Kill la Kill: The Fashion of Fascism

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“Wow”

“WOW!!”

“WOWW!!THIS!!IS!!!Soooo!!!Goooooooooooood!!!!!!”

That was reaction to the first minute of watching Kill la Kill, the first fight of Kill la Kill, and the marathoning of every episode up to the latest (which you can watch online for free and legally here: http://www.killlakill.com/streaming/). Now I’m here to share with you my happy joyful feelings on this amazing show created by Studio Trigger (formed from ex-Gainax staff).

 

 

Dressed to Kill

Fashionism

When a show begins with a history lesson on fascism you wonder if it’s supopse to mean something. Luckily for us, the director of Kill la Kill, Hiroyuki Imaishi (of FLCL and Gurren Lagann fame) explains it outright: “When Japanese pronounce the english words ‘fashion’ and ‘fascism’, it sounds nearly the same.” and from there many more puns sprung forth and formed the key words to Kill la Kill’s plot.

English Japanese Pronounced
Fashion ファッション Fashhon
Fascism ファッショ Fassho
Kill/Cut キル Kiru
To wear (clothes) 着る Kiru
Sailor Uniform 制服 Seifuku
Conquest 征服 Seifuku

This is a story of fashion, fascism, and conquest through the power of blood soaked school uniforms.

Kill la Kill may be a fictional tale but it’s theme is one rooted in history. At the turn of the 20th century Japan was rapidly modernizing every fiber of its being, incluing its school uniforms and military. By 1932, their democracy ended in a bloody military coup (and attempted murder of Charlie Chaplin, but that’s another story…). Uniformed youth groups were a common tactic of fascist governments in molding the youth to be the soldiers of tomorrow. Today Japan is a pacifist nation that has disavowed war, but now there are talks of amending their peace constitution to rebuild the military, which has drawn criticism from prominent figures in animation such as Hayao Miyazaki. Could Kill la Kill also be commentary on contemporary Japanese politics? Am I reading too much into a pun? Who knows.

High school girls wave to a boy their own age, a kamikaze pilot on his first and final mission.

High school girls in seifuku wave to their classmate, a kamikaze pilot on his first and final mission.

 

 

 Coming of Age

Our protagonist Matoi Ryuuko is introduced with her taunting a kid who has just stolen the lemon she bit into. For long time Gainax fans this seem familiar; the 1st episode of FLCL ends with Naota being offered a sour lemon drink from a girl that had already drunk from it, sharing an indirect kiss with her as his lips touched where hers were. Considering the director of Kill la Kill also worked on FLCL, it seems like an homage to the shared theme of ’coming of age’. In FLCL, Naota’s rejection of sour things showed his childishness, only liking sweet things while avoiding anything challenging. With Ryuuko, she bites into a sour lemon without flinching, this is a girl who faces hardship head on.

transform

One of the most titilating (and controversial) aspects of Kill la Kill is the scanty outfits known as Kamui  (神衣, lit. “God Clothes”) that feed on the wearer’s blood. It would be easy to dismiss it as cheap fanservice but Kill la Kill integrates it into the theme of ‘coming of age’, just as FLCL had with Naota’s head-teleporter/boner.

Pure blood

Strong imagery of puberty surround the donning of Kamui. When Matoi Ryuuko first awakens her Kamui by bleeding on it, she is embarassed by how it exposes her body to gawking men and the shame she feels becomes a handicap in battle. But her rival, the noble born Kiryuin Satsuki who rules Honno-ji Academy, fully embraces wearing the Kamui. To her it is merely an object of power which she wields with such confidence that no man dares to gaze at her without respect. Ryuuko is in turn inspired by her rival to truly embrace what it means to be comfortable with the Kamui, to acknowledge it as a part of her own body.

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“This is the form in which a Kamui is able to unleash the most power! The fact that you are embarassed by the values of the masses only proves how small you are! If it means fulfilling her ambitions, Satsuki Kiryuin will show neither shame nor hesititation, even if she bares her breasts for all the world to see! My actions are utterly pure!
-Satsuki shows Ryuuko the true meaning of purity and power

 

 

The Red Thread of Fate

Red Thread of Fate

The Kamui are made from “life fibers”, a mystic red thread which greatly enhance the wearer’s powers. ‘Red threads’ (紅線) show up in East Asian mythology as a device of fate by the Matchmaker God (月下老人 lit. ‘Old Man Under the Moon’ ) who uses the red thread of fate to tie people together by the pinky, making them destined to cross paths, as lovers or some other way that changes their lives.

Satsuki’s Kamui (Junketsu, 純潔 lit. ”Purity”) was referred to as her ‘wedding dress’, and has its counterpart in Ryuuko’s Kamui (Senketsu, lit. 鮮血 ”Fresh Blood”). It’s unknown who created Junketsu, but Senketsu was created by Ryuuko’s father, Matoi Isshin. Their family name Matoi (纏) literally means ‘tangle’, like say, tangling a thread…

matchmaker

Destined

 

The Road of Lords

Kiryuin Satsuki in particular stands out and is surrounded with imagery of regal power. She is the one who sits at the top of the heiarchy that is Honnouji academy and her lordly calibur is also expressed with her use of ancient Chinese proverbs:

Ambition

The originator of that quote, Chen Sheng, was a child in a small village when he spoke of his ambitions to one day become powerful. When the villagers mocked him for his ambition, Chen Sheng responded: “Little sparrows cannot understand the ambition of a grand swan!”. He grew up to become a commander of the Qin dynasty, the first dynasty to unify China through military might, but his ambition continued to burn. Chen Sheng ultimately became the first man to rebel against the Qin, though it ended with his death. This lordly imagery surrounding Satsuki is also enhanced with a tie in to Japan’s most famous conqueror…

honnouji…in Satsuki’s ‘castle’, Honnouji academy. Honnouji is spelled with nearly the same kanji as Honno-ji temple, famous for being the lodgings of Oda Nobunaga as he planned his invasions. But Honno-ji is most famous as the site where Nobunaga was betrayed by a subordinate and killed. With references to warlords who ultimately failed in their ambitions, could this be foreshadowing Satsuki’s own fate? What role does the red thread that binds her with Ryuuko have in this? Whatever it is, I await every new episode of Kill la Kill with great anticipation!

 

 

BONUS:

Could Honnouji academy itself be some kind of gigantic Kamui robot? FLCL had its share of giant monster battling… we’ll have to watch and see!

 

 

 

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About Andy Lee Chaisiri

I make videogames in Beijing
This entry was posted in animation, Studio Trigger. Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Kill la Kill: The Fashion of Fascism

  1. Pingback: Kill La Kill: A Love Story | Chromatic Aberration Everywhere

  2. Pingback: Back of the Envelope: Kill La Kill and “Coming of Age” | Chromatic Aberration Everywhere

  3. KS says:

    Fascism in Japanese is not written and pronounced like your claim. It’s “ファシズム”, pronounced Fa-shi-zumu.

    Reference: http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E3%83%95%E3%82%A1%E3%82%B7%E3%82%BA%E3%83%A0

    • I was able to look up fassho in my dict (which fortunately lists more than just English equivalents). The word in question, “fassho” is not an English transliteration but rather a German one (which would explain why it wouldn’t make sense to English speakers). It’s a transliteration of “fascho” from German, which appears to be some form of slang or alternate way to say “Faschismus”.

      https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fascho

  4. Meito Anizawa says:

    That last one about a gigantic kamui is such bullshit, there are no visual similarities.

    • Minette says:

      That seems a little harsh, don’t you think? It was only this person’s theory. No need to be so rude. Also, there are minor similarities to a uniform. It resembles the sailor uniform’s neckerchief and center, at least by a little bit.

    • - says:

      Foreshadowing for the giant kamui Nui is creating.

  5. Zachhh says:

    Oh man, this is perfect.

    Finally caught up—it’d be so cool to hear more from you about this in the future!

  6. keyword2 says:

    Hmm, I never thought of that. Good point!

  7. Pingback: Anime: Kill la Kill Review (episodes 1-9) | MANKANSHOKU

  8. Stephen says:

    Great article as always

  9. Lagi says:

    Great article, as always !

    I love the way Hiroyuki and co manage to make their metaphors and references incredibly direct and yet never distracting, because they just fit so well with the story. I really hope they can pull it off on the long run as well as they did with Gurren Lagann.

    By the way, note that in japanese, “fascism” can also be written ファッショ (“fassho”, from the italian “fascio”), making the semantic link with “fasshon” even more obvious.

  10. Frank Goita says:

    Proper and educational, spot on review!

  11. goldentigers says:

    excellent article, keep up the good job :)

  12. E says:

    May also point out the number of references to old mech shows; Isshin is quite similar to Kouji’s grandfather from Mazinger Z and Ryuuko’s enthusiastic classmate points out to Ideon at the tennis episode, for instance.

    • Yeah, has a really strong Go Nagai style to it, I enjoy how “hand wrought” everything feels while carrying on the advancements in animation and coloring known by Gainax folks today.
      You’ve got a sharp eye, I had noticed the Ideon symbol too, but decided not to include it as it didn’t particularly fit in with any section.

      I’ll do a mecha themed post in the future, though probably covering ‘real type’ before supers.. or maybe both. We’ll see.

  13. Eli says:

    Yes, Hounnouji Academy is almost definitely a giant seifuku robot. This team’s previous work didn’t just include FLCL but Gurren Lagann Gigantic freaking robots are an inevitability here.

  14. K says:

    Great points made!

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