarious that Nanami continues to be the enemy of all creatures great and small, it's equally interesting that Anthy continues to play her opposite when it comes to animal approval. Not only does she have Chu Chu, but we also saw this in episode four with her dorm-sized menagerie of pesky critters. This is echoed once again in episode six, when Anthy refuses to kill the bugs who are eating her garden because "no matter what, a life is a life!" Is there some special reason that Anthy shows such an affinity for the beasties of the earth?
- Another casualty of the episode swap between six and eight is a quick gag about Saionji's exchange diary. While it's not completely out of nowhere, since we were told that he keeps a diary in episode two, Utena responds with surprising harshness to Saionji bringing it up this week, which seems a little strange. This will make a lot more sense after episode eight, when we get the joke that reveals just what kind of diary he's been keeping, which Utena already knows about since these episodes are out of order.
Next week, student council treasurer Juri Arisugawa steps in to make her bid for the Rose Bride. She's my personal favorite of all the duelists, so I'm excited to get into the twists and turns of her character arc (and her hairstyle)!
Jacob knows that fight would have gone very differently if the kangaroo had taken up kickboxing instead. You can follow Jake here on Twitter.
discuss this in the forum (214 posts) |
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history