Contradiction is Truth: The Divine Illogic in Kill la Kill

kill-1-5-kiryuin-satsukiIt should come as no surprise that I’m talking about Kill la Kill yet again. I will probably come back to this series several more times because, as I’ve said elsewhere, there’s so much to unpack. Today, I’d like to expand on my theology of clothing post and talk more in depth about illogic in Kill la Kill and Satsuki as a divine figure.

 

Divine Illogic

First, I think I should define (or attempt to) a phrase/concept I’m going to throw around a lot: divine illogic. What exactly do I mean when I say “divine illogic”? For a long time, I’ve understood that God exists, moves, and works outside of human logic. As useful, important, and insightful as logic is, and as valuable and sensible as it is to have logical beliefs, logic ultimately has its limits. At the end of the day, it’s still stemming from limited, human perspectives. Further limits on these perspectives include gender, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, cultural and historic context, and our own mortality. There is wisdom, I believe, in acknowledging that logic ends and that divine things are illogical. They can step into human experience and we can grasp what they’re all about on some level e.g., Jesus Christ in Christianity, but there will always be something beyond our understanding.

This might seem like a crisis to anyone who feels that faith has to make logical sense or that we can only trust in what we know, but I suggest that illogical divinity or spirituality is not a threat to faith, which is, admittedly, a very theistic thing of me to say (I am yet limited by my Christian perspective and my perspective of the Christian perspective). It also shouldn’t be alarming or threatening to the faithful to suggest that we believe in something illogical. I’m not meaning “illogical” as “wrong” or “idiotic” or “shallow.” I mean that it blows our minds because it unravels everything we think we know and radically changes us in ways we cannot describe. In Christianity at least, the illogic of God deigning to become human and later resurrecting from death is the mystery of our faith that compels us to humility and reverence. It’s the illogic of Jesus talking about a good Samaritan and healing on the Sabbath and appearing in his resurrected form to women first that compels us to challenge and unravel the oppressive systems we thought made sense (or even the much smaller things we thought made sense).

The divine illogic consists of these kinds of interruptions–these reminders or indications that the way we categorize and understand things is not exhaustive and can be upended, often for the sake of justice and well-being. Several of my other posts have sort of danced around this topic, but now I’ve come a bit closer to recognizing instances of it in fiction (not that it’s a trope or anything). And for the record, I’m 99% sure someone else has come up with this idea before I stumbled upon it.

 

“Contradiction is Truth!”

 Fear is freedom! Subjugation is liberation! Contradiction is truth! Those are the facts of this world, and you will all surrender to them, you pigs in human clothing!

In her first appearance of the series, Satsuki gives the first of many powerful speeches. This longer video shows that first clip in its entirety. The camera pans up to the sky and shows the brilliant light of the sun–or rather of Satsuki, who is so high above everyone else that they can’t fully see her face in the glow of her power. This imagery immediately reminds me of both the Good (Plato) and Christ’s transfiguration where his face is so bright with the presence of God that the disciples can’t look directly at him. Charles Dunbar over at Study of Anime wrote an interesting essay about Satsuki as a divine figure from Shintoism. Study of Anime’s work on Kill la Kill in general places important historical and cultural context in analyzing the series, especially regarding religious themes and imagery. This is context and knowledge that I admittedly don’t have, which is why I’ve been trying to make it clear that I’m not calling Kill la Kill a “Christian anime” or saying that the creators are trying to espouse specifically Christian themes or messages. If anything, they’re drawing from their own people’s culture and religion while using Judeo-Christianity as an interesting flair to keep the story unique (or as a critique). I highly recommend reading Study of Anime’s posts and looking out for their book on Kill la Kill due to release this summer.

So, I think there are a couple things to this notion of Satsuki as a divine figure. First, in presenting herself as such and using the rhetoric that she does, she’s subtly hinting at both her own betrayal of her mother and one of the show’s larger themes of illogical dedication triumphing over evil. Though her speech is strongly Orwellian, its construction and wording (in this translation) is a hint of divine illogic.

Take the first three sentences. They define the terms “fear,” “subjugation,” and “contradiction” as their opposites (or so it seems). We have a divine figure giving illogical declarations.

How can fear be freedom? Doesn’t fear trap us and breed hatred? However, this statement may make Christians think of the fear of God where “fear” is meant more as reverence and awe than something crippling, not that this is necessarily what Satsuki is going for. Although, if she is presenting herself as divine, then she could be commanding this type of reverence be given to her.

Subjugation is liberation? How can this be so when those who are subjugated are oppressed? What liberation is there in subjugation? Again, a Christian might think of full submission to God’s will and the liberation gained from giving oneself entirely to God. We can easily run into problematic territory by using this kind of framework to describe knowing God, but nevertheless, it’s a common belief among Christians. Plot wise, I take this statement as Satsuki attempting to say that she is actually protecting her fellow students from Ragyo by subjugating them to her will, which is fighting against Ragyo and preventing her from taking over the world with Life Fibers. By training them to fight with Goku uniforms and imposing her own rules, Satsuki is trying to give them all a chance to defend themselves. At the same time, she has to appear to be fully onboard with Ragyo, so her methods must imitate Ragyo’s.

Contradiction is truth? This doesn’t make logical sense either, yet this is where I think Satsuki drops her hint. She’s intentionally referring to her planned betrayal of Ragyo, but this statement also ties in with later plot elements that Satsuki doesn’t yet know when she gives this speech. First and foremost is Ryuko and Senketsu’s nature as both clothing and human and neither clothing nor human. In my theology of clothing post, I likened this to Christ’s nature as both human and God. Clearly, all of these are contradictions and yet, in Kill la Kill, it is true that Ryuko and Senketsu have this dual nature that doesn’t neatly fit into the structure or rules of their world. This is divine illogic. Another reading of “contradiction” is the illogical dedication that exists between the Elite Four and Satsuki, which she recognizes with awe late in the series.

In summary, these statements declare how things are while hinting at what’s to come. Yes, the students do fear and revere Satsuki, perhaps to their detriment. Yes, she subjugates them and imposes her rules on every aspect of their lives. But she could also be saying something like “Be in awe of me and no one else for the sake of your freedom. Follow my ways and fight for me for your liberation. I will upturn an evil system by contradicting my blood ties.”

Of course, this assumes that Satsuki knows exactly what she’s doing from the start, and for the most part, she does. However, we see how quickly the tables turn when Ragyo arrives and how she admits to Ryuko that her methods may not have been right. It’s likely that she couldn’t think of any other way to make it all work and resorted to imitating Ragyo.

 

Satsuki the Imitator

In some of my previous posts, I called Ragyo a misappropriator and explained how she twists a concept from Judeo-Christianity to suit her own needs of building an oppressive social system. Satsuki imitates this type of misappropriation. She creates her own microsystem of Honnouji Academy/Town, pits herself as a divine figure, and uses rhetoric from Western religion to further solidify her position at the top, though not to the extent that Ragyo does. One of Satsuki’s more famous lines is “Ask not the sparrow how the eagle soars!” which she delivers as she dons Junketsu for the first time.

English

Japanese

This line is actually a direct quote from A Course in Miracles, a book published in the 70s that’s in the New Thought/Christian Science realm of Western religion. Frankly, I didn’t even know about this until I Googled the line with a suspicion that it had to come from something religious.

Turns out, I was right. As far as I can gather, the book gained some amount of wider cultural attention upon its publication. Many Christians at the time condemned it as demonic while other critics noted that it’s really just Eastern spirituality with Christian words slapped onto it. I think it’s fair to say that its framework is a deviation from what most Christians believe and what they’d call Christianity. In this way, one could call it an imitation of Christianity, or more negatively, a misappropriation. So, Satsuki quoting it falls in line with the notion that she imitates her misappropriative mother. But where Ragyo takes canonical Scripture and twists it for her own needs, Satsuki takes something that already isn’t Christianity proper and uses it to assert her ambition. It’s an imitation of an imitation, in a sense (very Platonic, too).

Put another way, if Kill la Kill is in some way critiquing Western influence and power, then Satsuki drawing from something that’s closer to Eastern thought than Ragyo could be a sign of her eventual rightness and triumph over Ragyo.

 

Pasta la Pasta

We can frame this imitation idea using a pasta sauce metaphor and a play on words. One of my favorite jokes that has come out of the Kill la Kill fandom is calling Ragyo “Ragu” as in the pasta sauce. Anyone who is serious about Italian food likely detests store-bought sauce and will strongly advocate for genuine, homemade sauce. Homemade sauce is the true sauce and any store-bought brand is a shallow imitation or misappropriation. So, we have Western religion as the homemade pasta sauce and Ragyo’s twisting of it as the mass-produced imitation brand (Ragu). Ragu can claim that it’s classic, traditional, or authentic, but those who make their own recipes and know what pasta sauce should really be would likely disagree. Still, Ragu is everywhere and even those who don’t use it have at least heard of it. Ragyo, too, has created a brand that’s mass-produced and everyone in the world has at least heard of it: REVOCS.

This makes Satsuki the generic grocery store brand, an imitation of an imitation for the sauce purists. Though Satsuki also uses Life Fibers and mass-produces Goku uniforms, she doesn’t have a brand name that’s known throughout the world. Her “brand” is a house brand, something you’d only find at Honnouji Academy.

Meanwhile, Ryuko is Alfredo sauce and has no regard for things made from tomatoes. However, she later makes the unfortunate discovery that Ragu also makes Alfredo sauce.

 

“Ask Not the Sparrow How the Eagle Soars!”

Here is the context of Satsuki’s reference:

Those who choose freedom will experience only its results. Their power is of God, and they will give it only to what God has given, to share with them. Nothing but this can touch them, for they see only this, sharing their power according to the Will of God. And thus their freedom is established and maintained. It is upheld through all temptation to imprison and to be imprisoned. It is of them who learned of freedom that you should ask what freedom is. Ask not the sparrow how the eagle soars, for those with little wings have not accepted for themselves the power to share with you. (T.20.IV.4)

 

When this power has once been experienced, it is impossible to trust one’s own petty strength again. Who would attempt to fly with the tiny wings of a sparrow when the mighty power of an eagle has been given him? And who would place his faith in the shabby offerings of the ego when the gifts of God are laid before him? What is it that induces them to make the shift? (M.4.I.2 )

 

I can almost hear Satsuki declaring this from the highest tower of Honnouji Academy. This is exactly her mindset for most of the series. The first quote brings us back to this idea of freedom and how Satsuki understands it. She may consider herself as one who has learned of freedom and therefore knows what it is. So, she can state that fear is freedom. With this freedom, she will not be imprisoned by her mother’s abuse, even while she has to put up with it until the right moment. She can persevere because, in her mind, she has already chosen freedom. All the power and agency she needs is already in her grasp, and she has no time for the sparrows who haven’t flown to her heights. In taming Junketsu, Satsuki has seized that god-like power and bent it to her own will–a gift laid out before her for her own taking. Anything less than this is a value for the masses and the sparrows.

On a side note, I find it really interesting how the cover of many versions of A Course in Miracles is blue and Satsuki’s primary color is blue. The original edition, according to Amazon, has a cross with four extra, smaller points intersecting the larger lines. Some instances of cross imagery in Kill la Kill add some smaller lines to the cross (though it’s not exactly the same), especially the cross on which Satsuki crucifies Ragyo. Of course, this particular cross is also the same design as Honnouji Academy’s logo and is a symbol of resistance, yet it’s also another example of Satsuki drawing from Western religion to meet her own goals.

Another Biblical Reference to Nudity

Sabine_and_Ryuko

This Lenten season, I’ve been reading through Isaiah and I came across a section that certainly has some loose ties with Kill la Kill. Isaiah 32: 9-15 addresses complacent women and urges them to “strip and make [themselves] bare and put sackcloth on [their] loins.” They are to “beat [their] breasts for the pleasant fields, for the fruitful vine, for the soil of [God’s] people growing up in thorns and briers.”

These are all likely references to the work and commitment involved in restoring justice and ending oppressive regimes. Chapter 32 overall promises a peaceful future after a time of judgment and subjugation. The book of Isaiah is full of references to justice for widows and orphans, i.e. people who are powerless, although it’s also full of condemnation for Judah.

What I get from these verses and this whole chapter is that complacency has to end in order for the peace of God’s reign to begin and in this case, that seems to start with action on the women’s parts. Stripping bare and covering only their loins is perhaps a sign of that complacency ending.

In Kill la Kill, we have two women wearing powerful outfits that don’t cover much more than their loins and with these outfits, they upset the structure of their world. Satsuki immediately recognizes the power in this. She knows that this type of nudity resists the power of Life Fibers and secures her freedom while also giving her a fighting chance against her mother. She’s not going to sit around and let things continue as they are. She quite literally strips, dons Junketsu in the skimpiest way, and sets her plans into action.

Choosing nudity is an illogical act in Kill la Kill. Nudity is meant to be equivalent to powerlessness, yet Satsuki says that she will proudly bare her breasts for the world to see if that means fulfilling her ambition. She will choose illogic and espouse it as a divine figure, disguising it all in her mother’s methods to secure her freedom.

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12 Comments

  1. I finally watched the rest of Kill la Kill so I’m able to read this, and I’m glad I did. I saw it linked on Beneath the Tangles and I thought it was an interesting point, but after I got further into the series it really made sense to me.

    I like the points that you make, and I’m sure you had to stop because there’s so much you could talk about. What I would add – and I’m sure I could write so much more about it – is how much Satsuki becomes the sacrificial Christ figure down the stretch. She really fits into that mold as she is chained up by her enemy.

    Great post, and I’m glad I found it!

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    • Thank you! In my 7 page document of notes that I took as I was watching/reacting to the series for the first time, there was actually a point where I thought Satsuki was going to become a more obvious Christ figure (it seemed that Ragyo had killed her, so I anticipated a possible “resurrection”). I saw the parallels more obviously in Ryuko/Senketsu, but now that I’m rewatching as the dub airs on Toonami, I’ll have to look out for that in Satsuki’s character, especially since the emblem of the school she created is a cross and therefore opens up several interesting implications.

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  2. This is a wonderfully introspective and detailed article. Thank you for taking the time to show us your analysis. I was curious to see how you analyzed Satsuki’s words, since I too find truth in them – but perhaps in another way, although we’re both pretty much on the same page. Rather than looking at Satsuki’s character and the plot context, I took the words themselves and I find that they are quite logical – although I do find your concept of illogical divinity intriguing and worth consideration. It just depends, as you mentioned, how you define the concepts within. In order for her words to make sense, you have to be in a place where you accept fear, subjugation, and contradiction fully. Learning to live with fear and accepting it as something that will always be there will enable you to learn how to grapple with it as you fight for your goals. There is an immense liberation in willing subjugating oneself to the pains of life – you experience something much different than what you’ve always believed. Same thing as, “Once you lose everything, you can have anything.” I agree that there is divine illogic in how letting go of seemingly fundamental understandings of how things work. And contradiction is truth is the most accurate of these three, since I’ve found truth to be very subjective, contingent, and complex. And the sooner we recognize these possibilities, the more our world can open up. Overall though, I do think your analysis of Satsuki’s position and reason for saying those words make more sense in this anime.

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    • Thank you for reading and leaving such a kind, thoughtful comment! Certainly, taking Satsuki’s words out of the show’s context lets us find even more meanings and on one level, they do describe facts of this world (as she says). Viewing these statements as concepts that must be accepted would then propel any listener into that next phase of learning to deal with it, as you said, rather than trying to deny the existence of said conditions.

      Losing everything, or giving up everything, and then gaining anything jives pretty well with Christ’s message in the gospels (e.g., he tells the rich young man to sell all of his possessions and then follow him). There’s definitely an illogic to that since it goes against human common sense for many people.

      I can also see Satsuki adopting that as her mantra, but perhaps very quietly. We know from the series what kind of horribly invasive abuse she endures, so perhaps she comes to rationalize this period of “losing everything” right now with a knowledge/hope that she will gain everything once she enacts her plans to overthrow Ragyo.

      In any case, I hope to keep exploring this concept of divine illogic, though as of right now I haven’t seen it appear in other anime series in the way I’m understanding/fleshing it out. However, I do have at least one more Kill la Kill post planned about Ragyo, Westernism, and personal/systemic sin. I’ll need to rewatch Kill la Kill a third time and let these ideas grow a bit more first. In the meantime, I do post about other shows and typically have a new post once a week! Some are more thoughtful and serious like this one while others are lighter.

      Again, thanks for reading and commenting! 🙂

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  3. Ice Bergen

     /  July 13, 2016

    Intriguing analysis. I, being not religious of any denomination or branch (christian/muslim/hindu/etc) at least, believe you are missing one key point however. Branching from what you are saying, it seems to follow (in my opinion) that the show is displaying the absurdity of an authoritative religion in general.

    The book in our real world that is referenced in Kill la Kill is, more or less as you say, Eastern spirtuality masquerading as Christianity. I see Christian religion as too cult-ish and authoritative. To take Eastern spirituality and try to proclaim righteousness with it is absurd. Just as Satsuki Kiryūin’s rule is on absurd notions. I suppose Im not really disagreeing with anything you say, or really adding anything either, except that I believe its absurd for any religion to try and instill itself over any other religion. Maybe Kill la Kill isn’t saying that…so I guess I’m just spouting my own ideals, haha. I’ll leave now.

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    • Hey there, thanks for reading and commenting! Yeah, your point is just as easily supported based on what the show gives us and it definitely contributes to the discussion. I mean, ultimately our differing world views will lead us to different readings, but I think that’s what makes Kill la Kill such an interesting series to study in the first place. In fact, I’m inclined to say that if the creators of Kill la Kill had any intentional message around religion, it would be a criticism of Christianity (or I guess western religion in general) as an imperialist/authoritative power because Ragyo spins the creation story in Genesis 3 to support her goal of feeding humanity to the Covers. There’s definitely a criticism and dismantling of authoritative rule going on. That’s why I find a liberation theology lens a fascinating one to apply to this series, though it’s something I definitely need to study more. As for the cultishness and authoritativeness of Christianity, yeah, there’s unfortunately a lot of that in its past and in its present. I’ve had to sift through a lot of that muck in my own faith journey.

      But anyway, thanks again for stopping by and reading!

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