Let’s get one thing straight: I didn’t like this series. The animation style is very flat, the execution of the story is practically committing itself to insanity, and the excessive use of blood disturbs me. However, I am also committed to talking about Liberation this month; and while I was coming up with my plethora of things to talk about under that scope, this anime original was the one of the first things that came to mind.
Before I get into this review, I would like to express a few limitations. First, this is not a “typical” anime review, in that I will be focusing more on themes and critical analysis rather than character and content. Second, I will not argue whether or not Kill La Kill is a feminist work, but will critique it under a feminist perspective. And third, the main discussion here begins from the latter part of the series, so there will be SPOILERS! So if you’re following along, go back to Kill La Kill episode 16, watch the 1:30 recap, and continue from there.
Kill La Kill begins its narrative with Ryuuko Matoi, a transfer student of Honnouji Academy. Here, she seeks revenge on those who killed her father, and is led to believe that the school’s Student Council President Satsuki Kiriyuuin knows something about it. For the first half of the series, Ryuuko must make her way to the top of the school’s aggressive chain of command to make herself worthy of fighting Satsuki through very over-the-top “death” matches between her and the other students, with only one half of a scissor-blade and a revealing sailor outfit (with a mind of its own) to work with.
This is the first half of the series, and I had a lot of trouble getting through it because of the reasons stated at the beginning of this review. However, the tone of the school grudge match and the revenge narrative rapidly change in the latter half of the series, as Ryuuko starts to learn more about her self and her past. And when that happens, we depart from the revenge part of the story to a tale about liberation.
As it turns out, the ones responsible for Ryuuko’s father’s death is the director of Honnouji Academy and Satsuki’s mother, Ragyou. And her objective is to “cleanse” humanity in the one thing that binds us: our clothing! According to her, humans are made to wear clothing (aside from the strange theory that there is some giant ball of living yarn called the “Life Fiber” that enslaves us). We have evolved to enjoy the innovations of fashion and apparel to the extent that such things define us. Her very display as the antagonist is vanity made manifest, to say the least!
Ragyou has had a great deal of influence on all fashion in the world, but Ryuuko and her friends have their own way to counter their enslavement to clothing. A rebel organization called “Nudist Beach” literally strips down to (almost) nothing to combat the clothing threat as an extreme opposite. And I should note: the very form of this naked (not nude) brigade is male-oriented, not only because it is led mostly by men, but the very aspects of their organization are more of activity or self-incurred action, not passivity or display.
Furthermore,Ryuuko and Nudist Beach aren’t the only ones fighting Ragyou and the Life Fiber. Satsuki also reveals that her goal is to rid herself of her own mother, and the entire legacy that was to be passed down to her: a rejection of her situation and her predetermined fate. There is truly a Hegelian style narrative going on here, as all of these opposing sides clash in a dynamic power-struggle of life and death, resulting from the control of one and the subjugation of the other.
I said I didn’t like the excessive use of blood spatters in this series, but if I am to commit to a Hegelian analysis, violence in its highest form is necessary. When it comes to conflict, each side must commit themselves to risking their very lives for the things they value, and they also must desire the death of the other. However, if both opposing sides are stubbornly committed to a life-and-death view, both will destroy each other in absolute negation; but rarely do we see this kind of negation occur.
When it comes to stories like Kill La Kill, the true narrative comes about not in a destruction of two opposing viewpoints, but the mediation of one thing to another. And Ryuuko’s character reflects this principle well.
Ryuuko is not human, for the very Life Fiber she combats runs through her veins. She’s also Ragyou’s long-lost daughter and therefore Satsuki’s sister, but that’s not important right now. The fact that she is a part of the Life Fiber allows her to communicate with her sailor outfit, Senketsu, who is also born of the Life Fiber.
However, Ryuuko and Senketsu together are not “The” Life Fiber either! For them, they are somewhere in between: a synthesis or mediation between human and life fiber. And together, they are the ones who can truly free themselves of the situations they are placed in, and combat any villains that come their way!
Some may describe Ryuuko’s outfit (as well as many others in this series) as too revealing or risque and therefore an exploitation of the feminine figure. I’m sure it’s considered sexualized, but it seems like anything can be spun that way anyway! I think of Ryuuko’s character in that outfit more as her symbol of strength and activity, rather than her acceptance of being some kind of promiscuous figure on display. So good for her!
Finally, as the conflict draws to a close, Ryuuko doesn’t fully destroy Ragyou and the Life Fiber. Rather, she envisions a new world where both can live in some form of harmony; but this time, Ragyou is the one that submits. However, Ragyou leaves Ryuuko with a warning: that there will always be someone or something that will come to enslave humanity. Those who commit to liberation must acknowledge this unending fate, but the truth of the matter comes out perfectly from Ryuuko: even though times will change and conflict never ends, there is always at least least one thing that doesn’t change. And thus I will leave you on some food for thought through Ryuuko’s words:
So if you’re looking for an action-packed anime that goes beyond their own insanity to give a commentary on human freedom, check out Kill La Kill.