Kill la Kill is an epically ambitious title that somehow manages to act as a reservoir for the communication of important themes in some of the wackiest manners possible. The sheer breadth of content that’s been published on the internet and discussed among fans of the show is staggering, and the reasons for enjoying Kill la Kill easily vary amongst the community, originating from the diverse range of interpretations that arise from its viewing. Whether it be an advocate of duality in our everyday lives, a message about family legacy, a metaphor for Japanese imperialism, or even a warning about the dangers of consumerism, there is something here for everyone, given that one can move past the barrier that is the bombastic amount of fan service, which can easily turn off a casual viewer base for such material.
Aware of the show’s open-ended nature prior to viewing the show in its entirety and having watched an exhaustive amount of content dissecting the intricacies and highlights of Kill la Kill’s thematic narrative and beyond upon my completion, I became enamored with the idea of uncovering more hidden messages and deep secrets that lie entangled within this multi-layered spectacle. And after re-watching the show in 2016 ago, it cemented itself as one of my favorite television series of all time for its impeccable storytelling and pacing, meta-narrative, and superb art direction and animation that explodes with creativity and originality.
However, 2016 was also the year in which another series of events happened to be occurring: the buildup to the United States presidential elections.
Throughout the election cycle, politics became an even more divisive subject, and it ultimately resulted in greater degrees of polarization and division that left a scar within the roots of society, whose effects continue to linger to this day. Almost every day seems to be inescapable from the tightening grip on political critique and corruption, and gridlock exists on virtually all levels of government. In such times, instances of bipartisanship and communion are much preferred by millions of others unsatisfied with its dominance in the national landscape.
And that’s where Kill la Kill inserts itself nicely into this state of affairs. Potentially serving as a precursor to the devolution of American politics, I assert that Kill la Kill advocates a prospective future in which people of all political leanings can come to understand each other and their ideologies, and eventually come together to rise up against the true perpetrators of chaos and unrest that embody the evils that pose a threat to civilization, with a particular set of characters embodying the prominent or notable political parties in the United States.
Immediately, there are four colors that seem to dominate the overall aesthetic of Kill la Kill: red, white, blue, and black.
For residents in North America, the first three clearly nod to the American flag. The symbolism of each color was communicated by Charles Thompson, Secretary of the Continental Congress, who stated the following:
“White signifies purity and innocence, Red, bravery & valour, and Blue, the color of the Chief, and the placement of the broad band signifies, vigilance, perseverance & justice” (1782).
Whether intentional or unintentional, our three main characters, which for future reference will be Ryūko Matoi, Mako Mankanshoku, and Satsuki Kiryūin, clearly demonstrate these colors on their typical uniforms and embody some of the key characteristics representative of each hue. Of course, these could be considered tenants of good character designs, but in this context, will hold much greater significance.
Acting as the main protagonist of the series, Matoi normally sports a living black sailor uniform with red accents that goes by the name Senketsu and is noteworthy for her pronounced red highlight in her bangs. In the American political sphere, red is one of the primary colors most people consider when thinking of the Republican Party. Some of the core values of said party tend to include limited government, free enterprise, and individual liberty. Throughout Kill la Kill, there are plenty of instances that are meant to reflect such ideas, including the zoom-out shot of the academy from Matoi’s perspective that sets up an eventual conflict of interest, her outright refusal to conform to the standards, and her defiance towards the school itself as a means to pursue her own goal of revenge. These instances among other examples exemplify such traits of a political ideology and are compatible in the current American political climate.
Arguably, the media and public treat conservatives with more scrutiny than other political groups, and the community at large is much less vocal than say, members of the Democratic Party, due to fear of the backlash or hatred that might lie upon them due to the negative perception. According to the Pew Research Center, fifty-seven percent of respondents viewed the Republican Party unfavorably, compared to fifty-one percent for the Democratic Party, with the latter performing better in specific benchmarks such as policy issues and ethical standards (Maniam, 2017). Due to these conditions, it’s fitting that Matoi stands out amongst the crowd aesthetically and philosophically, as the sole individual fighting against the grain to rise to the top.
With the inclusion of the color black throughout many aspects of Matoi’s character design, one could make a case that it embodies the concept of anarchy, an ideology strictly poised against the idea of hierarchy. The color is prominent within most depictions of its symbols, including groups like the Anarchist Black Cross and the black bloc. I was initially skeptical of this assertion because while it fits perfectly well with Matoi’s character, to take inspiration from anarchist groups might have been a stretch. However, the color black in Japanese often represents dignity, evil, and sorrow, which virtually contradicts the pretenses of her most defining traits, given more credence to the ties to anarchism.
As the Student Council President of Honnōji Academy, Satsuki holds an authoritative iron grip on the entire school. Driven by her Orwellian rhetoric and unwavering confidence, Satsuki stands in direct opposition to everything Matoi stands for on the surface… until Satsuki ultimately reveals that she constructed the academy as a precursor to rebel against her mother, who also happens to be Matoi’s mother, meaning the two are sisters, but I ultimately digress. Given that I’ve already correlated Matoi with the Republican Party, some of you have probably associated Satsuki with the Democratic Party, as she dons a blue and white uniform, representing a color scheme that is actually quite common amongst advertising and marketing concerning the left-wing party. If you visit the official website of the Democratic Party, those two colors dominate the interface that the user browses through (2017).
For those not familiar with the Democratic Party, however, most members tend to support increased government influence, collective equality and justice, and progressivism. In the case of Satsuki, such values remain at the core of her philosophy, but her execution of them is exaggerated and not of the typical left-leaning individual, bordering on fascism. She virtually oppresses the students at the academy and allows a select few, akin to a bureaucracy to monitor activity at the school and take action as needed. However, most of the students are nearly identical to each other in appearance and status, possibly representing a depiction of socialism, a far-left ideology that advocates for economic and social control over politics and production. I should also note that the connotations of the color white widely differ amongst North America and Japan. As noted before, white equates to purity and virginity in America, but while it also has undertones of innocence in Japan, it seems to primarily stand for joy and good fortune, giving credence to the idea of some inspiration from American values. Heck, her introduction immediately features a single footstep before she initiates a speech for all her subordinates to hear. Not only does it elevate her authority, but strangely reinforces her chastity, almost as if she is untouched, proudly residing above the “pigs in human clothing”
On another note concerning Satsuki’s ties to the Democratic Party, the animal mascot of the party is the donkey, a species that is considered part of the taxonomic horse family Equidae (Ballenger and Myers, 2014). And through a quick Google search along the lines of “horses and pigs”, there are plenty of links noting that horses seem to have a particular distaste for pigs… a coincidence?! In all honesty, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was intentional, given that one could also regard Matoi as the “elephant in the room” at Honnōji Academy, since she is bestowed unrestricted reign despite the disruption they cause, and the elephant happens to bet the symbol of the Republican Party.
Finally, there’s the lovably eccentric Mako, who is unarguably outspoken and carefree, yet lazy and klutzy. Within the context of the series, Mako could care less about anything of serious importance or urgency, let alone politics. Every action she takes is pure in intention and originates from the bottom of her heart, often due to her infectious relationship with Matoi and unadulterated nature. On the surface, she seems to be a buffer for comedy and asides for absolutely nonsensical monologues with an abundance of puns that I myself cannot begin to comprehend. However, from the perspective of American politics, there are two distinct correlations that I have been able to make: Mankanshoku as either the independent or the classical liberal in the social sense. Her radiating purity puts her as a candidate for the former, as she is unbound by any major ideological influences from either side of the political spectrum, and ultimately devotes her actions to Matoi exclusively. She often acts as the mediator between the clashing personalities of Matoi and Satsuki during the first half of the series through her aforementioned monologues in an attempt to resolve impending conflict. Independents could have beliefs and values of all kinds, not confined to the label of a liberal or conservative, in which people often make huge assumptions upon hearing the terms. Her multi-faced personality embodies a bundle of complexities that cannot be generalized with a simple term.
Yet the idea of her embodying the mindset of a classical liberal is not out of the question. In simplest terms, classical liberalism idolizes the freedoms of the individual in all capacities – religion, speech, press, market – that also promotes limited government and restrictions upon the people. For those who have watched the series, Mankanshoku obliviously contradicts the essence of Honnōji Academy and any form of hierarchy. As a simple example, if she wants to sleep in class, she’ll sleep in class. It obviously defies the standards set by the academy, but regardless of the consequences, she will do so again and again.
Additionally, there are no restrictions placed upon Mako regarding the content of her statements. She has proclaimed that Matoi is superior because her breasts are comparatively bigger, and she has gone on record to state that she would like to go on a date with Matoi. Clearly outrageous statements like these would often hold no place in the society depicted in Kill la Kill, but she actively moves against the grain, whether intentionally or not. Given the circumstances at the time of its production, I am more inclined to associate Mako with the former, as it would give the team greater degrees of freedom to mold Mako’s character consistently into something that fits the story, while also embodying a variety of techniques that might allude to certain political ideas, such as the aforementioned classical liberalism.
The Big Picture
Now that the three characters have been correlated with different political groups, the most important probe for analysis lies within the supposed message that such circumstances create for the thematic narrative: how do these three characters, alongside other cast members, come together to go against a greater evil? Conveniently, the answer happens to reveal itself during the seventeenth episode. Within it, Satsuki’s (and Matoi’s) mother decides to come to Honnōji City as part of the “cultural festival” that is hosted in honor of her, but it is actually an elaborate scheme formulated by their mother to absorb the life fibers of all the people who reside within Honnōji City. At some point during this process, Satsuki literally stabs Ragyo in the back, announcing her rebellion against her mother and revealing that the construction of Honnōji Academy was for the very purpose of overthrowing her.
An interesting plot twist indeed, but more intriguing when the previously polarizing mindsets of Matoi, Satsuki, Mankanshoku, and other factions coming together to battle against Ragyo, whose blind devotion to Life Fibers pose disastrous consequences for the entirety of the planet. Effectively, Satsuki becomes the deuterogamist of the series, while Ragyo fits the role of the “true” antagonist. Satsuki may have seemed to be the one acting as the obstacle in Matoi’s path, but her true intentions were cloaked in mystery. Ragyo is self-obsessed, desensitized, greedy, flaunting, and dangerous, given her capacity to cause destruction with the assistance of the Life Fibers, characteristics that almost no other character in the series expresses on a consistent basis. It speaks to the idea that a common ground exists within that universe that allows them to unite and pave forward as a society, and such a message resonates more than ever across the American population. The heavy majority of us want equal opportunity, but the difference lies in how we achieve it. Everybody would believe in a society where we have the freedom to express ourselves and practice whatever faith we desire, although disagreements arise in its implementation and extent. Matoi and Satsuki both want some form of revenge due to circumstances regarding their family, but their methods in going about this differ.
The people in Kill la Kill’s universe demonstrate a willingness to put aside differences in favor of the greater good. Matoi has been pitted against virtually everyone: the student council, members of Nudist Beach, and even Mako! Yet nevertheless, it requires the effort of them all collectively to stop Ragyo’s wrath. The final episode culminates everything established the series into a simultaneously neat and epic climax that augments every established theme and manages to be satisfying for its viewers of all different mindsets.
And amidst this, one more topic is addressed: Matoi’s identity. In the simplest terms, Matoi announces initially that she is neither human, nor clothing, but in the climactic battle in the outer limits of space with Ragyo, she then evolves her prior statement:
“True, we’re neither human nor clothing. But at the same time, we are both human and clothing. We are everything! People are people! Clothing is clothing!”
Seemingly a string of fallacies on the surface, it embraces the nonsensical and bashes the idea of identity politics into oblivion, reaffirming that anyone and anything can be everything and do not have to be bound by a label or a group of any kind.
In the context of America today, political polarization has become so severe that political parties will demonize each other and engage in partisanship over the idea of differing beliefs and values. Political parties have the highest average partisan gap compared to race, religion, and gender, meaning that most of the country find political leanings as a large contention point (Smith, 2017). Labels are a means to categorize, generalize, stereotype, and everything in between the lines, and it has a created a culture premeditated on opposition rather than communion. Matoi and Senketsu outright reject such practices and pave the way forward for humans (and clothing) to coexist with each other in harmony and successfully blur the lines of disagreement, opting to focus on the fundamentals.
At the end of the day, we are people who make choices and go through life, and it is our responsibility to push forward. Simultaneously, we do not need to make our differences – whether it be race, sexuality, religion, hobbies, or culture – points of conflict that destroy the bridges that fill the gaps. Kill la Kill proudly embodies these values amongst many others in its meta-narrative and effectively communicates the importance of maintaining our individuality, but preserving the uniqueness of our collective identity as a means of endeavoring across the most perilous of circumstances.