Shoujo and the Bride of Christ (and IV): Just Because!, Utena, and Princess Tutu

Just Because! starts with a certain Haruto trying again and again to achieve a home run in an empty school field. If he does, he will confess his feelings to Morikawa, who played the trumpet with such passion at his baseball matches. Does he really know her? Well, no. His friend Eita, back in town today after four years, thinks it all absurd. Yet, he is the pitcher. Ena Komiya takes a shot of them for her photography club, and that shot is burning with meaning. And the calm, hard-working Mio is watching. A random act of kindness by one of them had a powerful effect on her years ago. Love and meaning are invisible, but there are signs. Sometimes, they set a fire within us.

All stories end, and this is also true of love stories. Maybe our protagonists look ahead together, and there is a bright joy, a bright hope, a colorful happiness that they have just begun to taste. Or we get a glimpse of children, new life, looking both like their father and their mother in one flesh. Maybe they are not together, and one or the other, alone, ponders with gratitude what has been received, cries perhaps, and then lets go in a moment of light.

Or maybe it’s not like that. Maybe tragedy strikes with all its power, and even so, a testimony of a love stronger than death remains. Or, the scars remain there, new challenges loom in the horizon, but there’s hope (even in the very scar), and what has taken place is meaningful, and it’s present. Or, one more day comes, and the protagonists face it, and we are relieved to see that they remain themselves despite all the hardships. Be as it may, the light is there. In Just Because!, Haruto, Morikawa and Ena, despite their respective shortcomings, run towards it.

But those are just stories, right? In our lives, things tend to get messier. You suddenly find happiness with a side character, or someone who was not even in the plot. Or it goes well and you end up together, but, for better or worse, your life in common looks so different from what you had expected. Or, it is well at first, and then something goes wrong, and you are not together anymore.

Or nothing really happens—it just fades and ends somehow, and you can just shrug. Or you become bitter and reject what you previously loved, or just turn sad. Even if they cannot but admire their more passionate friends, people like Mio and Eita see this side of things. So they try to be realistic, to find stability and peace.

Shoujo and the Bride of Christ (I): Kimi ni Todoke and Ao Haru Ride

And even so, at the same time, the endings of light are not lies. In love, victory looks like that: Those who experience it can bear witness. The powerful self-giving as one is and acceptance of the other as he or she is, freely given as a gift, be it to choose each other or to let go despite the pain.

What I love about Just Because!, a wise, peaceful story full of beautiful details, is how it explores the tensions between life and love, exams, jobs, misunderstandings, the past, separations, timidity, nervousness, practical concerns, and the promise, the power, the light. Things do not work automatically. Obstacles do not disappear. There is a path that feels real to me. Mio and Eita are not too keen on moving, and yet… Why? Just because? Or perhaps because true love is connected to the deeper meaning of our reality. And thus it always bears fruit, and its wildly different fruits are signs of hope, be them accepted or rejected.

But hope for what? “To see a world in a grain of sand,/ and a heaven in a wildflower/ hold infinity in the palm of your hand/ and eternity in an hour,” a different kind of reality, but not entirely disconnected from this one. Movement is a big theme in Just Because! Bicycles and trains, transferring out of town and coming back, working here or going to college, the photography club changing or not changing. At a deeper level, other things are moving. Experiencing love, beauty or goodness, we may come to feel how the universe we live in is dynamic, running towards its fulfillment, and that our lives are dynamic too.

Everything, from the atoms to the stars, from our biology and emotions to our personal stories, from fictional worlds to our real communities, the story of the world as a whole, even the supernatural and life beyond death, from the highest to the lowest. And the endpoint may be love. The story of all stories may be the one of the purest self-donation, the fullest correspondence and the greatest gift, of the God Who is love, Father, Son and Spirit, a love at once eternally stable and fiercely dynamic, as the burning bush Moses saw.

A love that moves everything else, and of which all loves on Earth partake, to the extent that they are true. Those of man and woman, of husband and wife, of God and man, of Christ and us. So, what is Heaven, then? It is something beyond words, a new kind of reality? It is something deeply personal, like a home run, a loving embrace, a triumphant note, an act of kindness, a long-awaited reunion, an unexpected coincidence?

It is not entirely disconnected from our experiences of love and plenitude, but it is eternal. Like Just Because!, it entails union, friendship, and true communion. And finally, it is victory, love triumphant, the Church Triumphant. “To him who overcomes” begins the seven promises of the Book of Revelation.

Why do I insist so much in truthfulness? We come to see how the perspective of our five characters is distorted in various ways as they show it to each other. Part of it is inexperience, part of it is bad, cowardly choices. We are in a state of maturing, and sin—the void of choosing not to love—has distorted our reality and become part of us. As with our characters, we need to walk the opposite way while, at the same time, we mature in love.

There were several milestones in the life of the first Apostles. They knew Christ, one way or another. They followed Him. He chose and called them from among the rest of the disciples. They received a mission, received the Bread of Life, sinned by abandoning Christ at the Passion. They saw Him risen and ascend. They traveled to the ends of the Earth, performed miracles, shepherded the Church. They died, most of them as martyrs.

But there was also a day in which they received a fire like that of the burning bush. As Christ had prophesied, they received the Holy Spirit, Who united them to Christ and made them more solid, more united, more themselves. They started sharing the intimacy of the Trinity. Love itself was at work mysteriously and they cooperated. Love is also at work in the events, realistic yet somehow miraculous, of Just Because!

Shoujo and the Bride of Christ (II): Fruits Basket (2001)

Likewise, we may be one day a pillar of the cosmic Temple of God, witnesses to the fulfillment, embedded in the love of the Trinity. Many people, perhaps some we know, are there right now. They partake in God’s love, also for us, and at the same time, are fully themselves. They can see us. With God, we may just win.

A home run is not a life with Morikawa, which is not a life in Christ, which is not (yet) Heaven. But God’s solid, real world is a deep world, and there’s real analogy, the seal of the Artist, and there’s real participation, bridges to the eternal, loving present of God here and now, which come from His generous love, just because. A transient rose may become a rose of light. And, as everything moves, there is hope.

Utena and the Rose Bride

Characters fighting because of glimpses of something eternal. A meta-story inside all stories, the story of a loving Prince and of a Princess who waits and fights to reach him. Signs. A way up to love triumphant, to the faraway castle of a fairy tale ending, glorious union and the happily ever after. The way up encompassing all the movement of the universe (the common feature of the always different lyrics of that strange song on the way up, about cells and elements, historical events and daily realities, but all in movement). This reality being present at every level of the everyday world, which is moving. “If the egg does not open, the bird will not be born. The world is our egg.” A cosmic shoujo, and a revolution against it which is intended to become the new meta-story.

Rose of Versailles was somehow torn between the splendor of shoujo romanticism and the need to redefine and overthrow it. Utena is not. While she is an admirable character and in her world, her actions are justified, that world requires careful critical examination from a Christian point of view. So, spoilers ahead.

Utena’s Prince is named Dios, “God,” and at a point, we come across his very Nietzschian tomb. It turns out that trying to love everyone with unlimited, saving love ended up exhausting and killing him. Unable to cope with this, he was reborn as a corrupt version of himself, willing to use others, including his sister, tricked into trying to imitate his sacrifice.

Now, he rules the world as the chairman of what may be described as Versailles mixed with Brueghel’s Babel and repurposed as high school. He exploits the Rose Bride, individually and collectively, and projects a false castle in the heavens. The hope of eternal love is his instrument.

In the end, Utena says, all the girls are like the Rose Bride. All the oppressed by various structures are. In the place of God and His cosmic order moved by love, of which one partakes, there is an structure of power, subjugation, and seduction which uses the natural impulse to reach eternity and Heaven for its own self-perpetuation, for increasing its power. It’s a cosmic aristocratic, sexual, psychological. and romantic high school liturgy in which people willingly participate, vocational narratives to be used as weapons. But some are the scapegoats, perpetually alienated as a result of the game, so alienated they don´t know it anymore, yet suffer. Without a real Prince who loves her for herself, the Princess is only something in which everybody projects their own desires.

Utena is sort of an anomaly in the Prince/Princess system, yet she embodies its knightly values almost perfectly. She comes to see them (as well as her vocation story) as a lie she was projecting in others, yet sacrifices herself for the oppressed.

The calling of eternity has been transformed in an humanistic ideal, an utopia. She brings revolution, and even if nothing seems to change, an oppressed soul is able to find herself. Obtain agency and power, take matters into her own hands, reject the illusions of the castle, and walk away. Finding her own meaning in rootlessness. Yuri becomes a symbol of the revolution against the Prince/Princess kingdom. Utena disappears, but she ignites the flame.

What to make of this? I don’t believe rootlessness brings hope, neither to plants nor to humans, if you forgive the pun. It brings some joy, refreshment, and energy—at first. With substitutes for Heaven, like the revolution, a substitute liturgy, a substitute cosmos, the illusion may last for a time. But humanism, turning to the ephemeral, to worldly projects, makes you eventually fall into the same pit it supposedly rescues you from. You may have power for a time, but then you meet the nothingness, the fact that you cannot truly create meaning. Love fails. If there’s no destination point, energy will ultimately dissolve into the cold and movement will stop. This is our tomb-like world, more tomb-like as we get older. The transient roses cannot substitute the rose of light.

So let’s go back to the tomb. In Christ, we Christians believe, God was really in a tomb. But He did rise. If not, everything is in vain; St. Paul, a man who lived in “God’s household, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth,” tells us as much. We must not be afraid to admit this, because we are the spiritual sons of Abraham, who trusted God’s promise, knowing that if He didn’t fulfill it, his only son would be dead. And thus, brought us life. And of Mary, that was told: “You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what He said.” One day, the Prince will come.

I mentioned how Utena’s revolution is justified in the world of the show. The castle is false, and she is committed to truth. Thus, her journey also parallels the way Christianity enters in the world of the “old gods,” and how Jesus Christ, God and Man, identifies Himself with the opressed and goes all the way to save them, and in doing so he solves the paradox. And the Church, us, is called to imitate Him near the poor and the needy.

Our lives, personal and collective, may become hypocritical, abusive, trapping structures. As we remain sinners, Israel, as seen in the Pharisees, the Church, as seen in the Book of Revelation, and our personal life in Christ requires active purification. But it is not us, with our own power, individual or collective, who can effect it.

Shoujo and the Bride of Christ (III): Rose of Versailles

Rather, like Israel at Egypt, we must do our best to cooperate with Him, who can truly cleanse us. If we do not break the bond, He will not abandon us, through fire and water, beyond the structure of the world of power. He promised Peter that the gates of Hell will not prevail against His Church. And we live in a Cosmos that is truly like an egg, awaiting new life.

Ahiru and the Rose of Light

Okay, this one is a Mahou Shoujo, really. And you have Madoka, which Cajk2 beautifully commented here and here. Also a shoujo meta-story which defies conventions, with, at its core, a tale of a Prince and a Princess which defines an entire fictional universe, in which, much as Utena, there is an outsider who defies the conventions of the genre. But, unlike Utena, I think it shows real hope, powerful hope, transcendent hope. And maybe no character has fostered my friendship with the Virgin Mary as much as Ahiru of Princess Tutu, for which I’m very grateful.

As Utena, Ahiru lives in a world which is both serious and absurd, light and dark, ruled by shoujo logic. Like her, she has taken a heroic, unsuspected path to reach a certain prince. She has a croaky voice, and is messy, unskilled, and pretty dumb. But there’s a purity in the way she loves the prince which is made manifest when she turns into the beautiful, immaculate Princess Tutu, full of saving power, a living sign of hope which sets the stagnated story into motion. Is Princess Tutu Ahiru? What is her connection with the prince? What if the narrative curses her? Watch it and see. You won’t regret it.

Ahiru is herself, but she is Tutu. Tutu is a living sign of hope, reflecting with purity a law higher than that of Drosselmeyer. Her love for the Prince is sort of a paradox, but a fruitful one. I guess the duality Ahiru/Tutu, as well as their deep, fundamental unity and her relationship with the Prince, helped me in intuiting how a normal person, by accepting in humble, obedient love the gift given to her, could remain a peasant girl in the margin of Israel and history, and yet be a living prophecy, a sign, a rose of light, creating union, accepting everyone in the name of someone greater.

That is the Church, and it is also Mary, the human mother of Christ and a foretaste, a scoop, of things to come to the rest of us. The Catholic tradition is known (even in anime) for the love and devotion it professes Mary. In Dante, she is in the Rose of Light. We believe that she did receive many special gifts from Christ, as a part of a mission which she couldn’t really understand or measure but that she accepted, time after time. That she is our most humble sister, but also our mother, with a role as vital as that of Peter and the Disciples. The mission to be a living, human, bodily prophecy of the Church, a sign of how body, soul, biography, heart and mission converge in Christ. What Ahiru was for everyone (especially for a certain character), Mary is for us.

So, what are those gifts we will receive? The gift of escaping the stain of sin, protected by the Son she would accept, and thus remain immaculate, as a new, obedient Eve receiving the fruit of obedience from the new Adam. The gift of being virgin, wife and mother at once, by faith, living all those signs of Heaven. The gift of giving birth to Christ, of being physically near Him, of looking Him all His life. The painful gift of being near the Cross when He died. The gift to receive the Disciple as her son, and being entrusted to him as a mother, in the context of the great family of Christ. The gift of Pentecost.

And, finally, the gift of being with Christ and the rest of the family in Heaven, also in body, and fight for us until the fulfillment. All this for a humble side character, an ugly duckling, chosen by a Prince, who responded in love and faith and walked the path, little by little.

To me, it certainly sounds like a happy ending.

7 thoughts on “Shoujo and the Bride of Christ (and IV): Just Because!, Utena, and Princess Tutu

    1. You may be right. It tends to happen to me: I guess that belief in Heaven makes many martyrial, tragic/hopeful endings of this sort happy. But, *spoilers*, Ahiru is with the man who chose her as Ahiru, and he is just beginning to develop his own potential, which could take them anywhere, and their hope has already conquered Drosselmeyer’s plan. I think the situation, while by no means easy or closed, is one of shared communion, pure love and hope, and there’s a way forward. That’s a sort of ending I really like.

  1. Well now you’re talking about two of my favourite anime, so I have to comment somewhat.

    You’re honestly probably correct to critique Utena for not really having anything *above* all the deconstruction, and that that’s a moral limitation of the show. But (as you also seem to hint) there’s a sense in which all that is necessary, and, done correctly, clears the thickets and theoretically can link back up with the transcendent.

    As for Princess Tutu, it’s been long enough since my last viewing that I don’t really have anything substantive to say beyond that that’s a very interesting connection to make. Anyway, you are a very good writer.

    1. Thank you! It is a real honor that you would say that, because you’re one of my inspirations as a blogger. Your way of confronting complicated, artsy shows with deep analysis, Christian/Catholic connections and an underlying sense of fun and wonder really helped me define my own approach. I did reread your own analysis of Utena as I was writing this, your old post about Haruhi’s Endless Eight and Lent inspired me to write about Higurashi and Lent, and I think it was one of your lists which first lead me to Tutu, which is also one of my favorites, and to many other fascinating, unique stories. So, I’m really thankful for your comment.

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