Utena - backlash against the First Seduction

The First Seduction of episode 33. <- PreviousNext -> Suppressing Utena’s memory.

The First Seduction of episode 33 was a violation of the natural order. Akio exerted great force through his power of illusions to ensure the seduction succeeded, and when he released the force the situation sprang partway back to what it was before. Episode 34 is the backlash against the violation, or the snapback from the force. The backlash takes many forms.

Each of Akio and Utena’s dates has a small-scale snapback in the shape of Utena’s regret and thoughtfulness. There is no time between the Second Seduction and the Routine Date for a large-scale backlash like the one here, but there is weaker backlash after the Routine Date.

Anthy. It is another night. Akio and Anthy had sex, and Anthy is dressing to return to bed in the other room, where Utena is. The episode starts with Anthy aggravating Akio in her passive-aggressive way. Akio is the one who taught her joy in vengeance. It boomerangs on him when he steals away Utena—and brags about it in his “I’ve discovered a new comet” speech.

Akio controls Anthy like an intelligent puppet, steals her girlfriend, boasts to her about it, and then he complains in angry frustration about Anthy’s minuscule payback? Part of the parallel between Nanami and Akio is that they both have entitled attitudes.

The prince. Before Anthy returns to the S-shaped bed, we see Utena there. She says “I’m going to be a prince.” Akio’s elaborate effort in the First Seduction to divert her from the prince has not borne fruit... yet.

Shadow girl recruiting. The shadow girls try to recruit Utena to their acting troupe, and Utena declines. It may have been a mistake to decline, because the shadow girls have access to truths that Utena needs to know. I read this as a part of the backlash which turns out to be ineffective. The shadow girls make up for it with the Tale of the Rose play, in order below. Also see shadow plays - episode 34.

Photograph. Utena wants a photograph with Anthy as a memento for the future. It is more thought about her future than she has shown before; she has become a little more thoughtful—though it was Wakaba’s photos that gave Utena the idea. Akio does not like photographs because they are objective; they limit his ability to change perceived history by affecting memories. He takes only posed photos, here and with Touga and Saionji. As he says, it had been a long time since he photographed anything but the stars—presumably his projected stars, part of his propaganda.

Posing for the photo. Anthy intervenes in the pose for the photo and gets the picture she prefers, not the one Akio prefers. I think Anthy is able to interfere because Akio has not finished capturing Utena. He continues to treat Utena kindly until after the Second Seduction. Then he deepens her corruption by showing her more of his evil.

The Tale of the Rose. In episode 33, the shadow girls supported Akio, repeating his propaganda about the stars and eternity. But Akio snubbed them, getting on the air in their radio quiz and then hanging up on them. When they reached him again, he refused to answer the quiz. They counter with the shadow play The Tale of the Rose. The play goes to a great deal of trouble to tell Utena to be careful, and the message seems to bounce off her. Anthy does not like the play, which depicts her as an evil witch; she keeps her eyes closed throughout. Akio hates it because it tells Utena part of the truth. It is a direct threat to Akio’s plot, which requires deception; Utena cannot be allowed to remember everything about the prince story.

Utena. When Akio tempts Utena while checking on her feelings, she pulls back. She remains in a period of regret which hasn’t faded after days have passed. (Alternately, which I think less likely, she has partly recovered from the psychological damage Akio did her in the First Seduction.)

Anthy again. The shadow play may also refresh Anthy’s memory. At the end of the episode, Anthy asks “Who are you?” 1. She knows that Utena seems familiar, and she can’t quite place the memory—she can’t quite identify Utena as the little girl who promised to become a prince and save her. 2. Alternately, Anthy does recognize Utena as the same girl, but is not sure whether Utena is still her prince. She knows that Akio has corrupted Utena to some degree. Will Utena remember her promise, or fall into evil? The episode itself sounds more like theory 1, while the preview from the previous episode sounds more like theory 2. Utena never remembers her promise to Anthy, but sometimes acts for other reasons as though she does, so Anthy should be uncertain.

Akio’s reaction

Akio minimizes Utena’s regret by holding the First Seduction at night, and bringing her home very late when she is sleepy. Sleep is associated with forgetting. See regret and illusions for more background.

Akio takes powerful action against the wider backlash, ensuring that Utena forgets about the prince story. See suppressing Utena’s memory. Using what he learns, he plots the Second Seduction and breaking Utena away from Anthy.

Unlike Touga in episode 12, Akio can compensate for the backlash. He corrects for it so thoroughly that Utena seems helpless as she falls more deeply under his power in coming episodes.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 26 January 2022
updated 17 August 2023