They explain that this iconic convention is a conceptual metaphor—where one domain of concepts is mapped to another. In particular, metaphors aid in understanding abstract concepts in terms of more concrete ones. In this case, the metaphor is "Loss of Control is Loss of Hands." When characters lose control emotionally, their hands disappear. It is noticeable that this technique is very subtle—it is not the primary focus of the images and occurs frequently throughout their analyzed book.
They also mention an interesting corrolary that other characters undergo additional changes to their bodies. One character's feet turn into stumps ("foot loss") in a case of extreme happpiness, while another shrinks to the size of a child without facial features when humiliated. They speculate that an overarching metaphor of "Emotion is Bodily Change" might cover all of these specific cases.
I find these changes interesting from a structural point of view as well. Many abstract signs in the visual language of comics use "substitution" or "suppletion" as a strategy of conveying signs. For example, hearts substitute for eyes to show love, or dollar signs substitute for eyes to show desire for money. In this case, the substitution is a deletion—getting rid of a body part. This makes me wonder if there are other abstract signs in manga that replace the hands, or to what extent other body parts may be deleted.
Comics and manga have many ways to convey the expression of emotion, ranging from exaggerated facial expressions and hand/arm positions to the squiggles around body parts that Kennedy (1982) calls ‘pictorial runes’. According to Ekman at least some emotions – happiness, surprise, fear, sadness, anger, disgust – are universal, but this is not necessarily the case for their expression in comics and manga. While many of the iconic markers and pictorial runes that Forceville (2005) charted in an Asterix album to indicate that a character is angry occur also in Japanese manga, Shinohara and Matsunaka also found markers and runes that appear to be typical for manga. In this article we examine an unusual signal conveying that a character is emotionally affected in Volume 4 of Kiyohiko Azuma’s Azumanga Daioh: the ‘loss of hands’. Our findings (1) show how non-facial information helps express emotion in manga; (2) demonstrate how hand loss contributes to the characterization of Azuma’s heroines; (3) support the theorization of emotion in Conceptual Metaphor Theory.
Abbott, M.,&; Forceville, C. (2011). Visual representation of emotion in manga: Loss of control is Loss of hands in Azumanga Daioh Volume 4 Language and Literature, 20 (2), 91-112 DOI: 10.1177/0963947011402182