SPOILER WARNING: Kill la Kill (Hiroyuki Imaishi, 2013-2014)
Anime as a whole is an acute representation of a host of gender issues that are, to be fair, present in almost all other mediums of film and television, but often to a lesser extent. It is not uncommon for female characters in anime series to be completely unable to do anything without either the help or approval of a male character. This extends throughout almost all of the anime genres, from shounen, to seinen, to any of the other numerous classifications. Shounen in particular is symptomatic of this fact, as this genre is targeted towards young males, but seinen, which is targeted towards an older audience, is not immune from this problem. And though there are numerous anime genres and series targeted towards females, these often have many of the same issues as their respective female characters are often portrayed as being obsessed with male characters or inept and ditzy, or any of another host of issues that make them less capable than their male counterparts. Overall, most anime series portray their male characters, regardless of how capable they are themselves, as ultimately still more effective than they females that may or may not share the screen with them. Into this fray comes Kill la Kill (Hiroyuki Imaishi, 2013-2014). Coming off initially as a sexist and exploitive towards its female characters because of their dress, the series repeatedly proves itself as a champion for its female characters, but also its male ones, by way of a variety of reasons. The characters of Kill la Kill are not defined by their gender but instead by their actions, and because of this the series avoids the pitfalls that many anime fall into.
This is not to say that the series does not have its own share of problems. It cannot be denied that the Kamui styles worn by Ryuko (Ami Koshimizu) and Satsuki (Ryôka Yuzuki) when they are in battle are exploitive to a great degree. Revealing as they are though, the Kill la Kill addresses this issue on its own by way of numerous characters reacting to Ryoko’s “lewdness,” and then it issues its own counter-argument by way of both making its female warriors extremely capable and deadly, as well as often putting its male characters in similar situations in terms of their clothed status. Outside of the Nudist Beach resistance group, any of the male characters that lose their Goku uniforms are unclothed in the immediate aftermath. This is true for the female characters in the same situation as well, and it is telling of the general way in which Kill la Kill handles gender. Overall, gender does not matter for any of the characters in Kill la Kill in a negative way, and the positive benefits are few and far between. The sexualities of Ryuko and Satsuki are on full display when they do battle, but this largely serves to represent as a form of individual empowerment for each of them as opposed to female empowerment in general. This is not a negative though, as both characters choose to don their respective Kamui uniforms.
None of the male characters can hold a candle to the power and individuality exerted by Ryuko and Satsuki, and to a lesser extent Mako (Aya Suzaki), but Kill la Kill avoids the pitfall of making them useless or inept. If the series were to make its female characters strong and independent, (which it does), and its male characters inept and helpless it would become a simple gender swap scenario that would endorse the problematic gender roles that are present in many other series. But this does not occur in Kill la Kill, as the male characters, from Ira Gamagoori (Tetsu Inada), to Uzu Sanageyama (Nobuyuki Hiyama), and even Nudist rebel Aikuro Mikisugi (Shin-ichiro Miki) are all perfectly capable of achieving their own goals by way of themselves. Even though Gamagoori and Sanageyama are extraordinarily loyal to Satsuki and owe much of their success to her, the series does eventually show that they are perfectly capable on their own. The equality of the male and female characters in Kill la Kill allows it to simply show them based on their own merits, and it does not falter at any of its many turns.
Throughout all of this, Ryuko and Satsuki are the two most barrier-breaking characters, but there are plenty of other female characters that are immune from any of the typical conventions for female characters in anime. Mako, though she often needs to be rescued by Ryuko, is often very capable in her own right. She often comes to Ryuko’s aid not physically, but in terms of moral support and her own unique brand of common sense. Another case is Nonon Jakuzure (Mayumi Shintani), loyal helper to Satsuki, but also, as is the case of the other members of the Elite Four, perfectly capable in her own right. But standing over all of these characters is Ragyo Kiryuin (Romi Park). Far more powerful and capable than any of the other characters in the series, Ragyo is also unique in that she was once married. This feature is unique as romance is scarcely part of the series, with the only other married couple being Mako’s parents and the issues of boyfriends and girfriends scarcely coming up in the series. Mako does eventually ask Ryuko on a “date,” but it is not clear if this is meant to have a romantic connotation. But Ragyo’s marriage is devoid of romance as well, and she is clearly shown to not have any real need for her husband. Beyond this, she is more than adept at running her company, even when she is betrayed by those closest to her. Ragyo epitomizes determination and perseverance, and her villainy is only matched by her capability and determination.
Kill la Kill is far from immune to any criticism. Despite its best efforts to empower its characters, certain moments do come off as exploitive, such as the bath scene between Satsuki and Ragyo, but these cases are limited. Overall, the series is determined to place all of its characters on an even level to begin with, and then let them work their own way up form there. Gender is of no concern for the series when it comes to the capability of any of its characters, and because of this the series is full of positive portrayals. Ryuko and Satsuki are strong and independent, as well as determined to be something more than what their respective lives seem to have preordained for them. These traits, coupled with the fact that Kill la Kill never makes either of them ever seek the approval of a male for their actions, makes them role model-worthy characters for anime as a whole. The same is true for many of the other characters in the series, though their archetypes and behaviors are less uncommon. Kill la Kill fills itself with fair portrayals that do not start with the characters’ genders, but instead show them as human who will be defined by what they do. This trait mirrors the overall message of the series, and because of this it is a success.