The Kill la-steia: How Kill la Kill borrows from the Oresteia

While offering my final thoughts on Kill la Kill, the similarity of certain features of Kill la Kill to Aeschylus’s Oresteia trilogy struck me.  Of course, the lack of vengeful goddesses pursuing Ryuko for slaying Ragyo means that it borrows chiefly from the first two tragedies: Agammemnon and The Libation Bearers.  As a Classicist (Yes, in addition to loving the Middle Ages, I also love the Classical Ages.  Viva antiquity!), I become very excited when modern works either retell or incorporate ideas from Ancient Greek and Latin sources.  The fad nowadays seems to favor spontaneous originality.  People want tales and characters which have never been conceived in the mind of man.  (Can you detect my sarcasm?)  Studying classics for so long has made me adopt the attitude of the ancient Greeks and Romans: the best originality occurs when a writer takes prior works and applies his own spin.  Such appropriation shows that one is participating in the Great Conversation which began when Homer exclaimed: “Sing, O goddess, the anger of Achilles, the son of Peleus!”

*SPOILERS GALORE AFTER THIS!*

Ryuko as Orestes

The first striking connection between the Oresteia and Kill la Kill lies in Ryuko’s mission to avenge the death of her father, Isshin Matoi.  We see exactly the same thing in The Libation Bearers.  The flashback to when Isshin and Ragyo were still man and wife reveals the start of their quarrels: Ryuko is sacrificed in an experiment on Life Fibers, whom are essentially the gods of Kill la Kill.  (Though Kill  la Kill’s story does makes it apparent that the Life Fibers are false gods–as Christianity also declares the gods of the pagans.)  This is similar to how Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter, Iphigenia, to the goddess Artemis.  In the same way as Ragyo sees the progress of the Life Fibers as necessary, Agamemnon sees the progress of the Greek expedition to Troy, which had been held up by Artemis’ wrath, as important to prevent chaos among the Greeks and to avenge his brother’s honor.  So, Agamemnon sacrifices Iphigenia; though, a majority of the versions of this myth state that Iphigenia was spirited away to Aulis, which Euripides treats in his Iphigenia at Aulis.  Simultaneously, Ryuko is both Iphigenia, the innocent sacrifice, and Orestes, the avenger of her father.  Actually, the idea that Junketsu is Satsuki’s wedding garment reminds one of how Iphigenia was initially told that she was going to her wedding instead of the place where she would be sacrificed.  Iphigenia lives in both Satsuki and Ryuko!

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But, an interesting twist lies in the fact that Isshin and Ragyo are not perfect facsimiles of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra.  As a matter of fact, the above paragraph makes it clear that the husband is placed in the role of Clytemnestra, while the wife approximates Agamemnon.  But, Isshin is still the murdered father and Ragyo the instigator of the deed and adulteress.  How does she commit adultery?  By binding herself to the Life Fibers and separating herself from her husband!  Curiously, I would claim Nui Harime fulfills the role of Aegisthus.  Even though Nui did not separate Ragyo from her spouse, she does participate in the murder of Isshin, engage in a scandalously lascivious deed with Ragyo (how’s that for euphemism?), and is about as odious as Aegisthus.

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But, that refers mostly to the flashback.  During the main story, we see that Satsuki and Mako might be considered Electra and Pylades respectively.  After all, Electra lives in constant fear of her mother and at the same time wishes to avenge her father.  We see the same desire in Satsuki, though her willingness to off her mother is further bolstered by the fact that Ragyo wants to annihilate humanity.  Also, Satsuki shows the same distaste toward Nui as Electra did toward Aegisthus.  As in The Libation Bearers, both Satsuki and Ryuko combine to defeat their evil mother.

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The figures Orestes and Pylades are renown for their friendship.  I myself have used their relationship as a metaphor in this article.  And Mako undergoes many dangers for the sake of her friend Ryuko, in the same way as Pylades did for Orestes.  As Pylades held a supportive role to Orestes, so does Mako to Ryuko.

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Well, my dear readers, I hope that you found these parallels as cool as I did!  Now, we need to see the Trigger version of Sophocles’ Oedipus Cycle!  Or does the thought of that scare you? 🙂

Final Thoughts on Kill la Kill: What a Fun Ride!

Trigger’s first great anime proved to be riotous fun and to have a decent high story at the same 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 source of corruption (which Japesland wrote astutely about), how people’s excessive concern for appearances strips them of their personhood (as Good Bye Navi touches on), and its hierarchical treatment of friendship.  I was pleased to see that my guess that Satsuki and Matoi would become friends came true.  In many ways, Kill la Kill felt like an Attic tragedy, especially with the internecine conflict among the Kiryuins (someone should compare the main characters to Agamemnon (Isshin Matoi), Clytemnestra (Ragyo Kiryuin), Orestes (Ryuuko Matoi), Electra (Satsuki Kiryuin), and Pylades (Mako) ) and the chorus-like role of Mako.

Anyone else think that Matoi looked extravagantly cool in "Ride like the Wind"--episode 14?

Anyone else think that Matoi looked extravagantly cool in “Ride like the Wind”–episode 14?

Though it was a great show on many levels, the panache and flamboyance of the characters separated it stylistically from most anime released around the same time.  The show offered its audience more twists than any show in recent memory.  I also remember becoming immediately attached to Matoi when I saw that she had the moral courage to run from losing battles in the beginning of the show–very un-Shounen-like, but Orestian!  (Yes, my dear readers, you can see that an article comparing on the Oresteia and Kill la Kill is presently being contemplated.)  In my opinion, the plot’s greatest weaknesses came from its excessive borrowing from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagaan.  This did establish Trigger’s commitment to epic stories, but their next work can do without aliens, evolution, crazy power-ups, etc.  But, Kill la Kill makes me look forward to their next great work.

Fight Another Day

Day Six of 10 Days to 300: My Neighbor Totoro

Watching this film makes me see why it is such a beloved movie!  The feeling one gets from watching it is akin to reading a good myth or a George MacDonald novel.  If you have yet to read George MacDonald, be sure to place his Phantasies and Lilith on your reading list.  Here’s some stuff I’ve written about his influence and I have mentioned him here, here, and here.

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The feeling which I’ve alluded to above is the feeling of touching the sublime or the fantastic.  In My Neighbor Totoro, we follow the wanderings of of two girls, Satsuki and Mei, who move to the country with their father.  People accept the world of fantasy as a matter of course, and the best human attitudes to its existence are playfulness and enjoyment.  For example, Mei’s response to finding totoro, a giant creature which combines the traits of a bunny and a bear, is nothing less than giggling delight.  Similar scenes and reactions to the fantastic make this a very heartwarming film.

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At the same time, the film does note that Japanese folklore can be pretty dark as well.  This darkness is especially well conveyed when Mei becomes lost in her desire to visit her sick mother.  The searchers find a small shoe in a body of water and try to uncover her body therein.  How much does one want to bet that, if Mei should have been found dead, the villagers would have claimed that a kappa got her?

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Then again, the movie displays superb animation and a wonderful family atmosphere.  You can see how tightly knit the family is from the way the children interact with their father, particularly during their bath together when they laugh and scream away their fear of the the storm raging outside.  I mentioned that Satsuki and Mei’s mother was ill earlier.  Other than play with Totoro, the children desire their mother’s return more than anything else.  This lends just enough tension to atmosphere of the film.  And so, I gave it a full five stars.  You might think that a bit generous, but My Neighbor Totoro is a wonderful film.

Matoi and Satsuki: Friends in the Making?

Watching Kill la Kill thus far convinces me that Matoi and Satsuki’s relationship goes beyond that usually shared by the hero and her antagonist.  Satsuki has always displayed a particular interest in Matoi.  I wish to make the case that Matoi is Kiryuin’s closest person to a friend.
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This sounds like an absurd statement, especially since Kiryuin places so many obstacles between Matoi and her goals.  Also, she may have even been responsible for the death of Matoi’s father.  (I rather doubt that, however.)  But, Aristotle called friendship the highest good, and everyone desires friends on one level or another.  Even as early as episode 3, Kiryuin donning a Kamui might be understood as an attempt to create similitude–an almost essential condition for friendship–between Matoi and herself.
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Yet, Kiryuin has a warped understanding of human relationships.  Her relationships are based on power rather than love.  She is surrounded by henchmen, not friends; though, she seems loath to suffer the loss of her top henchmen.  Even episode 6, where she almost abandons Uzu, she quickly forgives his loss to Matoi after seeing a sign of his resolve.  By episode 10, two of her henchmen suffer defeats by Matoi, but they appear confident that they can work their way back to her side.
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Yet, these kinds of relationships do not suffice for Kiryuin.  Perhaps even she thinks that it does, but her spirit must be at variance with this–as is shown by her actions.  After all, she busts her favorite tea cup in order to try to land a surprise attack on Uzu!  I cannot understand this action but through the lens of playfulness.  Uzu, having been conditioned to Satsuki’s quest for power, responds that she did not use her full power.  Who uses their full power in play!?  But, her subordinates cannot believe that Satsuki might just want to play with them.  Indeed, it seems like the closest Kiryuin comes to play is in placing obstacles before Matoi.
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Then, Satsuki offers Uzu a cup of tea at the end of episode 6.  Uzu declines his offer as tea is now too hot for his now heightened sense to endure.  The austerity of this scene suggests how isolated Satsuki is.  She sees Uzu, because he comes closest to Kiryuin in power, as the closest thing to a friend she has outside of Matoi.  One imagines that a pang of regret or doubts about her conduct ran through Kiryuin’s mind at this moment.  One even feels sorry for her.  Why have power if it only causes one grief?
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Under these circumstances, Matoi becomes Satsuki’s best choice for a friend.  And so, we have the fight club episode, where Satsuki attempts to establish equality between the two of them in terms of wealth and understanding the isolation caused by its possession.  Lastly, the tournament between Matoi and Satsuki’s top henchmen sees Matoi equaling Satsuki in her ability to secure the same triumphs as Kiryuin herself has achieved.  And if Matoi succeeds, Satsuki shall bring her into her confidence concerning her father’s death.  Shared secrets are yet another sign of friendship!
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Yet, I only wonder whether Satsuki’s mind has been far too warped in her quest for power.  Is she capable of realizing that perfect equality is not needed for friendship?  That the only result of attempting to gain this perfect equality will lead to the dominance of one party or endless conflict?  Will she even decide to renounce her quest for power and recognize that friendship is a higher good?  These are just a few things which make watching Kill la Kill interesting!