Revolutionary Girl Utena is a show that plays with gender, sexuality, taboos, power, and the nature of stories and fairly tales in a surreal, sinister, and subversive manner. As the series goes on the tone can get pitch black in approach as it vivisects the shojo genre. But it is not all doom and gloom despite having a song named Absolute Destiny Apocalypse. There is a good deal of humor in series from Chu-chu’s antics to Saionji’s obsession with his exchange diary to break up what would otherwise be a relentless down note. There are even a few episodes that are purely comedic such as Take Care, Miss Nanami and Curried High Trip. And the one character who is at the center of all the purely comedic episodes is Nanami Kiryuu. She can be a dangerous character but most of the time she is used as comedic relief.
Nanami is a source of endless entertainment in the first season of Revolutionary Girl Utena and truly this is not celebrated enough. She fits in with the eccentricity of the show for sure and certainly exudes more sinister and creepy qualities, but you have to love her antics which usually blow up in her face.
Nanami is Touga and is the resident mean girl at Ohtori Academy. She is often plotting against anyone who would get too close to her brother or who she feels is acting out of their place. She can be very petty and often likes to act through her three little minions as opposed to attacking people directly. While she pretends to be a kind and caring proper lady it is very obvious that there is a selfish and self-involved personality underneath her facade. She is prone to overreaction and jumping to conclusions as if she were in a silly romantic comedy. Her overblown hysterics and bizarre plots are usually the key focus of the comedy episodes.
In her first appearance she mistook Anthy as her primary competition when it came to the affections of her brother. And she didn’t even know about the Rose Bride business at that point. Her along with her cronies who, let’s face it, no true queen bee would be without take mean girls to the next level by inventing clothing that deteriorates when wet! But her devious plan failed her because Utena must have also taken that clothing making class; not only does she conceal her uniform under a strapless dress, she also creates one out of a table cloth. Unfortunately, or fortunately, being one uped and foiled is a common theme for Nanami.
The first time we see Nanami as comic relief character is when she tags along with Miki when he goes to tutor Anthy and Utena. She means to humiliate Anthy by having strange animals pop out in the room in hopes that it will cause Miki to think that Anthy is a weird girl and shun her. But the things in Anthy’s room continually prove to be weirder than anything Nanami brings. On top of that Miki seems only to find the strangeness going on in Anthy’s room charming. We later have an episode were Nanami is sure someone is trying to assassinate her and one where Utena and Anthy swap bodies due to Nanami sabotaging their curry. Both episodes have her being attacked by various animals including a runaway bull and a team elephants who are skilled mountain climbers and surfers. Those elephants are determined to make sure Nanami and her minions cannot get a second batch of curry. Also her overly elaborate but super subtle listening devices are a truly memorable site.
Nanami’s sweet sister act fools no one, not even Touga, but she puts it on all the same. That eye-rolling feeling you get when she turns on the charm is the perfect setup for antics. In the world of Utena a character that is so readily bad and obvious in her schemes is refreshing; it is never hard to figure out Nanami’s motives. And because of this she has the most moments for comedy big and small. Who else could get into a situation where a boxing kangaroo escapes and she falls into its path?
I would feel remiss if I made it seem that Nanami was entirely a silly comic relief character. As I stated at the beginning she is sometimes a dangerous character. When we first meet her she is setting up Anthy for public humiliation and remains a sinister manipulator thought the series. Her poison tongue and devious schemes are often occurring in the background and are something very harmful. When she actually becomes a duelist we see how twisted her obsession with her brother is. She is also the only duelist to actively cheat in the arena during a normal duel. In fact an interesting theory I once read was all of Nanami’s animal troubles might stem from the cat she kills in Nanami’s Precious One. Perhaps she is being haunted by the animal kingdom for her murder of a trusted pet.
It is easy to think back on the season and see Nanami as silly and spiteful but she weaves herself into the unhealthy and devious pattern of the series quite well. Excluding Utena, she is the first wild card of the series as she doesn’t reside in the student council and she doesn’t have a rose signet ring until Touga gives her one (does he have a box of them?). Nanami has a role to play and while I love her for the comedy, that is just the tip of the iceberg.