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