Kill la Kill Ep. 17: Rebellion

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…round of applause, everybody. Round of applause. Okay, that’s good enough. By the way, I jot these notes down as I’m watching the show for the first time. So of course, what I write at the beginning of the post is not informed by what ends up happening by the end of the episode. With that said, let’s get to the analysis.

Episode summary: At the Culture and Sports Grand Festival, Ragyo intends to sacrifice everyone in attendance in order to awaken the Life Fibers. Ryuuko and friends arrive to stop her nefarious schemes, but they are shocked when Satsuki turns against her own mother.

Notes & analysis:

• Just to reinforce the idea that Life Fibers aren’t necessarily evil, Senketsu requests that Ryuuko put him on so that she doesn’t get a cold. So y’see, I still don’t buy this “Life Fibers are an alien parasite” theory that Aikuro and Tsumugu are advancing. It just seems too simple. Plus, their words are telling: “Playing at being friends with clothing again, huh?” Nudist Beach are extremists, basically; they can’t even entertain the thought that a sentient garment composed of Life Fibers can even care for its wearer. But of course, whose fault is that? We know so relatively little of Ryuuko’s father. What was Matoi Isshin like? What were his actual aims? Once someone has passed away, it becomes all too easy to mythologize their deeds and actions without actually examining their true character. I won’t quite say the late scientist indoctrinated Nudist Beach with this idea that all Life Fibers are evil, but our anti-clothing guerrilla force must have gotten the wrong idea from somewhere. Having said that, watching the kids play and horse around — and Mako and Ryuuko are just kids from a certain perspective — is enough to make Tsumugu back down.

• If the “Life Fibers = atomic bombs” parallels haven’t quite touched home yet, it should now: “This is the result of the power of Life Fibers.”

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Compare the above screenshot with this:

hiroshima

And don’t forget this as well:

barefoot gen

The only thing that would’ve made the parallels more obvious is if Satsuki had attacked Hiroshima and Nagasaki instead of Osaka, Kobe, and Kyoto, but that would have been too on the nose.

• What Kill la Kill is missing, however, is the human element to this carnage and destruction. We can plainly see that locations have been devastated. We can plainly see that buildings are in ruins. But where’s the powerful human element that can elicit true outrage?

visceral element

Of course, it is no accident that the human toll has been left out of the picture. For whatever reason, Trigger doesn’t want us to see the amount of blood that’s been shed. In the end, the result is that the implied atrocities of the events are undermined. Instead, we’re made to think that this is all just a bunch of war games between kids. Still, don’t take this as necessarily a flaw of the narrative. Like I’ve said, Trigger is holding back and perhaps they have a good reason for doing so. At one point, Ryuuko confesses her fears to Senketsu: “It’s like, something that was just a brawl turned into some grand battle full of crazy crap I don’t understand like the fate of humanity and the extinction of the species or whatever.” In other words, she can’t quite accept how much things have escalated. At first, this journey of hers was nothing more than a personal vendetta: all she initially wanted to do was to settle some score on the school playground. Now, things are getting heavy, but the problem is that our heroine’s mental state hasn’t quite prepared itself for the sudden raising of the stakes.

So again, why is the human toll missing? Is it possibly due to the fact that Ryuuko herself is unable to see the human toll? By this, I am suggesting that she can’t even conceptualize the idea of people losing their lives much less accept it. That up until now, everything has been rather game-like, i.e. Ryuuko defeating all her opponents in a progression as if they were video game bosses. As a result, she has blind spots. The reality hasn’t hit home. Yes, she can see the broken, toppled buildings and the upheaved concrete, but where are the bodies? The answer: they’re out there but we just can’t see them from our heroine’s perspective. She’s still just a child; she isn’t mentally prepared to accept the horrors of war. Unlike Gen, Ryuuko still has her innocence. As such, there’s resistance when the Real attempts to intrude upon her Symbolic Order: “‘I don’t give a crap about that!’ That’s what I really wanted to say.”

• So Aikuro reveals to Ryuuko that Senketsu has been spliced with her DNA. What are the implications here? First, I suppose, let’s revisit the contrast between our heroine and Satsuki, i.e. perhaps this is why Ryuuko synchronizes with Senketsu instead of overriding him. After all, Senketsu has a part of Ryuuko within him, but not just any part. Senketsu literally contains the building blocks to Ryuuko herself. All that’s missing, of course, are Ryuuko’s memories, which I think we can safely say isn’t genetically determined. So in a way, Senketsu could be considered Ryuuko’s twin. As such, like some sort of DBZ-esque fusion dance, our heroine and her Godrobe join together to become the perfect fighting machine. But can we say the same of Satsuki and Junketsu? Why is it that Satsuki can wear her Godrobe anyway? Has Junketsu also been spliced with Satsuki’s DNA? We don’t know the answer to this yet — and we may never know — but it would make perfect sense if turns out to be the case that Junketsu contains none of its Satsuki’s DNA. They are thus two completely different creatures, and as a result, Satsuki has to override Junketsu. But just you guys wait. It’ll suddenly be revealed that Junketsu contains Satsuki’s DNA after all and my elegant theory goes flying out the window.

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• Still, is this a hint at the story’s potential endgame? As I’ve previously stated over and over, I don’t think the solution to the Life Fibers is to completely eradicate them. After all, Ryuuko and Senketsu is a shining example that a symbiotic relationship between a human and Life Fibers isn’t out of the question. So might we see the sort of ending where humans and Life Fibers merge to become a whole new species entirely? Y’know, like one of those crappy endings we got from the Mass Effect trilogy. Well, maybe we won’t go that far. In any case, Aikuro also reveals that, in the end, Isshin’s ultimate goal was to protect Ryuuko. Perhaps the key to protecting mankind from the Life Fibers’ potentially parasitic nature is to become one with them.

• We are reminded that Junketsu is meant to be Satsuki’s wedding dress. But let’s not forget that Junketsu also represents “purity.” When, however, was Satsuki ever impure? You would even say she was at her most “purest” when she was a child. After all, what’s purer than a child. As such, I don’t think purity here is meant to be taken in the moral sense. Rather, purity, as it is used in relation to Junketsu, perhaps represents one’s “purity of focus” or “purity of will.” Once Satsuki has grown up, once her will has been forged in the fires of war, and honed in battle, it is only then that she gets to don Junketsu. After all, we’ve seen a younger Satsuki go from region to region to recruit what is now her Elite Four. She could’ve worn her Junketsu then, but I’d suggest that at that point in the narrative she wasn’t ideologically pure enough to do so. It is only once Satsuki’s gone deep down her path in life that one could say she’s become strong enough in her resolve to bear the burden of wearing a Godrobe.

But why is this the case? Because we’ve been told that most normal people would lose themselves to the Life Fibers. Tsumugu’s late sister is the perfect example of how a Godrobe can consume a person. Nevertheless, we are told that there are two exceptions: Ryuuko and Satsuki. We know Ryuuko is safe because Senketsu has been spliced with her DNA, but what’s the explanation for Satsuki and Junketsu? She has to override him, after all. As such, if her will isn’t strong enough, Junketsu would just devour her. In a way, you could even argue that a naked Satsuki is stronger than a naked Ryuuko, i.e. without their Godrobes. I’m sure it’s a whole different matter when the Godrobes are actually involved. Nevertheless, we see hints of Satsuki faltering. First, when her ego was bruised after the mid-season duel with Ryuuko, it is obvious that the girl was losing control of Junketsu. We could see it pulsating in last week’s episode, moving of its own accord as she panted in pain and exhaustion. But there’s an even bigger problem looming ahead: if Satsuki submits to Ragyo’s grander plans, can we really say that Satsuki has any sort of “purity of will?” After all, she would just be following in someone else’s footsteps. She either has to eventually rebel against her mother or lose control of Junketsu.

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• Gamagoori announces that even No Stars and their families are obligated to attend the festival. Not only that, they are required to wear celebratory uniforms. No doubt, this is the process of militarization extended to the general populace.

• Again, Mako’s family represents the lumpenprole. Once they’ve been rest assured that both Mako and her friend are alive, the Mankanshoku patriarch has no qualms about participating in the Cultural and Sports Grand Festival whereas most people would at least have their misgivings. By that, your average person will regard the upcoming festival with distrust, i.e. “Isn’t this just to celebrate the rise of some fascist dictator?” But the Mankanshoku family are not your average family. Their poverty has been so ingrained in their very nature that self-preservation becomes such a huge concern that is only second to their daughter’s welfare on a list of priorities. As such, they are and will always be oblivious to the circumstances surrounding them so long as their self-preservation is fulfilled. Still, their love and concern for their daughter shows that family can triumph over anything. It just doesn’t go far enough, i.e. you won’t ever be able to rely upon Mako’s family to aid in the inevitable revolution.

• According to Aikuro, Ragyo intends to use the audience in attendance as human sacrifices to awaken the Life Fibers. Well, unmitigated and unregulated capitalism did always come at the expense of the working class. But it goes even further than this. This experiment won’t merely awaken the Life Fibers; it will turn the audience in attendance into Life Fibers. But Life Fibers themselves are a commodity, the very commodity in which REVOCS does its trade. In other words, in a commodified world, we too become commodities. And once we’ve become commodities, we can be bought and sold on the market place. Essentially, this is the modern incarnation of slavery.

• Telling words from Ragyo’s bespectacled assistant: “Lady Satsuki is most impressive. She masterfully conquered the teen demographic, which has the highest resistance to Life Fibers.” There’s an interesting dichotomy between youth and capitalism. Youth has always been associated with the ideas of rebellion and the counterculture. Youths necessarily want to distinguish themselves from not only the adults in their lives but each other as well. Capitalism, on the other hand, wants to win over our loyalty. Corporations want us slavishly returning to their brands over and over. At first glance, this aspect of capitalism would seem to go against young people’s rebellious nature. Nevertheless, huge industries will always spring up overnight to take advantage of the latest counterculture fad, e.g. from punk to emo to even the kawaii. So how does Ragyo succeed in attaining wide acceptance of the Ultima Uniforms?

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Well, remember that the Ultima Uniforms work by enhancing a very personal aspect of its wearer’s nature. Just take a look at the Elite Four, for example: Gamagoori’s sadistic love for discipline manifests itself in a twisted bondage suit when he exhibits the power of his three-star uniform. As such, the Ultima Uniforms win teens over by appealing to that all-too-common desire in youths to be individualistic. This individualism explains why teens as a demographic would simultaneously have the highest resistance to Life Fibers, but will also buy into the Ultima Uniforms with such loyalty and fervor: “It was ingenious, negating their resistance to Life Fibers by getting them hooked on power of the Ultima Uniforms.”

• At one point, Ragyo says to her Grand Couturier: “‘Fair is foul, foul is fair,’ eh? How very like you, Nui.” As I have suggested, Nui is the joker or the wild card of the story. She doesn’t bother herself with the right and the wrong. All that matters to her is what she finds fun, and she finds chaos fun.

• Ragyo: “There is only one truth. Only those things that earn Ragyo Kiryuin’s approval may be called beautiful.” This line reinforces the idea that the idea of beauty is often dictated to us by the powerful through the use of branding. But of course, since REVOCS controls an overwhelming majority of the market share, it’s only natural that its CEO sees herself as the sole decider of what is and isn’t beautiful.

• I know the Elite Four worships Satsuki, but to what extent are they aware of Ragyo’s grander plans? So even if they are incredibly loyal to Satsuki, how willing are they to see an entire stadium of innocent people sacrificed before their very eyes? Plus, even if Satsuki has referred to her No Stars as nothing but pigs in human clothing, this is still her empire that she’s built up through her own blood, sweat, and tears. This is her “people” even if she has little respect for them. Will she just stand idly by and let them all be consumed as a means to Ragyo’s end? What happens next will be very telling of both the Elite Four and Satsuki herself.

• Familiar imagery:

kill la kill 1702

Sure, we could compare it to the military processions of Nazi Germany — and there’s even an accompanying Western march! — but as I’ve suggested before, that would be a little too on the nose. I mean, why even leave the country at all to find similar imagery?

What’s also interesting to note is the Mankanshoku family’s reaction to everything unfolding in front of them: “Who cares?! Just eat!” Even better, it turns out Mataro is missing his uniform because he sold it long ago. He’s actually naked at the moment; he’s painted his body to look as though he’s actually wearing clothes. The lumpenprole may depend upon capitalism to survive, but they won’t necessarily seek to aid it or anything else but themselves for that matter.

• Wow, real?

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But of course, this plays into Ragyo’s megalomaniacal persona. She thinks she can dictate what is and isn’t beautiful — even something as ridiculous as how she appears in the screenshot above. But not only that, her appearance speaks to the excess of wealth. Ragyo is so compelled by the need to distinguish herself from the uncultured masses that this is how she ends up styling herself.

• I also wonder if the anime is also not-so-subtly mocking avant garde fashion. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, I assume you’ve seen those runway pictures of models wearing, well, clothing that aren’t quite functional. But y’know, fashion is like any other form of art, and unless we actually study its intricate history and influences, any cursory judgment on the matter is simply that: cursory, uninformed, and ultimately presumptuous. Is Ragyo’s outfit meant to tweak the idea of high fashion? Obviously, I don’t know for sure — and honestly, even Ragyo’s ridiculous outfit wouldn’t be quite outrageous enough to level a substantive critique at the avant garde — but it wouldn’t surprise me.

• Ragyo: “A ruler must shine like the sun at all times.” The sunlight is basically a metaphor for the Almighty’s judgment. In other words, Ragyo sees herself as the divine. After all, if she succeeds in her plans, she would end up becoming the ruler of the world, would she not? And again, she feels that she can dictate what is and isn’t beautiful. We normally think beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but if there is a God — as in the one and only God — then it would make sense that God is the only being in the world that can decide whether or not something is objectively beautiful. So that’s what Ragyo wants to become through the use of the Life Fibers; she wants to be God. It’s just very convenient to hide behind the will of COVERS as an excuse for her insatiable need to dominate the world.

• Inumuta claims to Ragyo that he no longer “[engages] in hacking and stock manipulation,” to which Ragyo replies, “Oh, you don’t? A pity….” It is the dismissive nature to her response that I find interesting. Stock manipulation can be damaging to corporations, but REVOCS’ CEO sees it as nothing more than an amusing game.

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• When Ragyo presses a button, the devouring of her subjects begins. Threads of Life Fibers surround each individual in the audience (except Mataro, of course), and in the end, they all become mummies. Why mummies? The process of mummification involves the removal of a person’s organs, leaving behind only a lifeless husk albeit well-preserved. Essentially, what makes us human has been removed. Of course, no actual organs are being removed in the anime, but that’s why it’s a metaphor. Ragyo even alludes to this process of dehumanization herself: “Such wonderful silence… the cacophony spewed for by the foolish creature known as humanity fades away, and nothing but tranquil fibers will fill the world.” This is the end result of of the commodification of humanity itself. Humanity loses that which defines its nature: the ability to reason. Without reason, we can no longer defy and rebel. And through this process of mummification, Ragyo’s subjects become lifeless husks that can no longer protest. They’ve become the faceless employees of REVOCS, or in other words, the obedient zombie slaves of capitalism.

• It’s interesting that when Ryuuko finally enters the stadium, she voices her desire to put an end to Satsuki’s plans. Foreshadowing?

• Amazing. Satsuki never intended to bind herself to her family’s legacy. And since Ragyo sees herself as a God, she gets a fitting end:

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Impaled upon her own throne as if she’s been crucified. What are we to make of these sudden developments? As I’ve said before, Ryuuko’s character arc is more or less complete. By the end of the fifteenth episode, she understands who she is and what she needs to do: to protect the people around her. As such, she’s become the story’s hero. So naturally, I wondered what would happen next for Ryuuko’s foil, a.k.a. Satsuki. I would say that, like our heroine, Satsuki’s character arc is nearing its completion as well. She too won’t stand by and be a witness to her mother’s crimes. But the devil is in the details, and for once, blood is very real:

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Remember how I talked about the lack of bodies earlier in the post? The reality is that there is rarely any bloodshed thus far in this entire series. Of course, we’ve seen Matoi Isshin die at Nui’s hands, but nothing quite as dramatic and bloodied as Satsuki’s one act of defiance. You could even say Ragyo’s death is ceremonial; she is the actual human sacrifice of the Culture and Sports Grand Festival. Like the age old trope of the student proving his or her worth by slaying the master, this is Satsuki’s grand moment; this is her character arc coming to fruition. Even when Ryuuko defeated her opponents, our heroine merely stripped her foes of their clothing. As Ryuuko’s foil, however, Satsuki is willing to go where Ryuuko is unwilling or, better yet, cannot go. To achieve her dreams, Satsuki will do whatever it takes. Ryuuko is bound by the her concerns for her fellow humans; she is necessarily innocent. Satsuki, on the other hand, is bound by her ideological purity; she is pure but she cannot be innocent like Ryuuko. It is thus only fitting that her grand moment is ushered in by the series’ most gruesome murder: a matricide.

• But having said all of this, Satsuki insists, “Honnouji Academy is the fortress I created in order to defeat you! Remember that, Ragyo Kiryuin!” Does her last sentence to her mother mean anything? Will Ragyo stay alive somehow? I guess we’ll find out in a week’s time.

• One final note: Ryuuko often loves to pose with her scissor blade like so:

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It is almost iconic of the series. Now that Satsuki rebelled against her mother, she does as a good foil does:

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Her blade is even red this time, but we know why it’s red. So naturally, we have to ask, “Why is Ryuuko’s scissor blade red?”

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6 thoughts on “Kill la Kill Ep. 17: Rebellion”

  1. “Sure, we could compare it to the military processions of Nazi Germany — and there’s even an accompanying Western march! — but as I’ve suggested before, that would be a little too on the nose. I mean, why even leave the country at all to find similar imagery?”

    This is a good point. You absolutely don’t need to leave Japan to find similar imagery; at every single elementary, junior, and senior high school in the country, you’ll see the kids marching almost exactly like this on sports day, and to exactly that same music as well. There are also kids at the head of the lines carrying flags. It’s extremely reminiscent of Nazi Germany – so much so that when I saw it for the first time in real life I didn’t know whether to laugh or run – but the Japanese have definitely put their own twist on things. Kill la Kill doesn’t have to make any particular effort to put the viewers in mind of foreign armies – there’s enough modern-day inspiration right here.

    1. Yeah, I think the anime is being pretty cheeky about it: “No, this isn’t about Japan at all! Look at this coliseum! Look at the Western marching song! Look at the early references to Hitler! /wink”

  2. I knew Satsuki would turn against her mother, but I certainly didn’t expect it to be that way. It was brutal, and Ragyo ending up crucified was a nice touch I guess.

    “But having said all of this, Satsuki insists, “Honnouji Academy is the fortress I created in order to defeat you! Remember that, Ragyo Kiryuin!” Does her last sentence to her mother mean anything? Will Ragyo stay alive somehow? I guess we’ll find out in a week’s time.”

    She looks pretty alive to me in next week’s episode preview so, yeah, she’ll somehow live.

  3. Her mom is not dead she still has her Godrobe on or is that even a Godrobe anymore I get the feeling what she on has progressed into a stage beyond that.She also has her assistant their for help still. Finally there is still Nui who will most likely end up fighting Sanageyama in a rematch.

  4. We all knew the treason was coming. There were all the signals – and it was an arrogant ruler with what she believed to be her most loyal subject in a place called Honnouji, after all. But I was still surprised by how sudden and gruesome it was. The scene was one of incredible power. It’s interesting to note: the name of the series is a pun, as “Kill la Kill” can be also read “Kiru ra Kiru” in Japanese, kiru meaning to cut. So until now we’ve seen the “cutting” part – Ryuko fiberlost-ing everyone. Now we get to the actual “killing”.

    Also Ragyo was a bundle of references in this episode. Someone mentioned that she looks like Maleficent, Cruella de Vil, or even Lady Gaga. Me? As jesters with god complexes go, I immediately thought of Kefka from FFVI. Plus the Evangelion references go on: the way she ends up crucified made me think more of EVA’s Lilith than of Jesus.

    1. But I was still surprised by how sudden and gruesome it was.

      Probably because Satsuki had been so submissive to her mother up until this point. We are made to think she’ll have to undergo a major struggle within herself to go against her own family, but it seems as though this decision had already been decided years and years ago. Satsuki just knew how to play the game very well during that bizarre bath scene.

      As jesters with god complexes go, I immediately thought of Kefka from FFVI.

      Yeah but Kefka had no purpose. He was just a stupid, nihilistic dude who wanted to destroy everything. Ragyo has a clear purpose so at least she’s got that going for her. I’m just personally biased against Kefka because a lot of us grew up playing FF6 so people can’t seem to let go of it despite its numerous flaws.

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