| Language read from the body is the most common vehicle for describing personality. Facial expressions change quickly from one thought to the next, but how a person handles themself—their posture, their gestures, their movement—describes not just their mood but their entire disposition.
Akio's not what most people identify as an animated person, and yet he carries himself quite flamboyantly. In most people animated motions are coupled with exaggerated posture and placement of limbs. Akio is a strange animal in that while his positioning is often exaggerated, his movement is not. In most cultures (especially the one SKU hails from) being overly animated is considered low class. A peasant might be seen to wave their arms around gesticulating, but the nobility is expected to be reserved, and speak only with their words. In other cultures this means less; Italians, for example, are by nature quite animated. However, Akio lives in a social climate that would find being overanimated offensive and crass. For most people, understated movement is accompanied by a certain reservation of positioning. These are not the people who sprawl their arms out wherever they like, or push their pelvis out rather than stand straight. Yet Akio does both these things, because while movement is a matter of class, position is a matter of ego.
| Posture is the positioning of the torso. It’s what got you yelled at in school. Posture can indicate many things, some of which are not necessarily about personality. A woman with very large breasts tends to slouch out of discomfort. Exceptionally tall people will slouch out of awkwardness. Stick-straight posture can be the sign of a military background or experience in athletic disciplines like kendo. Still, it's primarily an ego display, and it's no mistake that the aforementioned military and martial art backgrounds are often said to be things which boost self-esteem: they go so far as to create body language habits that accomplish this. Proper posture forces the chest out and brings you to full height, indicating ego and a positive self-image. (Posture that’s ‘too’ good is what people call having a puffed up ego—the chest is pushed out to the point of obvious exaggeration.)
Wanna give it a try? Okay. Stand up straight and push your gut out without tightening the muscles in your butt. Now pull the abdomen in like you’re about to do a wave motion as in when dancing. The muscles in your upper abdomen should tighten, but not the ones below the navel. It’s tricky to get right if you’re not used to doing it, and you’re probably not. Also, it's a posture short people don't have room to pull into place, so get a tall friend to do it.
body to convey sex, and in few places is this more apparent than in his standing posture. Akio’s pelvis consistently leads the rest of his body. He’s rarely standing up straight—he prefers to exaggerate the curvature of his spine. He does this by pushing his pelvis out, placing weight on the small of
his back and the abductor muscles on the back of his thigh, as opposed to
using the muscles in his abdomen and buttocks to rotate his pelvis to force his genitals out. The way he goes about it creates a noticeable angle at his pelvis—his legs slant back, where were he just rotating his pelvis, his body would remain straight. The meaning in this posture is self-evident—sexuality conveyed by a deliberate genital display, and harkening to animal instincts is a strategy Akio makes very effective use of.
Akio's shoulders are far behind him; a side effect of forcing the body forward.
The signal is its strongest when he's placing equal weight on each foot, though around Utena, this is toned down by planting his legs farther apart and favoring one over the other. This forces the hip to one side and so understates sexuality by placing the center of the angle created by the body and legs just slightly off the genitals and onto his hipbone. This is a more effeminate pose, and while wildly popular in anime, you won’t often see it in the real world, where men’s body language is influenced strongly by how masculine they think they look. This is the tip of an iceberg—Akio doesn’t deliberately move in a masculine or feminine manner. He just moves.
Akio’s not the only character in SKU to use a jutted out pelvis to convey sex. Touga makes excellent, equally consistent use of the same signal, though he accessorizes it differently. Touga’s movements are more effeminate than Akio’s (deliberately so), and that feminine bent makes them come across as less explicit—a strong signal is carefully dulled to be safer on younger girls not quite ready for the forceful sexuality it otherwise has.
In both cases it’s also a projection, in the most literal sense, of their egos. This holds more true for Touga, though. With Akio, it begins a strange pattern in his body language: we know he’s full of himself, but he doesn't devote much of his body language to specifically displaying that fact. Most of his body language is by nature egotistical, but Akio's very short on ego displays. Instead, his ego is most frequently betrayed in his voice, which carries an edge of superiority he seldom conceals, more out of a lack of necessity than an inability to do so. He often chooses conversations where a tone of expertise that’s expected masks his tone of superiority, leading one to think it’s the subject matter he feels confident and learned about, as opposed to him thinking that about everything.
Akio’s sitting posture varies widely from one role to the next, but a noticeable and entirely expected trend is that it's relaxed. Proper posture for a man without a counter or armrest to place his arms on proves difficult because there’s no obvious place for him to put them. Women are expected to fold their hands neatly in their lap, but this is not a gesture common to men, so they tend to either slouch forward or lean into the back of the chair.
Slouching forward allows you to place your arms on your legs, elbows on knees, with a few variations to account for comfort or situation. Leaning back into the chair permits you to use the back of the chair or couch as an armrest. Also, leaning back allows for men to place their hands in their laps without it being feminine. Generally speaking, the kind of slouching forward that allows one to place their elbows on their legs is interpreted as thoughtful interest or interested detachment, depending on what’s done with the arms. Leaning back is an egotistical gesture if done in a conversation—it opens up the chest, showing comfort in the situation. However, aside from this distinction, sitting posture depends almost entirely on the positioning of the arms, so I cover it there instead.
| There’s nothing closed in about Akio’s body language, and how he positions his arms is perhaps the best example. He spreads his arms out around him as if to deliberately occupy as much space as possible, and even when he's not exaggerating, his arms are rarely touching his body. This behavior follows him out of the photography sessions and into the everyday, as he tends to drape an arm over anything that will allow him to—the couch, the car, whatever. His arms are almost always spread across the car when he’s lying on it, and in the poses where he’s on the bed with Touga, his arms are always distanced from his body.
This indicates comfort in one’s environment. The person is figuratively embracing their surroundings, and in doing so, exposing their chest—something most people hide in their body language as a natural protective instinct. Any structured form of combat will teach you first above everything else—protect the chest. Akio’s willingness to expose (often literally) this vulnerable spot makes him appear as someone who fears nothing and is in absolute control. This behavior sends a strong message that for many of the characters inspires a sense of intimidation —so much ego and so much confidence? Dangerous.
A person’s full arm-span is the edge of their
Examples of Akio with widely-spread arms are most often culled from highly sexual scenes. This is because nowhere is this signal more powerful. In a sexual situation, a willingness to invade personal space brings with it the suggestion of sex itself. As far as body language is concerned, Akio starts the sex act as soon as he sees his victim.
sphere of personal space, and someone who opens their arms out is showing their willingness to test that. For most this is an issue of ego—they’re so great they can’t contain it all in the restrictive space allowed by the world around them. Their personality bursts out of the room they’re given. This obviously applies to Akio. However big you think Akio’s ego is, it’s bigger. But he’s not just reaching beyond his sphere of personal space—he’s deliberately invading the personal space of others. His tendency to be expansive with his own body makes people who would otherwise be at a safe distance feel nonetheless like he’s too close for comfort. Akio’s freedom of movement (accurately) suggests he would continue to behave that way even if it trampled on the boundaries of the person watching him.
What someone does with their arms when they sit down ultimately decides the posture they use. When sitting, posture is simply the means to that end. There are three sitting positions Akio uses that depend largely on the positioning of the arms.
The first we see is based on a slouched forward posture. Akio puts most of the bend in his back, so he slouches, which is normal, especially for a tall person. Properly, the bend would be at his hip, but the only
people that habitually obey that rule are women who want to emphasize their breasts. In practice, everyone else bends the back. His elbows are placed on the thigh or knee, and in this case, his forearms fall loosely between his legs. Most men use this position with some regularity, though it’s more prevalent among blue-collar guys, being that it’s rather inappropriate for the boardroom. In polite company it’s entirely off-limits to women, though in very casual (all female) company, it will pop up. This isn’t because it’s a rude posture, but more that it’s a very, very laid-back one. It doesn’t flatter the form and it smacks of lazy. However, because it’s only ‘safe’ to do in casual company, it sends a strong signal of comfort with the person you’re dealing with. Unsurprisingly, Akio uses this in situations where he’s dealing with younger girls he wants to make slightly comfortable—Utena and Nanami.
Completely non-sexual interest, then casual interest, and then intense interest.
Aside from ‘hey, you’re cool with me’, this pose is purposefully nonsexual. The forearms draped between the legs create a wall to conceal the genitals. This effect is magnified if the forearms cross or if the hands touch. (The top picture to the left.) In men, it’s a strong signal canceling out sexuality, and so it appears frequently when guys are just hanging out and there’s no immediate consideration of their sex appeal. Of course you’ll also see it in situations where men are specifically trying to appear as though they’re not thinking about sex, and this is where Akio comes in.
The alternate version of this pose is when the elbows are resting on the leg and the forearms are brought up into clasped hands. (Bottom left.) The head might also rest on or in the hands. This pose is used almost exclusively by men, and the message is casual but intense interest. The hands being so close to the chin hint at The Thinker’s pose, and leaning forward into the space of the person nearby shows interest. The combination of interest and concentration makes this pose too much at times: it’s not conversational at all because it indicates more processing and thought than most people put into a casual chat. For someone like Utena, who is simply gossiping about the people around her, this pose is intimidating and a bit embarrassing. He looks like someone fascinated with a great amount of information—his positioning would seem less strange to her if she were discussing quantum mechanics or the history of figures in Hindu myth. Of course, this is a seductive measure—he displays much more interest in what she says than she knows it warrants, so the only conclusion she can come to is that his interest is placed on her personally, not on what she’s talking about.
Finally, Akio often leans back and props an arm up behind him. This is a posture that indicates comfort,
and if the previous one shows intellectual interest, this one is the ultimate display of casual attention. It’s not a pose people usually associate with deep thought or introspection. It can at times indicate someone mulling over a decision, or someone simply relaxing (as seen on park benches), but this usually accompanies a distinct lack of conversation. Once you’re communicating with someone, the meaning is different, especially taking into account the location of the person you’re communicating with. If you’re sitting across from them, as Akio often is, the pose indicates laid-back interest. It’s a listening posture—you don’t have to really think about what you’re hearing. However, it sends two signals that seem to oppose one another. On one hand, the distance created by leaning back when someone’s in front of you indicates disinterest, but on the other, the raised arm exposes the chest, which is a sign of accepted vulnerability. Though the posture doesn’t always indicate sex, Akio’s use of it is at least vaguely sexual—he’s definitely aware that leaning back in this manner suggests a sexual position.
In the context of the scene, this pose is most inappropriate. It betrays the ease with which Akio goes through it, as though he's done it countless times and is basically on autopilot. This
pose also betrays a familiarity with the situation he's in.
When the person you’re speaking with is next to you, then it’s no longer laid-back interest or vaguely sexual suggestion. The gesture becomes one of intimacy; you’re opening yourself, inviting the other person into your space. Akio uses this to create a closeness that unnerves Utena and invades personal space. This invasion is magnified by the fact that it’s actually her being pulled into his space, which she finds even more nerve-wracking than when he moves into hers.
There are a couple instances of Akio doing something very uncharacteristic of him—crossing his arms. This is in just about any interpretation a defensive posture; you’re closing yourself off by making a shield out of your arms. This is not something Akio does often, and the fact that each time he does it differently shows it's not common to him. (People usually have one set way of crossing their arms, they don't vary it much.) He crosses his arms is during the kage shoujo play he attends with Utena and Anthy, and this, coupled with the expression we’re shown mid-performance, shows an Akio that isn’t too fond of what he’s sitting through. A formality unpleasant enough that he lets a little annoyance through. (This is furthered even more by the comment he makes after, when he calls it a sophomoric play, which is as close as Akio can get to bitching about it in a conversational atmosphere.) Another time we see crossed arms is interspersed in episode 38, while he’s ‘trying’ to talk Utena out of dueling. This time it’s deliberate. It’s not a wall created out of self-defense, but rather he’s expressing his detachment from what’s around him. The dialogue is heavy, but it’s countered with gestures of relaxation and disinterest. He’s showing Utena how comfortable he is with what’s going on right now, because this comfort intimidates her.
Finally, there’s little to say of what he does with his arms when he’s standing. Unless he’s holding something or has his hands on his hip/in his pocket, he keeps them at his sides. This is in and of itself not of huge note, except that it means he doesn’t engage in any common defensive postures like holding his arms in front of him. Surprisingly, we don’t often see him holding his hands behind his back—a ridiculously egotistical pose we instead see largely from Touga. When he does, it’s because he’s asserting his authoritative position, as is the case when he tells Utena and Anthy that Nanami will be staying with them, at their great inconvenience.