Utena - overview of Akio and Utena’s relationship

Next -> During the Black Rose.

broad outline

The prince story is the earliest we see Utena, in story time. Akio likely murders Utena’s parents. Why? On the off chance that she might be a good candidate for his plot to revive the Power of Dios; Akio himself considered it unlikely once he’d talked with her. He tempts her to desire to be a prince and to marry the prince. He uses the same broad techniques throughout Utena: He isolates her and lures her with temptations.

In the Student Council arc, episodes 1-12, Akio is watching Utena but they do not meet. He’s testing her power of miracles (aka Power of Dios) to see if she’s a good candidate to revolutionize the world, that is, to make Akio more powerful. See how many plots does Akio run? for how Utena ends up in the dueling system.

In the Black Rose arc, episodes 13-24, Akio has concluded that Utena is a good candidate. In the duels, Akio is mostly strengthening Utena to “break the seal on the Power of Dios”, training her power of miracles until it is strong enough to be worth stealing. Utena and Akio soon meet in person; Akio wants to lay a foundation for their relationship, so he can follow up as he chooses later. This is child grooming (Wikipedia). He’s friendly, and feeds Utena knowledge and advice that to her seem impressive, though most of it is either shallow or nonsense. Utena is comfortable with him and visits often.

In the Apocalypse Saga, episodes 25-39, Akio has selected Utena as a final candidate. While continuing to strengthen her power, he starts a plot to bring her under his control by marrying her—he has created a traditional world where a man has final control over his wife. She is to accept him as her prince and become a powerless princess. Then he can safely steal her power of miracles.

Note: The Apocalypse Saga is a single story arc which spans episodes 25 to 39. I think it’s wrong to break it into an “Akio arc” and an “Apocalypse arc” because the backbone of the story runs across the break. Please do not break the back of the story. I’ll be careful to call it “Apocalypse Saga” to reduce confusion.

my articles

During the Black Rose Akio grooms Utena to admire and trust him.

First attraction in episode 25 starting the Apocalypse Saga: Akio’s next grooming step.
The three candles in episode 30 where Utena’s resistance to Akio’s attraction fails. The candles are a symbolic key to Akio’s plan.
The First Seduction, episode 33 in the hotel room. Akio manipulates Utena into accepting sex. This is statutory rape (Wikipedia).
Backlash against the First Seduction, episode 34 where all parties take counteraction.
Suppressing Utena’s memory of Anthy in the prince story in episodes 34 and 35.
The Second Seduction, episode 36 with the horse ride. Akio manipulates Utena into initiating sex.
Breaking Utena away from Anthy at the end of episode 36.
The Routine Date, episode 37. Akio manipulates Utena into proposing a date for corrupt reasons.
The final showdown starting in episode 38 reveals a little more.

Parallels between their dates, the First Seduction, the Second Seduction, and the Routine Date.
Akio plans to kill Utena when her use is over.

Akio follows a systematic plan to corrupt Utena, initiate the sexual relationship, and consolidate it step by step. The earliest step was to meet little Utena in the church and become her prince, giving her stereotypical boyish desires for power and girlish desires for love, and embodying both in the duelist’s ring which is also an engagement ring. Later, to gain control over her, Utena’s boyish be-a-prince side must be suppressed and her girlish find-my-prince side brought forward. Then he can become her prince and make her his princess, which he defines as making her completely subservient to him. It will deactivate Utena’s power of miracles so that he can safely steal it. When that is done—or if it fails and he gives up—he will murder her to clear the way for his next plot.

Akio’s methods are temptation and illusion. He is the serpent in the Garden of Eden, tempting Eve. The temptation works because of his power of illusion, which gives him overwhelming sex appeal and allows him to carry out a variety of deceptions.

At each point he works to control Utena’s decisions while convincing her that they are her own decisions. The First Seduction and Second Seduction are closely parallel in structure and symbolism and bristle with Akio’s underhanded psychological tricks. In the Routine Date, Utena does make her own decision to be with him, and treats the relationship as “we’re together, this is what we do.” By the end, Akio is confident that Utena will become his helpless princess.

the allegory

This central thread of the main story is also central to Utena’s allegory. Akio represents male domination of women—the patriarchy and its cultural system of control. The tools he uses to gain control over Utena are sexual attraction, sex, love, and marriage. The three candles episode represents sexual attraction, the First Seduction represents sex, the Second Seduction represents love, and the Routine Date represents engagement to marry. These are actions by Akio, but they correspond to Utena’s feelings. The order of the actions claims that men put sex before love. I take it to be a deliberate use of a stereotype: Part of Akio’s method is to promulgate stereotypes. Akio proposes to Utena at the end of the Routine Date, but his timing is poor. The first challenge of the final showdown is Akio trying to marry Utena to gain final control over her. Under the system of control, marriage grants a man final control over his wife. The natural motives of attraction, sex, and love drive women step by step toward marriage. Each step is depicted as corrupt and as deepening Utena’s corruption, because Utena says that male control over women is corrupt.

Akio is the patriarchy, and the allegory is direct: The arc represents Utena being seduced into loving the patriarchy. In the end she is to willingly marry into it and be killed, representing the destruction of her individuality and freedom. The bells that ring for duels are for weddings and funerals; a wedding brings the woman’s funeral. Akio’s plan is to enforce compulsory heterosexuality (Wikipedia), a major theme of Utena.

Anthy and Utena’s prospective lesbian relationship represents their escape from the corrupt male-dominated system. The escape is teamwork or helping each other, where neither is dominant. To make the escape, Utena cannot play the role of a dominating male prince. In a dilemma, Anthy loves the patriarchy, and Utena must play the role of a prince to enable Anthy to escape so that they can get together. See the final showdown.

Utena does not represent male homosexual relationships as an escape from the system of male domination. When Akio and Touga are together, Akio dominates Touga. When Touga and Saionji are together, Touga dominates Saionji, who is marked as female. In a tricky case, when Mikage and false Mamiya (played by Anthy) are together, Mamiya subtly controls Mikage. Anthy is under orders; in reality, Akio dominates Mikage.

Desire. Akio uses desire to cloud Utena’s thoughts. She follows her desire for Akio and does what Akio wants, not thinking until too late that it is against her ideals, and not realizing until the final showdown that it is against her interests. In the allegory, sexual desire causes women to act against their interests and fall under male domination, as implemented by marriage. If the sexual desire does not arise naturally, compulsory heterosexuality will tend to instill it, or create the illusion of desire.

During the Black Rose, Akio subtly cultivates Utena’s desire. In the first attraction of episode 25, Akio awakens Utena’s desire and it starts to visibly affect her behavior. In episode 30, he forces Utena to become consciously aware of her desire, corrupting her when she falsely denies that she has violated her ideals. She continues to deny it; see Utena’s self-excuses. Most women are depicted as not following strong ideals, so that they are already corrupt—they were corrupted by accepting a female social role. In the First Seduction Akio introduces Utena to sex so that in the Second Seduction he can add sexual lust to romantic love and rocket up Utena’s desire. In the Routine Date he maneuvers Utena into openly admitting her desire, and making the date a normal event, so that Akio can propose marriage. In the final showdown, Akio tries to marry Utena, exploiting her desire.

Fairy tale plot. Utena’s fairy tale plot is part of its allegory. It means that the system of control—the socially constructed narratives and assumptions and roles of the cultural world we live in—is a childish fictional story, and we need to grow up and leave it behind.

Akio’s corruption plan runs from from episode 25 through episode 38. See fairy tales - threes. It is structured as a fairy tale in which Akio is the hero who must overcome Utena’s boyish side three times before he can reach the final showdown. His three challenges are their three dates, which I called the First Seduction, the Second Seduction, and the Routine Date. Passing them brings him to the final showdown, where he plans to defeat the prince with a sword (that is, by taking Utena’s sword so that she becomes a princess).

In episode 30, Akio must tempt Utena into corruption three times before she is corrupted. In the final showdown, Akio presents her with three challenges. It’s not as distinct, but each of the three dates in between those events can be divided into three challenges that Akio must overcome. In the First Seduction, Akio must entice Utena into the date, bring out her girlishness so that she is interested in sex and willing to submit to him, and convince her to consent (with an approach-withdrawal maneuver). In the Second Seduction, Akio must entice her into the date (he uses a particularly elaborate plan), bring out her girlishness (in preparing her for the horse ride), and convince her to initiate sex (again with an approach-withdrawal maneuver). In the Routine Date, he must disturb Utena into openly proposing the date (going public, or at least admitting the relationship to Anthy, because marriage is public), carry out the date (which we don’t see), and convince her to wear his engagement ring. He fails the third challenge. Akio’s failure leads to Utena’s victory in the final showdown: Akio needs Utena to wear his ring, so he orders Anthy’s false suicide attempt, during which Utena learns the truth about Akio. See Utena’s victory for the longer sequence of events.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 26 November 2021
updated 10 May 2024