Kill la Kill is a high estrogen thrill ride with plot twists, raunchy humor, and a feminist agenda.
The title, which sounds a little odd in English, is the phonetic pronunciation of the Japanese title, which was the only way to preserve the clever pun: “kiru” when spoken can mean one of three things, either “to cut,” “to wear,” or “to kill.” A literal translation would give it the English title “Dressed to Kill.” And kill with fashion, it does:
Now, I know that having read the word feminist sets up some preconceived notions, ones that are most likely destroyed by the above picture, but hear me out.
If this series were to be described verbally to someone unfamiliar with it, it would read as follows: a mostly female cast, dual female protags with no romance for either, – unless you count the unconfirmed lesbian relationship at the very end, which I do – female antagonists and dueterantagonists, magical girl power as the literal power of the female body, and this quote:
“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! If it means fulfilling her ambitions, Satsuki Kiryūin will show neither shame nor hesitation, even if she bares her breasts for all the world to see! My actions are utterly pure!”
…it would sound like a feminist masterpiece.
While inspiring, this quote is delivered from atop a massive breast podium formed by the extreme angle of the scene. However, the visual narrative is so sharply at odds with the messages of the show that it leaves a lot of room for differing interpretation. While the female characters are given skimpy, erotic magical girl outfits, the male cast members are outright naked most of the time. Or their magical outfits are actual gimp suits. Happens.
The reaction of male onlookers – the literal embodiment of the male gaze – is played for laughs and mocked, as their ogling often reduces them to useless comedic side characters where they could have otherwise shone. Never once are their outfits given actual sexual merit – one magical girl, quoted above, divorced the ideas of her choice of clothing and sex completely, while another only feels humiliated in the public display of something she considers erotic until she learns to embrace the power of her body completely.
It was still an executive decision to design their outfits this way, but the overall feel that the series gives off is one of a condescending attitude to viewers expecting fanservice and nothing else, and also to the reduction of the female body to a sexual object, rather than an object of power. So, it is ultimately cissexist and very ~vagina power~, but surprisingly uplifting and empowering.
Beyond the controversial feminist or not question, the animation is incredible – it’s smooth and visually interesting all throughout, not just during the intense battle scenes. Meta animation and fourth wall breaking scenes and jokes are incorporated seamlessly into the purposefully larger-than-life show. It feels like a show that doesn’t take itself seriously, though it does delve into serious themes: bodily autonomy, family relationships, sexual abuse and domination by a parent, reclaiming agency, coming of age, the end of the world, good fashion choices…
Kill la Kill really is a thriller – the pace rockets forward at breakneck speed and doesn’t stop for 25 episodes. The intricate plot makes several sharp right turns, and the unique characters lend more and more intrigue as the narrative develops. Honestly, this gets a 10/10 for me.