Utena - episode 37: Anthy in Akio’s car

Utena’s resolution. <- PreviousNext -> The poisoning conversation.

In episode 37, Anthy rides in Akio’s car and cries out in anguish. Anthy wears her princess dress. Akio wears his prince suit, shirt open to suggest sex. Akio looks upset too.

Anthy crying out in anguish in Akio’s car.

What does it mean to ride in Akio’s car? In every case—even when Akio goes for a drive with Wakaba—it is Akio exerting influence or control over his riders. In many cases, he is arranging for a rider to fight a duel, or to join with a duelist in the arena. Those who ride in Akio’s car and then enter the arena show new and uncharacteristic behavior there. By this point, we’ve seen it repeatedly.

Here, Anthy is riding in Akio’s car, with all the usual car ride imagery. Anthy is soon to enter the dueling arena for the final “revolution” duel. She gasps and cries out in emotional pain. Akio, looking irritated by Anthy’s wordless complaint, tells her dismissively “Does it hurt, Anthy?” and deflects blame, saying it is the world causing her pain, it is the Swords of Hatred. Akio has created a false world view in which his choices are dictated by necessity, by the world, and he feeds the view to Anthy, telling her that his choices for her are necessary.

I looked up panic attacks (Wikipedia), not a subject I know about. Anthy’s seemingly uncontrolled hyperventilation led me to think of it, and I learned that hyperventilation is in fact the #1 symptom of a panic attack. Apparently Akio said something Anthy fears so much that it triggered a panic attack. Or if not, I can’t tell the difference.

Akio and Anthy in Akio’s car. Anthy is lying back, pierced by the Swords of Hatred.

As Akio tells Anthy that it is the world causing her pain, the background reverses from black to white and we get a glimpse of Anthy pierced by the Swords of Hatred. The Swords represent the hatred of the world, so it seems to back up Akio’s claim. We know it’s false, but I conclude that Anthy believes it. She accepts most or all of what Akio tells her. The white background—the prince’s honest white—means that the image points to the truth. But it also reflects Anthy’s acceptance of the illusion that the Swords are not Akio’s doing. The animation repeats with the night background and without the swords to show us the physical situation. I think that Akio believes his own claim. In his view, the evil actions he takes—though he enjoys them—are forced on him by circumstances; he does what he must to make things be as they should be.

In the prince story of episode 34, the Swords of Hatred were the swords of the crowd that attacked Anthy—the malice of the world. But that story is a myth. Since then, when piercing Anthy they have stood for Akio’s malice directed against Anthy. Akio directs the world (and brags about it). I find it especially clear in the final showdown when the Swords emerge from behind the white sofa. Nevertheless, Akio fears the Swords when Anthy is not available to distract them from him. In the final showdown, when Utena opens the Rose Gate and Anthy disappears from the midst of the Swords, Akio cries out in fear.
Violence and sex. Nikita Chestnov reminded me to talk about the disappearing clothes: Akio’s and Anthy’s clothing goes missing when the background is white. Usually in Utena, violence and sex are distinguished by the eyes. The head is thrown back and the mouth is open, but sex has closed eyes and violence has open eyes. Anthy’s missing clothing, and pose, and closed eyes, and seat in Akio’s car all say sex. But there are swords sticking through her. The image depicts both sex and violence, and unlike elsewhere in Utena, it does not distinguish them. This time, sex and violence are the same thing. The metaphorical swords of sex and the real swords of violence are the same. (It’s general in Utena: Male sex is a form of violence. It is the use of a sword.) In Utena’s language of visual symbolism, eyes are open for violence because people can’t overlook it, and closed for sex because they do overlook that male sex is corrupt. But Anthy is a psychologically captured abuse victim, and does overlook the violence Akio does to her. She believes it when he says her pain is the world’s doing.
Anthy loves Akio. In an emergency, she will take extreme measures to preserve the relationship, like stabbing her beloved girlfriend and leaving her to die. By a narrow legalistic definition, their relationship does not feature rape: Pictures showing her happily anticipating sex with Akio are here (episode 14) and described here (“Anthy is pleased to be with Akio,” episode 36), among others. She wants sex with Akio. But Utena’s symbols say that sex with Akio and violence by Akio are the same thing. Both are ways to psychologically control Anthy, so that she is enslaved. He uses the same methods to control others, including Mrs. Ohtori and Utena.

Akio is distressed too. It’s not because Anthy’s agony and panic disturb him, it is because she is showing signs of resistance against him. Akio must realize that she still loves Utena, despite his efforts to separate them.

Earlier in the episode, Anthy’s mood was not so desolate (though she was playing her Rose Bride role, so it could be hard to tell). Anthy’s anguish and Akio’s words both say what has happened: Akio issued instructions that hurt Anthy profoundly. After Akio tells her that his instructions are non-negotiable, dictated by necessity, she cries out again. Following events in episode 37 continue to show Anthy in despair.

Akio has just told Anthy that Utena is to die. At a minimum, he said enough for Anthy to figure it out. He may have instructed her to stab Utena in the back if Utena is winning. I think it is more likely that he relied on her to know what to do in any dangerous situation. Either way, Akio has told her that the culmination of his plot is near, and Utena is to be discarded. After this point, Anthy sees no possible escape. Anthy must give up Utena or give up Akio—she will not give up herself, she will do whatever it takes to survive, just as she always has. She sees Akio as her only security in the world, so when it comes down to it her choice is clear, no matter how it desperately it hurts. Desperate pain is nothing new to Anthy.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 18 November 2021
updated 24 March 2024