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I conclude that Akio plans to kill Utena when he is done making use of her, based on six lines of evidence. Besides the evidence I give below, from Akio’s point of view it’s common sense. He intends to revolutionize the world with her power (which means stealing it for himself), but it involves betraying Utena. At a minimum she will know what he has done, and in the worst case he might fail to extinguish her use of the power of miracles. Getting her permanently out of the way is important to protect himself.
1. Comets. In episode 14, Akio promises Kanae that if he discovers a comet, he’ll name it after her. He repeats the claim when seducing Mrs. Ohtori in episode 30. In other words, Kanae is a comet. In episode 32, Akio and Anthy do away with Kanae. A comet is a special passing occurrence.
In episodes 28 and 29, the Ruka episodes, a comet appears in Utena’s window, referring to Ruka as a special passing occurrence. Afterward, Ruka dies, likely murdered by Anthy’s poison.
In episode 34, Akio calls Utena a comet. She is a special passing occurrence and will die when Akio no longer has a use for her. He did not show the faintest qualm when Anthy stabbed Utena in the back. Rather, he looked triumphant when he saw it was about to happen.
2. Poison. Anthy is tied to poison. In episode 6, Anthy and Touga carry out a plot to manipulate Nanami. As part of the plot, Nanami is lured through the greenhouse door, falsely believing she is the victim of a murder conspiracy. Then Anthy pretends to be reluctant to poison the bugs attacking her roses. In episode 32, when doing away with Kanae, Anthy has to prevent Utena from going through the door and seeing Kanae. The parallel implies that Utena is a true victim. The way Anthy does away with Kanae is to feed her a poisoned apple. In episode 37, Anthy talks with Utena about poisoning Utena, equating herself with Lucrezia Borgia. It is a warning: Run away, or I will kill you.
Two shadow plays also tie Anthy to poison, in episode 21 and episode 25.
3. The episode 27 bedtime conversation. See Anthy and Utena in the Apocalypse Saga - episode 27. Anthy tells Utena that elephants leave the herd before they die. Elephants are symbolically male and mean Utena. It is a prediction that Utena will become isolated and then die. She does become increasingly isolated as Akio separates her from others, until in the final showdown she has only herself to rely on. Then she is mortally wounded.
I think Ruka is another elephant. He left the herd, ending up in the hospital, and then died. I expect that all the failed duelists are elephants—all the ones who make it to the Revolution duel whose swords do not open the Rose Gate. See how many plots does Akio run?.
4. The shadow plays. The shadow play of episode 11 is William Tell. The apple has been established as Eve’s apple, representing sin—especially in the form of temptation, sex, and knowledge. The arrow is a phallic symbol, launched by the father William Tell. Later, Akio is equated with the father: By Anthy saying he is like a father to her (episode 26); by the reference to Daddy-Long-Legs (also episode 26); by the shadow play of episode 37 where he is called “papa”. To Akio, sex is a weapon. The apple girl is Utena. Tell is to continue shooting apples until a doctor stoppage is called, that is, until someone is hurt. At the end of the shadow play, Tell aims the arrow lower. After accurately-targeted sex with Utena, Akio will shift his aim and kill her. It foretells Anthy stabbing Utena, which is metaphorical sex ordered by Akio (see a further parallel).
The shadow play of episode 30 when Utena is corrupted is about the red shoes. If you put on the red shoes, you will dance until you die. If you “dance” with Akio, you will die. The shadow character representing Utena is the one carrying the red shoes—she’s only thinking about putting them on, she’s carrying them just in case. The doomed dancing character is Kanae, and Anthy, and the cruel female teacher, and no doubt others. Becoming corrupted at the end of episode 30 implies that Utena carries the red shoes and is tempted to put them on. I think she puts them on in the First Seduction, immediately after which Akio calls Utena a comet—the red shoes stand for sex with Akio. That way the clues coincide as they should.
I think other shadow plays can be interpreted as related warnings. The shadow play of episode 37 is brilliant. The character representing Utena wants a taste of the Hollywood actress life of excitement and scandal—only a taste of playing roles and having a relationship with Akio (by this time she knows she doesn’t want to ever marry him). She’s enjoying the dancing and believes she can take the red shoes off. She does not know that the audition is rigged against her.
5. Parallels with The Rose of Versailles. First, The Rose of Versailles episode 33. I strongly suspect that Utena was deliberately plotted so that its episode 33 would have the same episode number, but the parallel is with the Second Seduction of episode 36. The Dauphin—like Utena a prince—goes on a horse ride with Oscar, on her white horse. Oscar sets him in front, as Akio sets Utena in front of him on his white horse. They ride through the countryside at a canter, as Akio and Utena do. Oscar stops at a pond and they dismount, as Akio stops at a pond. The Dauphin, age 7—like Utena a child—kisses Oscar and declares his love for her, as Utena kisses Akio with the same meaning.
The Dauphin is mortally ill, and he dies at the end of the episode. The implication is that Utena is mortally ill. In episode 33 or earlier, she caught the Akio disease, which is fatal. See The Rose of Versailles - more on the Second Seduction for weaker evidence that Akio intended her death by the time he met little Utena in the church.
Second, The Rose of Versailles episode 37 has a parallel with the First Seduction of episode 33 which also implies that Utena is or becomes mortally ill. See The Rose of Versailles - fatal illness for the images that Utena calls back to and their meaning.
6. Mishima Yukio’s House. The dorm that Utena moves into in episode 2 is modeled after the house of Mishima Yukio, a right-wing would-be revolutionary. In 1970, Mishima tried to incite a revolution (taking a military commander hostage and making a speech to the soldiers) and utterly failed. His plan was unrealistic. Then he committed ritual suicide. Moving into Mishima’s house equates Utena with Mishima: She is an unrealistic would-be revolutionary who will fail and die—and in Akio’s view, it will be her own doing, nothing he is at fault for.
When Utena’s cheek hair is divided into three, it is a sign of Utena’s approaching death. Though it’s not usual in depictions of Utena, there are many examples. One is in episode 12 after the duel, when Utena has regained her perceived princehood. (Not her actual princehood, since she was a prince while trying to be ordinary.) As she walks toward Anthy and home, we see her face against a night sky and stars (representing Akio or his influence), and her cheek hair is divided into three. Believing herself a prince is a death flag. (The three stars on the left may have a specific meaning too, but if so I don’t know it.)
Utena’s cheek hair is not divided into three after the episode 2 duel, when she first becomes a prince. She doesn’t get the death flag until she has made it through all the duels of the Student Council arc, passing Akio’s tests.
The story of Nanami and the kitten is parallel to Anthy and Utena, though not exactly. See paired comparisons - Utena + Anthy = kitten + Nanami. I don’t count the parallel as evidence, because we don’t know for sure that the kitten dies (just as we don’t know for sure whether Utena lives). It is consistent with the evidence.
By a parallel with The Rose of Versailles, a candle that appears in episode 10 may stand for the kitten’s life. If the parallel extends to Utena’s three candles in episode 30, then when Utena blows out all three candles, she is symbolically extinguishing her own life.
In the recap episode 13, after Akio has finished his long monologue about the seven duels so far, he drops the bright pink rose that represents Utena. It’s a cut rose and will die. I think it symbolizes Akio’s attitude to Utena: Well worth picking, then to be discarded. After Akio turns away (and Anthy joins him), the rose floats in the air. It symbolizes Utena’s escape in the end. The meanings can only be detected after the fact.
Death and deadly weapons (though not swords) show up strangely often in the shadow plays, beyond the ones I discuss above. Is this why?
Anthy has no hope for Utena. After her ride in Akio’s car, Anthy’s only hope for Utena is for Utena to flee the Academy. She tries repeatedly to convince her, but Utena won’t run. Anthy at a minimum knows that falling into Akio’s clutches will be Very Bad. I think Anthy believes Utena will die, whether by Anthy’s hand or otherwise.
What’s the followup? In the final showdown, Akio plans to open the Rose Gate with Utena’s power. Utena will realize that he was lying about the castle and the eternity of happiness. What does he do with her after she realizes? She might “graduate” from the Academy, but is that under Akio’s control? Graduation means accepting the truth. In episode 23, Akio is able to cause Mikage to graduate by explaining his plot so that insightful Mikage grasps the truth. That would not be likely to work on Utena—in fact, Akio attacks Utena with truth in the final showdown without success. The simplest remaining plan is to disappear her, and she can best stay disappeared if she is dead.
The means. How does Akio intend kill Utena? If Utena refuses to wear the dueling ring, then she becomes a threat to his future plots and Akio will have Anthy poison her. Akio repeats his scripts; Utena will meet the same fate as Kanae by the same means. Drugging Utena shows how easy it would be.
As it happens, Utena wears the ring and enters the dueling arena. We can’t know for sure, but I think the evidence points to Anthy backstabbing Utena under most circumstances. Utena should be disabled before Akio attacks the Rose Gate, so that she can’t interfere. If Akio knows that Utena is the Rose Gate, then she must be physically disabled. Otherwise disabling her psychologically might be enough, but certainly she should not be allowed to leave the dueling forest. Akio expects to possess her sword, and could run her through himself, but there are reasons to think that he would not. One, he delegates dirty work to Anthy. Two, he’ll enjoy the thrill of having Utena betrayed by the one she trusts the most, the same way he enjoyed the thrill of boasting of his evil while seducing her. Three, he reduces risk when he can. Better to strike her by surprise from behind.
Possibly Akio would conclude the he is the one Utena trusts most, and backstab her himself. I can’t rule it out. In that case I imagine he would carry her up to the Rose Gate, set her in front to admire the supposed gateway to eternity, and leave her to suffer and slowly die while she watched him open the gate.
This promotional image depicts Akio winning. Utena is alive and happy, but even so I find it chilling.
Jay Scott <firstname.lastname@example.org>
first posted 28 December 2021
updated 13 November 2023