Utena - Akio and Utena - parallels between their dates

The final showdown. <- PreviousNext -> Akio plans to kill Utena.

Akio and Utena’s three dates are key steps in Akio’s corruption plan: As I called them, the First Seduction, the Second Seduction, and the Routine Date. Parallels between them are best pointed out in one place, not scattered around. See overview of Akio and Utena’s relationship - the allegory for the symbolic meanings of each date. Many of the items here are filled in with appropriate symbolic values for the similar event of Utena spending a night with Touga in episode 36.

Sex. All the dates include sex; it’s an essential part of Akio’s plot. In the First Seduction, we directly see it. In the Second Seduction, it is strongly hinted and difficult to doubt. In the Routine Date, the hints are there but weak; the sum of evidence is convincing, but any individual piece of evidence can be doubted.

Fun. During each date, Utena talks about how much fun she had. In the First Seduction, she enthuses at length about her fun at the amusement park. In the Second Seduction, she feelingly but briefly exclaims her fun in the horse ride. After the Routine Date, she says conversationally, thanks, it was fun. I think it reflects Akio’s need to manipulate her. She needed a big push—a lot of fun—to get started down the slippery slope, and smaller pushes afterward.

Girlishness. The purpose of the sex is to overcome Utena’s boyish side; Akio is piercing Utena with a metaphorical sword to defeat her boyishness and overcome the prince. In other words, he is forcing her into a conventional subordinate female role. In each case, we’re shown evidence that Utena has become girlish. In the First Seduction, she herself asks in a tentative girlish voice the girlish question “what is eternity?”—a first-person report. After the Second Seduction, Juri and Miki remark on Utena’s girlishness, a reliable second-person report. After the Routine Date, unreliable witness Akio tells Utena that she is girlish. Akio does tell the truth when it will aid a deception. To me it seems that Utena does remain girlish exactly up to the point when Akio says that. Then she replies boyishly “But I am a girl,” misunderstanding.

Boys see benefit in the patriarchy and have reason to support it. Girls have reason to resist it. Akio makes Utena more girlish to control her, and that causes her to learn resistance and finally escape control—which had been nearly perfect until episode 37. The patriarchy is self-destructive; see miracles - the allegory.

Boyishness. After the First Seduction, Utena’s boyish side begins to recover. She has regained some boyishness by the start of the next episode, implied to be days later (Akio refers to the Seduction as “that night” not “last night”). It goes with her ambivalence. After the Second Seduction, Akio has powerful control over her and she remains girlish through the Routine Date. It can be heard in her voice as she examines the earrings late at night, sits with Anthy the next day, agrees to the duel with Touga, and speaks to Touga during and after the duel. In love with Akio, she is forgets other concerns. After the Routine Date, she briefly regains boyishness when Akio tells her she is girlish. Utena in episode 36 was purely girlish, but after the Routine Date she returns to mixed boyishness and girlishness. She has begun to doubt Akio.

Travel. The dates are away from home. Akio controls the transportation; he decides the place and time, and Utena has no freedom of movement. Freedom of movement stands for freedom in general; see transportation. In the First Seduction, events in the hotel are foregrounded, and we see a bit of the travel home, representing Akio’s new control over her; she makes a self-excuse showing deeper corruption. In the Second Seduction, the trip there is foregrounded; we see little of events in the forest and none of the ride back home (though we do see them walking after they have separated and Utena has regained freedom of movement). In the Routine Date, we see travel in both directions but none of the date itself. Their conversation afterward is foregrounded. The relative amount of travel we see increases with each date, matching Akio’s increasing control over Utena. The travel reflects Utena’s understanding. In the First Seduction, she does not understand how she wound up in bed (it shows in her vague language in the othello game and in her self-excuse on the way home). In the Second Seduction, she knew what happened to bring her there, but did not think about what the followup might be (she only had an emotional reaction to the lure of eternity). In the Routine Date, she understands more; she knew her choices and saw their results. In each case, we see the part that is key to Akio’s plot to marry Utena and take final control over her, and we see Utena’s regret.

Light show. The First Seduction comes with a light show representing the past, appearing from the beginning and emphasized then. Akio is luring her with a false vision of leaving behind childish fantasies and becoming an adult. The Second Seduction comes with a light show representing the future, appearing at the beginning and emphasized at the end. Akio is luring her with a false vision of an eternity of happiness. The Routine Date does not have a light show, other than the sunset that represents Akio’s dark corruption overtaking Utena. Akio does not need to lure her, she asked for the date herself. There’s nothing special about routine dates.

Eternity. In the First Seduction, Utena hesitantly, girlishly asks “What is eternity?” In the Second Seduction, Utena sees a vision of an eternity of happiness before her, as represented by the light show. She is convinced. In the Routine Date, Utena is to be enticed into joining Akio for eternity, accepting his engagement ring. She declines. Eternity moves closer each date, and Utena rejects it only when it has become clear—and her rejection does not entirely stick in the final showdown. Elsewhere I analyze eternity and miracles as the same thing in Akio’s propaganda (see duel symbols - motivations), but Utena faces the reality rather than the propaganda; eternity is an illusion and would extinguish her power of miracles. The eternity Akio seeks is the eternity of his control, as ensured by the stolen power of miracles.

Light and dark. The First Seduction is associated with artificial light. Akio’s lure of adulthood is false, and the hotel lamplight and the light show of the amusement park outside are artificial. Utena is ambivalent about the sex act. The Second Seduction is associated with natural daylight. The sun is shining, and the light show is sunlight on water—truth shining on illusions. The sun means Dios, the prince; Dios and Akio equally seek to control women. Akio presented himself as a rescuing prince, and Utena accepted him as her prince, replacing Dios for the moment. After Akio’s manipulation of her emotions, Utena’s love for Akio genuinely overrides her other feelings; the sex act takes place in a romantic natural forest and Utena is not ambivalent; she no longer cares that it is a corrupt act, but sees it as natural; it is good, like the prince. The Routine Date is associated with night. A view of flowers symbolizes that Utena has fallen under Akio’s power and her light is fading. Utena’s motives are impure, and the corrupt sex act takes place in Akio’s darkness. The flowers also say that Utena is enthusiastic about the sex—Akio promised in the Second Seduction that it would be good the second time, and apparently it was.

In her original corruption in episode 30, representing sexual attraction, Utena chooses to blow out candles for dark corruption. In the First Seduction, representing sex, she chooses to turn off the lamp for dark corruption. After that, Utena no longer makes moral decisions. Her love in the Second Seduction overrides all else, and she comes to seek sex without considering its morality; she does not make a self-excuse. She cheats on Akio without a care. Her light fades out on its own as she slides deeper into corruption. The Second Seduction happens in daylight, representing the natural joy of love, and ends at sunset. The Routine Date, representing a stable sexual relationship and engagement to marry, continues from there, starting at sunset and happening in corrupt darkness. It’s the suitable time for male sex, which is by nature corrupting. Akio seems to have succeeded in his third challenge of the corruption arc, and believes that Utena is ready for marriage, the final step in bringing a woman under male domination.

Maturity. Akio presents the illusion that sex is a gateway to adulthood, and Utena accepts it. The apparent maturity of their dates follows suit. In the First Seduction, Utena wears a dress that signals immaturity and sexual vulnerability. They go to an amusement park, a childish date location. Then she is shanghaied to a hotel for an unpleasant sex experience, something that can happen to an unknowing young girl. In the Second Seduction, Utena wears her usual uniform. They go on a horse ride, a wish of many teen girls. Utena is in love and happily chooses sex—she feels mature enough that it is a natural choice. In the Routine Date, Utena wears clothing that signals maturity and sexual sophistication—she feels grown up. I expect they go dancing at a club, or some other entertainment suitable for a young woman years older than Utena is. It’s a routine date, and sex is an expectation, not a decision to consider.

Public knowledge. The dates become successively more widely known. In the First Seduction, Akio takes Utena to a hotel room isolated from all other people. The phone is removed. He wants Utena to be isolated and dependent, and Utena wants to hide her corruption. Only Anthy knows what is going on (the person Utena least wants to know). In the earliest stage of a new relationship, often nobody else knows about it. In the Second Seduction, Akio takes Utena to a secluded forest pond. It’s unlikely but possible that somebody else could happen by. Touga finds out about the date. When the relationship becomes more serious, normally at least close friends know about it. In the Routine Date, we don’t know where Akio takes Utena, but Utena no longer tries to hide the relationship from Anthy, and she dresses to look sexy in public. Akio wants Utena to agree to an engagement, a public commitment that everybody will know about.

The more control Akio gains over Utena, the less he needs to physically isolate her and the more he benefits from letting her run free. When she plays the role he wants, she will make the choices he wants. In the end, she is to knowingly and openly promise to join Akio in his evil, and (no matter how messy her internal feelings) admit no shame.

Regret. Immediately after each date, Utena has a period of regret and doubt. Her idealism is damaged but not broken; she regrets having become more deeply corrupted, more damaged. Akio uses desire to fog Utena’s thoughts. With her desire satisfied, the fog lifts and she realizes what she has done. After the First Seduction, she feels wistful in the car; she is not sure it was a good decision after all. Her doubt persists days later, when she tells Akio she “probably” wants to meet her prince. (I think she definitely wants to meet her prince, but hedges in the face of Akio’s authority.) After the Second Seduction, she stays up late skeptically examining the earrings and events. Her doubt is stronger, but it is gone by the next day when she happily shows off the earrings to Chu-Chu. After the Routine Date—in fact, before it is quite over, while the two are talking in the car after returning, her regret is stronger yet. She rejects an approach by Akio, behaving defensively and changing the subject. I’m not sure when her doubt ends, but if it follows the pattern then it didn’t last long. It may have faded during the time skip after Akio gives up on his approach. The deeper regret on later dates is for the deeper damage to her idealism, and the quicker recovery is for her acceptance. The more she accepts evil, the more willing she is to accept further evil. The Second Seduction multiplies Utena’s desire, so that the fog returns quickly; the First Seduction and Routine Date have smaller effects on her desire.

Regret and illusions. In Buddhism, earthly desires are one of the causes of illusions. When Utena’s desire is satisfied, one of the causes of her illusions is removed, and she has an opportunity to realize truths. Akio’s plot requires creating and satisfying desires to delude Utena, but it comes with a built-in risk. Cognitive dissonance between her ideals and behavior helps conceal the truth from Utena (see Utena’s self-excuses). To further reduce the risk, Akio arranges for each date to end late in the day, so that Utena is tired and will sleep. Truths that she realizes will turn into dreams and be forgotten—sleep is associated with forgetting. It’s especially clear in the Second Seduction, when Utena makes realizations late at night, falls asleep, and has forgotten them the next day. Utena’s key realization happens after she stays up all night, not immediately after a date.
Anthy. The religious grounding implies that the rules of regret are for everyone. In the final showdown, Anthy backstabs Utena in hate-filled vengeance. When her desire for revenge is satisfied, she realizes what she has done and regrets it.

Thoughtfulness. Utena begins the series as an impulsive character who jumps to conclusions, is slow to notice contrary evidence, and does not stop to think. It is not until episode 23 that she realizes that Anthy can’t quit her Rose Bride role. After each date, her regret drives a period of thoughtfulness. After the First Seduction, she thinks wistfully in the car that she didn’t expect that, and in the next episode wants a commemorative photo for the future. After the Second Seduction, late that night she thinks over the earrings and events with skepticism. She loses the skepticism by the next day, but she becomes a more thoughtful person and we see her thinking things over. After the Routine Date, we don’t see her thinking over her big questions—the episode is thick with events, there may not be screen time. But she must do it, because she resolves her feelings about them, feelings she had struggled with earlier. This thinking happens sometime after she tears up the letter and before the basketball game. There are signs that she started thinking before the Routine Date was over: She seemed to have drawn conclusions about Akio, she took pauses in the car that may have been thoughtful, and she saw the Big Dipper, a symbol of seeking the truth.

Sex causes thoughtfulness which leads Utena toward truth. The First Seduction symbolically associates sex with moving to the right, toward truth. You have to seek the truth before you can leave your metaphorical coffin.

Christian parallel. In falling to the temptation of Akio, who is the serpent in Eden, Utena is eating of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Her bouts of thoughtfulness are when the knowledge comes to her. She slowly figures out what is good and what is bad. When the knowledge is complete and consolidated, at the end of the Final Showdown, she disappears from the Academy.

a further parallel

On their dates, Utena’s false lover pierces her with a metaphorical sword. In the final showdown at the dueling arena at the end of the show, Utena’s true lover pierces her with a real sword. I conclude that the brain-twisting parallel is intended. It shows the monstrous unfairness of Anthy’s position, and represents the reversed world she lives in. Akio always planned to kill Utena after achieving his goal. Akio plans his dirty work and has Anthy carry it out, the same way that Nanami plans her dirty work and has her minions carry it out (also see The Rose of Versailles - Madame du Barry). Akio performs real sex that causes psychological harm. Anthy, under Akio’s orders, performs metaphorical sex that causes grievous physical harm. Akio uses sex as a weapon—literal sex as a figurative weapon, and figurative sex as a literal weapon.

In episode 11, Touga warns that the more you love someone, the more strongly they will betray you. In terms of the episode, he’s talking about his betrayal of Nanami; in terms of the show, about Akio’s betrayal of Utena and Utena and Anthy’s mutual betrayal. Touga is terrifically cynical, but when it comes to Akio he’s dead on.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 30 November 2021
updated 18 June 2024