Kill la Kill

I watched Kill la Kill, or, that anime where the magical girl costumes involve stripper gear.

Note neither character is transformed here, because their actual outfits are Not Safe For Work.

Here is what I can tell you about it:

1) I watched all of it in a few days.
2) I almost never had the slightest clue what would happen next.
3) Fight scenes.
4) Really loved the female characters.
5) Japan why must you be so rapey.

So! When I say I would recommend it, definitely consider that last bit. The initial stuff is mostly ogling/flashing, where it’s a matter of your tolerance for the joke of “the man is doing an inappropriate but not explicitly threatening thing, the woman threatens or assaults him in response”, and while the implications there are terrible I personally can roll with the idea this is taking place in an alternative universe where things work that way. But then actual sexual abuse happens in the second half. This is probably meant to be part of whatever Kill la Kill is saying about sexuality/clothing/society, and I may not be entirely clear on what’s going on but I can say with certainty it was not necessary for whatever that was.

Kill la Kill is definitely saying something, though. I’m pretty sure it’s saying a lot of things, in fact, but it’s saying them in a very Japan way at a million miles an hour, so I likely missed half of it. I honestly found the question of objectification an interesting one, in part because while the outfit is completely designed around it the frantic and brutal fight scenes actually keep the camera from focusing the way anime normally does. Similarly, the magical girl transformation is pornographic, but the need to stuff more fight scene into an episode means they often skip some or all of it. The outfit is in-universe ridiculous but out of universe the anime’s overall design is actually conspiring against taking full advantage of that. Is the fact Ryuko needs to get over her embarrassment at wearing the outfit to succeed echoing the idea women are empowered by showing skin, or is the point that people need to stop reading anything into what people wear? Why is her outfit a guy, and is the blood a metaphor for sex or menstruation? Both? Life itself? Her opposing number’s outfit is a “wedding dress” called Purity, which at first pass suggests the former, but on second pass that whole side of things is wrongheaded and in denial, so it’s probably not a clear cut duality.

A large part of what I found enjoyable about Kill la Kill is simply how the narrative focus is centered around female characters far more than the camera is centered on female butts. It’s not impossible that my standards have just been destroyed by the fact the last dozen animes I poked were of the “here’s a cool girl but sorry, Sir Boring is our protagonist so deal” sort, but the story revolves around Ryuko, who is “avenging her father” in a way that sure looks a lot like it’s more about avenging her own shitty life and feelings of isolation; Mako, who’s Ryuko’s biggest supporter (and who Ryuko will stop on a dime for, even while out of her mind); and Satsuki, who manages to pull off an ice queen you’re so beneath me I didn’t even notice you thing while still being utterly obsessed with everything Ryuko is doing and who’s also busy with some 4th dimensional chess level plotting. And while surprise villains-behind-the-villain naturally pop up as the series continues, the bigger bads? Still female. Male characters exist, but they stay in their lane rather than try to usurp the plot. Is that one dude possibly interested in Mako? I guess. Is he going to get time to actually address that? No, Mako has to give another speech about how great Ryuko is and how they’re going on a date later.

In conclusion, while searching for a picture to stick on this I found a Ryuko body pillow and it’s awful because Ryuko’s demure blush is massively OOC. Whatever else you can say about the rationale behind this anime, Ryuko does not blush demurely when she’s embarrassed, she’s either stone-faced or furious and either way she will absolutely be following it up with city-leveling amounts of violence.


  1. illhousen says:

    Yeah, that about mirrors my thoughts: good anime, shame about the rape stuff, could definitely be a deal-breaker to some.


    “here’s a cool girl but sorry, Sir Boring is our protagonist so deal”

    Here’s something you may like:

  2. APen says:

    Kill la kill was a weird anime to watch, because as you said, it’s all semi-pornographic/exploitative, but the actual story is about female characters, from the perspective of female characters, and the relationships between them feel really genuine. And I always felt the anime had a point to make, but it’s so bizarre and out-there that I could never really synthesize it into any kind of concrete thesis. Kind of want to re-watch it now.

    1. Farla says:

      And it’s incredibly blunt about pretty much everything, it’s just I can’t put the pieces together!

      1) So we open with a lesson about Hitler, and the school is clearly about fascism, and they also pause to explain school uniforms are based off military uniforms.

      But also the second half is revealing that when Satsuki turned the uniformed schoolkids of Japan into a literal army, it was actually to rebel against corporations/Japanese culture as a whole. Which seems like it’s less “the military/fascist bent of Japan is the problem” and more “hey kids, realize your oppressors have given you the weapons to fight back”.

      Also they both specifically reference “sailor uniforms” as the most blatant of the military wear on schoolchildren and that Senketsu is a sailor uniform, but also that has to burn up to free her to wear something else.

      2) The pigs in human clothing thing/people are nothing without clothing/the wearing vs being worn thing.

      3) The Nudist Beach thing seems like it’s about rejecting shame/societal control, and certainly the end is everyone naked in a pile of friendship and unity, but also, they were pretty irrelevant and it was only those who harnessed the power of clothing who accomplished anything.

      I think the key is them assaulting Ryuko to strip her, which they were clearly in the wrong about. Maybe they’re metaphorically the “stripping is empowering! here let me help!” faction. Being ashamed of your nudity is a mistake, but so is policing what people wear at all.

      And that would fit with Mako’s ending bit about how Ryuko is fighting for their rights to just wear what they want.

      4) Definitely a whole lot about class. Obviously there’s the tie between doing well in school = your family now is in a mansion, but I wonder if the extreme social mobility reads more or less weird in Japan than it does here? And there’s how Ryuko wearing the outfit makes her a skank but an even more extreme outfit on a rich girl is stylish, etc, and multiple characters just straight up saying you can’t wear that because you’re not rich enough for it to be classy.

      5) Is the aliens thing a metaphor for the unnaturalness of clothing or is it because aliens are cool?

      6) The last few episodes involved a lot of shouting about incomphrensibility as a virtue, which I think is also about uniqueness and how uniforms stifle that, which you’d think would tie into the rest of the show but not really.

  3. Act says:

    I haven’t watched KlK, but I’ve also been finding lately that I care far, far more about women being meaningfully involved in stories than I do about costuming. I think it’s at least partially that crappy costuming is so rote and samey that it’s ignorable if the camera ignores it — as long as, say, a game doesn’t linger on upskirt shots (hellooo, Atelier Totori), it’s easy to ignore a weird costume, and if the game is otherwise fine about women, I find myself not really caring if on the character stat screen the costume is stupid.

    Like you, I’m not sure if this is a sign my standards have gotten stupidly low or I’ve just been Stockholmed into accepting it or what, but I do feel the same way.

    1. Keleri says:

      In the later episodes I remember getting the impression that there would be one or two fanservicey shots, like, “here it is you sack of crap”, and then the rest would just be ridiculous animation and action and whatnot. It’s certainly far more fun than the usual upskirt parade.

      But yeah, super rapey. An early implied rape fakeout almost made me stop watching it but luckily I powered through.

  4. Roarke says:

    KlK is often brought up in conversations of “good story/characters but loaded with fanservice”. I’ll assume it cleared that (relatively high for anime) bar, going by this post.

    I was thinking about this in other media, namely Tales of Berseria, because while the main character is dressed in literal rags, she’s the main character, with a vengeance-focused character arc you don’t see much for women unless rape is involved. It’s almost like it’s easier for the writers to make progress on female characters than the visual designers. Which makes a kind of sense, I guess.

    1. illhousen says:

      Wellll, yes and no. You can’t really cleanly separate KlK into “good characters/plot” and “bad extraneous fanservice” because fanservicy outfits are interwoven into the plot and clearly serve some thematic purpose, so a more appropriate conversation would be about the validity of using loaded imagery in service of artistic goal.

      The problem here, however, is that while everyone is confident that KlK is saying something intriguing, nobody (at least outside of Japan, and even then I have my doubts) is quite sure what, specifically, it’s saying.

      1. Roarke says:

        I’m not really suggesting that fanservice and the like are always divorced from the characters and story, or even that they must be separated to tell a good story. Just that it’s how folks usually describe a quality work that contains fanservice.

        1. CrazyEd says:

          There’s an inherent problem with approaching KlK that way, because they absolutely can’t be divorced, even if you want to. The fanservice is definitely meant to serve a deeper thematic point… but it’s also 100% absolutely also there to be fanservice. The surface level analysis of the story is still a 100% valid and intentionally correct way to analyse it. It is simultaneously a series using loaded imagery to tell a deeper story… but also totally blatant and upfront with its desire to be a fanservice medium… which itself kind of ties back into its themes of self honesty… Satsuki’s suit is there because themes, but it’s there just as much because sling bikinis are hot.

          1. Roarke says:

            I mean… I get that… I said that I got that… I said that I’m not suggesting the fanservice is always divorced from its story and characters in the comment you replied to. I’m strictly saying, among people who frequent anime and manga, that there’s a category of “fanservice, but good characters/story” that KlK fits into. I guess maybe I’m wording this all wrong or something, because I could swear I clarified it in response to illhousen’s comment, which is basically the same as yours.

            I’m both drunk and tired right now, so idek.

  5. Nerem says:
    It’s okay, it’s very confusing. It’s like trying to watch Lily Bear Storm (watch Lily Bear Storm) without the contextual backgroup that it expects you to have to understand the message.


    Also relevant to Ryuko and Mako, I ended up with a pair of characters in this story I’m writing who mimick them a fair deal. One is an uber-practical orderly mercenary who dislikes frivilous things and seems like no-fun incarnate, but she ends up being (nearly against her will) befriended by a tiny fairy who loves chaos and pranks and being silly ends up teaching the mercenary a lot of things and helping her become a warmer, more fun person through being able to sell her on the practicality of basically anything, even incredibly stupid things.

    1. CrazyEd says:

       It’s like trying to watch Lily Bear Storm (watch Lily Bear Storm) without the contextual backgroup that it expects you to have to understand the message.

      I’m pretty sure watching Ikuhara without context is just pure masochism. In his quest for subtext, he sometimes forget the text.

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