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 7: “Unfulfilled Jury.” Directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara. Character designs by Chiho Saito. Be-Papas, 1997 (Nozomi Entertainment, 2011). Approx. 24 minutes. Rated “16+.”
Watch for free here.
Actually, I’m kidding. I don’t think this show ever managed to do anything I didn’t see coming, but that’s mostly because I’d already watched a number of its successors by the time I saw it.
By the way, the image at the top of this post is official artwork. While I was searching for an eyecatch for this post, I happened to run into the blog Fairy Princess Witch, which features a group of girls who try to replicate the image. They don’t have the poses quite right, but it’s some dang fine cosplaying:
Episode 7 is, hands down, one of the best episodes in Revolutionary Girl Utena. The first two episodes were very tight, but episode 3 was blah, and after that the show dinked around for a while. With episode 7, “Unfulfilled Jury,” it gets its game face back on. In addition to being one of the best paced and plotted episodes, it has one of the best sword duels. It also begins in earnest the use of bizarre and symbolic imagery that will become the show’s hallmark.
Episode 7 introduces us to the final member of the student council, Juri (or “Jury” in the subtitles—don’t ask me why). Juri is the council’s sole female member. She is captain of the fencing team, a fierce, intense, curly-haired young woman who intimidates even the faculty. Next to Utena herself, she’s the least neurotic and most likeable character in the show.
The attentive viewer will by this time have noticed that all the student council members are color-coded. Allegedly, the colors represent the different mental disorders or social issues that the characters are dealing with, though the symbolism is opaque to anyone who doesn’t happen to know what schema of color symbolism the show’s creators are using. In any case, Juri’s color is orange. She also wears a pair of salmon-colored, high-waisted trousers, perhaps because she’s trying to balance out Utena’s pantslessness.
Juri’s backstory is told through a series of images that look like flashbacks, though their strange content indicates that they are symbolic rather than literal. In middle school, she had two close friends, a boy and a girl; both are unnamed in this episode, though we will learn later that the girl is Shiori. Juri and the boy were both in the fencing club, and both highly skilled.
Shiori was convinced that Juri and the boy were in love with each other, so, jealous of Juri’s great skill at everything from athletics to academics, stole him from her. In the “flashback” images, we see the three of them standing together as if posing for a photo, with a red thread stretching from Shiori to the boy. In another scene, Shiori covers Juri’s eyes as she kisses him.
Both of Juri’s friends have left Ohtori Academy and now attend school elsewhere. Juri perpetually wears a locket containing the image of her beloved. Bitter from having her heart broken, she’s determined to break other people’s hopes. Just as Miki wants the Rose Bride in order to find his “shining thing,” Juri wants the Rose Bride in order to disprove the existence of miracles. The word miracle isn’t clearly defined, but it is intertwined with Juri’s frustrated hopes.
Juri’s desire for the Rose Bride is coupled with contempt. As many other character do throughout the series, she slaps Anthy like a witch. Anthy had a respite from the slapping in episode 6, but now it’s back in full force. She’s been slapped in six out of seven episodes so far.
Dang, the redhead is the one doing the slapping. That’s just not right.
Anyway, when Juri is talking to Utena, Utena explains that she received her Rose Seal ring from a prince who appeared to her as a child. In describing her feelings for the mysterious prince, Utena happens to use the word “miracle,” which sets Juri off. Juri demands that Utena give up her ring and her place as a duelist. She furthermore tells Utena that the prince must have “tricked” her, and that the only good that came of her encounter with him was her “nobility.”
File this comment away: this is another apparently offhanded remark that is in fact key to the show’s themes.
After Juri angrily challenges her to a duel, Utena meets her in the arena. This sword fight that ensues is probably the most elaborate we’ve had so far. To be honest, none of the duels are great. In spite of the claim that the student council members are all masters of either kendo or foil, there’s no actual evidence of this. It looks like the animators came up with the choreography by watching The Empire Strikes Back several times.
But in any case, Juri has the upper hand and manages to knock the Sword of Dios from Utena’s grasp, and it flies high into the air. Utena, as we have seen her do before, combines in some magical fashion with the prince figure that descends from the floating castle, but it is not enough to save her. Just as she is about to lose, however, the Sword of Dios drops from the sky, precisely skewering the orange rose on Juri’s breast and thereby giving the battle to Utena.
We are left to ponder whether the precision of the falling sword is coincidence or miracle. It has already appeared that Utena is in some fashion receiving help from on high, what with the prince who descends and combines with her, apparently giving the power to defeat the other duelists. That her sword is literally called the “sword of God” appears to imply divine intervention—and implies that the prince figure, and perhaps the prince who appeared to her as a child, is God himself.
At the end of the episode, Utena appears to have been vindicated, and Juri’s disbelief in miracles appears to have suffered a sound rebuke. As the story develops, however, we will learn that things are more complicated than this.
I’m going to give a spoiler warning,though it’s not much of a spoiler. Anyone paying attention will probably have figured it out already, but the episode ends with a final reveal: the photo of her beloved that Juri keeps in her locket is not of the unnamed boy Shiori stole away, but of Shiori herself.
Writer/director Kunihiko Ikuhara indicates in the accompanying commentary that he originally intended to leave this implied, but by the time he was ready to produce the episode, had decided to make it explicit.
In the manga version by Chiho Saito, Juri is a markedly different character. In that version, Juri is in love with the student council president, Touga, and makes an enemy of Utena because she sees her getting close to him.
In the laser disc liner notes to which I keep referring, Saito discusses these differences. As she explains it, she altered Juri from what was planned for the anime because she wanted to keep Utena at the center of the story, so Juri’s internal conflict centers around Utena, whereas in the animated version, Juri’s conflict centers around past events in which Utena was uninvolved. This has the effect, once again, of placing Utena in the background of her own show. It also, however, reinforces Utena’s role as a medium of catharsis for the other characters as they work out their personal problems.
I’ve previously compared Revolutionary Girl Utena to Neon Genesis Evangelion, which it immediately succeeded. One of the many reasons I think Utena is the superior show is that it achieves a balance that Evangelion doesn’t. Evangelion makes all of its characters sickos; nobody is mentally healthy. Utena, by contrast, places all of its neurotics in orbit around a protagonist who is well-balanced, and who serves as a vehicle of catharsis for everyone else. Utena is an anchor for Revolutionary Girl Utena, a psychologically normal and resilient heroine who provides, as it were, the measure to which the other characters fall short, or the bulwark against which they uselessly buffet. Evangelion has no such anchor, because it contains not a single character who isn’t a basketcase.
Somewhere or other, G. K. Chesterton once wrote about this tendency in modern fiction, the tendency to make every character a neurotic, and he contrasted it with older works, especially fairy tales, in which the hero was usually normal while everything around him was twisted and weird. Chesterton considered the normal hero an essential element for weird fiction because he served as the story’s anchor point, a straight line that gave everything else in the story freedom to bend and twist as it willed. Comparing these two works, Evangelion and Utena, I think Chesterton is correct. There is a reason that the “straight man” is a standard character in comedy or fantasy, who provides a refuge of normalcy in the midst of the weirdness. Utena works in large part because Utena is the straight man. Evangelion does not work in part, I believe, because it lacks a straight man.
The unfulfilled jury
A drink that will leave you wanting more
1 oz tequila
1 0z triple sec
1 oz Grand Marnier
2/3 oz fresh orange juice
2/3 oz fresh lime juice
1 bottle Shock Top
Dip rim of margarita glass in Grand Marnier, salt, and chill. Fill glass half full of ice. Stir tequila, triple sec, orange juice, and lime juice together and pour into the glass. Float Grand Marnier over the top. Take bottle of Shock Top and tip upside down into the glass in the manner of a Coronarita.
This is a liquor drink that comes with its own chaser, as if it is futily chasing impossible desires. Bright and fruity with strong citrus flavors. Pairs well with sexual frustration. Drink until you believe in miracles.