Kill la Kill Ep. 21: Bloody Ryuuko

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It seems like things are always sexual with the Life Fibers. This week’s cold opening depicts a rather explicitly carnal scene between Ryuuko, Ragyou, and Nui. Ragyou asks, “How is it? The pleasure of being enveloped by Junketsu?” Ryuuko is nearly breathless in her reply: “I… This is just…” We later learn that Junketsu was being sewn onto Ryuuko’s body during this scene. Actually, perhaps it would make more sense to say that Ryuuko was being sewn into the Godrobe instead. Either way, the experience is apparently orgasmic. It’s important to remember, however, that these three women are not exactly human. After all, they are significantly composed of Life Fibers; I don’t have the exact percent, but considering how Ryuuko’s heart looks as though it’s composed primarily of Life Fibers, you can bet good money that the percentage is probably high. In other words, you can think of this scene as, well, three human-shaped Life Fibers rubbing up against each other. I’m not even trying to make a joke although it may seem as though I am.

What I’m getting at is that we shouldn’t really look at this scene as if it’s some genuine expression of human sexuality. Of course, that’s certainly what it looks like to us from the outside, because y’know, we’re human. As a result, we impose a symbolic reality upon the scene to make sense of it. To us, it looks like three nubile women engaging in a quasi-sexual activity. Still, when you consider how inhuman these characters actually are beneath their human appearances, can you really call it sex what they’re doing in this scene? This leads into my bigger point: Ryuuko’s existential crisis boils down to a struggle between her symbolic reality and the cold, objective fact that she’s an amalgamation of flesh, blood, bones, and Life Fibers. Well, that’s a mouthful, but more importantly, what does that mean? Basically, I’m asking you what you see when you look at Ryuuko. You see a a shoujo, right? So what am I talking about with this whole “an amalgamation of flesh, blood, bones, and Life Fibers” idea?

“When you look at a person’s face, you see ‘a person,’ but behind that face is just an amalgamation of blood, flesh and bones. ‘The person’ is a part of our symbolic reality.”

In reality, Ryuuko’s really just an amalgamation of flesh, blood, bones, and Life Fibers. When we look at Ryuuko, however, we don’t see this amalgamation. We only see a shoujo. The shoujo, therefore, is the symbolic reality imposed upon her specific amalgamation of flesh, blood, bones, and Life Fibers. Of course, in saying this, I’m not trying to imply that the symbolic reality is therefore “not real” or that it’s somehow fake. The symbolic reality is just as real as anything within the universe of Kill la Kill. The difference is in how one perceives the world. To Ragyou, she doesn’t really care about the symbolic Ryuuko; she only cares about the amalgamation beneath that symbolic reality, i.e. the bundle of Life Fibers that can serve her in achieving her own ends. And as much as I don’t care for Ryuuko’s sudden existential crisis, our heroine is basically asking, “How much of me is real and how much of me is simply a specific amalgamation of flesh, blood, bones, and Life Fibers?” Well, that certainly is a pickle. Is Ryuuko doomed forever to this existential anxiety? Not if her friends have anything to say about it.

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No matter what has happened or what has been revealed, both Mako and Senketsu have never lost sight of the symbolic Ryuuko. When they look at her, they see a shoujo, a friend, a partner, a sister, etc. They never see this amalgamation of flesh, blood, bones, and Life Fibers that I’ve been talking about. They don’t see Ryuuko in the same way that Ragyou sees her. But in order to save Ryuuko, they have to convince her of the same thing, i.e. her symbolic reality is real. They have to convince her that she’s more than just some amalgamation. They have to convince her that she still has personhood. What does personhood have to do with anything? Well, if Ryuuko was simply an amalgamation, she would not give a damn whatsoever about her friends. If we’re nothing more than a bundle of cells without a shred of personhood, then we should not give a damn about anything but procreation and the pursuit of pleasure. In that case, we may as well be a bunch of pigs rolling around in the mud. No offense to pigs because they’re smart and wonderful creatures, but my point is that if pleasure was the end all and be all of life, why not just be pigs then?

Why do we bother to strive for greatness? Why do we bother to struggle for love and friendship? Why do we bother subjecting ourselves to hardships just to paint a beautiful painting, play a melodious song, or write a powerful novel? Why bother with any of that “bullshit” when we can just be like Kuroido, Ragyou’s piggish (I doubt his appearance is accidental) underling, and allow ourselves to be absorbed by Life Fibers. I mean, he seems like he’s having the time of his life: “How wonderful! This is most pleasant, Lady Ragyou!” He, too, has an orgasmic experience as he’s being assimilated by the Life Fibers. Nevertheless, we as viewers recognize that this is no way to live. As Satsuki says it herself in this week’s episode, “That is a slave’s happiness!” No amount of pleasure in the world can make up the fact that Kuroido is now a slave to the Life Fibers. Pleasure, therefore, is not the end all and be all of life. There is more to life than just the pleasure-inducing firing of the synapses in our brains. But in order to recognize this, i.e. to see ourselves as more than just a bundle of procreating, pleasure-seeking cells, we have to impose a symbolic reality upon our own lives. We also have to impose the symbolic reality upon the world around us.

What’s a painting anyway? Isn’t it just a specific arrangement of colors on a canvas that somehow makes you feel good when you look at it? What’s a scientific discovery anyway? Isn’t the fact that the speed of light amounts to approximately 299,792,458 meters per second just one of an infinite amount of facts about the universe? But we nevertheless think of the Mona Lisa as a profound work of art. And we nevertheless take pride in discovering that the speed of light is approximately 299,792,458 meters per second. We give our lives meaning, and we do so by imposing a symbolic reality upon the world around us. My point is that the symbolic reality is real. It’s not some made up nonsense, and it shouldn’t be discarded for the objective reality. That’s just a false dichotomy. Both realms are equally important to us as human beings. So back to the original issue: how do Mako and Senketsu manage to convince Ryuuko of her symbolic reality, i.e. she still has personhood?

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Again, Ryuuko suffers from an existential crisis because she’s struggling to see herself as being more than just a specific amalgamation of flesh, blood, bones, and Life Fibers. Seeing this, Ragyou takes advantage of Ryuuko’s temporary weakness, and brainwashes our heroine into resigning herself completely to the fact that she’s just an amalgamation. Ergo, we see this scene where Ryuuko, Ragyou, and Nui are seemingly relishing in sexual pleasure. After all, if you lose your personhood, then why shouldn’t you primarily concern yourself with A) the propagation of your own species, which is apparently the primary aim of COVERS, and B) pleasure. Ultimately, this is a question of personhood versus… well, every living creature that lacks personhood. And in saying this, I’m not implying that you actually need to be human in order to have personhood. Senketsu, for example, has personhood, which I’ll get to in just a minute as his personhood is actually quite critical to Ryuuko’s redemption. My point is simply that what separates us from the animals is our capacity to reason. And because we are able to reason, we give meaning to our lives. We’re not just a procreating, pleasure-seeking bundle of cells.

In any case, this new Ryuuko becomes primarily concerned with pleasure-seeking. As such, she kisses Nui out of nowhere. She doesn’t do it because she now suddenly cares for Nui. Rather, it’s just “[s]omething to feel good about.” Screw all the differences that was ever between us. Let’s just feel good. Ryuuko then follows her mother’s orders to eliminate her friends because, well, if she is really just an amalgamation that lacks personhood, it shouldn’t matter to her whatsoever if her friends die. Senketsu, however, say something that only the symbolic Ryuuko would care about:

Senketsu: “Yes, I will [protect Mako]. But I also want to protect you, Ryuuko!”
Ryuuko: “Me?”
Senketsu: “That’s right. If you kill Mako right here and now, that will hurt you most of all!”

Killing Mako wouldn’t hurt Ryuuko if she’s just a pleasure-seeking amalgamation. Why should such an selfish creature care about some random schoolgirl? But to the symbolic Ryuuko, however, killing Mako does matter. In fact, it greatly matters. Because to the symbolic Ryuuko, Mako isn’t just any random human being. She’s her best friend. She’s like a sister to Ryuuko too. Hell, the Mankanshoku family is like the family that Ryuuko never had. So the fact that killing Mako would hurt Ryuuko means that the symbolic Ryuuko still exists despite our heroine’s bout of existential crisis. Her personhood is just, for the time being, buried deep within that amalgamation on the surface.

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Nevertheless, Ryuuko remains unconvinced by Senketsu’s argument. After all, why should she listen to Senketsu, who technically isn’t even human in the first place? From a certain point of view, Senketsu is just a bundle of Life Fibers. He doesn’t even have flesh and bones, and he only ever has human blood within him by feeding upon another person’s blood. It’s not surprising, therefore, that Ryuuko might see him as nothing more than just a selfish, parasitic creature. And since she sees herself as being composed of largely Life Fibers, she probably thinks, “I’m more like you than I am to the rest of them. Thus, I too lack personhood.” But that’s where she’s wrong. Personhood isn’t defined by the number of human cells that you have. Personhood isn’t even defined by the fact that you look like other humans. Rather, personhood is defined by our capacity to love and care for one another. When you put it that way, there’s no doubt that Senketsu has personhood.

When Mako and Senketsu dive deep within Ryuuko’s psyche, they end up confronting whatever’s left of Ryuuko’s personhood. Mako pleads, “Fine. Kill me! If you insist on staying cooped up in here forever, kill me, and quit being Ryuuko!” So Ryuuko takes a swing at Mako with her scissor blade only to find that Senketsu has taken the blow instead. He stays true to his words: “If you kill Mako right here and now, that will hurt you most of all!” In Senketsu’s sacrifice, he proves that he truly cares for Ryuuko. By allowing his own blood to spill, he proves that he’s not just a bundle of pleasure-seeking, parasitic Life Fibers. His actions show that he has personhood despite what he looks like or what he’s made of. And if it’s possible for Senketsu to have personhood, then why can’t this be true for Ryuuko as well? So fittingly, the symbolic Ryuuko makes her return by the end of the episode as she forcefully tears Junketsu off of her body. Basically, she rediscovers her personhood.

Misc. notes & analysis:

• I still think Ryuuko’s existential crisis should’ve occurred earlier in the narrative, but I’ve talked enough about this particular topic last week. As a result, I’ll just leave it at this: what I’ve written above is by no means an admission that last week’s developments were flawless.

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• I guess the “Life Fiber Synchronize” vs. “Life Fiber Override” thing has more to do with the Godrobes themselves than who actually wears them.

• Ryuuko: “Is that Bakuzan? You’re still holding on to something Mother broke in half?” In a way, you could say Ryuuko’s referring to herself. These lines briefly hint at a rather under-explored topic: how much does Satsuki still care about her long-lost sister, and have her feelings changed whatsoever since she’s found out that her long-lost sister is Ryuuko?

• Yes, Satsuki tells us outright that the new Bakuzan symbolizes her tenacity to overcome all odds. But in a way, the blade(s) mirror its owner’s quest for vengeance. At first, she thought she had to overthrow her mother all by her lonesome. Just like how Ryuuko was on a quest to avenge her father’s death, a tiny bit of Satsuki wanted to avenge her long-lost sister: “Kiryuuin Ragyou, you killed my father, Souichirou, and my little sister who you didn’t even name. You shall atone for that sin!” But now that she knows her sister is alive, it’s sort of fitting that Bakuzan has split into two to become sister blades. Once Ryuuko returns to normal, she and her sister can fight their mother together.

• Likewise, remember how Nui considers Ryuuko to be her sister in spirit: “Yup, I’m just like you. The only difference between us is that you grew within Lady Ragyou’s belly, whereas I grew within an artificial womb made of Life Fibers. That makes the two of us soul sisters.” So you could say Nui and Ryuuko hold sister blades of their own. But of course, since they’re not actually related (I think), Nui only wields one half of the pair of scissor blades because she murdered Ryuuko’s father. In other words, her ownership of the scissor blade is unnatural much like her origins.

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• Satsuki: “By making the least possible amount of skin contact, one can draw out the Life Fibers’ powers without falling under their influence.” I guess this explains why Junketsu was much more revealing when Satsuki was wearing it.

• I’m not sure I understand how Senketsu managed to put himself back together so quickly just shortly after Ryuuko ripped him to pieces.

• Remember the last time we saw these “cosmic waves?” Yeah, we last saw them when an out-of-control Ryuuko was clashing against Satsuki in the twelfth episode of the series. These “cosmic waves” now reappear when Ryuuko regains control of herself. I’m not sure what this means, though. It’s neat, I guess.

11 thoughts on “Kill la Kill Ep. 21: Bloody Ryuuko

  1. higgsbosoff

    In fact, “Is that Bakuzan? You’re still holding on to something Mother broke in half?” would apply perfectly to Ryuuko as well – replacing Bakuzan with the Scissor Blade, and Mother with Father. Which kind of suits Ryuuko: the blade is the only thing she still holds that still ties her to her past self. “Holding on to stuff” is a very human thing (and very related to the symbolic meaning that we give to random artefacts who lack even the quality of personhood).

    1. E Minor Post author

      Sure. Just replying to show that I read your comment, but I don’t really have anything to add.

  2. Anonymous

    That last scene was intense.
    By the way, I noticed Ryuko has a scar from where Ragyo took her heart, weird.

      1. E Minor Post author

        Well, she used to be 100% human at one point. Probably experimented quite a bit on herself to become whatever the hell she is now. Those scars are probably a reminder of that.

  3. brianwuzhere

    The juxtaposition of Ragyo’s idea of pleasure and borderline rape is a contradiction that seems to fall in line with the allusions to 1984 and Animal Farm earlier on. Ragyo is equating being a slave to someone else with “enjoy it to the fullest” and I think you already mentioned the other instances. Giving into your pleasures is glorifying the submissive behavior of fascism, not unlike how the Mankanshoku family was corrupted by greed in Episode 7. This also puts Satsuki’s approval of Mako at the end of the episode in a new perspective, being that she’s all about resisting her mother’s pleasurable ways. “Humans aren’t as weak as you say they are! People can suppress their desires through sheer willpower!”

    “Remember the last time we saw these “cosmic waves?” Yeah, we last saw them when an out-of-control Ryuuko was clashing against Satsuki in the twelfth episode of the series. These “cosmic waves” now reappear when Ryuuko regains control of herself. I’m not sure what this means, though.”

    I think the waves are supposed to represent a cleansing release from the monster she has become. Speaking of cleansing release, Junketsu means purity (in this case, it’s a false purity like how Ragyo “purified” Satsuki with an impure touch in ep 16) and Senketsu means fresh blood. There’s another parallel to be found in Satsuki finally taking control of her life at the end of ep 17 by literally stabbing Ragyo in the back, which is followed by a bloody downpour. Apparently, there’s a tradition with white (on top) and red (underneath) kimonos at Japanese weddings, but the name meanings drive the point home just the same.

    1. E Minor Post author

      I think the waves are supposed to represent a cleansing release from the monster she has become.

      Maybe. But the first time we saw those waves, they appeared before Ryuuko had returned to normal.

      1. brianwuzhere

        Then, how about the embodiment of her lack of personhood or the culmination of being controlled by her rage or Junketsu? The waves disappeared in ep 12 and were ejected from her body in ep 21 only when she was reminded me of her personhood and shortly after, she regained control of her body.

        1. E Minor Post author

          Well, I’m curious to see if they’ll appear again as the two sisters move closer to the final battle with their mother. Maybe we’ll get another clue.

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