A World Cut From One Cloth: Personal Sin and Systemic Sin in Kill la Kill

Originally published on The Ontological Geek.

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Ragyo’s grand entrance in Studio Trigger’s Kill la Kill (2013) marks the begin­ning of a chang­ing tide in the story. Up until this point, Ragyo’s daugh­ter Satsuki is the main villain. Satsuki rules a high school called Honnouji Academy with a sim­i­lar bril­liance to her moth­er. There, cloth­ing is lit­er­al­ly power as some stu­dents are grant­ed spe­cial uniforms imbued with Life Fibers that give them super-human strength. The high­er you climb up the aca­d­e­mic and extracur­ric­u­lar lad­der, the stronger your uni­form. Matoi Ryuko arrives at this strict­ly struc­tured high school with only one goal in mind: avenge her father and take Satsuki down. With her giant scis­sor blade and her own Life Fiber uni­form called a Kamui, Ryuko cuts her way through club lead­er after club lead­er, deter­mined to reach Satsuki for a prop­er show­down.

Yet much more unfolds in the world of Kill la Kill, and Ragyo’s intro­duc­tion sends a clear mes­sage that she is the real vil­lain to con­tend with. Ragyo’s goal is to spread cloth­ing enhanced with Life Fibers around the globe so that she can cre­ate a world “of one cloth.” She wants all of human­i­ty to be swal­lowed by Life Fibers, forever rest­ing in a beau­ti­ful silence. To achieve this goal, she exper­i­ments on her­self and her own chil­dren to enhance the bond between humans and Life Fibers. We learn through flash­backs that Ragyo experi­ment­ed on Satsuki at a very young age, but those exper­i­ments failed, so Ragyo decid­ed that she need­ed to begin with a much younger child. That next child is Ryuko, who does actu­al­ly become a per­fect blend of human and Life Fibers. However, when Ragyo doesn’t see imme­di­ate results, she lit­er­al­ly dumps baby Ryuko in the garbage. So fixed is she on her ulti­mate vision of the world that she strips away abun­dant life, love, and commu­ni­ty from her chil­dren and every­one else she inter­acts with. She sex­u­al­ly abus­es Satsuki and Ryuko. She uses the power of her cloth­ing com­pa­ny to build her wealth and ensure that every sin­gle per­son expe­ri­ences sub­ju­ga­tion via Life Fibers. Of course, she would frame that as “the bliss of being worn by cloth­ing.”

These acts are sins. Some of them are per­son­al, mean­ing Ragyo com­mits them as an individ­u­al again­st other indi­vid­u­als. Others are sys­temic, mean­ing they stem from Ragyo’s posi­tion of power (specif­i­cal­ly through her com­pa­ny REVOCS) and affect large groups of peo­ple, if not the entire world. Ragyo shows us how these per­son­al, one-on-one sins connect to sys­temic sins.

Sin and Violence

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Ragyo is referring to Satsuki’s own Kamui, which she’s wearing in this picture.

Most of us don’t think about how our per­son­al inter­ac­tions with each other on a daily basis can con­tribute to sys­temic oppres­sion. The sys­temic and the per­son­al often seem entire­ly sep­a­rate. After all, a sin­gle per­son can­not take on all of the bur­den and respon­si­bil­i­ty of a sys­tem. The more priv­i­leges we have, the more dif­fi­cult it is to see this con­nec­tion. This is appar­ent in Christian reli­gious life, as not many church­es clar­i­fy how per­son­al sins contribute to sys­tems. Part of that comes from dif­fer­ent emphases on sin and sal­va­tion.

If you were to walk into a church and stick around for a few months, you might come away with one of two gen­er­al under­stand­ings of sin and sal­va­tion.

  1. Sins are per­son­al wrongs we com­mit again­st one anoth­er and God, such as lying or steal­ing. There’s a heavy focus on indi­vid­u­al piety and moral­i­ty, par­tic­u­lar­ly around sex­u­al prac­tices and addic­tive behav­iors. Because this is the under­stand­ing of sin, the atone­ment (or sal­va­tion) the­o­ry that fol­lows is that Jesus’ death and res­ur­rec­tion for­gives those per­son­al sins, restor­ing us to God and to one anoth­er.
  2. Sin is the sys­tems of racism, clas­sism, sex­ism, ableism, homo­pho­bia, and so on that deprive peo­ple of abun­dant life with each other and with God. There’s a greater empha­sis on social jus­tice and dis­man­tling the col­lec­tive, sys­temic ways we harm each other. This under­stand­ing of sin leads to atone­ment the­o­ries fram­ing Christ’s death and res­ur­rec­tion as an upheaval of the oppres­sive, first cen­tu­ry Roman govern­ment. It paves the way for lib­er­a­tion from all such sys­tems. This lib­er­a­tion restores peo­ple to God and com­mu­ni­ty by allow­ing them to live fully and abun­dant­ly.

Rarely are these approach­es con­nect­ed in a clear-cut way. Grasping sin, its impli­ca­tions, its con­se­quences, and its for­give­ness is a vast sub­ject with­in Christianity. Shirley Guthrie makes this con­nec­tion clear­er in his book Christian Doctrine. He empha­sizes that Christianity’s main pur­pose in dis­cussing sin is to reveal the for­give­ness of sin. “The basic truth is not that we are sin­ners but that we are human beings cre­at­ed in the image of God. Sin dis­torts, twists, cor­rupts, and con­tra­dicts this truth, but it does not change us into some­thing other than what God cre­at­ed us to be” (213).

The notion that we are cre­at­ed “in the image of God” means that the intend­ed goal of our lives is to live fully, abun­dant­ly, and health­ily both with God and with one anoth­er. Sin breaks that con­nec­tion. “[Sin] is not only mur­der­ing other peo­ple but sim­ply let­ting them starve to death phys­i­cal­ly or emo­tion­al­ly because we decide that social wel­fare and for­eign aid are ‘money down a rathole’” (215). The act of one per­son mur­der­ing anoth­er is an exam­ple of per­son­al sin. It hap­pens on an indi­vid­u­al level and defies the goal of humans liv­ing fully and abun­dant­ly with one anoth­er. Neglecting to sup­port social wel­fare and foreign aid is an exam­ple of sys­temic sin. Its con­se­quences affect entire groups of peo­ple and main­tain a mind­set that poor peo­ple should just work hard­er and peo­ple in other coun­tries are not our prob­lem.

Avenged Seven Billionfold

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Satsuki (left) betrays Ragyo (center) by pinning her to a cross.

Theologian John Dominic Crossan con­nects per­son­al sin to sys­temic sin by talk­ing about esca­la­to­ry vio­lence. Violence increas­es with suc­ceed­ing gen­er­a­tions and caus­es more sin on a wider scale. A bib­li­cal exam­ple of this appears in Genesis 4 when Cain kills Abel. Cain laments once God dis­cov­ers what he’s done and says “any­one who meets me may kill me.” Yet God says, “Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suf­fer a sev­en­fold vengeance.” A few vers­es later, Lamech, a descen­dant of Cain, says “I have killed a man for wound­ing me, a young man for strik­ing me. If Cain is avenged sev­en­fold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”

What began as a one-on-one occur­rence between Cain and Abel trans­forms over time into some­thing with much high­er stakes and greater con­se­quences. If some­one from anoth­er tribe kills Lamech, then his own tribe will kill 70 peo­ple from the killer’s tribe. The threat of vio­lence and its esca­la­tion prompts the cre­ation of sys­tems meant to keep soci­eties in order, and to avenge seven hun­dred­fold and seven thou­sand­fold any threats to that order.

Honnouji Academy is a sys­tem born of esca­la­to­ry vio­lence. Two of Ragyo’s per­son­al sins, sex­u­al­ly abus­ing Satsuki and aban­don­ing baby Ryuko, are the ones that cut Satsuki the deep­est. What is the result of these par­tic­u­lar one-on-one sins? Satsuki cre­ates her own sys­tem to avenge them seven bil­lion­fold, in true Kill la Kill style. That sys­tem is Honnouji Academy, which estab­lish­es its own hier­ar­chies and per­pet­u­ates its own injus­tices. Even though the school’s true pur­pose is to rebel again­st Ragyo, it’s still a sys­tem cre­at­ed in respon­se to per­son­al wrongs.

For the first half of the series, Satsuki has to keep up appear­ances for her moth­er, which is a big rea­son why she’s so author­i­tar­i­an. Under this facade, she tests Ryuko to see if she has what it takes to fight Ragyo when the time comes. Ryuko, of course, is entire­ly unaware of Satsuki’s true plans. Even so, Satsuki reveals some of her beliefs about human nature in one of these early tests. Satsuki has manip­u­lat­ed cir­cum­stances to pit Ryuko and her best friend again­st each other. When a fight seems unavoid­able, Satsuki vic­to­ri­ous­ly spouts her views about human­i­ty. “This is human nature in its purest form! Prosperity will lead to greed, and greed will lead to their even­tu­al down­fall! Once they have a taste of world­ly plea­sures, they’re enslaved by them forever! They’ve become slaves to this academy I have cre­at­ed! Truly they are pigs in human cloth­ing! Pigs! Which must be tamed by force!”

Some of this rhetoric may be part of keep­ing up appear­ances, but it does declare that there is some­thing innate­ly flawed––perhaps sinful––about humans. Therefore, a dei­fied ruler like Satsuki must exert her power and lead­er­ship over them. This is the way to their sal­va­tion, as she intends to use Honnouji Academy and all the schools it con­quers to defy Ragyo.

Honnouji Academy’s rebel­lion again­st Ragyo sparks an all-out war between human­i­ty and Life Fibers. It’s only resolved when Ryuko and every­one fight­ing with her eschew the nudity/clothing dichoto­my and show illog­i­cal love and ded­i­ca­tion to each other. Such dedi­ca­tion main­tains their human­i­ty and fos­ters com­mu­ni­ty.

Religion and Empire

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Religion has played a vital role in the estab­lish­ment and main­te­nance of empires throughout his­to­ry. Christianity specif­i­cal­ly was used as a tool for con­quest and often provid­ed the­o­log­i­cal jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for colo­nial­ism. Christianization often went hand in hand with oppres­sion and exploita­tion in Africa, India, and Latin America in the 18th, 19th, and 20th cen­turies. This type of Christianity is, in my view, a dis­tor­tion of the faith. Yet those in power often suc­ceed in pre­sent­ing a dis­tort­ed ver­sion of Christianity that ulti­mate­ly serves their own pur­pos­es and thou­sands of peo­ple will go along with it.

This is pre­cise­ly what Ragyo does in her grand intro­duc­tion. When she retells the events of Genesis 3, she takes a the­o­log­i­cal posi­tion that cloth­ing and sin are inter­twined. Humans had no desire for cloth­ing until sin came into the pic­ture and made nudi­ty shame­ful. This dec­la­ra­tion adds reli­gious fuel to the dis­com­fort of nudi­ty and pro­vides the ground­work for an entire col­lec­tive mind­set: to be clothed is to be accept­ed, pow­er­ful, and priv­i­leged while to be naked is to be dis­grace­ful and pow­er­less.

Ragyo’s actions close­ly fol­low Crossan’s descrip­tion of empires.

  1. Religion––pro­vides the ground­work and jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for achiev­ing a cer­tain eschato­log­i­cal vision the world. This is why Ragyo’s first sig­nif­i­cant appear­ance involves her tying a reli­gious story to her own company’s story.
  2. War––an inevitable trial that must be dealt with and over­come to achieve the eschato­log­i­cal vision. Ragyo is so con­fi­dent in total suc­cess that the per­fect ver­sion of her plan doesn’t involve much blood, death, or pain. Rather, it involves swift dom­i­na­tion fol­lowed by total silence. However, Ragyo is pre­pared for war and near­ly crush­es the rebel­lion from Satsuki and Ryuko.
  3. Victory––the reward for per­se­ver­ing through the trial of war. Ragyo is cer­tain of this as she watch­es Life Fibers cover the world in the series finale. Her escha­to­log­i­cal vision is unfold­ing before her eyes.
  4. Peace––the final state of things, with the empire call­ing the shots, of course. This is the escha­to­log­i­cal vision itself, the ini­tial promise from the reli­gion ful­filled. Ragyo’s vision of peace is for Life Fibers to cover every­thing in a beau­ti­ful silence. Humanity will ful­fill its des­tiny of feed­ing the Life Fibers so they can repro­duce and scat­ter across the uni­verse. To Ragyo, this is right because human­i­ty evolved to wear clothes in the first place.

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Personal and sys­temic sins have us repeat this process. One-on-one vio­lence esca­lates into trends and we’ll use our sin­cere­ly held reli­gious beliefs to jus­ti­fy the ways we try to dom­i­nate each other, whether it’s through vio­lent wars or cov­er­ing every­one in silence. Although Ragyo is a fic­tion­al char­ac­ter in a show from a coun­try where Christianity has a tumul­tuous his­to­ry and is not a dom­i­nant faith, her actions can still help us under­stand how the per­son­al con­nects to the sys­temic. Sin pre­vents us from treat­ing our­selves and each other like we’re beings cre­at­ed in the image of God who are meant to expe­ri­ence abun­dant life. When we can’t view each other like this, we’re prone to per­pet­u­ate both indi­vid­u­al and sys­temic harm.

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