Utena - the Routine Date

Breaking Utena away from Anthy <- PreviousNext -> The final showdown.

In episode 37, Akio no longer has to manipulate Utena into sex. Utena asks Akio out on a date.

overview
taking off the ring
asking him out
preparing for the date
on the way
back at home
looking at Akio comparison

overview

In Utena’s allegory, the Routine Date represents engagement to marry. After it, Utena sees herself as broken from Anthy while retaining her love of Akio, as hinted by her non-answer to Juri about Anthy. Utena’s commitment is not strong enough to agree to his proposal; she is starting to show resistance to Akio, and does not want to marry him. But she wants to continue the relationship, and with one more manipulation he convinces her to wear his ring and head to the dueling arena, where he will try to marry her.

Episode 37 is complicated and reveals its secrets through subtle clues. In my notes, at first I wrote three or four different interpretations for most events. I think I’ve figured out most of it since then. Let’s see how well I’ve done!

taking off the ring

Before the date, Utena takes off her ring. It’s a critical step in a long chain of events that makes the final victory possible.

Utena pulls off her rose signet.

At the end of the previous episode 36, Utena discovered Anthy naked with Akio. As this episode opens, we see that she has stayed up until dawn. This time she sees the moment of sunrise and is enlightened: She remembers her oath to become a prince. She looks thoughtful and unhappy. Her fingernails are long: She is girlish. Remembering the prince’s promise that the ring would someday lead her “back here”, she removes the ring and drops it to the floor. We hear it ping on the hard surface.

As she pulls off the rose ring, a rose button on her night clothing is prominent. She is discarding one symbol tying her to the rose prince Dios, but she is still closed in by another. If I am right in my guess that clothing fasteners indicate upbringing, then Utena was in a sense raised by Dios, and it means that she cannot discard his influence.

It’s parallel to a scene in episode 11 where Utena considers removing the ring. Utena’s enlightenment corresponds to the start of the historical Enlightenment era.

Utena must have stayed up to worry about Anthy and Akio. Later we learn for sure that she blames Anthy for betraying her, as Akio intended and Anthy expected. Utena is extremely forgiving—in her role as prince she corresponds to Jesus, who forgives sins. But she is not a prince at the moment, she is a jealousy-stricken lover and she has dropped the prince’s ring. Utena will have thought about how Akio is cheating on his fiancee Kanae, and how Anthy made a joke (episode 31) “my brother is not discriminating about girls.” Utena has fallen for him hard and must be intensely jealous—and doubting herself at the same time that she doubts her prince role.

Ironically, Akio’s successful plan to push Utena away from Anthy causes Utena to miss sleep, so that her memory of being given the ring is not turned into a dream that she forgets. Beyond that, she has become increasingly thoughtful. She looks at the ring as the sun comes up and remembers. The bedsheets have turned orange for the miracle (also see below).

Why does Utena take off the ring? In episode 11, her reasons were clear. To take off the ring was to avoid the stupid duels, and in particular to avoid having to fight Touga who she believed was her prince, but to part from Anthy and leave her in Touga’s chains. To leave the ring on was to stay with Anthy and retain the chance of saving her from the Rose Bride role. She impulsively begins to remove the ring to avoid fighting Touga, and Anthy interrupts her, leading her to the opposite impulse. Once she’s had both thoughts she realizes which one she prefers. It’s as close as she comes during the Student Council arc to thinking things through. (Then Touga exploits her impulsiveness, her lack of true conviction, to win the duel.)

Utena remembers her vow to become a prince, and remembers that the ring will lead her “back to me” (back to the prince). That’s all we’re told, and it’s not quite right; the ring is to lead her back to where little Anthy was—in the current time, to her coffin. Does she know that Akio is her prince? Does she know that Akio is End of the World? Does she remember her reason to become a prince: To save somebody? If so, does she know that Anthy the Rose Bride is the one to save? The fact that she misremembers where the ring is to lead her back to implies that she doesn’t remember her reason to become a prince.

Dropping the ring means that Utena has started to abandon princes as an ideal. It should mean that she neither wants to become a prince nor to marry her prince. Theory 1: She wants to be with Akio and believes that her prince is somebody else. In that case, Akio is successful in pressing her into a girlish role, and she is losing faith in her boyish desire for power. Theory 2: She knows Akio is her prince, and she is already by his side: The ring has done its job, and she doesn’t need it any more. Akio is again successful. Theory 3: Utena (despite her corrupt acceptance of Akio) has more reason to doubt Akio than before, and has decided she doesn’t want to stay with him indefinitely (though we soon see she’s still enjoying the relationship). Utena in despair is nihilistically losing faith in everything she believes in. We’re shown her despair as she prepares for the date she’s about to ask Akio on. Theory 4: She believes Anthy has betrayed her. There is no point in saving betrayers, they are not true victims. Alternately, following Dios, Utena wants to kiss the girls she saves, but a betrayer cannot become a princess.

That’s a lot of theories, which means I don’t get it. I think theory 1 is the best fit. Utena believes that Akio is not a prince because Akio is a rule-breaker who cheats on his fiancee, and according to Utena’s ideals, a prince does not do that. Compare episode 3, where she concludes that Touga is not her prince, because he is a “playboy”. (Later Utena seems to forget the conclusion, just as in the final showdown she forgets her decision not to marry Akio.)

See Akio saying in the final showdown that Utena realized long ago that he is End of the World. If Akio is right, then theory 2 is better. The only evidence I find that Akio is right is that he likes to support his lies with truth when he can.

As Utena sees it, Anthy is hurting her in more than one way: She is attacking Utena’s love for Akio and Utena’s love for Anthy. I think it’s to Utena’s credit that she does not think of issuing orders to Anthy. (Anthy would ignore them because Akio’s orders take precedence, but Utena does not know that.) Utena must believe that Anthy does not want to be with her. If Utena does remember her goal of saving Anthy, then she must also believe that Anthy does not want or need saving. To help Anthy, Utena must wear the ring and be her prince. To leave the Academy, she has to give up her ideal of princes. Akio has placed Utena in a psychological trap with an extremely narrow escape route.

Utena drops the ring just after the alarm rings and Anthy wakes up. I’m not sure what it means, other than that Anthy heard the ring fall and may guess Utena’s thoughts.

asking him out

At breakfast, Akio and Anthy are standing together on one side of the table, Utena on the other. Anthy’s pot of pink roses for her love of Utena is still on the table. Now the roses are tinted slightly purple for Utena’s corruption. Akio notices her lack of sleep, which Utena says is for a secret reason. When Akio asks about the ring, Utena does not answer, but (in a strained voice) asks him out on a date. That in turn makes Anthy jealous, and Anthy interrupts with a passive-aggressive distraction. Utena heads for the door to get away, nervously jabbering.

When the date is made, Anthy says “hyuu hyuu.” It is the sound of the wind and refers to power—Akio’s power.

Was one of Akio’s purposes in last night’s revelation to manipulate Utena into asking for the date? Yes: Akio is telling Utena that she must compete against Anthy to get him. Utena is to see Anthy as an opponent to defeat. It is parallel with the other dates and it fits with how Akio operates. We can analyze the Second Seduction as the approach step and seeing Anthy with Akio as the withdrawal step of an approach-withdrawal maneuver, which lures Utena into proposing the date.

Akio wants Utena to fight a sort of female duel. The arena duels are male competition to defeat the other with a sword. Utena is to compete with Anthy to be defeated by a metaphorical sword, and end up flat on her back.

Utena admits that she lost sleep due to a worry. Utena’s claim of a secret reason does not keep any secret from Akio or Anthy. I think the signs are that she is upset with both of them, and would not discuss it with either. That is new: Since she became corrupted she has tried to keep secrets from Anthy, but she has remained open with Akio.

What are Utena’s reasons to ask Akio out? One, she loves Akio and believes she has to compete for him. Two, she feels bad seeing Akio and Anthy together, and wants to get out of there. Three, she does not want to explain the ring. Four, she may want to hurt Anthy (if so, it is a serious breakdown of her princeliness). She seems to have a lot of reasons for the date, none of them positive. She skedaddles out of there, trying and (as always) failing to cover up her disturbed feelings. Akio knows that her motives are impure, and he seems pleased. To him, it is evidence that she has joined the side of evil, as he wishes. She is following the path he laid out for her.

Anthy’s interruption is amusing (unless you are Anthy). She steals a piece of toast from Chu-Chu, says “Sorry” to interrupt, then pauses before continuing “this isn’t mine, isn’t it yours?” to Chu-Chu. Substitute Chu-Chu = Akio and we get “Utena is yours, not mine.” Anthy is complaining about Akio’s behavior and with the same words claiming that she is obedient. Her passive-aggression is sophisticated.

preparing for the date

Overhead view of the messy S-shaped bed. The purple patch has turned red. Utena’s uniform thrown down on the messy bed.
Utena’s date dress from the First Seduction, neatly folded.
Episode 33, Utena’s date dress
Juri’s messing clothing on the floor.
Episode 17, Juri’s clothing

After school, Utena gets ready. She throws her uniform on the bed, the ring and the letter from End of the World on top. The purple patch on the S-shaped bed has turned red, as it did for Nanami. She takes a shower, looking distressed. She holds her head back, eyes out of sight, water running down her face like tears. She looks similar to Juri in the rain in episode 29 after her locket is broken, and she shows a similar face later during the suicide conversation.

The view of the bed is in romantic soft focus for Utena’s love of Akio. Competing for love doesn’t seem romantic at all to me. The soft focus view cuts against Utena’s upset feelings. Shadows suggest that the day is growing late; the date starts around sunset. Akio’s darkness is encroaching.

The uniform tossed onto the messy bed contrasts with the neatly folded date dress of the First Seduction when Utena took a shower. It is parallel to Juri’s messy discarded clothing in her shower in episode 17. Utena is distraught and paying no attention to niceties—she is troubled about Akio as well as about Anthy. It also suggests the upcoming mess of the bed where Akio and Utena will have sex during the date; it aligns with Utena’s messy hair in the First Seduction. The ring laid carefully on top of the letter is a change. Utena may have thought again and retrieved the ring from the floor in case she wants it after all. Alternately, Anthy picked it up for her (she heard it fall). Anthy must know that Akio wants Utena to wear the ring.

The sheets are orange, the color of miracles. They were green when Utena got up last night, and turned orange while she stayed up. I think they turned orange just as the sun rose, when she remembered about the ring. It was also neat last night, and may have turned messy at the same time, for the mess of her feelings. The pillows are normally blue-green, the color of illusions, but here they are white for the prince: Staying awake meant she was not deluded by dreams. The miracle is the miracle of remembering and dropping the ring. Orange also stands for one-sided love, which Utena now has reason to believe she feels: She doubts Akio loves her, and she is sure that Anthy has rejected her.

The cultural standard is to bathe in a tub. In the context of a date, showers are culturally associated with sex. That we are shown the shower as part of date preparation means that she expects sex. Despite her upset, it’s a routine date, sex is normal now.

on the way

Utena stretches after the evening meal.
Episode 33, vase with cut roses
Akio leans over Utena in the car. Utena holds her arms defensively and looks away.
this episode, pillar with climbing roses

Akio drives Utena away on their date around sunset. Anthy in her greenhouse hears them go unhappily. Anthy again says “hyuu hyuu.” It’s a plain description of the situation—the Akio’s wind is blowing—but I take it to be for her jealousy. The greenhouse faded in with yellow.

In the First Seduction, the pink and red cut roses ejaculated from a vase stand for Utena and Akio and their sex act. They are at the edge of the room, visible but small and peripheral. This time the red and pink roses are living, vigorous, and intertwined. Instead of being placed separately in a small vase, they grow together on a huge pillar at the center of the greenhouse; in Utena’s mind, the sex is central and dominant, and she is tangled up in it. Utena is not equivocal about the coming sex act; her love and lust are fully engaged. The red flowers for Akio’s power are above and in the dark; the pink flowers for Utena are below and in the fading daylight. Sunset is the time of endings. Akio, the darkness of the world, has gained power over Utena, and her light is failing.

Both rose bunches are in the left of the frame, on the side of illusions. Utena’s sexual desire was created by Akio’s illusions.

The flowers hint that Akio yet again does not wear a condom. If Utena becomes pregnant, as I conclude she does, then this is when it happens. Akio will take impregnation as a male decision, not a cooperative decision; it represents male power, and Akio’s power over Utena is near its maximum. The green living roses symbolize life and growth. The greenhouse is a place of regeneration where the next generation is brought up.

back at home

Akio leans over Utena in the car. Utena holds her arms defensively and looks away.

We see the two driving off at the start of the date, the sea red with sunset, and returning to the tower late at night. Utena says it was fun in a conversational tone—in the earlier dates, she enthused about how much fun she had. On a routine date, you have a routine amount of fun.

Akio asks about the missing ring again. When he asks “why?” his tone is suddenly peremptory. Utena answers vaguely, in a girlish voice, that she’s started to think it’s unsuitable for her. Akio, turning up his seductive voice to High, compliments her clothing. Time skip. He suddenly proposes marriage, offering her a “more suitable ring”. Utena ignores the proposal. As Akio leans close, she lets herself fall back onto the car seat, apparently avoiding him. He leans closer, and she adopts a defensive pose, looks away, and diverts attention, asking whether Anthy has gone to bed.

Time skip. Akio has retreated. He tells Utena she seems girlish, and she answers in a voice that is more boyish. Utena lifts her head out of the car and sees the Big Dipper.

In the picture, Utena is looking away, rejecting Akio’s advance; see the comparison Utena looks away and the images of guilt above it. Her eyes are open and she wants to understand. Her words “Has Anthy already gone to bed?” are to divert Akio, but suggest that she may be feeling guilty over Anthy. She holds one hand up with fingers closed as if to ward off Akio and the other arm across her chest to cover herself. She is in a period of regret after the date.
At the same time, oppositely pointed curlicues in her hair remind me of her disheveled hair in the First Seduction. There’s a smaller clockwise curl for reality, no doubt the reality of the sex they just had, and a larger counterclockwise curl for the illusion of her love for Akio, or maybe for the illusion of marriage he is presenting to her. Illusions are now more important than reality. And Utena desires Akio despite her regret.

Watch the intercut images of Akio’s tower moving across the left half of the frame for an indication of how Utena feels about Akio. As they arrive at the tower, it is at the far left; Akio is barely relevant. Later it appears farther right and moves left again.

The sea red with sunset as they leave on the date represents the end of something. The end of their relationship and the end of Utena’s time at the Academy are approaching. Akio believes that the end of his plot and the end of Utena’s life are approaching. Akio’s darkness becomes full during the date.

Enjoying the date. When the date started, Utena’s feelings were in disarray. It was not a promising start. She has calmed down since. She is not happy, but she is no longer miserable. It’s not because she enjoyed the date so much, though she did enjoy it (she said so and she’s awful at lying). I think that being away from her crushing jealousy of Anthy gave her a chance to look at Akio more objectively than she has before, and she does not like everything that she newly sees. Her vague answer about the ring means that she has lost trust; she used to tell him her every thought. She has answered to herself Touga’s question of whether she loves Akio like a potential husband: No. She still desires him, though; see their relationship in the final showdown. She doesn’t fully trust Akio and doubts he loves her, but his overwhelming sex appeal still works on her, and she’d happily go on more dates (as hinted in the shadow play). Lingering around the car says that she doesn’t fully distrust him either; she’s at ease once he releases his pressure on her. It probably means she is avoiding Anthy, hoping she’ll be asleep already. If she wanted to hurt Anthy when she proposed the date, then she no longer does. I think she fears the hurt to herself when she sees Anthy again.

Date clothing. Utena is wearing a long purple sweater (it’s mostly dark red, with only a small admixture of blue), and in the next scene with Anthy it’s just possible to make out shiny black stockings. It’s sexy date clothing, sophisticated and adult compared to her First Seduction date dress, and it declares sexual desire. She has fallen for the illusion of being adult. She chooses to be girlish, and Akio reinforces it by praising her clothing with his seductive voice set on High. She remains girlish, it seems to me, up to the point when Akio calls her girlish.

Girlish. Why does Akio call Utena girlish? As far as I can see, he does not have a specific purpose; it is a way to put pressure on her to advance his whole range of goals. If she accepts it, it will make her less princely, make her more accepting of marriage, and help separate her from Anthy. But Utena does not get sex roles. She does not understand it, much less accept it. It shows in her conversation with Anthy in the next scene. Utena’s obliviousness to sex roles reflects that Akio has failed the challenge of engaging Utena to marry him.

They definitely had sex. The sum of evidence is convincing. The date was hours long, they had time. 1. Utena took a shower, and it was important enough to show to us. 2. Do you think Akio would let the opportunity pass to use his signature technique? 3. They took a ride in Akio’s car. 4. Akio proposes marriage. He wouldn’t do that unless he felt he had made progress, and sex is what brings progress for him. 5. Akio says she is girlish. He may be lying, but he would not say it if there were no reason for Utena to believe it. Sex is what makes Utena girlish. 6. After they arrive back and not before, we see Utena wearing a purple sweater. Purple is the color of corruption, and she has not worn purple before. She is more deeply corrupted than after the Second Seduction. 7. As in the First Seduction, she’s wearing sexy date clothing. Her short dress then indicated sexual vulnerability. Her clothing this time indicates sexual desire. 8. Her avoidance of Akio implies that she regrets her deeper corruption, which came about because of sex. 9. It fits with the progression: First lose her virginity, then initiate sex given an opportunity, then initiate a date which is an opportunity. 10. The story structure requires Akio to have sex with her three times, and this is the third time and last opportunity.

Why did Akio suddenly propose marriage? Because he needs her to wear his ring in the dueling arena in the final showdown; otherwise he cannot steal her power. The entire purpose of the Routine Date is to prepare Utena to marry Akio in the final showdown—he wants her to agree to an engagement. She took off one ring, so he suggests another. His timing is poor. Utena is in a period of regret and doubt. When his suggestion goes nowhere, he makes an attempt in a different direction. Kanae does not come up, and we have no evidence that the engagement is publicly broken or that Utena knows what has happened to Kanae. Kanae is alluded to only in the shadow play, as far as I can tell. Maybe Utena has concluded that Akio’s attention means he has dropped Kanae. Maybe Utena is so corrupted that she no longer cares.

Utena did not agree to the proposal. It’s a critical event. Her decision to drop the ring earlier was a precondition. Akio did not understand that Utena would fall into a period of regret, and asked at a bad time. Akio’s mistake leads to Utena’s victory in the final showdown; see overview - fairy tale plot.

The Big Dipper symbolizes seeking the truth. Its two pointer stars point toward the North Star, which represents truth and the way out of the Academy. To learn the truth is to become an adult, no longer under the sway of fairy tales, and leave the Academy. Utena sitting up in the car represents sitting up in her coffin and looking around: The car that represents Akio and his power and sexuality also represents the Academy that is a coffin. Now that Akio has failed a challenge, Utena is able to seek the truth. At the moment she sits up, Utena is no longer symbolically dead and starts on her path out of the Academy, using knowledge that Akio gave her—knowledge that at the time appeared useless, that Akio intended to be useless to her, and that seemed useless to us in the audience too.

looking at Akio comparison

Wakaba leans out the same window, eyes closed, looking happy.
Episode 33, babbling
Wakaba leans out the same window, eyes closed, looking happy.
Episode 37, avoiding Akio
Wakaba leans out the same window, eyes closed, looking happy.
Episode 33, looking at Akio
Wakaba leans out the same window, eyes closed, looking happy.
Episode 37, worried

These two events are parallel, or rather antiparallel. Utena looks left, in the direction of illusions, then up at Akio. On the left, in the First Seduction, Utena babbles in distress until she is pierced by Akio’s metaphorical sword. When she recovers from the pain, she quickly looks upward at Akio and, timidly and hesitantly, asks about eternity. Her boyish side was instantly defeated (and she immediately falls into a period of regret). On the right, she is distressed because she is already in a period of regret. She is not trying to attract Akio; she does not wear lipstick. She avoids Akio by looking away, then when she turns to Akio she appears worried.

The events occur in enclosing spaces (the hotel room, the car) that Akio controls. Utena lies flat on her back. Akio is on top of her, holding her down so that she can’t get up, or move much at all. One is at the start of the first sex act of Akio’s corruption plot, the other is after the last. In the hotel, Utena was defeated, and looking at Akio signaled it. Utena’s boyish side was defeated again in the Routine Date, and in the car she regrets it. Looking up at Akio signals that she is thinking of Anthy and worrying how Anthy will react to her date with Akio. It is a step in her final victory.

On the left, Utena’s body is at a diagonal, tilted right, I suppose for the reality of sex. On the right, she is tilted left in a mirror image, I think for her misunderstanding of Anthy. It represents that the events are opposite in a key way. The head turn is fast in episode 33, an involuntary reaction to psychological injury, and slow in episode 37, representing thought.

In the hotel, looking directly at Akio shows acceptance of Akio and indicates girlishness. Does it mean the same in the Routine Date, or does this symbol reverse too? I think it means the same. I think the comparison between the events shows that Utena’s regret in the Routine Date got her thinking, and thinking allowed her regret to surface in a way it could not in the First Seduction. But she is still girlish after the date, and she still chooses to subordinate herself. When her thought is complete she still looks toward Akio in acceptance. She has taken only one step toward her victory.

Besides this parallel, Utena flopping back into the car is parallel to Utena flopping back onto the ground in episode 35. Both are Utena choosing to give in to Akio by lying back, and then becoming uncertain about Anthy’s reaction. It shows progress: In episode 35 she did not understand her vision. Now she is consciously worried about Anthy’s feelings. She does not know that giving in to Akio will hurt herself, but she is learning that it hurts Anthy.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 11 December 2021
updated 26 March 2024