Character Question: Anthy Himemiya

I’m posting a little early this week. It’s the last week of NaNoWriMo, my book’s plot is coming together, and I want to get in a couple scenes before I crash.

Ready? Here goes.

One of the things that happens when you go to a con is that you go to panels, and one of the things that happens when you go to panels is you learn stuff. So this summer I went to ConnectiCon and at ConnectiCon I went to a panel about apocalypses in anime, and the woman leading it, Jen A. Banks, mentioned that Revolutionary Girl Utena was on YouTube.


Okey dokey! I had already read the manga, so I started watching it that night. On the next day Jen had another panel just on Utena and I went to that, too.

But there was a key question I never found the nerve to ask.

For those of you unfamiliar, Utena Tenjou is a young woman who as a girl met a Prince who saves her, and so she vows to not just find her prince again, but to be a prince herself and save others. This requires her to dress as a prince. Yup, Utena’s a transvestite. Although I will add that while she wears a man’s uniform TOP, she wears it with hot pants (the actual men wear long trousers), so maybe not so much.

When she gets to school she finds an elaborate social structure that revolves around dueling. The prize for being top duelist is the Rose Bride, Anthy Himemiya. Utena wins her duel and so she now has a wife. Nothing symbolic there! I’ll add that the anime is more explicit than the manga. (I read the manga long before I got to watch the anime.)

Image result for anthy himemiya

Anthy Himemiya, caste mark barely visible

There are a couple ways that Anthy is an interesting character, and I’m sure other people have noticed them before. One is that she encompasses both sides of the “Madonna/Whore” dichotomy, the idea that certain women are to be venerated as our mothers or the mothers of our children, while the others are to be treated as mindless sex toys. Mario Puzo explains this at length in The Godfather (yes, there was a book before the movie).

As the Madonna she is a desired prize, beautiful, beautifully dressed, retiring of personality, lady-like in thought and deed, a goal to be aspired to. As to the Whore, well, this gets to be pretty explicit in some of the movies that followed the main series, in which it is made clear that Anthy, as the Rose Bride, is expected to perform what some call “wifely duties” for those who have won her, including her own brother at one point.

You know that “wifely duties” means sex, right?

At the same time Anthy is also the Rose Bride and a Witch. The Rose Bride is perfect, all good, all passive. The Witch is active and nasty. Anthy plays some pretty mean tricks on some people. That’s an interesting dynamic as well. Some people say her trickery symbolizes her increasing freedom from the Rose Bride persona, in which case I can put up with her being a bit of the nasty.

These dichotomies make Anthy a very interesting character, particularly in contrast to Utena herself, who is trying to figure out whether she is a princess or a prince on her own by being one and playing the other. Utena’s interesting, too, and the two of them together make good characters to play against the machinations of the plot. Makes for a lot of explicit conflict, not all of which happens in the dueling court.

That’s not what bugs me about Anthy.

This is what bugs me about Anthy: she’s dark-skinned, a person of color. She and her brother are brown-faced, the only characters darker than pale pink in the series. Sort of like Brock in Pokemon.

And as the Rose Bride she’s treated as property. She belongs to the top duelist, period. This is not her choice; it’s what it means to be the Rose Bride.

Go back to the last paragraph. Take out the words “the Rose Bride” and substitute the words “a slave.”


Double that “yeah” when you recall her wifely duties. Do visions of Sally Hemmings* flash through your head?

Now, this might all be just a matter of design and not symbolic at all. In writing we have a meme that goes like this:
“What the text said: The curtains were blue.”
“What the lit professor said: The blue curtains symbolize the character’s depressed mood state.”
“What the author said: The curtains were fucking blue.”

Utena and Anthy are opposites in so many ways: Utena is mannish, tall, athletic – she can jam a basketball! – assertive, passionate; Anthy is feminine, short, (whatever the opposite of athletic is), passive, repressed. Since they are opposites in many ways, another way they may be opposites is in skin color. But we don’t know.

Also, Anthy has a caste mark on her forehead: I suspect we’re supposed to think she’s Indian (as from India). But she’s still the darkest member of the cast, her and Akio.

What I don’t know is whether it’s deliberate. Is it an accident or a statement about slavery? If it isn’t about slavery, why is she a woman of color? If it is, why are the Japanese making it? I mean, the Koreans and the Chinese and the Filipinos will be among the first to tell you that their experiences with the Japanese suggest that someone regarded themselves as racially superior to other people, at least back in the middle of the last century. (The Indians weren’t all that impressed with Japanese tolerance, either.)

So is Anthy supposed to remind us of slavery?

There’s something else I’m having problems figuring out.

In battle Anthy is the container of Sword of Dios. Part of this ties back to the Anthy as slave idea; when duels are fought, she places roses on the competitors, but then her current “owner” draws the Sword of Dios from her. This reduces her to an object, a scabbard, which reinforces for me her identity as an object, as property.

But watch the process: she leans back, eyes closed, back arched, as though in orgasm. The (long) sword is drawn from between her breasts, and regardless of the drawer, becomes an excellent phallic symbol.

Anthy is a sex toy, fucked by the Sword of Dios (not to mention whomever she’s “married” to when not dueling). Pardon my French, but there’s no better word. There’s no indication that any of the guys loves her. She’s a prize and treated as an object, a sex object in this case.

How Utena treats Anthy is a separate question. It is very clear that, except when she needs the sword, she regards Anthy as a person, not a thing, and wishes her to follow her own dreams instead of the dictates of the Rose Bride role. At points late in the series Anthy draws the sword from Utena using the identical sexual imagery, so we are clearly to know they are lovers in the sexual, if not romantic, sense, and later on Utena becomes the vehicle of Anthy’s freedom, (literally so in Adolescence where Utena changes into a car(!!) driven by Anthy).

At the same time, though, when Utena needs the sword, Anthy lies back and thinks of England.

And she’s black.

To me it keeps coming back to the one question that has to be answered, and that is this: Why is Anthy black? What is it supposed to mean that she is? Because if it’s deliberate, it’s a powerful, and nasty, statement.

The next time someone tells you anime is just cartoons and cartoons are for kids, introduce them to Anthy Himemiya.

I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.
* Those of you from outside the US may not be aware that several early American Presidents were slaveholders, and that one of them, Thomas Jefferson, had a number of children by his slave mistress, Sally Hemmings. This has been proven by DNA analysis, and I think it says a lot that in this day his descendants, white and black, all accept each other.

8 thoughts on “Character Question: Anthy Himemiya

      1. She and Akio are Indian because the show ties in themes from Hinduism by way of German philosopher Herman Hesse’s attempts to merge Gnosticism with Indian mysticism and his buddy Carl Jungs theory of archetypes. The show is about the struggle of all women to find identity in a world that imposes roles on them. You have to destroy the mental framework you exist in in order to be yourself without imposed roles. If the chick (ha) doesn’t shatter the world of her birth, she can’t be born and will die stuck where she started. That’s it, that’s the show.


  1. I know your analysis comes from a place of good intent, but personally (as an American cis female of Indian descent), it’s problematic. Possibly more than anything we see in the actual series.

    First of all, let’s go on what the show presents. Anthy, Akio/Dios, and Mamiya are the only brown characters in the series. Mamiya is an illusion — what we see of him, at least. That leaves Anthy and Akio/Dios. They are strongly implied to be not fully human, part of an overarching magical god and goddess mythology that informs the series. They are othered, they are different.

    Within these roles, they occupy the extremes of the feminine/masculine binary. With that into account, how is it possible to interpret how one character of color is shown in SKU without directly also bringing up the other? I would position that it is almost impossible to analyze Anthy through a perspective on color without bringing Akio into the analysis as well.

    What we know about them is that they exist in a marked category. We also know that Saito Chiho has included brown characters in several of her older manga, and Ikuhara liked those designs. We also know that Utena has direct parallels to the manga The Song of Wind and Trees, which features a gender-flipped and role-flipped version of Anthy and Utena. That’s about it.

    When (as a Western audience) we make the inference that Anthy must be Indian, or read her in parallel to the U.S.’s history of slavery, that’s what we have brought to the series with our own personal social upbringings and histories.

    I also find it problematic that you equate “Indian” and “black,” btw. Even in Japan, “brown” and “black” exist in separate marked categories.

    I hope this leaves you with some food for thought.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think the main thing this article is forgetting is that Africans aren’t the only dark-skinned people in the world. Doing a little bit of research about the history of colonization in India might answer some of your questions — note particularly how Indiana women were KEY to India’s attempts of freedom from their colonizers (meaning that they held a lot of power) and the subsequent treatment of these same women after India was freed from the British (at which point they realized that while they were free from the colonizer, they were not free from the patriarchy). This is a VERY simplified summary of this topic, but the idea of imperialism and colonization is much more relevant to the idea of revolution and is reflected throughout Utena in fashion, characterization, and architecture. Reading the brown characters as African slaves, while still a valid way to consider the series, is very limiting and distinctly Western.


    1. Fair! And in the follow-up OVA it’s much clearer she has a caste mark on her forehead. But it’s also clear that she’s essentially a slave and she’s dark-skinned, whether she’s of African descent or Indian


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