It’s easy to write about Kill la Kill. It’s really cool so you WANT to write about it, and it’s easy to write about because there’s A LOT to unpack in there.
Whoever cooked up Neon Genesis Evangelion cooked up something philosophically deep; whoever cooked up Revolutionary Girl Utena cooked up something structurally deep. Whoever cooked up Kill la Kill cooked up something that is a little of both. It’s philosophically deep as it explores the pointlessness of fashion, and by extension capitalism. It’s structurally deep because it combines a shifty, twisty plot with a set of main characters whose interrelationships are, well, shifty and twisty.
Okay, so at the start there’s Ryuko.
Ryuko (inside) with Senketsu
She hooks up with Mako pretty quickly, to form a complementary couple: Ryuko is physically strong but emotionally distant, and Mako the exact opposite, powerful of spirit but physically weak. Boom. Complementary.
Of course, they twist that on us at one point. They give Mako a suit, so she becomes physically strong, and the two briefly fight. But Mako’s heart leads her to the truth, and back to Ryuko’s side.
Mako being all Mako
Once Satsuki joins them as a protagonist, though, we start to see all the shifty stuff going on. First of all, they’re a classic Mind, Body, Soul trio: Satsuki isn’t just intellectual in bearing, she’s the leader of a school; Ryuko meets every problem with a war cry and a whack of her scissors; Mako is a classic cheerleader pouring her heart out for the side.
Satsuki back when she’s an antagonist
They also form one of the most warped Hero, Sidekick, Girlfriend trios in history.
Now, it’s important to recognize that the same trio can fulfill both sorts of trio at once. Mind, Body, Soul is psychological in nature; it arises from the personalities of the characters involved. Hero, Sidekick, Girlfriend is more of a sociological thing. Hero, Sidekick, and Girlfriend are defined socially, not psychologically. Some trios are only one (Blossom, Buttercup, Bubbles are just Mind, Body, Soul) but trios can play multiple roles.
Gene Starwind, Jim Hawking, Melfina: Body, Mind, Soul and Hero, Sidekick, Girlfriend simultaneously, amirite or amirite?
What’s cool about the Kill la Kill trio is that…Okay, just say it: The first thing about the Kill la Kill trio is that they’re all girls. There’s little doubt Mako and Ryuko have a thing for each other (Mako often shows up on the lists of best loved gay characters in anime). Hopefully the day will come where that doesn’t matter, but at the current time there’s a little tension there between the role of Hero, typically male, and Girlfriend, typically female.
I await the advent of the female Hero, male Girlfriend unit. I may need to write one myself. That’s the advantage of being a writer: if I cook up something sufficiently bizarre, I can write the damned thing myself.
When you toss in Satsuki though, watch what happens:
Ryuko is the Hero, the central character. Mako is the Girlfriend, pretty obviously. That makes Satsuki the Sidekick, and in a way she is. The action always focuses on Ryuko, for one thing, even when she turns to the dark side and has to be rescued by Mako and Satsuki. Also, at another point Mako and Ryuko have to rescue Satsuki: being rescued is one of a Sidekick’s functions.
But wait. It’s Satsuki who leads the resistance against Ragyo and the life fibers, the brains of the operation. Isn’t she the Hero?
But if Satsuki is the Hero, what of the others?
Well, Mako’s a Sidekick as well as a Girlfriend. Of course, she’s not Satsuki’s Sidekick, but still, she’s a classic Sidekick, in fact, a classic Comic Sidekick. Look at all the funny things she does, and all the funny poses she’s animated into.
Where does that leave Ryuko? Well, she’s not technically Satsuki’s Girlfriend; since they are sisters that would be EW GROSS. (Although Kill la Kill doesn’t mind putting Ragyo and Satsuki together.)
But Ryuko and Satsuki ARE sisters, and in fact Ryuko is Satsuki’s baby sister. Baby sister? Girlfriend? In terms of social roles, leaving apart the romantic elements, Baby Sister and Girlfriend aren’t a whole lot different. And Satsuki is clearly older, larger, and more mature than Ryuko; Ryuko is very much the Baby Sister.
You look at the trio that way and you want to call them Hero, Sidekick, Baby Sister? Go ahead. It’s the same idea either way.
By giving the three girls multiple roles to play, the writers opened more unique ways to develop plot arcs using them. So they start out antagonistic, Ryuko and Mako opposing Satsuki (except when Mako opposes Ryuko). Ryuko and Mako rescue Satsuki. Satsuki and Mako rescue Ryuko twice. All three of them fight Ragyo together.
And, and here’s the trick, it all works in the end because they take on multiple roles. If Ryuko was JUST the hero, it wouldn’t work for her to change sides, but because she’s also Girlfriend (Baby Sister) it works that she does – it gives Satsuki a chance to be the Hero. Literally, in this case: it works because Ragyo is Ryuko’s mom and Ryuko is Satsuki’s Baby Sister.
If Mako was JUST the Girlfriend, she’d be useless, she’d be able to play no coherent role. But she’s also got the Sidekick’s job to do.
If Satsuki was JUST the Sidekick, she wouldn’t be able to drive the plot to a conclusion. But she’s also the Hero; she has the skills to lead the opposition against Ragyo that Ryuko lacks.
Bizarrely, in constructing this wild set of RELATIONSHIPS the writers neglected to create great CHARACTERS. Ryuko is motivated primarily by rage, and secondarily by desiring a sense of family, but she only stumbles into the latter. You have to wonder what she will do with herself once the life fibers are defeated and there is no longer any motivation for her. Seriously, what will she do now? She’s all rage all the time, and now there’s nothing to rage against.
Mako is an idiot. A lovable idiot, but an idiot. She has a big heart, like the rest of her family, but what will she do now? I mean, apart from marrying Ryuko. (Is that legal in Japan? I guess they have to have some kind of civil contract or something like that.)
Satsuki is a better character but she is also generally reserved except in the few moments when she unleashes the beast. She’s deeper than the others, but in a subtle way not well suited to an action anime. You can see Satsuki doing a lot of things in the future. CEO? Politics? Law enforcement? She could do them all. She could even grow up to be Motoko Kusanagi. Tell the truth: have you ever seen the two of them in the same room?
But it doesn’t matter. There’s enough going on between them that we don’t care who they are. They are a complex trio even if individually they are flat characters. Nicely done.
I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.