Luckily, there’s people on Tumblr who act like they’ve taken up that burden themselves… recently I bought the second volume of his economics textbook/’80s corporate intrigue manga Japan Inc. and I was totally blown away by how totally different the two look from each other, which I attribute to his either picking up new studio assistants or assigning the bulk of that work elsewhere in his studio after the first volume… Tezuka, on the other hand, was *not* the type to allow such seams to show!
***KILL LA KILL SPOILERS FOLLOW***
I liked the end of Kill la Kill, insofar as it’s the second episode of the run I wanted to re-play as soon as I finished it, which is what happened with the first episode too. It’s always nice when a show goes out on one of its best episodes, although I guess at one point I had to come around to what I very strongly suspect Imaishi & co. understood very quickly to be the show’s strengths: aesthetics over text. Like, I don’t think Kill la Kill makes an enormous amount of sense a lot of the time, even in terms of pretty basic plot maneuvers like ‘why could the scissor blades pierce Ragyō’s skin early in 24, and the Original Life Fiber in 23, but not the Original Life Fiber on Ragyō’s skin later in 24?’ The answer, I presume, is that Nakashima felt he had to offer some sort of climax to the whole Senketsu-can-absorb-stuff track which would facilitate a means of explaining Senketsu’s suicide dive… which I presume is why all of the life fibers eventually die on their own, because Senketsu burned himself and the OLF up in the Earth’s atmosphere (and if not - oof, sorry Senketsu!).
What I’m saying is, Kill la Kill is a work of predominant style. That’s not to say that ‘deeper’ readings of the work are prima facie invalid or anything, but that the show is *always* going to go for a cool image or an immediately appealing character flourish before it deigns to make sense, which leads to moments of high comedy like Satsuki’s ‘sorry about the fascism guys, my bad’ speech in 22… because in spite of it all, Satsuki is an endearing character, and Team Kill knows it, and they’re gonna do whatever it takes to brew up fanservice of every sort. The nudity and ecchi stuff was always just the surface of that. This also manifests, I think, in the show’s attitude toward drama… how when it looks like Gamagoori has died, it’s immediately played as a goofy cliche, and Mako reacts in an immediately parodic, tears-spouting-from-the-eyes manner, because the assumption, I suspect, is that this is part of the fannish homage Trigger is chasing, this distance from emotional verisimilitude, which irritates at times, honestly. It comes off to me like they view vulnerability as a threat, and as a result there’s not a ton of resonance to much of anything that happens, even though there’s moments where I go “that’s perfect.”
The big naked pleasure pile at the end… that’s perfect! Gamagoori pummeling the giant condom-wearing lipstick/penis/tower with his face until it erupts… perfect! Ryūko seizing the mic and commanding everyone on planet Earth to get naked right now… that’s Kill la Kill, because Kill la Kill is an accrual of style, of poise, and — valuably — knowing juuuuust how to lay out those shots so that a production budget which I STRONGLY suspect would have left less assured shows looking like a dōjinshi visual novel somehow stretches to a crowd-pleasing climax.
(And, to be fair, there are isolated moments of actual power. I really, really liked the bit at the very end of the final Ryūko/Ragyō fight where Ryūko tries to, like, arrest her or something, and you realize: oh my god, nobody has died in Kill la Kill, in part, because Ryūko doesn’t want to kill anyone. Granted, I’m still pissed Junketsu doesn’t speak at the end. “She loves me, Omar,” or something…)
I like how Trigger is still small enough that this all seems family-like, instead of corporate calculation-y? I like that episode 24 was co-directed by Trigger’s CEO, Otsuka (who, of course, episode-directed half of FLCL and almost a fifth of Gurren Lagann, he’s not a debutante or anything), and that Yō Yoshinari did the final storyboards with Imaishi… it’s all still very tight, so maybe now is the time for shows like this to be made.
I’m still left wondering about the show’s politics, though. It’s nosy, but we’re constantly told that even the pulpiest, most style-driven work carries a political charge, whether knowingly or not, and while I guess the whole fascism angle early on really *wasn’t* supposed to be more than an extravagant Japanese-language pun, to be forgotten as soon as it can’t inspire cool shit anymore, I wonder…
Ragyō, frequently, is associated with Christianity. She speaks explicitly of original sin to Revocs assembled, she’s crucified in one episode and beheaded a la John the Baptist in the next, and her mission is to bring about a “Nativity” that will result in endless, destructive promulgation of COVERS. In a way, they are missionaries, which obliterate native ways of thinking (ultimately obliterating the natives themselves) for the One True Way.
The arrival of Christian missionaries in Japan, over in our reality, anticipated the ‘opening’ of the nation, itself presaging the rapid modernization of the Meiji period, which was coupled with an element of Westernization. Sailor fuku, for example, were introduced in the Taishō period as modeled after western naval dress. Indeed, all of the seifuku in use at Honnōji Academy, at least in their untransformed state, are typical, martial, Euro-type uniforms.
Revocs, we are eventually told, controls 100% of the world’s fashion. Everything we see of their goods is distinctly western. They are a global brand - which makes sense, because the life fibers, which infest their goods, are globalization. They are economic and cultural imperialism. They *literally* invented all of human culture and religion, yes, but read metaphorically they might be seen as the beginning of modern Japanese history.
Ragyō is the prophet of this dread gospel. Her ‘daughters’ are Nui, an artificial person entirely at her command (that she finally operates as clothes for Ragyō to wear perhaps speaks to the physical domination to which she subjects her other children - it’s not about sex, but power); Ryūko, who is rebellious and idealistic; and Satsuki, who embraces the martial aspects of her mother’s endeavors as a means of imperial opposition. Of course, one of the stated justifications for Japanese imperialism climaxing in the Shōwa period (the aesthetic ‘setting’ of Kill la Kill) was to repel the myriad aggressions of the west.
This is where Kill la Kill gets politically weird, because while Satsuki does eventually get around to going ‘whoops’ about her political abuses, writer Nakashima makes certain to inform us that Satsuki’s brutal regimen of toughening has left Japan, specifically, as the only nation on Earth with the wherewithal to so much as ascertain the destructive march of COVERS. So, while Shōwa period militarism (and, I remind you, literally the very first words spoken in episode 1 of the show explicitly reference the rise of totalitarian governance in the run-up to WWII) is pretty blatantly marked as a ‘bad’ thing, it’s nonetheless framed as a basically necessary component to the eventual excellence of a wild, crazy, endearing group of psychos who finally overcome their bad karma by empowering the whole world to dress however the fuck they want.
Which - it’s not like everyone has gone back to feudalism at the end of the show; they’re dressed in stylish, modern clothes and eating those gigantic sparkling desserts from every SF anime of the ’80s, so we’re not talking the kind of sentimental regression from modernity’s abuse that marked strains of alternative manga post-Sanpei Shirato (for example). Plus, this is all maybe a total accident of chasing cool shit as hard as possible, and let me emphasize I am a white American male, and have not lived in the culture, and I am cognizant of the privilege from which I speak as a beneficiary of an oft-colonizing force, whose own perspective, arguably, can function as a colonizing instrument, but I still think there’s a pretty strongly-put subtext here, intentional or not, of “we’re weird, we know, but outsiders really do need to SHUT THE FUCK UP.”
And so, I will.