Utena - duel handedness

Utena is ambidextrous in duels, though she favors her right hand and writes with it. She fights some duels left-handed, others right-handed. She fights left-handed in four duels, right-handed in 13, and does something more complicated in the other four. In the final showdown duel against Akio, she seizes her sword from him with her left hand, swaps the sword back and forth as they talk, and fights with it in her right hand.

The handedness data is strangely difficult to get right. I had to check it repeatedly. Shots that show handedness are sometimes far apart. For two-handed swords, I counted it as left or right if it was sometimes used one-handed, even if rarely.

Except for the mirror imaging of the Black Rose, I still don’t know what the handedness differences mean.

#epopponentswordhandUtena handswordnotes
11SaionjiDiosleftbothbambooPractice sword.
510NanamiNanamiswap right to leftleftDiosNanami duels with a sword, also has a dagger.
611TougaTougaswitches freelyswitches freelyDios
712TougaDiosrightrightJuriJuri offers her sword to “set the final scene.”
814KanaeKanaeleftrightDiosFor the first time, Utena dodges by jumping back.
915KozueMikileftswap left to rightDios
1118MitsuruNanamirightrightDiosMitsuru sword in right, dagger in left.
1321KeikoTougatwo-handedrightDiosUtena may switch hands. It’s unclear.
1423MikageMikageswap left to rightrightDios
1525SaionjiSaionjitwo-handedrightDios, UtenaThe Sword of Dios disappears.
1626MikiMikirightswitches freelyUtenaUtena’s sword looks like the Sword of Dios.
1728RukaRukaleftswap left to rightUtena
2036TougaTougarightrightUtenaTouga’s sword is not a katana.
2138AkioAnthyrightrightUtenaAnthy’s is like the Sword of Dios with a purple gem.

In the Student Council arc, Utena’s opponents (when not equipped with the Sword of Dios) fight with whatever hardware swords they choose. In the Apocalypse Saga, they fight with the presumably metaphysical swords drawn from their hearts. (Except Akio, who fights with a sword drawn from Anthy.) The two swords look the same, so I named them the same. In episode 39, Akio calls Utena’s sword “the prince’s sword”, suggesting that Utena’s sword is the Sword of Dios. Nanami’s hardware sword is broken in episode 10, and Juri’s in episode 12, while the swords of their hearts are unchanged.

When Saionji fights two-handed with his katana (episodes 2 and 25), he places his right hand ahead on the grip, his left hand behind. In episode 25 he holds the sword in his right hand when running alongside the car, and when he is defeated the sword lies near his right hand. He slaps Anthy with his right hand. Saionji seems to be right-handed in general.

In episode 10, Nanami starts with the sword in her right hand and soon switches it to her left hand. After her rose is scattered, she attacks Utena with the sword in her right hand and the dagger in her left.

In episode 11, Touga switches freely between left-handed, two-handed, and right-handed grips on his sword. Utena also switches back and forth, though less often. Fighting with the one-handed Sword of Dios in episode 12, Touga keeps it in his right hand.

Mirror image. In the Black Rose, Utena’s opponents are mirror images of those whose swords they use: They generally rely on the opposite hand. It’s part of a system of mirror-image symbolism. The confession elevator has a mirror. Utena is shown to be a mirror image of Tokiko.

In episode 28, Ruka fights left-handed, the mirror image of Juri. In episode 29, besides the regular Juri-Utena duel there’s a non-arena duel of Juri versus Ruka. It’s shown in parallel with, and as parallel to, Juri-Utena, with Juri=Utena and Ruka=Juri. Ruka fights right-handed, not a mirror but the same as Juri in Juri-Utena. Utena does consistently better versus Juri than Juri against Ruka, and Ruka defeats Juri.

In episode 32, we briefly see Nanami fighting with the sword in her left hand. My read is that they re-used animation from episode 10 without worrying that it was inconsistent.

In episode 36, Touga’s sword has changed. He fought in episode 11 with a katana, and Keiko wielded his sword in episode 21, also the katana. His sword in episode 36 is different—for the first time, it is the sword that we see in the opener. The forward-pointing prongs remind me of the swords of Juri and Kanae. Touga has realized his homosexual desires and his sword changed to match.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 26 December 2021
updated 25 November 2022—fixing yet another error