But she didn’t say no

Trigger warning: sexual assault, spoilers for Revolutionary Girl Utena
English translation of Pero ella no dijo que no, requested by an overseas fan.

A few days ago, I listened to the analysis by Trixie from Ygg Studio on Ninja Scroll, an all-time classic of gore anime, and I reccomend her video to anyone interested in it. We have similar viewpoints about it, and she makes a great job at dissecting why the visceral nature of the film is so fascinating at an aesthetic level; moreso when the story it tells is… questionable, to say the least. Its visceral feeling doesn’t only stem from its countless scenes of extreme violence, but also from its (comprehensibly) controversial scenes where Kagero, its female lead, is raped. Trixie defends them by arguing that they are very thoughtful and characterize how her aggresor thinks perfectly; but even though I agree and I think they match with the film’s general eroguro style, I don’t believe they work as well on a narrative level for the assaulted girl, who is treated like an object by the plot and her suffering is used for little more than shock value despite being a much more important character than said aggresor.

Jogging my memory, I tried to find more sensible representations of sexual violence in anime. I like how Midori uses it to show the chain of oppressions inside a group of characters who are outcasts from society, and thus all oppressed in other ways; or how in Kite they serve as a point to reinforce the enigmatic nature of the protagonist and her relationship with her supposed allies; in both cases without failing to portray rape as something completely reprehensible. The case that made the biggest impact on me, however, and the one that I haven’t been able to get out of my head since watching it, is the events that occur in episode 33 of Revolutionary Girl Utena.

What happens in this episode of Utena doesn’t stand out for being especially graphic nor sordid, it’s rather the other way around. It manages to be extremely disturbing without representing what happens in an explicit manner, conveying the uneasiness of the situation with tact and avoiding being tawdry. While the first few minutes of the episode make it look like a recap of the latest arc, the few new scenes progressively paint it in a very different colour.

In between the recap scenes, we see different cuts of Utena in an unknown room, talking to someone that doesn’t respond. Even though she talks in an upbeat manner she appears notably nervous, stretching and moving erratically around the room; while her dialogue seems… a bit odd. She talks about how she’d love for Anthy to be with them, and blurts out absurd excuses like having left bread outside as pretext for coming back home, without reciving any answer.

It’s a bit unnerving that she doesn’t stop stretching during all of the «conversation»…

The next scene makes it evident that we’re seeing the situation from the eyes of her aggresor. They start playing Go while she talks in circles, looking for some complicity on his eyes, and still not receiving any spoken response. Although her dialogue continues to evade the situation they’re in, while rambling about cooking, she mentions how “once a meal has gone off, it’s impossible to fix it”, inciting him in a not-so-subtle manner to not go any further. Despite this, the last thing we see on this cut is how his pieces have overtaken hers completely. In the game he’s plotting, she has no chance of escaping.

All of this culminates in a close-up shot of Utena where, although little more than her face is shown, is evident she’s on the bed of the room. Even with his companion lying on top of her, Utena completely avoids eye contact and continues to search any pretext to strike a conversation with him, talking about the things she’s got to do at home, about what she’s going to cook for dinner the next day, about anything that can help her to escape mentally. She blurts out any thought that crosses her mind with the hope of making him stop, and again, without obtaining a single response.

This last scene is especially disgusting because, even if we only see her face, the animators were able to represent her expressions of distress perfectly, showing her indefension through the eyes of the person who was causing her that pain. During all of these scenes there aren’t any extradiegetic recourses that modifies the emotional impact of the situation, just her voice and her expressions. The written medium isn’t exactly the best to describe this, so I encourage you to come back to the scene to feel it. Maybe it doesn’t come as a surprise that the person in charge for the storyboards for this episode was no other than Mamoru Hosoda, who you’ll probably know as one of the most popular anime directors outside Japan. He was sharp as a tack on this one.

What makes this particular sexual assault so striking is that, unlike most of the times they are represented in fiction, it’s not a result of physically forcing the victim, but rather the use of coercion; and it’s done without any threats nor direct spoken manipulation. Utena never said “no”, but she never said “yes” either. This didn’t detract her aggresor to act by making use of his position of authority and personal influence, despite from his point of view —the same one we have as viewers— it’s painfully obvious she does not want to have sexual relations with him. It’s an insidious MO very rarely portrayed in media despite it being a very common practice, and one that many would not even consider sexual assault, judging by the mocking comments about “having to get an appointment with the notary just to fuck” at the publication of the “Only a Yes is a Yes” Law in Spain (now finally approved, unlike at the time of the original publication of this article, and after many months blocked by our far-right General Council of Justice).

The scenes revolving around Utena only make half of this episode, and are alternated with others not less interesting centered on the other side of the coin: her aggresor, Akio Ohtori.

It’s truly difficult to understate the level of control Akio has over Utena. He’s the director of the school where the series takes place, and had presented himself to her as a caring and trustworthy figure of authority; he’s the older brother of Anthy, Utena’s best friend and romantic interest; and at that point of the story, both of them had moved in with him in circumstances she view as freeloading. At a personal level, he isn’t short of virtues: he’s a calm and kind person who has a way with words, and with whom Utena had fallen in love. She was looking for a sort of affection he wasn’t interested in giving her, and when she sees herself trapped in a situation she didn’t ask for despite having feelings for him, she doesn’t know how to put up resistance.

Of course, for Akio this is just an everyday matter. He does not only exert this sort of influence with her, he does it with most of the central cast, including his own sister and male students like Touga or Saionji. Akio is extremely apt at manipulating teens for his own interest and remaining always, always in control.

In the scenes starring Akio in this episode, he drives his red convertible through the endless highway where he has taken other students in previous episodes, but being appearently alone this time around. While driving, he calls a radio program hosted by the shadow girls that work as a Greek chorus for most episodes, and gasconades about having a “second job” aside from teaching. The girls ask him if that’s legal, and he responds that “it’s alright, as long as you don’t get caught”. After that, the show ask him two multiple-choice questions: “what is eternal” and “what is a miracle” (with hilarious choices), both recurring questions in the plot that Utena had wondered about in conversations with him. In both cases, Akio ignores the question to answer another call, making clear that he doesn’t really care about the things that concern her. After answering the other incoming call, she puts the pedal to the floor while we see the kanji for “stop” written over and over again on the pavement. Of course, he wasn’t willing to stop.

A screepcap of episode 25. Gee, I wonder what part of his anatomy does the car symbolize.

In the last scene of the episode, Akio receives another call inside the car, this time from his sister Anthy. She tells him she’s watching the stars in the planetarium, at which he responds that there’s no motive to do so in such a beautiful night. Anthy answers that “she didn’t feel like watching the real stars”, hinting that she knew and was probably an accomplice to what her brother was going to do to her friend, even if she appears disgusted by it. For the first time on the episode, we see the passanger’s seat, and Utena is sitting on it. Akio smiles at her sweetly, while she avoids looking at his eyes, inexpressive.

After seeing her trust betrayed by the two people she lives with and cares for, Utena’s mental state is that of utter bewilderment, and she doesn’t blame them nor breaks her relationship with them. This is probably the most determinant moment of character development for her: from then on she becomes taciturn and her way of behaving with them changes, but never accepts the gravity of what happened or really realizes she’s been raped. Like many of the cases we know of, she tries to reconfigurate it in her mind to think there was consent, something that Akio reinforces starting from that ending scene.

The way Akio acts during the series would warrant an analysis in its own right, but maybe the most unsettling aspect about him is that, even as the antagonist of a surreal and highly allegoric series like this, his actions and objectives aren’t far from people not hard no meet in real life. He feeds his ego and hides his own fears by using people who, because of his age, position and sofistery, are not difficult to manipulate for him, while paradojically being a pretty childish person in the inside.

The manner this episode is presents puts much less emphasis in the sexual act itself and centers on the mental state of its characters and the subtle manipulation that takes place in such repulsive circumstances, something most scripts don’t even try, and those who attempt to have a hard time achieving. And aside from how greatly it’s presented and the way it handles the situation, I love how it marks a change of course for the rest of the story. From this point on, Utena halts her idealization of Akio, and even though she doesn’t directly antagonize him until the series ending, their relationship starts going the opposite route it had been building itself before. The revelation during episode 34 that he was the prince that changed her life as a child makes very little impact because, as with the rotten food Utena brings as an example, their confidence was impossible to repair. It also puts another strain in her already complicated relationship with Anthy, who doesn’t stop supporting her brother despite knowing his more inhuman sides for what she believes to be her own interests.

It’s a very impactful twist, but narrated in a very sensible way, and neatly drives the plot to its final arc. Despite it left me quite afflicted during my first watching and it’s been unconfortable to see it again for this analysis, I think it’s one of the most interesting moments of an all-around exceptional anime. It’s hard to imagine someone reading all these musings before watching the series, but in case you haven’t, I can’t recommend it enough.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this piece. I had always wanted to give individual anime episodes I love a spin, but as you may know I’m a champion of procrastination. It’s also been fun to translate it into English, I’m very glad there was an interest for it. Thank you for reading!

If you like this sort of content, remember we have a Ko-fi account where you can finance of future bail for when the invite us to do a podcast at the Supreme Court. And if you want to read more of my writing in English, you can head over to my DeviantArt account, where I publish my fanfiction delusions. See you around!

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