Utena - the First Seduction

The three candles of episode 30. <- PreviousNext -> Backlash against the First Seduction.

Utena in the car afterward, looking at Akio.

The First Seduction of episode 33 is the first of three dates that are part of Akio’s corruption plan. His goal in it is to overcome Utena’s boyish side and make her girlish so that he can bring her under his control. He does that by seducing her into sex, and by “seduce” I mean that he coldly manipulates her feelings and steers her actions. The event is parallel to the myth of Europa and the bull where Zeus as a bull kidnaps Europa: Akio kidnaps Utena to a hotel and, like Zeus as a bull, seduces her without speaking. As usual in classical myth, kidnapping and rape are essentially the same thing, and that’s how it is here. I analyze it in outrageous detail.

See the episode 33 constellations for the planetarium sky during Anthy’s phone call while Akio drives Utena back home.

In Utena’s allegory, this date represents sex. Akio and Utena have three sex dates, but this first one is the only one where Utena thinks about her corruption and chooses to be corrupt. After this, she falls into deeper corruption without making a choice. Sex is depicted as such a powerful motivation that once you have fallen under its spell, it is no longer a choice; you will seek sex one way or another. I think it’s true for most people. Male sex is depicted as intrinsically corrupting. It destroys female independence and, through the rules of the system of control, enforces male dominance over society.

The First Seduction and the Second Seduction are closely parallel. There’s not as much to say about the Second Seduction, so I’ll note the parallels there.

This episode broke my heart worse than Anthy’s backstab (going through the backstab over and over desensitized me, but not here). That is why I’m looking closely into details. I’ll be mostly skipping the recap parts. The Seduction itself is more than enough to figure out. The new footage and the old footage are commenting on each other pointedly, and I do call out some instances.

contents

the outline sequence of events
the events that we weren’t shown
when is Utena in the car?
the road turns left
the simpler symbols
the light show
psychological tricks
conventional hotel events
the mysterious telephone
the detailed course of events in the hotel
  - after arrival
  - watching television
  - the shower
  - after the evening meal
  - the othello game
  - turning off the light
  - the sex scene
  - Utena’s babble
  - Utena’s teeth
  - my interpretation
  - the rest of it
conclusion
Dios
pregnancy

the outline sequence of events

Most broadly, we start with Akio in his car away from the Academy. He returns to the Academy and picks up Utena, takes her to an amusement park and then to a hotel for sex, and finally home again. In more detail, from Utena’s point of view, these things must have happened:

• Anthy asks Utena to deliver roses to Akio, and supplies the roses. From the preview in the previous episode.
• Utena dresses for the delivery, presumably before it happens. Where does the dress come from?
• Utena delivers the roses. She expected that would be all.
• Akio drives Utena to the amusement park.
• Fun time at the amusement park.
• Akio drives Utena to the hotel.
• Utena is idle, stretches, watches TV. They seem to spend hours in the hotel.
• Utena takes a shower.
• The two eat.
• The two play a game of othello.
• Go to bed. Sex.
• Akio drives Utena home before dawn. They did not sleep at the hotel.

the events that we weren’t shown

We don’t get to see Anthy providing the roses, and we don’t know where Utena’s date dress and red purse came from. She normally wears her uniform all day (it comes up in episode 7), so she had to dress up specially.

I’ve changed my mind repeatedly about how the date was set up. I think I finally have it—but time will tell whether I change my mind again!

Utena is to make no unscripted decisions, but Akio wants her to believe she is choosing freely. Akio wants her to believe that she instigated the date: She shows up with flowers wearing a sexy dress, what is he supposed to think? Akio’s plot succeeds, at least well enough for his purposes. And in order for it to succeed, Utena must choose to wear a sexy dress. We get a glimpse of her wardrobe, and she does own other girlish clothing. And she has time think about it, and to choose the dress; Akio is away from the Academy and has to drive there. That was part of his plot.

Utena chose the date dress. How does Akio trick her into deciding to wear a sexy dress? He uses an approach-withdrawal maneuver. After her corruption in episode 30, she knows she desires Akio; that is the approach step. But in the intervening episodes 31 and 32, he withdrew from her, and paid attention to Nanami, making Utena jealous. Utena wants to attract him to restore their closeness—she wears lipstick to attract him. Inviting her on the date is the re-approach step of the maneuver.

Listening to Utena’s voice in the preview of the previous episode convinced me. Akio wants her to believe that Anthy approves of her dating Akio. When Anthy asks her to deliver roses to Akio, Utena answers “OK, but...” meaning “I don’t know why you’re asking, but I’m good for it.” Her voice is girlish.

Akio drove up, perhaps complimented her appearance or initiative, and invited her on a drive. It may have been as simple as “Let’s go.” Utena must have been happy and excited.

The roses are parallel to the roses that Anthy talks Utena into taking to Touga in episode 10. Touga gave her the dress, and she chose to wear it despite disliking it for its frilliness.

the rest

Then to the amusement park. This one Akio can announce up front, because Utena will look forward to it. I doubt he did, though. I suspect he thought it was better to keep her ignorant the whole time, barefoot and pregnant (Wikipedia) style. (The title of episode 30 is “The barefoot girl”. It refers to Cinderella, but it fits Akio’s overall plot too. And consider pregnancy.)

Then they left the amusement park. When did Utena learn that they were headed for a hotel? Was it a surprise when they arrived, or what? To deny her information, Akio would delay talking about it, but how long should he delay? He wants Utena to think it was her decision, though in reality she has no say. I bet he waited until they were in the parking lot, giving Utena little space to object. He may have come out with some nonsense explanation like “let’s stop here for a while so we don’t bother Anthy” (though Utena wishes Anthy had come along). Or he may have just said “let’s spend more time together” (except his wording would be cool). It would explain how Utena knows that they would not stay overnight at the hotel (it comes out in some of her babble).

They seem to spend hours in the hotel. No wonder Utena is sleepy on the way home.

What is in Utena’s purse? A hair brush; in the return drive, her hair is in order. I can’t guess any other contents.

when is Utena in the car?

In which views of the car is Utena there? The car shots are out of order with respect to the hotel shots and to each other. Akio receives phone calls at three times while in the car. One: The first call from the shadow girls is interrupted by a brief “side job” call, where he says he’s on his way. He must be away from the Academy at the start; Utena is not in the car yet. Anthy is calling him in.

Two: The second call from the shadow girls. They say they “finally” got him back; some time has passed. Is he still heading home, or now driving toward the amusement park with Utena? Still heading home, because the shadow girls call him End of the World over the air. Utena does not learn that yet. Though note: It’s possible that it’s much later, and Utena is in the car napping, so she doesn’t hear it. I think that’s unlikely.

Three: The call from Anthy asking if he received the roses. At this point the two are on the way home, Utena is in the car and we see her.

In the car, the camera is not keeping secrets from us.

the road turns left

left-turning lamps into the distance

Until now, every time we have seen the lampposts of the road curving into the distance, they have been curving to the right. The car seems to be following a clockwise spiral. In this episode, the lamps curve left every time they are shown. I gathered that a ride in Akio’s car is bad, and if the road turns left, it’s worse. Now I realize that the car is returning to the Academy every time we see it this episode. There is a literal meaning: If the car turns right when moving away, then when coming back it must turn left. I discovered that it is a general symbol; see turning left.

the simpler symbols

The point of view. The camera shows Akio’s point of view throughout the hotel sequence. It is meaningful in itself: Akio’s power is peaking, and has become so strong that even we, the audience, see everything as Akio does. His view is creepy and disturbing, and joining it makes us creepy and disturbing, which is even more disturbing. Everything bows to Akio. The shadow girls do his bidding, even the other symbols are from Akio’s point of view. In the following episode there is a backlash as the world’s natural order tries to reassert itself—with no more than partial success.

Utena stretching at the hotel window

The stars are mentioned repeatedly. Anthy does not want to look at the real stars. The beauty of the stars is the first thing to come up in the car, on the radio by the shadow girls who say it’s a good night for couples to glimpse eternity, and the last thing with Akio’s “weren’t the stars beautiful tonight?” Past tense, but when he said it, the night wasn’t over.

The stars represent eternity, a girlish desire. Akio’s goal is to turn Utena girlish via sex. Utena asks about eternity immediately after losing her virginity, to her the key event. Akio succeeded, as he was sure he would, and to him the stars are beautiful. To Anthy, the stars are not beautiful at all; she is ferociously jealous. This night, the stars represent a very brief eternity of sex—a glimpse only.

The stars also refer directly and individually to Utena. The Japanese word hoshi is usually translated as “star” or “stars” but means celestial body in general. At the start of the following episode 34, Akio speaks to Anthy of having discovered a new comet, meaning Utena, and also uses the word hoshi for the comet. Depending on context, a Japanese sentence “the stars are beautiful” may mean “the comet is beautiful”, Utena herself is beautiful. The ambiguity is always there, lying in wait. To the extent that she is a docile princess, Utena is beautiful to Akio.

And, as the shadow girls remind us, the stars are associated with romance. General associations don’t disappear just because Utena adds specific associations. Though when we see the sky, no stars are visible.

The neatly folded date dress with purse on top.

The striped dress is meaningful from Akio’s point of view too. It indicates Utena’s fall from purity—again, from Akio’s point of view; Utena sees the night as a step away from childhood and into adulthood, which is a narrative of the system of control that she has bought into. The dress is white for purity with thin red stripes for pollution or sex (via the red of Eve’s apple), and for the color of the blood she will bleed. Another way to look at it is that Akio is working to change Utena from the white of the prince to the red of the Rose Bride. Anthy’s Rose Bride dress is solid red because she has fallen as far as it is possible to fall; Utena’s date dress is a little red because she is falling a short way this night.

The simple and short dress indicates innocence and sexual vulnerability. After watching TV she bicycles her legs in the air without noticing that the position accentuates her vulnerability.

White is the color of the prince. Akio is using Utena’s connection to her prince to subvert her ideals, weakening the connection in the process. He wants to become her prince; he is working to switch her allegiance from prince Dios to prince Akio (Dios was the bait, Akio is the hook). Anthy’s red Rose Bride dress again ties in.

White and red together make pink, Utena’s color. Akio is claiming that this is Utena’s normal, or is a step toward what she should be. In the final showdown Akio turns Utena into a princess, and she wears a pink princess dress. She never becomes as corrupted as Anthy.

The red purse is red for a similar reason. It represents Utena’s virginity. The way she handles the purse makes it unmistakable: She holds tightly to it at first (see it in the top picture here), sets it aside out of view later, and we do not see it again after she lays it on the folded dress for her shower. (It does reappear in the car on the way home, now meaning sexual experience.) The shower is associated with sex; read ahead to the conventional hotel events section. Its red color is the color of Eve’s apple and of other things associated with sex and corruption: The red stripes in the date dress, the red shoes.

The roses are pink for Utena and red for Akio. And they are pink for trust (or affection), and red for love and passion—and, as usual, sex and sin. Akio acts to force the red of sin and blood into her dress and purse. Symbols in Utena like to connect with each other. Compare episode 3, where Utena wore the pink dress that Touga sent her with red roses that stand for Touga. It is part of the Touga-Akio parallel. As a bouquet, the roses are bait for Akio’s trap and stand for Akio’s plot. When the roses are put into the vase, they stand for the upcoming sex act and suggest that Akio does not wear a condom. Kanae’s lilies in vases predict her death, so these roses in a vase may reflect Akio’s intention to kill Utena (though not as directly).

the light show

Utena sits in a chair by the hotel window, looking out.

The episode starts with the prince story, but rather than the usual imagery, we see the distant lights of the amusement park. The lights are an organizing symbol of the hotel scene that other metaphors align with. The blue background glow says that the light show is or represents an illusion.

Childhood to adulthood. The prince story associates the fanciful amusement park lights with childhood, childhood fairy tales, and Utena’s prince. The blinking lights contrast with stars: Stars mean eternity to hold, the amusement park lights mean transience and childhood to be left behind. Tying the lights to Utena’s prince story means that to become adult, she should forget the prince, he is a childhood fantasy. The prince defines Utena’s boyish side that Akio wants to be rid of, and is the person Utena wants to marry; she is to drop her boyishness and want to marry Akio instead. Akio is steering Utena toward what he presents (and Utena accepts) as adulthood. The ferris wheel represents Utena’s ring: When the prince story says “it must be an engagement ring,” the ferris wheel is dead center. Also, the ferris wheel is in the shape of a large red target, and the white A of its supports can be a phallic symbol. With that color and shape, and with the romantic associations of a ferris wheel, it stands for Utena’s virginity, her childish virginity which she is to leave behind. And it resembles a rose, a female symbol. Utena and Akio likely rode the ferris wheel at the amusement park. If so, it stands for what Utena would feel as their closeness at the time.

Looking toward the lights means looking back on childhood. It is a false view of childhood, an illusion. Looking away from the lights and toward Akio or the futon means looking forward to adulthood. The view of sex as the way to adulthood is false, but sex itself is a reality; the futon is associated with reality. Moving away from the lights means moving toward adulthood. The hotel window where Utena first stands is the place closest to childhood and illusion. The futon where they have sex, at the opposite end of the room, is the place of (false) adulthood and (true) reality. Utena takes the journey a step at a time.

There is not only forward-and-back but left-and-right symbolism. During the prince story at the start of the episode, the amusement park lights move from left to right, in the direction of truth. The futon where they have sex is at the far right edge of the hotel room, and the pillow where she puts her head is the farthest right. Sex is real; it is in the direction of truth. When Utena lies down there, she looks back at the lights in the picture below—and they have moved back to the left, in the direction of illusions. Utena is to follow the lights to the right to sex, and then leave behind the illusions of childhood. The illusion is guiding her to falsely believe she is leaving illusions behind.

In a second layer of meaning, the lights are a reminder of the exciting time Utena had at the amusement park. Akio planned the excitement for Utena to unconsciously take as a foretaste of the excitement of sex. Every time Utena looks back at the past, which she does over and over, she is being lured into the future.

the park lights are projected onto solid walls

This is Akio’s view from the futon before Utena turns the light out; he is looking over Utena’s head, and she is seeing the same thing. I missed the surprising point of this shot at first: The amusement park lights are not outside the window, they are projected onto opaque objects. Yowza! I suppose I was a little surprised! At least in this shot, right before the sex scene, the light show is a fake, a projection as if from a planetarium projector. Akio is in charge of the symbols tonight. The red ferris wheel target is prominent, and it is part of the projection. It does not align with other views of the wheel; the wheel has moved to the left to stay in Utena’s sight. The projection onto a wall and the movement left agree that the light show is an illusion. Akio decided on the target, Utena’s prince and Utena’s virginity, and made it salient in his lie. It shows a little of his long-term campaign of stories to get women to conform to their roles. Utena looks at the wheel repeatedly through the episode, and should be reminded of her ring every time, but she does not look at the ring itself. Akio is trying to break the association between the ring and the prince, and for the duration of the episode it seems to work.

It suggests that Akio’s power of illusion extends everywhere. That is some planetarium projector! Realistically, of course, lies are not stopped by mere distance.

psychological tricks

I’ve never formally studied psychological influence techniques. I know there’s academic literature on them in psychology and in the advertising industry, and I haven’t read it. There must be more study besides. I think I have a good intuitive understanding thanks to practice in resisting influence, but I’m making up the terminology. The words and categories I use to describe Akio’s tricks will not match up consistently with anybody else’s.

Besides all the manipulations that Akio carries out during the episode, he starts out the episode with giant advantages over Utena. He’s an adult with power, authority, resources, experience, knowledge that Utena cannot match and is impressed by. He is larger and no doubt stronger, even though Utena is athletic and exceptionally strong (see her pull Anthy up after Anthy’s suicide attempt). He has improbable sex appeal. After his earlier grooming (Wikipedia), Utena is comfortable with him, admires his knowledge, likes him, trusts him, and is strongly attracted. When Akio does anything, her natural first feeling must be trust and acceptance: “this is good, Akio knows what to do.” Because she trusts him, she tells him her thoughts. Akio understands her thoughts and feelings while remaining mysterious himself; he says and does things to give Utena the impression that he loves and cares about her, but never says so or explains himself. All knowledge he gives her is shallow and irrelevant to Utena’s needs, when not outright false. Abuse of these adult advantages is what statutory rape (Wikipedia) laws try to prevent.

Akio’s goal is to control what Utena does while giving her the impression that she is making her own choices. His techniques aim to achieve three different subgoals in service of his major goal. One, he physically closes off options so that Utena has few choices in the first place. Two, he isolates her from other influences, so that she’s not affected by things that Akio does not control and sees nothing to grab onto to exert her own influence. Three, he keeps her off balance and in the dark, so that she is unable to figure out what she wants in the unexpected situation and takes the path of least resistance by passively accepting Akio’s choices. The episode shows us all of these. If you meet someone who does all these things in real life, don’t walk away, run.

In fact, Akio requires Utena to make her own choices. He circumscribes and steers her choices, but Utena is to make the decisions and accept her own moral failure; she is to join Akio in evil, as the Rose Bride has.

By doing these things, when Akio lures Utena with sexual desire and a false narrative about becoming adult through sex, her resistance to the lure becomes weak. Becoming an adult as soon as possible is a conventional goal of children (compare Mitsuru and see the library scene about it). Utena’s desire clouds her thoughts, helping keep her off balance; when her desire is satisfied, she becomes regretful.

Akio drives off with Utena. He controls the transportation, and Utena has no say in where they are going or how long they remain there; she has no options at all. Compare when he stole Utena’s shoe in episode 30’s Cinderella scene. They are alone in his car, they are at an amusement park in a crowd of strangers, above all they are alone in a box of a hotel room. Utena is isolated from other influences and has nowhere to turn if she wants out. The path of least resistance is to go along with Akio—which is her natural inclination anyway, because she trusts him.

During sex, Akio takes a position on top of Utena and physically captures her hands, to close off her options to object. See the sex scene below.

Akio likes his approach-withdrawal technique and uses it in one critical way during the episode. He capitalizes on the constrast between the amusement park and the hotel. Imagine them riding a roller coaster together: The two are side by side, Utena is excited and having fun, her heart is beating fast. She has the opportunity to misunderstand her excitement as love and to be unconsciously reminded of sex. Regardless of that, she’ll feel happy and close to Akio. They must have ridden the ferris wheel too. Akio would talk and create intimacy, and likely kiss her. Then a drive and they reach the hotel... nothing happens there, it’s boring, and we never hear Akio speak a word. Akio approached and withdrew, putting the onus on Utena to bring them back together. Akio created a desire for closeness and then went, “Your turn.” He wants Utena to make the effort to restore the closeness, so that she sees it as her decision. The contrast has the effect of pushing Utena off balance—what is she supposed to think is going on? Effort she spends worrying about that is effort she doesn’t spend to figure out what she wants for herself.

It’s possible to interpret some of Akio’s actions in the hotel as smaller-scale uses of the approach-withdrawal technique. It’s not as clear, though.

Another way Akio keeps Utena off-balance is by denying her information. Denying information is a basic part of approach-withdrawal. Utena could tell herself that she was only delivering roses because Akio made sure she wasn’t told of the date. I think it’s a safe bet that he did the same thing in bringing her to the hotel; see the events that we weren’t shown above. We never hear Akio say a word in the hotel; he’s keeping her in the dark the whole time.

I should add that the First Seduction does not exhaust Akio’s bag of tricks. He knows more.

conventional hotel events

The hotel is modern, but it is in the style of a traditional ryokan or Japanese travelers inn. This semi-traditional style of hotel comes with a conventional outline course of events in the evening. The yukata is a light kimono provided by the hotel. You can wear it around the hotel, and sleep in it.

shower or bathe - change into yukata - eat an evening meal - sleep overnight

In a love hotel, the conventional outline is simpler:

shower - sex - go home

You could stay overnight, but it costs more. The shower is associated with sex. By fiction convention (I don’t know about real life!) the woman takes a shower while the man waits—exactly what happens here. The outline that Akio and Utena follow is a hybrid of the two:

shower - change into yukata - eat an evening meal - sex - go home

Akio uses the conventional sequence of events to influence Utena with its unconscious associations.

the mysterious telephone

the hard-to-explain telephone

As an introduction to the hotel sequence we get... a brief shot of a hotel telephone which does not appear again. There are plenty of phone calls in the episode, but none at the hotel. The phone is important enough to appear in the preview at the end of the previous episode.

I boggled over the phone for hours before I could decipher it. We don’t see enough to be certain, but visual clues say that the table is the same one we see, bare, next to the window in the following shot where Utena is stretching. The lamp appears later next to the futon; it is the lamp that Utena turns off before sex. The phone itself vanishes.

There’s no proof, but the clues are consistent. Akio saw the telephone as a risk to his plan and removed it, also moving the lamp to a new location. If Utena can phone out, or others can phone in, then she is not isolated. See psychological tricks above. The phone appears immediately after we first see Anthy on the phone. Trusted Anthy is allowed to communicate with others, and not-yet-controlled Utena is not. This brief shot, impossible to interpret without knowing what happens later, is nevertheless telling us from the start that something underhanded is going on. The shot itself is underhanded. It’s some twisted filmmaking.

the detailed course of events in the hotel

You might think that a sequence of Utena lounging around the hotel in an unstructured way would not have much structure itself. Ha! The sequence is broken into small steps and tightly plotted.

Akio’s plan is to keep his distance, say nothing, and do nothing. He lets Utena grow comfortable as she gets used to the situation. The situation itself feeds her unconscious reminders of sex until the idea bubbles up to her conscious mind and she realizes what could happen. Then Akio makes his move.

The camera uniformly shows Akio’s point of view. When Utena turns out the light we seem to be watching from her point of view, but Akio is lying on the futon directly behind her. He is looking past her.

At the start of the sequence, Utena is standing and she is on a level with Akio. As she relaxes she moves down to floor level, below Akio, subordinating herself. In the futon she is level again. By then she has committed herself; the two have made their decisions and all that is left is to carry them out. In the sex scene, Akio takes the top position, subordinating Utena again, this time by his volition.

after arrival

Utena stretches by the hotel window, looking out.

We first see Utena at the window, stretching and looking at the amusement park lights. She talks energetically about how much fun she had. She is as far from Akio as possible, close to the window representing childhood and looking that direction. She holds her purse tight, which is a little unnatural. Normally when moving like that you’d put down what you’re carrying. She doesn’t see sex coming, but she recognizes the context and she’s unconsciously protecting her symbol of virginity.

The roses are in the left chair, the ferris wheel in the right chair; they are given equal weight. Left is the side of illusions; right of truth or reality.

I think the chair cushions are orange for Utena’s one-sided love of Akio. Kanae wears orange, not for love of Akio, but for one-sided love of Anthy. Alternately, it’s because it would be a miracle to marry Akio, or even to engage his feelings.

Utena stretches frequently throughout the series when she’s idle or not fully engaged. It doesn’t mean much in itself. The curtains are drawn back and the camera—Akio—placed to make the area beside the window resemble a theater stage. Utena seems to be posing for Akio; she is feeling self-conscious. She’s in a new environment and not quite comfortable. She recognizes the associations of being alone with a man in a hotel room, though I think only unconsciously. In other views including the window, Akio watches from a different place and the resemblance to a stage is broken.

We can say that Utena is on a stage. We can say that the amusement park lights beyond are on a stage; they’re putting on a play for us.

While posing at the window, Utena never looks toward Akio. She sees only her symbolic childhood. From here on, though, after taking a step closer to Akio and the futon, she often looks first toward the window—tick—then later toward Akio and the futon—tock. The steps are broken in half, and the short physical distance from one end of the room to the other corresponds to a long psychological distance.

Utena sits in a chair by the hotel window, looking out. Utena sits in a chair by the hotel window, looking toward Akio.

Next Utena is seated at the window. It’s a closer shot; Akio has moved nearer. She holds her purse loosely; she is no longer feeling self-conscious. The red ferris wheel target is prominent. Tick—she is looking out the window. She says heartbreaking things: She wishes Anthy could have come; Utena remains in the dark. You can’t have this much fun when you’re alone; Utena is deceived and imagines Anthy is missing out. Tock—after a head turn toward Akio (with smooth animation to show its importance)—did I tell you I was an only child? Agh. Akio is exploiting not only her inexperience and her unfamiliar romantic feelings, he’s exploiting her lonely childhood—which Akio caused. When Utena says you can’t have this much fun alone, it’s heartfelt. It is a part of how she became so close with Anthy. It emphasizes that Utena felt close to Akio at the amusement park. She says it so innocently; look at that smile.

watching television

Utena lies on the floor, watchin television. Utena on the floor, bicycling her legs in the air despite her short dress.

Utena is watching television. The green tint of the floor and wall says that Utena is being manipulated. I take the foreground green tea to indicate the author of the manipulation, Akio. We see Utena drink some of her tea. The TV is on the far left; it is a source of illusions. She has moved away from the window, while Akio has retreated from the middle to the rear of the room. Her purse is not visible; she has put it away somewhere. She’s lying on the floor, unconsciously subordinating herself as far below Akio as possible. She has moved from the center of the frame to the left. She’s relaxed; she has gotten used to the hotel and no longer feels any threat there. When the show ends, she stretches in unlikely positions, moving yet farther to the left and not concerned with what Akio will think. Utena bicycles her legs in the air despite wearing a short dress, putting herself in a vulnerable position and metaphorically surrendering her own agency and allowing Akio to make all decisions. She talks about the television show, but otherwise gives no sign that Akio is watching. Her comfort level is maxed out, and she’s been lured psychologically closer.

The previous shot is the recap of Utena winning the duel against Saionji in episode 25. The transition is the ding ding ding sound of a match being declared over, with a winner. The sound is from the television, which is showing a contest. In the current match against Akio, it means that Utena has already laid herself low and will lose. Winning a duel only appears to be a victory; it is all part of Akio’s plot. The ding ding ding is a reduced form of the bells that ring at the end of a duel, which are a death knell for the loser who died of metaphorical sex.

The red wheel is out of sight. Some park lights are visible in the window. The lights switch between two configurations, both shown here. The left one matches the constellation Cassiopeia, which reappears later.

Utena’s earlier unconscious concern is gone and she has no thought of her ring. Illusions drew her thoughts away from it: The television show is an impersonation contest. Utena is impressed by the current champion. She’s interested because she is playing a role herself. She is not only diverted by illusions, she wants to contribute to them.

The impersonation contest is a parody of the dueling game. The show is organized into seasons, and in each season challengers face off against a current champion to choose who goes against the grand champion at the end of the season, just like the dueling system. The commentators have the voices of the shadow girls. They say the current champion is magnificent—Utena is magnificent. Only four more wins and she’ll face the grand champion—Akio. At this point in the recap, Utena has just defeated Saionji, and she has five more duels before the final showdown, but she only wins four of them; Juri surrenders her duel without Utena winning. The impersonation contest implies that the duelists are fighting to better impersonate other people, that is, to better play their roles. The duelists are “chosen”, which is to say, Akio assigned them roles. The winning duelist is the one who best does what Akio wants and most advances Akio’s interests. Akio is the champion impersonator, currently playing the role of someone Utena should love.
The shot cuts from Utena, who has just metaphorically surrendered her agency by lifting her feet from the ground, to the recap of Kozue with an injured foot. Anthy asks Kozue, “are you OK by yourself?” In other words, “Is your injury so bad that you have to surrender your freedom of movement,” your agency? Then Kozue rejects her mother, which the orphan Utena finds incomprehensible; see “did I tell you I was an only child?” above.

the shower

the neatly folded date dress with purse on top Utena on the floor drying her hair with a towel.

Utena takes a shower. We catch a glimpse of Utena’s date dress neatly folded with her red purse on top. Clothing and virginity are set aside, no longer needed; it’s foreshadowing. They’re laid out on the floor in a corner where they’ll be out of the way. It contrasts with a view of her left-behind day clothing while she showers for the Routine Date. The neatness here means that she was comfortable, unworried, and taking her time. She hasn’t realized what’s coming. The pouring water of the shower presumably means illusions and says that Akio is influencing her. The water does not mean tears—yet; illusions now bring tears later.

She’s on the floor, wearing the yukata, drying her hair. The towel is blue-green, the color of illusions; she is not drying off the illusions poured over her but retaining them. She has moved back to the center of the frame, which I take to mean that the reality of sex is approaching. Tick—she looks toward the window. Tock—toward Akio. Akio has not moved, and she’s sitting at the same distance as before. Taking a shower should have reminded her of sex, through cultural association and through simply getting naked, but it did not bring them closer in itself. There is a sign that the reminders of sex are affecting her: She talks about forgetting something. For the episode, she has forgotten her earlier impulse to guard her virginity. She is unconcerned to be alone with a man in a hotel room. For Utena, the big forgetting is Utena forgetting her childhood meeting with Anthy. The light show, Akio’s narrative of Utena’s childhood and the need to leave it behind—which Utena buys into—does not include Anthy; Akio has erased her from the story. Akio wants Utena to forget both the prince and her reason for wanting to be a prince, for being boyish. I have the idea that forgetting something else is starting to remind Utena of Anthy.

While Utena is washing, the roses are also getting water. They’ve been moved closer. The tall vase is a phallic symbol. The tissues are associated with sex, and the flowers become ejaculate to clean up. It means that the idea of sex has come to Utena’s mind, whether consciously or not. It is the first hint of several that Akio does not wear a condom. See a comparison of tall vases. The symbol is repeated in a different form in episode 37 when Utena is on the way to the Routine Date.

Balloons. The picture on the wall is tiny and hard to make out, but it seems to be a person holding a bunch of balloons. Balloons are female symbols. If that’s what it is, then the person holding the balloons is Akio. He controls a bunch of women, holding each one down with a string.

after the evening meal

Utena stretches after the evening meal.

The table is covered with the remnants of the meal. The two must have been closer while eating together, but they returned to the same positions as before. Tick, tock as Utena stretches again. The red wheel remains out of sight, but she seems less comfortable. Utena starts to babble about Anthy and food, which she keeps up through most of the sex scene. If she could phone Anthy, this is when she would do it, ruining Akio’s plan.

Utena associates food with sex, as is made clear shortly, so the leftovers on the table are sure to be meaningful. I’m too ignorant about food to interpret anything definitely. If the rectangular white trays are sushi, then Utena ate all hers, indicating her love of three people (her prince, Anthy, Akio), and Akio left one portion uneaten. That would be the fish Utena, who he has caught and prepared but not yet devoured. The blue tray divided into three might mean that Utena is following up on only one of her interests.

First the shower, then the meal—I conclude that the unconscious cues of sex have bubbled to the top, and Utena consciously realizes that losing her virginity that night is a possibility. It’s immediately before the othello game where she makes the decision. Reality is showing its face. It’s a surprise and throws her off kilter, and she starts to babble: She left food out (rather like the visible food), did Anthy remember to put it away? At this point in the episode we don’t have enough context to understand her babble, but I analyze it below.

the othello game

Immediately before this, in recap, Ruka kisses Shiori, and Shiori chooses to be seduced. This scene is when Utena chooses to be seduced.

The othello game is central and critical. As a literal game it is nonsense, as a metaphorical event it represents the entire hotel sequence and tells us everything we need to know about Utena’s state of mind.

Right before the othello game is a shot of Akio’s tower moving from left to right across the frame. In the recap, it means Ruka is taking power over Shiori. In the hotel, it means Akio is taking power over Utena.

Utena looks at the othello board
Looking at the board.
Utena at the board looks up at Akio
Looking at Akio.
Utena is surprised by her loss
Surprised to lose.

First a note on what we see. Utena is closer to Akio than before; she has to move closer to make her decision, which may prejudice it. She is seated at the table. The meal remnants must have been cleared away. From our point of view, the window and light show are to the left (on the side of illusions), and we see the futon to the right (the side of reality), with the lamp that she turns off. She is between them, facing neither—she has not decided which way to go, stay with childhood or move to adulthood. But she is facing Akio, who has made the decision for her. The art skillfully puts feelings into small differences in her expression. When looking at the board, she seems uncertain. When looking at Akio, she seems adoring.

The othello game is the mating game. It’s straightforward, right? Utena has realized that losing her virginity is a possibility tonight, and she is in a struggle—a game—to decide whether she should. Akio has a stake and plays the “yes to sex” side. Akio’s black disks are his color and stand for his evil, and in othello black plays the first move. I think Akio chose the game. Othello is a game of reversing disks, white to black and black to white. Akio’s goal in the hotel is to reverse Utena from the white of the prince to his black; his goal in the game is to reverse her white disks to black. He reverses almost all of them; for now, only traces of the prince survive in her feelings.

At first Utena resists the choice of sex; the game looks even. Her body is hunched over and her arms held defensively, showing her resistance. Then she looks up at Akio, and the next thing she knows she has lost. She made the decision—and it is represented as a loss, as a bad outcome for her, as Akio overpowering her resistance.

When she looks back the board and suddenly realizes she has lost, she is surprised: She’s used to winning, thanks to her power of miracles, and she didn’t expect her resistance to collapse. She says “it turned around!” (literally, “it’s a reversal!”). That look upward at Akio was the last step forward that Akio lured her into, and now she is too close; without noticing, she stopped trying to resist. Akio wins the mating game, he successfully manipulated her into wishing for sex—giving consent that is worth nothing, except that Utena believes in it.

When Utena admitted her loss in the duel of episode 11, she sounded disbelieving. She didn’t like losing, and didn’t want to accept it. Here she sounds wondering. She is surprised, but she doesn’t mind losing. She stopped wanting to win.

In the nonsensical othello game I point out that Akio’s view of the othello board—shown on that page—is slightly closer as he wins. He moved that bit closer, I expect with a smile, reversing his withdrawal and restoring an appearance of intimacy to draw her in and seal his win. I think that is what made Utena look up at him and drop her resistance. In episode 30 when Akio was about to drive Utena to the hospital for her injury, he made a similar move, delaying and then giving her a smile that melted her heart. He repeats the trick in the Second Seduction, using words instead. Akio habitually repeats his scripts.

Utena’s loss of the othello game is parallel to Miki’s loss of his duel in episode 5. Then, Miki’s love object Anthy, who was manipulating events, deliberately distracted Miki at a key moment by pretending a preference for Utena. Here Utena’s love object Akio, who is manipulating events, deliberately distracts Utena at a key moment by pretending a preference for her. It bypasses Utena’s power of miracles by overturning her determination to win. It’s the same kind of trick that Touga used in episode 11 to win the duel. The two parallels compare the othello game to the dueling game; as Akio tells Utena in the final showdown, the duels are games, not serious fights.

Utena is surprised to lose the game, but she neither looks nor sounds unhappy about it. She is comfortable with her decision for sex.

Utena’s babble during the game. Utena is speaking in a conversational tone, rambling rather than babbling, but she keeps talking about cooking during the game. She talks about getting amounts wrong, being unable to undo mistakes, and (as she looks at Akio) messing up recipes. She plainly associates food with sex. She also associates food with Anthy, which is a hint to us in the audience. She is metaphorically talking about her uncertainty. She’s facing the irreversible loss of her virginity, and she’s worried it would be a mistake, that it’s too much. It reminds me of the car moving too fast earlier in the episode (a reference to Lost Highway). In looking at Akio with a smile while speaking of going off recipe, she’s saying that her romance with Akio is not altogether by the book. Sure enough, later in Utena, the taste comes out bad.

Utena’s irrelevant rambling during the game is similar to her uncontrolled babbling before sex. Both end in defeat. In the game, she was distracted by looking at Akio, and she welcomed her defeat. In bed, I think she was trying to distract herself, and her defeat was unpleasant. The lure was tasty, the hook was sharp. In the Second Seduction, the lure becomes so tasty that she wants to be devoured.

turning off the light

This follows the recap scene where Juri surrenders her duel to Utena without losing. Juri’s obsession with Shiori is broken though her love remains, and in her sorrow she no longer cares to win. Utena lost the othello game because she no longer cared to win. Her obsession with the prince is broken, at least for the time being, and she surrenders herself to Akio.

Turning out the light is parallel with blowing out the candles in episode 30: Turning out the light represents making a wish to be corrupted, choosing to take the next step to deeper corruption. Dios is the light of the world; Akio is the darkness of the world. She chooses to harm Kanae (as she believes) and to violate her princely ideals. And since this sex act is an act of corruption, Utena wants to hide it in darkness. She made her decision, and she signals it serenely, with no tension in her movements. She turns out the light with her right hand, the hand of truth. She says nothing, joining Akio in wordlessness.

The blue light of night counterintuitively makes Utena’s blue eyes look blue-green, the color of illusions imposed by trickery. Akio’s power of illusions operates more strongly in the dark: Illusions bring corruption, corruption brings illusions.
Utena in the futon turns her head to look at Akio.

Utena has decided for sex, but at the same time she has pulled up the covers as if going to sleep. Her ambivalence is showing through. Even so, her eyes are open: She is facing the truth of her decision.

Akio seems to go for another round of approach-withdrawal. He’s lying there too, beside her and a little separated, and we’re seeing his point of view. For whatever reason, he says nothing and lies there, and we watch Utena left alone. Maybe he’s hoping she’ll make the first move, maybe he’s keeping her off-balance. Maybe he’s taking his time enjoying his approaching victory. Maybe he’s delaying so that Utena will be tired before they get home. I don’t know. It seems strange.

She has taken another step toward perceived adulthood. Tick, tock: At first she is facing away from Akio, toward the window and the light show that represents the childhood that Akio convinced her she wants to leave behind, backed by a long campaign of lies and illusions. She still wears the yukata. After a while she turns to look at Akio, forward to adulthood, then turns her face upward to look at neither. She knows what’s coming and wishes for it, and she shows no kind of anticipation. She’s not eager, she’s not nervous, she’s passive. I don’t want to overinterpret it; she’s only waiting, it is the calm after the decision. But her blankness seems strange. It represents the same surrender of agency as bicycling her legs in the air, above, but why is her emotional reaction so empty?

The sequence of Utena looking at Akio then looking upward is a reference to The Rose of Versailles and implies that Utena is fatally ill in a metaphorical sense: Akio intends to kill her when done with her.

Our view of Utena in the futon looking upward overlaps with the audio of the following shot: Akio is telling the shadow girls on the phone that miracles happen every day, we just don’t notice. He’s claiming that there are no miracles, just the everyday stuff that we don’t appreciate as we should. It’s a lie. He himself is seeking the power of miracles, Dios’s power that stemmed from his idealism. The audio overlay is feeding the lie to Utena. “Give up on your prince. The real miracle is being here with me right now.”

the sex scene

Immediately before this, Akio has been on the phone with the shadow girls, ignoring their quiz. They ask him to answer, and he replies “Answer?” He treats Utena the same way in the sex scene. Whatever she says and however she acts, he ignores it and continues down his chosen path. Others are not granted even conversational power.
Utena’s relaxed face, eyes closed, smiling, at the start of the sex scene.

We get a view of Utena’s head with a bit of one shoulder to show that she is naked. Her hair is still in order—nothing very dynamic has happened yet. Her face and eyes turn left, upward toward Akio, and directions in between, on the whole shifting toward looking left, in the direction of illusions, until the end of the shot when she looks at Akio. The animation is detailed because the scene is important. Utena babbles about food and Anthy. Akio seems to be preparing the two for sex. We can guess roughly what he may be doing by where Utena’s right hand is in relation to her face—when she moves her hand toward her mouth, a sexual symbol, Akio is probably doing something near her genitals. After a time Utena stops babbling and seems to concentrate on her sensations. Akio tears her hymen or otherwise pushes in painfully, and the instant that she recovers from that she asks “What is eternity?” A road flashes by reading STOP STOP STOP and we come to a slide where Utena has disheveled hair; that slide is the only representation of the rest of the sex act.

The detailed animation must have used up much of the episode’s budget. Maybe that is why it was a recap episode.

Akio enjoys his evil. I think he deliberately accentuates Utena’s confusion and causes her pain just to revel in it. Utena of course makes the conventionally expected pain and bleeding of first sex into symbols. The pain of male sex indicates that she is doing something that hurts her—it is against her interests. Akio thrusts his metaphorical sword into her and causes a painful and bloody injury. Prince Utena is defeated, leaving ordinary girl Utena.

Utena babbles about things not immediately relevant, as if distracting herself from what’s coming. She mostly looks away from Akio, shying away from the consequences of her decision for sex. It’s different from her blank calm in the scene of turning out the light.

Utena’s face as Akio gets the couple ready.

I struggled to interpret Utena’s feelings, because she is sending mixed signals. Her babble is disjointed and starting to grow frantic; it signals discomfort increasing to a high level. Her hand movements and facial expressions don’t match her speech. At the start, in the frame we fade into, she has eyes closed and a trace of a smile on her face—see above. She’s naked on her back, Akio is on top of her, naked, he’s looking at her face from close in, all this is new to her, what she considers a major life event is approaching... and she’s totally comfortable, relaxed and contented. Her trust in Akio is complete. In the picture on the right, later on, notice her calm expression and partly-closed eyes as she thinks; she is not smiling and there is a little tension in her hand but she remains comfortable and unconcerned. The whole time, I don’t see fear or defensiveness or anything more than a low level of anxiety, and sometimes a high level of attention to what’s happening to her body. Normally I would say that speech is voluntary and body language is involuntary, so we should believe the body language. But in this case I think both are involuntary. Her distressed babble is uncontrolled.

Close your eyes and Utena sounds troubled. She doesn’t like this. Any decent sex partner would notice and stop to find out what’s wrong. Open your eyes and mute the sound, and she looks at points unsure how things will go, but not bothered and perfectly willing to go along and find out. It could be something new to her that she’s looking forward to—it could be a good first sex experience. She grows more anxious over time, but that’s natural. Utena is thorough with character details and emotionally accurate with expressions and movement, so the mismatch must be intended. I struggled to find a reading where Utena calmly looks forward to it and at the same time is mentally discombobulated.

For watching this close-up of Utena with the sound muted, I recommend averted vision: Look at the edge of the screen, keeping Utena in your peripheral vision so that you can see her overall movements and you’re not distracted by small details. It’s easier to read her that way. You can stop on single frames to interpret her expression, if you like. If you can’t interpret an expression, try imitating it. How do you feel when making that face?

Utena’s babble

Before I try to interpret her dissociated behavior, I want to analyze what she says and collate it with her gestures. To fully interpret Utena’s babble, it’s necessary to understand Japanese. The English version obscures the metaphors underneath.

topicposenotes
today...eyes open, looking at AkioAn unfinished thought.
played around till this latelooking back and forth
make lunch tomorrowditto
what to make?hand to headShe’s thinking. Literally, “what would be good?”
fishdittoLike one of the “fish” Touga catches, devours, and discards.
boil asparagusdittoA phallic symbol.
omeletdittoSee Nanami’s Egg.
leftovershand aside, look at AkioShe’s starting to get nervous.
for anthy and mepalm on foreheadA little troubled.
two servingsditto
[frustration]dittoShe sounds troubled.
can’t think of anythinghead flat, looking left
fish, asparagus, omeletditto
then what?finger to lipsLiterally, “what do I do?” One read is, “what happens next?”
[silent]bites knuckle, vibrating eyesI think Akio is checking her hymen.
what do you think?turns eyes only to AkioLiterally, “hey, what would be good?”
sandwich?bends neck down, looks aside
fish, asparagus, mayonnaise, eggdittoMayo is semen: It happens next. Worrying about pregnancy.
[frustration]dittoSeveral in a row on the same topic.
can’t rememberdittoFrustration and forgetting, distraction.
food left outbends neck up, still looking aside
putting food awaydittoIn containers, into the fridge.
today...moves head forwardApparently the same unfinished thought.
Notes. 1. What I wrote as “then what?” is translated in the subtitles as “What else?” It’s a small mistranslation that obscures the metaphor. 2. When Utena bites her knuckle, she presses her tongue against it. Intimate physical contact noted! 3. Utena’s first “today...” is interrupted by herself. Her last one is interrupted by Akio’s movements.

After this, Utena stops speaking. She is concentrating on her sensations, with vibrating eyes to indicate strong emotion.

Vibrating eyes are the wackiest anime convention. I have the rare ability to physically vibrate my eyeballs at will. (It’s technically called “voluntary nystagmus”, which is a bad name because it’s not nystagmus.) I promise that people who see it do not detect strong emotion! They find it freaky.

The unfinished thoughts at the beginning and end are directed at Akio. Every other topic relates either to sex or to Anthy—including the ones about forgetting, since Anthy is what she has forgotten. Her babble that is so confused on the surface makes largely clear metaphorical sense. Watching it with understanding feels different from watching it in confusion.

Her babble previews the sex she’s about to experience, in logical order. She’s thinking ahead to an extent. Utena is the fish that has been caught and is about to be devoured—she associates food with sex. The metaphor reappears in the shadow play of episode 35 about catching any fish. Boiling the bitter phallic asparagus—is about to happen; afterward it will be soft. The omelet is made of eggs and relates to pregnancy. Nanami’s Egg prepared us for it. The sandwich contains its ingredients and sounds to me like a condom; it keeps the mayonnaise inside. She expresses uncertainty after mentioning the sandwich, “What should I do? What would be good?” That salmon, asparagus, mayonnaise, and omelet concoction... doesn’t sound like food to me, but it does sound like a mashup of sex metaphors, and they are in a meaningful order. She’s the fish, then add the phallus, then her lover’s white semen to fertilize the egg, and she might get pregnant. It’s white for the prince, of course.

Iris outlines tell whether Utena is taking in new information. At the start of Utena’s babble, she has a heavy outline. She is talking about irrelevant stuff and not paying attention to her situation; she sees nothing new. I think she is actively distracting herself from her situation, to minimize the distress of her misgivings.

It’s easy to overinterpret a metaphor, but I’ll press ahead anyway. When she says “maybe a sandwich?” her iris outline turns thin: She is noticing something. It sounds to me like she’s meekly suggesting to Akio, “maybe a condom?” When she says it there are about 35 seconds to go before her hymen is torn. It sounds to me like she has seen no condom, and I don’t see a gap in those busy seconds when he might put one on. I don’t feel confident in the interpretation, though.

The last thing before the unfinished thought is putting food away. They put the food into “those” and into the refrigerator. “Those” are covered or sealed containers. The sandwich reference is not definite, but this must refer to a condom. The food—the sex—is not sealed away but in the open; there is no condom. Failing to name the containers reflects Utena’s confusion, and suggests that something other than the literal meaning is intended.

What is the double unfinished “today...” thought? Is it the same as what she thought in the car, that she didn’t expect this? There may be a clue in episode 37: When Akio and Utena arrive home after the Routine Date, the first thing Utena says in the car is “Thank you for today,” starting with the same topic “today” (kyou wa). What she intends to say here should contrast. My thought is that she intends to say something indicating her ambivalence. She seems to think better of it the first time, and the second time to be interrupted by her sensations. She could be making a self-excuse at the same time.

The topics reflect Utena’s concerns, her worries about the future rather than the present. Worrying about food means worrying about sex, and it means worrying about Anthy because the food is for Anthy. Utena unconsciously feels that her sexual desires are for Anthy.

Utena’s teeth

Utena’s relaxed face, eyes closed, smiling, at the start of the sex scene.
Back to the first image: Utena fades in with a slight smile. Her teeth are visible. As she starts talking, her teeth flash between her lips. When she starts to mention leftovers, her teeth no longer show as she speaks. When she turns her head to the left and says she can’t think of anything, the teeth reappear. They remain (including when she bites her knuckle) until she asks Akio his opinion of what food she should make. When she follows up, “maybe a sandwich?” they are gone again. There’s one last flash of the teeth when she quickly turns her head toward Akio to ask her question about eternity.

That makes three appearances of Utena’s teeth, each followed by a disappearance. It’s a small-scale reference to the formulaic fairy tale plot with three challenges.

Utena’s teeth are white for the prince. The symbolism is general throughout Utena; see other symbols - teeth. The fairy tale plot reference means that the fight is on—Akio must subdue the prince in Utena three times. On the third and last time, he stabs her with his metaphorical sword and completes the prince’s defeat. The first appearance of Utena’s teeth lasts about 30 seconds. The second lasts about 20 seconds; the prince is weakened. The third is a fraction of a second as the prince is laid low.

So subtle.

The implication is that Utena’s babble is not purely an internal struggle between her desire and her misgivings. Akio is pressuring Utena, deliberately causing or accentuating her contradictory motivations, in order to suppress the prince. At first, with her teeth showing, Utena almost calmly considers what is about to happen, with the asparagus and the egg and so on. Then she seems to realize the risk of pregnancy and talks about leftovers. Her own pregnancy is the least princely and most girlish possible topic, and her teeth disappear. They stay disappeared until she says she can’t think of anything. It seems that being unable to remember sparks a memory, and the prince is back and fighting. She goes over her initial considerations again... but ends up asking Akio his opinion, giving up her own initiative. The prince retreats. Finally the prince swings his sword in one last desperate defensive try, but it is too late; the stab has already happened.

Now I can diagnose Akio’s pressure. Akio passes his three challenges. 1. The risk of pregnancy unbalances Utena, who apparently hadn’t thought ahead that far. The prince is wrong-footed. 2. Utena tries to think, but is still confused. So she trustingly asks Akio, bypassing the prince. 3. The sudden and painful major life event (as Utena sees it) must be overwhelming. The prince is overwhelmed. Akio abused his advantages of power, trust, and experience.

Biting. There are two earlier instances of biting in Utena, teeth used as a weapon, and they are related. 1. The flashback to the kitten biting young Touga in episode 10. The kitten is parallel to Utena. 2. Juri defensively biting Ruka’s lip in his sexual assault on her in episode 29. The First Seduction is a sexual assault, though Utena doesn’t realize it. And there is biting here: Utena bites her knuckle, which we can read as a metaphorical attack on Akio’s metaphorical sword—though at the same time it is Utena tasting a desired upcoming event. Her desires and misgivings seem to be showing at the same time. The parallels say that Akio is being careful to disarm Utena so that she has no opportunity to fight back. He minimizes risk.

my interpretation

In the end, I can’t find a realistic explanation. I’ve never seen and can’t make sense of that kind of dissociated behavior, immediate feelings so widely separated from simultaneous concerns for the future. I have to conclude that Utena is deliberately being portrayed in a non-realistic way. Why is that?

Utena is a convention-breaking work, but it does not break all conventions. Its dramatic structure is fully conventional. The hero Utena must be challenged to her limits; plans laid against her must fail in the end by the narrowest margin. Akio’s plot against Utena requires not only that she should be corrupted, but that she should choose to be corrupted, and choose to be more deeply corrupted at each step. It gives her the greatest challenge to overcome.

The story requires her to actively wish for sex, to wish for Akio to corrupt her. Her decision in the othello game shows that she does wish it, her turning out the light shows that she continues to wish it, and her body language in the sex scene backs it up. She’s not only relaxed, trusting, and accepting, she is happy, and it’s visible in the first frame. Even at the end, when she looks up at Akio just before STOP STOP STOP, she does not feel threatened.

At the same time, the story requires that she must recognize that she is seeking corruption, that she is going astray. She must understand that she is not innocently fulfilling her desires, that she is doing wrong. In the three candles episode where she first chose to be corrupted, it is represented by Utena lying to herself and recognizing the lie, a corruption of her native honesty. Here, Utena’s babble represents her misgivings, her recognition of her own moral failure. She thinks of pregnancy and fears for her own future. She believes she is hurting Anthy—and she’s right, Anthy is in deep pain because of Utena’s choice. The story requires that her misgivings be as great as possible to show that her wish for corruption is greater yet, that her wish to do wrong is overwhelming.

Her body language shows her desire, and her speech tells her misgivings. Speech is more salient, it is the foreground that we do not overlook. Body language is more important, it is the background that outweighs speech. It’s true in real life and it’s true throughout Utena. Her important body language shows that her wish is foremost; her salient speech foregrounds her misgivings.

The episode chooses to display her wish and her misgivings at the same time through different channels, even though that doesn’t happen in real life. It makes the intense high point of the episode that much more intense, focusing all emotions to one point. It took me weeks to understand that.

Psychological defense. Anthy regularly dissociates her contradictory impulses so she can tell herself that she is happy with Akio and she is doing the right thing. See Chu-Chu’s arc for the general idea, and final showdown - the backstab - Anthy’s confusion for a big example of her contradictory impulses. Utena’s babble depicts her, under the same kind of pressure, taking up the same psychological defense mechanism for the same reason. The difference is that Utena is not practiced with it. Utena can’t hide her feelings.

There is another way to read it. The entire hotel scene is shown from Akio’s point of view. When he looks at Utena, we are seeing what he sees—whether he literally sees it or not; we may see what he believes he is seeing, or imagines he is seeing. Everything we see in Utena is an illusion, and most of the time it’s the illusion of the point of view character of the moment. Is Akio showing us what he wants to see in Utena’s face and movements, rather than what’s real? He’s arrogant and can be overconfident, and he might see Utena as more submissive and compliant than she is.

I don’t buy it. It would make the story weaker—Utena must be defeated at this point in the story.

the rest of it

Writing on the road says STOP. Akio holding Utena’s hand during sex.

The moment she recovers from the pain, Utena turns her head toward Akio, a sign of acceptance (she turns her head away when feeling guilty, and until now she has mostly looked away). Her iris outline has turned heavy again. She asks “what is eternity?” hesitantly and uncertainly, a submissive and girlish way to speak that is strange for her (though almost every mention of eternity seems to shake her). The writing on the road is, as translated, “STOP STOP STOP”. In Japan, it is painted on the road in front of stop signs. Once, not over and over. Only Utena might want to stop, so it’s a message from Utena. STOP STOP STOP and the girlish question “what is eternity?” are simultaneous. The girlish tone and girlish question say that Utena’s boyish side has been defeated by Akio’s “sword”. Eternity is what you seek when you have found something good. Utena simultaneously wants to stop and wonders about continuing forever.

We saw STOP STOP STOP earlier in the episode, when Akio’s car stopped to pick up Touga and Saionji. Here Utena is metaphorically riding in Akio’s car, and wants it to stop so she can get off. But Akio does not abandon his passengers mid-ride.

Utena’s wishes and misgivings have swapped modalities; now her wishes are spoken and her misgivings are not. Speech is more salient and body language is more important: She expresses interest in eternity, but she does not say she seeks it. Her new girlishness is not paramount, it is only on the surface, as we see later. The STOP STOP STOP message is now primary, stronger than her curiosity about eternity. She does not say to stop, but she sends the STOP message in her face, and noises, and movements; it is metaphorically written on the road because she does not say it; that is what it means to show signs. She wants to stop sex. Losing her virginity seems to have been the important thing to her, and she went girlish the instant she considered it lost; the metaphorical sword defeated her boyishness in one stroke. Her wish fulfilled, she has realized her mistake (see regret below). Maybe the rest is scary or unpleasant or unwanted. She fears pregnancy. She is likely in physical pain. Anyway, her reasons do not matter. Akio, the damn rapist, ignores her STOP signals the same way he ignored her babble.

Utena’s disheveled hair is ugly because something ugly is happening. It is disordered because orderly hair means self-control: She has lost control of herself and is under Akio’s power. The curls are for her girlishness; curves are female. Most of the curls are clockwise, in the direction of reality, for the reality of sex. A few are counterclockwise for the illusions that led her here. The reality of sex is more important than the illusion of adulthood. By comparison, at the end of the Routine Date Utena’s hair says that illusions are more important than reality.
Rape as a crime. I call Akio a damn rapist because he manipulated Utena and she could not consent freely. Under Japanese law in 1997, it is 100% not rape. The age of consent was 13 (so Kozue and Nanami are legal riders in Akio’s car), and the crime of rape required violence or coercion; basically, if the victim did not fight back, they were legally not raped. Where I live in the U.S., the law does require consent, but the practice is not necessarily different. The lawyer for the accused will argue that if you did not fight back, you must have consented. In Utena’s case, she has reason to believe that she actively consented, and Akio expects her to be dead before there is any chance that she changes her mind.
Japanese law was tightened in 2023. When I first wrote this note, the parliamentary process was underway, and now it is done. The age of consent was raised to 16 and the new law explicitly mentions power imbalance and emotional manipulation as possible elements contributing to an offence.
Akio holds Utena down in his car.

Restraining Utena. When Akio puts a hand on Utena, he is often restraining her—restricting her movement. It was true in episode 25 when he first put his arm around her: He forcibly pulled her to his side and held her there (and she liked it). It remains true in episode 37 after the Routine Date (picture on the right): Utena by herself lay back in his car, and when he leaned over her he put his hands on her upper arms (and she didn’t seem to like it). It was impossible for Utena to lift her arms, much less sit up.

In the slide with disheveled hair, the sex act proper, Akio is holding one of Utena’s hands. (See the hand catalog for more on the hand grip, which has a meaning.) He’s likely holding both. See hand catalog - Ruka and Juri for the parallel of Ruka controlling Juri’s hands, evidence that Akio is holding both of Utena’s hands. It’s a gesture that Utena might believe is loving, but nothing Akio does is loving. Akio is on top of her, he’s much larger and heavier, and he is controlling her hands. Whether Utena likes it or not, she is restrained and has no physical way to object to what he’s doing. She can speak, and she does not. She is nearly helpless.

Why does Akio continue? Akio knows his goals are achieved as soon as Utena asks about eternity. The girlish voice gives away that Utena’s girlishness had come to the fore, and the question about eternity is a question about marriage, which in Akio’s world is intrinsically corrupt. Utena’s tie to the prince retreats to the background, and her tie to Akio takes its place for now—she looks straight at him, no longer away, and the disheveled-hair picture shows that she continues to look straight at him. She has willingly joined in his evil.

Akio’s essential job is done, but he continues with the rest of the sex act. His motivation is left to our imagination: How much is it sexual pleasure, how much is it joy in hurting Utena? I think it’s some of both; selfishness at Utena’s expense is evil that Akio enjoys.

Regret. The section on regret on the page of parallels between Akio and Utena’s dates explains how it works: Utena’s desire clouds her thoughts, and when her desire is satisfied she regrets her decision and has an opportunity to realize truths. Here, her desire is to become an adult by losing her virginity; the desire is an illusion. Before her desire is satisfied (before her wish is granted, as I put it above), her desire is shown through her body language, which means it is foremost in her thoughts and feelings. And her misgivings are shown through her speech, which is unmissable but unimportant to her feelings. When her desire is satisfied, her regret comes out immediately. Her misgivings turn into signs on the screen, STOP STOP STOP, and her desire becomes unmissable but unimportant.

Utena’s desire is girlish, a wish for male sex. Her misgivings are boyish and stem from the prince: She wants to maintain her princely ideals. When Akio defeats Utena’s boyish side with the painful and bloody stab of his metaphorical sword, he creates temporary regret that—even though it doesn’t show—makes the prince more important to her. Utena is more girlish on the surface—and that constitutes the defeat of Utena’s boyish side that Akio requires; he wants to control her behavior so that she conforms, and underlying feelings only matter in so far as they affect her conformity. Ironically, she is more boyish underneath, at least for the time being. Before Akio can continue to the Second Seduction, he must wait for Utena’s sexual attraction to revive, and again cloud her thoughts, so that he can arouse new and stronger desire in her and delude her more deeply. After this unpleasant sex experience, it takes a while.

conclusion

Akio, the damn rapist, never had real consent for what he did. He manufactured the initial consent and then lost that. But he’s fine; all he needs for this job is the appearance of wishing for it, an illusion that Utena will accept as real. She does accept it: Later in the car, thinking back on what happened, she seems sad, but she does not see that wrong has been done (or if she does, she has already forgiven it; she forgives sins like Jesus). She thinks that she didn’t expect it, not that she didn’t accept it. Her forgiving nature is a weakness, but it is also a strength. In the end, her effortless forgivenness is essential in Anthy’s escape.

Why does Akio wake Utena up when she seems to be napping in the car? My guess is that he wants her to sleep deeply after they get home, so he doesn’t want her to nap now. Sleep is associated with forgetting. She thinks that she was only delivering roses; she making an excuse to herself, and her nap may have helped her forget that she dressed up for the date herself. Akio may understand that Utena will go through a period of regret, and that the regret will end when Utena sleeps deeply and forgets it. Her regret does seem to be gone by the next episode, though perhaps not entirely. By then, she again wants to be with her prince, not with Akio.

In the car, Utena looks first at Akio, then back at the amusement park lights of the past that she believes she is leaving behind, then to the side, away from Akio and toward nothing that we know of—the dark unknown future. Utena’s regret and thoughtfulness are visible and audible, though her thoughts are few.

In the car on the way home, Utena thinks that she only meant to deliver roses. It is one of Utena’s self-excuses. On the one hand, she was in the dark that there would be a date at all, and in the hotel she didn’t expect sex until she lost the othello game. On the other, delivering roses was definitely not her only intention. She went beyond it when she chose the date dress, and continued far beyond it when she sat in the car. Utena denies the conclusion that her own decisions led to sex—and though she was tricked into making the decisions, she is lying to herself.

The car in the ending credits reminds us that Utena just took a ride in Akio’s car, and the results were not very different from when others did. And that Anthy is pushed from Utena’s thoughts for now.

Dios

In the duels of episodes 25, 26, 28, 29, and 32, Utena wins after ghostly Dios descends from the castle to kiss her on the lips. She was corrupted in episode 30, so that includes one episode in which (having kissed Akio) she was untrue to her prince. After the First Seduction are two final duels, in episodes 36 (Touga) and 38 (Akio). Utena does not call Dios down in episode 36 because her heart is elsewhere; she does not want to kiss her prince. Episode 38 is a special case.

pregnancy

Suppose Utena survives at the end of the series. Is she pregnant?

The calendar time between sex in the hotel and the revolution duel is not clear, but it appears short to me. I think it’s too short for a possible pregnancy to affect events. Did Akio wear a condom? Why would he? Utena was powerless to set conditions. From her babble, I conclude that he did not. For his part, Akio wants to corrupt her, not reassure her. He loses nothing if she happens to become pregnant. If the final duel is delayed, or if he cares what happens after it, then a pregnancy and baby would give him utter domination over her. I understand it’s a common way of forcing dependency onto women in the real world. It can be a risk reduction measure in case his plot to steal her power of miracles and murder her should fall through, and he decides to make another attempt. But I think he trusts his plot. I think it’s a trick to convince Utena that he honestly intends to marry her. It will help him in the final showdown.

In the Cinderella scene of episode 30, Akio presents himself as a bad boy. The good boy protects women, the bad boy endangers women: Here Akio endangers Utena. In the final showdown he promises to protect Utena, but it is a lie. He continues to endanger her, and she needs a miracle to survive, let alone win.

We have little evidence from the Second Seduction and the Routine Date, but we know that Utena is even more deeply under Akio’s influence. Akio has two more opportunities to try to impregnate her. (Maybe more. There is a hint of rape in episode 34, and any number of events may have been skipped over.) Does he take them? In the Second Seduction, Utena sees a vision of an eternity of happiness with Akio before sex; I doubt she worries about possibly starting their family a little early. A view of flowers in the Routine Date suggests no condom then either. If I’m right that he’s trying to convince her of his intentions, then he does take the opportunities. At the end of the Routine Date she ignores Akio’s proposal of marriage, and it’s unclear whether the trick has any effect in the final showdown.

Unprotected sex is a theme in Utena’s symbolscape. The Student Council Entrance directly depicts it. The symbolism of the Rose Gate includes impregnation. The water drops to enter the gate to the dueling forest are semen—which splashes the rose that, in the Student Council entrance, stands for a womb. In a duel, the sword slicing a target rose represents sex; the loser is the wife (see duel symbolism - bells) and wears no protection from the sword. In 1997 Japan (and for many years after), condoms were the only generally available birth control. In Akio’s world, condoms are like seatbelts, pointless and unnecessary. His counterpart Zeus had oodles of children. And surely Akio, the patriarchy, wants more children of the patriarchy.

Weak hints that Utena may become pregnant are in the myth of Europa and the bull and in a possible parallel with Goethe’s Faust. I know of two stronger clues.

1. Utena has a reversed parallel with Nanami; they are treated as opposite. In Nanami’s Egg, Nanami believes she will have a child, but it is a delusion. She does not stop to wonder who the father might be. It’s played as a big event that deserves attention. Utena does not know she is pregnant, but the reversal implies that she is. She knows full well who the father is, and in her babble worries about pregnancy, but afterward seems to forget about the possibility. The event is downplayed to the point of being hidden.

2. The shadow play of episode 37 drops a subtle but strong clue: The shadow representing Akio calls himself “Papa” to the shadow representing Utena. The play is after the Routine Date, and implies that Utena was impregnated then. It’s shortly before the final showdown, and Utena does not know about it. (A pregnancy test cannot detect a pregnancy that early. The woman’s body itself doesn’t know yet.)

There is no hard proof, but that’s my conclusion. Utena wants a lively family, the opposite of what she had, and cannot have children with Anthy, so Utena will see it as a good thing (though as a teenage single mother and orphan, she’s likely to have a hard time of it). To me, that implies that Utena’s power of miracles will ensure that if Utena lives then the baby lives, despite Utena’s severe physical trauma. Maybe the pregnancy is a miracle itself.

The story as told is not interested in the possibility. I haven’t found any later allusions to it, and it would distract from Anthy’s arc. But I think the conclusion is sound.

My conclusion is not solid. I know of two possible interpretations that contradict it. 1. Anthy and Utena could be literal twins. 2. I concluded that Dios corresponds to God the Father in Christianity. It’s possible to read “Papa” as saying that God will take care of it, because it is God’s plan that Jesus will die on the cross and be resurrected.

Anthy is tied to Hera, goddess of marriage and family. If Utena is pregnant and survives, and especially if Anthy finds her before the baby is born, then Anthy will be in her element. The setup for a sequel is so perfect that I have to wonder whether it was a consideration.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 4 December 2021
updated 14 February 2024