One of the biggest questions that’s haunted Kill la Kill since its beginning is, “Is the show sexist or is it actually feminist?” One’s personal answer to this question colored how the show, and its fans were viewed. My personal belief is that the show is ultimately neither, but contains elements that can be viewed as either progressive or sexist, and sometimes both.
I would have considered most of the feminist themes to be having-your-cake-and-eating-it-too gloss on a very Go Nagai-style story, but then, in episode 23, we get the reveal of Shinra Koutetsu, the super Evangelion Costume that Ragyo and Nui have been working on all along.
It kind of looks like a ridiculous white mage robe, but it’s actually a Shinto wedding dress. And wedding dresses have come up an awful lot in the series.
But for what’s supposed to be, ahem, cough, “The happiest day in a woman’s life,” Kill la Kill doesn’t seem to be thrilled about the whole marriage thing.
Remember that the only reason Satsuki’s dad become involved with Ragyo is that he was adopted into her family. The Japanese term for this kind of adopted husband is mukouyoshi. He becomes a Kiryuuin – through MARRIAGE, and becomes a part of the family line of those who were entrusted to protect the life fibers.
So weddings are about dominance and control. This is clear with Junketsu. Satsuki must strain to wear it, and it’s used to brainwash Ryuuko into thinking she’s had the traditionally feminine “dream” of growing up to be a bride. The husband is faceless – in the role of a Japanese woman the fact of marriage is enough.
When Mako intrudes on Ryuuko’s dream space – it’s the wedding chapel where she’s found. Not in any of the other scenes with Ragyo. Mako’s first, unintentional, action is to knock out the husband.
It’s also clear that the husband is wearing the same white suit as the patriarch, Satsuki’s father did. And the white suits are the covers.
So, clearly, logic follows that the COVERS are the patriarchy.
They are a one-size fits all role for everyone – their job is to absorb a person and make them an automaton. And marriage is clearly the route through which one becomes an instrument of said patriarchy. You’ll note that almost all of Ragyo’s henchmen are men in suits. And when Satsuki follows in her mother’s footsteps, the average Honnouji Gakuen footsoldier was a faceless dude.
BUT WAIT – there is hope.
Ryuuko! A nontraditionally feminine tough girl tomboy who will wreck the patriarchy’s shit. She’s not “purity”-
but FRESH BLOOD, a vampiric suit with a spirit voice only Ryuuko can hear. She’s a shamaness – and she brandishes SCISSORS which will cut the ties that bind people together.
Meanwhile, Satsuki is rejected by her mother, who prefers the company of Nui. Nui, for her part, is exaggeratedly feminine, with a pink dress, blonde hair, a kawaii voice, and she doesn’t even sweat in combat. She’s as dainty as she could be.
Every country has its moral panics, Japan included. And while we know about otakus and NEETS, another big one is parasite singles. Although men could technically also be parasite singles, the term gets extra teeth when used to describe women who refuse to get married, live at home, and enjoy a comfortable lifestyle with money they earn being spent on themselves.
The very ideal of the Japanese woman was “ryousai kenbo” or “good wife, wise mother.” The push in the Meiji-era to increase women’s educational opportunities was done in part because educated women would make better mothers. The importance of raising children to excel in Japan’s educational system required a “kyouiku mama” or “education mama” who was educated herself. By being neither wives nor mothers, these parasite singles threaten the very model of womanhood.
In 2004, 54% of Japanese women in their 20s were still single. They’re being blamed for the declining birth rate and the economic recession.
But having a career and being a mother are incompatible for many companies in Japan. Women are put on a separate career track, and once they have kids, a mother is expected to leave the job to raise the child-full time. A future career woman like Satsuki would have to choose between motherhood or her own ambition.
Though it’s been said that the writer of Kill la Kill wrote the characters as men, the relationships between the women, and the focus on marriage prove there’s something else going on here that involves women’s societal roles and the conflict this engenders.
If the core dynamic of Evangelion was the conflict between children and their fathers, with Shinji and Gendou as the main focus, Kill la Kill gets a lot of drama out of the conflict between mothers and daughters. Though thematically muddled, more exploration should be given to the series along these lines.
The ridiculously scanty costumes are the least interesting thing going on here.