When I first saw excerpts of the series on youtube my first reaction was – another series showing us impossibly-proportioned women in very revealing cloths, the worst ”shonen“ anime traits. However, being male, I actually don‘t mind the so-called ”fan-service“, providing the series offers more than just that. It seemed interesting, so I watched the first episode, and I immediately knew my first impression was completely wrong. For the plot see part 1.
Kill-La-Kill is completely dominated by strong women, and I don‘t just mean strong in the martial-arts super-hero/villain super-human sense. Most of the important characters are female. The only first-rank in importance figure is the father and husband, and he is only shown in brief flash-backs.
The main character – Ryuko – is female. Her friend and sidekick – female. The first main antagonist – Satsuki – female. There is briefly a male “enemy”, and he too is driven by memory of his late sister, thinks he is helping Ryuko, and upon discovering his error immediately changes his actions. There is support from the leader of the underground who is male, but he is nowhere as important as the female friend.
The next antagonist is also female – Ragyo‘s (Ryuko’s mother) personal assassin. And the ultimate series antagonist is of-course Ragyo herself. Not only female but also Ryuko‘s mother, with all the psychological implications. The series makes it a point to turn metaphors into literal depictions, as I showed in part 1, and at one point Ragyo literally holds Ryuko’s heart in her hand (she is, after all, super-human).
True, Ryuko‘s literally super-human physique is shown scantily clad by Senketsu (“fresh blood”, the name she gives her sentient GodCloth), but the other girls are not shown in such a way. Moreover, the scenes with Ryuko are integral to the story. There is actually no gratuitous fan-service in the series at all.
To me it was obvious that this is a series with strong female lead characters, in fact almost all the lead characters are female.
I was surprised to learn there were people who criticised the series as ”just another Shonen trope“, and even ”anti-women“ because it shows, as usual in such series, scantily clad and impossibly proportioned women.
Of-course, the series is not ”feminist“ in the standard sense (what is the “standard” is itself a question). It is anime in the genre of action-science-fiction. But misogynist? It‘s not a matter of ”not understanding“ the series, I simply can‘t understand how anyone who actually watched it can interpret a series with an all-female cast of strong characters as anti-women.
I can relate more to claims that Ryuko is just the typical over-powered Shonen male hero, gender-switched. This critique was also voiced against, for example, the Tomb Raider movies with Angelina Jolie. But is Ryuko really a typical male-hero in female form? My impression (admittedly, as a male) is different. Her reactions, behaviour, the things she is concerned about, everything about her is atypical for such heroes.
And all that without even getting into interpretations. For example an obvious interpretation is that clothing is evil. Or rather, the obssession with clothing (and indeed all external material things) turns people into puppets controlled by others, and harms them and their relations with other people. Not exactly a male, and male-dominated series, concern.
Or the psychologist interpretations – Ryuko‘s enemy, or at least rival, is her sister, even though they aren‘t aware of the connection at first. But it turns out that they are unknowingly allies aiming for the same goal, and the real enemy is their mother. What makes this realization even harder is that Ryuko has always wanted a “normal” family (as is obvious from her relationship with her friend and sidekick’s family), and now she discovers her mother killed her father, is trying to kill her sister, and is the enemy of all mankind (humankind, I should write). Isn’t this a metaphor for a daughter stepping out of her mother’s shadow, choosing her own path, even if it means turning against her mother, and her mother’s wishes?
Even the relationship between Ragyo and Ryuko’s father is interesting. Ragyo treats everyone else with contempt – except the man she chose as her mate. He is the only human she has ever feared, or at least considered her equal. Of-course, she tried to kill him, not a feminist role-model (hopefully), but she is after all the evil antagonist of the story, which is why her husband turned against her. Satsuki also surrounds herself with the strongest males (after first defeating them). Is it misogyny to present strong women who choose their mates and supporters from the strongest men?
Kill-La-Kill is is in my opinion an exceptional anime series. Every time I think about it I find something new, realize there is another layer of meaning, another possible interpretation. Is that not the requirement from a masterpiece? And if one is reluctant to give an anime in the action genre this designation, than at the very least it makes for good art.