Spot the yellow: Obsession, danger & innocence in Utena

Spot the [color] it’s a section where I try to interpret the meaning behind the use of [color] in a character and/or a scene.

I’m going to be frank: this show intimidates the hell out of me. I even feel like I need to put disclaimers like “hey, I’m just a fairly newbie Utena fan doing my best” or something. I do know a thing or two about colors, and I’m intrigued with how this show uses some of them… So let’s do this.

Yellow is both an aggressive and versatile color. It’s the strongest one of the color wheel; everything fades into the background in its presence, which is why it’s so often used in “caution” or “attention” signs.

It’s commonly associated with happiness, yet it’s also a hated color. After all, too much of it can be almost impossible to look at. (Example, proceed with caution.) Stare at yellow for too long and not only will your eyes hurt, it can also produce anxiety. That makes yellow a fitting color to represent obsession. However, specific meanings can vary a lot depending on things like saturation and context.

Nanami’s Innocence & Obsession

Nanami is definitely one of the most interesting characters in Revolutionary Girl Utena. There’s much that can be said about her, so for brevity’s sake, I will only focus on the most notorious parts that can be linked to the color.

Nanami’s assigned both bright and pale yellow. Nanami is yellow: she’s exuberant, obstinate and obsessive. She wants to find her place in the world, but she won’t settle for just anything. She wants to be the idol of the school, the classiest girl, the one that everyone admires. Her bright yellow student council uniform is as attention graving as she wants to be. Fittingly, Nanami fears becoming just another girl; someone who can be easily lost in the crow.

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For Nanami, Touga, her older brother, it’s the center of her universe. He’s her “prince.” In Nanami’s mind, it’s her role of the little sister that makes her special. Unlike the other girls that so often pursue her brother, in her eyes, being related to him means that they share a unique bond.

All the main characters have their own rose frame, and Nanami’s frame has bright yellow roses. Yellow roses in particular, although commonly associated joy, can also convey platonic love. It says a lot about Nanami’s feelings towards her brother, which are challenged at one point in the series.

In her chest, she wears her duelist rose, a pale yellow one. Pale yellow can be either a color of elegance or innocence. Nanami does try to pose herself as a classy girl. Self-centered and selfish Nanami also has innocence in her.

Nanami has certain innocence and pureness in how she loves and wants to be loved. In some ways, there’s a certain innocence in how she trust in her brother. Even her ill intentions towards other girls feel childlike.

Obsession & Danger in the Atmosphere

In “Nemuro Memorial Hall,” yellow appears many, many times.

It’s there when Tokiko Chida’s introduced. Just before Mikage enters the room where she’s waiting for him, everything turns yellow. The first time we see her, she’s at the center of the frame, surrounded by yellow. Again, this color can be linked with obsession.

Yellow lighting, which can be pretty harsh on the eyes, can be perceived as threatening. This combination can work as a warning, telling us that Mikage will go down a path of dangerous obsession, which will be connected to this woman.

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Mikage gets very attached. For her sake, he devotes himself completely to a project he wasn’t really interested in before.

Black and yellow can be a very dangerous combination as well. In nature, we can find it on poisonous reptiles, whose bites might or might not kill you, but they can still incapacitate. If that’s too hard to imagine, you can de-escalate it and think of how much the sting of a bee hurts.

This combination doesn’t always have to be threatening. Nanami, for example, is not a serious threat. Sure, there’s both black and bright yellow in her student council uniform. But there are also pink, purple and white details, and they are enough to ensure neither the yellow or the black on her clothes are too overbearing.

That’s not the case here.

just looking at this makes me want to turn around and get the hell away from there

Black and yellow dominate before Mikage find Tokiko “with someone else.” If you’re having trouble remembering what happened after… Well. Let’s just say that there’s a fire.

Even if we don’t know the specific meaning behind the yellow in those scenes, we can still perceive some of it instinctively. Watching said scenes, we’re put on alert, even if when we can’t completely understand why.

The death of innocence

Yellow lighting it’s used far more remarkably in “The Barefoot Girl.” This is the episode where Akio finally gets what he wants: Utena “falling for him.” Red and orange are present in the scene, but they’re neither romantic nor heartwarming like these colors can be. Besides context, the difference lies in the saturation and of course, the harsh and dangerous yellow lighting.

It’s worth to notice that by the time Utena it’s on a car drive with Akio, two things have already been established: the red car, like Akio, is a symbol of adulthood (and his power). Akio himself it’s a predatory man with a clear interest in Utena, who is still a teenage girl. Akio making advances on Utena is unsettling, to say the least, and yellow is most likely here to make sure we feel that way.

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Red itself is a color that can convey power, and the bastard here is wearing it

The scene takes harsh yellow lighting to the extreme. Like the car, the lighting it’s in constant movement. We even get a closeup of Akio, alone with the threatening yellow.

In some ways, watching the lighting in this scene it’s like looking at the sky when the sun is too strong: you cannot help but want to shield your eyes. Yellow is trying to make us feel uncomfortable, anxious.

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When the drive’s over, the mood is deeply unsettling. We see Anthy observing for a second before we get a glimpse of Akio kissing Utena, then she disappears. Purple surrounds them.

As I’ve said in previous posts, purple, with its association to the otherworldly, can be a color of decay or even corruption. It can also foreshadow death (it doesn’t have to be literal) or a drastic change. At the corner, there’s a soft, pale yellow. Later, Utena would be forcibly stripped of her innocence.

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this, folks, is the stuff of nightmares


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3 thoughts on “Spot the yellow: Obsession, danger & innocence in Utena

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