Only Kill la Kill has far more to it than that.
I will be honest. At first watch, this anime made me uncomfortable. I dislike fanservice. It is immature and detracts from the story. Fanservice can be defined as sexually suggestive scenes or character designs that do not contribute to the plot and exist only to sexually excite the audience.
Kill la Kill takes fanservice head on and shows how ridiculous it is.
I already wrote and article about how Kill la Kill satirizes our relationship with clothing and fashion. Like my previous article, this one will have spoilers.
Kill la Kill opens with Ryuko Matoi looking for her father’s killer. Unlike many “magical-girl” anime, Ryuko is out for herself. She has a goal. She has the will. Her sailor uniform, Senketsu, is the means, but as the story progresses, you learn Senketsu believes Ryuko didn’t need him either. Ryuko is a strong female lead from her first scene. She has steel determination and doesn’t need a man to help her, unlike other strong female characters. Bleach’s Rukia, for example, is a strong character, but she ultimately becomes a damsel for Ichigo to save. Many stories take strong female characters and make them palatable by turning them into the “princess in the castle.” Ryuko tears that castle down.
So what of her battle-attire? Fanservice is another method to allow males to visually “own” strong female characters. Ryuko’s nearly nude armor certainly seems this way. When she first fights wearing Senketsu, she enters the scene wearing a cloak to hide her nudity and, by extension, her fear of public ridicule. When people see her tiny outfit, she is quite naturally embarrassed. The first several episodes are spent “slut shaming” her. This is actually a plot point for Ryuko’s character. She spends her attention trying to cover her femininity. This can be considered a metaphor for how women are taught to be sexy, but not too much so. As if the female body is only something that can be possessed and otherwise something to feel ashamed of having. Ryuko only becomes a better fighter when she learns not to care about the misguided opinions of others. She embraces her femininity as a weapon and as a part of herself.
Slut shaming is when a girl is shamed for not meeting certain cultural female norms, such wearing certain clothing or behaving in ways that do not meet societal expectations. “Sluts” are often girls who go their own way. Ryuko falls into this category. She is a “slut” because she is strong willed and wears the skimpy Senketsu. Never mind the person she actually is: caring for her friends, strong willed, determined, and driven. By embracing and ultimately disregarding the “slut” label the early fanservice imposes on her can she become fully herself.
Kill la Kill also treats guys in the same way as girls. Although there are more female characters. The first instance of fanservice is a fat guy. As the story progresses, male nudity becomes increasingly common. In the late half of the series, clothing becomes an object of fanservice. Everyone except for Ryuko and her nemesis Satsuki Kiryuin are naked. Nudity loses its value as a titillating factor. Kill la Kill gradually desensitizes the audience to nudity. Eventually, Ryuko’s skimpy outfit simply becomes an outfit. I stopped seeing the outfit and saw Ryuko’s character as the story progressed.
Is Kill la Kill feminist?
I often feel hesitant when it comes to feminism. It is not because I am against the ideas of feminism. I am not. Rather, it is because I am a guy who is looking in. I cannot understand the struggles women feel about their sexuality, and how that sexuality is exploited. I cannot understand what it is like to be objectified because of certain body parts. Although I can understand some of the resentment. I dislike being lumped in with the idea of sex-driven masculinity. Guys are more than their sex drive, just as women are more than their boobs.
Anyway, I will give a clear answer: Yes. Kill la Kill is a feminist anime.
First, Ryuko and Satsuki are not fighting over a guy. Fighting over a male is a tired storyline and a male fantasy. Rather, their disagreement is over withheld information and a clash of personalities.
Second, you don’t see any of the main female characters being held as a reward for a male hero.
Third. Ryuko is a strong female lead that does not need a male to rescue or otherwise help her. Although you can argue Senketsu is a male help-mate, he is still clothing. He augments the strength Ryuko already posses.
Fourth. The entire point of the skimpy outfits is to force Ryuko to embrace herself completely. Satsuki Kiryuin sums this idea:
This is the form in which a Kamui is able to unleash the most power! The fact that you are embarrassed by the value of the masses only prove how small you are! If it means fulfilling her ambitions, Satsuki Kiryūin will show neither shame nor hesitation, even if she bares her breasts for all the world to see! My action are utterly pure!
Only by embracing her body and disregarding what others think of it can Ryuko unlock her full power. Holding onto societal views toward the female body holds Ryuko back. She is ashamed of herself. This shame keeps her from reaching her full potential.
Nudity does not always mean titillation. Kill la Kill satirizes fanservice and sexuality in media. Magazine covers often feature women dressed in less than Ryuko. Kill la Kill is telling us that clothing or lack thereof has little bearing on who a person is. Ryuko is who she is regardless of the clothing she wears or doesn’t wear. The series points to how ridiculous it is to base assumptions on dress. So what if a woman wears little? A guy can run around without wearing a shirt and no one says anything. He is not judged as a man that sleeps around or as less of a person. If a women would do such, police would descend on her. Nudity is nudity regardless of gender. Either both should be shrugged off, or the same standards be enforced. Clothing is used as a barometer about a person’s character. I am guilty of this. Kill la Kill decided to shrug nudity off. The end of the series points to how clothing cannot be used as a character barometer, especially when the birthday suit is the suit of choice!
People who consider Kill la Kill anti-women because of all the nudity are actually slut shaming. Could Kill la Kill work without the skimpy outfits. No. Not really. It would lose most of its message and encourage the continuation of female sexual exploitation rather than satirize it and demand the audience to move beyond societal labels. Demanding strong female characters, or women in general for that matter, to always cover up is a form of slut shaming. It sends a message that the female body is something shameful that needs to be covered. It points to how strong females cannot be strong females if she bares skin. She becomes a slut.
It takes a heck of a lot of self confidence to wear revealing clothing. It takes a heck of a lot more for a girl to wear revealing clothing and risk being slut-shamed. The problem isn’t with the girl. The problem is with the mentality of the onlookers. A guy should never look at a girl, no matter what she is wearing, and think about how he would like to “do” her. The fault is not with the girl. The fault is with the guy. So too with the people who view Ryuko as a sex object because of her clothing instead of a strong female protagonist. Kill la Kill does everything it can to point at how it is the viewer who has the problem and not the person wearing the clothing.
Gender ideas are ingrained to the point of being subconscious. Sometimes it takes a story as crazy as Kill la Kill to rub our face into ideas we cannot otherwise see. Kill la Kill uses fanservice to satirize fanservice. The story’s strong female characters embrace their femininity and stop caring about the opinions of onlookers. Ryuko comes to understand that others’ opinions have no bearing on who she is. That, if nothing else, is an idea women and men need to learn.