Hands are for holding and manipulating, literally and metaphorically. In episode 4, Juri holds Miki below her in condescension. Akio as Dios manipulates little Utena’s thoughts with a hand on the head in episode 34, and current Utena’s thoughts as himself in episodes 30 and 38. See shoulders and epaulets for examples of placing hands on shoulders.
Joined hands and parting hands are central images. As with feet, the right hand is the hand of truth, and the left is the hand of illusion or delusion. At least in many cases. See turning left. I’m not convinced that right-hand/left-hand symbolism holds every time. I can interpret it every time, but sometimes the interpretation seems poorly supported. It certainly holds often. The dueling rings are worn on the left hand. As keys to the dueling arena, they allow entrance to a center of illusions. As engagement rings, they allow marriage, which is the key to an illusionary eternity of happiness. In reality, marriage grants a man final control over his wife.
In Utena lovers do not hold hands, certainly not in public. Anthy and Utena holding hands in bed is the only true exception, and stands out for that reason. There are false exceptions, like Akio holding Utena’s hand.
With one exception, slaps in Utena are right-handed. Physical violence is real. The exception is a slap we don’t see in episode 4; one of Nanami’s minions slaps Anthy and leaves a mark on the right, meaning it should have been a left-handed slap. The minions are complaining that Miki loves Anthy. Does the left-handed slap mean that they don’t actually care?
at the key duels
the interlaced hand grip
other hands together
The parting of Utena’s and Anthy’s hands in Anthy’s coffin in the last episode is a key image. I collected the direct references to it, which are also broken out separately in other sections of this page. See sparkling transfers for part of the symbolism. Because the parting hands come with sparkles, all sparkles potentially refer to them.
Utena wants to rescue Anthy by forcibly pulling her from her coffin, but even though Anthy reaches out it is impossible. The parting is balanced by the final photo below, which can be taken as implying that Anthy finds Utena in the outside world. Their fingers linger on each other—it is a warm parting. Both hands are left hands: Ever-optimistic Utena believes she can save Anthy, and Anthy sees Utena as her prince.
This is not a parting of hands, but Utena grabbing Anthy’s hand. Even so, it is clearly meant to be parallel.
As part of staging a rescue of Utena so he can appear to be her prince, Touga arranges for Utena to appear to rescue Anthy. What a complicated plan. As the castle falls and the dueling arena goes chaotic, Utena takes hold of the seemingly-unconscious Anthy’s hand. Grabbing a hand does not cause the fingers to splay like that (try it). Anthy is not spreading her fingers, so it’s poetic license.
As in episode 6, Touga and Anthy are in conspiracy. I doubt that Touga is allowed to operate the projector. I suspect that Anthy worked out the details of the plot and did the greater part of the work. Touga’s phone call with Akio at the end of the episode told Akio little he did not already know.
Anthy and Utena do not touch (that we see). See episode 11 below. Before they can part as above, they need to become closer. Anthy’s hand is above Utena’s, which is unusual. I take it as a representation of the woman’s power to choose; Anthy has not yet chosen Utena.
From Utena’s vision of parting hands in episode 23, below. The animation is identical to the parting hands in the opener, except that the sparkles are dimmer. The separation of the hands looks involuntary, but they make no visible attempt to hold on to each other—there is no lingering touch as in the final episode above, or as with Touga and Utena below. It looks like a cold parting.
From episode 19 below. Wakaba pulls away from Tatsuya to hurry to her prince, Saionji. Wakaba is saying goodbye to Tatsuya for now, as a friend, and they remain friends.
From Touga’s duel below. Utena is making a genuine final goodbye to Touga and her attraction to him. Their fingers linger together for a moment—a warm parting. This image ties directly to Wakaba parting from Tatsuya immediately above. Both pictures make arch shapes. Like Wakaba, Utena has chosen somebody else as her prince—and also like Wakaba, she chose long ago. Unlike Wakaba, Utena has chosen incorrectly, with her left hand, fooled by illusions.
Utena holds onto Wakaba’s hand. She has just stolen Wakaba’s sword and used it to slice the black rose from her chest. Wakaba is falling backward and weeping, while Utena is also falling backward from the force of her sword stroke and holding Wakaba’s hand to avoid being separated. The scene goes into silhouette, telling us to generalize from it. See Wakaba grabs Tetsuya for a comparison.
Utena’s hand slips down Wakaba’s fingers, but we do not see the hands part. They remain friends.
Utena is holding with her left hand because she does not understand Wakaba. Wakaba is not holding on, but was caught by her right hand because she knows what she wants and knows Utena’s specialness. Well, these are also the hands that happen to be free because of the past action.
Akio uses proper bandages, also with intent to manipulate; see foot catalog - Nanami. Child characters use play bandages as if they were proper.
The right picture is a good match for the parting hands above, especially Touga and Utena. Utena and company are told the story of an unnamed “prince” saving Nanami from the runaway horse and “treating” her injury with a handkerchief tied around her hand. It’s actually Mitsuru, and he deliberately caused the accident he rescued her from. We get a glimpse of his legs as he runs alongside the horse beforehand. It’s parallel to Akio arranging accidents for Nanami (episode 31) and Utena (twice, episodes 30 and 35) which he then rescues them from. See a comparison of two of the accidents.
In flashback to earlier years, Touga injures Saionji’s hand in kendou practice. Like Mitsuru, he childishly ties a handkerchief around the injured hand to protect it.
Both injuries are to right hands. Nanami removed Mitsuru’s handkerchief and returned it. Touga’s fell from Saionji’s hand at a meaningful time, when Saionji lost faith in Touga.
Shiori’s episode. Mamiya deliberately pricks one finger on the underworld rose’s thorn. A spot of blood is visible. Mikage takes Mamiya’s hand to lick the blood, like a wild animal. We already knew that Mikage is bloodthirsty.
There is no bandage, but this seems to go with the bandaging images. Mikage takes one hand in two of his to treat an injury. It differs in that Mamiya (the false Mamiya played by Anthy) is deliberately manipulating Mikage. In the bandaging images, the intent to manipulate is on the side tying the bandage.
The key duels of episodes 11 (Utena loses to Touga), 23 (Mikage), and 38 (Akio) all have paired hand pictures: One with Utena and her opponent, and one with Utena and Anthy. The images with Anthy show them progressively closer: Not touching in episode 11, touching but not both awake at the same time in episode 23, holding firmly in episode 38.
Touga has convinced Utena that he is her prince. He takes her hand and moves as if to kiss her (see kisses - episode 11). Touga’s right hand means that he genuinely is attracted even as he tricks her, and Utena’s left hand means that she is fooled. If the hand above represents the woman’s right to choose, then Utena chooses Touga.
Before the duel, Anthy and Utena place their right hands together. The camera cuts away before the hands touch. Anthy is placing hope in Utena to win. The camera cutting away suggests that they are not quite together yet, and perhaps Anthy’s hope is misplaced.
Utena discovers that Mikage has been manipulating people into becoming duel opponents, and when he tries to manipulate her too she’s furious. She starts to beat him up, but it’s not a princely thing to do, and Mikage’s verbal defense seems to affect her. Here, she’s struggling to find a course of action. We see their hands, close to each other but definitively not joined. Utena challenges him to a duel, which was Mikage’s intention, but he is the one who goes to the confession elevator. It’s clear he’ll be fighting from a position of disadvantage.
Utena awakes to find that sleeping Anthy is holding her hand. They’re closer but they’re not each grasping the other at the same time. It’s Utena’s left hand; she’s still being fooled.
Utena realizes that Anthy can’t quit the Rose Bride role. She has a vision of their hands sliding down each other’s arms and parting. (The animation of the hands is the same as in the opener, only the sparkles are dimmer.) Seemingly to prevent that, she turns her own hand over to hold Anthy’s. The vision refers to their parting in episode 39. It can also be read as foretelling Akio’s actions to pull Utena and Anthy apart.
In the intro to the final showdown, Anthy and Utena hold hands firmly. They’re mutually conscious of their togetherness. Alas for Utena, it is still her left hand; Anthy backstabs her later.
Akio takes Utena’s hand in both of his and runs his fingers over her ring, claiming possession through the contract that the ring represents. It’s part of a sequence showing Akio progressively claiming greater possession of Utena.
When Anthy cries out during the dance party, Utena is standing with her hands clasped. Based on the images below, it may mean that Utena is of two minds (opposed to herself), or that Utena feels distant from herself—she is at risk of falling for Touga and losing her “self”. Before this, talking with Touga, she showed the blush of attraction and vibrating eyes as she suspected that Touga was her prince. Alternately, interlacing your own fingers may have a different meaning. See the next image.
The gesture is on the screen so briefly that it’s barely visible.
Utena was unsure about Touga and hesitated, but reacted instantly to Anthy’s scream. It foretells that her desire to be a prince will ultimately win out.
Anthy lies in a theatrical set depicting her coffin. Her hands are clasped almost as if in prayer, though I don’t know any prayer tradition with interlaced fingers. First-time viewers can only connect it with little Utena’s coffin in the church. The bed of roses adds to the impression. Anthy is in a similar position in the last episode when Utena opens her real coffin, but her fingers are not interlaced.
Anthy’s clasped hands go with Utena’s above. Here they seem to mean falseness or pretense. It is consistent with the images below which depict false closeness, and with Utena above, if we conclude that Utena’s feelings for Touga are false.
The left and right pictures have the same hand grip. The first picture is before Utena seized Wakaba’s sword in their duel; the second is when Utena and Akio are having sex in the First Seduction. Wakaba is in front of Utena; Akio is on top of Utena and being seen from above. Utena is treating Wakaba as a friend and Wakaba is treating Utena as an enemy to defeat; Utena is treating Akio as a friend and Akio is treating Utena as an enemy to defeat. Utena is restraining Wakaba; Akio is restraining Utena. Utena has her thumb over Wakaba’s thumb, while Akio has his thumb over Utena’s, showing who holds the advantage—who will control the literal or metaphorical sword. Utena can be soooooo sneaky.
The whorl of Wakaba’s hair on the left matches a whorl of Utena’s hair on the right.
It’s not a coincidence that the same two characters lose their grip when Utena steals their swords. Well, in the case of taking the sword from Akio, it’s Utena’s own sword. It took Utena much longer to learn how to break Akio’s metaphorical grip. In each picture, Utena’s thumb is on top, meaning that she holds the advantage.
The sword and arm angles are opposed. Upward and downward angles are likely meaningful.
Not the same hand grip, but there is a connection. Ruka provokes Juri into rage and she tries to punch him, first with her left hand, then with her right. Ruka captures both hands. He transfers his grip to her wrists, pushes her against a wall, and proceeds to sexually assault her and steal her locket. Are we supposed to believe he does all this out of love?
Juri, pressed against a wall and with captured hands, is nearly helpless. The only defense she can find is to bite him on the lip. The sexual assault has a parallel in the sex scene from the First Seduction, which is also a sexual assault (though Utena does not realize it). Akio holds one of Utena’s hands—see the episode 33 image on the right above. He’s likely holding both hands and pressing Utena down against the futon, leaving her nearly helpless. Utena is flat on her back and defeated, while Juri still has a little scope to fight back.
There are two other cases of interlaced fingers. This one is at the end of the poisoning conversation. At the moment of the image, Anthy is agreeing to Utena’s proposal to meet again in ten years.
Interlaced fingers are normally a sign of closeness, but in this image and others in this section they show distance or opposition. It is Utena’s left hand; she is being fooled. Anthy’s thumb is on top; she will succeed in fooling Utena. Neither is restraining the other, and there is no physical or metaphorical struggle—the hand positions are parallel, not opposed. But immediately after this is Anthy’s suicide attempt. In ten years, Anthy expects to still be following Akio’s orders, and she expects that Utena will be either fled or dead. The poisoning conversation and the suicide conversation include attempts to convince Utena to flee so that Utena does not die.
This is the photo at the very end of the series. Utena and Anthy interlaced their fingers, and the photo subtly indicates distance rather than closeness. It was taken in front of the planetarium projector and shows an illusion. The hands are on the dark side of the shadow line: The two are pretending to feel closer than they are. The light on their hands is from the left, the direction of illusions, even though the light on parts of the image is from the right.
Utena’s thumb is on top. One reading is that she will in the end successfully convince Anthy to accept Utena as her prince, a necessary part of their victory even though Utena then gives up on being a prince.
The photo was taken in episode 34, during the backlash after the First Seduction. See the discussion at Anthy and Utena scenes. Their relationship was fraying under pressure, but relatively much stronger than in episode 37 when it was nearly broken.
Nanami takes Anthy’s hand to lead her to the dance floor. Anthy goes along with it. When there, Nanami lets go and abandons her. Appreciate Nanami’s clothing! At close to the same time, Touga takes Utena by the wrist in the hope of leading her to the dance floor and staying there with her. Utena pulls free.
In Akio’s world, men and women are messed up in different ways; they suffer opposite illusions. Touga is pushy and is rejected by force. He remains overconfident until he loses in episode 12. Nanami doesn’t even realize that she likes Anthy, and acts against her in a complicated way, but Anthy submits to it.
Nanami believes someone is out to kill her, and begs Touga for help. Touga is in on the plot to fool Nanami, and dismisses her worry. Nanami’s hand is drawn in a simplified style for her unrealistic fear (that’s how I read it), while Touga’s hand is more realistic. Nanami’s thumb is under Touga’s. It means she’ll fail to convince Touga. See the interlaced hand grip above.
Juri knocks away the orange rose that Anthy offered her while slapping Anthy in the face with the back of her hand. Anthy deliberately provoked Juri to anger by mimicking the scene of Shiori offering Juri a rose. Their hands do not meet. It was part of setting up Juri’s duel.
It’s visible only in slow motion.
Juri is not rejecting the symbolic miracle that Anthy offers her. She is rejecting one-sided love.
Juri violently seizes Utena’s hand and tries to remove her dueling ring. Utena’s free hand has grasped Juri’s to try to pull it away. See the episode’s shadow play and a comparison with Utena versus Mikage.
Juri trying to steal Utena’s ring is parallel to Ruka stealing Juri’s locket. Both the ring and locket are valued mementos and symbols of love, and both trap the wearer in a harmful situation. Ruka’s success represents violent male power and is karmic retribution for good Juri’s bad action. Juri’s violence fails.
Nanami has found the (slightly) injured Touga practicing sword swings. Tears in her eyes, she takes hold of his sword arm to prevent him from, as she imagines, worsening his injury.
Touga won the duel, and now he returns to collect Utena’s heart, which he believes is his. Utena is depressed and shows flat affect (Wikipedia); she does not react. As Wakaba says unhappily, it’s a change from earlier when she batted him away. Touga doesn’t seem to notice. He’s so sure of himself that the most glaring signals do not get through.
Both pictures are left hand with left hand. Utena is deluded by Touga into thinking she must be an ordinary girl, and Touga is deluded by himself.
Mitsuru is trying to become adult by watching movie clips of kiss scenes. Mari tells him he has to put it into practice, and he clumsily tries to practice on her. He starts by putting his right hand on her hand. Later in the episode, under the influence of the black rose, he pulls Nanami’s sword (and dagger). He starts by putting his left hand on her hand.
In a flashback to younger years, little Wakaba grabs the hand of little Tatsuya. She declares him her onion prince, to his confusion.
This hand grab matches with Utena grabbing Wakaba’s hand and Touga grabbing Utena’s hand. In each case, one person seizes the hand of another who they want to be close to—and who, at that point in time, does not feel the same about them.
Wakaba accepts Tatsuya’s hand on her shoulder as help from a childhood friend, and puts it away to hurry to her prince Saionji. The parting hands match Utena and Touga parting in episodes 11 and 36 and Utena and Anthy parting in episode 39. Of the partings, only Utena parting from Touga in episode 36 has an air of permanence.
Aiko, Yuuko and Keiko clasp hands to confirm their agreement to become Nanami’s minions in order to be closer to Touga. They’re eager about it, but it doesn’t strike me as a good plan. The yellow rose stands for Nanami, for their jealousy of Nanami’s closeness to Touga, and maybe for the three’s childish inexperience in choosing a poor course of action.
Aiko proposes serving Nanami. She clasps both hands with Keiko, who becomes the leader. Yuuko puts only one hand into the three-way clasp.
Anthy and Utena hold hands in the S-shaped bed. They talk honestly and it’s for real, they’re holding right hands, but the purple patch on the bed says there is a background of corruption. Little of their talk succeeds as communication. Anthy withholds critical information from Utena. They hold hands in bed in episodes 25 through 30. After that Akio takes steps to separate them, and they are not as close again until the suicide conversation.
They hold hands as equals. It’s an essential step toward parting as equals in the final episode, which is essential in Anthy’s desire to reunite with Utena. See sparkling transfers and the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale for evidence that they part as equals.
Miki returns Nanami’s egg after examining it. Nanami is astonished when he says that some mammals lay eggs. Miki does not appear to know that among mammals only monotremes lay eggs, never placental mammals.
The egg appeared to Nanami’s right in her bed; it’s perfectly real. She keeps the egg in her left pocket and usually—not always—holds it in her left hand, the hand of illusions. Here Miki transfers it from his left hand to Nanami’s right. Illusions are strongly attached to the egg, but not with full consistency.
Ruka’s male symbol falls out of his locker, Shiori grasps it tightly, and Ruka runs his hand down it until it meets Shiori’s hand—which is visually over her heart. Both their intentions are clear.
When accepting a first aid kit from Akio, Utena’s hand touches his. She enjoys the touch so much that she moves her hand farther over his and forgets what she is doing. See comparisons - Utena’s stupid face. The way Akio held the box encouraged Utena to touch his hand. The process of becoming corrupted in the previous episode should have taught her to recognize her own desire, but that’s not the same as coping with it. Utena does not realize that Nanami can read her. See comparisons - Utena denies liking for when Nanami asks her about it.
Nanami, Utena, and Anthy play rock paper scissors to decide who gives up their side of the S-shaped bed. Anthy cheats to lose, so that Nanami sleeps alongside Utena. It is a plot by Akio to separate Anthy from Utena while simultaneously provoking Nanami.
Utena’s hand is the only one on the light side of the shadow line. Utena is playing honestly, Anthy is cheating, and Nanami is being provoked.
When the shadow girls try to recruit Utena, they do a hear-no-evil speak-no-evil routine, leaving out see-no-evil. See shadow plays - episode 34.
This hand touch is from when Akio verified Utena’s feelings after the First Seduction, to see how his plot was progressing. He took her hand and moved his thumb over her ring, as a prelude to trying to tempt her into a kiss. Utena kept her hand closed and declined the kiss. Contrast Touga and Utena above, where Utena opened her hand: She responded to the handholding and was ready to be kissed—and see Touga and Utena below.
The shots on either side of this are sharp, but this one is in soft focus. I take it that Utena romantically mythologizes the event, even though she doesn’t much remember it.
Touga has brought Utena to the dueling arena to hit on her. He takes Utena’s hand in his to kiss it (I take it that the telegraphed kiss occurs).
During the duel, Touga grabs Utena’s free hand. He’s trying a psychological attack, calling back to the trick he played to win the duel of episode 11. He pulls her close, he says he’ll protect her, they exchange thoughts wordlessly, and their hands part. See parting hands at the top and Wakaba grabs Tetsuya for comparisons.
The first image is sharp. The other two are in romantic soft-focus. The yellow background is for Touga’s jealousy of Akio, the white (I assume) for his would-be princedom.
Despite giving Utena the impression that he was saying goodbye (above image), Touga challenges Utena to another duel, giving a deceptive reason. In the gondola on the way up to the dueling arena for the duel, with Anthy’s hand on Utena’s heart to indicate desire and Utena’s hand on Anthy’s to answer it, Utena promises to protect her. Anthy answers “Really?” Anthy likely doubts Utena, since Utena has chosen to betray Anthy to be with Akio. Beyond that, it may mean Utena cannot protect Anthy, because she does not know what Anthy needs to be protected from. See also a parallel with Anthy’s backstab.
It’s shown in flashback after the hand-grab sequence below. Utena promising protection to Anthy parallels Touga promising protection to Utena. It’s a bad promise. The correct promise was Utena’s of episode 25: Let’s work together.
When Anthy, after long hesitation, gives Utena’s sword to Akio, Akio puts a hand on hers in praise as he says “good girl.” He’s training her to obey like a dog. Anthy tightens her hand as if trying to shrink away from the touch. She is going along with Akio, but she’s unhappy about it.
Jay Scott <email@example.com>
first posted 13 March 2022
updated 19 August 2023