One of the first times a cosplayer dressed up as Kill La Kill’s main character, Ryuko Matoi, it resulted in a call to the police. And that’s just one of the sexy outfits in Kill La Kill.
I didn’t plan to watch this show. One look at Ryuko’s revealing getup instantly let me know that not only are women not its target audience, but possibly unwelcome onlookers. But when none of my friends were dropping the show, I realized I’d judged it too soon.
It’s not that nobody has a problem with the clothes of Kill La Kill. It’s that the issues around the controversial clothing, as Emily said best, become an acknowledged part of the plot.
The title of Kill La Kill comes from the Japanese “kiru,” which can either mean “to cut,” or “to put on (wear).” It’s a graphic-novel stylized universe where clothing grants wearers unthinkable strength. As a result, different qualities of clothing (ranked as no star, 1 star, and higher), are restricted by the high school’s totalitarian ruler (and Ryuko’s main rival), Satsuki.
Ryuko dodges this hierarchy by uncovering a kamui, the most powerful type of clothing in existence, in her late father’s basement. The kamui comes with one caveat: it needs to drink her blood to transform into battle gear—you know, the publicly indecent form.
At first, Ryuko finds her outfit aggressively humiliating, but a speech from Satsuki seems to change her mind: “Exhibitionist? Nonsense! This is the form in which a kamui is able to unleash the most power! The fact that you are embarrassed by the values of the masses only proves how small you are!” (Of course, this is just too convenient, like when Power Girl explains an alleged plot-based reason for her cleavage bearing costume.)
Once in costume, Ryuko’s physics-free, high energy fighting style takes Gurren Lagann to the next logical level. And it’s truly entertaining. Firebrand Ryuko, formidable Satsuki, and Ryuko’s high-energy best friend and cheerleader, Mako, show that female characters can still be strong and nuanced and likeable even if they were designed with the male gaze in mind.
But are those outfits really necessary?
I loved this loldwell comic above because it really encompasses just how much of a barrier fan service is to the chance of anime ever getting accepted as a legitimate art form. When the New York Times reviewed Space Dandy, one of the first things they pointed out was the excessive focus on women’s breasts and butts. An anime can have lots of saving graces, sure, but the question most people are going to have after watching an episode is indeed something like, “Where are everyone’s clothes?”
Kill La Kill wanted to make a point about clothes, I get that. I think that also could have been done without such scanty coverings. I think the real reason here is the creators’ unnecessary concerns about whether men would watch a show about a tough gal like Ryuko.
Ryuko’s clothes say, “She may be tough, but the viewer is the one who’s really in charge.” And that’s something Kill La Kill could do without.