| Going body part by body part was the most thorough way I could think of to approach a massive topic. However, one thing did come up that just doesn't fit into the format I've used, and being one of the most powerful things you can do with body language, I decided there was no way it would get neglected. I mean to add to this section in the future, because while most of my attention has gone to what his body says, there's certainly plenty to say of how it's used.
| Though it varies from culture to culture, most peoples’ personal space is a radius of an arm’s length to a
meter away from them. Varying amounts of intimacy are required for the varying degrees to which a person can cross this space, with consistent, prolonged physical contact being reserved largely for lovers, mothers, and the occasional best friend. Someone falling outside this short list moving in on one’s personal space is often taken as an attack, and while most people don’t respond violently, few accept it comfortably. Akio uses such invasions deliberately, though for their strength, they’re applied sparingly. Three such occasions are especially notable: his introduction to Wakaba, the moments before Utena’s kiss, and the meeting of him and his soon-to-be mother-in-law.
The study of space as it relates to interacting individuals is called proxemics, and it describes the following averages for classes of distance:
- Intimate distance for embracing, touching or whispering (15-45 cm, 6-18 inches)
- Personal distance for interactions among good friends (45-120 cm, 1.5-4 feet)
- Social distance for interactions among acquaintances (1.2-3.5 m, 4-12 ft)
- Public distance used for public speaking (over 3.5 m, 12 ft)
In episode 25, Akio answers the door for Wakaba with his arm high against the doorframe and his body leaning down. (He's leaning down quite a bit, considering the foot and a half difference between their heights.) This results in an unusually close encounter, as Wakaba is standing close to the door. She does this because her sphere of personal space is particularly small, and she considered the distance that would be between her and whoever opened the door comfortable. What she didn’t expect was that the person on the other side would be so close to the door that he’s leaning weight on the doorframe. She certainly didn’t see that coming; she blushes and shifts away, though far, far less than one might expect. Wakaba actually takes very well an encounter that many would have found violating. In fact, she takes it so well that a moment later she’s already well on her way to a crush on him.
Comfort is not always a necessary part of attraction. Akio repeatedly capitalizes on people’s discomfort to stoke their desire for him, but here he’s appealing in an especially sexual way to Wakaba’s unusually intimate personality. (A quick stroll around the school would alert you to how close she stands to the people around her.) Either way, people have very strong reactions to other’s breaking into their personal space. Friends might hug and lovers might cuddle, but out of nowhere a man you’ve never met is less than a foot away from you? Very startling, and always good for getting a strong reaction.
Utena, on the other hand, is made keenly aware of her space being moved in on. Aside from the signal
sent by a man on one knee in front of a woman (we’ll get to that later), Akio’s kneeling in front of Utena before they kiss put him in a very good starting position for an invasion of her space made particularly nasty by simple angle of attack. Someone about your height walking straight into your space is often more
aggravating than intimidating or frightening. Someone tall lowering down to meet you can be much worse, because we don’t respond well to the idea of things coming down on us. It doesn’t matter if it’s an anvil or a man leaning over you. But the worse by far, especially for a woman, is an advance from below.
The way Akio's torso moves when he braces his hand on the car seat makes this look very much like slithering. Deliberate? You be the judge.
There are many reasons for this. The most obvious is of course sexual—the movement mimics what must take place for a man to achieve penetration, and where he is, he’s eye-level with a sex organ at almost all times. However, the sense of being invaded doesn’t come entirely from sex. For one, this positioning more than any other will force the victim to watch. From above they only see what’s taller than them—from below they see everything, including just how far inside their space the aggressor has come, and exactly where in their space the aggressor is. Remember I mentioned the chest (and abdomen in general) is the most instinctually vulnerable place on the body? Someone coming from below toward your head is moving aggressively on that space, not only with their own body, which is bad, but with their face, which is worse.
Utena’s shrinking back, the crack in her voice, and her arms raised in a weak effort to stay his advancement are as much a reaction to her space being invaded as they are a response to the romantic situation. She doesn’t exactly want him stop, but she definitely feels uncomfortable with what he’s doing. Naturally, this means he goes for the gold by using the attack from below, and then to add insult to injury, comes down on her from above as well. (If you really want to get into it, you’d note here that one of Akio’s legs gets quite far between Utena’s.)
As for the big kiss—Akio doesn’t close his eyes. I didn’t realize this until very recently, as I’ve only recently had access to clear videos of the latter episodes. When I saw it, I was the opposite of surprised. Why did he keep his eyes open? His personal motive was voyeuristic—he wanted to watch Utena. Underneath that, though, it's detachment from the situation. This is a huge moment for Utena, but for him it’s just a kiss, and it’s running in the background of his thoughts, which are busier with watching her and enjoying her distress. He’s not sharing anything intimate or special, and he doesn’t respect her or love her or feel anything for her that would make indulging in watching her kiss him a taboo.
Then we go right back to where it all started. The symbolic sledgehammer: a man on one knee before a woman. An insanely powerful image, whether you identify it as love, sex, or submission. The theme for this one is love. Or at least it is to Utena, whose prince fixation quickly forces the crucial link between Akio’s position and a man proposing marriage. Only in that most basic sense does Akio fill this role out for her. While her mind registers what’s going on as romantic, and that is the overriding sentiment, Akio’s making it quite sexual and on a subconscious level, Utena realizes that. The scenario is romantic by design (omg weak vulnerable princess must be carried away!), but there’s nothing sweet and caring about the way Akio caresses her ankle. Or the way he wraps his hand around her heel to support the weight of her leg so it stays raised when he leans in, as opposed to letting it lower, which would have removed the sensation of her legs being held apart and allowed her to feel less vulnerable.
However, the truly sexual one comes just a little later in the same episode. And it’s exactly that—sexual. It’s not teasing or suggestive, it’s not an allusion to oral sex, or a rape of someone’s space—it’s the very beginning of what is clearly going to be a sexual encounter. Mrs. Ohtori comes to speak personally with Akio, and we quickly learn that despite outward appearances, it’s for the purposes of a sexual rendezvous.
I say quickly because hardly five words come out before he’s leaning over her, illustrating that he wears her daughter’s favorite cologne. However, he retreats from this invasion, as though it really was just for example’s sake; he draws out the pretenses surrounding her being there just a moment longer, before the real invasion starts. He rubs her deplorable behavior in her face a bit more (by asking about her husband), and then kneels down and slowly takes one of her shoes off.
You'll notice that, unlike Utena, Mrs. Ohtori is making no effort whatsoever to stay his advance.
For Utena, removing the shoe was about one quarter sexual and three quarters protective princely behavior Utena would be highly receptive to: ‘I will carry you and take care of you, so you don’t need this anymore.’ With Mrs. Ohtori the message is ‘You get naked now.’ In fact, it’s not a message or a signal, it’s an action—he’s starting to undress her. He leans in again, but this time he’s not coming up; the scene ends with him kissing her shin. She arches her back, pushing her chest toward him—a clear sign that she doesn’t mind the close proximity and sexual tone of what’s going on. Again, nothing teasing or suggestive about it, it’s the beginning of a sexual encounter we aren’t shown the rest of. The positioning does seem to insinuate oral sex though, especially being that he got there from standing upright and didn’t get to be there by circumstance.
Mrs. Ohtori is far more aware of Akio’s behavior than Wakaba or Utena. She knows he’s making her uncomfortable on purpose, invading her space somewhat without her permission. (She does want him to, but she also doesn’t want to admit that.) While it obviously pleases him, it seems to provide a manner of excitement for her as well, which isn’t surprising. She’s a prim and proper woman with a reputation to uphold, and the suggestion of force is particularly appealing to such a woman living on a guilty conscience.
You’ll note I said there are three ways to identify kneeling in front of a woman: love, sex, and submission. Akio has only covered two, if you’re looking for the third, I refer to Touga’s kneeling before Utena.
Speaking of Touga, he stands as the stark opposite of approach when it comes to personal space: not once does Akio move in on his personal space forcefully. We never even see him do it with consent. Though there's a very obvious sexual relationship between them, there remains a formal social distance kept between them when they're not having sex. You could attribute this to a difference the director felt was necessary in portraying male homosexual behavior, but more likely it's that that formal distance is there. Unlike Akio's other lovers, Touga doesn't get even the slightest illusion of intimacy; it's about power, it's about sex, that's it. The arrangement suits both of them just fine, they have sex when they want, but when they aren't doing that, there's no reason to maintain intimate closeness.