What (Not) to Wear: Undressing Kill la Kill’s Wardrobe [NSFW]

October 17, 2013 § 40 Comments

ryuko matoi, kill la kill, ryuko, kill la kill episode 2

“What I drew was not eroticism. It was all about Japan’s culture of shame. The characters want to show what they’ve got, but they’re too embarrassed to do so. It’s all about the tug of war between men and women. I wanted that embarrassment to be the eroticism of the stories.”

-Go Nagai in a 2008 interview

I did not like Kill la Kill until episode three of the series.

There are many influences from past anime and manga present in Kill la Kill – from the freeze-frame Osamu Dezaki cuts to direct Revolutionary Girl Utena references – however, the ones that had most informed my viewing, for better and for worse, had come from my own personal experience with Go Nagai. Following the first episode of the series, all I could see in Kill la Kill was Nagai’s Kekko Kamen (in this case, for worse) which has the dubious honor of being the first Nagai property that I ever watched. Both stories deal with a sadistic, facist school setup where the heroine must save a hapless, presumably chaste, schoolgirl (Mako Mankanshoku in Kill la Kill and Mayumi Takahashi in Kekko Kamen) from being attacked, or raped, by perverted classmates and faculty. In my mind, the only differences between the two were that Kill la Kill had fewer direct Nazi references along with a tacked-on revenge subplot.

“Hey, have you ever thought it was embarrassing to jump around in such a short skirt?”

-Fish Eye, to Usagi Tsukino (Sailor Moon), Sailor Moon SuperS, episode 140

One thing I do appreciate Kekko Kamen for is the fact that the masked heroine is not ashamed of her nude appearance. If anything, she revels in it, and she certainly owns it rather than feeling shame over her nudity or overtly sexual presentation. It reminded me of Usagi Tsukino and Chibi-usa’s response to Fish Eye’s question regarding their state of dress, or undress, in Sailor Moon SuperS. After a moment of deliberation between the two girls, they realize that they’ve never found their actions, or sailor uniforms, to be embarrassing, and answer Fish Eye with a resounding, “Not at all!” complete with all of the genuine sass that a teenage girl can muster.

ryuko matoi, ryuko in her kamui, kamui, kill la kill, kill la kill episode 1

“That looks both painful and embarrassing you masochistic exhibitionist!”

-Omiko Hatodake to Ryuko Matoi, Kill la Kill, episode 2

In contrast, until episode three, Ryuko Matoi was incredibly ashamed of the outfit she was forced – the uniform raped her – to wear in order to avenge her father’s death. This is where we turn our attention back to Go Nagai, and what he claims his manga to have been about: “Japan’s culture of shame.” In Kill la Kill, the camera is constantly focused on showing us how sexy Ryuko’s shame in her outfit is. Additionally, characters that interact with Ryuko are all-too-quick to point out how shameful and disgusting of a display she makes in her costume. This rubbed me the wrong way (no pun intended) because our perception as viewers of Ryuko’s sexiness did not stem from her confidence or ownership of the outfit (no matter how skimpy it is), but from her being overpowered or shamed by it.

kill la kill, ryuko matoi, satsuki kiryuin, kill la kill episode 3

“I’m not sure how I feel about being laughed at by you in that exhibitionist getup…”

“Exhibitionist? Nonsense! This is the form in which a kamui is able to unleash the most power! The fact that you are embarrassed by the values of the masses only proves how small you are! If it means fulfilling her ambitions, Satsuki Kiryuin will show neither shame nor hesitation, even if she bares her breasts for all the world to see!”

-A conversation between Ryuko Matoi and Satsuki Kiryuin, Kill la Kill, episode 3

This is turned on its head in Kill la Kill‘s third episode thanks to Satsuki Kiryuin and her forcing a similar vampiric uniform into submission through a ritual that suspiciously resembles Briar Rose/Sleeping Beauty and losing her virginity. The only difference is that she is not subject to the whims of a witch or the curse of a spurned baby shower guest. Satsuki is in complete control of her situation and chooses to initiate the contract with the kamui, as opposed to the rape of Ryuko. This bloodthirsty uniform, in a traditional sense, does indeed become Satsuki’s wedding dress, as her father had told her when she was younger; however, it all happens on Satsuki’s terms. Furthermore, when Ryuko tries to impose the shame that she feels while wearing a kamui onto Satsuki, the latter firmly trashes those thoughts, and Ryuko, by throwing them both headfirst to the ground. Regardless of whether I think that Go Nagai was addressing the so-called “culture of shame” because he felt it empowered the women in his stories or because it made them more delicious targets for his ever-salivating male audience (personally, I believe it to be more of the latter), Kill la Kill does confront this head-on through Satsuki’s thorough thrashing of Ryuko’s embarrassment. Why feel shame when one can simply choose to own what they wear?

ryuko matoi, kill la kill, ryuko matoi transformation sequence, kill la kill episode 3

Ryuko’s subsequent transformation, in contrast to her previous submission to the uniform’s power, resembles a magical girl transformation (coming back full circle to Sailor Moon) with Ryuko bonding with the uniform in a sequence that is both sexy and powerful. This doesn’t fully resolve the issue of the in-universe audience informing how the viewer should feel about Satsuki and Ryuko’s respective uniforms, but I hope to see a slightly more respectful response by the student body to the new, confident Ryuko, just as they already gaze in awe at Satsuki as opposed to the more prurient, baser, interest (shown below).

Satsuki appearing in a kamui demands respect.

Satsuki appearing in a kamui demands respect.

Note the tongues and nosebleeds.

Note the tongues and nosebleeds.

The erotic heritage of Go Nagai forms the shell that Kill la Kill presumably aims to break through. Only time will tell if it will revolutionize anything; however, now that Ryuko has learned to wear her uniform, I’m intensely curious to see where it goes.

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§ 40 Responses to What (Not) to Wear: Undressing Kill la Kill’s Wardrobe [NSFW]

  • Great discussion of the issue of the outfits in Kill la Kill. I definitely liked the turnaround in episode three, but didn’t feel that it was my place to write about it. I really hope that you continue to cover Kill la Kill this season Em. ^ ^

    • ajthefourth says:

      I’m never sure if it’s my place to write about anything, but this is how I feel and out it came. ^ ^ It’s uncertain whether I’ll continue keeping up with it week to week, especially when I have a really busy work season ahead of me, but who knows?

      Thanks for commenting!

  • foshizzel says:

    Interesting post Aj! So far Kill la Kill appears to be one of those shows that people either love or simply hate because of crazy fanservice moments or simply thanks to TTGL fame and I can see why some would be turned off by the outfits that Ryuko and Satsuki wear ( I have yet to see the 3rd episode but I have seen countless fanarts already on various image boards haha)

    I dunno what I am invested in with Kill la Kill besides the artwork, story and over the top action! I suppose the fanservice isn’t that bad xD

    • ajthefourth says:

      Fanservice is a weird beast for me in that it all comes down to context as to whether it bothers me or not. Most of the time, honestly, it just flies right over my head because I’m not the target audience. ^ ^ That being said, you’re definitely right that this series seems to be another love it or hate it show.

      I hope you enjoy episode three! I really liked it. Thanks for the comment!

  • Erick Rand says:

    I’m certainly glad that the show ad-dressed this issue in time for me to drop it out of a busy schedule, rather than frustration at its social irresponsibility. I knew Trigger had something up its sleeve and called out on the notion of shame rather than simply skirting the issue the entire time. I’d continue watching this show, but I’ve seen quite a few others like it, and frankly, the whole battle school genre was wearing a bit thin on me. I’m just glad someone was able to chime in on this concept in such a short amount of time from the episode’s release. You really ironed out the details and pointed out the common threads between this work and Go Nagai’s. Much credit goes to your writing style and how much it’s blossomed since you started the blog; it certainly suits you quite well <3

  • KK says:

    First off, thanks for the interesting post! I really love your writing style and enjoyed reading your other reviews. While I recognize and appreciate the connections between KLK and Nagai’s body of work, I’m not so sure KLK is doing battle with the “Culture of Shame.”

    As you’ve acknowledged yourself, Ryuko is forced into her costume against her will. Not only is she leered at and mocked, people attempt to force themselves upon her, much like the costume. Instead of being framed as something unpleasant and inherently wrong, something the audience should be disgusted by, it’s played for laughs. No one is encouraged to sympathize with Ryuko for the nasty situations a costume she didn’t even want is putting her in, or feel concern for her well-being: they’re supposed to find it funny and leer at her, too.

    That’s where the problem lies.

    Furthermore, the audience is encouraged to believe that Ryuko is in the wrong for objecting to her situation in the first place. Satsuki belittles Ryuko’s shame and victimization by the “values of the masses” using herself as an example, as if being female and a fellow warrior who embraced her own similar-but-different-circumstances are supposed to make the lack of consent on Ryuko’s part okay. While Satsuki may claim ownership over a situation which was comparatively worse, one individual’s experience, no matter how painful or violent, can’t or shouldn’t invalidate another person’s feelings.

    Yet, Ryuko is expected to suck it up and deal with it. Her choice doesn’t lie in what she wears, only in whether she continues to hate the outfit or embraces it. She has to truly become one with something she’d otherwise hate in order to survive. I’d call that an illusion of free will at best, Stockholm Syndrome at worst.

    To be fair, the series is still very new and the crew at Trigger has plenty of time to explore things. Imaishi is no stranger to female characters who revel in things society deems shameful and find strength in sex appeal either: After all, the no less controversial and racy series “Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt” was also directed by Imaishi prior to his departure from Gainax and its heroines embraced so-called sinful acts unapologetically. They owned their sexiness, felt no embarrassment over what they wanted, pursued what they wanted with zero hesitation and, on days that they felt so-inclined, could be badasses who saved the day. That said, given the evidence KLK has since presented, I am not holding my breath, but I do have my fingers crossed, hoping things will get better.

    • Lin says:

      “Ryuko is forced into her costume against her will.”

      This isn’t true. Despite the rape-like imagery of her first encounter with it, she can take the uniform off anytime, and outright stop using it if she wants to.

      She CHOOSES to wear the uniform. She does it to gain the power she needs to fulfill her goal (same as Satsuki). The uniform is just a tool, and no one is forcing her to do anything.

      Anyway, great post ajthefourth.

      • ajthefourth says:

        To Lin:

        Mmm…I’d disagree with this a bit. The uniform does force Ryuko to wear it against her will in the first episode. Simply because she chooses to do so afterwards doesn’t invalidate a scarring first encounter. Additionally, one could argue that she’s between a rock and a hard place. If she wants to find out who killed her father, she unfortunately has to deal with wearing the uniform, otherwise she has to abandon her life’s goal. That’s not a particularly appetizing choice.

        Thanks for the comment, and the compliment. ^ ^

    • ajthefourth says:

      To KK:

      ” No one is encouraged to sympathize with Ryuko for the nasty situations a costume she didn’t even want is putting her in, or feel concern for her well-being: they’re supposed to find it funny and leer at her, too.”

      Yup. Completely agree.

      “Yet, Ryuko is expected to suck it up and deal with it. Her choice doesn’t lie in what she wears, only in whether she continues to hate the outfit or embraces it. She has to truly become one with something she’d otherwise hate in order to survive. I’d call that an illusion of free will at best, Stockholm Syndrome at worst.”

      Thank you for bringing this up. I honestly overlooked this, as what I was focused on by the end of this episode was, “Thank goodness they at least addressed the slut-shaming.” Another thing I did like while watching this episode was the fact that Ryuko at least broke through her social conditioning of shame to embrace the outfit and wield it as a weapon, much like she would her scissor blade. Additionally, I like the idea that one can take control over a really shitty situation, provided to them through no fault of their own, and use it to their advantage.

      Again, as you say, it’s all going to depend on where the show goes from here, and like you, based on this episode and Imaishi’s prior experience, I now am crossing my fingers for the best. Honestly, when I first began watching this series, and all I could see was Kekko Kamen, I felt left out as a viewer, as if the studio obviously didn’t want me as its audience because, let’s face it, another HUGE part of this series is context. Go Nagai back in Go Nagai’s day was one thing, but playing Go Nagai straight in today’s society is something else entirely, and honestly a bit insulting if the series had continued that way. However, I don’t feel that way anymore, and that’s a start.

      Thank you so much for this comment, and enlightening me to some things I missed while watching. ^ ^

  • […] This series already had a substantial amount of buzz weeks before the first episode aired, primarily because it’s the first original anime to be released by Trigger – the studio founded by a couple of former Gainax employees – and directed by Imaishi Hiroyuki, written by Nakashima Kazuki, and features character designs by Sushio (all three of whom worked together previously on the extremely popular Gurren Lagann). And comparing Kill la Kill to Gurren Lagann (or Gainax’s FLCL and/or Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt) is easy to do – the story, a fantasy action piece taking place in a high school where students possess uniforms that give them superhuman fighting abilities – is obviously different, but it’s that same style of crazy, no doubt about it. Actually, ‘crazy’ is a mild way of putting it; Kill la Kill is more like crazy on speed. It has zero sense of shame and zero interest in pulling its punches – every single thing about it is amped up to truly ludicrous heights. The fights, the fanservice, the plot, is all taken to extreme levels of rapid-pace what-the-fuckery, and so far, I’m finding it addictive as all hell. That fanservice alone would probably either come across as either offensive or simply pathetic in any other situation, but Kill la Kill is just so cartoonishly campy and over-the-top that I don’t think anyone, least of all the creators, could take it seriously. However, I will note that just because an anime is ridiculous doesn’t mean it has nothing meaningful to say. […]

  • Digibro says:

    Awesome post! I had similar feelings about episode three, with a similar turnaround. I kept suspecting there was more to the outfit, because the show just didn’t FEEL like it was just trying to pander, and I got my answer in this episode. Not that it isn’t pandering, but there’s just more thought to it than that. Love your talk of Nagai and Sailor Moon, too!

    • ajthefourth says:

      Thank you!

      I just love Sailor Moon. There is an ever-growing number of posts on this blog that all point out how Sailor Moon did the same thing as [x show] but better. ^ ^

      My experience with the first two episodes was a bit different. The first episode *really* turned me off actually because, as I said in this post, all I could think of was Kekko Kamen. As I pointed out in a comment response above, it felt as if the series was trying to shut me out as a viewer. I still have my issues with Kill la Kill, but I was very interested by this episode and I’m now looking forward to what else the series has in store for not only Ryuko and Satsuki, but Mako as well.

      Good to see you back and talking about anime again. Thanks for the comment and the shout-out!

  • Yes, only that I loved the show from the get-go. The brilliance of the 3rd ep only further validated my investment — significant only in that this is the first show I’m watching in over a year of no anime.

    What I found striking is that the strong female leads are fucking bitches.

    Weakness so far are merely “lack of figuring things out” as opposed to true inhibitions. Any future weakness will be tragic flaws for the narrative to exploit as opposed to being “endearing” weaknesses for fanservice.

    This year is the resurgence or perhaps even renaissance of Haman Karn type characters in anime and manga. Let us all rejoice.

    • Zabilegacy says:

      Is that inherently a good thing or a bad thing though? When I’ve read analysis of Tsundere characters, many point out that the act of discovering or revealing something is not character growth if it doesn’t change them. As acknowledged in this post, there is a fundamental conflict between Ryuko and her uniforms, as the two do not have the same end goal, and each is attempting to use each other.

      This is not a conflict that is resolved. Even if she has now taken control of the uniform, so long as the two are not actually working together, they have resolved nothing. So while I may agree that the series needed to address some of the more troubling sexual dynamics, I think the show is unique among fan service shows in that removing a vector of objectification actually made the character less well developed as a result.

      that might just be my interpretation though.

    • ajthefourth says:

      This is where I have to admit that I haven’t finished Zeta Gundam yet, although I’ve heard really interesting things about Haman Karn (probably from you). Now that I finished SDF Macross, I should get around to finishing Zeta soon, and crossing another great series off of my backlog list.

      “Any future weakness will be tragic flaws for the narrative to exploit as opposed to being ‘endearing’ weaknesses for fanservice.”

      Interesting. I’ll have to keep this in mind.

      I’m glad to see you back and so invested in a show. Looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts! ^ ^

  • […] AJ the Fourth writes an excellent post on the third episode, similar to my own, but more about how it addresses shame as a social construct. She draws a parallel to Go Nagai’s work, and wonders both if Go Nagai’s decision to draw from the, “culture of shame,” in Japan was his way of being perverse, or if he meant to send a message; and which of those Kill La Kill might be out to do. I’m inclined to say that KlK is not intensely perverted, mostly because it doesn’t feel that way to me. Maybe I’m desensitized, but even Gurren Lagann’s, “ogle this shit,” moments were way more blatant and pandery than KlK’s, which all seem to be in service of something (other than just fans). I could be wrong though, but it’s good that I’m thinking. […]

  • […] interesting conversations have sprung up regarding this episode. I particularly enjoyed this post and the comments therein. I don’t have too much to add to this myself, beyond that I do enjoy […]

  • […] this subject with any philosophical dialogue, I highly recommend you read AJtheFourth’s latest KLK post. Her comparisons of Japan’s culture of shame and modesty to this show and Go Nagai is an […]

  • I chose not to speak much on the state of dress in this show up to this point in the hopes that it did have some sort of point or message. I have to say it was the only part of the show I was embarrassed by. Not the stupidity of the show, but this tasteless piece of wear. And I’m glad episode three gave me that out. I’m really glad this episode owned it as hard as it did.

    Now as for the homeroom teacher’s habit of losing clothing – I can’t quite see past that being sexual fanservice at the moment. I’m interested to see how this series owns that next.

    • ajthefourth says:

      Interestingly enough, I wrote more than half of this post in a draft prior to seeing the third episode (and then edited it following episode three). It was going to be far more eviscerating of the series’ fanservice choices, and how that isolated its reach as a series. Basically, had Kill la Kill continued in the same vein as episodes one and two, I would have said that it was “Trigger née Gainax being Trigger née Gainax” and probably dropped the show. ^ ^

      The homeroom teacher is still really sketchy to me, so I hope they do something else with him as well. He remains completely in control of those situations, regardless of his lack of clothing, although the way the camera moves over his body is interesting to say the least. One of these days I’m going to get around to writing how the best equal opportunity fanservice I’ve seen was in Star Driver, solely based on camera angles/visuals. ^ ^

      Thanks for the comment!

  • […] What (Not) to Wear: Undressing Kill la Kill’s Wardrobe [NSFW] […]

  • A Day Without Me says:

    Hmm, this actually makes me want to check out this show – people keep raving about it, but the Go Nagai comparisons had me distinctly uninterested, as did that its mostly former Gainax folks involved.

    • ajthefourth says:

      Yeah, it’s still hard for me to watch at times, but the series definitely did something interesting in this third episode that makes me want to see what else it will say, for better or for worse. The first two episodes were a bit hard to get through though.

  • […] to form a more coherent opinion of the show.  With the help of JoeAnimated’s article and the one he links to, I have discerned that Nietzsche’s philosophy, to which I am no friend, imbues the series.  […]

  • […] that Kill la Kill is conveying some commentary on rape. ajthefourth took a stab at the issue here, and Flawfinder addressed it in a less heavy-handed manner here. I might as well take a shot at it […]

  • […] it represents some recurring themes present in many of Go Nagai‘s works and has some pretty deep significance in the […]

  • […] her will into wearing Senketsu. While the inclusion of that scene is still uncomfortable – and difficult to justify with the camera angles and presentation of the first three episodes – it was not a directionless decision. In order to fulfill her ambition, Ryuko must wear this […]

  • […] with the clothes of Kill La Kill. It’s that the issues around the controversial clothing, as Emily said best, become an acknowledged part of the […]

  • tired-of-ish says:

    I’m not going to hold my breath for the naked-ness to have some point or message. “It’s empowering! Love your body!” I’m glad if they say that in the show, but they’re not dressing up conventionally adorable anime schoolgirls in suspender-thong sailor suits to promote healthy body image. I’m getting really tired of people praising the “deep message” behind the revealing clothing, and how its “ironic” and “subversive” and “self-aware”! Welp, even if it’s all of those things, congratulations, you’re still sexualizing a lot of things that ought not be sexualized (the rapey outfit, and, you know, 14 year olds) and objectifying a character who was perfectly badass and bold in her first outfit.
    I don’t think people fully understand what subverting a trope actually means. More of the same is still more of the same even if they know exactly what they’re doing. “But it’s all over the top and it’s supposed to be funny! It’s a joke!” Shut up.

  • […] amounts of nudity, which seem to be associated with female empowerment and/or […]

  • […] in addition to that, Kill la Kill‘s use of sexuality isn’t necessarily handled poorly. This is, like Nagai’s works, a commentary on Japan’s culture of shame […]

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