The bird is fighting its way out of the egg. The egg is the world. Whoever wishes to be born must destroy a world. The bird is flying to God. The god is named Abraxas.
—Herman Hesse, Demian
Revolutionary Girl Utena, episode 4: “The Sunlit Garden – Prelude.” Directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara. Character designs by Chiho Saito. Be-Papas, 1997 (Nozomi Entertainment, 2011). Approx. 24 minutes. Rated “16+.”
Yeesh, haven’t done one of these in a while. My schedule these days is packed, but it occurs to me that I might be able to do so much as watch a single episode of a beloved anime on a semi-daily basis and discuss the same, so I’ve decided to continue our series on Revolutionary Girl Utena, the ultimate in LSD-fueled self-important mahou shoujo anime. Once again, I find myself sitting up late at night with one hand around a Captain Morgan Cannonblast and another hand hovering over the Print Screen button.
I have got to change my life.
Anyway, yes, it is indeed time once again to explore Revolutionary Girl Utena.
Um … sorry about that. Anyway, in the first two episodes, the show introduced the premise and a few of the major players. Utena became the new possessor of the Rose Bride, Anthy, through magical sword duels orchestrated by the mysterious World’s End. She dealt handedly with the student council vice president Saionji, defeating him twice in the dueling arena. Then, in the third and rather silly episode, we met the student council president, the ladykiller Touga, as well as his possessive sister Nanami, who fears that Anthy will steal her brother away from her.
Now, in this fourth episode, which is the first part of a two-parter, we meet yet another student council member, the young and blue-haired Miki (“Mickey” in the subtitles), who has a, shall we say, peculiar relationship with his twin sister.
Miki is a thirteen-year-old boy, but he’s something of a prodigy, already enrolled in Ohtori Academy’s college program. He’s particularly skilled in music and mathematics, and he fences competitively at the national level.
He also has a crush on Anthy because she reminds him of his sister. The exact details of what’s going on there won’t appear until next episode, and won’t get fleshed out until the second story arc.
And of course, Miki’s crush on Anthy causes Anthy to get slapped again, this time by a group of mean girls who admire Miki and don’t like seeing him getting ignored. Anthy has now been slapped once per episode for four episodes.
Although Miki reassures Utena that he has no interest in participating in the duels, a flash-forward at the beginning of the episode reassures us that Miki will eventually challenge Utena in the arena. Remember, Utena is the only psychologically balanced character in the show; sooner or later, everyone else must fight her and lose to her in order to deal with his psychosexual issues and reach catharsis.
Because this episode is the first of two parts, it doesn’t end with a a duel, meaning that we don’t get to hear J. A. Caesar’s iconic staircase ascent theme, “Absolute Destiny Apocalypse,” which I somehow can’t get enough of. Instead, the episode ends with a study group.
Miki has a song that he’s repeatedly playing on the piano. The meddler Nanami, who as we know from the previous episode has it in for Anthy, flips through Miki’s music book to discover Anthy’s photograph stuck between the pages. She concludes correctly that he’s in love with her. When Miki begins tutoring Anthy and Utena to help them raise their math grades, Nanami joins in with the intent of sabotage in order to ruin Anthy in Miki’s eyes.
Predictably, Nanami’s efforts backfire comically, much as they did at the ball in the previous episode. She tries to make Anthy look like a weirdo, but Anthy’s actual weirdness tops anything Nanami can come up with.
After being repeatedly thwarted, Nanami explodes and Anthy walks away, apparently despondent. She finds an old piano and begins playing—and the tune she plays is the same one Miki had been playing earlier, a tune he associates with his sister. This has a profound effect on him when he hears it.
Most of the characters in this series are searching for something that they can’t quite define or describe, which is represented both by Anthy and by the giant castle that hovers in the air over the dueling arena. They want to defeat Utena because they hope thereby to possess Anthy, ascend to the castle, and acquire this thing for which they yearn. Miki refers to this intangible something as his “shining thing.” Other terms will appear throughout the series.
Also worth noting is that we here get the first of many glimpses into the mystery that is Anthy. Even after the series is over, I admit I still don’t think I understand her, but one thing is certain: she is a world-class manipulator. Throughout the show, Anthy will always, while remaining apparently meek and passive, do exactly what she needs to do in order to send other characters over the edge. It’s never entirely clear if she does this on purpose, but she does it effectively. Her “accidental” decision to play a song that means a great deal to Miki is the first of many examples.
Incidentally, although there is no staircase ascent scene in this episode, I came across a video on YouTube that attempts to translate the lyrics of “Absolute Destiny Apocalypse” in a way that makes sense. I am unable to verify whether this translation is any good, but it’s markedly different from the official subtitles and is worth seeing. If you follow the link to the video, there’s also an interesting debate in the comments about the translator’s decision to go with “darkness of the ages” instead of the usual “darkness of Sodom,” which is more literal and probably more on point with Utena‘s recurring themes of sexual transgression.