I recently watched the entirety of the Anime show Kill La Kill. I'd seen some brief screenshots and animation on Tumblr, but hadn't checked the show out before. Frankly, some of the character design made me cringe, and I had been avoiding it, but for whatever reason, I gave it a go.
Now, to preface this, I want to point out that having been on Tumblr has exposed me to no small amount of feminism as it relates to female characters in fiction, and the male gaze, specifically in comics and animation. So, when I started watching Kill La Kill, I was already prepared to look down on it. I mean, look at the main protagonist, Ryuko Matoi.
Yikes. Now, without having seen much of the show, I find myself down on it already. Shame on you Kill La Kill, for pandering to fanboys that want to see all the T&A. For Shame. Tsk Tsk. Now compound that with the main antagonist through the first part of the show, Satsuki Kiryuin.
How does it stay on?
GAH... even worse. So already, I have my doubts. But the show's animation style is hyperkinetic and fun, and the female characters, while scantily clad, are well written and numerous. They all seem to have their own agency. Additionally, they all seem to know and actively acknowledge that their outfits are ridiculous.
SPOILERS AHEAD! Get it?
OK, So the main thrust of the show is that there are these things called life fibers. Some kind of parasitic alien life form that, when woven into clothing, grants the wearer superhuman fighting prowess. The thing is, that people exposed to too much of this life fiber get overwhelmed by it. So, the amount of skin showing on our two main characters is justified. OK... I'll buy it.
I keep watching, and the show is good. It's from some of the minds behind shows like FLCL and Gurren Lagann, two shows that are as silly and fun as they are weird and inscrutable. Kill La Kill is a little more straightforward storywise with the same strange animation style and off-kilter sense of humor. So I'm enjoying it despite the uncomfortable amount of female nudity, particularly when the characters are supposed to be 17 years old.
Now, a couple episodes in, we are introduced to another character. This character is an undercover teacher at their school. He is an agent for an anti-life fiber group codenamed NUDIST BEACH. They wear little if any clothing because, well, we find out later that the evil corporation REVOCS (anagram for COVERS) is secretly putting life fibers into clothing all over the world. So Nudist Beach does not wear clothing in order to better combat their evil scheme. We get to meet Aikuro Mikisugi.
Wait a minute. Wait. A. Minute. Now I'm not so sure. So many shows, games, comics, treat the female form as a thing to be seen. Form-fitting, skin-showing, male gazeworthy things are they. I mean, boob windows in everything. Now, here is a show... here is a show that says, here is the reason that our characters are basically fighting in lingerie, and then is not afraid for those rules to apply to its male characters as well. Mikisugi is forever letting whatever clothes he has slip off, even mid conversation. And he keeps his gun right out front.
OK. So I'm starting to understand that this show isn't about T&A. This show is saying something.
Let's not forget Nui Harime, one of our villains.
Yeah, she's horrible. She's the one who started this whole thing by killing Ryuko's father. And she did it with a smile on her face. She's obsessed with femininity and cuteness, and also happens to be about as evil as you can be. By the end she's a snarling ball of rage, but still rocking that pink bow like a boss. I. Love. This. Character.
By the time of the show's finale, virtually everyone's naked, or in barely-there battle gear.
Good thing it's warm out.
Male and female alike, it doesn't matter. And it's not overly sexualized nudity. It just is. I think (and this is my interpretation) that the show is shining a spotlight on all those tropes, particularly in anime, of the strong female character who is also a sex object. I think that this show first shows us how ridiculous it is, and then takes it further and further until it just doesn't matter anymore. Man, woman, and child are all in next-to-nothing to combat the life fiber threat. In the last beat of the show, EVERYONE's clothes are obliterated, leaving everyone exposed, hangin' all their stuff out in all its floppy glory. But it doesn't feel weird or unnecessary. It makes sense.
So, in conclusion, between the Nudist Beach operatives and the ultra feminine, yet ultra evil and powerful Nui Harime, I feel like Kill La Kill says some interesting things about objectification both in anime and in general. So I was wrong to snap to judgement about it. It's not perfect. There are some uncomfortable moments with Ryuko and her surrogate family ogling her, but other than that, I think this show is a step forward. This is a definite recommend.