Utena spoilers and shit ahead. You’ve been warned.
In general I know that we as fans tend to think that Akio and Anthy are perfect little xanatosgambit machines, (and that the only flaw in their manipulations was that Utena was JUST TOO LEGIT TO QUIT) but the more I watch the series, the less I believe that.
Don’t get me wrong. They are fucking masters of the game. The framework of The Plan, most of the players involved, and how they were going to get their target from A to B was all down pat. They had done this shit before.
But I believe that a good portion of it was essentially impromptu. Anthy, in particular, had to roll with anything that was thrown at her for a long assed time. I’m willing to bet a lot of shit went down that was NOT part of the plan, and Anthy basically had to ad lib her way through it and put it back on course.
(Spoilers ahead maybe)
When we first meet Kanae, we’re entering the Black Rose arc. She’s the first duelist so many of her subtleties are overlooked as people spend most of the time analyzing the reflecting duelists of the Student Council.
Kanae shouldn’t be disposable to the viewers but we do. We cast her aside and move on.
But let’s think about her a little more. She’s engaged to Akio and as the school chairman’s daughter, that gives him some leverage at the school but we see in the end that these duels have happened time and time again. He doesn’t need to have the chairman’s daughter in his pocket. He can find any way to manipulate and control the duels within this setting.
So why Kanae?
My theory: Kanae is a former champion duelist from his games that succumbed when offered the role of princess but has forgotten everything around the duels. I personally believe that Kanae was the first female duelist to enter the games.
We see with the Black Rose duelists of Nemuro Hall that clearly they’re al wearing the male school uniforms. All of the corpses the rings are pulled from are male. I don’t think until Akio met young Utena that he had ever entertained the idea that maybe a girl could be a prince. That maybe Akio was inspired but this young child announcing that she would grow up and become a prince.
And so Kanae came to be a possibility. But when it came to the final moment and Akio offered her the role of princess, she took it.
We can see immediately when we meet Kanae as viewers that she has no idea of the duels and she is Akio’s “princess”(engaged). Anthy’s distance that she places on Kanae can seem like pushing her to become a Black Rose duelist but I think some of it is genuine saltiness from being abandoned.
Unlike the other Black Rose duelists, Kanae doesn’t pull her sword from her counterpart. And no one questions where this sword comes from, because we haven’t seen the pattern yet to even think about it. So where did her dueling sword come from? It’s hers! The sword she gave her prince in attempt to break the seal.
Other notes: having been disappointed by Kanae before could be part of why Anthy still couldn’t be sure if Utena wouldn’t do the same. The male duelists have always failed and girls always become princesses. Anthy has seen the chain, what would make anything any different?
Kanae might be disposable to Akio, but I think she’s a character that deserves more thought when we consider the history of the duels.
“No… that’s not all I wanted. Juri was always so kind to me. But she
was just making a fool out of me. I thought she was just being kind to
me out of sympathy for not being as great as she was! That’s what I
thought! It seemed so pathetic! I… needed to change the balance of
out friendship. But what I did with him made me feel even more pathetic
than before. I thought I wanted him for me. But now… Now she and I are
equal. No! I’ve beaten her! I’m the one who has always been there in
her heart! I’ve beaten her in the end.
Oh, what to do…
Knowing my friend’s secret turns everything I felt around. I’m so happy!
There she’d be, alone and miserable, looking at my picture. So
vulnerable… just like me…
It’s not enough! it’s still not enough! Why do you always look at me like that?! Why?!
Ikuhara's Episode Commentary: 23: "The Terms of a Duelist"
The climactic duel scene. I agonized over the dialogue between Mikage and Utena, and over Akio’s dialogue in the last scene. I edited it over and over, right up until the eleventh hour, just before recording began.
The last scene. The original plan was for it to be Tokiko on the phone with Akio.
“Why hello, Tokiko. Have you thought about what I said? That’s right… about Professor Nemuro. He was lying to himself, clinging to his past with you.”
It was all an illusion that Mikage himself had created for his own sake.
“Yes… that dream that he let the 100 boys die seems to be another lie he told himself to keep himself in the past. It’s just like magic, isn’t it? Why do you suppose so many people believed a false rumor like that? Perhaps they wanted to believe… that miraculous power dwells within friends.”
The illusion Mikage wanted to see. Were the Black Rose Duelists people his illusion resonated with?
“While you cling to your memories, time stops. Perhaps that was the eternity he found, though… Yes… good idea. If you’ll come and fetch him, I imagine he’ll be released from the memories.”
Tokiko symbolized the lost “real time.” And she said she would come for Mikage. The time had finally come for him to be released from his illusion of his lost time.
Was that really all right? I thought it over.
The story in episodes 11 and 12 about the dueling game. Episode 23 picks up where it left off in laying the groundwork for the final episode.
Wasn’t Mikage’s fate the same fate that Utena would eventually meet? In which case, shouldn’t it be crueler?
I tried making the person on the other end of the phone line Mikage himself.
“The path you must take is no longer prepared for you. Now graduate from this place.”
Those who reject that place are, conversely, rejected by it as well. This is the nature of systems: the moment you reject them, you are forced to realize that they’re the very ground you’re standing on. Mikage noticed the trick behind the system, and he hurriedly attempted revisions. But the adult who’d created the system just said “Let’s not,” and unilaterally brought the curtain down. The system of illusion was finished. Mikage could no longer exist there. That’s why he disappeared from the memories of those who’d interacted with him.
People’s happiness or unhappiness shouldn’t be determined by struggles over the device called “the Rose Bride.” Utena rejects the duel system.
In due course Utena will be rejected by the duel system and that place, and no longer be able to exist there. This foreshadows the final scene of the series.
Black Rose duelist Shiori is almost finished, yay! Some buttons are still pinned on and i have to do adjustments to a few others, but i am so pleased with this costume ;A; i cant wait to try it on with the pants, shoes and wig.