Utena - Akio and Anthy

Akio and Anthy have a complicated codependency going on. I don’t truly grasp how it works, but I see its shape from its outline.

Anthy needs Akio

In the preview at the end of episode 25, Utena asks Anthy is there’s someone she loves, and she answers yes while the camera silently turns to Akio. If we accept previews as canon, then Anthy believes she loves Akio. I don’t accept previews as canon, though. They show us things that point to the story but are not part of it.

Nevertheless, I believe that Anthy does love Akio, at least through most of the story and possibly throughout. I found a real-world quote that explains it with beautiful and terrible clarity:

Abuse doesn’t make you love someone less. Often, it makes you love them more because it isolates you and makes you more dependent. He is the only person in the world who knows what you’re going through—and often he is the person that comforts you afterwards.
—Ellie Wilson
source: Guardian article The rape survivor who spoke out

Anthy is strongly isolated and dependent on Akio. Akio speaks comfortingly to Anthy as part of holding her under control. And we can see that she is usually at ease when alone with Akio.

episode 14, Anthy with Akio who orders her to approach
Episode 14
episode 21, the elevator just closed on Utena
Episode 21
episode 23, Anthy has finished her role in the Black Rose
Episode 23

In episode 14, Anthy visits Akio and has put her glasses down; it’s Saturday night sex time. That’s a smirk. I say she feels satisfied, even smug; she could be thinking “now you’ll give me what I want.” In episode 21, the elevator has just closed on Utena and Anthy turns to look at Akio. She looks neutral and a little thoughtful. (The light on her is tinted slightly blue, and the rose behind her, that stands for her, is purple.) Akio orders her to keep close to Utena. In episode 23, Anthy has finished her role in the Black Rose saga, and Akio puts a hand on her shoulder to mean “good work”. Anthy looks pleased with the implied praise.

These seem typical to me. Anthy is not afraid of Akio or distressed around him. Another clue is that Anthy sets aside her glasses when visiting Akio for sex—her glasses are a barrier and a distancing device to protect herself from the world; she does not need to distance herself from Akio, but can look at him directly. On the other hand, Anthy does not put aside her Rose Bride persona, and Chu-Chu stays away; it’s clear there are bad aspects. She nearly always obeys Akio (she disobeys when she leaves the Academy). She is able to strike back passive-aggressively when unhappy, and she can get her way in small matters, such as in the photo taken in episode 34 where she inserts herself between Utena and Akio. (In that case, the presence of Utena helped. Akio could do nothing that Utena would reject.) I think Akio doesn’t want to risk his power over her for minor reasons, which gives her a measure of power in turn.

Yet Anthy does obey Akio even when it hurts her profoundly, as when she gives Utena’s sword to Akio, or when she is sent to attract the Swords of Hatred. We often see her hesitating before obeying an order, whether directly from Akio or from another she is engaged to as Rose Bride; she seems to always hesitate on orders that she does not like. But she obeys. Her relationship with Akio outweighs everything, it is vital to her—somehow.

When Anthy was declared a witch and faced the hatred of the world, she can only have lost trust in people. A crowd with swords will do that to you. Even in the Academy, we see she’s regularly bullied even outside her Rose Bride role. She must have seen over and over how people betray each other and act in their own interests at the cost of others. She’s repeatedly surprised when Utena behaves selflessly—and even Utena is not always selfless, but selfishly hurts Anthy at times.

When Anthy was declared a witch, she was in love with Dios. That was her starting point. The world had turned against her; she could trust him, and no one else. As Dios changed into Akio, what could she do? She still trusted Akio more than any other, yet Akio demanded to control her, and so she became trapped. By the time of the story, the relationship seemed to her unbreakable. She could not leave Akio, and besides it was a familiar and comfortable relationship, not entirely happy, but what relationship is? To disobey is to risk her only security. It is a form of learned helplessness (Wikipedia): When bad things that you can’t control happen to you, you can learn to give up on trying to avoid them, even in cases where they are easy to avoid. Learned helplessness can be extremely difficult to break out of.

She fell into a tight trap. The story shows how hard it can be to help someone escape such a trap.

Akio needs Anthy

In the final showdown, Akio says that he and Anthy love each other. Akio panics in episode 39 when Utena starts to open Anthy’s coffin, and again at the end when Anthy leaves the Academy. His need for her seems as strong as hers for him. She protects him from the Swords of Hatred, which terrify him.

What else? In part, it’s a practical need. Anthy is highly capable and serves as his eyes and hands when manipulating people from out of sight. Then there is the need of the abuser for the abused; Akio directs many but has near-complete control only over Anthy, and I think he enjoys that. But most of all, Akio never forms an honest relationship; he coolly manipulates everyone he comes into contact with, no exceptions. Anthy loved him when he was Dios and still does, and he is the only one he can be close to and fully rely on. Anthy understands him, and he allows that for no one else. He manipulates Anthy too, of course, in part to prevent her feelings from changing. But Anthy realizes and accepts that; it is an aspect of what she means when she tells Utena in episode 30 that there is a part of love that you can’t control. I don’t think I can truly grasp how Akio feels; it’s too alien to me. I can describe part of it.

Except for sex (see below), Akio keeps Anthy in line with simple praise and punishment, as if she were a dog. When she does well, he puts an approving hand on her shoulder, or says “good girl” or “good work”. At one point in the final showdown, he strokes her head like a dog. When she resists commands, he acts with sudden but not extreme violence, like a dog owner yanking back on the leash or striking the dog on the snout. He wants her to be obedient, not injured. In episode 25, Anthy (inspired by Utena) hesitates in coming to bed when Akio orders it, and he roughly seizes her. In episode 26, she resists revealing her thoughts about Utena. The camera turns away from his violence after a yank on her hand, but he breaks a teacup.

Only in episode 39, after Anthy has backstabbed Utena and hesitates a long time to follow his command to hand over the sword, does Akio fear she may escape his control. He turns to his lies and psychological tricks... and she meekly wipes his crocodile tears while making an ambiguous retort. It’s a clear illustration of distorted caring.

incest

Anthy having sex under Akio who is depicted as a starfield

I rotated the image right side up to make it easier to follow. It is an assembled version of a vertical panning shot at the end of episode 25, and comes from the Gallery at Empty Movement, specifically from right here. Credit to Giovanna. See other symbols - upside down for an interpretation of the image’s inversion.

This is sex between Akio and Anthy as Anthy perceives it. Anthy seems to be enjoying the act from a physical point of view, though it calls for imagination on her part. She seems to know that Akio is dark night, the counterpart of Dios who is light day. I notice Akio’s arms around her rather than on her, holding her close and not holding her down: She feels close and loved at this moment, and she is also holding him in a tight grasp, if only by one arm. Never mind that they are sister and brother; she seems to be imagining Akio as Dios. Akio is depicted as a part of the background starfield. I take it to be Akio as his role in society; he is made of stars (people). More: The image is full of blue for illusion, and there is no purple for corruption (only a smidge in Anthy’s hair); I take the blue to mean that seeing Akio as Dios is a delusion, or that seeing Akio as loving is, and the lack of purple to mean that she feels no corruption in the relationship. This is Anthy’s truth, this is how it will always be, for better or for worse—they are as good as married. She believes she has found true eternity. This eternity seems to require her to mentally blot out most of the real Akio, though.

Though it’s from Anthy’s point of view, the picture suggests caring on both sides.

In other cases when Anthy is in hugging range of another person, she holds her arms between them. (Exceptions are holding Dios in the first ending sequence and bracing herself to backstab Utena, which seem to be related. The only other exception is Anthy holding Utena in the second ending sequence, which is Anthy’s fantasy.) It’s a defensive posture. Her hand on imaginary Dios’s arm is a sign of extraordinary trust and closeness. It’s as close as she comes to embracing anyone.
Her hand is not on Akio’s shoulder, which would imply perceived superiority. It is on his upper arm. When Akio puts his hands on Utena’s upper arms in episode 37, he is restraining her to restrict her options—she can’t sit up. Anthy may feel that she is restricting Akio’s options, presumably impelling him to give her what she wants.

No one mentions that it is incest. Nanami with her brother-fixation hints at the incest, but refuses to say it flat out; she is the only one who seems to notice or care. In Utena, general failure to notice something in plain sight is a sign of metaphor directed at the audience: The incest is irrelevant in the literal sense, and metaphorically refers to the corrupt nature of the relationship. But also see Zeus and Hera—incest is common in mythological figures worldwide.

I think the bright star shining between strands of Anthy’s hair represents Utena. The loops of Anthy’s hair remind me of the images of Utena’s hair whorls.

We learned in episode 14 that Anthy must visit Akio every Saturday night—she implies that Utena cannot countermand the order. Therefore Akio commanded the visits. Sex is Akio’s first-line way of controlling people, and it’s a major way he controls Anthy. In episode 38, Akio says that he and Anthy love each other, and she cannot be happy without him. It’s self-serving, but I think he believes it. Not that the rest of us should agree; his ideas of love and happiness are twisted.

Presumably Anthy also reports in on the week’s events. First the report, then the reward.
Little Anthy with Dios on the hay. His cloak is spread out around him, lined with red.
Dios with closed eyes
Little Anthy seems to lie on top of Dios, his head thrown back.
Anthy on Dios

The cut between these two images in episode 34 implies that (as Anthy remembers it) their incest started before Dios became Akio. The second image is openly suggestive. Anthy’s hair is disordered, and we see nothing of her red dress even though it seems it should be visible on her shoulder, and Dios’s shirt seems to be open. In fact, the red dress itself is suggestive. In Utena, head back and eyes closed signify sex. For a more subtle hint with the same meaning, see romp in the hay.

Anthy is on top because she is controlling Dios. He wants to return to the fight, and Anthy has stopped him. Controlling Dios was bad and led to a reversal, with Akio controlling Anthy. Dios could not make Anthy a princess. Not long after this image, Akio does make Anthy a princess.

Anthy has corrupted Dios, and now she is Eve after corrupting Adam: She is “lying with” Dios.

Chu-Chu

Utena is surprised that Chu-Chu never accompanies Anthy on her visits to Akio. When Utena wonders about it, Chu-Chu always looks unhappy. Chu-Chu expresses Anthy’s misgivings, but she desires to go, and leaves her misgivings behind. It’s a lot like Utena in the First Seduction, when her desires and misgivings are expressed separately and her desires win out. See Chu-Chu’s arc for my thinking on Chu-Chu as a character.

Anthy’s corruption

Anthy was never honest or idealistic like Utena. It is one of many ways that Anthy and Utena are opposite. In the final prince story, her earliest actions that we see (though they are in reality false reconstructed memories), she saves Dios from working himself to death and makes it stick, selfishly reserving him to herself. She lies to the crowd to make them give up, and meets the Swords of Hatred. Her actions contribute to corrupting Dios’s idealism and turning him into Akio. Anthy’s punishment is karmic retribution, a severe punishment for her severe crime of depriving the world of the power of miracles.

But she was only selfish, not vindictive. She wasn’t trying to harm the crowd by lying to them, she was trying to protect Dios. I think that once Dios fell and became Akio, Akio in turn corrupted Anthy and taught her joy in vengeance: She came to see the evil of revenge as good. She felt good about insulting Saionji in episode 1; we can see it in her expression. She enjoys harassing Nanami. Being allowed to murder Kanae must have been a high point—though there is reason to suspect that she has committed many other murders (Mamiya, the rest of the Ohtori family, Ruka, Utena’s parents, plus see her self-identification with Lucrezia Borgia).

Anthy’s love for Dios turned her selfish control of Dios—to save his life—to an evil end; it was selfish because she did not make a genuine sacrifice. Dios, pure but also selfish, became corrupted by the combination of Anthy’s evil and the impossibility of his own goals, and turned pure evil. He in turn corrupted Anthy into joining the side of evil. In the story, he corrupts Utena into choosing evil, seeing the evil of betraying her own ideals as good. Utena is selfish too, as she admits in the suicide conversation, but with love and idealism she makes a genuine sacrifice and unselfishly helps Anthy.

Anthy’s corruption of Akio makes her parallel to Eve, who is depicted as corrupting Adam. Apples show up a bunch of times, and all of them refer to Eve’s apple (many refer to other apples too). In keeping with the theme, Utena’s story of Anthy can be taken as insisting that the depiction of Eve is unfair.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 28 November 2021
updated 17 March 2024