The first 13 episodes of Revolutionary Girl Utena, the Student Council arc, is finally complete. There is much I can say about it, but criticisms wise, let me just leave it at this. The show does a poor job of mixing the tones of serious drama with the slapstick comedy thus far, and leaves many moments extremely awkward. That said, there are many things that I find interesting about the show, so I watch on. And through the course of the viewing, some repeating themes jumps out, and bear mentioning.
Tenjou Utena, the reigning duelist, has has one wish. She wishes for the Rose Bride, Himemiya, to be a normal girl. Yet as the Rose Bride, Himemiya lacks any and all personal agency. She is the bride of the winning duelist and will do all that he or she commands. Utena holds the ideal of "free will" highly, and despises the duels for taking it away from Himemiya. Yet she unwittingly commands Himemiya to internalize that ideal, regardless of what she may truly wish for.
Saionji Kyouichi, the first duelist, hides his true reason behind his desire over the Rose Bride. His character comes off as the over bearing and violent boyfriend. We are never asked to sympathize with him. Yet even following his subsequent defeats, the show shows him continuing to obsess over Himemiya, to the point where one begins to wonder if his love is sincere. Twisted, without a doubt, but still ultimately sincere. But the revelation of his history with Touga clears things up. He longs to surpass Touga in some way. His desire to find something eternal, and the promise by the Rose Bride that castle in the sky holds such a thing is what drives him. He longs for Himemiya not out of love for her, but for the eternal power of Dios that she guards.
Kaoru Miki, the second duelist, embodies false nostalgia and paranoia. He does not have any interest in the Rose Bride for the sake of world revolution. It is his memories of youth that drives him. His sister will no longer play the piano, and the notes that she plays in his memory is discovered coming from Himemiya's fingers. It is ironic that his desire, to not lose that music a second time, would have been granted if he simply remained friends with Utena and Himemiya. But paranoia at Himemiya's innate obedience to Utena, as she the Rose Bride is fully obedient to the duelist champion, has him fearing she may be ordered to never play again. To add on to his disillusionment, the viewers, but not Miki, are made privy to the fact that his sister in fact never could play well. Her notes sounded perfect because he played with her, and his talents covered her failings. Rose tinted nostalgia indeed.
Arisugawa Juri, the third duelist, despises the notion of what the duels promise: the power to revolutionize the world, a miracle. She participates in the duels for the ability to prove that miracles do not exist. However, in a case of cruel irony, her duel against Utena ends with her the loser because her fight allowed a miracle to be granted to her opponent. Her hate for miracles is also lie and self-deceit. After all, the opposite of love is not hate, rather the opposite of both on the scale of emotions is disinterest. She hates miracles is a result of her desire for one, a desire that goes ungranted. As if deciding to be a bit meta, the show offers the viewers one final moment of inauthenticity at the end. The show itself portrays Juri's back story to be one of a tragic love triangle where her crush was tricked taken by their mutual third friend, the same friend that told her to "believe in miracles and they will know your heart." But the spite against miracles was not this deceitful friend who preached it, it was that her love was for her, not him, and the miracle Juri hoped for all this time in vain was for her true heart to be known.
Kiryuu Nanami, the fourth duelist, has a brother complex for Touga. (brocon doesn't roll of the lips as well as siscon, does it?) Her inauthenticity stems from her overt and vocal adoration of her brother, and yet her true desire is to be adored instead, and has gained great hatred for anything that gets in their way. As children, she gave him a cat as a present. Yet she then threw away the cat with her own hands when Touga started liking it so much that it "got in the way" of his adoration for her. Similar behavior leads to her duel against Utena. Having become the subject of Touga's interest, Utena also became the subject of Nanami's hate.
Kiryuu Touga, the fifth duelist, is perhaps the most authentic of them all. But only in a sense that he is consistently false. His true character IS that of a liar that revels in plots. He used his sister's brother complex to pit her against Utena and slept with Miki's sister to display his powerlessness, urging him to "protect Himemiya", so that he can collect data on Utena's fighting ability in preparation for his own fight. He forged a letter from the End of the World to send to Saionji, whom considered him a friend, goading him into kidnapping and attacking Himemiya, so that he could have a chance to perform princely for Utena as he shielded the blow. He further attempted to immitate the prince of Utena's past and dreams to have her drop her guard during their duel. His motto is that "Becoming close to someone will end in betrayal". And he used the feelings of others for him to his own advantage. Yet that motto itself also has an inherent inauthenticity to it. For the only ones that can espouse such ideals are those that fear and cannot handle betrayle. Will Touga also fall prey to this personal weakness? Only future episodes will tell.
Lastly, the duels for the Rose Bride themselves are a potential sham. They are meant to be planned and instigated by an organization called the End of the World. The rose seal rings are sent by them to those they deem fit to be duelists and the time of duels are sent by letters to the student council. Yet now we have seen that Touga has the ability to forge the letters as shown by the fake he sent Saionji. He also has access to extra Rose Seals, as shown by the one he personally gave Nanami. So what exactly is the End of the World then, and is there any truth to its supposed desire to Revolutionize The World?
Episode 13 is the ending point of this arc. The council members are all defeated, Utena has developed a closer relationship with Himemiya. And we are teased with more duelists, black roses, and perhaps with the truth behind Utena's prince and the Power of Dios. Oh my.