Series Recap: KILL la KILL

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It’s almost as if this movie is some kind of exploitative piece, that likes showing violence and naked women for no reason whatsoever. There really should be a name for this genre. Exploit…? Exploitate…? Ahh, I’ll think of it later.

The Cinema Snob

Yeah, I’m going there. Actually I’m sure The Cinema Snob would love KILL la KILL (no clue as to Brad Jones himself) (Yes all caps. Yes, every time, Tom.)

Because after weeks of pondering, this is undoubtedly the conclusion I have to draw about KILL la KILL. Not a remarkably original idea, mind you, but this show is big, it’s all been said before.

KILL la KILL is an exploitation film in anime form.  And really…that quote above, though completely unrelated to KILL la KILL in inception (indeed, said many years before the show was even conceived) illustrates the point quite clearly.

The reasons are numerous.  And there is no doubt I enjoyed it as a series. But it shares far too many elements with this style to avoid this label altogether.  Now…the more jaded among us might say “but all anime is exploitation art in some form”.  Even if we take your argument as true, some are more exploitative than others.

I’m 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 grateful for them, and hope I can contribute my own small piece to this discussion.

KILL la KILL is a visual masterpiece. Let’s be clear on that. If you want me to decry it as the next vapid step in Humanity’s collective retardation, you’ll have to look elsewhere.  And if you are looking for the short version? As a self-aware popcorn-action series, it’s fine. Nothing wrong with its energy and presentation.

But neither are we going to Loose Change the series into something more than it really is.  Here, let’s explain what I mean by that. But we’re going to get into the theory of narrative here.  Again, this is just my take on the events, your viewing experience is probably different.

Or, to lift a quote from another well known critic…

“Exploitation doesn’t appeal to the brain; it appeals to the gut.”

SFDebris

That is KILL la KILL.  To the letter.

This series is way, way bigger than anything we’ve tackled so far, so if you are new to this blog, this will not be a dork thesis with citations and an attempt to draw from at least three chapters of the anime textbook.  This is, in short, a summary of what this lone viewer will remember of this series, one person sorting out their feelings on a show.  I don’t watch action pieces to relax, I don’t even think I can name five action movies that have aired in the past ten years.  My enjoyment is universe building and storytelling, and those are the areas where this will be focused. So I repeat again: If you want to find out if KILL la KILL is a good action series? It is. Your time is not wasted.  None of the following is really directed at that aspect of the show. Continue reading

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Double Feature: KILL la KILL 23 + 24

In space, no one can hear you fanservice.

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Well here we are. The very first regular DDA review was on KILL la KILL, Episode 1.  I feel saddened by its loss on my schedule, in a way.

Mako easily dispatches the Kracken-COVERS on board the ship, and Nui is finished on her supreme Kamui.  Nui has…also completely lost it.  Pinkie Pie is completely off her meds.

We do have an explanation as to how the scissor blades work. One cuts the thread, while the other slices the regeneration threads before they take effect.  Bakuzan can have similar effects.  Satsuki and Ryuko take the fight to Ragyo, but they are barely even having an effect.

The original Life Fiber attacks the ship, where the forces threaten to overwhelm Mako…with Ragyo channeling Alucard for some reason.  But Best Character is saved by four dressers landing on the deck.  Yep. It’s the student council.  The Three-star outfits now far more resemble Kamui, with their bare chests and composed mostly of gloves-boots.  A bit of a visual representation of Humans ascending like the ubermensch while Ragyo talks about how crap they are.

Ryuko’s had enough shit, and pulls out the finishing move…but she’s been sliced in half by Ragyo, and is tossed into the sea.

On her own, Satsuki has no chance.  She is completely at her mother’s mercy.

I would like to say that, while a couple episodes ago I made the comment that Ragyo has been under-utilized as an effective villain, here, at least visually, she is extremely impressive.  Camera angles are fantastic, her eyes are extremely expressive in every shot.  She may not be best villain story-wise, but here she FEELS like a worthy adversary.  Everything about her aesthetic here is making me we- working perfectly.

Even the Elite Four have joined the fray against Ragyo, and its revealed that they are the decoy while Ryuko attacks the Life Fiber directly.

Nudist Beach’s warship turns into a giant knife, because sure, and charges at the Life Fiber, giving Ryuko that extra bit of umph.  This justifies their existence in this series. Right? Right?

But the party is short lived.  Nui is finished with her Kamui and Ragyo re-stitches her new arms. “They’re only good for combat, no replacement for your nimble fingers” Ragyo laments.

Sure. Sure, Ragyo. Because I’m sure those fingers are less nimble than teeth. Continue reading

KILL la KILL: Episode 22

Ladies and gentlemen I have had an epiphany.

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So no backpeddaling, just a bloody…um…skinleess(?) Ryuko.  In true Strike the Blood fashion, within sixty seconds Mako has thrown Senketsu at Ryuko and the pair are back to normal.

I know I shouldn’t expect better of this show, but jeez.  Ryuko is right back to talking about how friendship is stronger than anything.  Like a light switch her philosophy is back to normal.

Again, if Trigger were trying to deliver a message about female empowerment, it would seem strange if their lead character’s penultimate development was centered around her fickle woman problems.  Thankfully we don’t actually live in such a world.

Much more satisfying is the beating that Ryuko is delivering to Nui.  It gets mixed when Ryuko cuts Nui’s arms off, the latter at first her non-chalant self.  But remember, these are the scissor swords, which judging by her eye, Nui should have remembered that they destroy her life fibers, unlike normal weapons.

Conveniently, the COVERS sent to…cover…Nui’s escape are all Honnouji students.  The scraps of Life Fibers are collected.

Ryuko makes a point now about calling her friends “incomprehensible things”.  It comes up again as Ryuko confronts Satsuki, saying she doubts the latter’s strength.  Yeah, because you have been the PICTURE of the hero as of late, haven’t you Ryuko?

I think one of the reasons I wanted Nui eliminated, instead of letting her get away (or waiting to listen to the heroes taunt the bad guy, for a show like KLK you’d think the characters would be more genre-savvy), is that ever since Nui appeared, Ryuko has been excessively unstable.   From her possession, to her depression, there was but a brief respite from these negative emotions after Ryuko fought Satsuki to a draw.  But very quickly after she went to sleep for an entire month because of her despondency, and then her outright snapping and giving in to Ragyou’s camp.  All of this has been since Nui entered the field.

Which is why, to me, Nui has come to symbolize Ryuko’s vulnerabilities.  If Ryuko is truly past all that, why not send Nui packing with those emotions? Before someone says it: The fact she hasn’t completed the super-kamui is arbitrary, that could easily have been “finished” off screen and merely needs a host now.

Unless of course Ryuko isn’t done doubting herself. Which, hey, is possible.  And completely expected. Continue reading

KILL la KILL: Episode 21

I’m only observing that the two girls wielding scissors kissed…yeah.

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Does Ragyo actually exist to do anything other than molesting her children?  I know this isn’t the right instance to bring this up but it is just overshadowing her character at this point.  Which is a shame, because here it COULD have been the most effective, between Ragyo’s obsession with beauty, obsession with Life Fiber, and having her new prodigy daughter…I’m just saying it is very consistent with her to pull the sex card HERE.  But by burning all those points on Satsuki it lacks the character-impact here that it should have, and I’m more looking at my non-existent-watch asking “Okay, Ragyo, how much longer til you’re finished?”

Because yes, we’re doing a slight rewind to see why Ryuko is fighting our heroes now.  And I kind of want to say “motherfucking called it!”, but I would have to take an asterisk next to my name or something.

Ryuko is overwhelmed by pleasure.

And I’m going to adopt the stance that this is not a cheap cop out.  Because as we’ve established, Ryuko is a miserable child.  She’s been alone, neglected, used, she has no friends, at least until Mako arrived.

Say you grew up abused and isolated (though I doubt very much Ryuko was abused so much as neglected).  What would pleasure be like? Some people are so unaccustomed to human touch that every little thing, even hugs, are painful to them.  It’s such a shut in mind that the idea there is outward connection there is alien to them.  But to truly experience it without that baggage?  How many people would be able to resist the temptation to adopt it all the time, even if you only seriously entertained the offer for a limited time?

Back in the present, Satsuki transforms and the usual back and forth between the pair we’ve come to expect is thrown at us like it’s dramatic somehow.  The only thing dramatic here is that Ryuko is kicking Satsuki’s ass without much hassle.  It is so boring, the only thing that elevates this fight is Ryuko’s facial expressions.  They still look so wrong on her features that I am loving every little glare.  But the “drama” of this battle is lost(“Did I mention I have iron will yet?”). Thank god this is probably the last time the pair will duke it out.

And we finally, FINALLY get an explanation as to our scantily clad heroes.  The less skin contact Life Fiber makes with the skin the less chance they will be overwhelmed like Ryuko currently is with Junketsu. Unfortunately, Satsuki isn’t linked with Senketsu like Ryuko, so Senketsu is slow to respond to Satsuki’s commands.  But luckily the plan isn’t for her to win, but to lure Ryuko into position with the Elite Four to have Gamagoori use his toy to separate her from Junketsu.

When Nui saves Ryuko.  …My mouth feels weird. Continue reading

KILL la KILL: Episode 20

Ryuko, your voice now causes panties to spontaneously burst into flame.

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Okay, it’s usually a granted in episodic reviews that there will be spoilers.  After all, you can’t just say “some stuff happened” for 25 weeks straight, that’d be silly.

But holy crap are there going to be spoilers.

I say this because this is the first week I’ve been excited about KILL la KILL since…well….damn, since Nui appeared.  That’s an achievement.  And I’d go so far as to say if the rest of the series can keep up the pace, it might even be worth the headaches thus far in the ride.

Not that it’s much of a surprise, we knew the end would be way stronger than the beginning. It’s just the middle dragged out and killed that sense of fun.  Well the fun is just back this time, despite this being a, well, depressing episode.

It’s amazing how just a few slight changes can take the very familiar form of Ryuko that we know and love and make her…wrong.  It’s a strange sensation, like seeing your arm broken, hanging there.  It’s so familiar, a part of you, that with the smallest of changes just looks strange, off-putting, and unsettling.  And that is Ryuko this episode, she is never, not once, drawn “to type”.  Sometimes it is subtle, her hair out of place, or her eyes in emotions we are unaccustomed to seeing from our spunky protagonist.

Perhaps the broken arm metaphor is perfect, as Ryuko herself IS broken.  She’s having an identity crisis knowing she is composed of Life Fibers.  It’s something the impulsive and simplistic Ryuko is vulnerable to.

Personally, my love of speculative fiction has caused my brain to wrestle with the nature of the word “person” quite a bit, and something as simple as “you’re part alien”, I don’t THINK (but obviously, have not tested), would phase me very much, not to the degree of isolation and calling myself a “monster” if there was nothing else different.  People come in all forms, made of meat, metal, or in this case fabric, and while it certainly would make one question a lot (do I feel -real- emotions? Do I truly have Human values? Do I see the same colors?) in the face of global apocalypse, we can triage that for the time being.

But Ryuko is NOT an analytic person by nature, She is ruled by her emotions and impulses.  Sure, she’s “grown up” a bit, but that core nature is still there.  This is probably nothing she’s ever contemplated, and thus probably has no frame of reference.  So it’s quite understandable.  Even Mako can’t cheer her up, which is odd.

Mako takes a spin this week.  As being the only person who understands Senketsu’s emotions, this symbolism can now be extended to Ryuko.  Ryuko once said “Mako makes me feel way better than (Mikisugi).”, and Senketsu observed that a simple look used to set her at ease, calm all of her rage.

At this point, in retrospect, Mako’s role has become something of a Clothes-Whisperer.  Why that is is unclear, but she has always been non-judgmental of clothing in general (her admission she cannot “go naked”, but wanted to stay by Ryuko’s side), and her emphasis on Senketsu being “Ryuko’s only outfit” has always seemed silly, but maybe there’s actually more to that than first seemed obvious.

Most importantly, in what is hopefully a bit of foreshadowing, Mako is the only character to wear her clothes.  The full school outfit and all.  No one comments on this once.  Which may also make it a production error.  Yeah my good will has limits. Continue reading

KILL la KILL: Episode 19

Trigger Plotting ahead.

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This week’s KILL la KILL picks up right where we stopped, with the COVERS dragging people into them.  God bless you, Trigger, for trying to make suits intimidating. A for effort, guys.

The most adorable (and heartbreaking!) moment comes in the form of Mako being absorbed by a COVERS, and Gamagoori trying desperately to save her. I don’t think we’ve ever seen him lose his cool quite like that.

And this is one het pairing I can get behind.

Meanwhile, Ryuko is losing her shit. Understatement of the year.  The table turning against her, Satsuki destroys the stadium.

After the credits we come in on a one month time skip.  COVERS roam the streets looking for suitable hosts, we are in post-post-apocalyptic world, now.  We catch the tail end of an evacuation, where Sanegeyama, his Goku outfit beaten and worn out (an amazing way to get that across, the little “grid” that forms when he transforms is full of holes, and we’re instantly aware something is wrong).  But the COVERS are too much for him alone, and the uniform shatters.  Some of his old friends buy time for the evacuation, but they can’t resist forever and are absorbed.

Yes, the Elite Four have teamed up with Nudist Beach. But it’s still clearly an alliance of convenience.  Inumuta and Mikisugi aren’t above trading blows.  Mikisugi laments that Nudist Beach would be better prepared if Satsuki hadn’t gone to war with them.  Inumuta responds that if Satsuki’s intentions had been made public there was a stronger chance of it getting back to Ragyo.  They’re both right, really, and anything else is armchair quarterbacking.

More importantly, all of the schools in Satsuki’s empire have collapsed, Sanegeyama and Gamagoori were evacuating the final one.

So okay…I don’t mean to look like I’m trying to pick fights but…why was Satsuki’s cover-plan (huehue) so important to Ragyo? If the high schools have been conquered in just a MONTH, why all the fuss? Why go through the trouble of subverting them when, in the end, open conflict really doesn’t seem to have set Revocs back?  It’s certainly not because it will strike a nerve with the public, that is explained away by the COVERS acting like a censor on the people who wear them.

You don’t get to eat your cake and have it, too, Trigger.

I guess the best argument is “Ragyo didn’t actually care”, but why use the “conquest” of the teen demographic as the benchmark for the big red button?

You know, other than plot convenience? Continue reading

KILL la KILL: Episode 18

You take the good, you take the bad…

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Well the one thing KILL la KILL managed to remember this time was how to make their fights cool. Yes, there was an absence of the terrible play fighting of the Raid Trip arc.  Not the actual subjugation, if you’ll recall, I loved that part, but the Satsuki-Ryuko fight was so…boring…words I’ve used way too much for a show as wacky as KILL la KILL over the past few weeks.

The episode dives right into Satsuki seemingly anticipating each of her mother’s moves.  Not only is the new and improved Goku uniform able to withstand Ragyo’s minions, but Inumuta is able to free the spectators.

And of course Nui, who praises Satsuki’s accomplishments.  But that doesn’t stop her from diving in to have her own bit of fun.  But not without Sanegeyama standing against her for his rematch. Okay, let the guy have his chance to stand tall.

Naturally our heroes…our, um, “thus far” heroes, are finding it a little hard to swallow that they have the share their tent with Satsuki of all people. Satsuki simply shrugs it off that she won’t take half-measures as allies. Only those truly powerful are useful in her fight against Life Fiber.  Remember this point, it’ll be important later. Continue reading

KILL la KILL: Episode 17

…Fucking yawn.

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I’ve spent the past couple days really thinking about why this episode bored the hell out of me.  After all, my record’s in the menu there: I have been waiting for this episode for a long time.

I thought at first perhaps that was the problem. I know anticipation is a problem, and when the very limited series blurb, now about a year ago in advance, warns you about the hero and villain teaming up (subtlety clearly not being Trigger’s strong suit), can you really expect a series to hold up against all those months of waiting?

But I think it goes deeper than that.  It’s actually a huge irony that this episode’s name is “Tell Me Why”, here, allow me to explain.

The episode wastes no time winking at the camera about this turn of events. Our very first scene is Satsuki’s return and her discussion with her Elite Four. “IS IT TAIM GAIZ?” “YA IT’S TAIM!”  Okay, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this at first, but they just. Keep. Doing it.

Cutting back to last week where we left a naked Ryuko and Senketsu being stared down by Kinagase. Naturally, Mako steps in and effortlessly disarms the pair. Hence proving no power in the universe can resist her charms.

But back on the surface, Mikisugi provides us some exposition. It seems Kinagase’s sister was the proto-Ryuko. She was involved in a lot of Isshin’s early life fiber experiments, but they ultimately backfired and killed her.  But she was loyal to Nudist Beach to the end, her very last words were to continue.  And now it’s even more apparent why Kinagase has always seemed to have a chip on his shoulder regarding Ryuko and Senketsu.  We knew someone important to him died, but this stings deeper than that.  Ryuko is succeeding where his dear sister failed.  His sister was imperfect, but Ryuko is doing just fine.  It’s why he has that snub in his voice when Ryuko goes berserk, or really whenever Ryuko does something that endangers Nudist Beach. “See? Knew it. You aren’t better than her.”

Satsuki and her butler (I still don’t know his name >.>) are talking, as they are want to do.  Though this is more personal.   We see that Satsuki considers the conversation with her father about “her wedding dress” is what sparked this all for her.

Hm…that was the first day Alfred here made her tea?  Odd. And even in Satsuki’s memory her father’s face is always obscured, faded from memory.  Is that the day he died?  Wake up, go with your dad to see your Kamui, mom kills dad by feeding him to the space ball of yarn or something, and then your butler Walter here takes you home? Don’t know, it’s all speculation. Continue reading

KILL la KILL: Episode 16

Have a seat over there…

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There were really two important things I took from this week’s KILL la KILL. The first (and one everyone wants to talk about) is Satsuki. The second is how the idea of the now-revealed Life Fibers stand up against the greater framework of the series.

I have a suspicion that on both points, I will be living up to my motto.

This was an episode where the villains outshined the heroes, both in and out of universe. …No pun intended.  In animation there is often something called “creative energy”, and it wasn’t just dumped on Satsuki and Ragyou this week, they marinated in it, dunked it a few times for good measure, and then bathed in it to get rid of the icky feelings.

This episode starts right where the last left off, with Satsuki’s retreat. Only now it’s from her angle.  She collapses and Junketsu pulsates and strains against her body.  It’s so bad her kamui has to be hit with a tranquilizer.  Satsuki gets a bathrobe and collapses in her chair.  This is the first time, really, that we have seen Satsuki in a position of vulnerability.  That’s not necessarily to say, weakness, or defeat.  Those are different.  Weakness is the inability to cope, mentally or physically, with your burden.  This has never really been shown to be a problem.  Ryuko may have scored points in her duels against Satsuki, but only this time has it ended in a “draw”. Previously, Ryuko’s victories were merely the fact that she managed to LAND the blow.  But that’s certainly not a result of weakness.

Nor is being “defeated” by Ryuko the same either.  Satsuki still commands her power, and just because you can drill into a cliff face with a diamond drill does not diminish the cliff in any way.

But this is actual vulnerability, that there are limits to Satsuki’s power, and that her body might be wearing thin under the strain of Junketsu. For all we know this has happened every time she removes Junketsu. But now we are privy to it. It is showing us how, even though the heroes have scored victories against her, it seemed like the only way to beat Satsuki was all or nothing.  A MAD option, if you will.  Satsuki could be eradicated by a superior power, or she would triumph, but never have we had the proof that she can be wounded.

Essentially, this is our Empire Strikes Back moment for Satsuki.   In that movie, one of the reasons it had been easier to accept the idea that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father was that we had finally seen Vader himself in a similar position. In A New Hope he was 1) always standing, 2) was never dealt a single blow, and 3) He was extremely calculating, a powerful enforcer type.  The second movie shows him in his medical pod, scars and all (and sitting, a physical representation of his vulnerability, the first time we saw him as such), and Luke manages to land a couple hits with his lightsaber in the conclusion.  Also his obsession, a mental weakness that, frankly, a professional thug, as he had been in the first film, would never have.  These dimensions added much needed depth to the Vader character, and here in KILL la KILL we have finally gotten to “that moment” with Satsuki. And almost all those same points can be struck with Satsuki here.  Maybe not the sitting -exactly-, but this time, it was definitely “I am exhausted,” rather than “I am Satsuki-sama on my throne”.

Speaking of quotation marks…I have been rambling because I’m stalling, yes.  There’s no delicate way to approach many people’s biggest hangup about the episode. I am of course speaking of when Satsuki is brought to her family’s home and…the bath scene.  You can just skip it by, if you want.  And indeed many have been. But I am going to be focusing on it for an uncomfortably long time. Why? My religion is sex and magic. This is like my natural element.

Well let’s let our good friend Mr. Picture settle the matter for us.

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Alright, now, if this scene makes you uncomfortable, I understand. Honestly, I do.

I am not one such person though. Here, allow me to make light of it.

This scene is absolute proof that KILL la KILL’s “fanservice” is phoned in.  If Trigger WANTED to, they could do so much worse (and how, this time).  This was like the animators saying “Oh, you think we’re all about skin and tits? Alright. Let’s show you what that really means,” and proceeded to mind rape the audience. After this I can see the storyboard guys lighting a cigarette and throwing it at the fans, “Don’t talk about shit you don’t know.”

In seriousness, why can’t we just be happy Satsuki has finally found the purest form of love? Continue reading

KILL la KILL: Episode 15

Leave it to Satsuki to finish her conquest of Japan by literally raping the last opposition.

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So two days ago last week I said I would reserve my judgments about KILL la KILL until this episode was complete.  Well, specifically the arc. Which concluded this week.

Well, psych. Sort of.

While I do not feel KILL la KILL has changed my opinion, next week will be where I lay out my issues with the pacing of this show. Not just the pacing, but the themes and symbolism and basically, everything -wrong-.

I mean it this time! For realsies.

Is that meta? Maybe.  Maybe I am making a fourth wall joke at KILL la KILL’s expense.

Mostly it is my concession that they tried to cram this episode full of action and “plot” which seems to be the usual fare of nonsense…so…in fairness, I am letting the first episode of the successive arc play out, with the faintest glimmer of hope that there will be “backended” follow through from this week in the opening slug of next.

In short: I will let KILL la KILL confirm with us that is has moved on before I pounce.

But that pouncing involves the dirty words “status quo”.

Needless to say this is turning out to be my most anticipated series review at least.

As for the actual episode, I am grateful they cut Takarada and Satsuki’s back and forth down to a few minutes.  We already heard this nonsense between Takarada and Sanegeyama last week, it was so much rehash.  It has the Satsuki spin on things, of course, but it is basically the same talking points.

And then….I can’t tell if Trigger is taking a jab at the accusations of sexism or not. Are they waiting for the internet to flare up that they had the nerve to literally…um…deflower the enemy?

You’ll note this blog has never been of the opinion that KILL la KILL is especially sexist. Neither do I care here.  But I approve of the trollish way they baited it for the moral crusaders to NOT care.  Which they won’t.

I will say I loved the Elite Four in this episode. The Sentai parody? Magnifique.  And it was nice to see them in action without having to need Ryuko go through them in dungeon boss sequence.  It saves us the hassle of needing to go on and on with the Elections arc Mark 2.

But…here is a problem I have.  Many people have been referring to KILL la KILL in terms of Imperial Japan, supposing it is reactionary to the new Nationalist movement in that country.  Satsuki seems to embrace an old Hagakure style of power, and I’ve personally compared her on occasion to Oda Nobunaga uniting the nation (schools) under her rule.

Which is why I don’t feel this to be a biting commentary on Nationalism.  It hasn’t proven itself to be one yet.  There are elements, sure.  Satsuki’s totalitarian style has led to the burning of Osaka, scorched earth in her wake.

And yet, as Takarada speaks to the power of money, how it is not good or evil, clean or filthy, it merely IS power…all it takes is one demonstration of Satsuki’s strength for his mercenary adult army to abandon the fight.  The show seems to be siding WITH Satsuki on these points, that she is right in her assertion that force must be applied. And Gamagoori sides with her, that her struggle is noble. And if we have seen anything from Gamagoori, it’s that he will not bullshit his opinion to suit the situation.  He is straight-laced, through and through.  And yet Satsuki still wins his affection and loyalty. There’s still more to this than meets the eye. Continue reading