Yes, it’s finally time to talk about That Scene. Spoiler alert, the word “statutory” is involved.
Episode Specifics: The audience rides along with Akio in his Questionable Consent Car, reliving the duels of the past arc. At the same time, Utena spends the evening with an almost completely unseen, observing figure – and the things they get up to are very questionable indeed.
This is more or less doomed to be a short recap because…well, it’s a recap, and Ikuhara’s devious skill at slipping in one of the show’s most crucial scenes doesn’t change that there’s a lot of previously covered ground here. In fact, what’s most interesting about this episode often has less to do with its content and more with its form, particularly in how much it implicates the viewer with Akio: you’ll recall that the first recap was a dialogue between Akio and Dios (Akio and himself, effectively), from which the viewer was so removed as to see the whole thing in shadow. Now we’re not only sitting in the car with Akio, we seem almost to be accompanying him (and becoming complicit in) his wicked seductions. It’s no coincidence that the flashback to Saionji’s duel is a smash cut following immediately on Akio’s “I have to go to work.” At the moment when the show is preparing to plunge straight into its metaphorical heart of darkness, it informs the viewer that they can no longer sit back in judgment, without considering for themselves how they function within a version of Akio’s system.
Creator Commentary: This is just between you and me, but when I was fourteen, I listened to late-night radio after my family fell asleep. I liked this one female DJ’s sexy voice.
One night, radio waves from a UFO came between us!
“Multiple choice! Which of the following is eternal? One, a diamond. Two, a beautiful memory. Three, canned peaches.”
(Hmm…I feel like I heard this on a TV commercial at some point…)
D-diamonds are forever!
Suddenly, the radio switched back to the sexy woman’s voice.
“You ought to be ashamed of yourself, young man!”
Character Spotlight: Speaking of form – it’s awfully curious the way we revisit our duelists this week, isn’t it? We’re given the barest hint of context as to what their major conflict is with their dueling partner (and Saionji doesn’t even get that), and then we hear a rendition of their revised statement of purpose from the duel proper. And even though the frame involves Akio “working” as End of the World, his interactions with the duelists are quite absent from these recaps.
Strung together as they are, it almost seems as though each character came to their new thoughts and feelings on their own, without being seduced or coerced at all. Which is about as untrue as it gets, of course…but from the outside, that’s no doubt what it seems like. People are happy to say that viewpoints have nothing to do with how one is raised, determined wholly by the individual free of societal pressure or unconscious prejudice. Akio is those invisible strings, that moving force of a thousand small hands moving to maintain a hierarchical power structure and perpetuate the fears and thoughts that hold that system in place. He’s more metaphor than man now, and yet retains his potent ability to ruin the lives of our cast with little more than a few well placed words. Worse, he can make them carry out his work while thinking they’re fighting for themselves. And that makes him one of the most terrifying villains I can think of.
I like to think Ikuhara was drawing from his friendship with Anno in this scene
Have You Heard: Even our shadow girls aren’t immune to Akio, it seems. Despite being the closest thing to the voice of reason in the series proper, despite being the “aliens” that Utena herself seems to be striving to become in a roundabout way (via Ikuhara’s UFO metaphor, anyway), even they’re not truly free. They’re on the hook when he decides not to honor the rules of the show, they scrabble to get him back rather than choosing a new guest, and even by radio they’re not immune to his charms.
You’ll note as well that while each question they ask has an obvious/mundane answer, a correct/thematic answer, and an absurd answer, Akio never answers a damn one of them. While we in the audience might jump to saying “well, of course a memory is forever!”…is it? We’ve already proven that’s untrue in the world of Ohtori, with Mikage vanishing from the minds of every student. And while a person’s memory might stay with them all their lives, it will die with them. Even if it’s passed on to someone else, the memory will have new layers of significance to that new person, thus changing it slightly but irreversibly.
None of the answers are eternal. To Akio it’s because he knows the “true” eternal thing (his power), and everyone asking the questions are fools playing to his tune. But deeper than that (and I suspect this is part of the reason the radio shadow girls came back for the film), it’s because nothing is eternal – and that’s okay. Shedding that stasis of eternity only offers the opportunity for constant discovery and reformation of self (hand in hand, if one is very lucky, with someone important).
Stare not into the abyss and all that
Anthy Watch: Anthy gets one scene this week (well, one seen twice), and it’s one of the most important tools we get in reading her actions during the final arc (particularly the big betrayal scene). Anthy is watching the observatory stars. Not just watching them, but choosing to watch the false projections even though she’s been offered the potential of real stars (in effect, she’s acting out the parable of “The Cave” we discussed a few weeks back).
Anthy is caught on the precipice between who she was, who she has been for time immemorial, and the unknown. Akio’s stars are comforting: they’re familiar, and they never change. One can turn them off at any time (or at least imagine the option is there), and they can be viewed from the comfortable safety of the indoors. But they are, of course, illusions.
Outside is Utena, and possibility, and a world where new stars are constantly dying and being born. But it is dark and unpredictable, and one is at the mercy of the world. And speaking less metaphorically, leaving Akio behind means admitting that everything she’s been living for has been pointless. If she gives up her sacrifice is meaningless, and all the pain and resentment she’s suffered has nothing to justify it, nothing to be comforted by. Likewise, it means facing the truth of what she’s done, not just to the duelists we’ve known but to many, back and back and back. Anthy’s been complicit in or an active party to the ruining of a lot of lives, and turning away from Akio means reconsidering those actions too. This isn’t just breaking away from a cycle of abuse (a hellishly difficult thing in itself, with all that pain and fear mixed in with memories of love and happier times) – it also means Anthy facing the darkest part of herself and trusting that there’s still something in there worth starting over with. And right now, more than anything, she doesn’t want to face the knowledge that she handed the first person she’s truly come to care for since Dios himself, to the devil that calls himself her brother.
Just in case these enormous capslock subtitles weren’t enough
Themes: Back, now, to the camera and the gaze. While obscuring Akio’s identity for most of the episode gives a sense of suspense, it’s also unsettling. The longer those scenes go on, the more Utena babbles into the silent, the more that gaze takes on a predatory tint (a danger Utena seems to realize on an unconscious level). There is the sense of calculation to every element of those scenes, and even while she seems to be acting in isolation it’s clear she’s reacting to someone (to Akio, to us). It’s an encapsulation of what Akio’s done: isolated her from her support structures (and just in case you missed it, there’s that blink-of-an-eye visual representation with the game board), put her in a strange situation she has no reference for dealing with, and let her become increasingly desperate for some support or acknowledgement in order to push her into doing what he wants.
And that is why, in no universe, can that sex scene ever be called anything but statutory rape. Not just because he’s much older than her with an extremely obvious advantage in emotional and physical maturity. Not just because we never once hear her consent, or because Akio runs right ahead even though she’s obviously distressed and not enjoying herself during the act (and were princes real, I think we can all agree they’d prioritize the emotional and physical wellbeing of their partners first and foremost). All of those are true, but they all fall under the horrific umbrella of the fact that Akio has taken every ounce of power in the situation for himself.
If Utena says no there is no one else she can turn to in this strange place. She can’t even leave, because she can’t drive – and that’s one of the most important distinctions of all, given the status of the car as a metaphor for adulthood. An adult has taken advantage of a child here, seeking to control and eventually destroy her by manipulating feelings she possesses but doesn’t fully understand (either from experience or because one literally lacks the frontal cortex development at that age to be fully able to compute everything that’s going on compared to an adult). And if all that wasn’t clear enough, there are those giant flashing STOP signs on the Road of Metaphor.
We all clear? Good and covered? Good. Because this bit of nasty trauma is going to be a hurdle for Utena to overcome – but you can be damn sure it’s not going to define her or destroy her, whatever Akio might’ve planned.
It seemed to me like this recap didn’t even actually cover all the dual. It’s almost like it’s a recap episode for no reason other then to trick viewers into underestimating it’s importance.
I think is there plenty of ambiguity here, are you familiar with this essay?
It’s an interesting interpretation, easily as absolute as yours is, but the opposite. I think the truth lies somewhere in-between.
It’s a good essay, and a lovely breakdown of Utena’s body language. But I don’t feel as though it’s mutually exclusive from what I’ve said here at all.
“Rape” isn’t just holding a person down and forcing them, or even overtly pressuring them in conversation as a sexual aggressor. Rape is a power move, meant to take away agency from one party and give the other control over that person. Additionally, I did mention that this is Akio’s game – to manipulate the duelists into actions he desires (ones that will hurt them in the long run) while making them think it’s what they want. And this is not a meeting of equals. If we agree Utena is consenting in her own mind, it is not a decision made with her full faculties (she’s infatuated, she’d had a long day isolated with Akio’s charms), or with full knowledge of the situation. The reality of the situation is not what she’s agreeing to: the fact that Akio is using her, the fact that he’s engineered this situation specifically knowing she’ll do this so that he can use her later, is just as debasing as an overtly violent act, even if he’s coerced Utena into thinking it’s what she wants (and she is, because the imagery of this episode stresses it over and over from the carnival to the body language to the car metaphor, still a child).
It’s a joy to revisit the show through your thoughts. It makes me remember a time when critical essays supposed to expand your experience as a viewer.
I think one important aspect to corroborate your point of view its the episode’s overall distressing feeling. It’s purposeful painful to watch Utena. She seems so displaced. Every time she looks at Akio directly it seems she is trying to find some safe point in him, maybe something she can thrust, or hold on to, because her gaze is so uncertain.
When i watched this episode for the first time, when she says something like “have i mentioned that i’m a only child?”, i remember thinking that was a sinister feeling in the air. Even not knowing that she was talking with Akio.
I’ve read the article mentioned above, but it reads too much into the tiny details. While Utena it’s great for the amount of meaning you can take from every frame, it seems to me that if you look too much and get lost on the tiny bits of little interpretations you not only loose the overall point but also can read anything from everything.
All that to say: i’m with you, dude! It was rape.
Well, i’m not speaking from my native language here, so you guys have to be kind with any mistakes or misspellings.
Thank you so very much, Vrai!
I’d never have noticed English wasn’t your first language – quite eloquently put (and for your kind words, thank you).
While I think it is fair to say that Utena is attracted to Akio (i.e. that maybe she agreed to fooling around, because teenage hormones are overwhelming and he’s charming – though by the time of the actual intercourse she’s clearly in over her head and in something of an uncomfortable panic), that framing is just too key to ignore. The way the camera/we/Akio watch her, the way the camera remains wholly static until he has what he wants (the first change of angle to include our watcher is during the sex scene), the fact that she is so clearly the observed but is talking to someone who’s wholly hidden (so she’s not really talking to Akio, she’s talking to the idea of the prince she has a crush on), all of it combines to make a wildly unbalanced situation. And if one party doesn’t know what, or who, they’re agreeing to sleep with, it can’t be called consent. Utena isn’t agreeing in full knowledge any more than someone who’s drunk could.
It’s true. Well, he’s a pro after all. Full-time-villain-Othori-san.
If is not too much trouble i do have some doubts and would be very pleased if you could light up a light here: why the window in the dining room always shows the same static night sky full of stars, even during the day? And why the table has no chairs? To the second question i do have an overall idea, but would like to hear yours too.
Just in general, I imagine they’re both reflections of the “keeping up appearances” nature of the Ohtori home. The window always shows stars both because the entire place is an illusion put forth by Akio (an extension of his observatory, but tied to his “kind older brother/prince” act) and also because Akio and Anthy are both illusions of a sort themselves – trapped in a state of stasis. As for the chairs, a table is a symbol of sorts of a place to come together and commune as a family, but one can’t actually do that if there aren’t chairs. Similarly, the “happy families” appearance going on in the Ohtori household has no substance beneath it, as it’s built on lies and false images.
That’s great! Thanks.
I notice you’re still under the impression the conversion in the first Recap Episode Akio was talking to Dios. I feel in light of what we inventively learn, that that was a misdirect. Akio was talking to Anthy.
In *that* scene, Utena says “There’s two servings for Himemiya and me,” which is the most disturbing double entendre ever.