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Gougai! Gougai!

HOLY SHIT PEOPLE, IT'S NOT BAD ENOUGH WE'RE GETTING AN UTENA EXHIBITION RIGHT NOW

THEY. ARE. MAKING. A. NEW. MUSICAL. NEXT. YEAR. START LOSING YOUR SHIT RIGHT NOW

#1 | Back to Top11-17-2009 01:32:37 AM

minervana
High Tripper
Registered: 10-10-2009
Posts: 246

Social Class in SKU

This is an interesting topic that I don't think we've seen on the forums. Ohtori Academy is a private school, with very tony grounds, nice architecture, even a *forest* inside the school. Some of the characters, like the Kiryuus, the Kaorus and the Ohtoris, obviously have money. But social class isn't really discussed, although it's obviously there. I don't think it's a focus of the series, though. Some of the characters (e.g. Mikage, Ruka) can't really be said to have a class, for various reasons.

If you want to discuss it, what social class are different characters, do you think? And how does that affect their outlook on revolutionizing the world, their own abilities, et cetera?

I personally think most of the main characters are affluent, if not filthy rich. Probably many of the students at Ohtori are from more modest backgrounds, but they're not discussed. Social class is about more than income--it's also how you talk, dress, carry yourself and who you feel comfortable with. It's kind of hard to imagine someone like Juri--who's rumored to be able to kick out teachers if she doesn't like them--ever going to public school. In my experience, someone who's gone to private school is much more likely to treat an older adult as their equal, to correct them if they're wrong, and to speak the "language" of authority, if that makes sense.

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#2 | Back to Top11-17-2009 09:32:06 AM

Riri-kins
World's End
From: Cloud Nine
Registered: 09-22-2008
Posts: 2346

Re: Social Class in SKU

Yes, it's safe to say most are either rich or talented enough to earn a scholarship to go there. Then again, Ohtori's very corrupt, so it's possible some parents brown-nosed Kanae's family until their kids got in even if their academic perfomance was average. I think Keiko's, Aiko's, and Yuuko's parents might have done this. Shiori's might have too, but I think she has untapped potential.


Proud Saionji and Mikage fangirl
My Utena fanfiction: http://www.fanfiction.net/u/2000115/Riri-kins

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#3 | Back to Top11-17-2009 02:56:13 PM

hollow_rose
Egghead
From: Ohio
Registered: 10-26-2008
Posts: 1074

Re: Social Class in SKU

I think Wakaba in the movie talks about how prestigious the school is, and in Utena prestigious seems to equal expensive. There's sort of a background feeling of everyone being rich and beautiful. There might be some scholarships for exceptional students, but I think most of them just pay a lot for the privledge.


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#4 | Back to Top11-17-2009 07:12:31 PM

Duelist Megu
Ruthless Deflorist
From: Calgary, AB
Registered: 12-07-2007
Posts: 303
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Re: Social Class in SKU

Some of these students that didn't make it in on their merits, might also have been selected anyways not because of parental status, but because they figured into Akio's plan somehow.

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#5 | Back to Top11-21-2009 07:30:53 AM

minervana
High Tripper
Registered: 10-10-2009
Posts: 246

Re: Social Class in SKU

There's an interesting analysis of the character's names which buttresses what you've all just said. Apparently "Arisugawa," and "Saionji" are very well-known last names of the nobility in Japan. "Kiryuu" is from someone in the samurai class.

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#6 | Back to Top11-21-2009 10:13:55 AM

hollow_rose
Egghead
From: Ohio
Registered: 10-26-2008
Posts: 1074

Re: Social Class in SKU

minervana wrote:

There's an interesting analysis of the character's names which buttresses what you've all just said. Apparently "Arisugawa," and "Saionji" are very well-known last names of the nobility in Japan. "Kiryuu" is from someone in the samurai class.

That is a really interesting article. Thanks for posting!


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#7 | Back to Top11-22-2009 09:15:44 AM

Hedgehogey
Framed Landscaper
Registered: 01-30-2008
Posts: 430

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#8 | Back to Top12-01-2009 03:18:46 PM

gpink
Eternal Castellan
Registered: 11-21-2009
Posts: 265

Re: Social Class in SKU

I think social class was placed in the background to enhance the "school is isolated from the world" aspect. Although people with talent and money are present the aspect that shows is subtle.

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#9 | Back to Top12-01-2009 05:50:43 PM

satyreyes
no, definitely no cons
From: New Orleans, Louisiana
Registered: 10-16-2006
Posts: 10328
Website

Re: Social Class in SKU

minervana wrote:

There's an interesting analysis of the character's names which buttresses what you've all just said. Apparently "Arisugawa," and "Saionji" are very well-known last names of the nobility in Japan. "Kiryuu" is from someone in the samurai class.

It should be noted, however, that many nobles and samurai were dirt-poor.  Samurai were abolished at the beginning of the Meiji era (which is also when peasants got surnames), and even a samurai family that was affluent in 1873 might easily have fallen on hard times by 1997.  Similarly, the nobility, apart from the Imperial family, was abolished by the American occupation in 1947.  So their surnames may tell us where they came from (interesting in and of itself!) but not what kind of means they have in the present.  Saionji may have a very old and respectable surname, but in the present he's evidently reduced to shacking up with Wakaba when kicked out of campus housing -- one more thing for him to be jealous of Touga for, I guess, considering that the Kiryuus have multiple large residences.  But otherwise, I generally agree with the consensus that social class is backgrounded in Utena, partly because it's not a necessary part of the story, and probably also partly because there is somewhat less class strife in Japan in general than there is in America, provided you're not burakumin or another "out" group.

Last edited by satyreyes (12-01-2009 05:54:49 PM)

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#10 | Back to Top12-02-2009 01:48:20 PM

brian
Atlantean Singer
Registered: 10-22-2006
Posts: 588

Re: Social Class in SKU

I'm not necessarily disagreeing but you are jumping to conclusions. All societies have social mobility over the course of generations (just recently there was an article about how the last Moghul was found living in wretched poverty in a slum) but that is not the same as egalitarianism. This show may be full of class signals that we are missing because we are not Japanese. Nor can we know for sure that Touga and Nanami control their own money, although it seems like it. All we know is that Saoinji's parents seem far harsher in their expectations.

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#11 | Back to Top12-02-2009 06:48:26 PM

Frau Eva
Voodoo Queen
Registered: 10-16-2006
Posts: 803

Re: Social Class in SKU

Yeah, but we have to remember, when Saionji was moving out, all he had with him was one bag. That, plus not being willing/able to go home after than seems to say that something is very wrong in Saionji's home life. I think this contributed to his feelings of inferiority with Touga, and why it was so important that someone like him treat him as an equal. He probably was used to getting things on scholarships and having people treat him like he shouldn't be there, and Touga made him feel normal until...


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#12 | Back to Top12-03-2009 11:24:33 AM

tohubohu
Precious One
From: Boston metro area
Registered: 11-02-2006
Posts: 289
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Re: Social Class in SKU

satyreyes wrote:

It should be noted, however, that many nobles and samurai were dirt-poor.

One thing to remember -- my wife teaches about this practically every semester -- is that money does not equal class and class does not equal money.  In some societies, class is a completely separate thing indeed.  To use the typical example, Indian society has the various "castes", which are, in some ways, equivalent to class (but not necessarily).  For example, in the movie "Born Into Brothels", one of the girls being followed is from a Brahmin family -- the Brahmins being the uppermost caste in Indian society.  They're dirt poor, and thus reduced to multiple generations of women working in brothels.  But they're still Brahmin.

Japanese society is a little less regulated than Indian society, but the noble and samurai families are still singled out as more "upper class" (and romanticized) than, certainly, the River People, who come from what was essentially the Japanese version of the "untouchable" class.

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#13 | Back to Top12-03-2009 01:35:13 PM

minervana
High Tripper
Registered: 10-10-2009
Posts: 246

Re: Social Class in SKU

Frau Eva wrote:

He probably was used to getting things on scholarships and having people treat him like he shouldn't be there, and Touga made him feel normal until...

I don't see Saionji is a scholarship kid, actually. First of all, we see him and Touga on equal terms until the incident with the coffin. Kids aren't stupid, and if there was an arrant difference in their lifestyle levels, little Saionji would probably resent him for it, however noble his family background. It seems unlikely to me that even a young Touga would choose a poor kid as his best friend, unless maybe his parents told him to for some political reason. There's no right or wrong answer, really, there are convincing arguments either way.

There are many possible explanations for his being unable to go back home, too. Maybe his parents were simply disappointed in him and said "Don't come back."

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#14 | Back to Top12-03-2009 07:15:04 PM

Frau Eva
Voodoo Queen
Registered: 10-16-2006
Posts: 803

Re: Social Class in SKU

tohubohu wrote:

Japanese society is a little less regulated than Indian society, but the noble and samurai families are still singled out as more "upper class" (and romanticized) than, certainly, the River People, who come from what was essentially the Japanese version of the "untouchable" class.

Little nitpick, wouldn't the Burakumin be much closer to the untouchables than the River People? They were vilified for much the same reasons(handling leather, dead bodies) and many Japanese still trace their lineage of their spouses to be to make sure they're not secretly a Burakumin--while the River People have been able to raise themselves to levels of respect. </nerd>


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#15 | Back to Top12-11-2009 07:44:21 PM

randomprojects
Juri Jeerer
Registered: 12-07-2009
Posts: 42

Re: Social Class in SKU

minervana wrote:

Frau Eva wrote:

He probably was used to getting things on scholarships and having people treat him like he shouldn't be there, and Touga made him feel normal until...

I don't see Saionji is a scholarship kid, actually. First of all, we see him and Touga on equal terms until the incident with the coffin. Kids aren't stupid, and if there was an arrant difference in their lifestyle levels, little Saionji would probably resent him for it, however noble his family background. It seems unlikely to me that even a young Touga would choose a poor kid as his best friend, unless maybe his parents told him to for some political reason. There's no right or wrong answer, really, there are convincing arguments either way.

There are many possible explanations for his being unable to go back home, too. Maybe his parents were simply disappointed in him and said "Don't come back."

It's probably just me, but I think in terms of how they carry themselves, Touga seems more aristocratic. His dress code tells us this (dress shirt, tights, white leather shoes) while Saionji seems... less so (his shoes are of good quality, but his attire is more upper middle-class rather than Touga's traditional upper-class). So I'd say they're both well off, but Touga moreso than Saionji. However their lifestyle is similar enough so that kid!Saionji doesn't resent Touga... yet.

As for the fact that he only has one bag, maybe he's the kind of person who doesn't believe in lot of possessions? But then again, he treats Anthy as a possession of social status (I have the Rose Bride, which means I'm the VICTOR! You see how important I am?!), suggesting that he does care about this kind of thing... Staying with Wakaba might just be due to a) his pride, b) his parent's disappointment, or c) he believes he can get back into Ohtori anyway and wants to stay close to Anthy.

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#16 | Back to Top12-17-2009 04:22:22 PM

DerJakob
Miki Molester
From: Eugene, OR
Registered: 10-21-2009
Posts: 31

Re: Social Class in SKU

I'm surprised no one has really tackled the reading of Akio/Dios, the Student Council, and the rest of the school. There's a monarch, an aristocracy, and a proletariat. Where Utena fits in could be the position of a bourgeois revolution, which would fit very well, considering the attire of the Student Council and the stylistic nods to "Rose of Versailles," which is centered around the French bourgeois revolution. She's a sort of radical individualist, in a sense, shooting upward through the ranks to attain "revolution," though at the same time we have to question her completely. Based on appearances alone, she can't be a representative of the proletariat, as her "boy's uniform" is more of an outfit of her own design. If anything, to view Utena as a hero of the everyman or proletariat is to critique the very idea, as it seems that, although she opposes the aristocratic system in general, she seems to fit into it - at least superficially, anyway. Could we then perhaps look at Utena as a Marx figure herself, a product of the bourgeoisie/upper class who sees its inherent flaws, but still comes under criticism because of her affiliations?

Spatially conceived, the Student Council sits high above Ohtori and Akio even higher above them. If we want to think of upward mobility and all that fun stuff, it's a great artistic rendition of the paradigm, and Utena's slow climb (and later quick ascension) up to the dueling arena shows her grounded at the base and then conquering the battlefield above. She is still, however, well below the castle, and even in episode 38/39 when the castle comes crumbling down and she seems to have saved Anthy, she appears to die (though no one knows and speculation is merely that). It's hard to talk about revolution without relating it to economics in this sense, and I think it's relatively easy to view Utena herself as a Marx-type figure. Thoughts? I think I killed that psychosis thread. /sigh


"The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the 'state of emergency' in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight. Then we shall clearly realize that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency, and this will improve our position in the struggle against Fascism."
-Walter Benjamin

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#17 | Back to Top12-17-2009 09:15:36 PM

minervana
High Tripper
Registered: 10-10-2009
Posts: 246

Re: Social Class in SKU

Astute observations, DerJakob. One thing not really talked about in the series (although it's omnipresent) is what makes some people "special," while the rest are ordinary. Is the aristocracy based on ability, charm, birth, good looks, or what? The other students seem to take it for granted that the student council (who appear to be appointed, not elected) are their betters, and aspire to be like them. But what are the grounds for their inclusion in the aristocracy? Economics probably play a part in it, but I doubt there are many poor kids at the school, even on scholarships. If most of the students are fairly well off, what sets some apart from the others? It's the hair, isn't it?

Remember also that the word "nobility" can mean a member of an hereditary aristocracy, or someone showing high moral principles and ideals. I'm not sure if the Japanese equivalent has a similar double meaning, but that word has been chosen by all three translations I've seen. The series seems to deliberately blur the line between these two definitions, since the characters who are part of the aristocracy generally have no ideals, and the monarch, who should be the most "noble" of all, is a psychopath.

I'm not so sure Utena wants to usurp the monarchy. I'm not sure she's even aware that the monarchy exists. At the beginning of the series she's looking for her prince, presumably so they can be together in some romantic way. That's not related to world revolution. After Touga breaks her heart and wipes his butt with it, she recalibrates her goals--and continues to do so throughout the series. However, I don't really think she's aware of the system. Remember in Episode 20, when Akio says something like "most people live as one among many. But a few live in the limelight, like you, Tenjou," she acts completely surprised. She clearly doesn't know she's in the presence of the mastermind of those "stupid duels."

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#18 | Back to Top12-17-2009 10:39:51 PM

satyreyes
no, definitely no cons
From: New Orleans, Louisiana
Registered: 10-16-2006
Posts: 10328
Website

Re: Social Class in SKU

In the opening narration, the phrase "that strength or nobility" (in "never lose that strength or nobility, even when you grow up") is その強さ気高さ.  I don't believe the word 気高さ (kedakasa) has the same social-class connotations that "nobility" does in English, but a metaphor of height is involved; to be kedakai is literally to be high-minded.  Personally, I wouldn't read this as evidence that Utena's social class matters -- though her moral class certainly does -- but I guess one could.

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#19 | Back to Top12-18-2009 03:14:27 AM

DerJakob
Miki Molester
From: Eugene, OR
Registered: 10-21-2009
Posts: 31

Re: Social Class in SKU

I suppose in my reading I'm far less concerned with who specifically is a member of the student council and more concerned with understanding the whole thing allegorically, reading the imagery, etc. Utena is a revolutionary character in pseudo-French garb - this speaks to the literary tradition on a number of levels. And how can we understand the imagery of upward nobility, like I mentioned with the elevators and stairs and positions of seats? Even Akio, in a sense, gazing up at the stars, remains below them, a sort of divinely appointed monarch who still sits in awe of some power above him. In this sense we can see strati being transgressed, though maybe not necessarily destroyed.

And to take this to a whole new absurd level, could we read Utena as a sort of Robespierre character, guillotining her way to the top only to suffer the same fate as her foes? The revolutionary who ends up killed by her own revolution? Just a thought.


"The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the 'state of emergency' in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight. Then we shall clearly realize that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency, and this will improve our position in the struggle against Fascism."
-Walter Benjamin

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