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 8: “Curried High Trip.” Directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara. Character designs by Chiho Saito. Be-Papas, 1997 (Nozomi Entertainment, 2011). Approx. 24 minutes. Rated “16+.”
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Seriously, anime? We just had one of the best episodes in the series, but with episode 8, “Curried High Trip,” we’re right back to … that’s right, another filler episode starring Nanami. That means two out of the last three episodes have been Nanami-focused filler.
Even worse, “Curried High Trip” is based on the Freaky Friday premise, which was already more than played out by the time this episode aired. Fortunately, the next episode will be a major plot-mover.
Revolutionary Girl Utena is famous for being dense, convoluted, and kinky. I knew all that before going in, but I was unaware before I sat down to watch it that it is also extremely goofy. This is one of the goofy episodes. The story of “Curried High Trip” appears entirely gratuitous, though it does at least highlight one possible angle of interpretation, and it also emphasizes an important plot detail.
The story, such as it is, is this: Nanami, ox-eyed mean rich girl, is up to her old tricks. When Utena and Anthy are making curry in Home Ec, she plots to replace their curry spices with a super-powerful concoction from India that will leave them with a severe stomachache.
Unfortunately, she accidentally slips in an even more potent nine-billionfold curry spice so powerful it causes a massive explosion, and when Anthy and Utena recover from the blast, their personalities have switched places.
This gives Utena a chance to get some minor revenge on some mean girls: Nanami’s henchwomen once again slap “Anthy” across the face (that’s slap seven!), not realizing that Anthy is actually Utena.
Utena slaps them right back. So Little Miss Prince can’t be bothered to defend princesses, but at least she’ll defend herself. That’s something, I guess. Where was she all the other times Anthy was getting slapped?
The switcheroo puts a serious crimp in the Rose Seal duels, so the student council holds an emergency meeting.
After discovering that his little sister is behind this dastardly deed, Touga sends Nanami and her coterie of sycophants on a mission to India to acquire a new sample of the legendary nine-billionfold spice in order to change Anthy and Utena back to normal.
While Nanami and her friends fend of elephants on their perilous journey across the wilds of the Indian subcontinent, Utena and Anthy have to deal with their situation back home. In particular, Saionji reappears, now as a Flanderized joke character, and tries to woo Anthy—failing, of course, to realize he’s actually talking to Utena.
The events that follow are mostly slapstick, but do make one important point. It seems that Anthy and Saionji have been exchanging a love diary, and Anthy has only continued this practice because Utena hasn’t told her to stop.
This reiterates something that will become even clearer in a few more episodes, that Anthy’s actions, attitudes, and opinions are dependent on the whims of her betrothed—though that’s not necessarily to say she has no will of her own; her will apparently comes out through her seemingly unconscious passive-aggressive attacks on the other characters … unless, of course, those attacks are an indication that someone else is manipulating her.
Although the plot device in this episode is a decidedly tired one, it recalls one possible interpretation of the show, that Utena and Anthy are personality fragments of a single individual. I admit I wouldn’t have drawn that conclusion on my own if I hadn’t seen it suggested by the supplemental material, but there is certainly precedent for such an interpretation. Revolutionary Girl Utena is, among other things, a Gnostic parable. As discussed previously, it draws heavily on Herman Hesse’s Demian, which is also a Gnostic parable. As I will explain much later in this series, it also bears striking resemblance to another Gnostic work, David Lindsay’s Voyage to Arcturus. Both Demian and Arcturus employ personality fragmentation.
Gnosticism is the view that spirit is good and matter evil, and that there is within each person, or at least (in some versions) in the special, chosen few, a pure spiritual seed imprisoned in the gross flesh. In Demian, the titular character is apparently a representation of the narrator Sinclair’s perfect, inner, spiritual self. At the end of the novel, Sinclair is seriously wounded, and Demian shortly thereafter appears to him a final time before Sinclair goes forth to live as Demian has taught him. Sinclair in a sense “dies” and then lives on as Demian; that is, he has become enlightened, so now his true self can shine forth with his old self discarded. Similarly, Voyage to Arcturus presents characters named Maskull and Nightspore. Maskull travels across the alien planet of Tormance seeking enlightenment (and killing most everyone he meets on the way) until he finally dies, learning at his last moment that he and Nightspore are the same. Nightspore then continues Maskull’s journey to the book’s final revelation. Nightspore is depicted as constantly restless and bored, always biting his nails—apparently a Gnostic depiction of enlightenment. Nightspore is analogous to Demian, representing Maskull’s true, inner self.
With these precursors in mind, we can as we move forward examine Revolutionary Girl Utena, which has a similar metaphysical backdrop, to see if an interpretation of Utena and Anthy as in any way analogous to the Maskull/Nightpore or Sinclair/Demian pairs, is justifiable. Keep that in mind for future episodes.
There is, I would argue, a serious mistake in “Curry High Trip.” Even when I watched Revolutionary Girl Utena the first time, before I had a handle on its overarching plot, I had got the strong sense by now that Ohtori Academy is a self-contained world, possibly even a prison. This theme will come out more clearly in the future. Although it has been necessary to the plot before now to have characters leave the academy or arrive, we haven’t actually seen them outside the academy and its immediate environs. Allowing Nanami to fly to India, and showing scenes of her misadventures there, is a misstep.
At the same time, however, we could argue that, even as far away as India, Nanami is not free of the forces swirling around Ohtori Academy. While she’s there, elephants repeatedly assault her and her friend in a sequence of absurd vignettes.
Although these little moments are played for humor, there is a barely detectable hint that Anthy, who we already know has a mysterious way with animals and a serious passive-aggressive streak, might actually be behind the elephant attacks. Although it’s never entirely clear if Anthy is aware of what she’s doing when she manipulates the rest of the cast into emotional breakdowns, it’s possible that this whole affair is her little way of punishing characters who’ve been pestering her. This possibility is reinforced in the episode’s final gag.
Consider: she uses a dish of curry to switch places with Utena, who then proceeds to slap around the girls who’ve been slapping Anthy. She causes Nanami, who has it in for her, to take a trip to India to get plagued by elephants. Then, in the last scene, she acts innocent as she serves up curry to Saionji, who’s been bugging her with his infatuation, and thereby switches his mind with a monkey’s.
Conclusion: Whether she’s doing it on purpose or not, Anthy is one scary chick.