Part 4 and final part of the 4-part Kill la Kill watchalong with Amelia, Vrai, and special guest Miranda Sanchez! Amelia reassesses Mako, Vrai plants their flag on The Discourse (you know the one), and the group hashes out what a remake might bring to the table. All our thanks to Miranda for being a wonderful guest and model fan.
Date Recorded: Sunday 11th March 2018
Hosts: Amelia, Vrai
Guest: Miranda Sanchez
01:55 Final quarter impressions
03:31 Equal oppornudity
10:00 The good stuff
11:25 RyuMako is real
18:46 Satsuki’s arc
23:00 The Mako turnaround
23:44 Ryuko’s heritage
27:20 Central theme and execution
35:04 Trigger’s reputation
38:03 A remake?
43:52 Overall takeaways
45:56 Miranda surprises
48:07 The OVA
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 here today by Vrai Kaiser and very special guest Miranda Sanchez from IGN. If you guys would like to introduce yourselves…
VRAI: Yeah, sure. I’m Vrai. I’m an editor and contributor at Anime Feminist. I do work a lot across the internet, so you can find most of it on Twitter @WriterVrai or the other podcast I co-host @trashpod.
MIRANDA: And hello, I’m Miranda Sanchez. I am an editor at IGN, and I am kind of in charge of a lot of our anime work now. Now I have a good old anime budget, so if you got any anime pitches, please send them to me, ‘cause I would love to pay you to write for us.
MIRANDA: So, that’s about it, yeah. And Kill la Kill’s one of my favorite anime of all time, so I’ve been very excited to be on this show to hear about what people do and don’t like about Kill la Kill and get a very critical look at it, that I haven’t got to do before.
VRAI: Miranda’s been a trooper.
AMELIA: Absolutely. It’s been a really interesting journey, this one. So, for the uninitiated, you probably wanna go back a few episodes, but we’re doing a watchalong, which is where we take six episodes of an anime series at a time and we watch them, and then we get together a group of one person who has seen the whole series and loves it and, ideally, two people who have never seen this show and are watching it for the first time. And then we have a discussion where we review it from a feminist perspective with no idea of what’s to come.
So this is the first week where we can really talk about the entire series of Kill la Kill and put it into more fandom context, which I’m really excited to do, because I think that’s part of the big interest around Kill la Kill, is the fact that it polarizes such strong opinions. And I think it really has quite a special place in fandom for that.
Vrai, how did you find these six episodes, compared to the previous six or compared to the previous rest of the series? Let’s focus on the six episodes for now, and then we’ll move into the whole season discussion.
VRAI: I gotcha, I gotcha. I think this is certainly the stretch of episodes that I had the most consistently good time watching all the way through it.
VRAI: It still did that yo-yo thing to me that I discussed last week where something really neat would happen and then it would slap me in the face and remind me that I was watching Kill la Kill.
I think, for example, I would be like, “Ah, gosh, I’m really, really into Satsuki’s arc! Oh… Oh, wait. No, wait. Here is yet more molestation. This is cool and great. You haven’t earned this.” And then I would be like, “Wow! Ryuko’s voice actress is having such a really great time being evil Ryuko. Oh, we’re showing that she’s evil and brainwashed by having her mack on Nui. That’s great! Cool. Good job, show! Awesome!”
It was a roller coaster. I think on Twitter I described this stretch and the back half as a whole as being about evenly divided between things I thought were really cool and impressive and things that really pissed me off.
AMELIA: I think that really sums up Kill la Kill, though. I agree with you: I had the best time these six episodes, but I still struggled with it. [chuckles] I’m sorry, this show was just never for me.
But one thing that really helped for me was that it felt like there was a bit more of an equal distribution of ridiculous nakedness. It was such a small thing, but the fact is those early episodes, where it’s just Ryuko being humiliated, stripped naked—well, not just Ryuko, actually. I think, even in the first six, there are other people who get stripped naked and humiliated, and it’s just unpleasant to watch.
Whereas in these final six episodes, nudity has just become such [laughs] an essential thing for the story that so many of them, they’re just getting naked all the time. And the guys, especially the guys in the Elite Four, their costumes get a bit ridiculous, and I thoroughly appreciated that more even distribution. But I still hate the majority of the girls’ costumes.
MIRANDA: Yeah, it does take a while to get there, for sure, too. And a lot of people point to that like, “Well, they get just as equally naked.” It’s like, “Yeah, but not until the very end.”
VRAI: [crosstalk] The end!
AMELIA: Very end, yeah.
MIRANDA: You can’t call it equal treatment.
AMELIA: No. But by the time they did get there, it did feel equally ridiculous. Like, you’ve got the Nudist Beach guys, who are just stood there with just toolbelts [laughs] instead of clothing, tool belts and boots and pink-purple glows over their nipples. I was like, “Okay, this is pretty ridiculous.” And you’ve got Gamagoori and—I can’t remember their names, unfortunately. Is it Inumuta?
AMELIA: They’ve got these kind of selectively revealing costumes.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Inumuta’s final costume was really cute.
VRAI: Some aesthetic there.
AMELIA: But that’s the thing, is it reminded me of the kind of fanservice costumes that you have on women, and I appreciated seeing that mirrored actually. And had they introduced that element early on, really early on, it would have given, to my mind, more credence to the suggestion that this is parody, whereas it did not feel like parody for a good chunk of the season.
VRAI: And I liked the way that Nonon is drawn in this stretch, too, because her—
AMELIA: That was interesting, wasn’t it, because it went a lot more adult.
VRAI: But her nudity is very nonchalant, like her breasts aren’t emphasized or even drawn in a lot of the shots she’s in. And so, on the flip side to the male members of the Elite Four having more revealing, sexual costumes, she is also drawn with less emphasis on the sexualized asset. So, I was cool with the way—the Elite Four has always been the best part of the show, but I was cool with their whole thing over there, this run.
AMELIA: Yeah, I’d go with that. I mean, I didn’t love her final costume.
AMELIA: But, again, in context, with the rest of the Elite Four having more ridiculous costumes, it didn’t feel any worse than anything else I’d seen in Kill la Kill.
VRAI: I guess I was talking more about when she was wearing the bandoliers and nothing else.
AMELIA: And that was totally fine with me actually, because that’s what everyone in Nudist Beach wears, and, as you say, the way that she’s drawn and the way that she’s animated—actually, this goes across the board—is that a lot of the time, they’re wearing these awkward clothes, but they’re not necessarily framed to titillate. Not necessarily. There are times when, absolutely, that is the point. But there are other—
VRAI: [crosstalk] Ryuko’s panty shots are back.
AMELIA: [scoffs] That stood out so badly, because they hadn’t done it for a while. Yeah, that was bad. But I do wanna say this, because I’ve really struggled with Kill la Kill, and there are a few positive things I can say about it, and so [chuckles] I wanna make sure that I do while I can.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Get it out, get it out.
AMELIA: So, when they’re fighting, it is so unglamorous. And there have been moments in previous episodes in this series where the fighting has still been really fanservicey, and I just didn’t get that so much this stretch of six episodes.
And it got to a point where I became super blasé about the nudity because the fact was that they were still in combat, and that was the main thing. So, that I did really appreciate. But I just wished they’d done that sooner, like from the beginning. That would’ve helped so much with my experience of this show.
VRAI: Yeah, I think this is a problem that a lot of anime has, where two-cour shows finally feel like they can shake off the status quo and do the really interesting thing in the last six episodes of the second cour.
Last recording, I mentioned Gundam 00, a series that isn’t good, that I like and that was definitely only one season long, where its last six episodes were also really interesting and finally shook off a lot of what was stiff and unpleasant about that series. But it wasn’t worth having to wait that long!
AMELIA: And that’s the unfortunate thing, is that I would’ve stopped watching—I recorded this in the first podcast, so I can’t remember which episode it was—but roughly episode three, there was a point where I was like, “Nope, this has crossed my deal breaker threshold, and I would not watch as a viewer.” I mean, to be honest, episode one probably would’ve fit into that, but episode three would’ve been my definite switch-off moment.
And now, having seen the entire series, I kind of feel like that would have been the right call for me. I really haven’t got a lot out of this one, I think, as a viewer. As a critic, actually seeing it has been really helpful, I think, and a lot of people will continue to ask me, I’m sure, “What do you think of Kill la Kill? Is Kill la Kill feminist?” And I finally have some answers. I mean, they’re not answers that are gonna be particularly popular, but they are answers, and I do feel like I can back them up.
And there are still things that I like. There was one moment in the very final ten minutes or something where you’ve got Satsuki and Ragyo and Ryuko, and then you’ve got the Elite Four fighting, including Nonon, and I was like, this is so full of… gah, Strong Female Characters, oh no!
AMELIA: But it’s full of women who are fighting and who are capable of fighting, and some of them have special powers and some of them don’t. And it was such a good mix. And from some particular angles, this could be considered diversity. But it’s just undermined by these other things that I don’t like.
So, I appreciate being able to get to a point where I can talk about these things now, at the very least. And yeah, these last six episodes, I’m really glad they did save the best for last, because now I have a much more positive view of it than I did, certainly, in the second set of six episodes.
VRAI: There is a lot of good stuff in these last six episodes, like the nudity is finally doing something smart. It really bums me out that the good stuff that it’s doing here, I feel like the show undermines itself to the—
MIRANDA: Yeah, especially early on. Just the way they framed everything beforehand makes, I think, this fun part a little bit lesser because of how they treated it previously. And it’s like if they would’ve just carried that lightheartedness about nudity throughout the show, then it could’ve ultimately been a lot better.
AMELIA: That’s it.
VRAI: I don’t think I’ve ever run across more than a handful of anime where I desperately wish that it had been remade, because mostly anime just is what it is, and if nothing else, it’s an interesting time capsule. But, God, do I want someone to remake Kill la Kill with a female writer and director.
AMELIA: We will come back to that later on. [laughs] For the moment, though—
VRAI: There was so much that I liked in these last six episodes. I continued to like all the characters I liked, and then they were surrounded by some really good emotional beats, and Mako was the best girlfriend on Earth, and there were some really fun, creative fight scenes, and the nudity was finally done in a smart way.
And I love shaking the status quo like apocalyptic world shifts; that’s the fun part of anime for me. And also, there was aliens and more really good body horror.
VRAI: And there was gay!
MIRANDA: They went on a date!
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Let’s talk about that.
VRAI: They went on a date!
MIRANDA: They did it!
AMELIA: Let’s talk about that a little bit. Let’s dive into that, because I saw, Vrai, you got some pushback on that on Twitter.
VRAI: Jesus Christ!
MIRANDA: Oh, really?
VRAI: I don’t hate Kill la Kill fans; I hate the Kill la Kill fandom, and I’m going to fight every last one of them!
AMELIA: I mean, it got to a point when Mako’s saying, “Let’s go on a date.” And it’s like, okay, that isn’t necessarily romantic in Japanese culture, the phrasing “Let’s go on a date,” but you look at the context: she goes down on one knee, asks Ryuko for a date, and then shows images of the two of them kissing. I don’t know what you have to do to be more explicit here.
MIRANDA: Yeah, it’s very clear what’s going on there.
AMELIA: It’s very clear. It’s very clear.
VRAI: And Kill la Kill fandom doesn’t even have the shitty thing that Samurai Flamenco fandom had to deal with, where that series ends with a marriage proposal, but then the shitlord creators no-homo’d it. I’m bitter at them forever. Yay, Death of the Author.
MIRANDA: [laughs as if scandalized]
VRAI: But that’s not even… [groans in disgust]
AMELIA: So, have the creators commented on Ryuko and Mako?
VRAI: I have heard things. I don’t have sources, because these are always con stories, and you know how those are.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Right. Mm-hm.
VRAI: I’ve heard them give the industry standard “We can’t comment on that,” which is basically as close to a yes as you’re ever going to get.
AMELIA: I’ve heard—and, again, I don’t wanna spread rumors, so somebody please source this for me—but I have heard that they’ve said, “We can’t comment, but no, Mako is not with Gamagoori.”
AMELIA: Yeah, and I wish I could remember where I saw that. And do take this with a pinch of salt and try and research it for me, listeners, but that is something that I heard. Either way, they’ve definitely not denied it. They’ve definitely not no-homo’d it. That’s for sure.
VRAI: And there was an interview not long after the show ended where the director talked about Ryuko and Senketsu’s relationship being the most important one, which strikes me as one of those things, “Well, fucking duh,” but also, it doesn’t contradict the other good and canonical ship.
The thing is, I mentioned in the first episode that my experience with Kill la Kill back in the day was people coming to me being excited about Ryumako and me kind of wanting to support them and then maybe saying things that I knew only from skimming the show. So naturally Kill la Kill fans decided to come knock on my doorstep and be like, “Listen, it’s not homophobic to say they’re just good friends, okay?” And it made me really bitter about the fandom.
So allow me to say, now that I’ve watched 24 episodes of Kill la Kill, Kill la Kill fandom: Ryuko and Mako’s relationship is one of the central tenets of the show that’s done really well, and they’re in a relationship by the end. And if you can’t admit that, you’re a fucking coward.
MIRANDA: Hell yeah.
AMELIA: Back you up.
VRAI: I also want to add that I have nothing against Mako and Gamagoori as a ship. I get why people ship that; it’s very cute and Mako is clearly very bisexual and would be very poly. You can ship them both.
MIRANDA: That’s the thing, too, is people ignore that that’s a possibility. It’s like, hey, what if she’s bisexual? What if they could be poly? What if she can love more than one person? And honestly, Gamagoori has a thing for her. Like at the end, during the date, he has these flowers, he’s really shy, and it’s like, “Nah, she’s on another date. Stop! You can’t go there right now.”
VRAI: It’s not that she’s busy; it is not your day! Scheduling is important!
AMELIA: Although Satsuki ends up on that date, right? That’s unfortunate.
VRAI: Well, that’s because Big Sister has to chaperone her little sister’s first date.
VRAI: But it does genuinely upset me that—today, today the day of recording, on this the day of my daughter’s wedding—
VRAI: —somebody was on my timeline, like, “What? But Mako is so clearly with the big guy?” And I went, “But no, he has a crush on her, and Mako is sad when she thinks he’s died, because she has the capacity for human empathy. That’s not ‘They ended up together.’”
MIRANDA: This drives me crazy. They go on a date at the end. Mako and Ryuko are on a date at the end of this entire series. That’s the capstone; that’s it. They’re dating. [through incredulous laughter] What?
VRAI: The goalposts get moved so far, and people are so willing to bend over backwards to see why something is actually just platonic, and meanwhile, if a man expresses emotions at a woman, obviously that means they are together and a canonical couple.
VRAI: And it really, really upsets me, because something like this with queer relationships happening in a genre show is the big goal that a lot of people want. But this is the shit that happens when it starts getting introduced. “Well, gosh, those good gal pals.” It makes me so mad.
AMELIA: I actually didn’t realize there was any queer representation in Kill la Kill before watching it. I had no idea, because that just was not part of the discussion around it. And now I’m amazed, because I think it’s the most canon representation I’ve seen outside explicitly queer texts. It’s kind of the Yuri on Ice level, right, where it’s…
VRAI: Yep, yeah, it is. It does make me pleased that Wikipedia lists Kill la Kill as one of the series continuing yuri content that is not classified as yuri genre.
AMELIA: That’s good, ‘cause it is.
VRAI: Yes, it is!
AMELIA: Once we got to that final stretch, that final monologue from Mako, it just comes to a point where it’s like, okay, you actually can’t deny this without cutting out a chunk of what is physically on screen.
VRAI: [touched] And the scene on the boat, where Mako wants to defend the place where Ryuko feels safe, and I had a lot of emotions!
AMELIA: And that’s a thematic pillar of the series, right, is this idea that Mako offers that kind of stability and safety to Ryuko, and—
VRAI: Yeah, and Ryuko talks about the important people in her life as being Senketsu and Mako, and also some other people.
AMELIA: I did think it was quite nice when they drew the parallels at the end between Ryuko and the weird people surrounding her and Satsuki and the weird people surrounding her.
And they seem to draw a parallel, as well, between the cups of tea that Satsuki has—that we find out have been really bitter her entire life and she’s just never commented before—and then on Mako’s side, you’ve got these croquettes filled with goodness-knows-what, and they’re just really happy eating those, regardless of the unidentified ingredients. And they drew that parallel between them and set them up in such a way that the sisterly thing felt a bit more natural, actually. It didn’t feel shoehorned in, almost.
VRAI: I really like that. I do. I like that kind of awkward moment where they’re trying to figure that out at the end. It’s very good.
AMELIA: Really adorable. And Ryuko and Satsuki, in general… I’ve always enjoyed them together on screen, and I really appreciate the arc that both of them have been given to become closer. And that ending where Satsuki’s on the date with Ryuko and Mako, I just thought was utterly adorable.
VRAI: [sighs] Good chaperone.
AMELIA: Good chaperone.
VRAI: Satsuki’s arc in general may be the best-written part of the series. I really like that idea for a character arc of the older child who is molded and forced into becoming what her parents wants her to be, only to be tossed away because her younger sibling is the special chosen one. Like she’s the Vegeta, but she’s also more than that.
AMELIA: And she’s the underachiever, which just switching that framing around in these last six episodes, that was incredible. It felt really good as a viewer, adding this new dimension to Satsuki’s character that we hadn’t really seen before. She was the disappointment all along? That’s incredible to me.
VRAI: Satsuki’s arc is really good, although I will say I would like to place a moratorium on male writers writing about fraught mother-daughter relationships.
AMELIA: Yeah, this was a bit of a… [sighs] That moment where she’s spanking Satsuki’s naked butt, that was…
VRAI: Okay, that was some horseshit, but what I meant more generally was I’m very tired of men writing about how daughters are just so suffocated by their mothers and meanwhile they had a great relationship with their father, who never contributed anything negative to their upbringing.
It’s like ground zero of Women Be Competin’, like your mother suffocated you and you had a great time with your dad, and men understand you. I don’t care for that. So, yes, often mothers and daughters do have complex or negative relationships, but maybe women should write those.
MIRANDA: Yeah, it’s like you’re using these blanket statements about how they have been negatively impacted by their mothers, and it’s the same things over and over and over, and it’s not anything that feels genuine or unique.
MIRANDA: And so, it’s like “Oh, Dad did nothing wrong.”
VRAI: Mm-hm. “He was the hero of the story! Dad was great! God, we miss Dad!”
AMELIA: What did you think of Ragyo’s character in the end?
VRAI: I mean, she’s terrible, but also she’s kind of fun to watch; that good, good body horror. I am absolutely in the process of brainstorming a piece about that scene from the last set of episodes where they put her in Marie Antoinette hair, clearly not understanding what Marie Antoinette had to do with fashion.
VRAI: But yeah, Ragyo is yet another element of “Wow, I wish this series had women at the helm,” because I want to really enjoy her, but I’m held back by the fact that this is men writing an evil matriarch.
MIRANDA: Yeah, her villainy could have been done so much better. I think there are moments when she was framed well, but her actions didn’t always fit well, I think, or were just stereotypical, as we go back to that again.
MIRANDA: I did like it when she ripped her own heart out.
VRAI: That was badass, though!
MIRANDA: [laughs] I was like, wow, I’m so impressed!
MIRANDA: There are things that they have for Ragyo that I really appreciate how they hold her to such high esteem in her presence and just how they give that such gravity. But then it comes down to her actions and how she is bad, is where comes the problem.
VRAI: Like all of the molestation shit.
MIRANDA: Don’t need that to happen ever again. Ever. At least… Why.
VRAI: It bums me out because I kind of like the general idea of the archetype that happens with Ryuko’s brainwashing. I’m down for that whole character archetype where you trap a character in a delusion, and then the person important to them has to come and save them, and it gives me feelings. And I really love that one shot of Ryuko smiling and crying. That’s my shit. But then they wrapped it around this, once again, “Aggressive female sexuality is evil and predatory.” [sarcastic] Cool. Great. Good job, Kill la Kill. Mm!
AMELIA: Yeah, that makes sense. I don’t usually enjoy that kind of arc, but actually—I’ll be honest—I’ve completely converted into a Mako fan.
MIRANDA: [gasps] Yay!
VRAI: Mako’s so good!
MIRANDA: That’s all we could ask for.
AMELIA: I actually went back to the comments on the first episode on our site and saw somebody saying, “I can’t wait until Amelia becomes a Mako fan, because everybody does.” [laughs] And it was too late, and they were already right, and I was so annoyed. [laughs]
AMELIA: But yeah, Mako snapping her out of that was a beautiful moment, and I just love the fact that Mako is that fearless. She doesn’t hesitate to throw herself in harm’s way if it’s to protect Ryuko. It doesn’t even occur to her that bad things could happen to her; or if it does, it doesn’t matter, because it’s worth it. I love that.
VRAI: She’s very good.
MIRANDA: The best.
AMELIA: I wanted to talk a little bit about another of the themes that they had. So, Ryuko and Senketsu, in the end, they both describe themselves as being neither human nor clothing, but also human and clothing.
MIRANDA: [chuckles softly]
AMELIA: I’m way reading too much into this, I’m sure, but as a mixed-race person, it kind of bothered me a bit that the eventual solution was to split them completely apart. I don’t know, it felt uncomfortable. So, that’s something that I don’t think was ever intended, and so on and so forth, but there was a moment where I was like, “Wait, the answer is to just separate their mixed attributes completely rather than letting them be and…” I don’t know, it didn’t sit well with me at all, but did either of you respond to that?
MIRANDA: At that point, they were starting to scream “Nonsensical is our thing,” and it’s just like “Yeah. You hit that on the nose.”
AMELIA: That’s true.
MIRANDA: [laughs] And so that’s where I got that point. They were almost shouting things that they quite didn’t get themselves.
VRAI: Yeah, to me that scene was just so very “The writers are in over our head,” and you’re not as deep as you think you are. Please stop.
AMELIA: Right. It’s not like I was instantly like, “Oh, my goodness,” pearl-clutching or anything, but just later on I was thinking about it. I was like, “I didn’t really like that story development,” and it took me a little while to put my finger on it, but I didn’t like the way that the answer to being half of something and yet a combined new thing was to split that apart. It just didn’t sit well with me at all.
VRAI: No, but that’s a problem. And I think it is an outgrowth of what I was sensing, was that this has always been kind of a… Kill la Kill likes to coast on the fact that it’s dumb but flashy, and when it tries to say a deep thing, it usually doesn’t have a very good handle on that deep thing and usually ends up hurting people rather than helping them.
AMELIA: But I can’t even figure out what they were trying to say with that, because it seemed that they were saying that when you combine the two things it’s more powerful than remaining isolated and separate. And I was like, okay, this is kind of standard rhetoric around these sorts of things. And then they said, “No, actually it’s inevitable that you must be stripped apart.” And I don’t really understand if there was a message there or—
MIRANDA: It kinda went down to identity for me, and not as you exist as a human being but, I guess, like a personality, what you identify with. And they’re going back to saving fashion. I think that’s what Mako said before Ryuko left, “Saving girls’ fashion” or whatever.
Going back to the most rudimentary part of clothing and identity, of helping you visibly convey who you are, and ultimately that doesn’t define you, but it is part of you, but you can still separate them. I didn’t take it as “Hey, we’re dividing ourselves from our genetic makeup.” It’s more of who I perceive myself as, but that’s still separate? I don’t know. Nonsensical.
AMELIA: That’s a nicer reading. [laughs]
MIRANDA: Yeah, that’s how I took it the first time around and again this time. I didn’t think about it more of how they are of mixed origin, human-slash-clothing.
AMELIA: I mean, I’m particularly sensitive to these messages, and I do acknowledge that. It’s something that always I’m…
MIRANDA: And that’s absolutely fair. If that bothers you, that’s totally fair to talk about.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Yeah, doesn’t mean it’s not valid.
AMELIA: Yeah, it’s something that I would’ve liked to have seen actually explored, but I guess that’s the theme for Kill la Kill for us.
VRAI: I will say, though, that was the one time when I felt like Kill la Kill actually had a statement with gravitas, or one of the few times was that—
AMELIA: “Nonsense is our thing”?
VRAI: No, was Senketsu’s last line about “Every girl outgrows her sailor uniform eventually,” and just that idea of it as a capstone on Ryuko’s coming-of-age. I think everything it fucked up up to then undermines that, but in isolation it’s a nice sentiment about how all of this could have been a story about Ryuko coming to terms with how her body is perceived by others and finally how she takes agency of it for herself. That could have been a nice thing.
MIRANDA: Once we get into the discourse, I think that’s where a lot of the fandom’s discourse for it being feminist comes in. And that’s a lot of where they point to. But we can talk about that later.
AMELIA: We can talk about that right now. That’s a perfect segue.
MIRANDA: Oh, man. Perfect, then. So, yeah, when I was researching things, when you guys said, “Hey, we’re gonna answer this question ‘Is Kill la Kill feminist?’” I was like [hums skeptically, then laughs] immediately, but I wanted to see what other people were saying about it because obviously other people have said it is, and so I tried to hunt down as much of that as I could.
And a lot of times what I found was that the Kamui were compared to puberty, especially with the butt offering, all that good stuff, was implications of your body maturing, then being ogled for sexual tension and discomfort that comes with it. And while I could see it being read as that—and maybe that’s probably what it’s about, maturity and coming of age and outgrowing your sailor uniform—that certainly does not make it feminist. [chuckles slightly]
VRAI: I can see the seed of how that—I can see a world where this was Utena, but it’s not Utena. But the thing of it to me is that having an idea that could be read as feminist doesn’t count if you can’t execute it.
That reminds me of Zack Snyder’s statements around Sucker Punch. When he talks about Sucker Punch, he talks about it as being like, “Ah, these women are all dancing for these gross, slobbering men in the dark, and the audience is the men in the dark, and they’re the ones slobbering over these women in costumes, and don’t you feel bad? I made a feminism.” But you still put your actresses in skimpy costumes and had them play out the fantasy, bro.
AMELIA: Yeah. There was a line: Anything that tries to satirize something or tries to parody, there is a fine line between actually satirizing something and just doing the thing. And when people talk about Kill la Kill as satire or as parody, now I’ve seen it, I think I would disagree quite strongly with that. To my mind, I don’t think this is defensible as satire. It doesn’t send it up anywhere near explicitly enough.
VRAI: Well, its best moments are where it’s being sincere.
AMELIA: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
MIRANDA: It definitely buys into a lot of the tropes that they’re trying to supposedly satire, right? And they make use of it in such a way that feels like they’re genuinely trying to use it, not satire.
AMELIA: And yet, we are gonna have comments full of “Well, it’s obviously parody. You obviously just didn’t get it.” [laughs]
VRAI: You can’t see it, but I’m staring at my monitor with dead, dead eyes.
AMELIA: Because you know it’s true. And yeah, that’s something that I knew was inevitable with doing a Kill la Kill watchalong. I know that we’re gonna have people who step up specifically because they love this show and the idea of calling it anything but feminist is upsetting, and I do understand that, but I don’t think I can come down on their perspective on this and I don’t think I can see it from their perspective at all.
MIRANDA: I love this show so much, but I have so many problems with it. And that’s okay.
VRAI: There are good things in this show.
VRAI: I think I hold strong on my metaphor that Trigger has served me a diamond encased in dog shit.
AMELIA: That’s beautiful. [laughs]
VRAI: And meanwhile, a group of people are standing around me, po-facedly assuring me that I must indeed consume that dog shit because the diamond is worth it.
AMELIA: [snickers] That’s a horrible metaphor. [laughs]
VRAI: And yet it’s my experience with Kill la Kill fandom, po-facedly insisting that I eat dog shit and not complain.
AMELIA: [laughs] Well, let’s hope that we get some people commenting on the things that we said and taking part in the discussion with us on this one, because I think we’ve raised a lot of good points over the course of this discussion. But there also equally may have been things we missed, like Miranda talked about it as a metaphor for puberty; we’ve not really discussed that, I think.
AMELIA: So, there’s got to be quite a lot that we’ve not talked about, that fandom over the years has dug into, so it’ll be good to hear some of that. But I don’t think that my core feeling about it will change. I don’t think my impression of it as not particularly feminist… I don’t think that will change.
Although appreciate “Is this feminist?” is—we’ve discussed many times—not a very useful question a lot of the time, and deciding that something is or isn’t feminist actually has no impact whatsoever on somebody’s personal relationship with it. You can 100% draw feminist messages from a text that is not necessarily particularly feminist itself. So, we’re not commenting on people’s personal experiences, but as a text itself, I think there’s plenty of room for improvement, and I would quite like to see a show that did that.
VRAI: Yeah, as a distinction, I think I would draw that I can see what people get out of this show, if they can sit through the—I still think the whole first half is bad, with a few good bits. I’m sorry! But that second half, I can see where people get to “This is messy, but it has things I really like.” But I don’t think Trigger deserves any head pats for doing anything progressive really—except Ryuko and Mako.
AMELIA: I was gonna say, I think that’s quite significant, isn’t it?
VRAI: Yeah, they can have Ryuko and Mako, but as far as the depictions of female sexuality, female bodies, female puberty, no. No head pats. And it depresses me that it—
MIRANDA: It’s kinda hard to get those right when you don’t have a woman writing it, you know, maybe. That could be a problem.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Yeah! Or like any significant women on staff, as far as I can tell. I’m sure that there are women working in the animation because animation is huge, but as far as the high-up writing and directing and producing positions, I don’t think so. I could be wrong. And it depresses me because I don’t think Trigger has really grown up at all, because… DarliFran.
MIRANDA: Did you see Little Witch?
VRAI: No! No, it does look cute and nice, but…
AMELIA: [crosstalk] I was gonna say…
MIRANDA: It is.
AMELIA: [deadpan] I am informed that Darling in the Franxx is actually more of an A-1 Pictures thing than a Trigger thing.
VRAI: [crosstalk] You don’t say!
AMELIA: Yeah, that’s what I hear.
VRAI: I think I heard that once or twice.
MIRANDA: [crosstalk] Oh, no.
AMELIA: That’s what I hear! But Little Witch Academia apparently is very good, and I’ve not seen that yet.
MIRANDA: It is one of the sweetest anime I’ve ever seen, and I adore it so much.
AMELIA: That’s good. That’s good, but you also like Kill la Kill, so can your opinion really be trusted?
MIRANDA: [crosstalk] I also like Kill la Kill. [inhales sharply] Oh, no!
AMELIA: That’s it, no more trusting Miranda with anything.
MIRANDA: Aw, man.
VRAI: I mean, it does look very cute and sweet and nice.
AMELIA: Yeah, which I’d like to see it at some point. But I think I’m quite happy to talk about the reputation that Trigger has as a result of this show. Trigger as a whole is well beyond my expertise, well beyond my knowledge. I haven’t seen enough of their stuff. But based on just Kill la Kill, if they get any kind of feminist credibility for this show, I don’t think they should. By and large.
Maybe some for Ryuko and Mako. I do appreciate, as I’ve said, the diversity of the female characters that are involved. That’s pretty much where it ends, and that’s pretty much it. It’s not a particularly high bar. It’s not at Utena levels or anything like that. We’re being pretty damning about a pretty popular studio now, so…
VRAI: I mean, I already make fun of KyoAni on a regular basis, so it’s fine.
MIRANDA: Oh, yeah.
VRAI: This is Tuesday for me.
MIRANDA: Looking at Trigger’s works as a whole, yeah, Kill la Kill set them off because I think people were really impressed with the animation and all of what it had. I wouldn’t say it’s because it’s feminist, but having many women leading this in an action series is really rare, and I know that’s what got me into it, for sure.
Their other works, the more impressive things they’ve done is definitely Little Witch Academia. I really would implore you guys to watch that, because it’s definitely very different because they have a very different team working on it, and that very much helps how this message comes across. And it’s one of those few shows where I’m like, “Hey, you could watch this with a kid because it’s not gross, and it’s just pleasant and wonderful and some girls doing some cool things, learning about magic and learning about how your heroes will fail you, but that’s okay.”
VRAI: Akko seems like a very good protagonist, also.
MIRANDA: Yeah, she’s delightful.
AMELIA: Yeah. I’d really like to see it. It might be something I’d watch fairly soon, because it is actually on Netflix here in the UK as well.
VRAI: So, it would seem that the head writer for Kill la Kill is Kazuki Nakashima, who also wrote for Re: Cutie Honey and Gurren Lagann, which surprises me zero percent.
AMELIA: Oh, really?
VRAI: Yeah. Also, the director was the same director who did Panty & Stocking.
AMELIA: We’re so outside my realm of awareness, guys. I can’t really comment on any of this, but I will say that I don’t wanna give cookies for the things that we’ve praised here. I have a fairly high bar on this stuff anyway. To my mind, having diversity in your practice—
VRAI: [crosstalk] Fuck, it’s the same director of Gurren Lagann, too! Goddammit!
MIRANDA: Yeah, it’s the same team. Well, not exactly the same, but there’s a lot of key players from Gurren Lagann [who] did Kill la Kill. And so, a lot of people compare Gurren Lagann and Kill la Kill, like “Okay, well, which did you like more?” It’s like, “Kill la Kill, but…”
VRAI: Yes, I respect and like Kill la Kill much more than Gurren Lagann. It’s actually… It’s trying. I’m sorry, Gurren Lagann is clearly made with a lot of love, and it’s fun to watch, but it’s dumb!
AMELIA: Okay, let’s circle this back to Kill la Kill. So, you talked earlier about a remake—
AMELIA: —of Kill la Kill. If, Vrai, you’ve been put in charge of the remake of Kill la Kill, what do you do with it?
VRAI: Oh, God. I think you could do a lot of the sexuality stuff with the Kamui a lot more metaphorically, in a way that still gets across the awkwardness of puberty without doing the nudity as fanservice. You could take out the humiliation aspects or the gross, drooling dude hordes. That would be lovely.
VRAI: That would be lovely. I think definitely embarrassment can be a part and is a part of adolescence, but framing is everything, and if you’re framing it with the camera as lurid, then you are profiting off of that humiliation rather than dealing with the fact that this character is uncomfortable. All of the sexual assault, everything, needs to be gone. And, ugh, Nui needs a rewrite.
AMELIA: [chuckles] How would you rewrite Nui?
MIRANDA: [crosstalk] Just gone. Gone. Away.
MIRANDA: New character, someone else.
AMELIA: Rewritten… out. [laughs]
VRAI: Mm. Yes. Ugh. Mm. Nn. Mm. Yes.
VRAI: Honestly, I would… On the one hand, Ragyo is so much fun, but on the other hand, I really wish this were a series about these young women fighting against a patriarchal force. I wish it was Utena.
AMELIA: [laughs] That’s a—
VRAI: Because fashion has so many roots as being a tool of rebellion for women.
MIRANDA: Yeah, but dictated by men. And having them overthrow a man leading that would be a lot more powerful.
VRAI: Right, taking these tools that have been forced on them and actually using them would be so great. Would be so great. And yeah, I would love a focus on that fashion element as something… Alongside the ridiculous nudity, you could really expand on that idea of humans and clothes are stronger together, depending on how you use them and depending on how you gain strength by how you dress yourself, as a thing that people design and choose for themselves. I think you could make an enormously powerful statement in a silly power-up anime with that.
There’s just a lot of good fodder here. And you don’t need to change anything about Ryuko and Satsuki or Ryuko and Mako’s relationship and the student council is still very good, and there’s a lot of good bones here. I would love to bring Okada on board, because she does ridiculous and over-the-top but also raw and painful very well.
AMELIA: Oh, interesting statement.
VRAI: Okada gets a lot of shit unfairly, and when she is on, she is on.
AMELIA: Sounds good. Miranda, how about you? What would you do if you were put in charge of the Kill la Kill remake?
MIRANDA: A lot of what Vrai said. Of course, fewer boob flaps. A lot of unnecessary framing could just go away.
AMELIA: [laughs] Yep.
MIRANDA: I think if you are focusing on the puberty aspect and that embarrassment, I think there are, yeah, tasteful ways to do it without being like “Woohoo, look at this thing.” Mako’s dad needs to not be disgusting.
VRAI: [crosstalk] God!
AMELIA: [Sighs drearily]
MIRANDA: Because Mako’s family is a Ryuko safe space. That’s where she goes and feels comfort and is at home. And having him being a predator there is disgusting. It’s like, “Really? Stop. Stop it. You’ve already done this with everybody else.”
VRAI: [crosstalk] By those last six episodes, they were fine and tolerable and comedic in a small dose that I found acceptable.
MIRANDA: Yeah, and they’re caring, and much is better that way. Of course, going back to sexual assault, needs to just not happen. I think there’s ways you can do that to make it important to a narrative, and if you’re exploring that particularly. But it’s so hard to do, and I don’t think they had the capacity to do that, then I’d just say “Don’t do it. Stop. You can’t. You’re not allowed.” And get rid of Nui.
MIRANDA: Nui needs to be gone. I hate her so much.
AMELIA: I don’t think I had the response to Nui that either of you did.
MIRANDA: God, any time she’s on screen, just gouge my eyes out. Stop.
AMELIA: [laughs] I felt that way about Senketsu and Junketsu, the Kamui forms at first especially, but Nui, I don’t know, just felt like a standard cutesy villain to me. I didn’t really have that gut, kneejerk hatred that you both seem to have had of her.
VRAI: I don’t know what it is about her specifically, because a lot of elements of her archetype I usually think are fun. And yet here we are, and I hate her.
MIRANDA: Yeah. It’s like, aw, a super cute, powerful woman. Yeah! But oh, no, I hate you so much. So annoying.
VRAI: Well, and also, I love the sad yandere who is just looking for mommy or daddy’s approval and is clearly the knockoff because they couldn’t get something better, which is usually the hero. Normally, I am down for that kind of character.
But Nui is just so obnoxious in the general broader context of Kill la Kill. That sexual assault, though! And the fact that she’s a sexual predator-type character for a lot longer and more overtly than long before Ryuko and Mako get together.
AMELIA: I think that covers remakes, because I don’t think I’d do anything differently to you guys. I maybe would say if they’re gonna keep the ridiculous fanservice costumes, it has to be equal opportunities across the board, all genders. Put everyone in ridiculous situations, not just the female characters. But that’s probably the only thing I’d say.
So, we’ve looked at all of Kill la Kill. We’ve seen the whole series! [laughs]
VRAI: [crosstalk, in celebratory tone] We did it.
MIRANDA: [crosstalk] Hooray!
AMELIA: [crosstalk] I can’t believe it, because it’s been such a mythical subject for me for so long, like “Have you seen Kill la Kill?” “No, I’ll get around to it at some point. Or I won’t, more likely.” And then, because of the watchalong, I’ve watched it.
And now I’ve seen it, I do have a better understanding, I think, of what people appreciate about it, and I think I can have a more even-handed discussion than I would have been able to in the first 6 to 12 episodes, when I really wasn’t having a good time. I’ll be honest, I haven’t enjoyed this one very much at all, but I do have certain things that I’m quite happy to share positivity with people about, and that’s a better position than I was in before watching this show, when all I knew about it was Senketsu, basically.
So, I’m pleased that we’ve done this, but it’s ended up pretty much where I thought it would. I don’t think this series has surprised me too much. Vrai, has it been pretty much what you expected?
VRAI: I always expected that when it got to the weird later shit that I’d probably be able to find things I could at least appreciate why people liked them. But I came away with some characters I genuinely like and a few things I think—I did not expect to come away, basically, angry that it’s not better, which I think speaks well of the show, because I had expected that I would be able to academically appreciate what people like about it while generally just going on with my life. But no, there are genuinely good things in here, which just makes me angrier about all the bad shit.
AMELIA: [laughs] Taking it personally.
VRAI: Yeah. Yeah. No, you came to my house and gave me some really nice things, and then you punched me in the face every few minutes also.
VRAI: And I’m kind of mad about it, Trigger. Why can’t you be better? Apply yourself! So, maybe I’ll watch Little Witch Academia and feel better.
AMELIA: Yeah! That sounds like a nice thing to do next. I may do that with you. Miranda, this has been your first watchalong.
MIRANDA: Yes! I’ve greatly enjoyed it.
AMELIA: How has it been? Has it gone more or less as you expected, or have we surprised you? Has the discussion surprised you? How has it been?
MIRANDA: I’d say pretty on par. Amelia, you’ve picked out some things that I didn’t pick up on, which I thought was really interesting, even with this past episode of the clothes-versus-people thing. I thought that was really interesting and what you’re reading from this. I am sad you didn’t like it, but I also didn’t expect you to either. [chuckles]
MIRANDA: I think I know, kind of, what shows you do and don’t like. Generally, I wasn’t that surprised by what we came around with in our discussions, and I’m just generally happy that I got a chance to look at this with such a critical lens that I haven’t really done before. Because a lot of times when I watch Kill la Kill, it’s just for fun and you kind of turn your brain off for a little bit and just watch. That’s what I like to do sometimes. And so, getting to look back at this and really dig into what it does right and wrong and how it could be better was very insightful.
VRAI: Yay! I will say that this has given me a whole new world of appreciation for Ami Koshimizu. Plays Ryuko. She is so good in this show. She is absolutely MVP. She was having so much fun being Brainwashed Ryuko, and I was just full of delight every time she spoke.
AMELIA: There are a few actors, actually, in this, whose voices, they were just really distinctive, and I want to go look them up. I didn’t want to get too distracted and hear them as other characters. I haven’t done it yet, but I’m looking forward to going through the cast list and seeing who people are.
MIRANDA: I was specifically in love with Nonon’s voice actor. She’s so good.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Yes! She hasn’t done that much, and it bums out!
MIRANDA: Right? When I first heard her speak, I was like, “Excuse me? She’s incredible!” [laughs]
AMELIA: [crosstalk; laughs] She’s got such a distinctive voice, as well.
VRAI: For a second, I thought she might be Nanachi’s voice actor, because she sounds like them a little bit.
AMELIA: From Made in Abyss?
VRAI: But no, it is not, sadly.
AMELIA: Something fun to do and look through the cast list, see where everyone else has gone since then. Like, I don’t know if there’s any big names in there or anything. But it seems like— I don’t know, actually. How was it received in Japan, Kill la Kill? I don’t know how well-known it is there.
MIRANDA: I’m not too sure. It got an OVA, so… I don’t know. [chuckles]
VRAI: Yeah, the OVA seems—the OVA is about—God, I can’t remember her name—Ragyo’s assistant.
AMELIA: The brown character, right? [chuckles]
VRAI: Yes, the one. The singular one.
AMELIA: The one brown character. Yeah, I’d like to see that, I think. But it’s not on Netflix.
MIRANDA: It’s okay.
AMELIA: Oh, you’ve seen it?
MIRANDA: I have all the blu-rays, so I have it.
AMELIA: Ha! Okay.
MIRANDA: It’s Rei. So yeah, Rei Hoomaru.
MIRANDA: Yeah. She’s the villain in that one. And it’s kind of about Satsuki and where they go next.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Mm.
MIRANDA: Yeah. It’s…
VRAI: That’s disappointing.
MIRANDA: It’s fine. It exists.
MIRANDA: I just don’t watch it. I just forget. Just forget about it. It’s fine. [laughs]
VRAI: That’s too bad.
AMELIA: [crosstalk, amused] Moving on, then.
VRAI: Kill la Kill with OVA money, I thought, would be really pretty.
MIRANDA: Yeah, there’s good action there, for sure, and interesting animation, but it’s not a good story or didn’t feel very good to me, and it’s just like, well, it exists.
VRAI: That sucks and I’m sorry.
AMELIA: I mean, story isn’t the strong part of Kill la Kill, though, is it, really? Maybe I’m just making that statement myself, but… [chuckles]
VRAI: This is not a show that I look at and think, “Well, this is all you’re capable of, and I just will enjoy you as a dumb thing that’s doing what you’re doing.” I do have shows I enjoy like that. But this show is capable of being smarter, and I wanna shake it and make it apply itself.
MIRANDA: Oh, Nonon’s voice actor was Haruko in FLCL.
VRAI: Oh! Yeah, yeah, yeah, that tracks.
MIRANDA: Yeah. It’s like, ah, yes.
AMELIA: Ah! That does make sense. Okay, we’re just getting distracted talking about other shows.
VRAI: Neat minutiae.
AMELIA: I think we should wrap this up, so we can all just go and read through the cast lists, peeking through the staffing lists and figure this one out!
VRAI: It’s so bizarre to me. I wonder if it did just not make so much of a splash in Japan. I don’t know. It seems like Trigger became a big deal, but people didn’t take the cool things from Kill la Kill to copy. I can’t think of any other anime that took Ryuko and Mako or Ryuko and Satsuki’s relationship, even, and rolled with that from this. Like, copy that! Copy that! Not the fanservice, gonzo nonsense!
AMELIA: Yeah, that would be really nice to see. I would love to see more action shows, actually, with these kinds of relationships, for sure. The Ryuko, Satsuki, Mako, Elite Four… There’s so much among those characters and among those relationships that I really enjoyed, genuinely.
VRAI: Yeah, it feels like Kill la Kill had a lot of—
AMELIA: It was just consistently undermined.
VRAI: Yeah, it had a lot of visual and aesthetic influence, more than the good parts of its narrative. It’s sad.
AMELIA: That makes sense.
VRAI: It’s sad.
MIRANDA: It is sad.
AMELIA: I think that wraps it up.
MIRANDA: Yeah. Oh!
AMELIA: Although I feel bad ending this podcast on such a sad note. Something nice about Kill la Kill? Who would we recommend this to? Who do we recommend of our readers or listeners to watch Kill la Kill?
VRAI: People with a high bullshit tolerance. Like, again, Satsuki is a really good character. I can see why people really love her.
MIRANDA: I have a statue of her, that I got when I was in Japan, of her wearing Senketsu, just because she just looks really cool. I got it. I love it very much.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Yes! Good, excellent. Her design is good. Her character is good. The acting is good. Her arc is probably the most solid writing of the show. Satsuki is really good, and Ryuko/Mako is very good, so if you’re into yuri and have a high bullshit tolerance, you will be rewarded at the end.
AMELIA: [laughs] Have we got any “If you like this show, then you’ll also like Kill la Kill?” Any recommendations like that?
VRAI: Let’s see. What gonzo nonsense do I like?
MIRANDA: [crosstalk; chuckles] I’m kinda giggling over here. If you like Gurren Lagann… [laughs]
VRAI: Yep! You’ve probably already watched Kill la Kill.
AMELIA: [laughs] Okay. Well, that is definitely a more positive note. I think if anyone’s listening to this and you have seen Kill la Kill and you think, “Oh, well, obviously everyone who’s fans of this show over here would love Kill la Kill,” please do say so. We will retweet it. So, just let us know. But I think that just wrapped it up. We’ve said so much. I think that we could probably talk about it for a very long time, but I think we’d end up circling around ourselves because we all feel very strongly about the same kinds of things. So, thank you so much for joining me for this.
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Thank you so much to Vrai and Miranda, and we’ll have another watchalong soon, so please stay tuned for that.