Warning: Spoilers for Revolutionary Girl Utena’s second season/ arc
Greetings to all readers. I hope your fall is going well. Recently, I published a blog article with my notes about the first arc of Revolutionary Girl Utena (The Student Council Saga). This time, I present my notes about the Black Rose Saga, the second arc in the series. It mostly focuses on explanations of concepts, meaning and symbolism, along with some discussions about specific characters. I’ve tried to organized these rambles into several sections for easier reading. Well then, enough dillydallying. Let’s rant!
1- Elevators, Caterpillars, and Swords
The second arc of RGU is mostly about a mysterious man named Souji Mikage, as he manipulates various students into fighting Utena. The purpose of this is to kill Anthy and install his younger friend, Mamiya, as the new Rose Bride. During this saga, many interesting themes and meanings appear from a variety of sources. One topic is the elevator scenes used during the “counseling sessions” between Mikage and the student he manipulates. Let’s review what happens and then explain some of the more abstract meaning behind it.
Every time a student comes to Mikage for counseling, they are seen seated in some kind of small, boxlike room with gray metallic walls. On one wall is a square of glass, which appears to the student to be a mirror. In reality, it’s also a window for Mikage to look out and see the student. On the wall to the right, there is a picture frame usually containing a butterfly. As the troubled student talks about their distress, the boxlike room begins to descend like a slow, noisy elevator. Mikage encourages the student to “Go deeper,” and as the student becomes more emotional and unhinged, the elevator drops again. As for what’s in the picture frame, it becomes a caterpillar. Once the elevator has gone to the deepest floor, Mikage begins the process of making the student into a Black Rose Duelist.
The elevator resembles a small consultation room in an old-fashioned mental asylum, appropriate for the idea of Mikage being a counselor. It is also unmistakably an elevator in function, and its downward descent represents a reversion to the student’s primal emotions and deeper, darker thoughts. The descent also has meaning as a descent into the past. Mikage is obsessed with the past, and everyone he manipulates is clinging to something in the past. This stands in contrast to the elevator that takes the student council members upward in the first arc; they are, in turn, obsessed with the future and changing the world to be what they want. Utena, meanwhile, lives mostly in the present, in the middle on the normal ground.
As for the butterfly and caterpillar, they are also references to a reversion to an earlier time, and/or a reversion to an earlier, more primitive state of being. Instead of progressing from larvae to adult, the insect went backwards in its development. This symbolism is very relevant to Mikage especially, since he is stuck in the past. He also does not age, and is similar to a caterpillar who rejected the natural progression into a butterfly. This is quite similar to what we will discuss in the section 3 concerning flowers and fruits, so I’ll leave off for now. Expect further thoughts on this idea later on when eternity is discussed.
The process of becoming a Black Rose Duelist is important to point out, and ties into the meaning of the swords that emerge from student council members’ bodies. First, the student is given a black rose ring taken from one of the boys who died in the fire long ago. A black rose is also used to stab the student’s heart, after which they become a hollow shell of themselves. From there, the new duelist acquires a sword by violently pulling it out of the body of a student council member. That student council member becomes completely lifeless until the Black Rose Duelist is defeated. What is going on with this?
Put simply, the sword represents the “spirit” or “heart” of the individual. When a Black Rose Duelist fights, they are able to use the skills and techniques of the person they took the sword from. That’s why Wakaba had the skills of Saionji when she dueled with Utena. But a sword taken from someone’s body is more than just their fighting power. It is their very lifeforce. Everyone who had their swords pulled out of them essentially “died,” and could only be revived if the Black Rose Duelist lost the battle. So you see, the soul of the duelist is the saber.
Being robbed of your life, spirit, and individual skills could be a metaphor for a painful emotional experience like betrayal. Since there is a sexual element between the Black Rose Duelist and the student council member each time, it’s also possible that drawing out the sword is a metaphor for sexual assault. But I think that’s more than enough speculation about the swords for now. Hopefully, this section has reminded you of the structure of the Black Rose Saga and its major recurring elements. With that information in mind, we can move on to discussing the mystery behind all these episodes: the story and identity of Souji Mikage.
2- The Truth About Mikage
The last two episodes of the Black Rose Saga server to explain the truth about the main antagonist, Mikage, and his young companion Mamiya. I don’t know of a good way to touch on the many important points other than to retell the story and information from those two episodes of the anime. Recounting all that should lead us into some engaging discussion.
The person presented as Mikage was, long ago, a young professor called Nemuro. He operated like a robot, with no grasp on human emotions, and no sense of purpose. In fact, he admired efficient machines so much that he considered it a positive thing to be compared to a computer. However, something finally awoke in Nemuro when he met and fell in love with his female supervisor, Tokiko. This changed everything, including giving Nemuro a very significant sense of purpose: the task of saving Mamiya, the sickly younger brother of Tokiko. Mamiya’s illness was a terminal one, but Nemuro believed he could change this fate.
While Nemuro conducted his research without actually caring, another project was underway. One hundred “special” boys of great promise were participants of the project, but any details about it were kept top-secret. It was rumored that the goal of the research was to “revolutionize the world.” In reality, the mysterious being known as End of The World was in charge and had made contracts with each of the hundred special students. His goal was equally vague– something about “reaching eternity.” Perhaps that meant eternal life? Guess who was also interested in that? Professor Nemuro. The End of The World made contact with Nemuro, and it was at some point soon after that a tragedy occurred.
All one hundred boys in the special research project were trapped inside a building and burned alive. Someone arranged things and set the fire intentionally. But there are two stories, because what happened in reality was different from what happened in Nemuro’s head. Whether due to mental illness, dark magic, or the manipulation of The End of The World, Nemuro had become delusional. In his mind, Mamiya was the one who set the fire, and it was a noble act. Those hundred students were the sacrifice needed to “gain eternity.” Now if Nemuro and Mamiya continued working together, they could surely do it, and revolutionize the world. Tokiko witnessed the great burning along with Nemuro– and according to her, things happened quite differently.
Mamiya did not set the fire. In fact, he wasn’t even there, since he had already died from his terminal illness. It was clear, as the mad professor ranted about the sacrifice, that Nemuro himself started the fire. There is a gap in our information here, but we know that the tragic fire was framed as an accident for the public. We know Tokiko left Nemuro, who continued to believe Mamiya was at his side. An unspecified, long amount of time passed. The world forgot Nemuro, but he continued to exist with the new name of Mikage, obeying the wishes of The End of The World. When an aged version of Tokiko visits the academy, it becomes clear that Mikage has not changed. I expect it was at least two decades that passed, but Mikage did not age a day.
I’m aware section 2 is lengthier than all the others in this post, but there is still much to be said here. We need to have a clear understanding of what happened to Mikage in the end. (After that, I might have a few other thoughts to add of my own). So let’s continue with the recap. In RGU episode 23, Mikage has run out of powerful Duelists to send into battle. He himself approaches Utena, but his mental state is becoming stranger by the moment. In Mikage’s eyes, Utena is Tokiko, the woman he loved but also the one who rejected his research and left him. Utena becomes furious as she learns about Mikage’s manipulative nature. She challenges him to a duel, which Mikage accepts, still believing that if he wins, Mamiya will become the new Rose Bride– an eternal existence, forever safe from illness and death.
As the duel progresses, Mikage’s delusions abruptly shatter. He realizes the original Mamiya was different than the ghost in his head, and had died long before. He realized that Utena was not Tokiko. And he realized that all along, he had been manipulated by The End of The World. Speaking of that being, he explains that time stopped for Mikage because of his powerful attachment to Mamiya and Tokiko. But now that’s all over. Mikage’s delusions were shattered. He was no longer useful to The End of The World. So after losing the duel, Mikage vanished. His entire existence was erased from past, present, and future. It’s as if the world was rewritten. The story now goes that nobody died in the fire so long ago. There is no record of the hundred boys or Professor Nemuro, and there is of course no sign of Mikage in the present.
That sums up the recap, but I still have thoughts to share related to all this. So I’ll do it this way. Section 3 will focus on some symbolism and psychology related to Mikage. Section 4 will focus on Mamiya and the secret related to his identity. For both sections, it’s important to understand the events we reviewed here.
3- Eternity, Flowers and Fruit
Eternity is a recurring idea in RGU. The research project with Nemuro and the hundred boys was supposed to “open the path to eternity.” This is somehow connected with “the power to revolutionize the world,” but it’s not exactly one and the same. What do the characters mean when they say they want eternity? The most obvious answer is eternal life, but I think it’s more nuanced than that. The power of eternity is probably a little different for everyone, but it’s always related to ideals and memories. Mikage wanted eternity to forever extend the days he spent with Tokiko and Mamiya. He also wanted to save Mamiya from his fated death. So it seems that “eternity” is a short time, where precious memories happened, extended forever. Eternal life and agelessness is simply a byproduct.
We saw theme of eternity a little in the previous arc. Young Utena was in despair and hiding herself in a coffin after her parents died. She asks something along the lines of, “How can everyone go on living if we’re all just going to die one day?” Touga left Utena there, and explained to Saionji that they could do nothing to help because they couldn’t give the girl anything eternal. Also in the first arc, Saionji kidnapped Anthy and took her to the arena where, supposedly, the floating castle would descend. (If you recall, the castle is “where eternity dwells” and the path to it was uncovered by Nemuro and his research.) Saionji was seeking eternity, too– though I’m not sure what his special moment was that he wanted to make eternal.
In the case of Utena, she was saved by the “prince,” and her dream was born. That was the precious memory that Utena would likely want to stretch into eternity, if she was interested in such a goal. However, by fighting Mikage, she proved that she was different. Or at least, she proved that she wasn’t as far gone as Mikage. It’s still a fact that Utena treasures her memory of the prince to an unhealthy extent. She is holding onto that memory and the hope it promises her with a vicelike grip. That much was made clear in the confrontation between Utena and Mikage.
It’s interesting to note that, during said confrontation, Mikage reframed the whole Black Rose Saga to a form that fits with the theme of eternity. He says of the people he manipulated, “The girls all had memories they couldn’t forget. Very, very precious memories. And they all fought to preserve those memories. In short, they are people who tried to change their lives according to their memories.” Memories and fixation on the past are closely intertwined with the theme of eternity, since “gaining eternity” has been defined as one idealized moment made to last forever. Wakaba’s desired eternity is her time living with Saionji; Kozue’s eternity is the time she spends at the center of Miki’s attention; and so on, for all the Black Rose Duelists.
Now, the motif of the flower (namely the rose) is also connected to the theme of eternity. I’m assuming everyone knows the most basic concepts of botany, so I don’t have to explain that fruits follow flowers. Rose fruits are called rosehips. When the aged version of Tokiko visits the academy, she has a line something like this: “You know, don’t you, that for a plant to bear fruit, the flower must die?” Now think of this in a symbolic sense. Things are meant to change with time. Every stage in our lives is temporary. A rose won’t remain a flower; it will mature into rosehips. Suppose that the rose symbolizes adolescence, and the rosehips symbolize adulthood. Mikage, who is technically still a teenager, is trying to stay in one state forever. He would rather stay a rose than become a fruit.
Mamiya shared a fact about his sister with Mikage long ago: that she liked to dry and preserve roses to use for decorating. The strange and thoughtful Mamiya said he felt bad for the roses, because maybe they didn’t want to stay roses forever. In other words, the Tokiko of the past might have had a similar mindset to Mikage. However, she was able to accept Mamiya’s death and continue her own life. Interestingly enough, when she visits the academy, she is carrying fresh roses rather than dried ones in memory of her brother. Tokiko’s perspective contrasts with that of Mikage, but also helps make the symbolism clearer. Eternity is the opposite of natural progression, a single stage frozen in time.
I’ve got one last thought on the subject of flowers in this arc of RGU. Why is the motif for this saga a black rose in particular? It probably isn’t important to know why, but I’m curious. At first, I thought the answer would be found by looking up the hanakotoba meaning of black rose. (Hanakotoba means language of flowers, and refers to the tradition where every kind of flower has a specific meaning.) This turned out to be a dead end; there is no established meaning for the black rose because it does not exist in nature. Within RGU, the boy who accompanies Mikage also doesn’t exist. He is an illusion. The real Mamiya stopped existing long ago.
So that’s one reason why the rose might be black. The other reason I can think of is much simpler. The rose is meant to be black like the charred remains of the burned building and all the boys who died within. Black is also the color of coal, which is fitting because Mikage referred to the dead boys as the fuel for his plan. Let me know in the comments if you have a different idea behind the color of Mamiya’s and Mikage’s roses.
4- Anthy as Mamiya and The End Of The World
Please Note: By the time you’ve completed the Black Rose Saga, you should clearly know the identity of “The End of The World.” However, since it’s mostly shown through visuals and not explicitly stated, there is the chance you don’t know the truth yet. In that case, to avoid a spoiler, please skip this section.
There is a subtle but startling reveal in this arc that we haven’t yet discussed. I watched the last two episodes of the Black Rose Saga at least 3 times before I realized and fully comprehended it. The boy who accompanied Mikage for these episodes wasn’t the real Mamiya, but also wasn’t a mere hallucination. Rather, he was a complex illusion created and sustained by someone who can use magic. It turns out Anthy is that someone. She impersonates Mamiya and spends time with Mikage as per the orders of The End Of The World. If you watch the last two episodes with that in mind, the truth becomes obvious due to numerous small evidences that build on each other. Still, in case you are skeptical of this interpretation, I will present three strong pieces of evidence to back it up.
Throughout this 10-episode arc, Utena is frequently seen searching for Anthy. That alone is a small hint, but you should also consider the timing of events. There is usually a gap between the time when Mamiya and Mikage create a new duelist, and the time when the duel with Utena takes place. Even if she had no magic, Anthy would easily have time to pull off both roles (Mamiya imposter and Rose Bride). But here’s the real clincher. When Mikage is in the elevator to prepare for the duel, he talks to Mamiya, but there is no physical sign of the boy. With every other Black Rose Duelist, it’s either shown or implied that Mamiya is present. The episode takes a random few second scene to show that Anthy was in bed feeling extra sleepy around that time. There’s no conflict with Anthy’s appearances and Mamiya’s.
As Mikage’s delusions shatter, he realizes the Mamiya he knew so long ago looked completely different from the Mamiya we saw the most in the Black Rose Saga. The real Mamiya was pale-skinned with dark hair and a few freckles. The Mamiya we saw for most of the arc had a dark, Indian-like complexion, and silvery hair cut in a different style. Anthy has the same skin tone, the same hair style in the front, and the same bright green eyes. So the mysterious boy looks like a combination of Anthy and the real Mamiya. As you probably can guess, there is significance to the dark skin in the RGU world. These characters all share that complexion: The faceless prince from Utena’s memory, the vision of Prince Dios that possesses Utena in her duels, the Rose Bride Anthy, and her brother Akio. The Mamiya imposter could be any one of them– or so you can argue until we get to the last piece of evidence.
We come to the final scene in the Black Rose Saga. After Mikage’s existence was erased, the Mamiya impersonator can be seen staring out a wide window with a serious expression. The End of The World– AKA Akio– joins the boy by the window, and asks if he felt sorry about what happened to Mikage. The Mamiya impersonator doesn’t answer. Then Akio puts his hand on the boy’s shoulder and says “He’s not here at this school anymore. He never really was in the first place. Just like you.” The camera cuts to another angle, and suddenly, Anthy is the one standing there, with Akio’s hand on her shoulder. She slowly turns her head and gives her characteristically empty smile. I think that makes it pretty clear.
This reveal is eerie and even upsetting because of the implications. For one thing, Anthy has pretty frightening magical powers. (Although we sort of knew that from her cursed body-switch curry and the way her enchanted bell turned Nanami into a cow.) But the other uncomfortable implication is that Anthy played a role in manipulating every Black Rose Duelist. She was helping Mikage. She’s also hiding all this information from Utena and/or deliberately lying. At this point in RGU, we should definitely be wary about Anthy and keep our eyes open. However, there’s no reason to condemn her completely. We know from the first arc of the anime that Anthy basically has no personal agency. She only follows orders– and orders from The End of The World have top priority. We don’t yet know if Anthy is forced to obey or if she does so voluntarily. But at least keep in mind the possibility that Anthy can’t disobey.
It’s about time we moved on to start tackling the topic of The End Of The World. Come to think of it, I should have started this earlier somewhere– but hey, these rants of mine are not always organized. Anyway, there were hints before about The End Of The World, but the last two episodes of the Black Rose Saga made his identity clear. Akio Ohtori is The End Of The World and the mastermind behind everything in the Black Rose Saga. He also played a hand in the events of the Student Council Saga before. In the recap episode between these two arcs, Akio was the man narrating and discussing Utena’s duels. (By the way, is appears that the princely boy Akio was talking to in that episode was Prince Dios.)
At this point there’s just so much we don’t know about the RGU world and the Rose Bride System. Akio is clearly deeply connected with it, but we can’t be sure of his role yet. We also don’t know exactly what Akio wants or what his greater plans are. It likely has something to do with the power of Prince Dios, reaching the floating castle of eternity, and/or “revolutionizing the world.” Since this is all pretty unclear right now, I’ll wait until the next post to write more about Akio. After all, the whole next arc is the Akio Ohtori Saga. We’re sure to learn a lot.
Originally, I intended to include another few paragraphs explaining my theories about the mysteries of the RGU world and how it works. There were some big hints in the Black Rose Saga. But now, I think that discussion should wait until we have reviewed all the arcs in RGU. Fan theories may also deserve their own entire blog post; I haven’t decided yet. So for now, this is where we’ll wrap things up. I feel like I’ll always have more to say about a masterpiece anime like RGU, but for the time being, I’ve addressed all the main points I set out to cover.
I am sincerely grateful for any reads or views I get on this blog. Thanks so much! I hope you will come visit Anime Rants again soon. Keep a lookout, because before long, I will have an article about the Akio Ohtori Saga of Revolutionary Girl Utena! Sayorana~