These episodes of Utena really address a theme I like to talk about. In a lot of current media the representation of how a woman is supposed to act is very contentious. To show she is a tomboy she has to be very angry and assertive about everything, to show strength she has to bottle up all of her issues. Utena took a different role in all of this when she reacts to thoughts and ideas about her missing Prince. Throughout these two episodes we really see Utena struggling with Touga’s identity and if he might be her missing Prince. Because of this she both retains her desires to be the prince, but loses much of her determination and focus.
Utena’s got two goals in this series, to be the Prince and to find the Prince. When the two of these goals begin to face conflict she falters, unable to confront her conflicting self image and desires. When Utena falters, she falters in a traditionally ‘female’ way. Instead of pretending her feelings don’t exist or acting aggressive, she simply sits in corners, cries, and feels guilty. When she tries to confront her feelings she tends to take her assertive role back, but the way she expresses her emotions is something people see as ‘feminine’. When you compare her attitude when failing at a personal goal to say, Lightning from Final Fantasy, she has a more tender reaction.
Really, this is a core concept of the show. How does one exist inside their own identity while also taking on a role that is supposed to exist in another identity? While Utena manages to maintain her cool and win her duel in episode 10 against Nanami, who had been making her emotionally vulnerable, this is not the case in episode 11. Episode 11 shows us how vulnerable she is to the manipulations of her image of the ‘Prince’. Touga causes Utena to hesitate against him and lose her duel: which reveals Anthy’s indifference to her when she is not her fiance.
Unraveling this end of the arc is such a hard one. Touga has successfully manipulated his way into Utena heart and created a harsh thought for her. What if she can’t ever be a Prince? Worse, what if all she has done is meaningless in the end? With Anthy’s rejection of Utena and Touga’s possession of her there is only uncertainty from Utena, who must regain her courage if she is going to fight to be the Prince and Anthy’s betrothed. The end of this arc also gives a great look into how Touga carries how his manipulations, from the beginning of the series with subtle lines that peak interest to the final swing of his sword against Utena’s rose.
Both of these episodes genuinely peek into who Touga is, how he manipulates those who care about him, and what his intentions are. Nanami’s personality and conflict are a great example of the things he is doing and has since he was a child, and her reactions are both mortifying and to be expected from Touga’s role in her life.
How Utena recovers from this will be a real statement into why Utena itself works as a show: the concept of identity and confidence in the face of people who tell you that your identity can only exist in one spectrum. Stay tuned for the conclusion of this arc as we head towards the Black Rose Saga.