To Be So Smooth: Seduction and Betrayal in Revolutionary Girl Utena’s Akio Car Arc

utena 26 akio car intro

Thinking this arc through is proving to be tremendously difficult since it isn’t as thematically unified (to me at least) as the superb Black Rose Arc. That said, this arc totally blew me away. It is quite incredible, really. It presented me with such a powerful force that is Akio Ohtori and everything about him radiates power.

Power is a wonderful concept. Strictly speaking, a person is powerful because you do things that she wants you to do because you cannot accept the consequences she’s capable of inflicting on you. Power is a controlling force. But there’s a kind of power that is such, that instead of controlling your rational thought — your ability to control your impulses and desires, it reduces your ability to do so. You lose control.

Akio has this. It’s the car. The car is a representation of his power. He revs the engine to punctuate moments wherein I (the viewer) and/or a character in the show is falling under the power of another, sometimes his, directly or otherwise. I can hear it (VROOM, VROOM) the sound that races from the End of the World.

utena 26 akio car intro gearshift

Wikipedia documents pertinent observations (emphasis mine):

After being expelled from the Academy for injuring Touga, Saionji is given permission to return to Ohtori, and he challenges Utena for another rematch. During the fight, Utena discovers that an even stronger sword than the sword of Dios can be pulled by Anthy from her body, and she uses it to defeat him once and for all. After that, Akio appears before Touga and takes him into his car to an unknown place he calls the End of the World. After that the duo starts to take each one of the remaining Student Council members to that place. After going with them, each one chooses a “bride” to take a sword from their hearts in order to fight Utena. It is implied that the victor of the duel will be determined by how strong a bond exists between the duelist and the bride: if it can overcome the bond between Utena and Anthy. It’s also important to note that in this arc (as in the other two), the first challenger does not follow the rule of where he or she gets the sword from (Utena fights Saionji with a practice sword, Kanae fights Utena with a random sword, Saionji fights Utena with a random Katana) Miki brings Kozue. Ruka Tsuchiya, who returned recently to the academy, brings Shiori, Jury brings Ruka, and Nanami brings Touga. But even with their newfound strength, they lose their duels against her.

How I read the arc is that it’s a road network of layered acts of seduction. I have never seen anything this sexy in anime. Whenever Toga appears to get a duelist to ride Akio’s car to the End of the World, the sexiness gets hotter and hotter. It’s as if the goals each character has — things they consider eternal, aren’t enough by themselves to act; they have to be seduced. The layers are:

  • The Character’s Goal (Saionji wants something Eternal, Miki wants something (eternally) Beautiful, Juri wants the Power of Miracles, Nanami wants the Power to surpass everything, Toga wants the Power to Bring the World to Revolution)
  • Toga
  • The Would-be Bride
  • Akio (his car)
  • Trip to the End of the World

They drive towards the End of the World. It’s interesting that part of the way, Akio performs a stunt similar to the one called ‘Ship’s Mast’ (seen recently in Quentin Tarantino’s film, Death Proof) wherein he jumps over the convertible’s windshield and sits spread-legged on the hood while the car continues to roar forward. I can easily imagine some kind of sexytime is going on in the back seat.

Utena is still the ‘Dragon in the Cave,’ but we see here that the Dragon isn’t bested by the force of arms by swordsmen, but rather the seduction of a Prince. The different seductions culminate in the seduction of Utena herself. It’s really interesting in that Utena knows this can’t be the right thing to do, but she does it anyway.

And while she is conscious of the betrayal she’s performing on Anthy, she has no idea how much of a betrayal it really is!

utena 32 nanami toga duel car

The counterpoint to the seductions performed by, and enabled by Akio are the manipulations made by Himemiya Anthy. There were hints in the previous arc that something’s not right with her, mostly through her knowing looks. If there is a character that serves as the device by which Anthy’s cruelty is served and portrayed, it’s Kiryuu Nanami. It’s been happening throughout the show, but it’s only truly clear now.

Two examples: Episode 27, and 31.

Nanami’s Egg

Anthy has a hen named Nanami, and she tells Kiryuu  Nanami that it laid an egg once, and that she’s behaving like that hen. The whole egg business, similar to the Cowstian Dior cowbell piece in episode 15, is a tremendous act of cruelty. It is cruel in that Anthy would know how far and how much Nanami would humiliate herself.

Nanami is a needy and insecure girl, and she masks this with overweening contempt for those she considers beneath her. She treats everyone cruelly, but at the same time she is helpless against the idea that they think of her any less than the campus royalty that she presents herself to be.

utena 32 nanami just one more fly in the swarm

If that wasn’t obvious even when she wore a cowbell just because it’s supposed to be made by Christian Dior, to be the better accessorized than the naturally elegant Juri; it’s very plain to see here. Nanami is haunted by her imagined opinions of others, Nanami’s worst fear is somehow being considered a ‘space alien’ and yet her images of shame are that of incarceration with the totem animals (Chicken, Sea Turtle, and Frog — all egg-laying animals).

Nanami spirals downward as she swings from shame about, to maternal protectiveness for, the egg; and it ends as if it were all a dream. Although there’s nothing really solid that places Anthy as the tormentor save for her inauthentic smiles, I can’t not think of her as the tormentor. She does have this:

Anthy asks Utena if she believes in reincarnation, citing Elephants choosing to die alone. Children, in a way are a form of reincarnation of the parents.

I suspect that this will be meaningful before the end (of the world).

utena 33 anthy looking at unreal stars

In episode 33: The Prince That Runs Through The Night, Akio calls Anthy from his car, Anthy is looking at the stars in the observatory at the tip of the penis-shaped tower, but Anthy says…

I didn’t want to look at the real ones.

The DJs on the radio say the stars are really pretty that night, but light pollution aside, one cannot see any stars from the driver’s seat in Akio’s ride.

But why the hate for Nanami? I can’t really do much but speculate. What we do know is that Anthy sleeps with her brother. Nanami saw it herself, how Anthy spent the night naked beside Akio on his couch. I think it’s not to big a stretch how this too, is cruelty by Anthy – flaunting a kind of relationship she had with her brother that Nanami doesn’t.

utena 31 anthy himemiya naked

The thing is, Nanami seems to not want a sexual relationship with Toga. There still seems to be a sexual innocence to her, and that her obsession with Toga is not incestuous. It is ‘pure’ in contrast with Anthy’s ‘sullied’ (by sexual relations) love, if it can be called that way, for her own older brother.

Does Anthy understand this about Nanami? If yes, is she just twisting the knife further? I don’t know. If anything, this seems to not work as cruelty, as Nanami would seem to reclaim some (moral) high ground over Anthy. This is one hell of a bitch fight, with Anthy proving to be the far more cruel woman than Nanami.

And this invisible incest between Akio and Anthy is what Utena is betraying. For all her professed love for Anthy, she doesn’t know who she’s fucking with. But Akio is far worse, isn’t he? He is like the big reveal waiting to happen, or at least very close to it. He’s like the End of the World himself.

utena 33 just woke up beside you know who 02

It feels like the End of the World, when I saw Utena wake up next to him, talking in needy whispers despite the content of her speech (about making him breakfast). This was not Utena the would-be-prince anymore. While she isn’t the rake, she is the Jezebel. Even without knowing about Anthy and Akio, she knew Akio was engaged.

I suspect that from here on, Utena will have to fight to regain herself as the Prince of her own ideals. But wow, this arc really blew my mind. It is powerful on different levels and different ways. As much as the drive to the End of the World is a tremendous vehicle (LOL NICE PUN) to set up the new variation of the duels, Utena figures more as the (fallen) heroine. She falls not because she is shown at the bottom, but rather we see her plunge herself.

Akio and Anthy also emerge as potentially the darkest of villains, making victims of previous villains as a delightful show of evil, while making a meal out of Utena herself. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this arc is despite how exhausted I feel trying to ‘get’ the very bones of it, I don’t feel I’m ever close enough to saying what it could really be.

Further Reading

A very different take on the Akio ‘Car’ Arc of Revolutionary Girl Utena [->]

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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19 Responses to To Be So Smooth: Seduction and Betrayal in Revolutionary Girl Utena’s Akio Car Arc

  1. Very awesome post, GL! Glad you finally got it out! Akio Car certainly has that whole ‘dripping with sin’ feel to it, doesn’t it? The sex is flowing free, and boy it is enticing. There’s that moment in, I think it was with Miki’s sister, when they are in the car and she leans her seat back to start making out with whoever was behind her…. that’s how I remember it, but just the image of the chair going back was etched into my mind as one of the most brilliantly suggestive moments in anime ever.

    I don’t want to say much more than that – this is a great post, so now I just want to see how the end of the series will spurn you on further~~

    BTW, reading this post while listening to sexy music increases the effect a lot~

    • I hope you enjoyed the musical slideshow! It was a bit tough to learn how to make, but we did end up enjoying making it a lot.

      I totally agree on the brilliantly suggestive Kozue reclining — in an entire arc of brilliantly suggestive turns. It’s just as otou-san said, this anime did so much with sex when sex isn’t explicit. It’s one of those shows that for me, really showcased what animation can do to tell a story.

  2. That is a pretty sweet car.

  3. coburn says:

    That emasculated monologue from Utena really is one of the most striking moments in the show, but I’m pretty sure that by the time I watched it I’d pretty much discounted the existence of Akio’s fiancé. Clearly Western society has ruined me. Since you mention that, the fiancé’s existence does rather pull into focus the hostility of the writers to the individualism that Akio encourages – Utena would seem to be fairly pure as far as car-trippers go, but even she is committing a social and personal betrayal.

    Personally I didn’t enjoy this arc quite as much as the previous two (kinda discordant re. Utena’s role/the fragility of the ‘strong’ characters), but it does set up the finale nicely.

    • I must agree that one has to exert some effort to bring Akio’s fiancee into the picture once the striking moment did arrive. It’s just as striking even to just see Utena in such a situation. That alone gave me a cocktail of feelings.

      Part of how easy it is to discount is Akio’s exploits as a rake, including doing his would-be mother-in-law!

      The Black Rose arc is superb in its self-contained completeness, but this arc brought the whole narrative back home for me, despite the lacking the cohesion that made me create an altar for the Black Rose arc. Now, to the End of the World!

  4. Shinmaru says:

    Akio’s car is pretty much a boner on wheels.

    The slow shift to realizing Anthy’s subtly manipulative self is one of my favorite parts of Utena. It’s something I want to look for from the beginning whenever I get around to rewatching Utena, because it’s such a smack you upside the head, “Wait … what the hell?!” realization, haha.

    BTW, I enjoy the sexy, sexy screenshots littered throughout this post~

    • Yeah you should totally do that post (and publish it here LOL), to just track the blossoming of the Rose Bride into archvillain territory!

      And yeah, those images just begged to be shared.

  5. animewriter says:

    Yes, now you’re really biting into some tasty meat, just a little deeper and you’ll taste the marrow of the bones.

    I think that the reason why Akio and others are able to seduce and manipulate so many into doing their bidding is that they’re offering them the chance to fulfill their desires which aren’t possible in the first place.

    “The Character’s Goal (Saionji wants something Eternal, Miki wants something (eternally) Beautiful, Juri wants the Power of Miracles, Nanami wants the Power to surpass everything, Toga wants the Power to Bring the World to Revolution”

    In the your last post on Utena I commented on how everything in/and about the academy was wrong and I think that this theme is carried over brilliantly in the Akio Car arc. Almost every goal and desire the main characters want are wrong including Utena wanting to be a prince, she can no more be a prince then I could be princess.

    What i found really interesting about your post was how you described Namami being more pure than Anthy because of lack of desire for a sexual relationship, with Anthy being sullied by her incestuous desire for her brother. To me, a large part of this series is about leaving childish ideas behind and becoming adults, and part of adulthood is the “loss of innocence”, I look at this issue completely differently, putting aside the whole incest issue, the desire for or completion of sex is a sign of declaring you’re stepping into the world of adulthood, now whether the outcome is good or bad is another story.

    Many years ago I was in a forum that was discussing the sexual awakening of the two main characters from Philip Pullmann’s His Dark Materials book trilogy (they where around Utena’s age) and the author actually chimed in. He stated something to the effect (this happened like 6-7 years ago so I might be a little off on the exact wording) that the characters relationship changing from the pure child-like to the more sexualized adult form was a key point in emphasizing that they where becoming adults with the all responsibilities, rewards, and heartbreaks that go along with it. He stated that as children we are controlled by our religion, our parents, our schools, and our societal values but when we make the free decision to express our love in a sexual form we are declaring our sovereignty, it’s a decision we can only make for ourselves. This theme of sexual desire roiling under the surface, and not so under the surface of RGU is one of the reasons I really loved the series, I get tired of anime where the main characters fawn/have the hots over each other for years and the series ends with a confession, or a kiss, GMAFB, so I think that RGU’s slow boil is closer to RL than many anime tread, weird symbolism included. Oh, I wish I could have a car like that.

    • Gooood stuff here! I’ve read His Dark Materials as well, and I really enjoyed it too. The sexual awakening theme is pretty interesting and I liked that about the whole narrative. I didn’t really expect it in Utena though, despite the sexiness all around — not that I’m complaining!

      Nanami as ‘moar pure’ is a description I made without making a personal moral judgment about her character, albeit knowing fully of the pure/tarnished binary within the context of sex and virginity.

      It’s interesting as an issue devoid of the incest angle — however it’s as if they made sure that the wrongness is there by precisely making the sex incestuous. Every pairing in the show is warped in some way — taboo in some way, some violence over another in some way.

      It’s as if the quest for something Eternal is to distinguish true power from merely those who are powerful (in ability, in social standing, etc.). Perhaps it is the process of winning that Eternal thing while remaining untarnished, retaining or winning back a lost nobility or dignity is as much the prize as obtaining what was dearly wished for (in Eternity).

      Sex is indeed a form of power, and to contrast with the sovereignty you distinguish, the sex in Utena is the furthest from liberating. It is constricting and limiting, both for the desired and the desirous. It is really interesting how Nanami of all people (OF ALL PEOPLE) should remain free from such a desire to warp the Other, and thus warp the self.

  6. Pingback: Animewriter on Sexuality as Sovereignty in Revolutionary Girl Utena and His Dark Materials « The Ghosts of Discussions

  7. Cat Hex says:

    Thank you for all this delicious insight! I’ve seen the majority, as well as the end, of this series years ago. (It is one of my favorites.) I have never watched this arc before now (which is airing on our On Demand) and am truly enjoying it. Even though I am bothered somewhat as I don’t recall any of this from the manga (I need to go re-read that now too), it’s still a very intense translation of the it.

    You raise very good points, many of which I had also been considering. I’m glad I have not been so lost as I initially thought I was (though lost I am just the same – as this is soooo rich with meanings)!

    Do you know of a good source where other visual devices are explained from this series? I have seen a number which I am under the impression do not make much sense in an English context, but would so in another’s.

  8. DonKangolJones says:

    Isn’t this delicious? I was still kind of in a learning period with my anime watching back when I first watched Utena. So my Western mind was quite ready for the traumas a revelations this show had in store for me. I was in denial about the incest and some of the symbolism and imagery that revealed it. It really is beautiful how the show evolves over time. Giving hints and sometimes outright showing things, like how to defeat Utena. Toga did it, Akio is succeeding at it on a completely adult level now. It succeeds at being shocking in a subtle way. It’s why I tend to compare it to Eva. As the story progresses and you get the answers you’re looking for, you’re corrupted and the whole world starts to dissolve around you.

    If I remember my convos with someone I watched this with before, I always found Anthy to be an incredibly creepy character. I figured something would be up with Akio, nothing creepy about that (except for his ravenous actions later in the story), I could see him a mile away. But Anthy always felt a threat I couldn’t see but always felt. In the beginning it feels like the show wants you to genuinely believe that Anthy really is an empty, submissive shell of a woman. But anyone who knows women knows that they have pride and ego, too. It just never felt like she could take that sort of punishment without something traumatic happening to her. Now whether I’m just overreacting or not is another subject. I look forward to futher and probably final conversations on this subject. ^__^

    • That’s a pretty interesting comparison you’ve made… to Evangelion I mean. With Akio there’s something like how Gendo was someone you knew was up to no good, but the how of it all was still such a lot to take in. Moreso, everyone was hung up some way, just like Eva too.

      Anthy as a revelation was certainly dreadful. I mean, there’s a dread that she inspires in me with her knowing looks and ambiguous smile. All the more unnerving now that we can see her with her hair down.

  9. Wraith says:

    I love watching people’s reactions to this series. I just wanted to make a couple quick comments. But one of them I will hold off on until after you’ve seen the final arc, because it could very easily turn out a bit too spoilerish.

    I did, however, want to comment on the music. This series is very aware of what it’s doing with the music. From the smoky horn theme that is titled “Akio Car” to the theme that really is titled “Absolutely Sexy Temptation”. The same care that’s taken with the duel songs applies to the rest of the music used. The complete Utena CD collection was one of the best music purchases I’ve ever made.

  10. Pingback: Why I Love Nanami Kiryuu « UNMEI KAIHEN

  11. Pingback: Moments of 2010 in Anime & Manga: The Stuff From Another Time (Other Years) | We Remember Love

  12. mytra says:

    who is Akio’s fiance?

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