A Blade That Cuts Irony: Kill la Kill

“The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.” – Nietzsche 

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For nearly thirty years, the Japanese animation studio Gainax has been telling one story: a story about human yearnings and dreams, about the power and potential of love, ingenuity, and the human spirit. In an odd twist of fate, the studio’s most well-known work in the west has always been Neon Genesis Evangelion, an obvious and enormous exception to this theme, a story about the walls between people and the things that keep them from realizing their dreams and knowing love. Perhaps because of the simple human affinity we have for focusing on the negative, or because of our more specific bias toward praising suffering in art, Evangelion has achieved more international recognition than any other Gainax production. And it certainly deserves the attention. It’s wonderful.

But alongside Eva stand around a dozen other incredibly human works, the latest of which comes from Trigger, a new studio formed by most of the creative talent Gainax had at the start of this decade. One of the two founding members of Trigger is Hiroyuki Imaishi, an animator and director who worked on many of the great Gainax titles, and who directed the epic Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann and more recently the raucous comedy Panty and Stocking With Garterbelt, which I wrote about previously on this blog.

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Trigger burst onto the scene last year with Little Witch Academia, a short feature with movie-quality animation that seems to have enchanted everyone who saw it. LWA followed a host of timeworn anime tropes and familiar characters through a story structure resembling an anime Harry Potter, except with an all-female cast of witches. Pretty much everything that happened in its story was predictable, and one could see from the beginning that the ambitions of its clumsy, big-hearted heroine to follow in the footsteps of her own witch heroine would be realized. But the telegraphed nature of the plot took nothing away from the film’s effect, simply because the proceedings were imbued with so much love. Every frame of Little Witch Academia drips with attention to detail and playful artistic charm, and the underlying message of the whole thing seems to be one of sheer gratitude for being able to work in the medium of animation and for having the good fortune to stand on the shoulders of the creative giants who came before. With Little Witch Academia, Trigger immediately established themselves as the proper heirs to the Gainax throne, and the kickstarter they put up to fund a sequel earned more than half a million dollars. But before LWA 2 was to be released, Trigger had something else up their sleeve.

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In October of 2013, Trigger unleashed its first full-length anime TV series, titled Kill la Kill. The initial plot of the show revolves around Ryuko Matoi, a rebellious transfer student who arrives at a school that functions something like a fascist dictatorship. The students at this school are ranked in tiers, and the higher their rank the finer the regalia they get to wear. The fun part is that their uniforms are imbued with the power of “life fibers,” which enhance their natural abilities and grow increasingly stronger as the ranks go up. The school is ruled over by Satsuki Kiryuin, the student council president, a girl with a crushing demeanor and a strength of will that makes most villains look like dilettantes. Ryuko suspects that Satsuki is the one who killed her father, which is what brought her to the school in the first place, and she begins fighting Satsuki’s lieutenants one-by-one in her quest to take on the main girl herself. And, importantly, Ryuko has some special clothing of her own: a living seifuku named Senketsu who was bequeathed to her by her murdered father, and with whom she can speak. Wearing Senketsu and wielding a wicked red scissor blade with the power to slice life fibers, Ryuko begins cutting her way toward the truth.

Kill la Kill, above all, is a love letter to anime as a medium in the same way that Little Witch Academia was. The plot description above accurately conveys the sequence of initial events, but it doesn’t describe the show, much in the same way that a description of the structure of a Led Zeppelin song doesn’t convey the song’s sonic content. On the screen, Kill la Kill explodes with life. It’s the antithesis of animation-as-product, of pandering to an audience by using a cheap and proven formula. It constantly surprises the viewer with artistic invention. But at the same time, KlK uses nearly every shounen anime cliche in the book, and yet still manages to feel like the creators are getting away with something they shouldn’t. There is a constant sense that they are playing, creating art out of joy, doing what they do purely for the sake of doing it. This is what all great artists do, and it’s why we usually pay them so much: we love to watch them play.

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The tropes being played with here are shopworn: the hot-blooded shounen hero (Ryuko), the plucky and loyal-but-silly companion (Mako Mankanshoku, one of the show’s greatest creations), the enemies who become strong allies after winning their respect through battle (Satsuki and her lieutenants, the “Elite Four”), and the True Villain, the figure who represents the decline of humanity: in this case utter decadence, enslavement to clothing and superficiality, lack of love for one’s offspring, and a strong love of Thanatos (Raygo Kiryuin, Satsuki’s mother and a villain to remember). All of these tropes have been used hundreds, thousands of times before, and at times Kill la Kill can feel like deja vu because the creators choose not to deviate from the well-beaten path of the shounen plot arc. It is so earnest, so unironic in its presentation of events that it can almost feel embarrassing, as we often feel when we watch television from decades ago and find ourselves laughing defensively. Aren’t we more savvy than this, we thinkmore ironic? I would never be caught dead being emotionally affected by something like this.

But Kill la Kill’s impact does not come from postmodern irony or guile. It comes from pure, visceral style that hits the viewer with megaton force. Imaishi and his animators are absolute masters of their art form, and the things they accomplish with a TV series animation budget are breathtaking. Kill la Kill often has a loose, puffy style to its designs, a style that the animators exploit to wring the most frames of animation and the most possible action they can out of a limited amount of time and money, but this style falls away during more dramatic and important moments to reveal something as honed as a blade. When Trigger put in their utmost effort, the results are amazing. Some scenes in Kill la Kill go beyond the quality of animation that one would expect even in a movie, the actual animation being bolstered by incredible direction with a constantly swooping camera that finds the most dynamic and powerful angles in any given scene.

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Style is pushed to the limit in Kill la Kill, and so is sexuality. When I wrote about Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt, I noted that the luscious transformation sequences of the show’s titular angel characters felt unlike most “fanservice” moments in anime because they were so completely lacking in shame. Japan does not share our western sense of sexual guilt in the sense of “original sin,” but they do have a nearly oppressive sense of modesty, and of shame for indulging in certain lifestyles, anime fandom being one of them. Imaishi’s projects at Gainax always had a sort of punk rock feeling to them because of their rebellion against this attitude. It’s quite apparent that he and his coworkers do not give a fuck about society’s general opinions of their work, and also apparent that their pushing the envelope with unabashed, glorious sexuality was deeply tied in with their larger project of celebrating everything great and strong about the human spirit. As I said, Japan has never equated sex with sin and death in the way that Christianity does, except for perhaps in the pernicious western moral influence that infected the country after WWII, the influence that leads them to mandatorily censor their porn even to this day. But Kill la Kill will have none of that. The main good guy organization in the show is an underground movement called “Nudist Beach” which opposes oppression by clothing. Nudist Beach are comical, but the issue is addressed very sincerely by Ryuko and Satsuki, who in their most powerful transformations become scantily clad. Ryuko is embarassed by this at first, and concerned about the judgments of the crowd, but Satsuki has no qualms. She condescends to Ryuko for caring about the opinions of the rabble around her, and states that she would bare anything in order to accomplish her goals. She feels no shame whatsoever, and the crowd has no choice but to respect this. To a westerner, especially in our hypersensitive modern era which obsesses over body images and wants to moralize every depiction of female beauty, this sentiment comes like a slap in the face. And it should, because there is an intense kind of truth here. “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” Shakespeare opined, and perhaps the connection between the two is that while they can be covered up, neither can be denied once brought into the light. In one of the central visual motifs of Kill la Kill, the act of a character disrobing is often accompanied by blazing clusters of four-pointed stars, stars that also appear when a character is donning a uniform and truly making it their own. This other quote from Nietzsche seems appropriate:

“Most people are nothing and are considered nothing until they have dressed themselves in general convictions and public opinions–in accordance with the tailor philosophy: clothes make people. Of the exceptional person, however, it must be said: only he that wears it makes the costume; here opinions cease to be public and become something other than masks, finery, and disguises.”

An aphorism tailor-made for Kill la Kill. On several occasions in the series, characters accuse other characters of not truly wearing their clothing, saying that in fact they are being worn by it. The implication is that they have not self-actualized, that they are merely playing a role for the sake of a certain audience. In the metaphorical superhero logic of the series, this translates into a lack of physical strength and fighting power: a person who is being untrue to themselves cannot stand in combat against one who has embraced all of what they are, and there is beauty in that truth. In fact, all of the beauty in the series springs from this: Trigger are largely independent artists who work for themselves, who do what they do primarily because they love to do it. And it shows.

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It is no coincidence that Kill la Kill, being an expression of love for great artistic work, is also a celebration of great human beings. Ryuko and Satsuki are female characters in traditionally male roles–the shounen hero and the temporary antagonist foil who becomes his strongest ally–and they embody masculine virtue in the original sense of the word, the Latin virtus: strength. But they also represent pinnacles of feminine beauty, and they have a kind of softness to them in some moments, a nurturing love that would be difficult to achieve on the same level with traditional male protagonists. In short, they come across as apex human beings. They represent the greatest qualities of both the masculine and the feminine, fused together into characters who above all are meant to do one thing: inspire. Both of them blaze with a fire that sets one’s neck hairs tingling, and their passion and conviction make many of our own superheroes seem embarrassingly bland. There is no sense of winking irony in their portrayals, unlike what one finds in nearly all modern western superhero films. Studio Trigger is not trying to be “cool” in Kill la Kill. They don’t need to do that, because they have such strong conviction about what they’re doing, such love for the material and such a powerful sense of style. Tough-guy irony is a crutch they simply don’t need.

ddL09OZ The strangest thing about this lack of irony is that Kill la Kill is overflowing with metafictional references to older artists and series. Typically we associate references with jokes, to the extent that they have even taken the place of actual humor in some modern shows like Family Guy. Japan often does the same thing these days, but in Kill la Kill every reference seems to be played as a straight homage. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, as they say. The shows’s first ending theme sequence, shown above, cribs blatantly from 1985’s Sukeban Deka, another TV series about a fighting delinquent schoolgirl. The references in Kill la Kill are so ubiquitous that fans decided to compile a massive list of them, and reading through it is rather mind-boggling. There’s so much love for anime, television and cinema crammed into KlK, so much gratitude for other works of art and inspiration taken from them, that it’s no wonder the show has such passion. It reminds me of another old saying: “talent borrows, genius steals.” But in this case theft doesn’t seem like the correct metaphor. Rather than trying to claim all these things as their own, Trigger seems to be celebrating that they exist as part of our cultural heritage. What a great thing it is, that we still have all of this art to enjoy. The series leans especially heavily on the works of Go Nagai, an infamous mangaka whose art constantly pushed the envelope in his own time. Nagai’s sense of chaos, the fierce and fanged nature of many of his characters, and his drive to be sexually transgressive are all very apparent in the show.

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But it should be mentioned, amidst all this serious art talk, that the greatest aspect of 
Kill la Kill is possibly its sense of humor. Humor is present in the show always, a sense of lightness and playfulness being the background from which all of its dramatic events arise. As in Gurren Lagann and Panty and Stocking, Trigger refuses to take themselves too seriously. Every stern scowling line delivered by Satsuki is coupled with a derisive aside from her tiny lieutenant Nonon, or an insanely rambunctious outburst from Mankanshoku Mako. Mako often punctuates the show’s most intense, most serious moments with sudden interruptions, a musical chorus shouting “Hallelujah!” in the background as she proceeds to pantomime her particular screwball take on what is going on in an attempt to sway the opinion of Ryuko or one of the antagonists. Interestingly, this almost always works. Mako has a divine foolishness which cannot be denied, and she is consistently respected for it, along with her tenacious sense of loyalty. There is something deeply marvelous about her character, so silly and yet so freely expressive, and Trigger has more fun with her than they do with any other character in the series. It’s impossible to be totally tense with Mako around. Pure foolishness restores.

In the same vein, another great character of the series is Harime Nui, the “grand couturier” of Ragyo’s clothing company, and the most menacing figure in Kill la Kill.  Nui is cute as a button, obnoxiously cute, pink frilly dress and massive curls of blonde hair, often flouncing around with a fancy umbrella. She wears a purple patch where she lost an eye, and her manner throughout most of the series is mocking and unflappable. Moreover, she cannot be stopped by Ryuko or anyone else. She’s like some kind of gothic lolita terminator, and her overly cutesy appearance and behavior, which most people would already find annoying, are made even moreso by the fact that she seems to break all the world-rules of the show. Nui also routinely breaks the fourth wall, in ways that even Mako seldom does, and all of this adds up to make her one of the most effective “love to hate them” villains in recent memory. Never has cute been so intimidating and so irritating.

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It’s worth mentioning too that all of these characters are brought so vibrantly to life not only by the skill of the animators, but also by the voice talent. The energy and intensity that the actors put into their performances reaches levels that are not often seen outside of animation–the closest analogue in America would probably be the kind of dramatic monologuing in films like Braveheart or A Few Good Men. The almost total lack of irony in the series gives the actors free reign to be completely committed to their performances, to scream and roar in the booth with every ounce of passion they have. This kind of stuff is more common in anime than it is in western films, but Kill la Kill excels in the emotionality of its voice acting even by Japanese standards, and the rousing soundtrack by Hiroyuki Sawano gives the actors a fantastic base to stand on. The show’s recurring musical themes are unflinchingly ardent, some sounding angry and rebellious and others wonderfully noble. All of them inspire emotion, and the music ties up the total package of the show beautifully. It’s hard to imagine anyone giving serious attention to Kill la Kill without having some kind of emotional response.

The response, on the internet, has certainly been emotional. The show has been extremely divisive, attracting many devoted fans who maintain that it is “saving anime” (a claim that seems to resurface every few years, usually attached to a Gainax production), and a large group of people who decry the show as being juvenile, overly bombastic, too action-packed, and too self-serious. Many take issue with the show’s nudity as well, displaying a sort of puritan squeamishness and prompting others to make apologetics by way of saying that it’s a satire of fanservice, or a “deconstruction.” The show spells out clearly in words that this is not the case, but people will go a long way with their cognitive dissonance when it comes to sexual discomfort. The main issue, however, is that many people seem to be very uncomfortable with the show’s guilelessness. If one is accustomed to shielding oneself by maintaining an ironic distance from the world, a work of art like Kill la Kill can seem threatening. In a way, its lack of irony is rebellious.

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One of the main things Kill la Kill and the internet reaction to it brought to my mind was a 1993 essay by David Foster Wallace, titled”E Unibus Pluram,” where Wallace pondered the ways in which American television has descended further and further into defensive layers of irony, and the futile ways in which we have reacted to this cycle by bashing TV and trying to become more and more ironic ourselves (while still constantly watching televison). After wrestling with this seemingly intractable issue for 42 pages, Wallace comes to the conclusion that the only way out, the only true way for the contemporary artist to rebel in a climate where irony has rendered rebellion obsolete, is to embrace earnestness. He suggests that such rebels would “have the childish gall actually to endorse single-entendre values,” and would “treat old untrendy human troubles and emotions…with reverence and conviction.” The risk of this, he points out, is the risk of disapproval: “the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the ‘how banal.'” And that is the negative reaction that Kill la Kill has gotten, from some people. Specifically, detractors have accused it of being a show for teenagers or children, implying that to be an adult is to hide behind a redoubt of irony. This reaction comes as no surprise.

The great surprise, however, is how popular Kill la Kill is. One of the delightful things about our modern era that Wallace couldn’t have seen back in 1993 is the degree of cultural cross-pollination we have reached, where the Hot New Thing in Japan is simultaneously a big deal in America. Kill la Kill was simulcast on Crunchyroll, the largest American digital anime site, and US fans were able to experience it at the same time as fans in Japan. The amount of fanart, cosplay, internet posting and general excitement and hype surrounding the show was greater than any other in the past few years, and after the airing of the series finale last Thursday it seemed that most people were very pleased. The critical reception, for the most part, has been highly positive. Interestingly, it’s hard to imagine the response being the same if Kill la Kill had been an American show. The series is profoundly Japanese, and perhaps something about it being so foreign allows an irony-inoculated American audience to accept it and revel in it, rather than rolling their eyes and turning away. For whatever reason, Japan has still not reached the level of irony saturation present in western culture, and our increasingly close relationship with them allows their bright-eyed take on the world to penetrate and influence our own.

But, as I said before, Kill la Kill is amazingly earnest even compared to other anime. And the reason for this, above all, seems to be love. Trigger is an anomaly, an animation studio formed by seasoned auteurs who maintain nearly complete creative control of their projects. They are “artist’s artists,” people who have nothing in mind but creating something which they themselves adore, and they expose us to a truth which is easily forgotten in a jaded and overly-marketed world: the most successful art is always art created in a state of play, created to please and satisfy the artist rather than some imagined mass audience. Kill la Kill is a success because, no matter how much farther we travel down the irony rabbit-hole, people will always respond to art made by and about people who are striving to be true to themselves. In short, the outpouring of gratitude, love of craft, and power of style in Kill la Kill are things which simply can’t be faked.

 

 

The fan-compiled list of references in the show: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/225692543/References.html

Watch it on Crunchyroll! http://www.crunchyroll.com/kill-la-kill

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12 Responses to A Blade That Cuts Irony: Kill la Kill

  1. jstorming says:

    Brilliant analysis! As a literature fanatic, I always place strong emphasis on storytelling and thematic structure, but Kill la Kill pleasantly won me over with its distinctive and daring use of artistic style and homage to popular culture.

    • Lance says:

      Thanks man! I think KlK is a great example of how there’s more than one kind of “high brow,” or more than one category in which to judge what’s great in art. When it comes to our television and films in the west, our critics generally do tend to have more respect for works that excel in literary ways than for the ones that serve as the greatest examples of style. I think KlK actually has a lot of great concepts and ideas embedded in it though, as I pointed out here. It’s just so wild and crazy most of the time it doesn’t dwell on them for long.

      Checking out your blog now!

  2. megaroad1 says:

    Loved reading your piece on KLK. Agree with many of your points. Here’s to hoping that Trigger continues cementing its status amongst anime studios.

    • Lance says:

      Thank you! And yeah, I have a lot of hope for them. It looks like the next thing they’re doing is based on a light novel so I’m a bit skeptical about it, but I’m thinking maybe it’s just a project they’re using to make money for their next big artistic work.

  3. Ogreof1945 says:

    You’re certainly a good writer and this blog post is a sign of the power of skill to craft a compelling analysis. But does that really mean your array of points is, shall we say, perfectly hitting the mark? Not necessarily.

    There have been criticisms that were not addressed here and which are absolutely valid reasons why someone else might not be as in love with the series and its production as you clearly are.

    That said, I am mostly mixed about it. Part of me wants to agree with you, since the experience itself was entertaining, but other issues prevent me from completely finding it satisfactory.

    • Lance says:

      I appreciate what you’re saying, but I also think it’s pretty vague. It seems like you want to raise objections against my depiction of the show without actually raising particular objections. I don’t know exactly what the “other issues” you’re referring to are, so I can’t comment on them.

      That being said, I didn’t write this piece to be a completely objective or detached analysis of the show. I’m obviously cheerleading for it here, and I think when I wrote this I was trying to capture the show’s particular exuberance in my own way. I wrote it out of love and it was uplifting to write. But if you want to talk about some other criticisms of the show, feel free to bring them up! I fully support critical thinking and I’m not going to snap at you.

  4. Wonderful, delightful, insightful analysis that articulates all the fuzzy thoughts in my head! From the heart of an Old Gainax fan, thank you, thank you! I made a Blog Post specifically to point to your writeup.

    • Lance says:

      Thanks so much, Amy! I really appreciate the link, and it makes me super happy to see my words resonating with other fans. That’s been the best thing about writing this. 🙂

      I can’t wait to see what Trigger’s next original production is going to be.

  5. jwm says:

    You are a skilled writer, this was a great read. I have been frustrated trying to explain what I love about Kill la Kill and what makes it worth watching, and here you have put my sentiments in writing.

    Criticism has been directed at the show’s use of nudity and fanservice. Some critics seem to take the very existence of sexual imagery as a negative. You attribute this to “puritan squeamishness” and “sexual discomfort”. I believe you missed the mark there – this criticism is neither outdated prudishness nor repressed hormones. In my experience these critics are coming from a feminist standpoint. I think this might be the “other issue” that Ogreof1945 is referring to. Kill la Kill has mostly female main characters who have real power and self-determination. However they are overtly sexualized throughout the show. One could argue the show is enforcing the stereotype that women can only achieve power through leveraging their sexuality. You did not address that in detail.

    Personally I think those critics are missing the larger point. Nudity in Kill la Kill is clearly a means to power and self-determination, but so are the bonds of friendship and familial love, and also strong conviction and willpower. For men and women in this show, clothes represent oppression. Taking them off is literally the plot. The fanservice is there, but it never overshadows the characters – in fact Satsuki and Ryuko both prevail in spite of the ogling of the masses. Also, the use of nudity shifts over the course of the show from more raunchy fanservice in the beginning to more of what you might call “casual nudity” at the end. Everyone’s a nudist, no big deal! It might be strange to say but there is a wholesomeness to the nudity at the end of Kill la Kill. The emotional impact (pun intended) of the ending was heightened by the group’s nudity. It symbolizes Senketsu’s sacrifice, triumph over evil, and the closer-than-family ties that Ryuko has formed. In my opinion this unique and amazing climax could not have been achieved without the overt sexualization from earlier in the show. It provides a contrast. In a way, to tell this story Trigger needed to sexualize the leads right from the beginning, because the emotional payout which is NOT sexualized requires them to be nude.

    Of course the creators might have been more sensitive to feminist issues, but I think you put it well when you said: “It’s quite apparent that [Imaishi] and his coworkers do not give a fuck about society’s general opinions of their work, and also apparent that their pushing the envelope with unabashed, glorious sexuality was deeply tied in with their larger project of celebrating everything great and strong about the human spirit.”

    • Lance says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful post. It’s obvious you understood what I was trying to say. You’re the third person who has prodded me about addressing the issues pertaining to American internet feminism, so I’ll do that now (I assumed that was what Ogre was talking about, but he/she didn’t have the guts to actually say so, so I didn’t go there).

      When I first started writing this piece, the feminism angle was actually going to be the main thing it addressed. Or rather, I was going to focus it around the fact that this show so brilliantly refutes many extreme-left talking points without even attempting to do so. Specifically, I was going to talk about a trend I had noticed: I saw many people wanting to accuse the show of being “sexist,” but simultaneously being unable to articulate themselves or make genuine arguments as to why it was. They would just throw out the accusation and then cowardly slink away, hoping the mud would stick. I felt it did not.

      Kill la Kill is a product of Japan, and like many things Japanese it is very consciously, purposefully Japanese. It was not a show designed to appeal to tastes of Americans, or to appeal to their personal politics. It’s about the artistic vision of the people who wrote and animated it, and it’s so focused on this vision and so particularly Japanese that it serves as an excellent mirror for many of the rather childish entitlements that bubble just under the surface of the juvenile feminism that can easily be found in places like Tumblr. I am wary to even use the word “feminism” to describe this thought-complex because it cheapens a concept which was once valid and noble. Here are some typical entitlements:

      Entitlement number one: “If a show is not consciously made with women as its primary audience, and does not have as its main goal above all other goals the presentation of the two human sexes as being identical in capability and temperment, then it is politically irresponsible and hateful and should be shamed and censored if possible.”

      Entitlement number two: “The natural sexual power of physically attractive women should never be portrayed, because it shows their real advantages over less attractive women. The mountains and the valleys must be leveled and I must never be reminded that other people are more attractive than me. This hurts my ‘body image.’ I see the ugly envy by which I wish to rob others of their natural beauty and power as being a virtue rather than an obvious personal flaw.”

      Entitlement number three (the most absurd of all): “I will constantly indulge in appreciation of media featuring attractive males but will become, shrill, shrewish and scolding when male artists and male viewers create and appreciate works focused on the beauty of the female form. I will disregard thousands of years of evidence that the female body has always been the primary inspiration of male artists, and will continually choose to view all sexualized depictions of women in media created by men as being ‘tools of oppression’ and ‘hateful depictions’ rather than accepting them for what they obviously are: images crafted out of the deepest desires that men hold. Above all, I will refuse to acknowledge biological and cultural realities, and will cling to the incredibly selfish notion that the things that I find sexually pleasing are good and that men’s sexual appetites are unrelentingly evil.”

      That’s a whole lot to swallow, isn’t it? Regardless of whether or not you agree, I think you can see why I left it out of the article. I wanted to write about Kill la Kill, not about “feminism,” and I ended up addressing the topic in a manner which many people probably felt was a glossing-over. But I don’t think it was so much gloss, because I hit the core of the issue: what we often call “feminism” is in fact sex-negativity and deep-seated envy masquerading as an enlightened interest in the fate of women in general. It is no coincidence that a lot of this criticism is coming from America. We may have discarded Christianity for the most part, but our Puritan roots remain, and this country still remains one in which we find horrifying physical violence and gore to be more acceptable for public consumption than ANY FORM of pornography. This gives people who are essentially hateful extremists a very convenient, very old shield to hide behind: “sex is bad” becomes “sexual depictions of women are bad,” but really it’s just the same old thing. And Kill la Kill points that out so incredibly well because everyone in the goddamn show is all about getting naked. The two biggest advocates of nudism in the show are men. They are half-naked almost all of the time. The three male Devas show just as much skin as any of the ladies. I’m preaching to the choir here, I know, but it should nonetheless be said: Kill la Kill is not even vaguely sexist. What American “feminists” find offensive about it is that it embraces the natural sexual power that beautiful women (and men) have, rather than trying to underplay this power as being something which is politically incorrect. The staff of Kill la Kill do not give a fuck about that. Japan, in general, does not give a fuck about that. Kill la Kill is not about sexual politics. It’s about something much deeper: the ability of anyone, regardless of gender, to fully embrace who they are and to gain a great degree of power from it. And this kind of realization is the opposite of much of what we call “feminism” nowadays, in which the message constantly relayed is one that encourages a state of whiny victimhood: “my star cannot shine because yours is brighter, please dim your star.”

      I feel that the philosophical themes in Kill la Kill are on a level so much higher, so much more important than what I see as mostly petty, jealous and prudish considerations, that these issues frankly did not even deserve to be mentioned in the post. But there is one line there: “perhaps the connection between the two (beauty and truth) is that while they can be covered up, neither can be denied once brought into the light.” This is one of the major things that Kill la Kill does: it exposes the pure power of human beauty, and that power cannot be realized without some degree of nudity. If one finds oneself unattractive, or unworthy, or in whatever physical or psychological way not up to par, then depictions of strength and beauty like this can be downright uncomfortable. Make no mistake: the extreme left in modern America is a culture that glorifies and encourages weakness, while Kill la Kill is one that glorifies beauty and strength. The two things are simply not compatible, and I fully, earnestly believe that deep down that is what caused most of the discomfort with the show. I’m not trying to be hateful, or to cast people who disliked Kill la Kill into some abyss of judgment, but the fact is that the truth, quite often, is a difficult thing. And it’s also a fact that extreme politics are often specifically about NOT listening and NOT thinking: such ideologies are about creating a reality around oneself that may have very little resemblance to what most of us would call “truth,” and they certainly are not about “love.” They have tunnel-vision, and they lack honest context. When ideologies like this attempt to critique other cultures, they often become hopelessly lost.

      I think Kill la Kill is great precisely because it does run so counter to this kind of narrow, selfish and ultimately self-harming ideology. It sends a clear message to people that they can write their own rules and be who they really want to be instead of just accepting the roles that society wants to hand to them. I hope in the future more people will be able to look past our American prudishness and see that the nudity in the show is an important metaphor, like you said. And besides being a metaphor, the characters are just great to look at. They’re both inspiring AND hot, and I would never try to make an argument that the people who made the show weren’t creating art that they found to be sexually arousing. To suggest that the characters shouldn’t be physically/sexually powerful in the same way that they are mentally powerful displays a kind of sick detached dualism that is commonly accepted in modern America, where it’s considered normal to try to completely disassociate one’s mind from one’s body. It’s one thing to want to be respected for one’s intellect, and entirely another to expect others to completely ignore one’s physical existence. There is something perverted and sick about that, and the expectation seems to have snowballed in the last decade with the rise of internet socializing, where people hide behind screens and want to deny the physical.

      Perhaps Kill la Kill will show a few of these people that open sexuality can go along with confidence, and that shallow accusations of sexism based purely on characters getting naked are very likely to be false. I imagine it’s already had that effect, on some people who gave it a chance. And that’s another reason to love the show.

  6. jwm says:

    Hey, thanks for the reply. I didn’t expect another article 🙂
    I completely agree with the idea that, being Japanese, Kill la Kill is in some ways inaccessible to western critics (myself included). It is part of the charm of anime for me, but I see how it hinders this sort of analysis. Square pegs and round holes, right? Your thoughts on the American extreme left and “internet feminism” are interesting. I can’t say I disagree. I would only emphasize (although you have said it already) that feminism is not the extreme left, and every movement has its zealots.

    • Lance says:

      No problem. I’m glad you didn’t mind it being so long… I guess I had this stuff in my head during the past week and wanted to get it out. And yeah, I think you’re right that one of the major charms of anime is that it exposes us to another culture with ideas and expectations that are often very different from our own. A lot of people are critical of “exoticism,” but I think the reason we get so excited about foreign things is because they’re so new to us and there’s so much we can learn from them. Really understanding other cultures allows us to see our own culture in ways that we couldn’t before, and that’s part of why KlK was so exciting to me. I don’t think any American could have come up with it in 2014!

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