Utena - breaking Utena from Anthy

The Second Seduction. <- PreviousNext -> The Routine Date

Akio wants to separate Anthy and Utena, because the strong relationship between the two might disturb his plan. He wants to isolate Utena and ensure that Anthy stays under his thumb. During the Black Rose, Akio underestimated their relationship, but now in the Apocalypse Saga he knows. Anthy’s happiness around Wakaba in episode 25 angered him, and he has taken multiple countermeasures since. In episode 26 he pumped Anthy for information about Utena and she was reluctant to answer. One of Akio’s multiple reasons for bringing Nanami to his tower in episode 31 was to drive a wedge between Utena and Anthy; it worked to an extent. Having Anthy give the roses to Utena to deliver to Akio in episode 33 was in part to make Anthy jealous. In episode 34 Utena tells Akio that Anthy is a dear friend; in the following episode 35 Akio laments to Utena that the friendship cannot last, planting the seed to break them apart. In episode 36 Utena wanders into Akio’s room and sees Anthy with him, naked. It’s not clear that Akio arranged it to happen, but he does not mind that it happened.

Another important event comes first, Touga bringing Utena to the dueling arena to talk. That’s the first section below. Akio’s strike is after.

at night with Touga

What is Touga thinking? He claims to Saionji that he doesn’t know whether he’s serious about Utena—immediately after a montage showing that he understands his feelings full well. Touga is making one last try to win her over.

Utena wakes up at night, wearing her uniform in bed and sleeping on top of the covers. Saturn and its moon Mimas appear in the false sky before Touga arrives. She wonders if Anthy is with Akio again. Touga arrives and lures Utena away with a promise to tell her about End of the World. He may have had a contingency plan to do that, but (as usual) he mainly wanted to hit on her. That’s all he ended up doing. By going along, Utena is violating Wakaba’s episode 35 advice to not be alone with him in the dark.

Of course I recognize the moon Mimas. It’s where I want to live. Mimas was one of the giants who challenged the Olympian gods and was defeated, as Touga challenges Akio’s power and is defeated. Akio is tied to Zeus.

A contrast: In episode 25 when Akio first activated Utena’s attraction, Utena spontaneously said it was romantic, revealing her feelings. Here, in the elevator on the way up, Touga asks whether it’s romantic, and Utena denies it. Akio achieved more than Touga. It is part of the extensive parallel between Akio and Touga.

Utena snuggles up to Touga.

The two take the gondola up to the dueling arena. The castle in the sky appears in a way that makes it clear that it is not physically there; it is magical if you believe in it, or an illusion if you do not. An aurora-like light show and the background music promote the “it’s magical” view.

Touga’s question. Touga asks if she loves Akio. (We get a shot of a tower of the castle in the sky glowing yellow, the color of Touga’s jealousy.) He uses the word ai, which means strong, lasting, caring love, like the love of family that strengthens over decades (though the word is often used in weaker senses). He’s not asking if she’s in love with Akio (he’d say koi which also translates to love), he’s basically asking if she wants to eventually marry him. Utena is surprised, it’s a new question to her. She objects softly in a girlish voice, “but he has a fiancee.” This is after the Second Seduction; Utena has stopped making moral decisions and doesn’t give a second thought to cheating on Kanae, but she sees a practical issue in the betrothal (and she does not know that Kanae was brutally murdered in episode 32). Touga seems to take her confused answer to mean “yes” and declines to say anything about End of the World. Would he have said a thing otherwise? I doubt it.

Touga’s question put a new idea in Utena’s mind. She had never thought of it, and now she has a chance to consider whether she wants to stay with Akio for eternity. With something to think about, she has a chance to be more thoughtful, a key to her victory. An answer to the question comes up in the shadow play of the next episode. The question must contribute to her refusal of Akio’s ring after the Routine Date.

One last time. Touga gives a “you’re my princess” speech, which moves Utena. When he repeats his claim that he loves her, she blushes, just as she blushed for Akio before he repeated his similar claim in the Second Seduction. Then a “one last time together” speech that no one should ever agree to. But Utena agrees to it, and takes it on herself to snuggle up to his side.

Double-you Tee Aitch. Never mind how many times Utena has given Touga the cold shoulder, including multiple times in the previous minutes, this time her shoulder is warm. Utena is impulsive and easy to manipulate. The same thing happens in the final showdown when Akio easily manipulates Utena from angry to desirous.

The scene is parallel to the Second Seduction, and like most parallels between Akio and Touga it shows Akio succeeding and Touga failing. Touga gets just enough victory to know that he has completely lost. To work out the parallel: Akio manipulates Utena into a date with a fake rescue; Touga manipulates Utena into a date with a lie (a weaker plan). Both dates start with travel to an isolated location where they are alone (I expect that the dueling arena is only apparently isolated; Touga was less successful). Akio tells Utena she is like a princess; Touga tells Utena she is his princess (Touga makes an admission that Akio need not make). Utena blushes, emotionally moved and showing desire in both cases. Akio has seduced her utterly, and she kisses him and has sex. Touga has seduced her enough that she snuggles close with his arm around her.

Apparently Utena is now so corrupted that she cheats on Akio too without a second thought. Akio presumably knows about it, and I’m fairly sure it’s all part of his plot. Everyone around Akio is wrapped up in a net of secret trysts and relationships, and Akio controls the net.

Cassiopeia. Utena returns home and stays up until dawn, standing at the window. In the morning, Cassiopeia in the sky, the sun rises, though Utena is looking away at the moment it appears. The sunrise should symbolize realization or enlightenment, but all she seems to realize is that, hey, I used to wonder if he was my prince. Still, she looks happy, and the shadow play may suggest that it was an important realization. Utena is thinking more clearly.

Cassiopeia is another who challenged the Olympians and was punished for it. Cassiopeia is near the North Star, which becomes prominent next episode. Cassiopeia seems to refer to Touga again; Utena has done nothing to challenge Akio. But see the next episode, when the constellation’s meaning is reset.

Closure. The episode provides closure to the relationship between Utena and Touga. Despite her frequent brush-offs, she always felt an attraction to Touga, not unlike the girls who crowded around him. I think she brushed him off because she felt that attraction. A part of her is the regular girl she claimed to be in episode 3. In snuggling up to him, she is not as much acceding to his request as acknowledging her own feelings and saying goodbye to them. In their duel not long after, the two say a final goodbye: They exchange thoughts wordlessly, and their fingers linger on each other and part. It’s like the lingering touch of Anthy and Utena in the last episode before Anthy falls away.

Kicking Touga out of the picture was part of Akio’s plot. The meeting acts to maintain Utena’s girlishness, keeping her under Akio’s control. Nevertheless, it was also useful for Utena. Resolving her issues with Touga leaves Utena in a stronger position to face the bitter difficulties of episode 37. She stayed up the rest of the night thinking, a change for her (though the rest of the night may have been a short time; we don’t know). Apparently giving in to Touga on his date gave her another period of thoughtfulness like her dates with Akio, and she needs to be thoughtful to win, so (counterintuitive as it seems) it was in fact the right choice. Until now she has lived in the moment and ignored basic questions like “what are my real feelings for Akio?” and “what do I want for the future?” In the next episode, she has a lot more thinking to do.

seeing Anthy with Akio

Anthy with Akio, looking desolate. Anthy’s desolate expression.

It is another day. Utena lies flat on her back backwards on the S-shaped bed (picture below), so that we see her right-side up rather than inverted as usual. Utena falls asleep that way. Anthy was waiting for it. Utena murmurs Akio’s name in her sleep; whether she would like to marry him or not, he’s certainly on her mind.

A shot of the Swords of Hatred piercing Anthy. Utena is dreaming it, and though it is an illusion it is a true dream.

Utena gets up to seek Anthy, and finds her with Akio. Anthy stands, ruined, as Utena stares back.

Utena wakes up and finds out an important truth. Being awake is associated with realization; see Buddhist awakening and compare the sunrises where she stays up all night. But she discovers only one corner of Anthy’s situation. Utena has made Anthy jealous since episode 25; Anthy blames Utena for betraying her, even though she knows that Akio’s sex appeal is nearly irresistible. Now Utena comes to blame Anthy for betraying her, and it is another misunderstanding. To be sure, it’s complicated and both misunderstandings are partial.

I’m having trouble with cause and effect in this scene. Utena woke up immediately after a vision of Anthy which was a true memory and therefore not Akio’s doing. The vision is what prompted Utena to look for Anthy and find her. I interpret it as Utena’s power of miracles showing her a truth that she needs for her ultimate victory. And yet it is an event that Akio seems to want to happen. At the minimum, he does not object to it; if he did, he could have kept Utena away. Akio’s position and Anthy’s reaction look as if they are stage-managed by Akio. Did he somehow know it would happen? Did he do something to awaken Utena, and only the vision was a small miracle? Was he ready in case it happened? Or did he react on the fly?

The dream of the Swords of Hatred piercing Anthy goes with the waking vision of the Swords piercing Anthy as they were sitting on the grass in episode 36. They’re not identical: This time she sees little Anthy, as in the final version of the prince story. Utena remembers a little more, though she is dreaming.

Akio’s hair tie is larger than usual. I think he is using his full power of illusions to ensure that Utena draws the “correct” conclusion that Anthy has betrayed her.

Utena lies down backwards in bed, her feet on the floor.

In the picture to the right, Utena is mostly right-side-up because she is about to be shown the truth, though it is a partial truth and functions as a lie. A moment later we see her from Anthy’s point of view, and Utena is at a diagonal angle, partly inverted. Anthy does not see Utena quite correctly. She speaks in her cool Rose Bride voice, pretending to accept Utena’s misunderstanding of Touga’s non-promise that the Student Council would now leave Anthy alone.

Anthy looking unconcerned after Nanami found her with Akio.

Anthy was noticeably under orders before she left the bedroom, though likely the orders were only to spend the night with Akio. As I read it, Akio staged the scene so he was facing away from Utena and appeared clothed, and required Anthy to stand naked and face her—he stages it as Anthy’s doing, nothing he had a hand in. In reality, see her hands disappearing behind her hair: Metaphorically, Anthy does not have a hand in it. She is unable to take her own actions.

When Nanami saw Anthy and Akio together in episode 31, a close parallel comparing Nanami and Utena, Anthy was unconcerned (picture). Her role required her to appear unconcerned, but still—she didn’t care what Nanami thought. Even the lighting was warmer and softer in episode 31. Here, in contrast, she is devastated. That face is the picture of desolation. She believes she knows how Utena will react, and she knows that Akio wants that reaction.

Anthy is pleased to be with Akio. Anthy is desolate, but she has not given up on Utena. The camera draws a comparison between scenes: In the episode 25 vertical panning shot, Anthy was flat on her back, full of love and yet defeated by Akio. This time, before she knows that Utena is in the room, we get a horizontal panning shot of Anthy of lying on her front. Anthy wears the same smile as when holding a hand on Utena’s breast—she is happy to be with Akio and fulfill her sexual desires. But Akio has not defeated her.

Most events in episode 37 are colored by Utena’s sudden tension with Anthy.

Anthy’s massive hair is for censorship, for disturbing visual and dramatic effect, for the symbolism of the hands, to mark Anthy as a princess (compare when Utena becomes a princess), and above all to tie Anthy to Rapunzel. This scene corresponds to the point in the Rapunzel story where the witch captures the prince and blinds him; Utena (captured by Akio, as emphasized by murmuring his name in her sleep) becomes blind to Anthy’s feelings.

When Anthy’s voluminous hair is rolled up, it must be under tremendous pressure. Don’t release Anthy’s hair suddenly, it’s dangerous!

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 9 December 2021
updated 19 September 2023