Mako as the Greek Chorus of Kill la Kill

mako mankanshoku, kill la kill, kill la kill mako cheering

The curtain of Honnouji Academy students parts, leaving the costumed Ryuko Matoi center stage in her battle arena, cheered on by best friend Mako Mankanshoku.

There’s something a bit off about Mako Mankanshoku.

The universe of Kill la Kill takes care in setting its presentation as a stage. Everything appears, six episodes into the performance, to follow a set script. Due to the death of her father, Ryuko Matoi is given a reason for arriving on the stage of Honnouji Academy, and her entrance additionally provides her the means, through Senketsu, to discover what she wants to know. To uncover her father’s mysterious past and the truth behind his demise, she must go through a series of weekly challenges by battling various members of the student body. If this sounds vaguely familiar, then you may have watched Revolutionary Girl Utena, which Kill la Kill is both influenced by and refers to directly. In turn, Revolutionary Girl Utena borrows heavily from classical theater and The Takarazuka Revue (a Japanese, all-female, performance troupe) in both visual presentation and direction. One of the more obvious theatrical elements present in Revolutionary Girl Utena is the inclusion of a Greek chorus in the form of the Shadow Girls, who appear once an episode to act out a parable through silhouettes and shadows.

Originating in ancient Greece, Greek choruses consisted of between 12 and 50 members, depending on the playwright and type of performance. They were made up of what the average audience member presumably looked like, and stood on the orchestra – the circular main stage of Greek theaters – along with the principal actors. Choruses were tasked with providing a simulated audience response by commenting on themes while also revealing choice inner thoughts and desires of the main characters to further inform the audience without forcing the actors to break character.

The stories that the Shadow Girls tell do not fit directly into the plot, but make commentary on thematic elements within that episode, or the story arc as a whole. Towards the end of the series, they are revealed to be ordinary students who also attend Ohtori Academy, along with heroine Utena Tenjou. Director Kunihiko Ikuhara would revisit the Greek chorus in Mawaru Penguindrum through train placards of in-universe idol group Double H. Each sign displayed would carry with it an ancillary message to themes that the series presented. The actresses in both series, the Shadow Girls and Double H respectively, presented their scenes through melodramatic gestures, pantomime and, in the case of the former, shadow puppetry.

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Mako Mankanshoku is clothed as an average student of Honnouji Academy, much like the Shadow Girls of Revolutionary Girl Utena, or the average audience member in ancient Greek theater. She is not an elite – her father is a back alley doctor in the slums – and is representative of the average Honnouji citizen, lorded over by Satsuki Kiryuin and the Kiryuin Family. At first, Mako is primarily used as a punching bag, or thrust in roles where she plays the victim so that Ryuko will swoop in and save her. However, Mako also gives a speech each episode that occurs completely off the stage of Honnouji. Heralded by the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah and the sound of a light switch, Mako interrupts the story to impart her words of wisdom bathed in a spotlight. Additionally, she arrives in the same pose, before launching into a tangentially-related rant. These tirades bring all action to a screeching halt, with Mako giving someone a thorough dressing-down – in episode five, for example, Mako lectures the intimidating Tsumugu Kinagase about picking on Ryuko and Senketsu, saying that he needs to understand how the poor treat their only set of clothing – using melodramatic gestures, pantomime, multiplication, and anime references to get her point across.

mako mankanshoku, ryuko matoi, uzu sanageyama, kill la kill, naked sanageyama

As early as Kill la Kill‘s second episode, Mako has been telling us, the audience, additional information (pictured above) while also informing characters within the series. She may not be a true Greek chorus, like the Shadow Girls, but her role as an interruption to the scene is both fascinating to the narrative and hilarious. I find myself looking forward to each episode simply to see what wacky show Mako has in store for us that week. Episode six handed Ryuko her first significant defeat in going up against Uzu Sanageyama, a member of the Elite Four, and you know what was missing? A certified Mako rant. There’s definitely something a bit off about Mako Mankanshoku, and I love it.


  1. This was also the first time someone challenge Ryuko to a duel without injuring/kidnapping Mako first IIRC (times Ryuko challenges Satsuki herself don’t count) which I thought was interesting, kind of makes me like Sanageyama even if he is a villain here.

    1. I like Sanageyama a lot actually. It reminds me of Utena, and to a lesser extent any Adachi sports series, where I end up liking all of the characters including the antagonists (Akio Ohtori aside). I’m unsure as to whether you’ve seen Heartcatch Precure, but there’s an antagonist in that series named Kumojacky who is very similar to Sanageyama. Both of them could be their own protagonists in a shounen series.

      There’s a lot of other weird stuff going on with Mako: how she seemingly knows a lot more than she leads on, how she could pry Senketsu from being pinned to the ground with powerful needles, etc. I’m really looking forward to her episode next week.

      Thank you for commenting! ^ ^

      1. I love Heartcatch Precure, now THAT show had some stylish looking animation. As for Mako I don’t think she’s going to turn out to be deeper or anything more special than she already appears, just just dumb enough to survive in the school’s world.

  2. Noooo! I was going to write about Mako as greek chorus at SOME point (and how the show deliberately plays with repetition and the conventions of monster-of-the-week shonen anime) but you took the words right out of my mouth. That said you pretty much nailed it, so I’m not too worried 😀

    Apparently the staff have claimed that the next episode will be a “serious” episode focused on Mako, and I’m both interested to see if she’s hiding something and terrified that something will happen to her. I’ve come to love Mako’s ridiculous speeches so I’m hoping that the Greek Chorus of the show doesn’t go away any time soon. That said, I think you’re dead on about how Mako had nothing to say this week–last week Tsumugu interrupted Mako mid-speech (though he failed to seize control of the moment) so I’m guessing Imaishi and co. may push the boundaries between Mako’s speeches and reality even further in the future. Just another example of Kill la Kill’s extreme theatricality (which makes sense, considering that writer Nakashima is a playwright.)

    1. Ahhhhh, I think there’s still a lot to be said for the repetition and monster-of-the-week stuff, so I’ll look forward to it! ^ ^

      I’m curious to learn about Mako, as I mentioned above. Like you, I also hope that the series continues her dual role as best friend and Greek chorus. It’s very convenient that Ryuko fell in with Mako’s family so easily, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they know something about Ryuko’s father.

      I didn’t know that Nakashima was a playwright! Very cool. If I’m not mistaken, it was he who wrote the newspaper advertisement that featured both Satsuki and Ryuko’s respective thoughts (I quoted both in my previous Kill la Kill post) and I loved how he wrote those.

      Always great to hear from you. I can’t wait for your next post on this show!

      1. Thanks! Here’s what I know about Nakashima actually:

        As far as I know, he did series composition for Gurren Lagann and Kamen Rider Fourze (which, weirdly enough, ALSO features a protagonist who drill kicks enemies into oblivion.) But I think his main body of work is with a theatrical group called Gekidan Shinkansen, for which I THINK he serves as one of the main writers. The group takes influence from kabuki theater and, as far as I can understand it, has pretty crazy special effects for each performance. There’s apparently a movie version of one of the plays (called “Ashura”) but from what I understand it lost something in the transition from play to screen? I dunno.

        Nakashima also wrote the play that inspired 2007’s “Oh Edo Rocket!,” which was a pretty interesting series in that it combined comedy, historical fiction, science fiction, tragedy (???) and hordes of pop culture references into something that co-existed pretty comfortably in multiple genres at once. From what I understand he’s also a big fan of Ken Ishikawa, who was a very good friend of Go Nagai, worked on him on a number of his series and headed the Getter Robo series w/ Go Nagai pulling art duties for much of it. I read the first two or so Getter Robo series a while ago and can attest that there are parts in Gurren Lagann that are reminiscent of Getter’s *no going back!* escalation. At any rate Nakashima (and Imaishi, definitely) must be fairly literate in the various old-school manga and anime references they seed throughout Kill la Kill.

        That’s about all I can think of! Here’s the only interview with the guy regarding his theatrical work I could find:

        1. Hnnnn…when all is said and done, it may be interesting to compare theatrical influences that Nakashima brings to Kill la Kill with the Takarazuka influences that Ikuhara saturated Utena with. Both which, in turn, were influenced by Kabuki among other things.

  3. There is something really intresting if you consider she managed to sneak up on Tsumugu Kinagase and even managed to poke him with a broom. Kingase is demonstrated to be a hardened guerrilla, how the hell did she get the drop on him.

    What’s more, in the battle sequence in that episode, several members of the poetry club are shown having been badly beaten and or crucified with brooms. Kingase only uses weapons with a sewing theme. Mako is the only other character present, and the only one shown to wield a broom.

    1. Yeah, the broom thing is really interesting. I’ve seen speculation about that elsewhere, which has made me even more interested in Mako’s story. ^ ^ I didn’t think that it fit within the scope of this post, so I didn’t mention it, but I’m glad you did. I love how it adds even more mystique to her character.

      Thank you for commenting!

  4. Well, as much as I like Mako, I don’t know if I’d consider her a greek chorus. As I recall, they could talk directly to the audience and do the things you mention, but did little to steer the plot. They were observers and commentators, while Mako’s magnificent tirades, and I dearly missed one in ep6, are her attempts to put a stop to whatever’s going on.

    1. If I’m not mistaken, it was only in more recent times where the Greek chorus began to be separated from the action completely, acting solely as an audience component. In ancient Greek drama, as I stated in the post, the chorus was on stage with the rest of the cast, including the principal actors. They often allowed for characters to express certain inner thoughts/emotions that they would have otherwise been unable to express to another character in the play. As theater evolved, the chorus slowly migrated from on stage to off. Providing commentary directly to the audience was always a part of their role, but this became their primary function instead of one of their functions.

      That being said, I do believe, as also stated above, that Mako is not necessarily a “true” Greek chorus, but certainly shares similar characteristics: repetition, interpretive or expressive movement, rhythmic style of speech, and an appearance not unlike an average in-universe member. Additionally, I’d push back a bit that Mako does not interact with the audience. Whenever Kill la Kill borders on breaking the fourth wall, it’s always Mako who is the primary culprit. Even when not doing her signature speeches, Mako expresses things that an audience member might say (for example, in episode six, she speaks almost facetiously of how amazing Ryuko is to have defeated Sanageyama so quickly, echoing an audience concern of, “Wow, that was quick.” Lastly, I find it especially interesting that Mako is the vehicle for the majority of Kill la Kill’s anime references, which are asides that only a member of the viewing audience would understand.

      Thank you for the comment!

  5. I think the thing that is most getting me excited about this show aren’t the obvious comparisons to TENGEN TOPPA GURREN LAGANN or Panty & Stocking, but the idea that in a way this could be a worthy successor to one of the greatest anime of the 90’s, Revolutionary Girl Utena (no offense to the high quality production that is PenguinDrum). It’s not as elegant, subtle or obtuse, but like you’ve pointed out with Mako, the structure and parallels are there. And I’m getting great amount of enjoyment out of Mako, if this show is to have its Greek chorus, I can’t imagine a form more appropriate than Mako.

    I’m looking forward to seeing if this show turns out to be just as brilliant a deconstruction of the mahou shoujo genre as Utena or Madoka Magica.

    1. No offense taken. While I love Penguindrum, Revolutionary Girl Utena is one of my favorite series of all time, and Penguindrum doesn’t come close to it for me personally. This could also be due to the fact that Utena taught me so many things about my own personal biases regarding story construction, fairy tales, etc. that I hold it very close to my heart. ^ ^

      It’s funny that so many people compare Kill la Kill to Gurren Lagann because, for me anyway, the two series couldn’t be more different, other than obvious visual nods.

      Oh man, I have multiple post ideas on how I disagree with that last statement regarding Madoka Magica but I’ll save that for a later post, perhaps. ^ ^

      Thanks for the support, and the comment!

  6. Once I read your article title, I didn’t need to read the article to know it would be good. Greek chorus should Mako’s title in the show, and you completely get just one of the things I like about her.

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