TRIGGER WARNING AHEAD.
For the past few hours, Trigger’s first full length series Kill la Kill has been making waves across the net for a multitude of reasons. It’s deliciously flamboyant, almost like what Utena could have been if its premise somehow ended up in Imaishi’s and the rest of his studio’s adroit hands. There’s a dramatic flair to it with everything very purposefully staged. In the very first minute, you have a guy smashing open a classroom’s door and entering said room accompanied by a flurry of rainbow sparkles. While the desks (along with their contents and owners) get thrown in all directions, the teacher casually mentions that they’re in the middle of class. If that sounds silly as hell then don’t worry, it is. Kill la Kill is pure, unadulterated fun… For the most part, anyway. Personally, I found the first episode near flawless which astonishingly, the internet has more or less come to an agreement on. In some circles though, it’s been garnering attention that’s surprisingly, more negative than positive. The reason is for the age old problem which for some is unavoidable: fanservice.
Our heroine Ryuuko is a proud girl, self-assured and unwilling to yield to Satsuki’s steely stiletto or her entourage’s iron fist. So why would she willingly don something that insults everything that had been previously presented to the viewer about her character? Leaving the concept of sentient uniforms and sketchy origins about her father wanting her to wear it aside, what we should be really looking at is what it means for Ryuuko to wear it. Was it designed with giving the viewer some eye-candy alongside their serving of balls to the wall zaniness? Absolutely. But, that’s not the only reason and to think that OMG WHY IS EVERYTHING SEXUALISED THESE DAYS!1111 is a ludicrous attitude to have when it comes to a series like Kill la Kill. The fanservicey outfit is a necessary evil. Go ahead and observe how Ryuuko reacts while wearing it. She becomes flustered, evidently ill at ease with her flushing for more or less the fight’s entirety, sure. Her competitor makes debasing comments. But that’s all part of this awkward package, and it’s one that given Kill la Kill’s nature isn’t one that can easily be canceled out. To go up against Satsuki’s hierarchy, she must quite literally lay her(soul)self bare. Only with this uniform can she stand on even ground with them, for her wearing it is an offering of sorts.
The sense of pride that Ryuuko is willing to sacrifice is worth the eventual gain. She begrudgingly embraces the absurdity of it all, seeing it as a means to an end – like she even says, she isn’t wearing the outfit because she wants to. Sure, Ryuuko looks tremendously uncomfortable. Anyone would be. But in the greater scheme of things, is that really what people should be getting hot and bothered about?
The uniforms of the characters reflect their social standing within the campus’ insular world. The ones at the top of the food chain have their pimped out threads, while the regular joes like Mako get equally normal ones if they fail to make it through their revered leader’s highly exclusive selection process. Those who do though, receive the most prestigious of honours; being awarded stars. This is all well and good for those few fortunate ones. But for those who don’t, they’re subjected to a comically fascist environment where everything they do and say will be held against them. After coldly and systematically culling someone who tries to go against the norm, one of Satsuki’s subordinates calls out her name. Her borderline Orwellian speech booming throughout the school as the heavens illuminate her, not reaching the murkier corners where the rest of the student body reside as everyone else salutes her is a strange scene to witness. Why doesn’t anyone do anything? The answer lies in what the aforementioned normal student struggled for – the uniform.
He died as a result of stealing one, having sorely underestimated the hierarchy. His reward for his trying effort amounts to absolute shame, and a kind of unnaturally human treatment resulting in what must have been an instant death. But before this, he is stripped of his clothes while everyone else is watching. He lays himself bare, but unlike Ryuuko this isn’t voluntary. Without any clothes at all, he’s nothing but an insect inviting himself to be stepped on. No one reacts, for it’s just the way things are. Not even the teachers can intervene due to Satsuki’s mother being on a higher committee. So the students continue to live such a life. The guy Ryuuko fights later on suffers a similar fate. By intending to rip what little clothes she has on, he desires the same result: absolute devastation and disgrace. If her status had been stripped away, he would have reigned victorious. But due to lol sentient uniforms, the tables unexpectedly turned. Instead, even with his high social standing he becomes the one who falls. And as he does, he’s left without a single thread to his name. He becomes no longer relevant in a matter of minutes, and so Kill la Kill’s premise of ‘uniform x revenge’ gradually materializes itself as something worth considering.
I wonder, what does it say about people when what the one thing they find fault with isn’t the fascism or the oppression, but a girl wearing a skimpy lil’ outfit? To satisfy my curiousity, I sifted through comments on certain cites where these reactions would be rife, and unfortunately was proven right. Comments like, ‘this makes me sick’ and ‘holy shit how dare they do this?’ were all written with Ryuuko’s uniform in mind. Not the systematic culling of the ‘pigs dressed in human clothes’. Not the student struggling to make it up the ranks and subsequently being offed because he wasn’t good enough in the first place. But hey, when it comes to sexualisation nothing else matters, right?
Normally, I’d think they have a point. But like I have more or less said, the fanservice in Kill la Kill doesn’t chiefly serve as a vehicle for titillation. The series is relentlessly campy, and certainly not the sort that’s meant to be watched with a face as straight and unmoving as Satsuki’s. It revels in absurdity, cranking it up to eleven making for one of the more engrossing first episodes I’ve seen in quite some time. Fanservice naturally, comes into this. It’s all rather deliberate, tongue firmly in-cheek. How is it humanly possible to get upset over this when there’s a blonde gaijin lady wearing a cone bra àla Madonna, spikes ready to poke one’s eye out? A schoolgirl dancing atop of her schoolbag? The general sense of wackiness and fun that seeps behind every lovingly animated frame full of speed lines?
This may be a little rich coming from someone whose blog is more or less devoted to those dastardly chinese cartoon porn games, but let me tell you a little secret. Despite what one would quite naturally assume, I’m not a fan of fanservice orientated shows. But Kill la Kill has fanservice that unexpectedly has weight to it. To flat out disregard it does the series itself a disservice. Even if one doesn’t take the society or nature of the student council into account, there were also guys being publicly stripped and shamed, y’know. ‘B-b-but the attempted rape!’, you may cry. And I advise you to watch the scene again, because it’s a bloody school uniform begging to be worn.
Well, whatever you may think about the fanservice debacle, you can always just say ‘fuck it’ and see it as a homage to Go Nagai’s works.
For those who are saying I’m reading too much into things with the uniforms just being uniforms, have an interview. Flippant comments aside, everything in this series does end up coming back to them. And for the record, no, I don’t think menstruation metaphors or female empowerment are what this series is all about. No, seriously, what the fuck guys.