All The Lights in the School are Stars: Kill la Kill and Visual Language

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Let’s talk about Kill la Kill and its ongoing motifs! Warning: MAJOR SPOILER TERRITORY AHEAD. Those who have not seen episode 16 have been warned!

In the midst of the high-octane battles, bizarre clothing transformations and countless puns, it’s easy to forget that director and writer Imaishi and Nakashima are forging a visual language nearly as consistent (though perhaps more complicated) as the one they used in Gurren Lagann. The latter show was notable in how everything, from its themes to its visual motifs to its narrative structure itself, referred back to spirals, whether that be drills or DNA or the galaxy itself. Not only did the series “spiral outward” as the protagonist confronted an increasingly powerful series of opponents en route to humanity’s freedom, but the protagonist’s weapon of choice, a drill, operated by narrowing down to a single point and burrowing through the enemy’s defenses. Meanwhile, Kill la Kill has two central motifs, stars and clothing. Many people caught onto the clothing element right away: the Goku Uniforms grant power but also force their wearer to buy into the established system, those who are defeated are “stripped” of their clothing and status, and–most infamously–twin heroines Ryuuko and Satsuki are empowered by their embarrassingly scanty and fetishistic kamui (containing the kanji for both “god” and “cloth.”) Also notable is the repeated reference to the red strings of fate tying the two together, made all the more ironic by the fact that a) Life Fiber is red, b) the kamui require the blood of their wearers in order to function, and a possible c) the activation of the kamui we see in episode 3 is weirdly evocative of menstruation.

If most people were able to recognize the clothing motif, the star motif was trickier to grasp hold of. Stars are everywhere throughout the series, either as indicators of rank or a visual indication of the power of kamui, but for most of the series the link between stars and clothing remains opaque. It isn’t until the sixteenth episode of the series that Life Fiber is revealed to be extraterrestrial in origin, the kamui Senketsu and Junketsu literal alien symbiotes/parasites, and suddenly the metaphor becomes much clearer. Of course those who wear clothing well in Kill la Kill shine with the power of those who through long practice and the right duds can turn fashion to their advantage. But they also shine because the materials used to make their clothes, to various degrees, come from the stars themselves. It’s a narrative trick that’s completely ridiculous but (at least at this point) totally in keeping with the world of the series thus far; not only does it massively expand the scope of the show, but it also puts earlier decisions into a context that makes sense.

Some bloggers (I won’t name names) have claimed that the sixteenth episode’s twist was so out there that the writers must have improvised it, just as they pulled everything else out of a hat. There’s some value to this: Nakashima has said in interviews that he would on multiple occasions change a character’s background depending on brainstorming and last-minute changes to character design (Nonon is presumably a character who was affected by this practice.) But in regards to the alien twist: either Trigger were very sneaky in finding a solution to their backstory that would fit all their earlier foreshadowing, or (most likely) Nakashima and Imaishi planned this from the very beginning. Let’s take an extended look at stars and their frequent appearance throughout the universe of Kill la Kill:

Stars are often used throughout Honnouji Academy to connote rank: from zero star bystanders to Gamagoori and his elite three star compatriots.

On other hand, kamui are special in that they generate MANY stars rather than the regimented one, two or three of Satsuki’s uniforms. One of many ways in which they are unbound by convention.

Stars can also be seen in architecture, from the halls of Honnouji Academy…

…to the inner sanctum of Satsuki’s kamui Junketsu (which is also reminiscent of Lilith’s sanctum within Terminal Dogma in Neon Genesis Evangelion.)

When Sanageyama sews his eyes shut, the scars (of course) are star-shaped.

What does Sanageyama see with his eyes shut? The sun, the brightest star in the solar system? Or something else?

Life Fibers can also be highly destructive, from the apparent death of the mysterious Kinue…

…to the star-shaped scars on Ragyo Kiryuin’s back…

…to the literally galactic energy that is created when two kamui clash.

And, of course, stars are also a convenient censorship tool. You’re welcome.

So it goes without saying that the presence of the alien has featured prominently in Kill la Kill from the very beginning. The question, then, is what the show plans to do with it. Satsuki aims to conquer the world with clothes from outer space, while her mother plans something even more sinister. Aikuro and Tsumugu plan to destroy Life Fiber forever, snuffing out the stars they produce. But Ryuuko sees Senketsu as an equal, and I would venture that rather than side for clothes or against clothes Kill la Kill will ultimately seek out a compromise between the two. After all, as dangerous as Goku Uniforms and Life Fiber can be, there’s nothing wrong with a little star power every once in a while.

POSTSCRIPT:

A mouse is often seen perched on the shoulder of Ryuuko’s father, Isshin. Could this be the mouse in question?

If anyone else finds any other examples of stars at play as a central motif in the show (and there are probably a ton) feel free to point them out in the comments!

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4 responses to “All The Lights in the School are Stars: Kill la Kill and Visual Language

  1. Pingback: Kill La Kill: A Love Story | Chromatic Aberration Everywhere·

  2. Pingback: Back of the Envelope: Kill La Kill and “Coming of Age” | Chromatic Aberration Everywhere·

  3. Pingback: Otaku Links: By the numbers | Otaku Journalist·

  4. Ah that makes a lot of sense I never really stopped to think about the stars.

    All the plot points were planned from the very beginning. There is an interview with Imaishi floating around stating that the show has a manga format. Where the episodes are all planned in advance but also very malleable to change if the crew have new ideas in the making.

    It certainly isn’t ”terribad” nonsense like the other blogger was stating.

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