Utena - the Second Seduction

Suppressing Utena’s memory. <- PreviousNext -> Breaking Utena away from Anthy

Akio’s setup for the horse ride of the Second Seduction, the seduction itself, returning home afterward, and a little of the followup. The events are from episodes 34, 35, and 36. There’s overlap with the article on the backlash against the First Seduction.

The Second Seduction refers to scenes from The Rose of Versailles. They are the pond scene in episode 1, a fall from a horse in episode 13, and a horse ride in episode 33.

In Utena’s allegory, the Second Seduction represents love and the joy of love. Love lures women toward marriage, which puts them under male domination.

psychological tricks, parallel to the First Seduction

In the Second Seduction, Akio uses the same sequence of psychological manipulations as in the First Seduction, in a different environment. The overall plan is point-for-point identical though the elements he uses to carry it out are different.

Background considerations:
• Provide a tempting lure to attract impulsive Utena.
• Keep her distracted and off-balance so she doesn’t think about what she really wants.

The sequence of actions:
• Arrange a surprise date that she’ll enjoy.
• Take control of transportation, isolate her from other influences, restrict her options.
• Approach: Show her a fun and exciting time where she’ll feel close to Akio.
• Withdrawal: Move away from her to draw her out.
• Remind her of sex through unconscious cues.
• When the time is ripe, reverse his withdrawal and let her “freely” make her decision.

outline of the date setup

In the First Seduction, Akio arranged for Utena to bring flowers and be dressed for a date without telling her that it was a date. With an elaborate plan, he deliberately surprised her into a date that would have been enticing anyway. Here, Akio follows a more elaborate plan to surprise her into an enticing date.

Akio’s plan has two prongs, he’s doing two things at once. On the one hand, Akio is pushing Touga aside and deflating his confidence. He can exploit Utena and not Touga, and besides, Touga is getting uppity, wanting to protect Utena. On the other, Akio is bringing Utena under his control. He asks Touga to give her a gift, and to say that the gift is from Akio. Touga chooses earrings. Akio predicts or controls Touga’s actions and engineers an accident that he saves Utena from. With the blank-eyed adoration this earns him (see rescue - grateful princess trope), Akio brings her on his own horse ride deep into the forest. The sequence of events is shown out of order. This is the order of events:

• Touga gives Utena the earrings.
• Slimy Touga talks her into a horse ride to “consult”, that is, so he can hit on her.
• She falls from Touga’s black horse and Akio on his white horse rescues her. (Episode 35.)
• Slimier Akio takes her on a horse ride into the woods, the seduction sequence proper. (Episode 36.)
• Utena examines the earrings late that night. (Episode 35.)
• Utena shows off the earrings to Chu-Chu, apparently the next day. (Episode 35.)

Touga is furious to be thwarted. That prong of Akio’s plan is not important here; see Touga’s arc - the Apocalypse Saga.

The earrings, horse ride with Touga, and rescue are in episode 35. Two early segments of the horse ride with Akio are in episode 35, shown in flashback as Utena examines the earrings late at night. The main part of the Second Seduction is shown early in episode 36. One way to keep the segments straight is to think of the horse ride with Touga and the Seduction as in sequence, separated by the flashforward to Utena examining the earrings after the Seduction. During the flashforward there are flashbacks to events of the Seduction that haven’t happened yet. I think it’s deliberately confusing. The reasons for events are being withheld from us.

detailed sequence of events

the rescue

Utena falls from Touga’s horse.
Utena stares with a blank smile at Akio. Akio catches Utena in her fall and sets her on his horse.

Utena loses her balance and falls from Touga’s horse. By watching in slow motion, I could tell that Utena started to slip before she fell. Touga was not watching in slow motion and was surprised, while Akio was right there and scooped her up just before she hit the ground. It could only happen if Akio engineered it, though I don’t know how he did. I imagine he used his power of illusion and the accident was not entirely real, but I did not find evidence. Well, Utena’s hair should not be blowing in front of her, but that’s poetic license and not evidence.

Touga’s hair and the horse’s tail are rough mirror images of Utena’s hair, which is ordinary girl-length. It recalls the wind blowing both ways at once in the ending credits. Besides that, see a comparison with Nanami falling.

Being rescued from serious injury in the nick of time by a seeming prince on a white horse—that’s precision targeting. Utena’s conscious mind shuts down and she gazes with empty adoring eyes at Akio. She’s in a suggestible state, and Akio sets about exploiting it. He immediately gets her started on a date, his own horse ride deep into the forest.

Akio’s purpose in the ride

In the First Seduction, Akio took Utena into his car and drove her to a hotel room where they were alone. Akio controlled the transportation, and Utena had no say over where they went or how long they stayed there. She was isolated from other influences, only subject to Akio’s influence. Here he uses a horse for the same purpose. Only he has riding skills, Utena is dependent on him and can’t leave without him. And she is isolated from other influences. No one will help her, no one will distract her, no one will get in his way.

The horse is a vehicle, and it is parallel to Akio’s car. Akio uses the horse in the Second Seduction the same way he used the car in the First Seduction. The horse and the car both represent attractive aspects of Akio—things that make the patriarchy appealing.

The dueling forest is a fairy tale Enchanted Forest. This is an ordinary forest. But in fairy tales, forests are places of danger where the unknown lurks; you might meet a monster or an evil magician. Utena expresses some familiarity; she says it has been a long time since she could take things easy in nature. She is comfortable and not aware of any danger.

Akio primes Utena to think of sex

The horse ride is parallel to two different scenes from The Rose of Versailles. See The Rose of Versailles - more related to the Second Seduction and a more detailed explanation at Akio plans to kill Utena - The Rose of Versailles.

First Akio familiarizes her with the white horse. His goal this time is to manipulate her into initiating sex, so he wants her to feel comfortable from the start. He starts with having her rub the horse’s nose (already a sexual symbol). He keeps up a stream of calming patter, starting with it’s OK, horses are big but gentle. Every damn thing he says relates to sex. For the audience, it’s telling us what will happen. For the characters, it is a psychological trick to influence Utena.

This time I know the correct technical term: Akio is priming (Wikipedia) her to think of sex, feeding her cues that she will unconsciously connect to sex so that sex will come to her mind when the time is right. Priming has been extensively studied in psychology for insights it reveals into memory and perception (and more). Priming is consciously and deliberately used (not necessarily under that name) by professionals whose job is to manipulate their audience: Stage magicians, advertisers, political speechwriters, anime creators.... It’s well known to those who benefit from it, and it demonstrably affects people’s thoughts and feelings in the real world.

Many of Utena’s subtle symbols, such as the use of color, seem intended to prime the audience and arouse feelings whose source they will not consciously recognize.

In the First Seduction, the hotel environment provided the unconscious cues of sex: The exciting amusement park as brought to mind by her frequent looks through the window at it, the shower, the meal (since Utena associates food with sex). Here, Akio provides the cues himself.

Patting the horse’s nose, then riding slowly through the forest, Akio associates himself with the horse and concentrates on suggesting that he is a safe and caring person. He hints that Utena has to take initiative, by which he means initiative in building the relationship with the horse, that is, with himself. The horse is the one with power, the horse decides whether he trusts and likes you. Akio is not genuinely telling her to take initiative, he’s telling her to actively give up her own power: She is to initiate sex and then leave it to him. Akio reserves all power to himself.

The episode’s shadow play is about taking the white horse as the prince. That’s what Akio is telling Utena to do when he talks about the horse and means himself. The joke of the play is that Utena ought to prefer the horse to Akio.
horses are big but gentleRelax, I’m gentle despite my size.
they’re timid creaturesDitto.
communicate and build trustYou have to take initiative in the relationship. Tell me your secrets so I can use them against you.
the horse says he likes you tooI like you.
Utena’s answers are brief and her tone of voice is girlish and slightly hesitant. She’s still feeling a little intimidated by the horse.

Touga set Utena behind him on the horse. Akio sets her in front of him, a more intimate position and one that will leave Utena feeling more secure. His arms on the reins are around her; he’s signaling that he’ll protect her as his princess. Both are subordinate positions for Utena, the position in front more so because she is held in place.

In riding through the forest, Akio says nothing. Touga rode (as it turned out) dangerously fast; Akio at a safe but still exciting canter. The excitement of the ride is to cue sex, parallel with the excitement of amusement park rides. Sure enough, when they arrive at the pond Utena agrees it was exciting and her heart is beating fast, just as in the hotel she enthused about her fun at the amusement park. After arriving, Akio withdraws according to plan, just as he withdrew after they arrived at the hotel room in the First Seduction. Utena stays with the horse that she is now comfortable with and has been cued to see as meaning Akio and sex, while Akio moves away a distance (the withdrawal step) and sits under a tree. His cues become more direct.

how did you like it?Did you enjoy the sex (the horse ride)?
it feels good once you’re used to itSex feels good the second time.
Now Utena’s answers sound confident, but soft and girlish. Akio has fully prepared her mood. (Her usual boyish tone is more staccato.)

In the First Seduction, during sex Utena signaled STOP STOP STOP. This time, Akio suggests, it will be all good. He equates the First Seduction with Touga’s horse ride, Utena’s first horse ride which went wrong. The fun of the second ride stands for Utena’s second sex experience, coming up shortly.

Akio needs Utena to feel self-confident so that she will signal to initiate sex. He wants her to be girlish so that she will desire sex in the first place, and then submit herself to him. We don’t see all the steps, but my impression is that it did not take long for Akio to prepare her mood. Utena is naturally self-confident; that part is easy. She was girlish already from the time he introduced the horse to her. She fell from one horse, and here is another, large and male and equated with Akio who she admires, and who has turned himself into a savior prince on a white horse. I gather that the context re-establishes the girlishness that Akio forced on Utena in the First Seduction. It is after he calls her a princess, further promoting her girlishness, that she sends the signal. After he defeats her boyishness with his metaphorical sword, her girlishness will be that much more accessible; we see it in the Routine Date.

Akio chooses his time to strike

Utena’s face and hand are on the horse. She is blushing. Utena moves to Akio and kisses him.

Utena’s point of view. Utena stands with her face against the horse and her hand on it, the same as putting her hand on Akio’s chest for desire. We see three short close-ups of Utena’s face. The third time, as she says the ride was fun, she is blushing. She has accepted the equivalence of Akio and the horse and the equivalence of sex and the horse ride and the cue that sex will be fun. Her desire is rising. Her fingernails are long. Her voice is soft. She has not been this girlish since she asked about eternity in the First Seduction.

Akio’s point of view. After answering Akio’s question (“how did you like it?”), Utena keeps speaking for a few sentences as we watch Akio’s face. His withdrawal got her talking, as intended, revealing her thoughts for Akio to exploit. When she says it is as if she were in a dream, he smiles slightly and his eyes narrow. He has seen what he wanted to see. Dreams are illusions: Utena at the moment cannot tell illusions from reality.

Akio strikes. He walks closer, reversing his withdrawal. It is parallel to the end of the othello game in the First Seduction, where’s it’s subtly shown that Akio leaned forward toward Utena. He tells her she’s like a princess—that she already is what he wants her to be. (He uses the word oujo, royal princess; she is suitable to marry him, the monarch.) Her blush is deeper. In a soft girlish tone she suggests he is insincere. In her Cinderella scene, Utena recognized Akio as a bad boy and was attracted anyway; her resistance this time is weaker yet. He obliterates her objection by insisting that he spoke truly. Repeating a lie is strangely effective in real life too. A blue-green background says that Akio’s power of illusions is operating. She takes the initiative as she has been cued to, and closes the distance to kiss him. Her hand is on his chest, which in Utena indicates desire (see all the girls with their hands on Touga’s chest). He does not restrain her as he did in the First Seduction, but puts one hand intimately and suggestively on her butt. Just in case all the earlier cues were not enough, pressure on her butt in that position will send her a tangible message.

1. In the image with the horse, Utena has heavy iris outlines. She is not taking in information she needs, like Akio’s expression before he approaches. But she is not wearing lipstick. She’s not trying to attract Akio; he’s doing all the work.
2. Look closely at the hair on Utena’s cheek in both pictures—it is divided into three, which is not usual for Utena. It is a sign that Utena is being Oscar from The Rose of Versailles, whose hair is drawn like that. She is slated to die.
3. In the right-hand picture with Akio, Utena’s fingers are not stretched out. I think she is grasping his shirt, as if trying to grasp his heart. She can’t do that, either literally or figuratively. With Anthy, Utena places a hand at her waist, to signal a boyish desire for sex. With Akio, her hand at his heart signals a girlish desire for love. Either way, she is trapped in the system of control.
4. In the kiss picture, Utena’s hair reaches to her butt. Immediately before—see the picture of her with the horse below—her hair was halfway down her back. Kissing Akio made her hair suddenly grow. See other symbols - hair length for discussion of Utena’s three hair lengths. Here she is not a princess wearing a princess dress and crown. She has princess-length hair because she sees herself as a princess—at least to that degree.

I can’t doubt what happens next. It’s signaled too, too plainly by events before, events now, events after, and the structure of the story itself. It’s sex time, and Akio maneuvered Utena into initiating it. Akio primed her to initiate and then give control to Akio. Akio will overcome Utena’s boyish side a second time with his metaphorical prince’s sword. Utena is no longer ambivalent about sex, but in love with her supposed rescuing prince and fully committed. And this time she enjoys it, as promised. The title of the episode, in Nozomi’s translation, is “And thus opens the doorway of night.”

the light show, parallel to the First Seduction

In the First Seduction we’re shown the light show of the amusement park from the beginning. It’s Akio’s symbol of the past, the childhood Utena is to leave behind by losing her virginity. This time the light show is a symbol of the future. Akio is luring her with a vision of eternity. It is shown at the beginning and end of the time at the pond, and emphasized at the end.

The pond behind Utena and the horse, shining in the sun. Akio walks toward Utena. The pond is now a great ocean of eternity shining behind Utena and Akio, who are kissing.

The pond in the forest shines under sunbeams, representing Utena’s joy. But it’s not large, it’s a pond. As Utena kisses Akio and the kiss continues, the camera cuts to a longer view in silhouette. The pond has become an endless shining ocean.

The ocean represents eternity. It’s the daytime equivalent of stars. It’s again showing Utena’s feelings: At this moment, absorbed in love, she sees a shining future stretching on without end. In the First Seduction, when she is pierced by Akio’s “sword” and her boyish side is laid low, Utena suddenly asks about eternity. Here she sees eternity around her before sex, with her boyish side not yet defeated. In another sign, Akio carried out the seduction in the daytime when his power is weaker. Akio has made great progress in his plot to turn Utena into a helpless princess.

The ocean does not always represent eternity in Utena. The ocean red with sunset sometimes seems to mean that something is coming to an end. In this scene, the meaning is clear. Of course, only death is truly eternal. The ocean is water; eternity is an illusion. Equivalently, marriage is eternal because it brings the wife under her husband’s final control, the death of her individuality.

The sun is Dios’s sun. Akio pretended to be a rescuing prince like Dios, and Utena accepted him as her prince. It is the fiction trope of loving one’s rescuer, appropriate for Utena who lives in a fictional world of illusions that she believes. The sun is the white sun of truth, because Utena’s love is real. But the truth is shining on waters of illusion and tears. They are natural waters—love naturally creates illusions, as Anthy points out in episode 21 when she tells Utena that, if it’s for someone you love, you lie to yourself. The endless shining ocean means that Utena sees an eternity of love and joy before her. In a wider view, it means that the illusions and tears do not stop; the ocean is a symbol of the eternal power and risk of love. Akio may take it to mean that his dominion will continue forever, but in reality the power and risk of love fall to everyone who loves. Akio sidesteps the risk by not loving.

Utena as prince is defeated. She becomes girlish, and remains so until the duel, when she promises to protect Anthy. (She’s also a prince in the final scene, at least until she falls asleep.)

returning home

Utena looks serious as she walks home.

The two apparently ride back through the forest, then return home separately. The sky is red as the sun sets. The sun was high when they kissed, so they must have been in the woods for hours. We see Akio walking the horse, his shirt wide open—a symbol of sex established as early as episode 5. Utena’s face looks uncharacteristically serious and thoughtful. Her period of regret has started. It continues until she sleeps.

Touga finds out

Besides its participants, only Anthy learns of the First Seduction. Touga is the most knowledgeable other character, and he does not know about it when he gives Utena the earrings “from Akio” in episode 35; putting the carrot on his forehead to make himself a unicorn implies that he believes she is a virgin. But Touga does know about the Second Seduction. He tries to keep up with his role model Akio by trysting with the shy girl, and afterward he shows off that he has “kept up” by meeting the returning Akio, both with shirts open.

I don’t think anybody else finds out at all.

Juri and Miki

As Juri and Miki discuss the returning Utena above, below them on the fencing floor two club members are fighting a pracice match.

Juri and Miki look down at Utena as she returns. Juri clearly sees Utena’s girlishness, and Miki can make it out too. Juri suggests that it’s not a good thing. She foresees the coming revolution and feels something unpleasant in the air.

As they discuss above, below them two fencing club members fight a practice match, a boy and a girl. The girl wins the match. It seems to contradict what Juri said: Utena can be girlish and win; she does not need to be a prince. After all, Juri and Miki are inside a symbolic cage formed by the window panes, and Utena is outside it. But there are multiple ways to read the foreshadowing. Utena does defeat Touga, and you can stop there. We the audience do not yet know how much work Akio will put into undermining Utena before the final showdown, and we don’t know that there is a Revolution duel yet to come (we’ve been told that the duel with Touga will be the last). Or you can continue: Utena does return to being a prince, and Anthy backstabs her for it. Utena as a boy loses the Revolution duel to a girl. Or we can continue to the very end and say that Utena does win the final showdown.

Yet another reading is that it represents Juri teaching Miki, as the girl fencer teaches the boy fencer by practical demonstration. We’ve repeatedly seen Juri instruct the members just that way.

regret

As after each of their dates, after the Second Seduction Utena has a period of regret and doubt. It’s shown in episode 35, before the Seduction itself. Late that night, she stays up examining the earrings and remembering the events. She becomes skeptical: The rescue, the white horse, it was too good to be true.

Utena examines the earrings skeptically.

The cuckoo clock strikes thirteen at the start of the scene. See cuckoos. As explained in the shadow play of episode 31 with Nanami, the cuckoo is a brood parasite (Wikipedia), standing for Nanami who was not raised by her biological parents. Here it means Utena, whose parents are dead. The cuckoo also represents cheating on a lover, as in the English word “cuckold”: Utena sees herself as cheating Kanae and as cheating on her prince, and in this moment of regret it may bother her (though I don’t see any outward sign of it). The clock striking thirteen (Wikipedia) says that she has gone astray: Metaphorically, she has not counted correctly. Utena has found a discrepancy and needs to go back and re-examine her beliefs to figure out what else is wrong that she thought she knew.

It’s also a joke about the messed-up nature of time in Utena-world. Utena has presumably stayed up after midnight, until 13 o’clock. Time is particularly confused around episodes 35 and 36; events are shown in an order that’s hard to follow.

She doesn’t do it. It’s late at night, and she falls asleep at the table. Sleep is associated with forgetting. The next day, forgetting her original judgment that they were unsuitable, she shows off the earrings happily. Her regret and doubt are done with, her skepticism is forgotten, and she has accepted her deeper corruption.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 6 December 2021
updated 20 May 2024