Kiryuin Satsuki and the Curse of Power Girl

I view the DC superhero Power Girl as being almost doomed by her appearance. If you ask anyone with even a passing familiarity with Power Girl about what defines her character, you’re very likely to get the response “boob window.” This is despite numerous attempts to revamp her character, emphasize her personality, and make her more than just eye candy first, superhero second.

This is not to say that Power Girl is an inherently bad or sexist character, whether she’s supposed to be an adult Supergirl (her original origin) or something else entirely. I don’t even think the boob window necessarily has to go. But what fascinates me about Power Girl’s situation is that, for whatever reason, it seems especially difficult for her to escape being seen almost as a character attached to a pair of breasts.

In contrast, when it comes to characters who have overcome a highly sexualized appearance, one need look no further than Kiryuin Satsuki from the anime Kill la Kill. In spite of the fact that her battle uniform looks like a sling bikini on steroids, her personality overwhelms even the sheer and unbridled sexuality of her clothing. Despite her breasts and buttocks often being in full display in numerous scenes what first comes to mind are her other attributes: scowl (with enormously imposing eyebrows), her ambition, and the fact that she literally radiates an aura of light that symbolizes her power.

I find myself wondering, what is the difference between Satsuki and Power Girl, or indeed Power Girl and other female superheroes who have been successfully redefined as more than just their eroticism (note that I did not say more than just their looks—appearance is just an essential part of superheroes, male and female)?

There are two major context points that separate Satsuki and Power Girl. First, unlike Power Girl, Satsuki is introduced in Kill la Kill in her full-body school uniform rather than in her skimpier attire. Second, whereas Satsuki’s existence is defined solely by one television series, Power Girl has been a part of comics for decades. While the circumstances of 2010s Japan and 1970s United States are substantially different, I suspect that Power Girl would be remembered very differently if she arrived on the scene the way Satsuki does in Kill la Kill: as someone grandiose and powerful. Perhaps it would even be possible for her to keep the boob window and still be thought of primarily for her superheroics and feats of strength.

Or perhaps my view of Satsuki is too charitable. Maybe the imprint she’s left on anime and its fandom, especially those who know Kill la Kill only from images, is just her near-naked body in a battle bikini.

Power Girl appears to be a victim of historical inertia. No matter what is done with her character to turn her away from a primary emphasis on her breasts, focus always returns to her iconic cleavage cut. Whether it’s possible to overturn this might require not just an amazing creative team where artist and writer are working towards this goal, but a comics fandom willing to accept this change.

 

Two of My Favorite Moments in Kill la Kill Episode 22

This post is about a week late to the “Kill la Kill episode 22 was awesome” meeting, but Kill la Kill episode 22 was awesome. As far as I’ve seen, this has been the general consensus among fans of the show, and it’s no surprise given the fact that many of the show’s narrative threads reached their turning points in this episode. While 22 was packed with a ton of impressive moments (like the Evangelion reference with Ryuuko hunched over and covered in blood like EVA-01), I’d like to talk about ones that I enjoyed in particular.

1) The Glory of Mako and More

The return of Fight Club Mako will forever be one of the glorious highlights of Kill la Kill, but in that triumphant return there is also a serious Ira x Mako moment. I’ve been a fan of that particular pairing and of course as the show has progressed it’s turned very real and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. While people will talk about the fact that Gamagoori eats Mako-shaped croquettes in the episode as the Ira x Mako moment of the episode, I actually turn to Fight Club Mako’s appearance instead.

At the end of the episode, the heroes are attacked by a giant COVERS monster when out of a sky drops a dresser. As we know now, Mako in her banchou outfit is in there, but how does she introduce herself? Mako’s over-sized fist comes flying out of the dresser door and socks the giant monster, a feat of comedic spatial distortion the show normally associates with Gamagoori.

You can keep your croquettes.

2) Satsuki’s Radiance

In episode 22, Satsuki finally comes clean with her entire plan, and how she intended to use Ryuko as an x-factor in her rebellion against her mother’s global domination scheme, but realizes that manipulating others to serve her needs was the wrong way to go about it. Satsuki then apologies and takes a deep bow (the lower you go, the more humble and respectful you’re being, see Barack Obama), and then begins to emit a blinding light.

One of the visual icons of Satsuki throughout the series has been her literal radiance. When Satsuki appears, a blinding light shines forth from her, as if to say that she is simply that much more amazing than everyone else around her. It is as much a part of her character as her indomitable will and her giant eyebrows, but when you think about it, it hasn’t been around for quite a few episodes. To have the moment where Satsuki sets aside her pride also be the point at which she is at her most brilliant encapsulates the character so wonderfully that in an episode of great things it’s an absolute high-point.

In other words, to see the visual style of Kill la Kill match up so well with its narrative is just a rewarding experience.