“You really don’t know what happened, do you? It doesn’t matter. By all means, stay in this cozy coffin of yours and continue to play prince.”
-Anthy Himemiya to Akio Ohtori, Revolutionary Girl Utena, episode 39
Each Kunihiko Ikuhara series begins with a system, and the system always remains, even at the series’ end.
Revolutionary Girl Utena ends on a positive note. The shocked look on Akio Ohtori’s face as Anthy tells her older brother that she is leaving the academy says it all. For him, there is no life outside of Ohtori Academy and the rules of the Rose Bride and the duelists. Trapped within the system, we are meant to see Akio as foolish. Anthy’s parting words to him only serve to frame any of Akio’s further machinations as utterly meaningless. The scene is preluded by a montage that mirrors the first episode. This time, it’s of an Ohtori Academy not only without Utena, but freed of Akio’s influence. Utena’s absence is palpable, as is the lack of control that Akio has over the school. The system remains, but it’s a toothless one thanks to the actions of Utena Tenjou over the course of the series.
“The train has left. You’re stuck here now.
‘The train will come again.’
I don’t know about that, but I’m leaving.”
-a conversation between Momoka Oginome and Sanetoshi Watase, Mawaru Penguindrum, episode 24
Like Revolutionary Girl Utena, Mawaru Penguindrum ends with the shattering of an existing system and a sacrifice. Kanba and Shouma Takakura disappear from the world, leaving behind a new life for their sister, Himari. Penguindrum also ends with a bookending sequence, revisiting the series’ beginning without the presence of Shouma and Kanba. Their absence is felt, but again, the ending is a hopeful one. While Sanetoshi reiterates that the system remains – the train will come again – Momoka simply shrugs, smiles, and walks away, leaving Sanetoshi to his ghostly library. Sanetoshi isn’t made to look as foolish as Akio was – playing at being a prince while the world moves on around him, even within the academy – but there’s a distinct feeling that, when he tries to exert his influence again, Momoka, or a similar entity, will stand in his way.
In both instances, Akio and Sanetoshi’s influences are well-neutered by the events of their respective series. Each series also leaves a survivor: Anthy remains in the changed world of Utena, Himari remains in the changed world of Penguindrum.
Who survives in Yuri Kuma Arashi?
“People who refuse to fit in with us are a nuisance, agreed? People like that, who can’t follow social cues, are evil. Now, let’s decide on the next evil to exclude.”
-the closing words of the Exclusion Ceremony, Yuri Kuma Arashi, episode 12
While Yurikuma‘s ending sequence is similar to that of Utena and Penguindrum – with a sequence similar to its beginning – there is not a solitary survivor for whom the sacrifice has taken place. Kureha Tsubaki and Ginko Yurishiro cease to exist in the world, and the system carries on as normal. It’s a bit more of an ominous ending than Ikuhara’s two previous series, in that the existing social structure remains very much intact. There is no framing of a fool, like Akio’s end, nor is there an assertion that something or someone will be able to stand in opposition, like Sanetoshi’s end. Instead, the Exclusion Ceremony continues, poised to hunt down their next victim with one notable exception.
A former participant in the Exclusion Ceremony leaves the proceedings, travels to the Door of Friendship, and discovers the half-cyborg, half-Konomi Yurikawa. While there is no clear survivor within the world – Lulu, Ginko, and Kureha have all vanished – the vacuum left behind is filled by someone who was visibly affected by their sacrifice. There is a strong sense that Lulu, Ginko, and Kureha’s actions radiate outward. Even if change is slow it will eventually come, one heart at a time.