If you’ve watched any anime directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara, you know two things to be true. One, his stuff is wild. Two, there’s no such thing as canon. Yurikuma Arashi, Sarazanmai, and more changed hugely from manga to anime. And Revolutionary Girl Utena in particular has changed vastly across its many forms.
One of these vast changes is the mere existence of Nanami Kiryuu. She’s come a long way, from a background character to a fan favorite. Love her, loathe her, or just… look on in confusion… she’s had a major glow-up.
In the Background
In the original Revolutionary Girl Utena manga, we saw Nanami a grand total of once: in a photo with her brother. We knew she was Touga’s little sister, but that was about it. To be fair, there’s already plenty of drama at Ohtori Academy, family or otherwise.
Something clearly changed between the manga and the anime. Because this doting sister went from background image to major player. At first we see her Mean Girlsing it around campus with her trio of bully friends. But it’s not long before she, too, is part of Ohtori’s Student Council. She even gets to duel the lead. That’s a major jump in importance!
Variations on a Theme
A recurring theme of Revolutionary Girl Utena is obsessive love, including — you know — between siblings. Whether it’s fixation on a long-dead relationship, infatuation from a distance, or outright control, pretty much everyone is a part of at least one relationship like this. Nanami, the overachiever, is on both the sending and receiving end of such “affection” — toward her brother Touga, and from fourth-grader Mitsuru Tsuwabuki.
The introduction of Nanami to the series serves as a counterpoint to the key relationship between Akio and Anthy. As much of a bully as she may be, and as obsessive as she may get, even she can tell that there’s a line. And once she sees where that line is, things change. On either side of this realization, she makes an interesting counterpoint to the relationship on which much of the series hinges.
And Then Things Got Weird
What Nanami is most famous for, however, is the fact that she turned into a cow and laid an egg. Not while she was a cow. This was two separate episodes.
Her upgrade in Utena comes at a price, apparently. While she gets major screen time, she also fields the most Ikuhara of Ikuhara filler episodes. We get moments with her where we see she’s not really as bad as she makes herself out to be. And we do slowly gain some sympathy for her. But these bizarre, possibly magic-laced episodes are what she’s most famous for, to the point of many fan tributes in many media. Even in Adolescence of Utena, where she’s essentially absent from the story, her cameo is of the bovine variety.
From set dressing to essential character, Nanami has come a long way. And she — along with the other differences between the many forms of Utena — is a good reminder that there’s a whole world of stories to enjoy from Ohtori Academy.