Ryuko Matoi is your average, vengeance bent 17-year-old high school senior delinquent on a quest to find answers about her father’s killer. In her pursuit to find the other half of the Scissor Blade she finds herself in Honnouji Academy and facing off against Lady Satsuki Kiryuin and her loyal army of student soldiers. Beaten to fleeing, she returns to her destroyed home and stumbles upon a living garment she comes to name Senketsu after his ability to become a super powered, and rather racy, suit when he is allowed to feed upon her blood. With the new partnership, Ryuko and Senketsu can face off against Satsuki’s forces and find out who her father’s killer is to enact vengeance upon them. I have chosen Ryuko as my heroic figure because she presents a great deal as an antihero that later grows into a true heroic figure through her journey, going from a quest focused on self fulfillment and vengeance to trying to save those who cannot fight for themselves and the world. In fact, she molds well into Maureen Murdock’s Heroine’s Journey by starting off as a very aggressive and masculine figure, who solves problems through fighting, and growing into a more compassionate individual, a growth facilitated through her female best friend Mako no less. She never backs down and faces every challenge with confidence and a growing support group at her back. Which is why I would like to take a look at her through both a Feminist and Marxist lens, as I find that these lenses are strong angles for analyzing the motifs and themes of this series and its characters.
The feminist lens is focused on analyzing the role women play in literature and stories. Often women are portrayed as lesser figures or as figures who are meant to fill a role within the male protagonist’s journey and life. At face value, Kill La Kill seems to be one of the worst offenders of these kinds of portrayals, where much of the female cast wear tight fitting and ill-covering attire, especially Ryuko when she activates Senketsu’s power. But this is face value; in fact Ryuko starts off not being able to fully activate and work with Senketsu until the third episode because she does not want to show her skin. While Satsuki can fully activate her Kamui, the magical uniforms they use, Junketsu immediately for she has the willpower to “get naked if that is what must be done.” As such much of Kill La Kill‘s nudity revolves around freedom to clothe oneself as they see fit and embracing ones body. You dress the way you do for you, not for the people around you. You choose what to do with your body, you control it, no one else does. Which can be seen through Ryuko’s early interactions with the Nudist Beach leader Aikuro Mikisugi as well as Mako’s father and brother peeking in on her baths. Ryuko is not subjected to the male gaze or male influence, she is her own independent and capable being. Not to mention that the majority of the lead cast is female in the show, which is one of the reasons why the lack of clothing seems to be a matter of the male gaze, when it is really poking fun at the whole idea of putting women in skimpy clothing to draw a male audience. These female characters are also the most powerful and influential characters in the show, as opposed to being eye candy for the male characters and male audience. “Humans are not slaves to their clothing!” may have a different context in a show about super powered living clothes, but still speaks to the feminist themes presented. It is important to recognize that Kill La Kill takes everything to eleven. It is incredibly ridiculous, positing satire of other sorts of beat-em-up style anime and even anime in general and its portrayal of certain characters. The whole series is about taking down an evil clothing conglomerate no less, who aim to turn the world into food for the living clothes.
“You pigs in human clothes!” Is one of the most powerful opening quotes to the series, and should be statement enough about the prominence of themes around hierarchy are in this series. Honnouji Academy is a military training ground of a high school, run under the iron fist of Satsuki and her student council elites. The higher your rank within the school, as marked by the stars on their school uniforms, the greater your quality of life. Ryuko lives with her friend Mako in the slums, as they are no star students. Yet an entire episode comes along dedicated to them moving up through being a high performance school club, the fight club no less. This episode leads off with Ryuko and Mako’s family moving up to the better living spaces as the club excels and beats out the other clubs. Only to show that once they have the high life of two star student, they lose the tightness of their family and essentially lose “living.” They want to keep the high life and all it has to offer, but are to preoccupied with upholding it and embracing it to be together. When Ryuko tries to fix this by quitting the club, Mako is given a two-star Goku Uniform and fights with Ryuko, where Satsuki gloats in how human nature, as seen above, leads to worse people when they are better off. Although Ryuko wins by showing compassion which causes Mako to concede, the family cheering for Ryuko’s demise and the mere fact that the fight even happened are enough to chew at. Clearly Capitalism is violence, as with the show’s entire plot alone shows as the Kiryuin Conglomerate aims to spread their clothing products in order to end the world, and as can be seen from this episode alone. Higher living does not make people better, and in fact often makes them worse. If someone must climb from the bottom to the top, they will do so by stepping on others, and those at the top will stay there by any means necessary. Even further, those at the top are like gods. The elite four of the student council will die for Satsuki, and the club leaders will come pretty close in defending her honor as well as their own. Those beneath the ruler are expected to put her life ahead of theirs. Satsuki has earned such respect and devotion by her own resolve, and Ryuko a similar group through her compassion, however. Showing that money and power do not actually earn you these sort of people, but rather you as a person can acquire these sorts of people in your life. To further this point is a series of episodes where Honnouji Academy essentially goes to war with some other schools in order to conquer and indoctrinate them. The city of Osaka features a student council leader who throws money around to make to students and even the people of the city fight for him. Only for Satsuki to scare them away by striking enough fear into them with her resolve. In a system where money means so much, people will go far to acquire power, but in the end people value living over the currency, they only chase wealth because it means life. Ryuko is challenging the system in order to bring it down and end its violence, so she fights for the proletariat from the ground up. While Satsuki uses her position and power as a bourgeoisie to pose a coup against her mother, the one with the true apocalyptic aims. Both are fighting against the system, but in two different approaches to rebellion.
Ryuko is a powerful female figure and heroine. Don’t let the show’s showing of skin make you think otherwise. It is her confidence in showing that skin that allows her to stand against the system and fight for those who cannot.