I (don’t wanna) (can’t) grow up.
I’ve begun re-watching Revolutionary Girl Utena at the urging of ghostlightning; I’d been meaning to for a while now, but I suppose I just needed a gentle push in order to actually do so. The wonderful thing about it, though, is that it was a post of mine which convinced ghostlightning to watch it in the first place… I really love how its come full circle.
I haven’t gotten very far (two episodes), and I’ve sort of been going back and forth on whether I would like to do individual episode posts or arc-long posts… I’m leaning toward the latter, although the richness of the show makes me feel like maybe I should tackle the former. I’ll probably fall somewhere in between, honestly – maybe some posts on particular episodes and then ones for each arc overall. We shall see.
From here on out, expect massive spoilers.
In the mean time, oddly enough Angel Beats! combined with my re-watch has provoked some thought in me on the subject of all the background characters in RGU – which is to say, the individuals you see standing around in large scenes and who go to Ohtori, but whom we never actually meet at all. I would include in this the scattered few, too, that we only hear from once or twice, and who obviously play the roles of archetypes – for instance, the three girls swooning over Utena in the first episode, or the boys reading Wakaba’s love letter off the bulletin board. Because they, too, are really simply background.
Where does Angel Beats! come into this? Well, it isn’t really huge – just its concept of the non-player characters, those empty beings which play the role of students in the school environment of that show. And also the idea that if one starts behaving like a “real” student, then they’ll disappear. The lack of individual importance to the NPC’s made me think of the background characters in RGU. Interestingly enough, though, while in Angel Beats! acting like everyone else makes one disappear, in RGU the opposite is true – if you behave differently, you probably will.
Of course, this all reflects the fact that RGU’s core theme is adolescence – moving past childhood into being a young adult.
Now, Utena leaves Ohtori – and is fairly quickly forgotten. Another character in the show who is able to move past Ohtori, albeit somewhat unwillingly, is Mikage/Nemuro. He, too, is forgotten easily. But why are either of these figures forgotten, especially if they cut such a tall figure on campus? The amnesia regarding Utena is particularly strange in this regard.
I would argue that quite a number of the students at Ohtori do not, overall, age. There is evidence for this in Mikage’s failure to age, as noted by Tokiko when she returns to Ohtori. Akio and Anthy do not age, either, although I suspect that has more to do with them as individuals as opposed to their presence at Ohtori. It also fits with the theme of repetition we get with the show.
The fact is, Ohtori is a closed world. Students may walk from dorms to campus proper for classes, but we never witness the students truly off of campus – there are no instances of students going shopping, or going to the movies, or going out for dinner. Nothing of that sort at all, truly strange when you consider what a staple this is for many high school-centric shows. Utena only leaves when she breaks out of the repetition of the world, when she refuses to go along with it passively. Ruka does as well, although he does willingly re-engage with Ohtori in an attempt to break Juri out as well. Maturity brings a departure from Ohtori, from adolescence.
Admittedly, this is all a lot easier to argue in the case of the movie, where the school is so clearly otherworldly it’d be impossible to argue that it does exist on our plane; Utena morphing into a car in order to escape helps that, of course, as does the obvious change in environment outside the school versus within.
So the people who leave Ohtori aren’t remembered because the people still within don’t have the maturity level, essentially, to remember them. And if they never do develop maturity, they will never leave.
Going along these lines, I think its also possible that the regular students don’t exist at all. They’re just part of Akio’s illusion; they merely exist to draw potential candidates for the Rose Duels in to the academy, as an empty school would clearly not bring anyone to it. One might ask why, then, Akio didn’t just look to fill the entire school with potential duelists. I would argue that the issue is that one needs a very particular type of person to act as a duelist, and that one cannot necessarily line up that entire constellation of traits easily, otherwise why didn’t he do so? After all, it would only make sense that the more duelists there are, the better the chance of having a direct hit on the one who can revolutionize the world.
Anyway, with fake students, they could merely seem to age, but if you tried to get back in touch with them on Facebook or something after you graduated, you’d find them curiously absent.
Of course, this has interesting implications for the three faceless students who are talking about one of them getting a boyfriend toward the end of the final episode. Of the three girls, only one distinctly remembers Utena; she prompts the other two, and they vaguely recall her. However, they initially don’t recall her at all. So I suppose only one of these three girls is real, perhaps?
Now, this would beg the question of why everyone forgot Mikage, though; so the original proposal may work better. On the other hand, Mikage and his entire system were at the whim/will of Akio, so who knows.
Anyway, I didn’t really stay on track with this… I find when I write about shows like RGU I tend to wander around as I’m writing because I think of additional things I hadn’t considered before. I’ll admit that even if I cannot fully justify it, though, that I tend to lead toward my former proposal, which is that the Ohtori students cannot age if they do not first mature. Most people do, after all, mature at some point. Almost all of our main characters have by the close of the show, including the more minor ones (the most obvious of the minor characters is Wakaba, though, who apparently has attracted her own admirer by the end of the show – I think it’d be cool if she’d started dressing princely like Utena, though!).
Next time I think I may speculate as to where the Shadow Play Girls fit into all of this. Definitely an interesting case, since they are, apparently, students, yet know about the duelists and the Rose Bride and everything, and yet do not themselves directly participate.
Picture from Empty Movement.