Flower Girl: Himemiya Anthy
from the Crocketts song of the same name.
The concept of Shoujo Kakumei Utena's duels is straight out of quasi-Medieval romances and Regency-set romantic novels: the valiant young blades duel for the royal bride after she has given them her tokens of roses. The concept, of course, is far more elegant than what we see of the practice. In the imagined romantic duel, the bride is distanced, in a bunting-heavy pavillion or swooning over letters in the private suite of a tavern, but in the duels of SKU Anthy stands and watches, even takes part by producing the sword or in certain cases helping. The imagined romantic duel is for the honour of the princess, a matter of thrown gauntlets and pure motives, but Anthy is treated as either a means to an end or a posession.
But then, the general image of the Medieval and the Arthurian is highly, well, romanticised. The late-Medieval Chatelaine, about whom most of the European ideal of the princess-in-the-tower has been constructed with reference back to and rewriting of Arthurian romance (thank you Petrarch), is the beautiful woman of gentle birth set apart on a pedestal, made a goddess and untouchable. This, it is now believed, was a thin veil over a culture of misogyny and male chauvinism. Inventing the woman as a 'goddess' restricted her to the pursuits of a goddess, of a mannequin: her duty was to be beautiful and idle rather than to work or hold any kind of real rank. The Chatelaine was a posession, going to the richest bidder rather than choosing for herself, was essentially a chattel like any other household good.
Substitute the high tower for the castle in the sky, and it becomes fairly obvious that the Rose Bride has more in common with the Chatelaine than one would at first assume. Anthy as the Rose Bride is the object of whoever owns her, never the subject. Her relations with Saionji are a good example of this. It is hard to argue with the fact that Saionji thinks he is in love with Anthy, but even harder to argue with the fact that Saionji is, quite frankly, a bastard to her (for the record? Saionji is quite possibly my favourite SKU character, whiny bitch that he is). He sees quite clearly that, since she is the Rose Bride and he the champion duelist, she is his property to do with as he will, and that Touga's protestations are nothing more than the illusion of chivalry which masks deep-set misogyny.
"Bride" is a surprisingly difficult word to define, referring to that transitional period in between "fiancee" and "wife". A normal "bride" only exists for a short period, wedding service and maybe honeymoon, before she settles down into the role of "wife": and where "fiancee" is a state of waiting and "wife" is a domestic term, "bride" has all the connotations of joining, of sex. Anthy is kept in a constant state of "bride", each duel another wedding, and, really, considering the fact that Anthy takes it as normal that she moves in with the champion duelist the moment they win her, moves in to an otherwise empty dormitory building which Saionji as a previous champion duelist knows how to find (identifying that he has been there before, for however long), and this all happening in the hypersexualised world of Utena as it is... well, just consider it. Utena, Juri and Miki are hard to imagine as having taken advantage of this, out of disgust or sheer wide-eyed innocence: Saionji and Touga are not, and Akio (as the assumed eventual winner of the duels, the eventual winner of all the sequences of duels which have come before) and Anthy are, well, canon.
Shoujo Kakumei Utena, being an anime about childhood and adulthood, takes much of its ideas from the traditions of fairy tales: the prince on a white horse, the princess who needs saving, the mysterious chorus aware of everything that is going on, and so on. And, as a fairy tale, it necessitates the presence of a witch. This witch would, of course, be Anthy: in episode 34, The Rose Signet, in which the shadowplay girls present a version of the exposition, we are told there is a witch who plans to steal away all the light from the world (that is, the Rose Prince, who is the light in the world: eternal, shining, miraculous, and revolutionary) and there is an immediate cut to Anthy (subtlety, of course, is one of SKU's bywords.).
The stepmother-witch of the fairy tale "Snow White" is ultra-feminine in her preoccupation with physical beauty as a means of keeping power over her husband and men in general - "who is the fairest of them all?" - and finds Snow White to be a threat once she shows signs of developing adult beauty while retaining childhood innocence. The point of view which the story of "Snow White" presents us with is that of the child, imagining the 'stepmother' as the check upon their enjoyment of life with her insidious apple. Marina Warner - and, I think, also Angela Carter - have shown in studies of fairy tales that the term 'stepmother' is a later addition, that the Evil Woman was originally the mother, before sanitised versions (such as those of Grimm) were written, versions in which the threat was made more distant. After all, the mother wanting to destroy her child is an idea less than conducive to family values. Certain psychiatric theories of child development hold that the mother becomes seen as a dangerous being by the child because of her ability to grant succour, and, by extension, also take it away: the poison is hidden within a fruit, symbolic not only of biblical downfall but also of fecundity and reproduction.
The Witch prevents the Prince from helping the other princesses in an attempt to protect him: she takes on the maternal role of the protector, yet also the threatening role of the one standing in the way of the child's desires. Unlike Utena, he is unable to retain his "strength and nobility" (from the subtitles to the official dvd, the beginning of the first episode) as he grows up, and he blames the witch for this. Dios 'dies' when his desires are not granted, and is replaced with the corrupted Akio, the 'adult' version (for more discussion of the Dios/Akio divide, read the Akio character study).
The Witch's punishment for taking on this protective-denying role is to become the Rose Bride, to become an adult woman who must marry, must take her 'engagements' seriously where Akio does not his. As the Bride, she is first both chattel and Chatelaine, accepting her treatment at the hands of whichever duelist has won her, and then is attacked with the "million swords that burn with humanity's hatred": she must become a woman through pain, while she is within the bounds of the Academy (the "garden" of Akio's speech, the "coffin" of hers).
In Ursula LeGuin's short story, "The ones who walk away from Omelas", she brings up the idea of the scapegoat - as in Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, as in William James' The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life, but I am far more enamoured of her writing style than either of those greats - who, by living a life of constant suffering, ensures that everyone else in the city of Omelas has the perfect, happy life. "They all know it is there, the people of Omelas... they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvests and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly upon this child's abominable misery." Some, of course, cannot accept the idea that to free the child would be to let misery into the lives of everyone in Omelas, to let in guilt, even if they accept that the child, ruined by its miserable life, would not be able to understand or indeed survive the free and joyous world outside its cell. These are the ones who walk away from Omelas: they cannot stand to live dependent on another's misery.
Anthy the witch - Anthy the Rose Bride - is a similar scapegoat, but only the duellists and Akio are aware of her misery. Most accept the necessity of her suffering, or are unable to quite understand it and think it less: but Dios is one who walks away from Omelas, accepts Anthy's suffering but locks himself away in order to have no part in it (only appearing as - I had to say it sometime - a Dios ex machina in Utena's duels), and Utena is one who refuses to walk away but frees the child instead. Because Anthy is not quite the scapegoat-child of Omelas - she is able to see what life might be like as a 'normal' student (as far as normal goes in Ohtori Academy, which is, admittedly, not very far), and retains the memory of being a little sister before she ever was a witch - Anthy can be 'saved'.
We are told by the shadowplay girls (episode 34, again, the source of all exposition) that girls who cannot be princesses have no choice but to become witches. Yet, for Utena, Anthy is a princess - and by extension, no witch. Either that, or Anthy has managed to circumvent these 'rules': has managed to work her way around them to become both Witch and Princess.
The problem is, of course, that it is all too easy to think the Shadowplay Girls are telling us what is really going on. It is entirely possible that they are spreading disinformation: it is a play, a tale, and not necessarily an parable. Truth is, after all, highly subjective: Akio says he is a prince, but he is a less than moral character and by the last episode claims he is not. No-one suggests the play is the truth - Akio calls it 'very sophomoric', which is one of those put-downs everyone should use - except the audience (the viewership), who are used to trusting the shadowplay girls for their oblique realities of what is happening. The story Dios tells the child-Utena, the story Utena remembers, is quite different.
We only 'know' that the Prince is 'eternal, shining, miraculous, and revolutionary' because the witch in the shadowplay has told us so: yet Touga tells Saionji (not that Touga can be trusted, either) that Utena is the girl who has been shown something eternal by the prince. What the prince shows her - that which is eternal, which must also be that which is shining, the power of miracles and to revolutionise the world, since these are all conflated into one prize for which the students duel - is Anthy. We thus have two competitors for the title of "eternal, shining, miraculous power to revolutionise the world", the Prince Dios when still present, and after his exile the suffering Princess-and-Witch who enforced that same exile. These need not be mutually exclusive: in terms of time they are not, with the Princess replacing the Prince, and in a sense they together embody the "power to revolutionise the world". They are both necessary for the process of revolution, one to suffer and the other to save.
And now: The Crack. Don't say you weren't warned.
Anthy is, of course, more than just her prescribed role as the duelled-for Bride; she is more than the denying Witch; she is more than Utena's Princess. She has also an impressive control over her roses. As Mamiya, she is able to grow a specific number of black roses in no more than a tank of water (presumably) and a shaft of light, while as Anthy she colour-codes her roses to whichever duelists are next to fight. Anthy is the gardener, and Ohtori Academy is a hothouse, and the duels over her are the struggles of rival plants for the same nutrients and a weeding out of the weak.
life in a glasshouse
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the bluebells and the daffodils are sucking at her blood.