Shoujo Kakumei Utena : Chess - by Alan Harnum Shoujo Kakumei Utena



Alan Harnum

Utena and its characters belongs to Be-PaPas, Chiho Saito,
Shogakukan, Shokaku Iinkai and TV Tokyo.

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Spoilers up until the end of Episode 36.

* * *

I didn't hesitate before knocking on her door, because I'm not
given to hesitation. Not to say I was entirely comfortable with
the meeting that was about to take place, but I had made

She opened the door almost immediately. "Good evening,
Arisugawa Juri-san," I said formally. Whatever her personal
feelings for me might be, so long as I were polite to her, her
own nature would force her to remain polite to me.

"Good evening, President Kiryuu," she replied, matching me
down to tone and inflection. "This is unexpected. To what do I
owe the visit?"

The visit, not the pleasure or the honour, I noted, and
almost smiled. In the days before things began to wind down
towards the Ends of the World, we had more exchanges like this--
her sharp, subtle, hidden points, aimed as though to--but never
succeeding in--bursting the bubble of confident assurance in
which I lived. They were just one of a host of small things I
missed after I stopped coming to meetings.

"I won't take up much of your time," I said, almost but not
quite apologetic.

"Good," she said shortly. Before I could say anything in
reply, she added, "I have a friend coming over to study soon, you

I knew instantly by the note in her voice who the friend
was, and, once again, I had to stop myself from smiling. I had
always liked Juri, from the day Ruka introduced me to her--truly,
I had. She was beautiful and witty and clever, and, now that
her part in the game was at a close, I wished her all the
happiness in the world. Of course, at the same time, I found it
incomprehensible that Ruka had loved her so much. But then, dear
departed friend, you always had that much more of the doomed
romantic in you than I did, did you not?

"As you undoubtedly know by now, I had a Duel with Tenjou
Utena last night..." I began.

"Actually," she said crisply, "I did not know."

"Yet you do not seem surprised."

She shrugged. On her, the motion did not look at all
casual, but as calculated as the rippling of a jungle cat's
muscles before it springs. "My attentions have been elsewhere
these days, but I knew it would happen. It is merely the
timing--not the event--that I could not foresee."

Now I did laugh. "Sometimes you remind me of myself,

She smiled, and it was crisp and etched as killing frost.
"Don't insult me, Touga-san. What do you want?"

I took the harsh words with grace; I had expected them or
their like from the moment I had deigned to draw a comparison
between us.

"There are to be no more Duels," I said, coming finally
round to my point. "I expect you all will soon enough receive
letters from Ends of the World to tell you this officially, but
part of the condition of my Duel was that I would ensure no one
of us would try to take the Rose Bride from her again if I lost."

She curved one eyebrow in a shallow, graceful arch. "And do
you think you could stop me, if I wished to Duel again?"

"Yes," I said simply. Then I added, "But the point is moot,
Juri-san, is it not? Your reason for Duelling is shattered, and
the chains that bound it to you broken."

For a moment, her cover fell away, and she looked much
younger, scared and lost, desolate, with a hollow sort of grief
like some abandoned ruin in the desert. I thought: she really is
little more than a child, for all her strength. Then it occured
to me that I was only a year older than her, and suddenly I felt
very young as well. I can't remember the last time I felt young.
Something of it must have shown on my face, because when she
composed herself an instant later and hid her turmoil away again,
her expression was softer.

"No," she said finally, "you're correct, of course. I have
no more reason to Duel."

I nodded vaguely. "I'll be going then," I said. I was
still standing in the hallway, with Juri on the other side of the
open door. I think I nearly bowed, feeling oddly close to her in
that moment, and I suppose in hindsight that she felt something
of the same. "Take care of yourself, Juri-san."

"And you take care of yourself, Touga-san." Her voice was
gentle and almost kind; I had never been spoken to by her in that
manner before.

I turned to leave, and, as I did, my eye caught on the chess
board in the corner of the room. Red king, red queen, white

"You play chess?" I asked rhetorically, tilting my head in
the direction of the board.

"I do many things," she said cooly.

"I used to play with Nanami," I said. That had been a long
time ago. Centuries ago, as my mind seems to measure things. I
remember that I used to keep a very careful mental tally, and,
every third game I would let her win, because it made her smile
so. But I can't remember now why I ever did a thing like that.
"With Saionji, too, but he was always so impatient. No head for
strategy." I paused; the silence between us was both weighted
and barbed. "Sometimes Tsuchiya and I played."

She nodded as though she had expected it. Spoken aloud,
his name drew no apparent response from her. "He had a portable
board. One of those roll-up vinyl ones in a tube, with the cheap
plastic pieces. He would always carry it around in his fencing
bag. We used to play after we got tired of fencing, up at our

"You had a spot?" I asked. I wondered--not, of course, for
the first time, but with perhaps more interest than ever before--
just what kind of relationship they'd had before he left the
school for the first time.

"Yes," she said. I was wondering by then why I was still
there, and why she hadn't closed the door on me yet; I suspect
she was probably wondering the same. "We had a spot."

"I was sorry to hear about his death," I said finally. "We
always respected one another, even if we were not always

"Thank you." She closed her eyes as she said it, very
briefly, and I felt for a moment envious of Ruka: he'd gone down
into the darkness, as I had, and, as I had, he had made one last
stab at the light for the one he loved. But succeed or fail (I
didn't, in truth, know what he'd been trying to do well enough to
say for certain), he'd had the fortune to die. It's so much
easier to forgive the dead than to forgive the living.

I am usually not so melancholic, but it had been a bad week.
I had already spoken to Miki and his sister (I did not like the
look in dear little Kozue's eyes as she watched Miki quietly and
respectfully agree with everthing I said), and, after this was
over, I was going to have to somehow think of something to say to
my sister. Saionji, I needed no words for; he understood it all
better than I did, even--good foolish friend that he is.

I'm usually very good at hiding how I really feel, but I
suppose that night I wasn't. Something showed through--a tic in
my face or a twitch of my eyes, or the curve of my mouth or the
angle of my body or the sound of my voice. I don't know exactly
what. There are a hundred ways to give yourself away, and I know
them all from watching other people.

But somehow I did reveal myself, and I knew instantly,
because her expression softened again, and I saw her look at me--
it was both humiliating and pleasant, in its way--as I'd
sometimes seen her look at Miki during Council meetings. No--not
like that. The same look Utena had given me on the night we went
to the Arena: sympathy without forgiveness, understanding without
forgetting. As with Utena, I got a brief glimpse at the bright
world within the walls, with the implicit understanding that a
glimpse was all I was going to get; for it was all that I

I suddenly felt myself gripped by a terrible burning anger,
a desire as I imagine some rough barbarian might feel gazing upon
the gilded towers of a great city. How beautiful, and how smug
and righteous in her beauty! I wanted in that moment to take
every lovely thing in the world in the hollow of my hand, crush
them and make them ugly, drag them down with me. But the feeling
passed quickly; it frightened me (and I am not often frightened),
and I hoped it would never come upon me again.

"Would you like to come and have some coffee before you
leave?" Juri asked. Not at all hesitant or nervous or uncertain;
I'm still not sure whether or not it was a snap decision on her
part, or some culminating act to bring our long, uneasy
association to a close.

"What about your study date?" I inquired. I put no emphasis
at all on the word "date"; all the same, her face twitched
reflexively, in such a way that I knew I had scored a hit.

"Shiori isn't due to arrive for a while yet," she said
coolly. She stepped back, pulling the door a little wider as she
did. I came inside, my hands tucked into my pockets, as casually
as I would have entered the residence of any other girl who asked
me in for coffee.

"Have a seat," she said, and gestured towards one of the
high-backed chairs at the chessboard.

I slipped off my shoes and, not spotting any extra pairs of
slippers, gave a mental shrug and went about in my socks. "Thank

"How do you take it?"

"Milk, no sugar."

I sat in silence and examined the chessboard, while she
moved about beyond my sight in her small kitchenette. I studied
the position of the pieces and tried to decide what they meant.
If it was supposed to be a problem for study, it was an
insoluble one; a single pawn could neither take the king, nor
reach the end of the board and become a stronger piece--not while
the queen, who could move any distance, any direction, still

I heard the rattle of spoons against porcelain; Juri emerged
from the kitchenette with mugs in hand, and offered one to me.
As I took it, I noted they were a matched set: heavy white
porcelain with the name, address and phone number of the local
bowling alley printed on the side in red. I raised an eyebrow at
that, and smiled.

"I have twenty-eight of them at last count," she said after
a moment, sitting down across from me, the chessboard between us.
"I keep on winning them in tournaments, and I'm always meaning to
throw them out..." She trailed away, scowling slightly at my
continued amusement. "They're good mugs," she muttered.

I laughed, and it was genuine. "You've many sides, Juri."

"I like having lots of things to do," she said dismissively,
sipping her coffee. Remarkable how she could even make drinking
coffee from a clunky bowling alley mug look elegant. "If I have
free time, I start to brood, and I do enough of that already."

"Sometimes brooding is better than the alternative," I said.
And I thought of my room, my wide empty room, with my chair and
my records.

"Oh?" she asked archly. She had taken a white knight from
the wooden box beside the board, and was slowly turning it
between the graceful fingers of her left hand.

I wondered how much she knew, how much she had put together.
Did she realize that before he could come to any of them, he
would have had to come to me? To come and rescue me from the
coffin Utena had placed me in, and fit me for a new one?

Having nothing to say in reply, I kept my silence, and drank
the coffee she had made me. It was good; some specialty blend,
with a dark hint of bitter chocolate.

"What's eating you, President Kiryuu?" she asked.

For a moment, I remained wordless, and then I thought,
silently laughing: why? Why bother any longer with secrets,
deceptions and hidden things? How, I realized--and such a
freedom came with it!--could anything after this be worse, now
that she had rejected me, now that I knew that if any force on
earth could save her, I did not possess it?

Despite all that, the quiet brokenness in my voice surprised
me. "Does it become easier, Juri? Does it ever?"

She watched me quietly for a moment; then, quite precisely,
she asked, "Does what?"

"Knowing you won't be loved back?"

The white knight dropped from her fingers, bounced once on
the chessboard, rolled towards the edge. I stopped it with the
flat of my hand before it could roll off the table.

"Yes," she said. Other than the dropped knight, she was
showing no response to my words. "It does. Surprisingly
quickly, if you let it."

I righted the knight and placed it on the edge of the board.
"I'm not one to cling to things," I said softly.

She nodded. "I had wondered why the great playboy had been
returning all the letters from his admirers unopened."

Suddenly hating the intimacy of the moment, wanting to tear
it apart, I smiled enticingly at her and said, "Did you finally
get around to sending me one, then?"

To my surprise, she tilted her head back slightly--Lord, I
thought with an appreciation for the female form born of long
experience of it, her neck alone is a work of art--and laughed,
almost girlishly.

"Rumours spread quickly in this school," she said after her
amusement was finished, lowering her head so that her eyes met
mine. She paused for a moment, then added, smiling: "You know,
Touga, I think that's the first time you've ever made a pass at

I idly contemplated what it would be like to make love to
her. It would probably be quite different from any of my usual
play in bed. Her body was lean and muscular from those endless
hours of fencing, but still perfectly feminine. She would almost
certainly want to be on top, proud head thrown back, tight curls
bouncing against her bare shoulders.

The thought was in no way arousing; I entertained it merely
as an imaginative possibility. I am very detached during sex, as
though I am not possessed entirely of my body: at one moment I
will be seeing the flushed, moaning face of a partner through my
own eyes, and then I will be suddenly a thousand miles away,
watching as though through a telescope the ugly, naked, animal
thrashings of two alien bodies upon the bed. Utena--I had
realized this only a short while--was the only girl who had ever
attracted _me_, Kiryuu Touga in his entirety, rather than just
some fractured section of him. Every fibre of my being yearned
for her--yearns for her still. I would have laughed at the idea
scant months ago, but I had never felt it before, never known
that love could be something more than a naive delusion in the
minds of fools and children, that it could awake like a ghost
even in the most selfish and worldy of men. Love is not a
delusion, but a reality: it is as real as hunger, as real as
thirst, and I have been made a slave to it, just as my body is a
slave to those.

All of this passed through my mind in seconds, short enough
a time that my reply to her did not seem hesitant. "There is a
first time for everything, Juri. I think we have much in
common--we are both suffering from the pain of unrequited love."
And I winked at her, caught up in the moment; or perhaps more
than that. There was a lot of Utena in her, and a lot of her in
Utena. "Care to take solace in one another's arms?"

She was silent as a statue for a long time, and I knew that
I had gone at least one step too far. I will flatter myself by
thinking that, perhaps, she even saw some appeal in the
suggestion. Tsuchiya and I, after all, were cast from much the
same mould. At the same time, she was still just as full of hurt
as I was, and probably much more confused.

"There is a difference," she said finally, very softly but
with utter conviction. "There is a very large difference. I
deserve her. You don't." She paused, and her eyes locked with
mine; blazed with rage. Against me, against Takatsuki Shiori,
against the entire world. "If there were any justice, she
would... she would..."

The pain in her voice was tremendous. I had never been
able to imagine Juri crying before, but now the image came to me
easily: quietly, alone in a place where no one could see her, for
a long time. I had known for a some time, of course, about her
hidden love for her childhood friend, but the sheer agony through
which it must have put her, even if so much of it was self-
inflicted and almost self-indulgent, struck me suddenly and
deeply. Her wounds were revealed to me, and I could not think at
all, "What use can I make of this?", as I would have a few months
ago, but only, with the terrible simplicity of a child, "Poor

Oh, Utena, my love, my princess, what have you done to me?

I rose and moved behind her and put my hand on her shoulder.
When she did not draw away or protest, I moved it to the curve of
her neck, my fingers to the hollow of her throat beneath her
strong, slim jaw. Her pulse beat fast against them.

I bent my head down and whispered into her ear, through
those glorious curls, "Why have we never gotten to know each
other like this before, Juri?"

Her hand came up, took my wrist--not without any intent to
hurt, but very firmly--and lifted my touch away from her as
though it were a clinging vine or a dead tree branch.

"Because, Touga," she said quietly, "you're a bastard, and
I'm a lesbian." There was not a trace of humour in her voice.

"Of course," I agreed. I might have been a student
receiving correction on an improper equation or a mistranslated
English sentence. "I had forgotten briefly."

There are some boundaries that can be crossed, and then
there are some to which it is given only that they will, briefly
and infrequently, become a little blurred. Ours was the latter.
I think in some other configuration of the world, even a slightly
different one, we could have been good friends, perhaps even
lovers. But here we were as we were and that seemed unlikely to
change any time soon.

"I suppose you'll be going soon?" she said pointedly. "I
don't think I was the first one you've spoken to today, nor am I
to be the last, yes?"

I nodded. She understood, then, that there was an order to
these things, a symmetry.

"Go talk to your sister, Touga," Juri said quietly. I
cannot say whether it was advice or command.

Again, I nodded. I moved to the door and slipped on my
shoes. "Take care, Juri," I said, repeating my earlier words,
knowing that now I would be leaving, that the moment was gone,
that such a moment would likely never come between us again--that
by tomorrow, even, it would seem to have faded. It would be as a
dream dreamt long ago. I would reflect on some of the things I
had thought with contempt, believing that I had them only
cynically, as private amusements, as hidden jokes.

There are no coincidences in this world--this garden, he
called it a garden to me, once--that we inhabit. Terrifyingly,
monstrously, there are no coincidences at all. Red king, white
pawn, red queen.

"Take care, Touga."

I left her then, climbed down the three flights of stairs
(these days I do not take elevators unless I must), was relieved
to see no girls from the school in the lobby to impede me with
their chatter. As I opened the door and walked out, I threw a
last glance back towards the way from which I had come, as though
doing that might prevent the moment escaping me. Thus, not
watching where I was going, I collided with a girl as I stepped
out into the street. Being much larger, I nearly knocked her
flat. As it was, she dropped her bag, and its clasp popped;
books, papers, pen, spilled out.

"Pardon me, please," I said, as I steadied her. I knelt to
help her gather her things; in the evening light, she recognized
me before I did her (I have long been in the habit of letting my
eyes glide over a girl's face in appreciation of its features
without making any attempt to memorize them), and I heard her
gasp aloud, fearfully.

"President Kiryuu," she said.

"Yes," I replied. I tucked the last pen into her bag, then
handed it to her. "You should get the clasp on this fixed,
Takatsuki Shiori-san. I'm sorry for running into you like that."

"It's all right," she said. She had, I noted, an unusually
sweet voice, very musical, very attractive. Her bag was
clutched to her chest like a shield. "We met by the fountain,"
she said after a long pause, and there was something in her
voice that made think she might soon burst into tears.

I realized then that she was desperately needy, that I could
have taken her and made her mine with ease, just as Tsuchiya did.
I wondered whether he had enjoyed her, for I'd known him well
enough to know that he would have despised anything that Juri
loved other than him, particularly if it did not love her back;
had he taken any pleasure at all in that lithe little body, or
had it been merely something he'd done because he had to?

He undoubtedly would have thought of it as the latter,
whatever the reality of it was. That was one of the ways that we
had been different; I think he really did believe in his own
justifications, most of the time.

I could have taken her, as I said. May I buy you dinner
tomorrow make my apology proper, Shiori-san? And after that a
walk in the park by the moonlight, and after that...

But that wasn't who I was any longer, despite my wishes.
Sometimes I think I could grow to hate Utena for being who she
is, for making me love her despite what I was, and thereby making
me what I am.

And what is that? Who is Kiryuu Touga now? A bastard, I
thought--just as Juri said. By birth, by nature. One does not
become a different man through a few loose acts of tarnished
goodness after living for so long in the darkness. I am not a
snake, to shed my skin its entirety, nor do I wish to be.

But neither am I what I was, and I've only you to thank and
blame for that, don't I, Utena? You gave me back my heart, and
then you tore a piece of it off for yourself; I will always need
you, and I will always lack you, in this old world or in some new

So all I did was look at Takatsuki Shiori, the girl whom
Juri loved and would likely never have, and I said, "Yes, by the
fountain. But those days are done now."

She nodded. The eager desperation for me to notice her
and single her out as somehow special vanished from her face. I
wonder, perhaps, did I only imagine it there? "Were you talking
to Juri-san just now? This is her building."

"Yes. You're going to see her?"

"We're going to study together," she said. Her smile was
bright and happy, but shy. "For English. I've always been
pretty good at English--" Then she laughed; she no longer seemed
frightened by me at all. "But you don't really care, of course.
I'm sorry. Good night."

I bid her good night as well, and left for home. It was a
long walk, but I looked forward to it. I didn't know what I was
going to say to Nanami, who'd been staying home from school,
hardly ever leaving her room. When she sees me, she speaks
quietly, with almost absurd politeness, and calls me Touga.
There are no words for her that I can find, not even the
truth--if she would believe it. Thank you, God, for symmetry,
for saving her for last.

Utena let me hold her under the stars for a brief, sweet
while. Juri invited me in for coffee. Small kindnesses, as
precious as jewels. Kindness is all the kinder when it is
undeserved, unearned.

I wish it hadn't taken me so long to understand. I wish
that I'd known from the very start that I loved her, because then
this change might actually be able to make a difference, rather
than simply leaving me utterly hollow.

Red king, red queen, white pawn. And no more pieces on the
board, all the other chessmen in the box. A coffin is a kind of
box, isn't it? All in the same coffin together, clinging--or
trying to cling--to one another.

The night is coming down. The constellations are surfacing
from the black. Streetlight, starlight. It's a long way home.
Plenty of time to think. I'll come up with something to say by
then, something to fix things. I know I will.



Another story, like "Sonata For Piano Duo", born of my awkward
class schedule at the University of Toronto, begun some weeks
back and then finished in time for Valentine's Day when I
realized that the themes of it fit. There is, at least for me,
something very different about writing a story by hand rather
than composing it before the monitor of the computer.

It is in some ways both more difficult and much easier to write a
story focused upon the relationship between two characters who
have as little genuine interaction in the series as Touga and
Juri do. There is a greater freedom coupled to a lack of clear
guidance, of the definitions of the boundaries and intricacies
that a relationship between two complex characters would involve.

Written in the lobby of Victoria College, in the Laidlaw Library,
in various classes, on the subway, and finished in the Spadina
Public Library.