“Robots are never troubled,
When I see a monkey, I catch it quickly,
Robots do not feel lonely,
I have the monkeys for company,
Robots keep working on and on,
I have caught many monkeys.
But it breaks my heart to see you like this now.
Revolutionary Girl Utena was released in 1997, with the Black Rose Saga running from episodes 14 to 23. The saga focuses on themes of holding onto the past and clinging to memories to the point of being paralysed by the fear of them fading. The main villain of this saga, Souji Mikage, is the epitome of what these things can do to someone. However, many people walk away still wondering; what exactly was it that drove Mikage?
I will be using the evidence presented in episodes 22 and 23 to piece together the story of Souji Mikage. There are 3 main players in the story; Souji Mikage, a high schooler and facilitator; Tokiko Chiba, from the school board; and Mamiya Chiba, Tokiko’s younger brother. The stage is set as Nemuro Memorial Hall, on the grounds of Ohtori Academy.
When we are introduced to a young Mikage, he is described as a computer by his peers. He’s methodical and disconnected from everyone, but needs to be told what to do. However, at this point, he has no ties to the work he is doing. Our attention is drawn to the cats that sit outside his window. The cats are free; they can come and go as they please, and have no place in the school so aren’t tied to it. These cats have everything in common with Mikage at this stage in his life.
We are also to note the butterfly on his wall, which has been a frequent theme throughout the saga. The butterfly has been used to symbolise beauty in society and emotional wellness, with it then reverting through the stages as characters emotionally crumble.
Tokiko meets with Mikage to discuss the goal he has been hired to help them achieve. The goal of Ohtori Academy is to achieve eternity. At this point, Mikage recognises the fruitlessness of this task. He believes in the idea that we should be happy with the time we’re given. However, Tokiko ends up introducing him to Mamiya and expresses that it's for his sake that she seeks it. Mamiya is young, but he is dying. Upon meeting him, Mikage is instantly awestruck. When Tokiko explains the situation to him, he reminds her that even if they supposedly achieved eternity, Mamiya would still be sick. She wonders aloud if he is capable of love. Mikage brushes it off, but privately he recognises that this is the first time he’s fallen for someone. Despite all his arguments to deny the possibility of eternity as an obtainable concept, through meeting Mamiya and Tokiko, Mikage starts to understand the appeal. The ability to help those he loves, to never fear the inevitability of losing them. Mikage can approach the subject with the idealism of humanity instead of the realism of the computer he was made out to be.
Mikage throws himself into his work, trying to find the path to eternity. On his wall, the butterfly has reverted to the point of being a leaf, not simply a cocoon or caterpillar, but as far back as a leaf. His deepest fears, his most personal thoughts, are on full display. The things he acts on now are his strongest desires. He’s meeting with Mamiya often, even when Tokiko isn’t there.
When he speaks to Mamiya, it’s clear Mamiya’s view differs from his sister’s. He recognises how his sister fears death, to the point that she’ll preserve flowers. Mamiya wonders if the flowers would want to be made to last longer than their naturally short lives permit. He recognises that nothing is eternal, and all things must end. Despite this, he recognises the love that leads to clinging to what will soon be gone. Mamiya is appreciative of the love his sister and Mikage have for him but wants them to accept his fate instead of clinging to him.
At this point, Mikage’s beliefs no longer align with Mamiya’s. Even though Mamiya believes exactly what Mikage had once, he is offended that Mamiya would have such little faith in him. Mikage’s freedom has been severed as he has wrapped himself up in the pursuit of saving Mamiya. The cats are noticeably absent from his window. He has finally connected, but to something that will be short-lived and he can’t bear to lose it. His connection and his pursuit of what can not be have severed his freedom, to tie him to Ohtori Academy.
Mikage rejects Mamiya’s plea and works even harder, only to come up short. It is then that he meets Akio Ohtori, the acting chairman of Ohtori Academy and the one that leads everyone to their search for eternity. He has made contracts with the 100 students of Nemuro Memorial Hall so that they will fight in the pursuit of that eternity. Mikage, however, rejects his offer. Even if he achieved eternity, he’s aware that Mamiya will still be sick and it would be forcing him to remain that way forever. While Mikage searched to give Mamiya eternity, his last hold on reality was that he wanted to achieve it with the knowledge that Mamiya would no longer suffer. That he wouldn’t be sick a single day of that eternity. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be what Mamiya or Tokiko truly want. Akio leaves the offer with him and tells him the path is prepared for him.
Following the meeting with Akio, Mikage sees one of the caskets being moved through the halls. Until this point, he has never paid attention to how caskets flow through the halls because they don’t mean anything to him. The casket leads Mikage to learn the truth of what is taking place behind the scenes. Tokiko is in a relationship with Akio. Her work is for him, and she used Mikage’s feelings to open the way to eternity. Mikage treats this as a sign that she never cared for Mamiya the way he did.
While we aren’t told who is within this casket, it is reasonable to assume that this is the point when Mamiya finally died. His death leads Mikage to discover the truth, as the curtain that previously hid it had been torn down. The Mamiya that appears in Mikage’s memory from this point on is different from the one that preceded it. The story becomes more disjointed from here as Mikage clings to the belief that Mamiya is still with him.
Mikage has a memory following when he had supposedly opened the way to eternity. The students rejected him as no longer being of use and fought each other to the death in the pursuit of being the one to hold eternity. Mikage remembers himself as Olympia in Manet’s work; a commodity. The Mamiya he remembers is disgusted by how others use Mikage, but his face becomes obscured by roses as he wishes for eternity. Even in Mikage’s mind, he can’t truly see the Mamiya that wanted for that.
The 100 students die fighting over who will achieve eternity. Mikage burns down Nemuro Memorial Hall, knowing that its goal was not what Mamiya longed for. However, in his memory, Mamiya still lives and he believes it was Mamiya that set the fire. He blames Mamiya for burning the hall down as it was his beliefs that drove him to do it.
Despite Mikage’s search for eternity, his memories are no longer correct. Over time they have been manipulated by others and what he wants to believe happened. He constantly works to make the memories he shared with Mamiya last forever. He makes himself believe that Mamiya is still with him, and if he keeps trying, then he can one day grant him eternity. Mikage is trapped in the past to the point that he never ages and always believes Mamiya is at his side. Tokiko moved on after the hall burned down, and she has grown older and married. When she visits to pay respects, she is upset seeing how Mikage is still trapped in the past, but Mikage can only resent her for abandoning Mamiya.
Mikage shows who we become when we don’t accept the present and continue to live in the past. He shows that even memories will not last forever, and even the ones we hold closest to us can become corrupted by time. Mikage’s story is the story of a man who couldn’t let go and was driven by his need to never move forward.