Revolutionary Girl Utena, Volume 2, Disk 2.
This is where it gets really good.
Up to this point, the Black Rose arc has seemed superficially similar to the first arc. Kanae’s rage against Anthy seems overreacting, but we really don’t know much about Kanae or Anthy, and hey, we’re all creeped out by the portrayal of psychoanalysis in the form of Mikage’s Freudian elevator. And Kozue…we’ve written her off multiple times already. She’s not jealous of Anthy, just of her brother. Bro-con, ho hum.
But. Now. Shiori is here. Shiori, who sought to hurt Juri, to tarnish her shine, because she was too perfect, too shining. Oh yeah, fandom loves to hate Shiori.
But look at it from her side for a moment. Haven’t we all had a friend who is popular, talented, attractive and haven’t we all wanted, just once, to be better than them in something? Remember this particular moment of jealousy and pain. It will be back. In the meantime, we suffer as Juri tortures herself over feelings that one day won’t be so torturous. We all want desperately to be the one to tell her it’s okay.
Tsuwabuki’s episode is probably sadder than the others. Nanami is so very immature and yet, to Tsuwabuki, she is a mature, alluring adult. He’s right on that awkward cusp of maturity when at least some of the girls around him already “get” it, and there he is, flailing to figure out what “it” is. I was talking to a high school teacher just recently – we were discussing how at 14 or 15, you meet a teen and you just know, instantly, if they will ever fully mature. Some people don’t. Tsuwabuki will be 20, then 30, then 40, etc and he’ll always wonder what he’s not getting, until he convinces himself that everyone else around is just a snob, or a jerk or something. He’ll grow up attractive, have girlfriends and talk about he “doesn’t get women.” I always feel bad for Tsuwabuki.
And then we come to Wakaba. Remember Shiori’s jealousy? We don’t care about it. We don’t like her. We think she’s a petty jerk and can go to hell. Wakaba suffers from the exact same thing. But we like Wakaba. She was Utena’s first rescued princess. When we learn that her joy comes from something other than herself it’s hard, to learn that it comes from…him…is intolerable. When she stands before Utena on the dueling ground, undoubtedly we have the same stricken look on our faces as Utena does on hers. This isn’t an enemy, or some tangential person…this is Wakaba, a friend. It’s worth noting that this is the first time Anthy begs Utena to take the sword from her and this is the first time that Utena does not. She defeats Wakaba with the sword she wields…with his sword. And it is notable that Wakaba is the first of the Black Rose arc duelists to actually attack Anthy, despite their statements that they would kill the Rose Bride.
I love this duel more than any other duel in the series. Wakaba says everything we always wanted to say to that shining, perfect friend. How nice for you, we so desperately want to say, the way the world always gives a crap about you. But I’m not like that. I have to remain average and no matter what I do I will never be special. We may hate Shiori, but we can’t hate Wakaba.
And we hate that self-absorbed, moron Saionji. In the first episode he was presented as cool, popular and powerful. Now, he’s a fool, as Mikage says and we loathe him for it.
The hierarchy has changed, irreparably. Touga, supplanted by Akio, Nanami, Miki and Juri, half-heartedly holding the center, Saionji at the bottom of the pile. Where do Utena and Anthy fit on the grid? Keep watching to find out.
Art – 9
Story – 10
Character – 9
Yuri – 6
Service – 3
Overall – 9
I will insert a note here referencing Alan Harnum’s Flesh Eaters for Shiori page, because if I don’t, both Alan and Sean Gaffney will try to explain it in the comments and you’ll be confused and probably distressed. This has got to be the oldest still-living Utena injoke on the Internet.