Part 3 of the 4-part watchalong of Kill la Kill with Amelia, Vrai, and special guest Miranda Sanchez! This week, the crew discusses why it can be hard to talk critically about shows you loved as a teenager, why Deep Metaphors only work if you remember intersectionality, and why Satsuki deserves way better than That One Scene.
Date Recorded: Sunday 4th March 2018
Hosts: Amelia, Vrai
Guest: Miranda Sanchez
02:50 The Ragyo scene
07:24 Kansai arc
09:23 Kill la Kill vs Gurren Lagann
10:37 Satsuki’s background and story structure
17:55 Nostalgia and fandom
29:33 Clothes maketh man
38:43 Mako continues to be wonderful
41:04 Next 6 episodes
47:28 Miranda surprises
50:01 Miranda predictions
51:13 Next episode
AMELIA: Hi everyone, and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. My name’s Amelia. I’m the editor-in-chief at Anime Feminist, and I’m joined today by Vrai Kaiser and our very special guest, Miranda Sanchez! If you guys would like to introduce yourselves?
VRAI: Yeah. Hi. I’m Vrai. I’m an editor and contributor at Anime Feminist. I also write for a bunch of places around the internet and you can find links to stuff that I’ve done on my Twitter, @writervrai, or just toss my name into Google. And you can find the other podcast I cohost, @trashpod.
MIRANDA: And I’m Miranda Sanchez. I’m an editor at IGN. I pretty much run most of our anime content. I like to say “only the good stuff,” but you never know. [chuckles] And yeah. So, I’m just really happy to be here and talk about Kill la Kill, which is one of my favorite anime. I’ve seen it twice. This is kind of… I guess chunks of it three or four times. So this is kind of a special time where I’m actually sitting down with everybody and looking at it from a very different perspective than where I haven’t before, so it’s been a fun show.
AMELIA: That’s great, but it is super not over yet. We have half a series to talk about yet. So, a watchalong, for people who are unfamiliar, is where we sit down with six episodes at a time. It is a group of people made up of an expert, or somebody who’s seen the show, loves it, is happy to talk about it critically—that, in this case, is Miranda. And then two people who haven’t seen it before, or, in this case, Vrai hasn’t seen it in completion. I think you saw a bit of the beginning and you’ve seen a bit of the end, but not a lot in between?
AMELIA: So, this is your first full run-through. Whereas I have never seen any of it, quite deliberately. So, now we’re all watching it together six episodes at a time. Vrai and I don’t really know the details of what’s coming, but I know Vrai’s had some spoilers. And just critiquing it from a feminist perspective, which, I think shows like Kill la Kill are actually more enjoyable for me to watch that way, I think, than just sitting down watching it.
I’m not sure I would have made it through, actually, just as a viewer. In fact, I know I definitely wouldn’t have made it through. So, this is making it more enjoyable for me, too.
VRAI: You’re both very sweet. I do want to know who the prospective listener is that’s picking this up three episodes into the watchalong.
MIRANDA: You never know. Maybe there’s one episode in this bunch that they wanted to hear about, specifically.
VRAI: It’s true. This is where all the big plot-twisty twists are.
AMELIA: I mean, I don’t know if they’re all in here, because I don’t know what’s coming, but certainly…
VRAI: I mean, this is the last spoiler I knew.
AMELIA: Oh, okay. Great. Yeah, this… [laughs] It got to a point where I was thinking, “Ha, Kill la Kill really picked up in episode 17.” So, the last couple of episodes actually weren’t a real chore for me to watch, which was nice.
AMELIA: And—yeah. I had this with Berserk as well when we did the watchalong for that, where it hit a point around episode 13, 14 where I was like, “Oh, no, I’m really enjoying this now.” And Kill la Kill just took a bit longer. I don’t know if it’s gonna last, but I really got a lot out of these episodes, I think… shifted the series a bit for me. Vrai, what was your—
VRAI: [mumbling playfully] Some might say that’s called Stockholm Syndrome.
AMELIA: What was your experience with these six compared to the previous six or twelve?
VRAI: If I may walk you through my experience with these just a little bit, it started with Nui, which is a bad sign. That’s a bad thing that I don’t enjoy. But then it got into the Kansai arc, which I was having a really good time with and I was getting into it and I was thinking, “Ah, this is fun. I’m spending time with all the characters I really like and they’re doing the fun stupid gimmicks, which I also really like, and there is good fight choreography, which I like.”
So, it was all things I had previously enjoyed about Kill la Kill. And the Satsuki-Ryuko fight is really prettily animated, and that was fun. And, so, I was texting my wife and telling her, “Well, I’m not entirely sure this makes it worth the people who say, ‘Oh, no, you just have to sit through this show to get to the good stuff. You’ll understand.’ But, you know, to their credit, this is getting better and I’m really starting to vibe with this show.”
[Abruptly] And then the incestuous rape scene happened—
MIRANDA: [crosstalk; disappointed] Yeah.
VRAI: —and I realized that I was still watching Kill la Kill and it had betrayed me, and I felt like a foolish fool.
AMELIA: Let’s talk about that. [laughs] Yeah, the… You’re talking about the bath scene, right?
AMELIA: Yeah. The ritual purification scene.
MIRANDA: Right, that’s… For people who have watched the show before, specifically in episode 16, Satsuki goes home after her glorious victory over the other schools, and I guess Ragyo feels like she’s comfortable enough to perform this purification ritual, but, for me… I don’t know how you guys interpret it.
This is, yeah, by far the most uncomfortable scene in the entire show and I hate it and I wish it wasn’t here. [dejected] I was like, “Why?” You don’t need to prove that she’s a domineering presence anymore. We get that. You don’t need to have her just assault her daughter. We get it.
VRAI: It’s so awful. And the closest thing to a reasoning that I can think of for why it’s included is to give us a scene of Satsuki looking vulnerable, but… no. No. It’s not…
MIRANDA: Yeah. I think maybe the vulnerability there with her mother, because she’s so tough against everybody and having her go home and be in this really weird state where she’s not the top dog is rare.
But I think another reasoning may have been that they’re like: Oh, well, I think they wanted to show how Ragyo is getting back into it, showing she’s more evil because she does not regard her daughter as a human but as a possession that she has to purify and can do whatever with, and now that she’s purified her she feels like she can trust her. Or something.
VRAI: I know there are readings of this show, of people who got something out of it, who really enjoyed Satsuki’s relationship with her mother as a depiction of somebody getting out from under an abusive parent, so I can see finding value in that storyline, generally speaking. I did not enjoy that we are now two-for-two on the only sexually-aggressive women in Kill la Kill are the two evil villains who also hit on other women, specifically underage girls. Did not enjoy that!
AMELIA: Yeah. It felt very much to me… I mean, the framing of it as well… It felt very much like, “Hey, mother-daughter hotness in the bath.” It didn’t feel meaningful. It didn’t feel like it was saying something more.
I am glad that people have been able to pull something more out of it. We’re all very familiar with taking more meaning from problematic media than was necessarily intended. And I’m not trying to be disrespectful to that in any way.
But it didn’t feel like that was the intention with which that scene was created, and it felt very uncomfortable. I saw that, and I was like, “That has to be one of the first things we talk about, right? That has to come up soon.”
VRAI: And it made me so depressed, because I really was getting into the show up to that. The Kansai arc is really, really great and I had a fun time with it. It was just everything about the show that I had been enjoying concentrated with a minimal amount of bullshit because Ryuko is also trying to get back Senketsu, so there’s not a whole lot of gratuitous nudity, [mumbling] except that Nonon is wearing gym panties for some reason. What the fuck ever.
AMELIA: Yeah, okay. That… I think I enjoyed the end of the… I can’t remember what it’s called. But they’re fighting to get their status back, and they’re fighting against Ryuko. I enjoyed that, and I enjoyed the Elite Four, because I enjoy the Elite Four. The Kansai arc didn’t really do much for me, I think.
VRAI: [crosstalk; laughing] It was so dumb in the best way. Sorry.
AMELIA: Yeah. You had some things to say about that, though, with the factions.
VRAI: Yeah. I think it’s… I brought up, I think, in both the previous watchalongs, and I will come back to this later in a different way, but in the element of, “Oh, this show is dumb but it’s saying a thing in a way that is also concurrent with its dumbness.”
The “money is power” scene is so completely lacking in tact or subtlety in a way that I kind of respect. [amused] Because, all right Kill la Kill, this is fucking dumb, but you’ve put all your cards on the table, and I’m having a good time.
AMELIA: Yeah, I can see that. Oh, this is not for me, you guys.
AMELIA: Yeah. I didn’t enjoy that so much. I enjoyed it more when it came back to the Honnoji Academy. I think that was… It feels like that’s where the story’s being told, and they strayed out of that for a little while to give a change of scenery, and then going back to it, it feels like, “Okay, episode 17, 18, that’s where the story kicks off.” That’s how it feels. And that’s a long intro to a story.
MIRANDA: That’s pretty much like Gurren Lagann. Almost the exact same thing.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Oh, really?
MIRANDA: Yeah, ’cause the first half is this story, and then something major happens and everything changes, and then a few episodes in… and you finally realize what is the massive problem; what is the main conflict that everyone’s trying to resolve. And then the rest of the show, which is usually just a few episodes, is about that part.
So, it’s a lot of building and then the journey up to that, and while I think it can kind of work and I know I enjoyed the first half a little bit more than you two, the second half, I think, I always appreciate that, because then you’re kind of… you can’t be used to anything. And they’re always throwing surprises. They even make a joke in there—I think it was episode 16, when they were doing the… Yeah, they’re doing the recap episode.
AMELIA: [crosstalk; laughing] Ah, yeah. [unintelligible due to crosstalk]
VRAI: [crosstalk] The three-minute recap episode.
MIRANDA: Yeah. Yeah, about being breakneck speed, and they’re like, “Oh yeah, we’re known for our pacing,” kind of thing. And so I appreciate that they lean into that pretty hard as well.
VRAI: All right, brief counterpoint. One thing I will say for Kill la Kill is it’s a lot smarter than Gurren Lagann. That’s a low bar, but I wanna give Kill la Kill that.
MIRANDA: Yes. Yes. It has a similar format, and…
VRAI: No, I feel you. I feel you.
AMELIA: Yeah. When it does come back to Honnoji, and we have this kind of showdown between Ragyo and Satsuki. The idea that Satsuki is not actually human—not Satsuki, sorry—Ragyo is not actually human anymore, and they’ve got this whole backstory with Satsuki’s father, and that kind of thing I was actually really interested in.
It also doesn’t feel like the story we’ve been telling so far, at all. So, I’m really interested in where this is going, actually, but I’m a bit frustrated that it took 17 episodes to get there.
MIRANDA: Right. I think maybe just because they wanted to make it about Ryuko first, and now it’s becoming more and more about Satsuki, and I think them slowly revealing that was more interesting. Because Satsuki’s intent, like we mentioned before, has never really been out front, and she’s just kind of running the school and it seems really awful, and she’s the enemy until Nui comes in and then Ragyo comes in and now we kind of have clarity for why, one, the Elite Four are just awesome—they’ve always been awesome—
AMELIA: [crosstalk] This is true.
MIRANDA: And then… And why Satsuki plays it really close to home, and she doesn’t expose what she’s trying to do with anyone outside of the Elite Four because it is such a sensitive mission, I guess.
VRAI: Yeah. I mean, the structure of Kill la Kill is not an unfamiliar one, to me, anyway. Princess Tutu has a very similar kind of format, with its main rival/antagonist, and then sympathizing them in the back half.
So, I’m familiar with this structure. It’s… A lot of the trouble with this kind of show is you have to be okay with the episodic buildup and there for that kind of content in order to sink into the more lore-based stuff that you have to wait for.
AMELIA: This is… And this is where I struggle. But I will say that I think certain things have been consistent. And certain things have been done consistently that I really like. I still really like the aesthetic. I still really like the interesting stylistic things they do, like having the big kanji characters as a part of the scene. I really enjoyed that.
I really, really appreciate how you have all these female characters who are quite different and who fight each other and it gets messy, and it is violent, and it is not remotely… not remotely glamorous, and they’re not remotely same-y. And I think that’s something that I really respect, and I really like about a series.
But every time Junketsu or Senketsu shows up, I’m like, “Nope.” I cannot get over this. I cannot get over these fanservice outfits. I’m 18 episodes in now and every time they show up, it puts me on edge and I hate it.
Oh, no. I’m just ranting. I just hate it so much. And it frustrates me, but the expectation is that you should stop caring and it should stop bothering you, because at this point, the qualities of the show have made themselves known, and if you’re a real connoisseur, if you’re a real critic, you should be able to look past this thing. And I can’t. And I don’t feel why I should. I don’t think that’s fair. It’s frustrating. And I don’t feel like it has given me enough to justify not being bothered by it.
VRAI: Yeah, I think there is an important distinction to be made that I… This is going to be such a “not all Kill la Kill fans,” because I’m sure there are a lot of fans who are like Miranda who just enjoy this thing and are completely open and aware of the issues it has.
But I have had some run-ins with the fandom in the year, and, indeed, during this watchalong, and I think right now we need to draw a distinction between a show that is feminist and a show that has interesting female characters.
MIRANDA: Yes. That’s very important. It’s like maybe there are things that could be feminist, but then they don’t play out that way, so it’s not. And just, yeah… Having great female characters does not make it a feminist show. Or feminist art.
VRAI: [crosstalk] I really like Satsuki and Nonon and Ryuko and Mako. I think they’re all delightful. But I don’t think this show is feminist. I really don’t.
AMELIA: And we should clarify that, actually, we’ve discussed many times that the question “Is this feminist?” is very limited in usefulness.
VRAI: Oh, it’s stupid. It’s a stupid question.
AMELIA: We’ve talked within this episode about the value that can be drawn from something that can also be seen as uncomfortable and completely anti-feminist. We are not saying for a second that a show has to be feminist or has to be considered feminist to have worth.
And I think that’s where the frustration lies. I mean, I know Caitlin’s talked about this before. She has this great talk about the problem of the question “Is this feminist?” and in it, she says something like: there are only actually three or four anime that she thinks could be considered “truly feminist” for the reasons she gives. It’s on her site, Heroine Problem—heroine with an “e”—should you wish to look it up.
So, we’re not saying that not fitting into that upper echelon of three or four anime means that it’s entirely without worth or that it’s not enjoyable or that it’s not valuable to feminists. But the problem comes when people say, “I believe it has worth, therefore it must be feminist.” And I know that’s an attitude that you’ve come up against, Vrai, fairly recently, I think.
VRAI: [through pained laughter] I’m dying! I’m dying and this show’s fandom is killing me.
MIRANDA: [sympathetically] Oh.
AMELIA: No, I mean I’ve come up against it, too. The amount of people—I’m in this watchalong because nobody expected me to enjoy it, basically. That’s why I’m a part of this show, is people would say to me, “You should watch Kill la Kill. If you can just get over the fanservice, you’ll really enjoy it. It’s really feminist.” This is something—
MIRANDA: [crosstalk] I hate that so much.
MIRANDA: It’s like you can’t just say “get over” a part that is obviously prevalent throughout the entire series that is gonna make somebody uncomfortable. You can’t say that.
AMELIA: And yet people do. And this is many people, and this is well-meaning people, and this is people who share my politics. This is people who understand my tastes in anime. At the same time, if these people enjoyed Kill la Kill, they will say to me, “You should watch it. You can enjoy it too.” And it’s like, “Yeah, you know, in theory I probably could enjoy it… if I were a different person who doesn’t value lack-of-fanservice as highly as I do.”
And I’m being really specific here. I hate the objectification of bodies, and that includes male bodies. I haven’t even seen Free! all the way through. I don’t enjoy it. So—that’s not Free. I feel pretty nonplussed about Free in general. But I don’t enjoy seeing bodies objectified at all. Any gender. Any bodies. So, this was never going to be for me.
But there are people who insisted that it would be for me because it is “feminist.” Because they found worth in it, therefore it is feminist. And that… I’m really glad that we’re doing this watchalong so we can have a nuanced discussion about it, and kind of… And then I’ll be in a stronger position to have that conversation with people going forward and say, “Well, actually, I did watch it all the way through. Let’s have this discussion.”
VRAI: I wanted to talk, actually, this go-around, about fandom nostalgia, because I think it’s really prevalent with Kill la Kill, because I think this series hit a lot of people in middle school or high school where, you know, your emotions are very—
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Middle school?
VRAI: Yeah! Yeah. Your emotions are intense. You’re really able to zero-in on elements of a series that speak to you, and do that thing where you kind of block out the other shit.
And then you get older and you really strongly connect the good parts of that show to spoke to you with these strong emotions, and you don’t really remember the other parts so clearly, and also you maybe get defensive, and that kind of makes you an asshole, and also you maybe haven’t revisited the series or can’t take the nostalgia goggles off because that’s an exercise that takes practice.
And I don’t mean this in a way that’s like, “Kill la Kill fans are dumb and stupid.” Because it’s not about any one particular fandom. For instance, I was super into Death Note in high school, and I still have an unaccountable fondness for that series, even though it’s a misogynistic piece of trash that’s really, really poorly plotted in the second half.
Or, you know, I have a fondness for Gundam 00 because literally two characters were super-important to a very specific time in my life. So… And that is also a series that’s poorly-plotted and full of terrible gender roles and I couldn’t in good conscience recommend it to anybody. But it’s kind of important to me.
So, everybody has these shows, but the important part is being able to take off the nostalgia goggles and be honest with yourself about why this speaks to you and how that relates to how you converse about it with other people.
AMELIA: I don’t even think you need to take the goggles off. I think it’s totally okay to say, “This is a show that I can’t have these conversations about.” I have a few shows or series like that, where I’m like, “I’m sorry, it’s important to me and therefore I do not want to think about it critically.” That’s fine. Make that choice.
MIRANDA: Right. Also a problem there, too, is that people, I guess, relate their identities so much now with what they consume and what they consider to be their favorite things, and so when you insult those favorite things or have a problem with those favorite things, then you’re suddenly insulting them, which is not the case ever.
And, I mean, I encounter this constantly with my job. It’s like, “Well, I say this thing is not great,” and they’re like, “Ah! You’re awful! You hate this thing!” And I’m like, “No. I just said I did not like a part of this thing.” And people just take it so personally. And that’s the hard part about a lot of people that participate in “the fandom,” right? And I see that more often than not with that, where it’s like, “We’re not… This is not about you. This is about a thing.”
VRAI: “I hate it. It’s not about you.” I have shows like that now. Now! In the year of our lord, 2018. I will fight you in a parking lot if you have bad things to say about Oscar, but it’s okay.
AMELIA: [laughs] Yeah. I think that’s it. It’s one thing we’re trying to achieve with Anime Feminist is providing examples of holding these conversations in a way that is respectful but critical.
MIRANDA: Right. Those are hard to find.
AMELIA: And it’s really important to have them. It’s really important for fans, especially marginalized fans—which we try to cater our content to—to have those spaces to talk about “I love this and therefore I feel this way about it,” or “I have this particular intersection in my identity and as a result I drew this meaning from this show which is otherwise considered hugely problematic.” All these kinds of approaches to conversation and criticism around media.
It’s really important to me that we make a space where those conversations can be held. I love that this podcast is one of them. The Twitter commentary around it, I think, actually through the AniFem Twitter, people have been giving us really good feedback. They’ve been really positive about it, and I hope that that continues.
But I know that, just on a personal level… I’ve stopped talking about Kill la Kill for the moment, ’cause I want to avoid spoilers, but when I do start talking about it again, it’ll be interesting to see if people try to change my mind even once I’ve seen the series all the way through. It doesn’t feel implausible—
VRAI: [crosstalk] “Excuse me. You didn’t watch it correctly. You weren’t interrogating the text from the right perspective.” [laughs]
AMELIA: I mean, I can see that happening though. Can’t you?
AMELIA: So, it’s… I really want us to normalize the idea that you don’t have to like something to acknowledge its value, I guess.
MIRANDA: Yes. I don’t—to bring it back to video games for a second—I don’t love The Last of Us like the rest of the games industry. I have a lot of problems with it. But I appreciate why people enjoy it and what they find valuable about it. There’s so many things. I see why. And I don’t agree personally, but, critically, I can understand what points are valuable to people. Or even as a person, I see what points are valuable to people. But that’s really important to do. And it’s important to also recognize that people can have issues with things you love.
VRAI: Right. Well, and there’s… This is not a tangent we can go down, but as an English major, I’m entirely salty all of the time forever that English classes for high school students teach “new criticism,” which kind of tells… It kind of imparts to you that there’s one right way to read a text as opposed to every other school of literary criticism that came after it and is far more valuable and I’m so mad about it!
AMELIA: [faux-shocked] You’re mad about things, Vrai? [laughs] That’s so out of character.
VRAI: I know. The world is shocked.
VRAI: There are multiple ways to read a text and those things can stand by one another and it’s okay. It’s okay!
AMELIA: Yeah. And I think Kill la Kill is a good text for that. At the same time, while we are looking at it critically, I know, Vrai, you wanted to talk a bit about the intersectionality or lack thereof of Kill la Kill.
VRAI: [disappointingly] Yeah.
AMELIA: I think that’s really important.
VRAI: Mm. So, in the last watchalong, I mentioned that I kind of had this concern that Nudist Beach… Its most prominent members are dudes and then Ragyo appears to be the big bad with her henchwoman sociopath—god, I hate her—Nui. And that’s not, like, a great dynamic for your good-versus-evil conversation.
That’s worse here. That’s worse here. Ragyo does, indeed, appear to be the worst and most awful villain. And Nudist Beach is clearly a flawed organization, but they’re also there to support the heroes, and be on the side-ish of right while Ragyo is the big bad who has lost track… who has lost touch with her humanity.
And, meanwhile, we have, now, the additional layer that Ryuko’s dad was the one who understood that these experiments were monstrous and he did it the right, better way when he made Senketsu, and I’m like, [exasperated] “Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, the gender dynamics!”
MIRANDA: [crosstalk; amused] It’s like, “To fight the monsters: Create another monster, but I made the right one!”
VRAI: “I made it right and better. My penis guided me like a guiding light.”
AMELIA: Penis lights. That’s, uh…
VRAI: I’m sorry, is that not a canonical thing within this show? … Because it is.
MIRANDA: Yeah, that’s a thing.
AMELIA: It just… That’s… I was gonna say, it actually made me think of that scene… You know, where it’s back at the school when the uprising has begun, when the guy—what’s his name? Mikisugi, is it? The teacher.
VRAI: Discount Saionji—oh, no, that guy.
MIRANDA: Yeah, he is.
AMELIA: And he shows up butt-first in his robot, and he’s got this piece of mechanical equipment where you would imagine his penis might be in. It’s waggling at Ryuko as he’s talking to her. And it was just… I get… Yeah. The ridiculousness with which human bodies are treated in Kill la Kill is not just women. I do understand that. [laughs] That moment was so off-putting. Do you know the moment I mean?
VRAI: Yes. I do.
MIRANDA: The DTR?
AMELIA: Okay. Excellent. Just making sure it didn’t just stick with me.
VRAI: Yeah. Yeah.
AMELIA: That would be unfair.
VRAI: Oh, I also… Shout-out to the fact that last watchalong, I mentioned that I would love to see some gender play of any kind with the uniforms or presentation, and that does briefly happen here, [disappointed] with the sociopathic villain character in that first episode where Nui disguises herself as the journalist for a while. [glumly] Thanks. Thanks, I hate it. I hate everything she represents.
MIRANDA: Yeah, she’s… Anytime she’s on screen, it’s like, “Stop. Cut it out.”
VRAI: Also, that episode was so… Because it was a genuinely traumatic and terrible moment for Ryuko, right as they zoom in on that cameltoe when Senketsu’s being cut up. [sighs] Kill la Kill, why? I was trying to get emotionally invested in this, and you’ve shown me an underage girl’s vagina. Why have you done this?
AMELIA: I mean, they keep doing that. The Junketsu transformation in particular is awful for that.
VRAI: Yeah, it’s weird how, when Ragyo puts on Junketsu, her transformation sequence is less explicit. That’s really weird and random.
AMELIA: Yeah, I thought that. I’m not sure if it’s because it’s Kamui Junketsu, but either way, why would you not go there with the adult?
MIRANDA: Right. The one person that would be at least somewhat acceptable. Please.
AMELIA: I was gonna say—
VRAI: I have a way, way higher tolerance for stupid fanservice when it’s of adults. My bar goes up exponentially for that stuff.
But, speaking of intersectionality and the gender politics of who controls what, who is in power… I do genuinely think this is accidental, like one of those things where it’s an unconscious bias, but Kill la Kill has set up this system where it’s about overthrowing systems of power and those very Marxist undertones, but it’s also, once again, set up fashion as this thing that’s “women oppressin’ other women, like they do. Certainly, the fashion industry is not predominantly run by men in all of the most powerful positions. And, meanwhile, the good dudes are here to dismantle this system.”
In its attempt to say a thing, it completely misunderstands the intersection between how people are oppressed and how marginalized identities are oppressed within larger structures of oppression, and that’s extremely frustrating. In addition, I think part of why people say that Kill la Kill gets easier to take as it goes on is you can see… you can genuinely see this shift where it doesn’t want to talk about women’s bodies, it wants to talk about bodies and the consumption of bodies, and how bodies are dressed.
But the thing is, Kill la Kill, you spent your entire first half talking very specifically about how women’s bodies—cis women’s bodies, because God help us, Trigger doesn’t know anything else—are consumed and seen and taken advantage of, and all these elements of sexual menace. And, no, I’m not gonna forget that that was a foundational part of your metaphor even though you decided you want to go and do something else now.
You introduced these things and then did not deal with them because they weren’t actually part of the larger metaphor that you wanted to address, and I kind of resent that, because it tapped into a deep thing for shock value and then didn’t actually think about it.
AMELIA: How did you feel about the way they did present their theme in the end? About how the Life Fibers are aliens and they’ve come down and… The idea that—I mean, it’s essentially “clothes maketh the man,” right? That’s—they’ve taken that to these sci-fi extremes. That clothes made humans.
VRAI: I mean, in general, removing it from the metaphor/themes briefly… Just very surface-level, it’s the kind of incredible stupidity that I can kind of respect.
VRAI: I think I took a screenshot at one point during that episode and was like, “I think this show might be stupid.”
AMELIA: Yeah, it was… It’s a message that I particularly like, actually, and it’s one that I think Princess Jellyfish has probably covered in the way that I like the most to date. The idea that clothes are a source of power. They do affect how you present yourself… even how you identify.
I’ve certainly experienced the power of putting on different clothes than usual, and it does make me feel different. It makes me behave differently. And so on. And I feel like that is something… There’s actually relatability within that theme for a lot of people—
VRAI: [crosstalk] Yeah. I—
AMELIA: —and I—Oh, sorry go ahead.
VRAI: No, that’s an intensely powerful theme to play with, is the thing. Something like Wandering Son, The Trans Anime—capital letters—is so much about clothing and how clothing affects presentation and perception. These are powerful themes that Kill la Kill has the potential to use and kind of does in the most pedestrian way possible.
AMELIA: Yeah. I mean, that’s… I’m viewing it slightly differently. Watching this show has been quite difficult for me. It’s been challenging. I’ve been struggling with it. And I appreciate the fact that there is this theme that I can potentially get something out of.
As you say, they’re kind of taking it to the most ridiculous extremes they can, and they’re approaching it in a way that’s not… It doesn’t feel insightful, I guess. It doesn’t feel like I’m learning anything of value from it. Or I’m taking much value from it. But I do, at least, appreciate that it’s a theme that I can enjoy being explored even at that level, if that makes sense.
VRAI: It’s kind of reminiscent of Harry Potter to me, where Harry Potter… It’s not exactly the same, but the general…
VRAI: Obviously it’s not exactly the same. Backpedal. Backpedal.
MIRANDA: [crosstalk] Oh my God! Kill la Kill—like Harry Potter, huh? [laughs]
VRAI: No, you know what? I’m not gonna back down from that. I just wanna clarify that I’m talking more about systems of behavior. This idea that Kill la Kill… Harry Potter introduced this world that JK Rowling was—that really spoke to people and really hit on some emotional core and hit a lot of young people who took it with them when they grew up, who then did much more interesting things with it while JK Rowling and every canonical thing she tries to introduce after the last book of the series has handled marginalized identities in worse and worse ways.
[Sarcastic] Dumbledore was on rollerskates the whole time, you guys! We just didn’t mention it because it wasn’t important to Harry’s journey.
AMELIA: [laughs] Ah, it’s probably the less said about JK Rowling, the better, at this point.
VRAI: But that is… ‘Cause I think what Kill la Kill is is something similar, is that Kill la Kill introduces this very potent theme that the actual series doesn’t really do much with, but it speaks to people so powerfully that, in the years since the series has come out, I think, in their minds, in their headcanons, they have made it what it could have been, as opposed to what it is.
AMELIA: Ah. The nostalgia element we discussed earlier.
VRAI: And you know what? Kill la Kill—I don’t think I’ve ever seen an anime that I would so desperately like to see somebody else remake that is not cis, straight men.
AMELIA: [laughs] That’s… I can get behind that. I would be interested in a remake of this where it takes the themes and presents it differently.
MIRANDA: I absolutely agree.
VRAI: In that department, I can see why people just hold onto it in dreams of what it could have been.
AMELIA: I get that, and I think that’s another thing that… We all have those anime where we’re like, “Oh, it would have been so much better if it’d have done x, y, zed.”
MIRANDA: [crosstalk] Rolling Girls…
AMELIA: But I appreciate it.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] I haven’t seen Rolling Girls.
MIRANDA: I’ll never stop thinking about that. Ugh.
VRAI: It’s so sad.
AMELIA: On this note, then, where do you want it to go from here, Vrai? Where do you think…
VRAI: I… And, I mean, it’s almost a given that this is going to happen, but, gosh, I really want Satsuki and Ryuko sisterly bonding. I need it. I need it!
AMELIA: It feels like they’re closer at the moment, and I really like that. I really enjoy that.
VRAI: Yeah. That was the last good… the last big twist I knew was that Satsuki and Ryuko were related.
MIRANDA: Aw, man.
AMELIA: Oh, and there was…
MIRANDA: I think the reveal’s really cool though, because… I mean, I think there are hints there… If you really look at their character design, you see similarities, but that doesn’t tell you that much. I think it was smart of them to do that reveal in that same episode—
VRAI: [crosstalk] Very much.
MIRANDA: —because they’re obviously like, “Let’s talk about this thing. You have a missing sister who’s probably dead. She’s not dead. She’s probably not dead. Oh, surprise. It’s Ryuko.” [laughs]
VRAI: Yeah, I respect that it respected its audience enough to not treat this like some big, multi-arc mystery when the information is also clearly there if you’ve watched a thing, ever.
VRAI: But it’s still a really good reveal.
AMELIA: I had this moment where she pulls Ryuko’s heart from her chest, and I had this moment of “Ah, oh no!” and it was really satisfying that that happened, I guess. I always appreciate a good twist in a show, and a good reveal, and I did really enjoy that.
VRAI: The body horror in these episodes was kind of on-point, and I am always about quality body horror.
MIRANDA: Oh, gosh.
AMELIA: In these episodes?
VRAI: Yeah, well, with the heart scene, and some of the art design around Ragyo… There was some good shit as far as that.
AMELIA: Oh, yeah.
MIRANDA: Yeah. Ragyo generally just… Her menace is portrayed so well through how they animate her, and just the framing of her generally. I know that sometimes when she’s looking at somebody, it’s not a sinister scene, but just the way they zoom in on her face and distort it, it makes it sinister. And it’s just awesome.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] With Ragyo—Sorry, go ahead.
VRAI: Oh, I just wanted to give a shout-out to the soundtrack, ’cause I’m normally not a huge fan of background music that is very lyrically heavy, but this show uses it well, and Ragyo’s theme is pretty aces.
AMELIA: I know exactly what you’re talking about, ’cause I had exactly the same experience. I’m noticing this, but I’m enjoying it.
On Ragyo, I don’t know if I’m the only one who had this experience, but I kept waiting for a gender reveal. I kept waiting for the reveal to be either that Ragyo was either not a woman or turned out to be not human, but just purely from the fact that her voice is more masculine in the same way that Ryuko’s voice is more masculine, maybe that’s another kind of hint connecting the two.
And the fact that she is… I don’t know, just the way they presented her character. I kept expecting there to be a gender reveal. And I’m pleased they didn’t go down that route.
VRAI: You know what? Maybe I’m glad that Trigger doesn’t know that trans people exist, because that is exactly what they’d do. You’re right.
AMELIA: Yeah. [laughs] So, I… Yeah. Miranda, do you remember when you watched it the first time, you had any kind of suspicions around Ragyo?
MIRANDA: Actually, no. I didn’t… I didn’t ever think that that would be a thing. Even now, I’m a little surprised, like, “Huh.”
AMELIA: It was when she goes into the bath with Satsuki, and I was like, “Oh, I guess that’s not the case,” and then I realized that I’d been waiting for it. So, I hadn’t actually noticed it up until that point. It’s just one of those things that you just pay attention to the cues, you know? And she and Satsuki both have this slightly kind of—I think in their character design, there’s something quite masculine around their jaws. Does that make sense?
VRAI: They’ve also got the caterpillar eyebrows. They’re very good.
AMELIA: Yeah, and there’s just little hints towards masculinity without, obviously, being male. And it’s just something I noticed, that I had been expecting. And I didn’t even realize I’d been expecting it until the bath scene, which kind of debunked this expectation I didn’t realize I had.
VRAI: Dear Internet, please send me all of your trans Satsuki headcanons.
AMELIA: [laughs] That would be great. Yes. Except not in this particular context, ’cause I do not trust Trigger, [crosstalk] to be honest.
VRAI: [crosstalk] No. Not Trigger. This is Harry Potter things again.
AMELIA: [laughs] Yes indeed. So, from—
VRAI: [crosstalk] Oh, uh—
AMELIA: Go ahead.
VRAI: No, I just wanted to mention that, also, Mako continues to be a very good girlfriend this week.
MIRANDA: [lovingly] Oh my goodness, she’s so wonderful! Especially during the whole tournament arc. Ugh, [crosstalk] I mean, not the tournament, the…
VRAI: [crosstalk] Yes! “The safest place to be is right next to you.” And then I died. I died and I melted because she’s a good girlfriend.
AMELIA: And when she refuses to be left behind on the—when Ryuko’s getting on her bike and she’s getting ready to go. It’s adorable.
VRAI: Oh, it’s very good. I do like Mako very much!
MIRANDA: Amelia, you said she’s adorable!
AMELIA: I did. I do think she’s won me over.
MIRANDA: [excited] Yay!
VRAI: Once the series stops being so On, there’s time to actually appreciate her as a character, and not an endless vector for slapstick.
AMELIA: Yes. And she… Actually, last time we put up a watchalong episode, which I think was last weekend, somebody tweeted at us a link to some artwork that—is it Sushio?—from Trigger, did of Mako growing up.
MIRANDA: Oh gosh, yes.
AMELIA: Did you see this, Vrai?
VRAI: Yes. I saw it. My heart! My heart! She’s so lonely. She’s such a good girl.
AMELIA: She is so adorable.
MIRANDA: So, she will actually tweet out art of Ryuko and Mako somewhat regularly of them just doing things and just being around, so yeah. And other characters more and more, but still them a little bit, every now and then.
AMELIA: Yeah. I ship it. I ship it. I didn’t think I would, but here we are.
VRAI: Very good.
AMELIA: [laughs] Yeah. Mako’s really great, and her family was not horrendous this time, so…
VRAI: Right. For the first time ever, I did not want to kill her father and brother.
AMELIA: Indeed. Yeah. Although, when he showed up, I did actually notice that he was naked before the mother commented. I was like, “Is that just really visible through his trousers?”
MIRANDA: [laughs] Right.
AMELIA: [through laughter] It was very uncomfortable.
VRAI: I haven’t seen… I had Dragon Ball flashbacks, like, “Whoa.”
AMELIA: Yes. Exactly.
VRAI: I think that’s the last time I’ve seen just naked penis. Naked kid penis.
AMELIA: “Naked kid penis.” Ah, Kill la Kill.
VRAI: Yep. Didn’t need that either, Kill la Kill.
AMELIA: Nope. So, sisterly bonding aside, what else would you like to see happen? We’re now in the final stretch. Last six episodes. What do you want to get out of this?
VRAI: More body horror and more girlfriends. That’s really all I want.
AMELIA: That’s not a bad combination.
VRAI: Those are my favorite things.
AMELIA: I think the body horror… I do agree with you. The body horror they’ve done has been great. I thought… I did think that being decapitated would actually kill Ragyo, and then it didn’t, and I was like, “That’s really creepy!”
AMELIA: It was great though. It was so well done. And I don’t think anything beats Ryuko being taken over by Senketsu.
VRAI: That’s a stellar design. That is a Devilman design.
MIRANDA: Mm-hm. It is.
AMELIA: It was so good. But they are referring back to this, and the… They’re not shying away from the ugliness of the series, and I really do appreciate that. They’re not shying away at all from making this as violent and messy as it should be. They’re not glamorizing them, which… It just makes the visual framing when they do kind of frame them for titillation, it just makes that all the more uncomfortable, because we know they don’t have to. That’s not what the show is, so it takes—
MIRANDA: It almost feels sometimes like they have a box. It’s like, “Fanservice—did we check it today?”
MIRANDA: “Yes.” And then they just have to make sure it’s in every episode in some form, and it’s irritating for sure, ’cause you can tell when it’s like, “This doesn’t… ” Of course, it doesn’t need it either, because it’s fanservice, but there are specific points where it especially does not need to be framed in a certain way, and it just feels like they’re consciously making sure this thing happens every time.
AMELIA: Yeah, where it’s actually jarring to go from one mode to another. If they’re in the middle of a fight to the death, and stop for a transformation sequence with flapping breasts, that’s… [sighs]
VRAI: My eyes roll so hard, because, you know, normally a show with a lot of transformations will have a shortened animation. No, no. Kill la Kill just speeds the animation up.
AMELIA: That’s true. That’s true. And they’ve stopped actually doing the full transformation with the Elite Four, I think.
AMELIA: So now they just go straight into their costumes, which, you know, as far as Nonon’s concerned, I was kinda grateful for that. But it’s… Again, it’s not quite equitable.
VRAI: Also, more Elite Four! More! Good. Friends.
AMELIA: More Elite Four is always good. And I really like their friendship, actually, between the four of them and Satsuki. Now I know what she was working towards this whole time, and their loyalty to her, and the way that they have been strengthened over the course of the series. That’s an arc I really enjoy. I kind of feel like a lot of other stuff hasn’t been necessary around that; even the Kansai trip felt like a detour.
VRAI: Yes, indeed, but it was a fun detour.
MIRANDA: Yeah. I mean, it does have its significance, I think, down the road. But also just to have more of the Elite Four is nice.
AMELIA: Yeah. I actually… I really enjoyed the episode with the journalist before finding out it was Harime Nui.
AMELIA: [laughs] Before that, I actually really enjoyed that episode. And I was genuinely shocked when Senketsu was torn up. I didn’t realize at that point how apparently easy it was gonna be to put him back together, but I really did… You’ve got… Ryuko’s obviously deeply upset and not sure what to do. Going through an identity crisis.
And then you’ve got this character who’s voiced by I think Rin from Blue Exorcist, and he’s one of my favorite shounen characters ever, and I was just listening to the voice of the journalist going, “That sounds really familiar,” and then when I realized who it was, I enjoyed it all the more. So, that was good fun for me, even if it’s got Harime Nui in it.
AMELIA: [musically] Not keen. Not keen.
VRAI: I wish that when Ryuko had put Senketsu back together, she would have gotten a uniform upgrade, ’cause Scarf Senketsu was real cute and good.
MIRANDA: Mm-hm. Best form. [laughs]
AMELIA: Yeah. I could go with that. And Ryuko hasn’t really had any kind of uniform upgrade, has she? She’s… Senketsu can do more things, but the actual appearance hasn’t changed, which I think is quite unusual.
VRAI: Oh, that reminds me. There’s one more thing I wanted to talk about. [frustrated] Goddamn it, I’d almost put it out of my mind.
AMELIA: Go on.
VRAI: The conversation… One of the few chorus sequences that Mako has during the section when they’re at Nudist Beach deciding what to do, and they have that long conversation about maidens and virginity.
VRAI: And I wanted to die.
AMELIA: “What a maiden does with her naked body… ” [groans] It’s basically saying that you only—if you are a maiden, you only get naked for the person that you’re truly in love with. Which, initially, I took as super gay between Mako and Ryuko. [laughs] I thought Mako was being like, possessive in a really unusual format. But it became a lot less charming very quickly.
VRAI: Well, and Mako is always at least a little bit ridiculous, but she’s also the fool character in a Shakespearean sense, where she speaks truth to power, and it’s just so weird to contrast that in this back half when we’re getting into the part of “these are the themes the show really wants to talk about” in contrast to Satsuki’s speech in the early going about Junketsu and how she’s not ashamed if it gets her what she wants. And now we’ve got this. And I’m dying. It’s killing me.
MIRANDA: Kill la Kill.
AMELIA: It was not nice.
AMELIA: Indeed. Yeah, I didn’t enjoy that at all. But it felt… Actually, the thing that I didn’t like most was that it came from Mako.
MIRANDA: Yeah, that doesn’t feel like a thing.
AMELIA: Like if it had come from the Nudist Beach guy or something, that would have been…
VRAI: Right. Discount Akio. Yes. That is a fitting speech for him.
AMELIA: And coming from Mako… That’s why I thought, at first, I was like, “Oh, that’s cute!” No. Not cute.
MIRANDA: I’ll pretend like she’s just being possessive.
MIRANDA: That’s what’s happening.
AMELIA: Yeah. She’s just being… She’s just expressing jealousy in this kind of unusual way, through performance art and mind.
AMELIA: So, Miranda, has anything surprised you about what we talked about today, or was it pretty much as you would expect for these six episodes?
MIRANDA: I guess the only thing that surprised me was your thoughts on Ragyo and gender. That was, I think, the biggest surprise. But otherwise—that, and that you like Mako now. That is a surprise.
MIRANDA: ‘Cause it’s just more Mako. I guess her getting time to do other things aside from just being slapstick goofy girlfriend is good.
AMELIA: I think the more “girlfriend’ she gets, the more I like her. And she had some stellar girlfriend moments in these last few episodes, and that was good. Mako, in isolation, I don’t think I can take.
MIRANDA: Right. No, she’s wonderful. That comic. That’s her. She’s pure and sad and then Ryuko comes and she’s happy. Anyway, so, pretty much everything else I expected. This half, I think, is more solid in what it’s trying to do, so I was genuinely hoping you guys would like this half more, and it seems like you are, so that’s really good.
Though, I do agree with the thing… It’s like, you shouldn’t have to stick out for half a show if you don’t—to get to the stuff you may like. Whereas, thankfully, I liked the first half and this half. This half, I think, is better. So I think it makes sense that you both like this one as well.
Yeah. That’s about it. Pretty much expected. And I was ready to talk about that Ragyo sequence. Gosh darn it. That makes me so uncomfortable.
VRAI: It’s really bad.
MIRANDA: It’s so bad.
VRAI: It’s really bad, and it’s like the “extra bad,” not just that it’s an assault, but the fact that Satsuki is framed very sexually is—
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Yes. That was it.
VRAI: It’s got that whiff of “Ah, but she enjoyed it, though,” [weakly] and I… Not to… That whole thing about sometimes during sexual assault, orgasms happen, and that’s okay, but that didn’t feel like what this was.
MIRANDA: Right. It was the framing.
AMELIA: Yeah. Absolutely. So, yes. I think we’re all agreed. All on the same page.
VRAI: That was the low point. Oh, also, if Nui could die, that would be great.
MIRANDA: [seriously] That’s consistent with my line of thought as well. Yes. Please.
AMELIA: Your wishlist has actually grown quite long now, so, we’re gonna have to check in later and see how many items got ticked off.
VRAI: These are all very simple asks. It’s what I ask of every show: for it to be gay and for there to be weird, surreal body horror.
AMELIA: That is actually your pretty-much constant list of requirements, isn’t it?
VRAI: Yes. I’m very consistent.
AMELIA: Girlfriends and body horror. That’s a good brand.
Miranda, for the next six episodes, have you got any predictions of how we’ll react?
AMELIA: Based on the three-quarters of the series so far…
MIRANDA: Hmm… I predict mild confusion, but also general interest. I think it pretty much stays on the same level—or [it’s] stable—of the second half. It’s consistent in how it tries to present its story, and what it’s following, and since there are just generally more interesting things happening, I think you both will like it more.
We’ve already passed the worst scene there is in the show, so… Or at least, that’s what I think it is, so…
AMELIA: I don’t know if that’s comforting. I mean, I don’t think it could get worse than this, so…
AMELIA: No, I mean the incest/assault scene. I don’t think it can get worse than that, so, yeah. If you’re saying that’s the worst scene in the entire show, I’m quite happy to take your word for that.
VRAI: Yeah, I am curious as to… I assumed that Satsuki, you know, showing herself to be on Ryuko’s side would have been later. I’m not sure how you stretch this out for another six episodes, so, cool and interesting.
AMELIA: Okay, so we’re looking for the next six episodes—
MIRANDA: The final six!
AMELIA: Kill la Kill. The final six. We’re expecting mild confusion. That’s good to know in advance. I think this is gonna be a really interesting discussion next week. We’re not just going to talk about the final episodes. We’re going to talk about the entire series as it stands, fandom context and everything.
I think I’m going to try and watch the episodes a bit earlier than I usually do. I usually finish within an hour of recording because I put them off for the entire week. So, this week, I will try and watch them a little bit earlier and maybe look up some of the thinkpieces around it and see what kinds of discussions were held. I think I’d like to know a bit more about what the fandom thought of this series which I’ve always studiously avoided. So, looking forward to that discussion very much.
I think we’ve covered everything we needed to today.
VRAI: Think so.
VRAI: I do want to thank Miranda again for being such a sport and for coming on on these and being delightful.
MIRANDA: Of course.
MIRANDA: Sometimes I feel bad, like, “Should I be adding more?” But it’s also just nice to listen, honestly. To hear about what you guys are taking from every aspect of this show. And it’s been wonderful talking to you guys about it, honestly. I love the show, obviously, but I also appreciate being able to sit down and think about it critically.
AMELIA: And I’m sure we’ll be doing plenty of that next time.
MIRANDA: Oh, yes.
AMELIA: So, thank you again for joining us. This is quite a journey.
MIRANDA: Of course.
AMELIA: You can find our work at www.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 we do have a Patreon, patreon.com/animiefeminist.
We actually pay every contributor to Anime Feminist. We pay every writer, every editor, every administrator, everybody is paid. And we can only do this because of our patrons, who are very generous, and who are very supportive. We’re now paying for everything we can at the moment, but we’re not breaking even yet. There are certain costs I’m still paying out of pocket. There are certain people who I would love to pay more. We’ve got premiere reviews, which we do every season, which we currently have to kind of raise money for each time.
So, we really do need more patrons, more income, to make sure that we can continue our work. And I’m telling you, those $1 a month, they really, really go far. They absolutely add up. So, if you can spare $1 a month to help us continue our work or $5, and then you get access to the exclusive AniFem Discord server. Please go to patreon.com/animefeminist and send us that dollar or $5 a month to continue our work.
So. thank you so much to Vrai and Miranda, and we will be back next time with the final episodes, 19-24, of Kill la Kill.