The Utena Tarot. PART 0. The FOOL.


The first episode begins, already meta, with a storybook retelling of a young Utena Tenjou meeting a prince who comforts her after the death of her parents. The prince gives her a ring with a rose crest and tells her that it will bring her back to him someday.

Years later, Utena is now a high school student and has become obsessed with becoming a prince like the one she met as a child. She wears a custom masculine uniform, and is popular with the students, though gets into difficulties with school authority.

Through an attempt to save the pride of her friend Wakaba, who was wronged by student council member Saionji, she accidentally involves herself in a complex dueling game for control of the mysterious rose bride, Anthy Himemiya.

The two of them engage in a sword fight in the forbidden dueling forest, where Utena witnesses a giant castle in the sky, which Saionji claims is "merely a mirage." Utena wields a simple wooden practice sword against Saionji's "sword of Dios," as Utena was unaware that they'd be dueling for real. After the duel, she is surprised to find that Anthy has developed an interest in her and has declared them "engaged."


As anyone familiar with Utena knows, the "rules of the rose seal" are cyclical, and this duel presents the point of entry into that cycle.

"In spiritual matters, the Fool means idea, thought, spirituality, that which endeavours to transcend earth. In material matters, it may, if badly dignified, mean folly, eccentricity, or even mania. But the essential of this card is that it represents an original, subtle, sudden impulse or impact, coming from a completely strange quarter. All such impulses are right, if rightly received; and the good or ill interpretation of the card depends entirely on the right attitude of the Querent...This card is therefore both the father and the mother, in the most abstract form of these ideas. "  -- Aleister Crowley on The Fool

The fool is one of the four "elemental cards" of the major arcana, representing air. Yet Utena herself is a capricorn, an earth sign, which I feel compounds her identification with the fool -- representing her transformation as she stands on the cliff between "earth" (the material world of the school) and "air" (the dream-world that rules ohtori). Indeed while the fool is chiefly identified with Air, it's also alchemical. And with the earth (green-haired, virgo) of Saionji, the water of (pisces) Anthy, and the secret fire of Akio's manipulation, this first duel can be thought of as representative of alchemy. This isn't even mentioning the way the the duel song lyrics mirror this interpretation. I mean, just look:

Utena's genderqueer status is what sets her apart, granting her popularity and friendship with some and scorn and hatred from others. These are like the horns and sun of the fool, setting her apart as one who is "mad," but at the same time destined for higher knowledge.

The journey is just beginning, and yet we see the power and potentiality of Utena in Anthy's genuinely surprised reactions to her. Living through these cycles, she notices someone who just may one day find a way outside these interminable games...

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