It's been my immense pleasure writing Roses Grow, being such a besotted fan of Revolutionary Girl Utena (the anime), as well as an appreciative fan of Adolescence of Utena (the movie) and both manga series.
If you look closely you'll find references to all three genres in my fanfiction, as many readers noticed. As is fairly obvious, Utena/Anthy is my favorite relationship in the fandom, and I enjoy shipping them in whatever incarnation can be made believable – as friends, as lovers, even as enemies. However I enjoy all the characters of the fandom and most of the relationships (including conflicting relationships such as Utena/Akio verse Utena/Touga, or Anthy/Akio verse Anthy/anybody-handy), and I admire the way the anime presents the human heart as being a very complicated thing.
Nothing is easy in the anime, everything is angst, symbolism holds the story up and drags the story back down, love is the kind of love that makes you ache and cry and try to believe. Nothing has ever inspired me to the degree that Revolutionary Girl Utena has, and after the closing of episode 39 I felt compelled to further an ending that was so bittersweet my belly curls just thinking about it.
There had to be more for Utena/Anthy. There had to be more than Utena fearing she had failed while swords rained down, and Anthy looking for Utena in the credits, but never finding her in view of the viewers.
I had to have more to survive!
That's why I wrote Roses Grow. Sheer survival instinct. Although it's almost 70 000 words in length it hasn't sated my own inner compulsion to explore and further Utena and Anthy as characters (and their remarkable relationship), not to mention Akio, Touga, Saionji, Juri, Miki and all the rest. There's so much I want to say about them, places I want to take them that just weren't possible in the flow of this piece. Thus I'm now writing a sequel from Anthy's point of view: Thorns Wither. I eventually aim to write a third part to the Roses Grow series as well, and hopefully then everything I have to express will be out there on virtual paper.
I should say that I very much enjoy interacting with readers, and am very appreciate of the comments I've received while writing, especially from readers who left multiple comments. Thank you so much! It made writing the story so much more fulfilling – I love the sense of sharing in Utena/Anthy's possible future with other fans. Also I've been asked many questions about this fanfiction, the most common of which I'll now answer in these Author's Notes, for those who are interested. If you've made it this far, I'm guessing that's you. Before I begin though, a note to all artists out there: YES, I adore fanart and any that you are inspired to draw is most welcome. I'll post it in all the places I end up posting the series and drool over it when I'm not writing. I want to see the pictures in my mind re-interpreted in other people's minds, flowing out through their pencils and paints.
Finally any readers are encouraged to email me at sharniichan at aim dot com with comments, constructive criticism, and questions. I like to hear fellow-fan's thoughts, I'm a learning writer and appreciate helpful criticism, and I'm a very curious person thus willing to answer questions. Keep in mind that all my answers here are just my opinion about things – no worthier than your opinion, and liable to change in my other stories. I like to explore things from every angle: this is only one version of how post-Ohtori could be.
FAQ (added to on 4 October 2009)
Q: What are the swords?
A: In the real world: words of hatred, cruel words, words that make you want to stop believing in yourself, to just give up and not go on (like Anthy's words to Utena about how she can't be her prince because she's a girl).
The swords also have a physical component: they cause pain, so much pain that you lose the ability to function. Or at least to think clearly.
In the world of Ohtori the swords are the murder weapons that killed Anthy, and the altar that she sacrificed herself upon. They make up her eternal punishment for daring to act on love (as they are Utena's punishment for the same thing in the real world). They're also cruel words, lying words, and they're also physically debilitating. In the final duels Anthy is re-sacrificed upon them for Akio's empowerment and amusement, and for the final victor's torment. But in a very real way she has been sacrificed upon them all along, every average school day, without anyone being any the wiser.
The swords of the black rose duelists and the various other heart-swords are somewhat about words too and pain between people. More than words they're the relationship issues between the various duelists: the love gone wrong that inspires them to duel. So for instance when Shiori wields Juri's sword, it's the unrequited love Juri has for her, and her own appalled reaction to it. That inspires her to duel, because she can't contemplate the world being the way it is, with Juri as the special one (and wanting her, which Shiori just can't face), and her being so un-special in her own self-concept.
Q: What is ChuChu?
Hehe let me try that again. ChuChu is Anthy's pet monkey (who some say is a mouse) who is really not any species that can be pinned down exactly (rather like Anthy herself…).
He is Anthy's longtime pet, but also her best (read only) friend. This is because he is the only one who stays with her from victor to victor, the only tiny spot of comfort in her life in the face of the atrocities she bears (and commits).
He also reflects her emotions. She is a doll without a heart, but often ChuChu expresses what she should be feeling at any given time – watch him closely in the anime. Anthy might be dry-eyed when she's been hurt, but ChuChu will be sobbing. Or Anthy might be passive under Saionji's advances, but ChuChu will be stabbing Saionji's shoe with a fork.
ChuChu is connected intimately to Anthy: they can communicate without words, and she can understand his language. He is her familiar, a creature who aids her with her magicks (being the archetypal witch and all) and whose first loyalty is to her. His second loyalty is to food. Eh heh heh.
Utena sees ChuChu as Anthy's pet and 'friend' but is only vaguely aware of all the rest. She is very fond of him though, being naturally kind and drawn to animals. She claimed she was dueling for his sake when she was too embarrassed to admit it was for Anthy's (and too self-blind to boot). She spoils him, and teases him, and doesn't give the question of what he is any thought, unlike the viewers/readers.
Q: Is Anthy a witch?
A: Sure. Inasmuch as she is also a victim, she has become a witch, encompassing the magic of the rose bride, but having power from the very start and her mysterious origins. It is the witch who takes out her brother's vengeance on the unsuspecting students of Ohtori, usually at his bequest. However she plays her own tricks when the mood crosses her, and some of her tricks are played on Akio himself.
Q: Just what are Anthy and Akio anyway?
A: I think of them as demi-gods of a sort, archetypes of the idea/myth of the prince, and the idea of the ideal-wife/witch. Whatever they are it's way too complicated for me to understand, and the anime gives all sorts of hints that lead in all sorts of confusing and enticing directions. But it's way fun to play with!
Q: What are your views of Utena and Anthy's relationship, and their other relationships in the anime?
A: I do think Utena and Anthy were portrayed in the anime as soulmates, although in a entirely friendship-based way. Theirs was an extremely sensual friendship, although given Utena's outlook on life, there was nothing sexual about it. However given enough time after the anime credits, I feel the most natural development of their relationship would be one that led all the way to lovers (verrrrrrry gradually as in Roses Grow).Of course the manga portrays them as very much only friends, and the movie portrays them as love interests. Obviously it's possible to ship and interrupt this couple many ways (don't you love it!), and I've got to say that I'm a fan of all possible takes.
Having said that in my opinion the anime presents Touga and Akio as Utena's love interests (although the love in her friendship with Anthy eventually wins the day). Utena is in love with her mysterious prince from the get go. She almost falls in love with Touga (thinking him to be her prince), and falls tragically in love with Akio (who is revealed to be the anti-prince). (She's also in love with the princess she saw impaled (Anthy), but doesn't remember that at all.)
In a sense Utena has her love for the prince in common with Anthy, for their life directions are both motivated by love of Dios. For Anthy: sisterly love, which is twisted into something sexual just as the prince is twisted into a devil. For Utena: romantic love, which pales in comparison to the friendship love that motivates her to emulate Dios and save Anthy.
And in another sense Anthy is actually Utena's inspiration to be a prince: she saw a princess who needed saving and made a vow to grow up to be the kind of person who could save her. A noble person. Noble like a prince, like Dios, but not like any Dios that she had every actually met (because he was no longer noble when she met him). So although she was inspired by the idea of a prince, in real actuality Anthy's plight inspired her.
But then of course she forgot…
And that brilliant concept is the background story of the anime.
As for Anthy, I believe the anime presents her brother as her love interest, in that everything she did she did for Dios. And everything she does, she does for his new incarnation Akio, although she hates as well as loves him. As the anime progresses she starts to care about Utena, inasmuch as she is able to care about anyone, while dead in her coffin and constantly betrayed and betraying. But her moments of affection, suicidal regret, and dazed wonder don't develop into love until the moment when she meets Utena for the first time in the flesh, as she really is. That is the moment when Utena opens the coffin and shocks the bejesus out of everyone, Anthy included!
I guess that says that love involves an element of understanding another person, and trying to actually get to know them as they are. Roses Grow is about enjoying Utena and Anthy (two remarkably different people) get to know each other even more, even while they can't ever fully know each other, and there is a lot of mystery and tension between them. But loving someone is more than understanding, it's also about accepting them for who they are, even when you can't fully understand. And so Roses Grow is about that too.
Q: What is the power of Dios?
A: For the sake of this story it's the power to bring world revolution. Utena revolutionizes Ohtori (yes, successfully) in the anime by freeing people from the dueling game, or at least showing them they can be freed. So she revolutionizes the rose bride's world by caring about her as a person (as opposed to a prize) and waking her up. She revolutionizes Akio's world by defeating him (a fact which he refuses to accept in the anime, even when Anthy points it out to him and leaves). She revolutionizes Juri and Miki's worlds by getting them to have hope (evidenced as they play squash), and startles Touga and Saionji into wonder on the steps where she tells them she is choosing to be a fool.
In the ending credits of the anime we see various ways Ohtori has changed (become free-er) because of Utena's sacrifice, as various students act in new and life-changing ways. Relationships seem healed or on the way to healing. And of course Anthy packs up and leaves Ohtori, searching for our heroine in a brand new world!
Utena doesn't know that she has this power during the anime - her final words at the end of the last duel are an apology to Anthy for failing her. That is why we have Anthy rescuing Utena from her despair during Roses Grow, teaching her the hope that Utena actually taught her first. Utena regains herself, picks up the princely pieces, and proceeds to finish revolutionizing Saionji's world, keeps impacting Juri and Miki's, and helps Anthy grow as a person. Most noticeably though our heroine uses her power (the power to free people from the traps they build themselves) to free Akio himself. She frees him by reminding him that he is actually Dios (a corrupt and fallen Dios, but Dios all the same), and that he was originally motivated to be a prince.
Thus Akio receives what he wanted all along: the power of Dios (well its effect anyway). Yet it's not what he wanted at all, not what he thought the power would be. The change is uncomfortable and frightening, forcing him to face up to what he's done, and the black despair that drove him to renounce love in the first place (despair over Anthy's fate).
How will he react to his reunion with Dios? Only time will tell...
The Utena of this story wields a power that is more than the power to free people, it is also the power to be the prince who saves all the girls in the world. That's the deal with her being able to travel between worlds/realities, being able to draw the sword without help, being able to heal with Akio and Anthy's assistance (under very unusual circumstances), and who knows what else. She's more than the little girl who dreamed of being a prince, that she used to be. She IS the prince.
But can she accept that about herself? And what does that mean for her, considering that Dios was some sort or otherworldly being and Utena is very much human? Not to mention she bears the swords too, which is unheard of for the prince... Only time will tell...
Q: What is the deal with Utena's dream that Anthy invades?
A: It's a dream of the past, when they were at school together. Utena is her past self in the dream, but she knows that she's dreaming, so she's thinking with her present self at the same time. Anthy has used magic to enter her dream because she thinks she may discover what Utena is hiding from her (which is actually what Utena is also hiding from herself at that point).
Because Anthy is secretly inside the dream she attempts to play the part of her past self (the rose bride). But Utena notices little things about her (things that have changed in present Anthy) that eventually give away her identity, and lead to their argument.
Q: Where has Utena been for 5 years?!
A: She's been trapped by the million swords of hatred, suffering their punishment in Anthy's stead. We find this out when Utena and Anthy enter Utena's dream together by mutual consent. More than entering a dream, they enter the actual reality.
Oh, are you confused? Heh eh er...letmesee...how to explain...
In the anime dreams were often more 'real' than what was meant to be reality. For instance Utena remembers the truth about Anthy and her own quest to be a prince in a dream. Reality at Ohtori was barely ever real anyway - Akio reveals that the dueling arena and a heck of a lot of what happened was just a giant projector and one giant mindfuck. The point is that reality is fluid in the anime, and I've tried to keep that outlook in the story, real world or no real world.
So...the reality of what is happening is that Utena is falling through the sky, pinioned by the swords to a rock that used to be part of the castle of eternity (just like Anthy suffered the swords all the time although you couldn't see it).
...And at the same time she's in the real world, trying desperately to block out that particular memory. And she's rather different, lacking her former bravado, and avoiding facing up to the truth of what is happening (understandably).
...Which happened in the past before Anthy found her.
...Since the story begins when Anthy rescues her (roughly 5 years after Ohtori).
So the reality of Utena being lost to the swords (and not knowing where the heck she was or even what she was) is over in the story, because it happens before the story begins. At the same time it happens within the story when Utena and Anthy enter Utena's dream (the past) and Anthy manages to save Utena by waking her up from her stupor (thanks to Utena's own help via Dios).
So...Anthy saved Utena from the swords (waking her up in the hospital), but neither Anthy or Utena remembered that happening because although it happened in the past...it actually hasn't happened in the present until they enter Utena's dream/past/reality in Chapter 17: Revolution.
/wipes sweat from brow
Geez that's hard to explain. Time travel always is!
Q: What is the castle of eternity?
A: Just another manifestation/symbol of eternity (of which there are so many in this fandom). It's the seat of Dios' power, holding the power of miracles up as a sort of destination to aim at (eg. Saionji wants to go there), and is also the home of Dios' grave (lovely). In my story Utena wins the right to go there by gaining the power of Dios. The castle is the home of the prince after all!
Simultaneously she's trapped there (pinned to the throne), her access to her power shortened-out by the sword which represents Anthy's dismissive words --you cannot be my prince-- (that curtail Utena's belief in herself). Until Anthy saves her by pulling out the 'sword' and taking back the words as it were.
I wonder if they'll go back there...
Any more questions? Feel free to ask: my FAQ can be added to.
Stay tuned for the Sequel: Thorns Wither