Eternal Adolscence/Illusory Adolescence

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.

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11 Responses to Eternal Adolscence/Illusory Adolescence

  1. How about Nanami’s world-wide quest for the curry powder? While it’s an absurd story, it does mean she leaves the campus.

    How about the outside world peeking in? Tokiko visiting Mikage, the Chairman’s daughter, Juri’s senpai, the Onion Prince, things like the Cowstian Dior cowbell which necessitates a Christian Dior to exist prior to it?

    Oh btw good luck with this project. I’ll with you all the way.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      Intrusions from the outer world aren’t problematic, as the mere presence of our main characters alone necessitates an outside world – or, at the very least, Utena does as a ‘new’ student. (I actually kind of like how in the manga we see how Utena ended up Ohtori at all.) So the outside can get in, but the inside can’t necessarily get out.

      Tokiko is apt in this instance, as her physical appearance is in sharp contrast with Mikage; she’s aged, he hasn’t. Which of course goes back to maturity, essentially – Mikage doesn’t have the maturity level to acknowledge his fault in the burning of the building and all those students in it.

      As for the Chairman’s daughter, she is an Ohtori senior.

      Nanami’s worldwide curry adventure is an interesting point, particularly when you consider that many people attempt to wholly trivialize those Nanami-centric episode. But she does return to Ohtori… and she doesn’t seem terribly changed by her experience, which perhaps suggests she isn’t at the point where she could just fully walk away from all of it.

      • Gotcha, I think.

        It’s really unwise to dismiss the Nanami episodes. If anything, these are the real examples of how Anthy is a cruel, mean witch. The substantial transgression is the betrayal of Utena, sure. But the purest of cruelties and hatreds are saved for the unwitting and hapless Nanami.

        And yet, this unwitting and hapless girl played the role of the child in ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ — though Anthy revealed to her what really happens between loving siblings. Nanami would shout out to Utena, who treated Nanami as the girl who cried wolf.

        See? Goddamn I get to discuss shit that I couldn’t fit into my posts anymore. Thanks for doing this.

      • adaywithoutme says:

        Its interesting in re-watching how I notice the non-benign reality of Anthy’s facial expressions which seemed on their face to be pretty harmless – and which now seem fairly sinister at frequent turns! Although there are aspects of how Anthy is depicted which I do find to be a tad problematic, all things considered. But that’s a post-in-the-works, so I shall not get too into that.

        I think Nanami gets to be one of the more interesting characters further down the line, particularly in her dealings with Anthy, Akio, Utena, and her own brother leading up to her second duel. Which is really saying something considering that one could hardly call any of the characters dull! Although I do think some are more engaging than others…

  2. Just finished Adolescence Apocalypse. My mind got fucked by 9000 penises with wheels.

    If anything, the world of SKU resists breakdown of the particulars and leaves me with a ‘take it or leave it’ verisimilitude. I’LL TAKE IT.

    More than the TV series, the movie really lays it out with regards to adolescence and destiny (and freedom from both).

    • adaywithoutme says:

      The movie is interesting in that I think it is easier to view it as an allegory for adolescence, but at the same time it has so many elements that are even more esoteric than those of the TV show. I still can’t figure out why Kozue is turned into a car. I still don’t know why the straw dolls at the end are labeled as ‘Utena’ and ‘Anthy’, or why it is that the girl Touga saved from drowning was Juri. Granted, it has been a very long time since I watched it, but the main point of its lack of transparency remains.

      I think the movie is more purely Ikuhara.

      • Aile says:

        “I still can’t figure out why..”
        “I still don’t know why..”

        How about this:
        It’s there to make a point ..that not everything that’s there has to make a point!

        You can take this as a jab of the author at people who overanalyze things, ..or be one of those people and take it to mean things like “well, the absurdity of the cars reflects the absurdity of life in general..” or “the nonlineary and paradoxes are indicative of how our mind processes experiences in a decidedly noncausal way..” and so on. All very valid things to say, so I’m not slamming anyone who wants to discuss and make sense on the show within the context of the show itself. But (as can be seen in the lenghty drivel below, where I come off like that stoned guy at your last college party who would bore you with his newest amazing theory), a better way to approach stuff like this (especially where the author already admitted he didn’t really have a coherent comprehensive framework of meaning for everything in mind) is to take smaller chunks of the content and analyze them on their own. If you try to fit too many things into too narrow a meaning, problems/paradoxes/incompatibilities will arise. This confuses us because we are mostly acquainted with what I call a “pre-modern” way of looking at art and interpreting things. Education is still sadly reflective of that: In school we’re taught “well, this painting means this and that because of..”, and interpreting a poem was taught as arriving at the ONE “correct” conclusion (which was already pre-ordained). Which is mostly a fine method for pre-modern art: Yeah, a classical painting of a greek mythos scene was probably an allegory for X or Y, and most classical books were written with one specific meaning in mind and the author constructed every part to support that in a coherent framework. But this way of looking at things breaks down when you consider modern art:
        Take for example modern painting, as I’m most familiar with that area: characteristic for modern paintings is that they stopped the pursuit of realism. Especially the arrival of photography forced the painters to reconsider what they were actually doing, why they were doing it. Whereas classical painters followed the tradition of “Bildlichkeit” (basically what-you-see-is-what-you-get: You can take the realistic images at face value and ponder about what the portrayed object wants to point at in real life), modern art makes the image itself the object of the image. That is to say, in classical art we used our perception to see what the theme of the painting was. Modern art makes our perception itself the theme.
        Marcel Duchamp for example took industrial objects like cycle tires and put them in the museum for display. For our classical perception this implied that this is art, “after all why else would it be in a museum, so I should stand in front of it and ponder what all this scrap means, like I’m used to with classical art.. maybe he wanted to make a point about industrial waste ?” Not really, no but that’s what you get with the classical view, or you don’t even get that and that’s the source of much of the derision of modern art. The point of the scrap is not to think about the object itself but your perception of it. You’re challenged with the question “is this art?”, and with this Duchamp ingeniously points to this greatest mystery of all “WHAT is art?”, has it something to do with “skill”, or “beauty”, or academics approval ? I don’t know. Duchamp doesn’t know. And he doesn’t have a readymade conclusion that you can interpret out of him. He just wants you to think about the question at all, and in doing so he may be more of an artist than all those painters who produce nice little inoffensive kitsch about mountain scenes or forest streams that gets hung up in retirement homes and never inspired any thought at all.

        Ok, I could go on but nobody likes the rambling stoned guy at the party anyway. I know this wasn’t so much about “Utena”, but that’s the point, it is about “looking at Utena”, if you get what I mean. With modern art such as these, you don’t get everything if you just look at it in the classical intratextual interpretation view, and what you get will be many paradoxes and much plain nonsense. I’m proposing the modern view, realize the “art is about art itself”. Modern art and its paradoxes and absurdity make you conscious of your own perceptive processes (which are so filled with preconceptions and assumptions from the classical view that of course things like people morphing into cars will make no sense in there). Modern art like these challenge the uncritical trust we have in the immediacy of our sensory experience. If one rises up to these questions they can explore how they perceive, and why, and what they can do about it. After all, a paradox is really just a matter of perspective.

  3. Aile says:

    Good post again, thought-provoking (and shows once more how awesome RGU is in how it can inspire such thoughts).

    Some additional ramblings on the theme of ‘eternal adolescence’ and the seemingly perpetuent nature of Ohtori:
    I take a step back from the show itself and consider the real institution “school” itself (that means, our schools, in our world). Now, we mostly don’t think much about it or it’s implication, but we’ll go to school (and most of our lives generally) in the “first person perspective”. That is in this way of looking at things WE consider ourself the permanent fixpoint, the root of the graph, and it is our surroundings that change as we go through life. For example, we think of school as a passage, a few memorable years where we make experiences that add to our identity, before we move on to other greater things.
    Now, consider it from “the perspective of the school”, which may be hard at first but the implications become shockingly apparent once you adapted to the viewpoint. Whereas YOU grow up, “the school” as such is indeed trapped within ‘eternal adolescence’, because it (the collective) is eternally 12-18 years old (or whatever your local curriculum is). A helpful analogue for those who find it hard to wrap their minds around this yet: while the individual human may live to die after 70somewhat years, the collective “Human” existed for 200.000 years (and may exist for 200.000 more). While you move on after graduating, the “school” itself will be eternally filled with teenagers (that is, of course, talking about the abstract idealized institution, not any particular physical building). As soon as you drop out of that, the “school” doesn’t care or remember you, it may be as if you never existed. You are indeed “out of this world” (End of the World, anyone?)
    Talking about “NPCs”, the “school” doesn’t differentiate between individuals. While from your perspective you may make memories there that are individually meaningful to you; fretting over tests, smoking behind the building, embarrassing yourself in PE, worrying about friends and love, anything that was important to YOU, whatever; now consider the “school” where EVERYBODY makes the same experiences generally (everybody was anxious about some test or another, everybody worried about their appearance, etc..) so, taken as a whole what you consider as a faceless mass becomes from the ‘top-down’ perspective a “thing” that is eternally adolescent, eternally worrying about a test and so on. Furthermore I’d argue it makes it meaningless, as meaning only exists from our individual perspective, and it is exactly the passage and passing of things that gives meaning to them. There’s always the next test administered to be worrying about. We grow from our experiences (which is what makes them meaningful in the first place), the “school” is trapped in the constant same “school experience” and can’t grow. Consider the graffiti in the bathroom stalls, the jokes, love-notes or insults. Some of them are decades old, some of them you may have written yourself, and some of them will be written in the future (you realize by now that the concept of ‘time’ doesn’t apply). One of them mattered at one point to one person or another. But taken as a whole, they all may as well mean nothing to nobody at all.
    In this, we may see the “school” as “the world”, and “the power to revolutionize it” may be to impact the institution in such a way as to force its meaning-in-itself, which we see by now is a futile attempt, and Utena shows us the better thing to do, growing up, more importantly, growing OUT (sidenote, can anyone remember any talk about graduating or what one wants to do after school in RGU?). Here you could see the conflict RGU lays out between the individual and the institution (which of course doesn’t just apply to schools), the individual is an individual exactly because it’s able to pass through an institution, and as soon as you give that up (maybe for the eternity it offers) you may as well have given up your individuality.

    Anyways, I guess enough rambling for now. Smarter minds might develop that into something which actually makes sense. I specifically didn’t go too much into the literal show itself, or the characters, at face-value here; because I don’t care what I may have to say about Utena, I care about what Utena has to say about the world.

  4. Jack says:

    “How about this:
    It’s there to make a point ..that not everything that’s there has to make a point!”

    I had assumed this for a while, and it is certainly possible for quite a few things in the show and movie.

    However, Utena isn’t LOST. In that, quite a few things, at least in the movie, were carefully planned out and considered way ahead of time (unlike in LOST where they just stitch an explanation together sometime later).

    The only reason I can be sure of this, is that I just watched the movie’s commentary track where he actually answers a few questions that have been raised here, of course those could just be answers he put together for the commentary.

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