princes and princesses
from childhood to adulthood: ohtori academy, a gilt shangri-la.
The young Utena climbs into a coffin: what is the point in living if you are only going to suffer and then die? You might as well die first and get it all over with. This way, she will never have to suffer the pain of becoming an adult.
In episode 22, "Nemuro Memorial Hall", Chida Tokiko remarks that Mikage and Akio have not aged at all: Akio's reply (going by the fansub translation i have) is that "so long as anyone stays in this garden we call the Academy, a person will never become an adult." (My italics. Interestingly - and fairly unimportantly - the name "Tokiko" is translated as 'time-child' on the Utena Encyclopedia's character page for her).
In the magazine version of George MacDonald's "The Princess and the Goblin", he breaks off the very beginning of the story (a semi-fairytale about a princess and a miner boy and, well, some goblins, which everyone should read whatever age they are) for an exchange between "Mr Editor" and the reader:
"But, Mr. Editor, why do you always write about princesses?"
"Because every little girl is a princess... and there would be no need to say anything about it except that she is always in danger of forgetting her rank, and behaving as if she had grown out of the mud. I have seen little princesses behave like the children of thieves and lying beggars, and this is why they need to be told they are princesses..." (Explanatory notes, Oxford World's Classics edition, 1990)
"Mr Editor" goes on to explain that by making his heroine a princess, he can "give her every beautiful thing [he wants] her to have" (the fact that it highlights the question of class - which is fundamental to the plot - is not mentioned here, for reasons which are fairly obvious).
Princes and princesses are special, uncommon in both sense of the word: they add a fairy-tale aspect to any story by their very terminology. In identifying its characters as young royalty, Shoujo Kakumei Utena joins the tradition of European fairy-tales, stories set apart from reality in an imaginary past. A fairy story is a story for children, the way Wakaba's mother reassures her daughter that she is special, and adulthood perhaps lies in defeating the egoism of youth that imagines the self to be royalty and superior, and acknowledging the realities of being one among many.
The Academy is a land of eternal youth - a Shangri-la, whether gilt or no. Anthy and Dios are forever a princess and a prince, as are the miscellaneous other princes and princesses who grace the story with their presence: and even outside of the Academy the prince (a manifestation of the Akio/Anthy/Ends of the World power, in my reading) is eternally young. There are no Kings and Queens.
Kings and Queens, after all, would be parents, and parents are noticably absent. While those of Kozue and Miki make a brief appearance, they are separated from the academy by the distance of a phoneline, the postal service and the past; Ohtori Kanae's parents are mentioned, but little more; Utena's are categorically dead. The boarding school atmosphere provides 'escape' from normal family life, in any case (hence, tangentially, the popularity of the boarding-school series among most children: 'Harry Potter' is but the latest in a long line that runs through such classics as 'The Chalet School' and, uh, 'The Twins At St Clare's'.). It is an isolated bubble of existence in which adults become either distant figures of disrespect or close-to objects of scorn - witness not only Utena's outmaneuvering of one teacher in the first episode but also the researchers who attempt to pay Mikage for his help at the beginning of the Black Rose Saga. Adults, the message runs, are stupid, bound by meaningless rules, and corrupt: the real inhabitants of "this garden we call the Academy" are the children, who are - debatably - pure at heart.
The Academy itself is no garden: it is a glasshouse - a greenhouse, a hothouse - with each young life a rose kept living artificially far beyond its natural span. Outside of the glasshouse, in the real gardens of the world, people grow up, become adults and die. Ruka - so the shadowplay girls 'inform' us at the end of "Azure Paler Than The Sky", episode 29 - left the 'hospital' that is the outside world to return to school and 'passed away' upon leaving the school again: he was a delicate flower (...i've always wanted to say that about him) who could not survive in the cold world outside the hothouse atmosphere.
The other ill child - the other 'sick rose' - of the Acedemy is Chida Mamiya: while he has, in reality, died, a version of himself is kept extant by the Ends of the World to retain Mikage's interest in attaining eternity and challenging Utena.
However, not quite all the students in Ohtori Academy are children. A witch, after all, is an adult manifestation of the feminine, the "wicked stepmother" of a thousand fairy tales: and Anthy is as much Witch as she is Bride or Princess. Her transition from Princess to Witch, from child to adult, is however one of pain (more discussion of this in the Anthy character study) while she is within the bounds of the Academy. Akio, similarly, by the end of the series refers consistently to Utena as a "child" and mocks her innocence and ignorance - yet his behaviour (Akio character study) is more that of a spoilt child than an actual adult, claiming his own maturity where there is not yet any. He cannot leave the Academy, even by the end, is too concerned with the 'game' of duels and duelists: Anthy, who has tasted adulthood only through pain, is able to recognise the end of the 'game' and leave the garden.
In 'choosing' to leave the Academy, like Tokiko did before her, Anthy is accepting adulthood and leaving childhood behind, rather than becoming the corrupted child-adult of Akio or remaining in the painful adolescent situation of the Rose Bride.
As the last episode comes to an end, we hear schoolgirls discussing their plans for the future, for graduation: they are minor characters, to whom the Academy is no more than an Academy and no less. They, who have - like Wakaba - given up on seeing themselves as princes and princesses, are prepared to face adulthood already, and the duelists are the few left to rage against having adult responsibilities placed on them in the stead of their childhood ones. While they are in the Academy, no person can ever truly become an adult: they must graduate, and leave their childhood gardens behind.