Akio and Utena. <- Previous • Next -> First attraction.
At the start of the Black Rose, Akio has decided that Utena is a good candidate to break the seal on the Power of Dios. All power must belong to Akio, of course, so before she does any such thing she must be under his control. During the Black Rose he grooms (Wikipedia) her to admire him and trust him. He stays away from anything sexually suggestive, only subtly hinting at it by modulating his voice. By the end of the arc, Utena treats him as a friend she can casually drop in on and hang out with.
We see Utena meet with Akio seven times—a significant number in stories, and the same as the number of duels she fights. She visits another time when he’s not there (in episode 22 when he’s with Mikage). We can guess that Utena made more visits, because she repeats to Anthy information she learned from Akio that we did not see her learn (episode 21).
Utena’s tail of starstruck fangirls has dropped away. We never see them again; the strongest reminder that they are gone comes in the basketball game of episode 37 where Utena is alone after the game, contrasting with the basketball game of episode 1. See basketball games. Maybe Akio deliberately cut her off from her admirers to keep her lonely and isolated. In any case, as the series progresses, Utena has only herself to rely on.
Falling into darkness. The visuals of Utena’s meetings with Akio show her falling into darkness, then seeming to emerge, only to fall in again. In episode 14, they meet in sunlight. In episode 15, it is night and the shadow line behind Utena falls just above, or at one point at the level of, her head. In episode 17, she is unhappy about Juri, and the two meet in Akio’s corrupt darkness. In episode 18, it is daytime and she is more cheerful, but the day is rainy. In episode 19, the establishing shot of the tower says it is night, but when inside we see sunlight; Utena has not fully emerged into the light. Utena and Anthy visit together. Akio is shown to be unable to understand Anthy. In episode 20, Utena is at ease with Akio and it is night again. It remains night in episode 21, when Utena, under Akio’s spell, repeats to Anthy things Akio told her—then leaves Anthy with Akio. The planetarium shows winter constellations for emotional coldness.
In episodes 14 and 19, when Utena and Akio meet, Anthy is associated with sunlight; she is tied to Dios, who is the sun. By the end of the arc, Anthy is in Akio’s corrupt darkness. I can read it as Anthy helping Utena see the right path for a while. Then Utena sinks out of range of help. Or I can read it from Anthy’s point of view: It shows Anthy trying to escape to her prince and failing.
Gaining familiarity. In Utena’s visits with Akio, she gains familiarity with Akio and becomes more comfortable around him. It grants him power over her. In the Apocalypse Saga, we see the same process happen in each of their sex dates. In the First Seduction, Utena in the hotel room is initially not at ease. With time, she grows comfortable and moves closer to Akio, until the seduction succeeds. In the Second Seduction, Akio familiarizes her with the horse, which he equates with himself. Again she approaches and the seduction succeeds. In the Routine Date, when inviting Akio on the date and preparing for it, Utena is upset to the point of being distraught. After the date they talk calmly, though Akio cannot convince her to wear his ring. Once he releases his pressure on her, Utena seems fully at ease.
Akio’s patience works for him. He puts Utena in new situations, and simply waits for her to get used to them. Once she feels at ease, she does what he wants. Once you are at ease with the system of control—once you are used to your culture—you follow its rules. It’s familiar and easy.
Episode 14. Utena visits along with Anthy. Anthy sits well away from Utena. I think Anthy doesn’t want Akio to know how close they are. I expect that Akio ordered Anthy to suggest the visit; it’s not the kind of thing he would leave to chance.
Utena is embarrassed at first, because they interrupted Akio and Kanae smooching. Akio surely planned it that way, for its future effect on his corruption plan in the Apocalypse Saga. Utena is soon fine, sitting primly, and more comfortable than I expect a 14-year-old to be with an adult authority figure. Akio speaks in a light voice, higher pitched than usual, as if he were making jokes—except when lying to Kanae, when he uses his whispery seductive voice set to Medium. It gives Utena an early taste; later when he lowers his pitch Utena will unconsciously associate the voice with Kanae.
In episode 1, Utena knew Touga by sight before they had met—and he gets a white rose for the prince while Utena tells us his name. I think she felt some attraction to him from the start: She unconsciously remembers his visit to her coffin and associates him with her prince. After they met in episode 3, Wakaba noticed the attraction. If the parallel between Touga and Akio holds, then Utena is attracted to Akio from this first meeting. Oblivious Utena does not notice her own feelings.
Episode 15. Utena visits by herself. She has only two friends, Wakaba and Anthy, and she is lonely living in a dorm alone with Anthy. Akio arranged the lonely dorm, in part to help Utena decide that making friends with the school chairman is a good idea. I assume that Akio expected the visit, or asked her to come by again, otherwise he’d find another way to meet Utena. On a table we see red roses that reappear in episode 22, associated with Tokiko.
Utena still sits up straight, but seems a little more at ease, drinking tea idly. Akio leans forward to indicate interest. He speaks in a more neutral voice than last episode, except when he lies about a sibling being like the moon, when he slides into the seductive voice set to Low.
Akio tells Utena that a sibling is like the moon, useless and unimportant but you may sometimes look at it and feel better. It’s true of neither siblings nor the moon, but Utena accepts it. In Utena all sibling relationships are fraught. Akio wanted to impress Utena, but he had a real meaning too and I don’t understand it. It’s important because the moon is a symbol for Akio himself, besides its association with siblings, and turns up repeatedly. In fact, it appears in this Kozue-Miki episode before Utena meets Akio. A backdoor meaning is that, if the moon is useless and unimportant, then Akio is useless and unimportant.
Episode 17. Here’s where Ganymede comes up. Utena is relaxed, leaning forward with her elbows on her knees, then leaning back. Akio sits back casually and speaks in a lower voice, trending toward the seductive voice at the end.
This is the first of two times when Utena visits Akio in his tower room without an establishing shot of the tower beforehand. The other is in episode 20. Utena felt unhappy about Juri, and I think she impulsively visited to vent. That’s my take on what it means.
Episode 18. Utena opens with “is it strange to dream about the prince?” Akio is visibly and audibly surprised. (For him, it’s key information he can use. For the audience, it lets us know that Akio has no insight into people’s dreams, but must be told.) She means “is it weird to desire someone so much older than me?” In her eyes, her prince was already adult when she was small. It’s a curiously indirect way to say something so important.
Why is Akio surprised? In the episode 34 version of the prince story, Akio (playing Dios) told little Utena that she would forget everything about it. Since Utena joined the dueling game, he must have picked up that she hasn’t quite forgotten everything; she still wants to be a prince. But dreaming of the prince suggests that she remembers more. It is potentially dangerous to Akio: Part of his power comes from rewriting the past when memory has faded. True memories have power that can be used against him. Utena does use the power of a true memory against Akio in episode 37 when she drops the ring.
Then she brings up adulthood, a question that embarrasses her: Is she a child or an adult? She puts a hand behind her head, as she does when embarrassed. She’s comfortable enough with Akio to admit her ignorance (compare episode 5, when she hesitated before admitting to Miki that she needed to take a make-up test, even though it was obvious). Akio speaks more neutrally, for the most part. He’s keeping her comfortable as she presses her own limits, doing his job for him.
Akio answers that people, like stars, lose in brilliance with each passing year. It’s true of neither stars nor people. He means that as people mature, they become more difficult for him to control. Utena answers, but aren’t you shining at your brightest now? She seems to say that he was wrong, but metaphorically it means that his illusions are at their strongest. Immature Utena is falling deeper under his influence—he was right.
Episode 19. Utena and Anthy visit together, again sitting well apart on the sofa. With the three of them together, Utena is restrained, but still more comfortable than in her first two visits. She feels she is intruding on the sibling relationship; she worries about monopolizing the conversation.
Akio tells Utena that it’s hard to know the princes that others keep in their hearts. It’s a genuine useful insight, and neither of them is able to apply it. Utena misjudges the prince in Wakaba’s heart. Akio tells Anthy he hopes she’ll find her prince soon—he believes he’s misleading Utena, but he does not know that Utena already is Anthy’s prince. The camera tells us so during the conversation.
Episode 20. Again we skip the establishing shot of the tower, and this time we hear Akio’s voice before the cut to the tower room. We nonchalantly pop in—Utena can just drop by whenever, no need for formalities. The white sofa is not in sight. Utena holds a bridge position on her hands and feet, so that she sees everything upside down. Wow, she has flexible wrists. Akio is on a lounge chair, his head edging over the shadow line. They are next to the giant planetarium projector—the illusions are especially strong here, accounting for Utena’s inverted view. Utena is treating Akio like a long-time friend, she is not shy in the least. Akio has lowered the pitch of his voice one more degree.
Utena asks why Wakaba seems different, and Akio mysteriously mentions a goddess whose name is recorded in the stars. I went through the constellations, and found Astraea (Wikipedia) as the only Greek goddess among them. Her constellation is Virgo the virgin, and she is “the virgin goddess of justice, innocence, purity and precision” according to Wikipedia. She forsook the Earth when humans became wicked, which is to say when Lucifer fell or when Dios turned into Akio. (In Greek myth, when Cronus was overthrown.) When she returns she will bring a new golden age without wickedness. It sounds like she’ll revolutionize the world. Therefore Astraea means Utena—though by the time Utena opens the Rose Gate, she is no longer a virgin and she has done wicked things herself.
Wakaba is different because she is, briefly, special. Akio explains that Utena is special, though she doesn’t realize it, and adds that specialness lasts only a short time. The claim implies that after Utena leaves the Academy, she is no longer special. Astraea herself was special for only a short time, before she left the Earth.
Akio does not compare Utena to Astraea to influence her. It fits in thematically: He’s telling her that she will revolutionize the world. It’s a lie, and it’s the kind of lie he wants to tell Utena, because he intends to subvert the promise. Yet he must know that she will not understand a word of it. We’ve seen Utena fail to grasp much simpler ideas from Akio. From his tone of voice, I conclude that Akio is musing to himself more than explaining to Utena. He’s not thinking about what he says, he’s supporting the illusion of friendship by how he says it.
Episode 21. Utena is in the planetarium with Anthy, showing off to Anthy Pleiades lore she learned from Akio. She seems less comfortable with Anthy than she did last episode with Akio, holding her arms across her front. Presumably she’s only uncomfortable with her new-learned knowledge. Akio arrives and Utena actually relaxes. Then Utena leaves; it must be Anthy’s Saturday night sex time with Akio. He asks Anthy to stay close to Utena, and she does not see all his reasons but agrees with a smile. I imagined it was a genuine smile, but on consideration I think it’s a smile of superiority. Anthy feels she is putting one over on Akio. Akio hasn’t realized how close Anthy already is to Utena.
By episode 20, Utena is completely comfortable around Akio. Akio impressed her with his adult attitudes and his knowledge (most of which did not mean what Utena thought it did). Akio never unsettled her emotional comfort, avoiding forwardness and anything that she might feel put off by. They kept a distance and never sat side by side. He slowly shifted his voice from a light, joking tone in the direction of his low seductive voice, without taking it all the way there.
This stage of grooming is complete. Utena admires him and trusts him, and is attracted without realizing it. In episode 25 at the start of the Apocalypse Saga, he starts the next stage, sitting side by side and putting an arm around her shoulders. After all his preparation, the effect is immediate.
Jay Scott <firstname.lastname@example.org>
first posted 15 December 2021
updated 19 September 2023