Utena - suppressing Utena’s memory

Backlash against the First Seduction. <- PreviousNext -> The Second Seduction.

This article covers scenes at the end of episode 34 and the start of episode 35 where Akio checks on Utena’s feelings to inform his next steps, and acts to suppress her memory of the prince story, especially her memory of Anthy in the story. The shadow play of The Tale of the Rose should have reminded Utena of her encounter with the prince and might remind Utena of her vow to save Anthy. That would be bad for Akio’s plot, because he needs Utena to commit herself to him so he can steal her power. See the overview of Akio and Utena - the allegory.

In checking on Utena’s feelings in episode 34, Akio turns up two problems. One, Utena is still close to Anthy. In episode 35 he takes Utena for a walk where he plants doubt that Anthy and Utena will remain friends, laying the groundwork to emotionally separate them later. Two, Utena remains partly true to her prince and refuses Akio’s kiss. To fix that, Akio plots the Second Seduction.

checking on Utena’s feelings

This scene is flanked by illustrations of the backlash against the First Seduction, and yet it overbalances them. Most of the world is conspiring to aid Utena, and she is not aided. Utena is worse than vulnerable, she is nearly helpless in the face of Akio’s power. She cannot even detect Akio’s operations as he carries them out against her. I don’t know if he expected the backlash, but he’s ready for it. He assesses her status and adjusts his plans.

Utena and Akio on the white sofa, Cassiopeia visible in the sky in a window behind them. Akio goes in to kiss Utena, who narrowly resists temptation.

In episode 34, some days after the First Seduction, Akio makes a status check on his corruption plot. How is it going? He sends Anthy to bed early and sits alone with Utena on his sofa, serving her tea. It is 8pm according to the cuckoo clock. The constellation Cassiopeia is in the sky behind them, above stars that remind me of the support for the ferris wheel in the previous episode. He tries: Hard to get along with Anthy, isn’t it? Utena nopes that, she’s a dear friend. He aggressively leans in close to tempt Utena, she shies back a little, he asks about her ring, soon he goes for a kiss—and she is tempted, but she pulls back. Her boyish side is in charge again, she prefers her prince.

After the sofa scene is Utena’s dream of the prince story.

The cuckoo clock is explained at the end of the Second Seduction analysis. In myth, Cassiopeia is tied to a chair in punishment. Here, Utena is trapped on Akio’s white sofa, unable to act effectively. This depiction of the constellation Cassiopeia is more accurate than the regularized one in episode 37, when the constellation is given a more final meaning.

Anthy casts a large, physically impossible shadow.

Anthy’s shadow. First, Anthy leaves the room, stepping backward into the elevator. She casts a huge shadow as if she were illuminated by a light at her feet, though there is no light at her feet and the light on her looks normal (she is not lit from below like a sinister character in a horror movie). Despite leaving before anything happens, Anthy casts a monstrous shadow that suggests she is participating in something monstrous. At a minimum, Anthy is somehow important in the scene.

The shadow likely has a specific meaning. It could be a reference. I looked at pictures from black-and-white movies that I could identify as using shadows prominently, especially if they have matching themes like Häxan, but no luck so far.

Akio takes no risk. Akio has been careful to hide his darkness from Utena, though here it shows in the night and the dark edges of the room. He’s friendly to her and tells her things that she will interpret as helpful. He gleefully expounds his evil in her presence, when it will go over her head. Here, he’s wrong about Anthy. As far as I can see, his only reason to believe that is what Utena said in episode 23, that it’s tough to have the Rose Bride as a friend. But to Utena, being friends is foremost. She was only complaining that she couldn’t find Anthy. Then Akio acts like the champion creep that he is, pressing with such aggressive sexuality that even Oblivious Girl feels put out. Yet Akio is taking no real risk. Utena will forget everything that happens on the sofa.

Akio’s cup is full. Utena’s cup is not.


Akio drugged Utena’s tea, no doubt with the same date rape drug he used against Kanae. There’s no proof, but the clues line up. There is both a large tea pitcher and a smaller teapot; why both? The side table with the pitcher and teapot is strangely distant from the sofa where they sit together. (The tea things are close by at other times, for example in episode 19.) I think that when Akio gets up to pour tea from the pitcher into the teapot, he drugs the teapot while it is in front of him and blocked from Utena’s view, then openly pours both of them tea from it. We don’t see Utena drink, but her cup changes position between shots and in our second view it does not appear to be full, while Akio’s cup stays put and remains full because he did not drink. As the drug takes effect, the irises of Utena’s eyes grow larger, representing pupil dilation. Akio watches closely to see when it happens, and verbally prompts Utena to remember the prince story. As her mind fogs up, represented by the focus shift and fade to black, the planetarium projector starts to project the story, to ensure that Utena remembers it. The projector shows little Utena in a coffin—that is what happened, or close to it—then the scene switches to Utena’s memory, where she is lying on a bed of roses but not in a coffin—Utena’s recall is not accurate. Akio carries her to bed, where she later wakes up believing she was dreaming. The drug causes memory loss; that’s what a date rape drug does. Utena remembers nothing, especially not the supposed dream. Sleep is associated with forgetting. Here, the sleep and forgetting were caused by the drug.

Utena, pupils dilated, dark outline around blue irises.
affected by the drug

When the drug has taken effect, Utena’s irises get an extra-heavy black outline and her expression is uncharacteristic. What we see from her point of view looks unsteady and unreal. When Kanae is about to be poisoned in episode 32, she is slack and unresponsive, with the same heavy outlines around her irises. Utena will reach that state soon. When she wakes up in bed, she is no longer wearing her uniform, but her night clothes. We’re not shown what happens to her in between, but we’ve seen that Akio enjoys his evil. If he only wanted Utena re-dressed and put to bed, he would have had Anthy help, but Anthy is already in bed herself—and looking worried and upset. It’s a subtle hint of a possible rape, and suggests that Akio may regularly use the date rape drug according to its name.

Akio saw The Tale of the Rose play as posing a risk that Utena might remember her vow to rescue Anthy and endanger his plot. Possibly he expected the backlash ahead of time. To counter the risk, he arranged to control when Utena remembered, and used a drug to make sure she would forget again. Sleep normally consolidates memory, but the drug disrupts that. She will remember the play less clearly, and she never remembers her vow to Anthy. As Anthy’s shadow predicted, Anthy is important in the scene.

It is one way that Akio controls perceived history, which is part of Utena’s allegory. The system of control rewrites history into culturally acceptable narratives.

We see Anthy lying awake in bed, looking worried. She lies flat on her back, unable to intervene. I think she realizes Akio’s plot for the night; her monstrous shadow says so, and even if all she was told was to leave early, she will have noticed the clues. She may have provided the drug (I think it is a likely part of the meaning of the shadow; see her possible connection with Circe). The shot of Anthy is immediately after Utena says that the prince told her to never lose her nobility. Her nobility was brought about by the need to save little Anthy in the prince story that Akio is now causing her to forget. Utena is losing her nobility a piece at a time as she becomes more corrupted, and this scene is part of Akio ensuring that the process continues.

Anthy blames Utena, not Akio, for Utena and Akio getting together. But can she blame Utena for being drugged? If Akio does rape Utena, which I think is likely, then Anthy surely knows it, and knows how; she has been with Akio for decades or centuries, if not longer. And she knows that Utena may not even realize it happened, which in fact she doesn’t. Anthy is lying in bed upset, but none of this guarantees that she is upset at Akio. I find it ambiguous; Anthy might blame Utena anyway. Either way, though, it could contribute to Anthy eventually leaving the Academy.

If he didn’t drug her, Akio would have to somehow use his power of illusion to cover up Utena’s memory. He not only wants to turn Utena’s memory of the full prince story into a dream that she forgets, he wants to include the events on the sofa so that she forgets those too. The drug theory explains it all.

In episode 11, when Utena tells Anthy to open her heart, Anthy looks into her teacup as she considers it. It becomes the teacup of opening her heart. In episode 26, Akio breaks the teacup, foretelling that Anthy will lose her opportunity to open her heart as Akio forces Anthy and Utena apart. The drugged teacup is seems to be related. Utena opens her heart, and Akio takes advantage, using some of the information against her and erasing the procedure from her mind. Utena believed she had convinced Anthy, though it came across more as attempted coercion; Akio does force his will on Utena.

No matter the case, Akio has power over dreams. The pillows on the S-shaped bed are blue-green, the color of illusions—including dreams.

Why does Akio drug Utena? One reason is to help her forget The Tale of the Rose shadow play. Another is to extract information that he can use against her. That’s what he does at first. But inducing a dream about the prince does not reveal new information. Utena speaks her last words softly and seems to go quiet; by the time she is dreaming she is likely silent and unresponsive. I don’t know his motive. See dreams - dreaming up the prince for further lack of insight.

Who are you? At the end of the episode, when Utena wakes up in bed from her drugged sleep, Anthy is watching her. She asks, “Who are you?” It is a reference to an event near the beginning of Angel’s Egg, or to Onii-sama e - episode 1, or likely both. Anthy still has a faint memory that was stirred by watching Utena sleep. Akio has erased from Utena’s mind that she remembered her vow to save Anthy. It was safe to make her remember, because the act of remembering will be forgotten. The underlying memory is not forgotten (the drug only prevents recording recent memories), and Utena nearly retrieves it in the next episode—keep reading. Neither of them clearly remembers meeting years ago. At least that’s one reading.

Utena and Anthy meeting, and little Utena’s vow, could also be the result of the miracle that makes Utena’s dream real. It fits.

almost remembering

Whether despite or because of Akio’s drug, Utena comes close to remembering her vow to save Anthy. The events are near the start of episode 35.

A view of buildings at the Academy. In the foreground are crossed concrete beams. The same crossed concrete beams appear next to the church tower with its matching cross.

There is a seemingly unmotivated sequence of views of the Academy, intercut with shots of Utena looking. Parts of it echo Utena’s dream of episode 23 before she wakes up and realizes that Anthy can’t stop being the Rose Bride. It seems to be Utena’s dream of a memory, or perhaps what remains of Utena’s memory of a dream. The shot of a cross of concrete beams at the Academy cuts to a matching shot of what I take to be a cross-shaped gravestone in the church graveyard, with the church steeple in the background. The crosses are not identical; the stains are different. The Academy is a place of metaphorical death, with everyone in coffins.

It refers especially to the death of Utena’s parents. It may be another hint that Akio intends to kill Utena. It also equates the Academy with the church; in some sense, they are the same place, at least in Utena’s mind. Akio’s tower corresponds to the steeple, which resembles a sword. The Academy has a lot of stained glass, like the church.

The music room with the moon outside.
Episode 26, music room windows
Saionji in Chu-Chu’s body practices with a tiny sword.
Episode 34, church windows

In Utena’s memory, the church has a diagonal row of windows like the music room at the Academy. Only this view of the church windows from Utena’s memory in the prince story - the final version has them arranged this way. It’s another hint that, in Utena’s mind, the church and the Academy are the same place. Her memory is unreliable (she doesn’t remember being in a coffin), so it may or may not be the same place from the point of view of the audience.

Both are places where people are taught their social roles, including gender roles.

A non-real image of Utena in rain. In the background in silhouette are young Touga and Saionji on the bicycle, as in the church scenes. Water falls on red, orange, and yellow roses.

On the left is Utena in the rain (it’s splashing on her hair). The face seems to match little Utena better than current 14-year-old Utena, but I’m not certain. She is superimposed on a rainy scene from the prince story which little Utena should not have known about—she was in a coffin at the time. On the right is Anthy watering her roses, a symbol of Anthy manipulating (“cultivating”) the Academy’s students with pouring water of illusions and tears.

The concrete cross images equate the Academy and the church. The falling water images equate Akio’s special actions at the church with his everyday actions at the Academy: They are the same kind of thing. As represented by the pink roses, Utena is among the students Anthy is manipulating under Akio’s orders.

The camera turns from Anthy watering to Utena carrying a bucket of blue-green water of illusions to refill Anthy’s watering can. Utena wears an unhappy and uncertain expression, not much different from the one in the rain above. During the First Seduction, Utena had a bout of wanting to contribute to illusions, and now she is doing it by helping Anthy.

Utena’s head. She has an unrealistic idealized smile.
Episode 12, Anthy imagines Utena sitting across from her, smiling.
Episode 12, imaginary Utena

Idealized Utena. At the same time, the scene is about how Utena and Anthy care about each other. Utena is in the greenhouse because she wants to be with Anthy and help her. As the two kneel next to the bucket, we get an image of Utena with an unusual smile. The expression matches Anthy’s imaginary idealized Utena from episode 12: Both images are from Anthy’s point of view. She sees Utena in an idealized way.

There is one other time we see the idealized expression: In episode 5, Miki has the same smile—and it also happens when bringing water to Anthy (who smiles too, facing away as she waters the roses). Miki is mild and not aggressive, and Anthy liked him until he challenged for his duel.

It is an example of Anthy suffering from an illusion. The water apparently means bringing the illusion to Anthy. It must be the illusion of the shining thing, the perfect ideal. Miki brings a watering can of “I am your shining thing”, Utena brings a whole bucket. In the end it doesn’t seem to be harmful. Illusions brought about by love may be good or bad.

Utena dips her fingers into a bucket of water in episode 35.

Utena is trying to remember something. The initial sequence of images was an incoherent partial memory of the prince story that Utena is trying to put together. As she talks with Anthy about it, she dips her fingers into the water of illusion—the illusion of the shining thing that she is bringing to Anthy. It is as if she were testing out the illusion for herself. She feels similarly about Anthy, and so it reminds her of Anthy.

Utena has the feeling that she made a promise to somebody once. The illusion reminded her, and she is about to remember—“Could it be that you and I....” It is as close as she ever comes to remembering her vow to save Anthy. Akio loudly opens the greenhouse door with his usual perfect timing and interrupts before Utena can put it together. Despite Akio’s work with the drug to ensure that Utena forgot, she nearly remembered anyway, and he must intervene one more time.

Akio takes her out on a walk. Utena is delighted and seems to have no reservations; her period of regret and doubt must be over at last. Akio tries to plant doubt that Utena and Anthy will stay friends, and tells her a story about red poppies to impress her (with success).

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 9 October 2022
updated 13 October 2023