Defensio Pudoris: Against the Shameless Philosophy of Kill la Kill

Well, I have watched Kill la Kill for three episodes and am not completely sure how to think of it.  The heroine, as with any character voiced by Ami Koshimizu, is incredibly cute and the action rather amusing.  I required the insight of other bloggers to form a more coherent opinion of the show.  With the help of JoeAnimated’s article and the one he links to, I have discerned that Nietzsche’s philosophy, to which I am no friend, imbues the series.  Apparently, this series attempts to attack Japanese notions of shame.  According to the series, shame prevents one from attaining their goals.  After all, ordinary shame would have prevented Matoi from seeking vengeance in that terribly revealing outfit.  Kiryuin, the antagonist, accuses Matoi of allowing “the values of the masses,” i.e. modesty, to prevent her from achieving true fusion with her kamui or power suit and thus from her goal of getting vengeance for her father.  Nevermind that idea of vengeance and vendettas, as with the Viking and Germanic pagans of the Middle Ages, reside in the normal Japanese psyche as well!

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From my title, defensio pudoris, you might understand that I have a hearty disagreement with this view of shame.  My aversion to the idea of shame hindering humanity is so great that I feel like dropping the show right here.  Yet, I have been accused of excessive prejudice in my literary judgments.  That article accuses me of allowing my religious and philosophical prejudices to blind me to the greatness of works written under opposing ideologies.  To which, I respond that people of opposing views can certainly write a good work; but, a great author must have a great message in addition to a knack for memorable characters, great dialogue, engaging plots, vivid settings, and beautiful literary style.  Everyone loves the truth, or at least everyone worth his salt does.  (General Lee referred to one general in the Mexican War who as the only person he met indifferent to truth and falsehood.  May none of us ever gain the same disregard for the truth!)  Therefore, it is no surprise that my top ten list  contains authors who come closest to the truth as I understand it.  And judging from my friend’s top ten list–also on the blog, he stands guilty of the same laudable charge with the single aberration of H. G. Wells.  The noble thought of overcoming my prejudices induces me to continue watching Kill la Kill with all its foolish Nietzschean conceptions of the will to power and of the abandonment of common morality.

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At any rate, shame is essential to developing virtue.  When the philosopher Diogenes of Sinope saw a young man blushing, he said: “Courage, my boy, that is the color of virtue.”  Then again, Nitobe Inazo claimed that the way the Japanese would avert their children from bad behavior would be by telling them that they should be ashamed of it.  Also, we see that shame is essential in the practice of religion.  Who doubts that the ancient Israelites had forgotten shame prior to the Babylonian Exile when they worshiped other gods even around the temple, sacrificed blemished animals, father-in-laws bedded their sons’ wives, and the powerful oppressed orphans and widows?  Their hearts had become so gross that they could not longer tell right from wrong!  The Israelites even told a certain prophet that they have done nothing wrong, and they believed that God did not see their iniquities.  They were shameless, and their very shamelessness prevented their repentance!

Every Japanophile needs to read Bushido: The Soul of Japan by Nitobe Inazo.  It offers incredible insights into the Japanese.

Every Japanophile needs to read Bushido: The Soul of Japan by Nitobe Inazo. It offers incredible insights into the Japanese.

I remember reading about Padre Pio breaking down in the confessional after confessing minor sins.  When the confessor expressed surprise at his tears, Padre Pio told him that it was his infidelity that brought him to tears.  In the same way, a spouse might be filled with shame at enjoying a kiss from someone outside their marriage.  And I am certain that a delicacy of conscience is necessary for sainthood.

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It is also certain that shameless people cannot relate well with others, as we see from the example of Kiryuin in Kill la Kill.  Does anyone find her clubbable?  Rather she is far too superior to care for ordinary mortals or feel ashamed before them.  The best persons to have in authority are those capable of shame, as we see in the example of the best kings from the Middle Ages.  Why did Canute have himself brought to the shore to command impotently the waves to turn back except that he was ashamed at the ridiculous praise his courtiers heaped on him?  Kiryuin surely ought to be ashamed for claiming so many special privileges, casting off feminine modesty, and having all treat her as a goddess!

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Shame allows human beings to remain human.  Without shame, the possession of virtue and the execution of many good deeds becomes impossible.  Without shame, we cannot repent of our failings.  Without shame, we cannot walk humbly with God or our fellow human beings.  Of course, there can be excesses of shame, as when a person refuses to go to confession or to speak where necessary.  However, a well formed conscience works best with a sense of shame: confession produces less amendment and speech becomes too bold without shame.  It is easier to overcome shame on the right occasions than for a shameless mind to act justly and considerately.

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19 comments on “Defensio Pudoris: Against the Shameless Philosophy of Kill la Kill

  1. […] Update II: Another word for Kill la Kill: shameless. […]

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  2. I think Kill La Kill is talking about the similarities and distinctions between shameful behavior (evil) and embarrassing behavior (Japanese people sometimes let dangerous errors pass, out of a reluctance to speak up in front of the group). Kiryuin isn’t ashamed of what she should be (evil), and Matoi is embarrassed by some things she shouldn’t be (having to do things that make her look stupid in front of others). “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity” is not a good way to go. And any artist is in a way standing around half-naked in public, but the alternative is no art at all.

    That said, I don’t think one can expect a consistent moral stance out of Kill La Kill.

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    • You have an excellent point. Perhaps my comments pertain much more to the villain’s ideology than the message of the series as a whole. I hope that the show reaches an Aristotelian mean between excessive embarrassment and shamelessness.

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  3. zeonista says:

    Kill La Kill is deliciously over-the-top as any pagan Irish saga, yet at the same time just as 100% serious about the dramatic situations. This allows the story to use the elements of nearly-naked action as a positive element, rather than gratuitous padding.

    The Go Nagai reference was key, since that immortal of manga did go after the Japanese element of shame with a vengeance in most of his work. (His first manga serial, Shameless School, was the first to be officially criticized by the Japanese national PTA.) It’s a valid tactic on both sides in KLK, since Japan has definite rules about how to do/not do everything correctly in a social context. Not doing things correctly leads at the least to an awkward situation, and has sometimes resulted in suicide by the shamed party. (As someone who was in Japan for a month back in ’89, I can tell you this is no dramatic shtick but a nearly tangible pressure at times, for right-thinking Japanese.)

    Overcoming the sense of shame at violating standard social protocols is where the show moves from gratuitous fan service to subtle plot advancement. The legendarily historical swordsman Miyamoto Musashi was famous for overcoming opponents in situations where either he or his opponents lost face from a social gaffe, and were put at a disadvantage. Musashi even used those gaffes as a deliberate tactic to put his foes off guard, and recommended it in his book, The Five Rings. He was the exception to the usual rule though, and many generations of Musashi’s students admired the example while shunning it in their day-to-day lives. (A major exception was the leader of the Forty-Seven Loyal Ronin, who publicly assumed the character of a carefree, careless carouser for two years, while secretly organizing the attack that avenged his master. What a back story for KLK we are uncovering!)

    It was manga that returned to the idea of the hero who socially colored outside the lines. Go Nagai was the first to do it openly, without apology. Since then, many mangaka and light novel writers have given us heroic and anti-heroic protagonists who are not the sort of boys and girls to bring home to Mother, but who are dedicated to pursuing their own true heroic path to their goal. They are admirable for their devotion, zeal, and tenacity, even if their antics are embarrassing distraction.

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    • Your perspicacious knowledge is most impressive! One does not hear often about Go Nagai, and I must confess that most of my experience with him comes from merely reading about his works in Anime Classics Zettai! by Brian Camp and Julie Davis. Writers like him are probably onto something in that the Japanese have excessive standards of propriety. I just feel like the show is favoring the opposite extreme, but perhaps we shall arrive at an Aristotelian mean by the end of the show.

      I loved reading the Book of Five Rings and an excellent biography on Musashi titled Lone Samurai by William Scott Wilson. He was quite a character, and the way he flustered his opponent on Ganryu Island through delaying the duel by 7 hours was wonderful.

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      • zeonista says:

        I have admired Go Nagai for a long time, especially given his contribution to the modern manga & anime world. He really changed things for the medium(s) in a creative way. Mitch H. does have a point in saying that the concept of “face” entails sometimes ignoring or delaying problems instead of owning up to it and solving the problem. Kill la Kill really has a plot-granted problem that is not being directly addressed, or is being ignored in the hopes it will go away. (Or is there some secret hope that the power-mad school president’s scheme will succeed?)

        There is also some deliberately projected false comfort in the Orwell-style sloganeering of the school motto. Tongue in cheek, but the message is there, projected with a bullhorn. It is a particular weakness of Asian cultural history, recognized to day with some honesty by the anime/manga industry, where unpleasant truths are allowed to be aired. The Great Pacific War (aka Word War II) is now in the past, and lockstep conformity to authoritarian rule and the right of might sound favorable again to young ears. Japan is still very much a top-down social world compared to the USA, and there has always been a theme in anime of discomfort at the wrong sort of message being passed down to the next generation.

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      • I really need to acquaint myself with Go Nagai, since his influence is so great. Do you have any works to recommend?

        WWII stands as a black mark in Japan’s history, and every Asian nation refuses to let them live it down. (I myself, whose first introduction to the Japanese was through WWII films, originally came to the conclusion that the Japanese were the most barbaric and inhumane race on earth.) This situation was certainly not helped by the fact that the Japanese, unlike the Germans, denied committing war crimes. Perhaps the most stunning moment for me while watching Ghost Hunt was when Lin, the hero’s assistant, said that he could not be friends with a Japanese who refused to acknowledge Japan’s crimes against the Chinese. To my further shock, the heroine, Mai, said that she realized that the Japanese did horrible things in WWII. The fact that they allowed this scene to air must mean that there is some cultural change occurring, right?

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  4. Mitch H. says:

    Perhaps some distinction between shame and guilt might be useful? One of the biggest cultural problems in Japan is the way that shame or fear of loss of face causes problems to be swept under the rug, the truth of failures and misbehavior to be hidden obscured or wiped from the record regardless of the cost. Years before the Fukushima catastrophe, TEPCO’s organizational derangement and irresponsibility was well-known enough to be common knowledge – that problems, errors and issues were bureaucratically buried rather than addressed in a timely manner.

    I don’t particularly *understand* the twelve-steppers, but I’ve been told that a big part of the process is conquering shame, which is seen as part of a cycle that keeps an addict locked within his addiction. Misbehavior under the influence remembered the morning after causes shame which is escaped by a return to the influence and repeat until every inch of ground in that addict’s world is scorched lifeless.

    And I’m pretty sure that we’re not supposed to take the evil fascistic murdering school president as the writers’ Metatron, especially given the heavy-handed historical class lessons dwelling on the Nazis beginning each episode. Straight-up Nietzschean ideology is rarely delivered in an explicitly anti-Nazi wrapper that way.

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    • You have an excellent point about the pairing of anti-Nazi lectures with the Nietschean mindset of the antagonist undercutting the Kiryuin’s ideology. The writers will probably give us a more moderate view of shame between shamelessness and shamefulness, which I suppose had the name modesty–another translation of the noun pudor, pudoris found in the title of this post.

      I do know that cultures have been divided into shame and guilt cultures with pagan cultures tending toward the former and Christian ones toward the latter. The Japanese obsession with saving face certainly caused problems with the Fukushima nuclear plant. So, I guess one question the series should ask is whether a guilt culture is the healthier of the two?

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  5. […] Medievalotaku refers to the sin and sainthood, among other ideas, in his examination of how Kill la Kill approaches the idea of shame. [Medieval Otaku] […]

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  6. […] is a powerful thing – as with shame, it can lead to positive change as well as to pain and self-destruction.  It’s also often […]

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  7. […] time.  If one wished, one can delve into Kill la Kill’s themes concerning excessive shame (as I did), the isolation caused by wealth and power (which I still haven’t written about), wealth as a […]

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  8. […] this way, and looking at KLK through a more or less “Christian” lens has given some interesting interpretations of the […]

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  9. […] rather late to this party, so I have had time to absorb several other overall critiques of the series where thoughts may have been better articulated.  I’m […]

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  10. crazy cat says:

    Even though I disagree, this was an exciting and thought-provoking piece. I hope to read more!

    However, as a student of Latin, please permit some constructive criticism: pudaris is possessive so the title means, ‘I defend shame’s.’

    What you want to say is, ‘Defensio pudorem (I defend shame)’, or, ‘Defensio pro pudore (I defend on behalf of shame).’

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    • crazy cat says:

      Be careful with Latin… it is VERY different from English! 🙂

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    • crazy cat says:

      Alternatively you can say, ‘Pudore pro defensio.’ This emphasizes the word ‘shame’.

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    • I’m glad that you liked the piece. I see what you mean by saying “Defensio pro pudore” is better. But, defensio is a noun (defensio, defensionis), and all the examples in Casull’s Latin-English dictionary have defensio followed by the what is being defended in the genitive. E.g. Defensio castorum (Caesar) and defensio miserorum (Cicero). But, I’m glad to have someone who reads Latin follow my blog–I do make mistakes sometimes!

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Legens, scribe sententias tuas.

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