Part one of the four-part watchalong of Kill la Kill with Amelia, Vrai, and special guest Miranda Sanchez! In this first episode, the team talks about the polarizing fandom reactions to the series—and has some polarizing reactions of their own. TRIGGER slaps the audience with a bucketful of aesthetic. Ryuko is Good Actually. Too bad the series keeps embarrassing her for titillation.
Date Recorded: Saturday 10th February 2018
Hosts: Amelia, Vrai
Guest: Miranda Sanchez
01:46 The most/least feminist anime
03:18 Background with Kill la Kill
07:11 Positive aspects
15:46 Female vs male nudity
21:37 Sexual menace and slapstick comedy
27:00 What do clothes mean?
28:51 The Critical Catch-22
34:37 Karl la Marx
35:57 Feminist themes?
37:47 Ryuko and Satsuki
40:37 Next six episodes
46:28 Changing the person to fit the clothes
50:00 Miranda surprises
AMELIA: Hi, everyone, and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. My name’s Amelia. I’m the editor-in-chief of Anime Feminist, and I’m joined today by Vrai Kaiser, who is fresh off a ten-week, mammoth Fushigi Yugi watchalong, and very special guest—
VRAI: [crosstalk, plaintive] I was gonna take a week off!
AMELIA: I’m sorry, but it’s worth it because we’re joined by very special guest, Miranda Sanchez from IGN. So, if you guys would like to introduce yourselves…
VRAI: Yeah, hi, I’m Vrai. I’m an editor and contributor for Anime Feminist, and I write for a bunch of other places. You can find me on Twitter @WriterVrai, where I post the things I do, and the other podcast I cohost @trashpod.
MIRANDA: Very nice. Hi! Yeah, I’m Miranda from IGN. I’m an editor there, and I run a lot of our anime content, so if anything goes up with anime, usually I had something to do with it, but not always. Yeah, most times.
AMELIA: So, that thing you hated was not Miranda, basically.
MIRANDA: Yeah, that wasn’t me. [laughs] The bad thing, that wasn’t me. But yeah, so this is my second time on the show. Last time, I was back to talk about freelancing. Which, that offer always stands: if you have a good headline and a pitch, send it to me! Anyway, super happy to be back.
AMELIA: Thank you so much for coming to us. We’ve had a little bit of a technical difficulties day today, so really appreciate you making the effort to stick with it and join us anyway.
MIRANDA: [crosstalk] Yeah, of course! I’ve been looking forward to this for a while.
AMELIA: Yeah, me too. So, what we’re doing today is we’re starting a new watchalong, and the series that we’re doing is Kill la Kill. Now, “Watchalong” is where we watch six episodes—or thereabouts—of a series at a time with a mix of people who have never seen it and at least one person who has seen it and likes it and can talk about it in detail. And we look at those six episodes at a time without referring to what’s to come and just see what we can pull out of it to talk about from a feminist perspective.
Kill la Kill is probably the most requested watchalong I think we’ve had since we started. It’s been like, “When are you doing Kill la Kill? You should talk about Kill la Kill,” to the point that I kinda didn’t want to. [chuckles] But it is essential, the reason being, I think, because it comes from two ends of a spectrum. Either people say “Kill la Kill is the worst thing ever. It’s the most anti-feminist show I’ve ever seen, and I cannot stand it,” or people say, “No, you have to watch it because actually it’s really subversively feminist, and therefore you have to see it. As a feminist podcast, you should talk about this.”
And there’s no in-between. [laughs] There’s absolutely no in-between. People feel really strongly about it from either side. So, we’ve got Miranda here, who loves Kill la Kill. I was so grateful to find a woman who loves Kill la Kill and was willing to be on the podcast.
MIRANDA: It’s my favorite, so… [chuckles] It’s kind of a weird place to be.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] It’s your favorite?
MIRANDA: Yeah, it’s my favorite anime, so it’s kind of a weird place to be. Personal favorite. Of course, there are better anime out there, but as for me, someone who very much enjoys this, it’s very special to me.
AMELIA: Okay, well, let’s talk about that. How did you first encounter Kill la Kill before this? How long ago was it?
MIRANDA: So, I actually watched it when it aired. I was a few episodes behind my friends. I used to talk with two guys on Twitter—and we’re still really good friends—and I’d kinda get all of my anime recommendations from them. I was just getting into the seasonal watch flow. I was new to that. And they had watched a few episodes, I’d see them tweeting about it and how much they loved it, and I started watching it, and I did not love it. [chuckles] I was just like, “Uh, I don’t know if I wanna watch this. What are you guys… Why?”
MIRANDA: Just because the first few episodes, it’s a lot. It’s pretty gratuitous with its fanservice. So, I stuck with it because they were, like I said, quite a few episodes ahead, and they’re like, “Well, if you don’t like that, that’s fine. Maybe don’t watch the rest.” And I was like, “No, you guys are really into it,” and I admire especially one of the guys’ opinions on anime, so I was like, “Okay, if you’re down with this, then it’s worth sticking through.” And it was, because I love it, so… [laughs] And then we—
AMELIA: I find that really encouraging. [chuckles]
MIRANDA: Yeah. We ended up watching the whole thing together, and we all Skyped each other for the last episode and watched it together, so, it’s really nice.
AMELIA: Okay. Vrai, how was it for you? Because I remember you saying you’d started watching it and stopped.
VRAI: I am in an interesting place with Kill la Kill, because I did not watch it when it was airing. I was vaguely aware that it was happening, because everybody was super into it, but I was over in my corner watching Samurai Flamenco.
VRAI: Meaning that when both finales aired on the same day, I heard a lot about Kill la Kill. A lot.
VRAI: A lot. Which means I also heard all the discourse about the finale of Kill la Kill. A lot.
VRAI: So, I ended up trying to give it a shot, and I was watching it with a friend who was really hard to pin down to watch anime with, so I ended up petering off and only watching like the first four episodes and skimming the last episode, because people wouldn’t stop coming and talking to me about it.
MIRANDA: Oh, no.
VRAI: So, all I knew coming into Kill la Kill for this watchalong is that I am vaguely familiar with… We’ve now surpassed what I had watched before, and also, I am now a Ryumako stan out of spite.
AMELIA: We will come back to that. I have feelings about Mako. But my exposure to Kill la Kill was actually really minimal. It came out during my ten-year gap from any anime whatsoever. It came out while I assumed that you could only still buy anime on DVD, and then when I came back to it, it was there on Netflix.
And I was like, “Okay, I could watch this,” but I’m very bad at prioritizing things. I was like, “Oh, maybe I’ll get around to it at some point. It’s anime. I like anime. I watch it.” And then I started hearing about Kill la Kill and seeing images, and I was like, “This probably isn’t for me, so gonna just leave it.”
And then I started running a feminist anime website, and everyone told me I had to watch it, or people told me I should never watch it because I would definitely hate it. I’ve been being told to watch Kill la Kill for like the last two years or something, and it’s got to a point where I knew that if I was going to watch it, I had to do something with that, so here we are.
MIRANDA: [cheers gently] I’m—
AMELIA: Yeah, I think—
MIRANDA: Yeah, I’m just very apprehensive to recommend this to anybody.
MIRANDA: Honestly, I am. It’s a lot, as we’ve said before, so I’m excited that you’re doing this to give a different kind of perspective on the show.
AMELIA: Yeah. It’s important to me, as well, to not just look at “What can you criticize? What is anti-feminist?” et cetera, because people pull feminist messages from all kinds of source material, and I absolutely recognize that. So, while I’m watching, I’m actively thinking, “What do I like? What is positive? What is good about this? Why have people been recommending it to me?”
So, I’m hoping that by the end of the series I really understand where both ends of that spectrum, where both of these sets of strong opinions come from. I just really want to get an understanding of that. So, yeah, the first six episodes, perhaps not the greatest place to start, though.
AMELIA: [through laughter] It struggles.
VRAI: I think while I was preparing for this watchalong, I made a tweet that Kill la Kill is the novelty potato chip flavor of anime, in that you bite—
AMELIA: That was a very good tweet.
VRAI: You get one because it looks interesting and very different from everything else, and it’s very fun for the few bites, and then you realize you still have a whole bag of chips.
AMELIA: And you made some comment in our AniFem group chat about how it’s like popcorn, except teriyaki flavored, and you have a whole box of it to get through. [laughs] I thought that was really accurate. Yeah, it was an experience, but I wanna start by looking at the positives, because there was stuff that I really liked about this.
The visual style of it instantly smacks you in the face and says this is something different and interesting and rich. And I actually found it really hard, for once, switching between reading the subtitles and taking in what was on screen. I had to rewind a few times so that I could get the full impact of what they were presenting to me, which I find is great. I really enjoy that kind of thing. So, love the visuals.
And I really like the fact that they have these strong protagonists and antagonists who have these powerful, distinct personalities. And I think there’s some thematic stuff going on, like with the power of clothing—I think that’s an interesting metaphor. And I thought that was an interesting mix of stuff from this first six episodes, which I had a very visceral response to.
AMELIA: [laughs] Vrai, how was it for you? The first six episodes, what did you like?
VRAI: It is undeniably really, really fun to look at. I can see why—this was Trigger’s first anime, right? If I remember correctly. I think so.
VRAI: This was their debut.
AMELIA: I’ve learned never to ask questions about Trigger on Twitter. [laughs]
MIRANDA: I know!
AMELIA: They have their own stans. [laughs]
VRAI: I mean, they might be doing Darling in the Heteronormative right now, but—
MIRANDA: [inhales; straining with dread] Oh, I don’t wanna talk about that.
VRAI: —this was—
AMELIA: [ironic] Oh, no, didn’t you hear? That’s not Trigger; that’s A-1. That’s not Trigger.
MIRANDA: Yeah, it’s… Oh, gosh.
AMELIA: [laughs] Moving on.
VRAI: But yeah, this is a very stylish, fantastic show to look at, and it’s a lot of fun on that front. It reminds me in some ways of kung fu movies. When it’s on its kung fu movie bullshit, its absurdity really works for it in a way that I appreciate, because it is on this heightened level of stakes and what people consider important, that all makes sense in this kind of internal logic.
I think sometimes that tips over into being really exhausting, but when it works, I can see why people—the other thing it reminds me of is Gurren Lagann; that when I was watching it, I could see why people get swept up into this internal logic and very high energy, and then you step away from it for two seconds and you’re like, “I’m very tired, and I think this might be dumb!”
AMELIA: I think I told you in the group chat, but it took me like eight hours to get through six episodes, because I kept falling asleep. I think it was tiring me out as I was watching, and I just had to take a nap mid-episode multiple times. There was one sequence in particular I just rewound like 25 times just to be able to see what was being said. It is an exhausting experience, but because it’s so rich, so—
VRAI: Yeah, like the gimmicks for every fighter are really fun. The fact that it is ugly sometimes in such an interesting way is fun. I get it. And the colors are so bright along with those very dark, very thick action lines on everything… It’s a lot, and it’s got an aesthetic.
AMELIA: I find that the characters are really expressive, as well, which I always enjoy. So, the facial acting, I guess, of the characters is something that I find really appealing, and I just love Ryuko’s face. Whenever she gets that sly grin of “Yeah, I can beat you. I can take you,” I just love it.
VRAI: [flatly] Ryuko is good, actually.
AMELIA: Yeah, I really like her. I like that she’s got that young shounen protagonist voice. I think that really works for her. And also, I do find Satsuki very interesting.
VRAI: [quietly] I like Satsuki.
MIRANDA: [quietly] Satsuki’s my favorite!
AMELIA: [crosstalk] A lot of people like Satsuki.
MIRANDA: [crosstalk; quietly] She’s my favorite!
AMELIA: I put up a Satsuki quote earlier, because actually I think this is important to note. It was… What was it? “Fear is freedom. Subjugation is liberation. Contradiction is truth.” And I was just like—
VRAI: We’re on our Orwell bullshit!
AMELIA: Oh, my word! But it feels really resonant in 2018, actually, and it felt kind of eerie. And they’d just mentioned Chancellor Hitler or something, so it’s like, “Okay, when you wrote this, it probably felt historical, but right now it feels really [inaudible to due crosstalk].”
VRAI: No, I did want to—because I’m not sure if we’re supposed to—from the way the worldbuilding is set in these first six episodes—if we are supposed to gather that this is a universe where the Nazis won?
MIRANDA: Yes. They say that, actually, at the very, very beginning. When you’re getting the first lesson, the opening scene, they talk about how the Nazis won, very briefly. It’s easy to miss, though.
VRAI: That’s what I thought.
VRAI: Yeah. Which, like, on the one hand, this is clearly a dystopia; on the other hand, I have some inherent side-eye about (A) a medium that really loves Nazi chic and (B) that really hasn’t decided to interface with the fact that they were part of the Axis Powers during World War II, doing a “Nazis won” universe. I have some inherent issues with this.
AMELIA: I think that’s fair. And yeah, again, it probably felt really, really fictional five years ago or whenever it was made, and now it feels almost bad taste. But I don’t want to hold that against them for not being able to see where we headed five years ago.
VRAI: It’s one of those like, “Clearly, it is a dystopia, but isn’t the dystopia kinda cool?”
AMELIA: [chuckles] Yeah, exactly.
MIRANDA: In a way, it’s cool, but it’s also just generally awful. I mean, everyone lives in poverty, and there’s a select few that have privilege, and even then, the culture as a whole is gross.
VRAI: I think it’s the only place where the super stylization kinda shoots it in the face, because it makes the extreme poverty that Mako’s family is living in look kind of cute and fun—except for the worms and the croquettes. I died.
AMELIA: [laughs] That was so horrible to watch. I felt actually physically sick watching that scene. It was not pleasant. But yeah, I also—weirdly enough, the anime that was coming to mind for me when I was watching it was actually Utena.
AMELIA: This sense that you’re in a school environment that doesn’t work the way schools work and that they have their own ruling system that doesn’t involve adults. And I always find that really unsettling when you take adults out of the picture, even though they’re technically still in the picture, and you have these schoolchildren who rule the world. I always find that a little bit uncomfortable, which I don’t think is necessarily a negative thing, but I got that same vibe from Kill la Kill as I did from Utena, which I also find an uncomfortable watch.
So, I’m not sure if that’s going to continue, but that whole “student council, combat ability, interesting quirks” kind of thing… That is not made for me, I think. I understand the appeal for other people, but that particular approach to framing a story about a school never works for me, so I’m not sure how that’s going to go.
Okay, let’s look at some of the negative things, because there’s probably one or two. Right, Vrai?
VRAI: [chuckles dryly] Eh, maybe.
AMELIA: [laughs] Okay, what was the worst thing for you? If you had to pick one thing that you said, “This is likely to put me off continuing to watch.” I mean, what was it? You watched it and stopped.
VRAI: Well, no, I just stopped because the person I was watching it with wasn’t cooperating and I was watching other things, but I’m really put off by—
AMELIA: [chuckles] “Wasn’t cooperating.”
MIRANDA: No, I know how that goes. It’s just like, “Come on, let’s just watch… Okay. Maybe later, right?” [false-starts a few times] Later never comes.
VRAI: [false-starts a few times] Yeah, it never happens, no.
AMELIA: Like that. [laughs]
VRAI: That’s also why I didn’t finish Tokyo Ghoul. Anyway…
VRAI: I’m really put off by the focus on humiliation, Ryuko’s humiliation. I will stan literally every I will fight the entire world twice over every day of every week forever about The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, which I think is an anime that uses nudity in very interesting and in-your-face ways.
But that series is very much about the character always having control of moments where she displays her body and being very comfortable with her body, whereas a lot of this first chunk is a lot of focus on how embarrassed Ryuko is to be showing off her body, how turned on the crowd is by that, and then the resolution to that is “Well, if you would just embrace the fact that you’re being exploited, you would find power in that.”
MIRANDA: Yeah, that’s always been a longstanding issue I’ve had with it. Even though it’s my favorite, I certainly have issues with this show and how it portrays that, as well.
VRAI: Yeah, and even things like, you know, I was kind of excited… I think the issue we’re going to have to talk about in more detail is the fact that a lot of people who are really championing this series talk about how the dudes also get naked, but it’s just not—
MIRANDA: That’s not a justification. Yeah, and it’s not the same.
VRAI: Well, and also, it just does not treat nudity the same. I was kind of excited during the tennis match episode where she flies off at the end because she’s lost and her clothes are gone, and it’s whatever, and she is also a comedy, barely sketched-in naked figure, and I was like, “Oh, okay, that’s fine!” But then, you have in the background lots of dudes staring at her helpless, naked, unconscious body, and I’m like, “Oh, that’s not fine.”
AMELIA: That was not okay. I really didn’t like that. And yeah, it doesn’t treat nudity in the same way. So, they have this transformation sequence with the guy whose name I can’t remember. It’s like Saenuma, Sagenuma, something like that.
But when you have Ryuko or Satsuki, their transformation sequences, every single time, I’m like, “Why are your breasts flapping around? That is not how breasts work. That is not how flapping works.” Just every single time, my eye is drawn to it, and I’m so repelled. Now, if they were treating nudity exactly identically, the guy’s penis would be flapping everywhere, and that does not happen in his transformation sequence.
MIRANDA: [crosstalk] You know how life goes: there’s never a penis. They don’t exist.
AMELIA: “There’s—” [laughs] That is the way life goes. And at the end of it, he gets this suit that puts so many layers on him, he doesn’t even look human anymore. That is not equivalent at all.
MIRANDA: Just lightly touching on that, that happens a lot, but not just—I think the only people who are excluded from that group with their suits being overdone is Satsuki and Ryuko, because of maybe the specialty of their suit, and I think there’s something to talk about that later. But just to keep that in mind, maybe.
VRAI: Right, because they’re very clearly drawn as foils and junk. And also, they’re the only ones with Kamui at this point.
AMELIA: Yes. And one of the issues I had, actually, was that… It’s like, “Okay, I’m going into this. I must reluctantly accept the premise that this is the way these two superpowered people fight, is they show a lot of underboob, they show a lot of butt cheek. That’s the way it goes.” But Mako has been treated appallingly in these six episodes. She’s an innocent character. I don’t particularly like her—
MIRANDA: [gasps] Oh, no!
AMELIA: —but she is—
AMELIA: Do we have to [inaudible due to crosstalk]. Sorry.
MIRANDA: [crosstalk] No, it’s fine. I mean, that’s the thing. Even though this is my favorite, I totally understand people don’t like it. That’s fine. I’m just interested to see what you dislike or what you dislike about certain characters.
AMELIA: What is—? Oh, sorry, Vrai. Go ahead.
VRAI: [crosstalk; meekly] But Mako-chan’s a good girlfriend. She’s a good girlfriend who support.
AMELIA: Okay, I may—
AMELIA: I’m gonna be the controversial one here and say I cannot—I don’t like Mako. She comes across as comedic airhead character put together to be amusing, and that’s it. I don’t get anything else, and I get that serves a purpose and some people like that, and it’s just never worked for me, so it’s just one of those things. That kind of character does not work for me.
VRAI: I can understand where you’re coming from. I find some of the editing on her speeches to be a little bit… I think it’s jarring and doesn’t land sometimes, but as a character, I feel she is sincere enough that I find it endearing.
MIRANDA: Yes. I agree. That’s pretty much where I would land on her. Yeah, she’s meant to be a little bit of comedy and kind of lift things up whenever things get a little weird and dark, especially for Ryuko. And she’s doing all this stuff with her family, and her constant positivity doesn’t annoy me like some characters do in other shows just because she has a little bit more depth to her beyond that positivity, and she gets a lot more time later as well, so… I don’t want to talk about that, but…
VRAI: I do want her father and brother to die horribly, and I want to watch.
MIRANDA: [crosstalk] They can burn in hell.
AMELIA: Can we talk about her father for a second? Because our introduction to him is him humping Ryuko while she’s unconscious. That is just the worst way to introduce a positive comedy character. And I was honestly shocked. I hadn’t seen something like that in a while.
VRAI: It’s really bad and uncomfortable. The amount of sexual menace around Ryuko’s entire being at every second of every day, it’s draining at a certain point.
AMELIA: That certain point was his introduction for me. As soon as I saw that, I would have shut that down. I would have walked away if we didn’t have a watchalong booked in. I would have been like, “Guys, no. There is no reason for me to put myself through this.” It was horrendous. It just felt so uncomfortable.
And he’s presented—you know, the first thing we get is this deep-breathing shadow looming over her. That’s his introduction. Why is that okay as a source of comedy? Her brother is—
VRAI: [crosstalk] It’s not, is the answer.
AMELIA: It is really not. Her brother I have a little more time for, I think, but that might be because I thought he was a girl for a really long time, so I just thought, “Ah, tomboy character. Cool.” So, I’m gonna have to revisit since the “nosebleed at seeing her panties” joke three-beat.
VRAI: Rule of threes! It’s funny!
AMELIA: It’s hilarious! Nosebleeding dogs, ‘cause dogs are dudes, right?
VRAI: [creaks with the beginnings of laughter]
AMELIA: That whole episode actually felt really tonally off for me. Episode four, where it’s like the No-Late Day, it was just pure boob slapstick—
MIRANDA: Yeah, there’s some episodes that do feel out of line with everything else, and that is one of them, for sure.
VRAI: This show never stops, and I think either you can roll with that or you can’t, but that episode crosses into the realm of being—shall we say—zany, in a way that becomes very grating very quick, and there is never a moment to breathe between jokes. And that is dire!
AMELIA: Exactly. And it was so weird because that’s not what it is. Now, if that sequence had been in Pop Team Epic, okay. Again, you go into these shows accepting a certain premise. Wall-to-wall gags is not what I expected Kill la Kill to be about, so it just felt completely off, especially because it came right after… Episode 3 has Ryuko and Satsuki, and Satsuki’s just got her Junketsu, right?
AMELIA: And so, they’ve just had this huge battle, and Ryuko’s had to face an enemy that she can’t deal with for the first time, and it’s introducing a rivalry that presumably is gonna be really important. It’s life and death, it’s talking about her father’s murder, and then you get this episode four slapstick throwaway thing. It was so weird.
MIRANDA: Yeah, for something being just free, original, with no reason for filler in any sort of way, this episode was just like, “Stop!” And then the next episode’s good. It gets back on track, but then that one just like, “No, push it… Do that earlier or somewhere else. And edit it immensely.”
AMELIA: Episode three is actually where I would’ve stopped watching. So, in terms of what I hated the most… Now, there’s a lot of moments. I really don’t like how Mako’s underboob gets shown a lot. I don’t think that’s okay. There’s a lot of moments where—
VRAI: Why isn’t this child wearing a bra?
AMELIA: Why isn’t this child wearing a bra?
MIRANDA: [crosstalk] Bras don’t exist.
AMELIA: That’s an excellent question. I’m so glad you were—[ironic] Bras do not exist. Japan is yet to discover the bra.
VRAI: [laughs] That’s not true! We see Ryuko’s later!
MIRANDA: Oh, yeah! Never mind!
AMELIA: Oh, we do, don’t we? And that was not even later. Episode one, we see her bra, when Senketsu is trying to be worn by her…?
VRAI: [crosstalk; ironic] Boy, what a great way to introduce the most important central relationship in the series with implied sexual assault!
AMELIA: And actually, because I knew nothing about Kill la Kill, right, so when this uniform had a male voice, that instantly made it more uncomfortable for me, and I hadn’t expected that. I don’t know what I expected. I’m not even sure I knew it talked. But it does, and it’s a guy, and that—
VRAI: And it fat shames her, and I hate that!
AMELIA: Oh, my goodness, yes! I made all these notes earlier, and I was just like, “You know what, I think I’m gonna have to come back to these,” because the list of the ways that women are treated badly for their bodies is so long that I’m just like, “Let’s wait and see what filters through and what continues, and then we can talk about those.”
VRAI: Well, I think what I was struck with while I was watching… and I know a little bit about how this shakes out at the end, because of all that discourse, but not really. I only know the broadest strokes, so a lot of this, I was still in the dark going like, “Okay, I can see where there’s maybe an idea about this and Satsuki’s issue with wedding dresses, and, fine, I can see where you might be doing something with this. I’m not sure I like it, but okay, we’ll talk about that later.”
But then there were these other things where the shitty “lose some weight” jokes—where it’s like, “You just think this is funny, and you’re not actually going to question this, so you’re actively undermining the things you want to talk about.”
AMELIA: Yeah. And I am pleased that it seems like there is some thematic weight in even these first six episodes. They’re laying the foundations for something that they can build on. I’m not sure yet how well they do that, but Miranda’s belief in it really gives me hope.
MIRANDA: [crosstalk] So, I’ve only seen this series twice, even though it’s one of my favorites. I watched it when it was first airing. I was quite a bit younger, and some of the sexual assault themes, too, I didn’t really pick up on.
The first time watching this, I didn’t really think about the idea of Senketsu assaulting Ryuko. I didn’t get that, so, prefacing it, my young mind at the time did not really pick up on… The obvious parts were like Mako’s hanging upside down over some oil and nearly naked. Yeah, that was an issue.
But some things, it’s taken me time to talk to people about and to understand where they failed in this show, very deeply failed. But the themes and things that they do want to talk about, I think, make it interesting enough to keep going and seeing how they at least attempt to do these things.
AMELIA: Yeah. I mean, I probably wouldn’t have if I didn’t have a watchalong, but now that I’m here, I’m gonna get the most out of it that I can. I’m very interested in how they position clothing. I think the idea of treating Junketsu as a wedding dress, talking about it as a wedding dress… I’m interested. I wanna know where they’re going with this.
And the way that they talk about how clothing is power, like the level of school uniform you have bestows upon you certain physical powers… that’s interesting. I wanna know where they’re going with it. So, I’m sticking this out. [laughs] I’m not giving up.
MIRANDA: [crosstalk] I’m glad you’re finding some things interesting at least!
AMELIA: Yes. Yeah, for sure. And I don’t think that either of us—I’m speaking for Vrai, here—but I don’t think either of us expected that there would be nothing, because otherwise why would people recommend it to us?
MIRANDA: [crosstalk] Very true.
AMELIA: On that note… So, let’s look back at that, the idea that people do recommend this as a feminist pick. They say, “If you’re a feminist, you should watch this because you will find it interesting. Yes, there’ll be some stuff that you hate. That’s okay. Just put that to one side and keep watching, because it’s worth it.” So, in these first six episodes, what can we pick up on that we think that talking about—
VRAI: [crosstalk] I will say before we get into that, I’ve been grappling a lot this season, particularly this season, with that, let’s call it a critical feint—I won’t call it cheap—that you can only speak authoritatively on something that you’ve seen all of, even if the person who likes it hasn’t seen all of it either.
AMELIA: Yes. I think that’s entirely fair, and it is something that people are held to which seems pretty unreasonable, to be honest. I’ve always said that if an anime shows me clearly that it’s not interested in retaining my viewership, then it has no right to it.
MIRANDA: Yep. I absolutely agree.
AMELIA: Yeah, and I think you can make a judgment call very early on, saying the people that made this have no interest in me watching it. Therefore, that’s fine.
VRAI: I think there is a distinction that one can make, that a show can still be doing interesting things, but that does not mean if you are picking up on things you think it is handling badly or things that you don’t find worthwhile or mishandled, that you have just read it wrong and also you are dumb.
AMELIA: Yeah. And we are seeing a lot of that at the moment, unfortunately, across several shows. But that argument has been around for a while. Like, you’ve seen a few episodes, you don’t like it, you want to stop watching it, then people say, “Oh, no, you have to keep watching till the end, ‘cause otherwise you can’t criticize it,” but if you watch it to the end and you criticize it, then it’s, “Well, why didn’t you switch off early? You don’t have to watch it if you don’t want to.”
MIRANDA: [crosstalk] You can never win.
AMELIA: So, there’s absolutely no way to win. People just don’t want these things to be criticized.
VRAI: Like, with Kill la Kill, there are some interesting things going on here. You cannot say that this is not a show that doesn’t want to say a thing. But also, you can also definitely not say that this is not a show that did not think clearly through every element of what it was trying to say.
AMELIA: Yeah, absolutely. And I think for Kill la Kill, people have been talking about it in terms of recommendation, but they have also said, “Along the way, there is stuff you will hate.” I don’t think anybody has ever to me, “You will love Kill la Kill,” so they expect you to have an unpleasant experience with it, at least some of the time.
MIRANDA: Yeah. I totally agree with that. It’s, like I said, one of the reasons I have a really hard time recommending this.
AMELIA: These first six episodes? [laughs]
MIRANDA: Yeah. And this is one of the first anime I actually watched with my boyfriend, and I was surprised he was so on board with it. I was like, [laughs] “Okay.” My twin sister actually hates Kill la Kill. She does not like it at all, and I’m like, “All right. Can’t win everything. It’s fine.” [laughs]
AMELIA: Yeah, absolutely. And what kind of people would you recommend this to, Miranda? What people have you successfully recommended it to, boyfriend beside?
MIRANDA: Mm… I don’t. I just generally don’t recommend this. I just say, “This is my favorite anime, and if you wanna watch it, that’s cool. I just wanna warn you before you go in that there’s some really problematic stuff in here,” and then lay it out and then proceed, and hopefully they like it; and if they don’t, I understand, but if they do, then I have another person to talk to Kill la Kill about and be very excited about talking about.
AMELIA: Yeah. I mean, Vrai, this is pretty much your brand, right? You watch these things that you love and you see value in, and you share it with people in such a way as they understand that it’s a mixed bag.
VRAI: Yeah, as somebody who likes a lot of trash and watches a lot of horror specifically, I believe really strongly in being upfront about the parts of the thing you love that are shitty, but also start with “Oh, yeah, no, I get it. I get it that there is some shit here. Also, there is this interesting thing, if you’re down with the shit.”
MIRANDA: Yeah, there’s a lot of strength in that, too, right? I feel like a problem with the community as a whole is that people just don’t like to admit when there’s a problem with their favorite thing.
[Sounds of agreement]
MIRANDA: And that’s fine; acknowledge that. That means you really know the show or at least understand what you’re trying to talk about. And it’s okay if there’s problems. You can still like things that have problems, but as long as you’re aware of them and why it’s bad, then that’s fine.
VRAI: I find it intellectually dishonest when people try to say that problematic things are not problematic actually.
AMELIA: Yeah, absolutely.
VRAI: But I have a lot of respect for people who like this stuff and are very open about, “Yeah, this shit. But also, I like this other”—because, y’all, I read a lot of Anne Rice. [laughs]
AMELIA: We’ve been talking about a lot about Anne Rice recently.
VRAI: [sighs gruffly]
AMELIA: I think it’s something that actually Team AniFem is pretty good for, because we all have really different tastes. I don’t think Vrai and I have ever had a favorite anime in common, ever.
AMELIA: And that’s often the way through the team, is we have really different preferences. And we don’t find it that hard to just acknowledge when something we like is not good at a thing and does not do a good job of presenting something problematic in a nuanced or sensitive way.
And it’s really hard to go from that bubble to the rest of the internet, where that level of discussion does exist, but you have to look for the pockets, and you have to look for the people you can trust to hold those conversations with. So, it can be a bit jarring sometimes.
AMELIA: In terms of—oh, sorry, go ahead.
VRAI: No, I was just gonna steer us back to—I bet there are some really interesting Marxist readings of this show, aren’t there? Because even in these early episodes, there’s a lot about explicitly pointing out that the uniforms come from military uniforms and the brief glimpse of Satsuki’s mother in this larger company creation mold and the idea of the creation of a thing to subjugate the worker, who is the student here… Like, all right, you have some stuff about class going on here. All right, Kill la Kill.
AMELIA: Which is quite interesting coming from Japan, because Japan… There are famously surveys where the majority of Japanese people consider themselves middle class. But don’t take people’s self-identifications as gospel here. So, there absolutely is an element of class in Japanese society, but it is not framed in the way that Kill la Kill frames it in general.
And I think that is interesting. We’re quite used to seeing stuff like The Hunger Games, that kind of dystopia that is much more blatant about these kinds of themes than we do properties coming from Japan. So, I am interested to see what they do with that.
In terms of what you would recommend at this point, Vrai, what would you pick out that you could recommend to somebody on a feminist level at this stage, these first six episodes?
VRAI: The thing is that if we are just talking about these first six episodes, it’s all potential and not a lot of payoff.
AMELIA: Okay. What payoff would you say that is?
VRAI: Well, that’s the thing, is that the only mini-arc that’s really resolved is Ryuko coming to terms with wearing Senketsu, which, like I said before, is very “Well, just accept that you’re being exploited, and then you’ll find power in it. Don’t question the system of exploitation. That would be dumb, and then we wouldn’t get to see your ass-crack.”
VRAI: I do think Nudist Beach is interesting. That’s the one…
AMELIA: [laughs] Yes!
VRAI: I still don’t think it’s quite equivalent, but that is the one instance where it’s like, “All right, you are framing a male body in a sexual way, in a way that would appeal to people who like male bodies.”
AMELIA: And I did think that moment was quite funny, as well. [laughs] I actually found it amusing.
VRAI: [crosstalk] I don’t care for even playing it as a joke, him hitting on Ryuko. I don’t care for that.
AMELIA: Nope. Nope.
VRAI: But the stripper scenes are really funny. I’ll give it that. They’re funny!
AMELIA: And that, again, actually reminded me of Utena, where you’ve got these full sequences of posing young bishounen, right?
AMELIA: Again, it felt like a little bit of a callback or maybe a tribute in some way. And I’m not quite sure yet what they’re saying with him. Is it just a gag, or is it an attempt to balance out the nudity on the female side? I don’t know. I genuinely don’t know yet, but it’s interesting to see where they’re gonna go with it.
For me, probably the area of biggest promise… You know, I’m always drawn to character dynamics, and Satsuki and Ryuko is fascinating. I don’t know where that’s going, and I want to.
So, I liked that Ryuko is not a… She’s not what I would have expected from the protagonist of Kill la Kill, actually. I was surprised when she showed up and she’s this delinquent style, and she does have this kind of boyish voice. I was pleasantly surprised, because I’d only ever seen the outfits and I didn’t really know much about it beyond that. And she has so much personality from minute one.
MIRANDA: It’s so rare to see that in anime, too, a female lead that’s just like a punk.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Yes. Yeah.
MIRANDA: When does that happen?
AMELIA: Yes! It was great! It’s awesome. I really like it.
VRAI: It’s very good. Ryuko is good.
AMELIA: But then on the other hand you’ve got Satsuki, who is also good.
VRAI: [crosstalk, whispered] She’s very good!
AMELIA: She’s got this—
MIRANDA: [whispered] She’s the best! She’s the best!
AMELIA: She’s very good. And she’s established leadership in a way… It seems like she beat her way there through combat, which is, again, not what I would have expected. And now, she’s built up this hierarchy around her. And, again, I don’t really understand what her endgame is there, but I’m interested. She’s motivated by something.
And I guess that’s it: both of these characters are clearly motivated by something. Their actions have meaning. They have agency—except when they don’t. And their relationship as equals and rivals… That’s so shounen, actually, and we don’t see that dynamic outside shounen between women a lot at all.
MIRANDA: Yes. That was one of the biggest things that appealed to me when I started watching Kill la Kill for the first time, because these kinds of characters just did not exist in anything I had watched before. And just seeing that had me in tears. It was like, “Wow. Look at these women just owning everything they do and having—I mean, aside from the shitty sexual jokes—having this ownership over themselves and their power and their determination.” And eventually…
AMELIA: They have plans.
MIRANDA: Just so much.
AMELIA: And I’m very excited to see where they go. So, that’s what would keep me watching, and I think that’s what I would potentially recommend to other people, is this unusual dynamic between women.
VRAI: Yes. I did die a little bit—I think it was a good example of the show being on its kung fu bullshit, when we had the flashback to “Everyone has been in this gang since middle school, I guess!”
VRAI: In exactly the same dynamic. Fine!
AMELIA: And why not?
AMELIA: Okay, let’s look ahead a little bit. Vrai, where do you wanna see it go from here? What would make Kill la Kill a series that you could recommend?
VRAI: I would love to see some episodes where it takes a breather a little bit. I know it’s never going to stop being Kill la Kill, but it needs at least a little bit of gravitas to ground it.
I think that scenes like… The wedding dress scene is really good. That is a quiet moment with weight that really makes you buy into the rules of this world and why it’s important to these characters beyond just “Action, action, action, gag, gag, gag, tits, tits, tits!” And I think Kill la Kill needs a few more moments like that if it’s going to endear me to these characters.
I like Gamagoori. I know enough to know that that is fandom’s moe boy.
AMELIA: Oh, really?
VRAI: I found his straightforward… That was the only scene in episode four that I liked, was him and Mako having that quiet moment of mutual respect. It was really good!
AMELIA: [crosstalk] “You should sleep in pajamas! You’ll catch a cold!”
MIRANDA: I really like Gamagoori.
AMELIA: That was pretty cute.
MIRANDA: He’s a good one. He’s weird.
VRAI: He seems like the Kuwabara of the series, a little bit, which I can roll with.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Ah, yeah. Okay, yeah, I can get behind that.
VRAI: Yeah. So, I want it to sell me on its characters, because if I am fond of the characters in a work, then I can tolerate a lot more bullshit. Whereas right now I’m appreciating the style, but style runs thin real fast. And I like Mako; she’s a good girlfriend.
VRAI: I told you! I told you I came in, and I am really bitter from years of people being “no homo” assholes.
AMELIA: Oh, is that part of the discourse?
VRAI: There is a lot of “No homo, just friends” business up in here.
AMELIA: [amazed] Within Kill la Kill?
MIRANDA: I don’t wanna talk about it. I need to hold my tongue.
MIRANDA: I have so many things to say.
AMELIA: Okay, okay. I mean, Mako literally carries a scissor. I just assumed that there was something there.
AMELIA: Oh, not Mako, sorry. Ryuko. Ryuko carries half a scissor, and she thinks Satsuki has the other half. I mean, I read into that. Maybe I shouldn’t have.
MIRANDA: No, there’s some good stuff to talk about later. For sure.
AMELIA: Okay. Okay. Yeah, I hope they do… I’m looking forward to discovering the things that you are keen to talk about.
AMELIA: Yeah. It’s probably the same for me, actually. It’s always about character dynamics for me. I want to see some kind of arc. It’s probably not gonna come as much from Ryuko. I don’t really… I don’t know. She’s very typical shounen protagonist, right?
AMELIA: The growth that you get… Sorry, go ahead.
VRAI: She’s also very—ah, mm, there’s no way that those Utena references aren’t on purpose, so there’s definitely going to be a moment at the end of the first half where she loses her brash confidence in fighting the way that she’s done and has to reassess things and what she needs and suchnot.
AMELIA: Hm, intriguing. Yeah, I’d be quite interested to see that, though, because she’s so confident. Recently, especially. “Recently.” In all six episodes. She’s said, “If I have Senketsu, then I can do this. If I have Senketsu, then I can take anyone, basically.”
Like, okay, she’s lost a fight or two, but she’s always expected that she can win; she just has to do something extra to get there. Whereas the idea of her losing that hope completely, that’s interesting. That’s character. That’s something that I’d actually be engaged in.
MIRANDA: I’m really excited for you guys to watch these next six episodes. I’m just looking over stuff. I think some of the dumb gags still exist, but lesser, very much less. Those take a backseat because they’re trying to make way for the actual serious stuff that they’re trying to talk about in the show. So, I think, I hope you’ll like these next six episodes a lot more. I hope so!
MIRANDA: I really do.
AMELIA: I mean, I made it through a Berserk watchalong, and it took until the third watchalong episode for me to go, “Oh, okay, I get it now.” So, you know, if I can make it through 12 episodes of New Berserk…
MIRANDA: I’m sorry.
VRAI: I’m sorry, there was no New Berserk. There is only Golden Age, and Griffith is the protagonist.
AMELIA: That’s fair.
AMELIA: I’m not even gonna fight that. [laughs] Yeah, so I expect that this will pay off. I do. I genuinely do. We’ve been recommended it so much and so strongly and by people that I trust and I like and who I know are kind of aligned with my tastes, so there’s something there. They just haven’t frontloaded it. And that’s okay. I don’t think that’s in any anime’s best interest. I don’t think you should save what makes your series special for episode seven onwards, but I can get it, and I think they’ve introduced enough that I can see that there’s potential.
There was a moment in episode three when… Actually, it was when Satsuki and Ryuko were fighting, and it just felt like pure titillation. It didn’t feel like the costume served any purpose. It didn’t feel like there was any reason for this series except to put these girls in uncomfortable costumes and humiliating situations.
And that was hard, but I pushed through that, and I really liked the episode with… Sagenuma? I can’t remember his name. I really liked that episode where it raised the question of him changing himself to suit his costume more. So, okay, this is a question of the relationship between bodies and clothing, and it’s not just going to be about the women; it’s going to be about the men as well. Okay, I wanna see where that goes.
MIRANDA: Oh, yes, with Sanageyama? Yeah. He gets—I think—Never mind. I’m sorry. I just wanna say so many things, and I’m like [inhales sharply], “Stop.” [laughs]
VRAI: Stay strong. Stay strong. I’ve been there.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Next time.
MIRANDA: [crosstalk] Yeah, yeah, next time. Next time, I’ll have a lot more to say, but… Continue.
AMELIA: [unintelligible due to crosstalk]
VRAI: [crosstalk] I will say—on the subject of Junketsu, that was one moment where I think I got a glimpse of what this series is.
AMELIA: [quietly] Yeah.
VRAI: Like the very specific scene where Ryuko’s trying to shame her about it and Satsuki comes back at her with: “No, this is part of my way to achieve status and power and my goals, so I’m still pure.” And the very complicated thing there of… I think it’s saying, “No, no. She shouldn’t be ashamed that she’s wearing revealing clothing. Yay, feminism.”
But it missed the very obvious point of “Maybe we should talk about the bullshit expectations that there is such a thing as a pure versus unpure woman. Okay, no? Okay—oh—come back! Okay, this is just what we’re doing.”
AMELIA: See, I’m assuming we’re going to get to that. The main Junketsu and the wedding dress label on it… They’re doing something with that. I’m sure of it. But for the moment, I think you’re absolutely right. I think they did show their hand a little bit there.
And what really got to me was when Satsuki was like, “If you’re going to be bothered about such trivial things, then you don’t deserve what you’re wearing” or something like that. She’s like, “You don’t deserve power if you’re going to be bothered by something as trivial as being physically exposed in this way.” And I thought that was just… That felt really wrongheaded to me. That felt really—
VRAI: And it’s interesting because it would be one thing if—I think it would still be an issue that would need to be talked about, because nothing exists in a vacuum, and it still has to be talked about in terms of real-world violence that women experience, depending on how they choose to or display or not their bodies—or all femme folks generally.
AMELIA: I mean, that’s the narrative, right?
VRAI: Right. But the fact that the sexual menace exists in this show—there are constantly crowds of people, crowds of dudes who are leering or trying to touch or trying to assault these women. This isn’t a battle maiden show, where it’s all women all the time and nobody is in any danger from wearing these very revealing outfits. The sexual menace is real and it is constant, and we are not addressing it.
AMELIA: It felt like the show making excuses for itself, and I didn’t like that. It felt like it was saying, “If you, Viewer, are bothered by this, you should get over that, because that’s not the point.”
It’s like, “Well, maybe you don’t get to choose what the point is. Maybe you don’t get to choose how I interpret this, actually.” So, I had a real knee-jerk response to that moment. I didn’t like it at all, the idea that if Ryuko takes issue or she sees the clothing as something negative, then that’s her problem and she should get over it… No. Not okay with that.
So, we’re getting near the end now, but I just wanna ask Miranda, has anything in our discussion today surprised you, or is it pretty much how you thought the first six-episode discussion was gonna go?
MIRANDA: [crosstalk] Yes. [laughs] No, it’s pretty much exactly what I expected.
MIRANDA: And fairly so. I’m mostly just happy that you guys are picking up on themes that you’re excited to see going forward. That’s kind of the biggest thing for me. I’m just like, “Yay, you’re liking things!” [laughs] “You like anything about it!”
MIRANDA: Also, just generally happy to talk more about Ryuko and Satsuki’s relationship and how that moves on in the future.
Generally, these first six episodes… They’re hard because if you look at the show in six-episode bunches, I think there’s very obvious things that happen and turning points and shifts in direction. And so, this next shift, I hope you guys get a lot more out of that than what happened with these previous six episodes, which are obviously a little bit more… [sighs] not impressive. [laughs]
I mean, maybe there’s things there that they’re building on. Of course, they have to introduce this weird world and what they want to achieve here, but they don’t really get to anything super substantial, I think, and hopefully, going forward, you’ll pick up on more you like.
AMELIA: Great. I’m looking forward to it.
VRAI: I am not sure that at the end of the day I will like Kill la Kill, but I definitely think that it is interesting, and I see why it is talked about. I am glad we’re talking about it now, when the discourse has died, so that we have an interesting discussion about this flawed series that wants to say some things without eight million people jumping down our throats with their piping-hot takes, but—
AMELIA: Oh, give it time, Vrai. Give it time. We haven’t even put the episode out yet.
VRAI: But I do see why people wanna talk about Kill la Kill. I get it. There are interesting things. It has ambition. It is not just thinly slapped-on faux-philosophy as an excuse to show us titties, and I have seen those shows, too.
AMELIA: And that’s actually what I thought this show was, so I’ve been somewhat pleasantly surprised in that it does seem to have actual thematic grounding rather than be peppering philosophical word salad over the top.
MIRANDA: [crosstalk] Unlike… a new show, that’s out now… by maybe the same studio. [laughs]
AMELIA: Which shall remain nameless.
MIRANDA: [unintelligible due to crosstalk]
VRAI: [crosstalk] No, not the same studio, because we love Trigger! They can do no wrong.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] No, no, no, not the same studio.
MIRANDA: [crosstalk] Oh, no, no, no. It’s A-1. It’s A-1. [laughs]
AMELIA: It’s A-1. Yeah. In that sense, I have been pleasantly surprised. I think they actually— As you said, you can’t say the show isn’t trying to say a thing. But the execution of that—
VRAI: We can talk about whether it successfully executes what it’s saying versus its other content, but we cannot say that it is not sincerely trying to say a thing and wrap its content around this central idea that it wants to say.
AMELIA: Which honestly isn’t a bad start. Earlier on, I started watching—and I forgot—the Golden Rule of these things is “Don’t mention it on Twitter at all,” because the kinds of shows that we pick for watchalongs are the ones that inspire discussion. are the ones that people really want us to talk about and they really want to engage with us on these conversations. And I forgot that.
So, I put up that Satsuki quote from the very first episode opening of the “Fear is freedom. Subjugation is liberation. Contradiction is truth,” and instantly I had two of my followers jumping in saying, “Oh, well, I think that really relates to these themes,” and they started a back-and-forth, and I had to say, “Guys, please untag me. I need to go in with no concept whatsoever of what’s coming.”
But the fact that just referencing one thing out of the opening with no extra context—I think I just said “Too real”—and that sparked an actual… It seemed like an interesting discussion. I just didn’t want to be part of it at this stage. I think that’s really telling. There’s not a lot of anime that do that, I think, that inspire that sort of discussion every time, and every time we mention Kill la Kill in any context, it has that response from people. I think that’s valuable.
VRAI: [crosstalk; ironic and amused] But Amelia, is Kill la Kill feminist?
VRAI and MIRANDA: [laughing]
AMELIA: We’ll come back to that in just a few weeks.
AMELIA: Okay, we should wrap it up for today. I think we’re gonna have some really interesting discussions in the weeks to come, though, so for now I’ll just say that you can find the rest of work, Anime Feminist, on animefeminist.com. You can find us on Twitter @AnimeFeminist. You can find us on Facebook, facebook.com/AnimeFem. We have a Tumblr, animefeminist.tumblr.com.
And of course, we have a Patreon, patreon.com/AnimeFeminist. This is how we officially pay everyone. We actually do pay everyone involved in AniFem as contributing writers, administrators, editors. We’re not yet breaking even. We could do with a bit more money to get to that point, and we are unfortunately nowhere near covering the cost of our quarterly premiere reviews that we do to help you decide which anime you want to spend your time on this season.
So, if you can spare a dollar a month, and I do mean a dollar—they’re my favorite pledges because they are the most sustainable—it really does add up. If you wanted to pay us $5 a month, then you get access to our Discord, where we can have conversations like this about anime, manga, games, Japan, anything. And that’s at $5 a month. But the one-dollars really help, so if you can spare a dollar a month, please head to patreon.com/AnimeFeminist, and send us that dollar to continue our work.
So, thank you so much to Vrai and Miranda, and we’ll be back next time with episodes 7-12 of Kill la Kill.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Whoo!