Kill la Kill – Progress Made Fanservice

CONTENT WARNING: This essay contains certain themes and images of sexual abuse that are discussed for purposes of the paper’s argument. 

At first glance, Kill la Kill may seem like a show with progressive anime elements. It’s rated as the 29th most popular anime of all time and available on streaming platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, and Crunchyroll. The fight scenes are electric, the animations are smooth, and the story is compelling. Furthermore, all of the main characters are female which is seldom the case in action/adventure anime. Ryuko Matoi, the protagonist of the show, has a coming-of-age story where she confronts the death of her father and finds her own identity. She fights through many tribulations and succeeds in situations with near impossible odds. The villain turned heroine, Satsuki Kiryuin, is a dominant personality and revered leader of the student council. The most powerful person in the world, Ragyo Kiryuin, is Satsuki’s mom and main antagonist who runs a conglomerate of corporations. Despite a strong female presence, the show creates more harm than good in their representation. The show and the images chosen display these characters in sexually-charged clothes, objectifies their bodies, and provides an alarming amount of fanservice. Through the hypersexualization of the main characters, Kill la Kill promotes the male gaze, normalizes abusive relationship behaviors, and enforces the “Dragon Lady” trope.

In many forms of media, women are viewed through the lens of the male gaze. This gaze transforms the woman as a subject into an object. In regards to Kill la Kill, each one of the female characters goes through life and death scenarios. However, their sexualization strips them of their struggles and subjugates them to objectification. In this sense, the show promotes their body image rather than focusing on their story. 

The show even addresses the male gaze in certain ways, but continues to keep and promote its presence. Ryuko Matoi, the main heroine, struggles with the embarrassment of wearing such sexually charged clothes. Early on in the show, she is often depicted in an embarrassed demeanor when her outfit transforms. Instead of scrutinizing the men who ogle female characters, Kill la Kill takes the route of using Ryuku’s best friend, Mako, to say “just rip it [outfit] off and get naked” to justify comfort with hypersexuality.

For the story of a strong female cast to be sexually degraded promotes “certain motifs” such as “objectification, fetishism, scopophilia” and transforms the power dynamic to enforce an idea that “women are the object of male pleasure” (Snow, 1989). Basically, the permission of allowing the male gaze to be so prevalent allows both the men in the anime and the men watching the show to pursue female characters as “phallic property, borne of a desire” to “control the object” subjected to “that gaze” (Patterson & Elliot, 2002). 

Carly Smith

Kill la Kill also reinforces the hegemonic idea of female passivity with male gaze. Ryuko and Satsuki, the main characters, are aggressive and dominant fighters. They even have the ability to -spoiler alert- save the world from destruction. Despite their capability, the show segments their bodies in images that devalue their skills. The anime paints a picture that two women possess world altering abilities but can’t challenge the men who objectify them. Therefore constructing “women” as “passive objects of male gaze” (Patterson & Elliot, 2002).

Normalized Abusive Relationships

In addition to the male gaze, Kill la Kill normalizes abusive relationship behaviors through interactions between Ryuku and her sentient outfit, Senketsu, and Satsuki and her mother, Ragyo. The first time Ryuku puts on Senketsu, the scene is likened to a rape scenario where the victim phsyically and verbally tries to fight off the aggressor. Eventually, Ryuku accepts the bond made with her living outfit and no longer feels the embarrassment from the previous encounter. In return, she receives a tremendous boost of combat power. This coincides with the abuse phase “which is typified by” the “appearance of the abuser’s ‘good side’” (Fairweather, 2012).

On the other hand, the relationship between parent and child is more disturbing. Often, the child is in a precarious situation because they are dependent and reliant on the parent’s resources. In terms of Satsuki and Ragyo, Satsuki has yet to rebel or retaliate against her abuse for the necessity of her mother’s assets. In order to acquire her needs, Satsuki must refrain from doing anything that would upset her mother. This stems from “an overall air of increasing unrest within the relationship” where Satsuki becomes “more anxious” and attempts “to step around [Ragyo’s] anger in response” (Fairweather, 2012).

Eventually, the abuse relationship explodes when Ragyo Kiryuin takes her daughter through a “purification ritual” where she gropes, spanks, and sexually abuses Satsuki. Afterward, Ragyo places Satsuki in a cage where she is subjected to being spanked and groped once again. This is the final stage in real abuse cases, where the “abuser no longer finds it necessary to keep” the “victim in the relationship” through “intermittent affection and apology”, proceeding to the “complete destruction” of  “self-esteem” to keep Satsuki “ trapped in seemingly hopeless situations” (Fairweather, 2012).

The message Kill la Kill emanates is dangerous for victims of abuse. The scenes depicted coincide with real signs in sexual abuse relationships. Instead of being alarmed, the show creates a dynamic where the audience decides if the actions in the scene are wrong or if they’re “hot”. Scenes like this cripple female character development and set a harmful precedent for the degradation of women in media to be attractive. Therefore, Kill la Kill normalizes the appearance of abuse patterns in media and displays it in a fashion that doesn’t necessarily seem wrong.

Dragon Lady Trope

Lastly, Kill la Kill promotes the “Dragon Lady” trope. Before presenting the argument, a certain point must be clarified. This anime was developed in Japan and made for Japanese audiences without this trope in mind. However, anime is becoming increasingly popular in the United States, even generating a new “weeb” culture that is unhealthily obsessed with Japanese culture. Based on the prevalence of the “Dragon Lady” trope in past and present american media, American audiences will most likely view Kill la Kill in terms of ambivalent dialectics that they’re familiar with.

The “Dragon Lady” trope is characterized by overt sexuality, mysteriousness, and physical aggression. The characters portraying this trope often carry a weapon and wear revealing clothes. In the media they are presented in, they may not act sexual but are heavily sexualized through body movement and combat. Ryuko and Satsuki do not wear clothes frequently paired with the trope, such as a qipao or kimono, but are heavily sexualized in their school uniforms at home and during fight scenes. Due to the revealing nature of Kill la Kill, a certain “psychological effect of the exotic [Dragon Lady] stereotype renders asian women” as desirable for “sexual pleasures to be enjoyed” by “white men” (Alvarez & Tewari, 2009). This effect is harmful in that it renders the plot as virtually non-existent. In the eyes of the viewer, the anime simply exists to gratify sexual satisfaction rather than focus on the story each female character endures.

Furthermore, the presence of the trope takes away from the authenticity of the female characters. For instance, the female characters go through life altering story arcs and discover who they are. However, through the lens of the story, when expressing “their desire to be taken seriously” they are “dismissed as not knowing what they are talking about” or are seen as “less desirable because they are not acting like” a “passive sexual object” (Alvarez & Tewari, 2009). Essentially, the elements of humanity female characters express and gain throughout their journeys are null in the eyes of male viewers. Therefore, any progression made for female representation is stripped from the trope’s proclivity for eroticism and objectification.

In review, Kill la Kill at face value adds certain merit to female empowerment. The main characters are female and are presented in powerful and dominating roles. Mainly, Ryuko and Satsuki lead a rich story with redemption arcs, trials, and humor. However due to the fanservice provided by hypersexualization, abusive relationship behaviors, and media tropes, the anime loses its point at times. Through these elements, the show disenfranchises the humanity of women and promotes women as tools for sexual gratification. It’s also important to remember that widespread pieces of media, such as Kill la Kill, can function as educational platforms that can pervert viewers’ understandings of what is right and what is wrong. As far as the impact of Kill la Kill creates, the anime has moments of bliss with comedy, action, and powerful female depictions that are sacrificed at the expense of fanservice.

References

Alvarez, A., & Tewari, N. (2009). Asian American psychology: Current perspectives. New York: Psychology Press.

Fairweather, L. (2012). Stop signs: Recognizing, avoiding, and escaping abusive relationships. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press.

Patterson, M., & Elliot, R. (2002). Negotiating Masculinities: Advertising and the Inversion of the Male Gaze. Taylor & Francis.

Snow, E. (1989). Theorizing the Male Gaze: Some Problems. In Engendering Art. Online.ucpress.edu.

One thought on “Kill la Kill – Progress Made Fanservice

  1. Thank you for the image link, and more importantly, thank you so much for your incredibly well-said and well-referenced thoughts on this topic.

    Like

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