In My View: Was Gatekeeping guy wrong?

So gatekeeping made its way around the AniTwitter circle in a dramatic fashion this week with a tweet that was so hyperbolic that the only non-attention-seeking response is derision.

Talking about gatekeeping anime itself is not especially interesting. Gatekeepers are fighting over imaginary cultural real estate for imaginary stakes that only really matter to them. The problem is the only people who care about those borders, would already be able to cross. The people who aren’t members of that imagined country aren’t invested enough to read the Tweet in the first place.

Or as one person appropriately described it, “It’s like claiming there’s a ‘you must be this tall to ride’ requirement when there isn’t one. You end up just standing outside of the ride shouting at people and looking like a doofus.”

Gatekeepers are tragic and worthy of our pity, but not our anger.

So why am I writing a blog post about this?

What struck me while I was reading through his rant was the reason why he was motivated to go on it in the first place. It was this post about Kill la Kill on Game Rant penned by Jared Bruett. In all fairness, it appears Bruett writes film news for the site. This was probably one of his rare chances to express his opinion about something that doesn’t involve men and women wearing spandex.

The problem is that when I read his opinion, I realize our gatekeeper kind of has a point. It seems Bruett has not spent a lot of time around anime. Now, I want to be clear that it’s fine that he hasn’t. Bruett wasn’t holding himself as an authority. He was just expressing an opinion.

But this raises a couple of interesting questions. One, how does a “normie” view anime differently when they aren’t bathed in its tropes? And, two, is it useful to view anime through the lens of an outsider?

Where did he miss the boat?

Before I get into this, let me just say that these are my opinions. I’ve watched a lot of anime, but my knowledge isn’t as deep and extensive as some. These are my observations, and feel free to disagree with them.

As always, the gulf between what I know and what I think I know is wide and deep.

So Bruett’s main point is this. Kill la Kill is a show that could explore the line between objectification and empowerment. His problem is that the show never pays more than lip service to that theme.

He then points out that:

Within the very first episodes, Ryuko is sexually harassed multiple times, the camera explicitly focuses on her chest and underwear in fight scenes, and it is implied on multiple occasions that she is about to be sexually assaulted by characters we are then supposed to root for.

And then he points out that the male characters in the Mankanshoku family leer at a sleeping Ryuko, try to peek at her in the shower, and sexually harass her. His response to this is:

Not only are these scenes somewhat gross and unnecessary, they are completely out of character with how the family is portrayed throughout the rest of the show as caring for Ryuko as if she were their own daughter.

Finally, he finishes up by talking about Satsuki and bonus points for him using the word “nadir.” He says:

One of the worst moments in the show is an incestual bathing scene in which her mother “restores her energies” after a difficult fight in a way that strongly mimics giving her own daughter an orgasm.

The problem with his points is that he really could be describing dozens of anime. This kind of sexualization is sewn into the DNA of dozens of harem shows. The lewd characters are behaving perfectly within the established bounds of their tropes.

I wouldn’t even say that the Mankanshoku family is behaving out of character. They are behaving within their trope. I’m reminded of dozens of hyper-kinetic comedy shows featuring boys trying to leer into girl’s rooms. Then there are the hot springs episodes in Ruroni Kenshin when Sousuke and Yahiko trying to peek in and watch the girls bathing.

If there is a through-line in anime, it’s men are horny dogs just trying to get a peek a the pink.

His criticism of the camera angles reads like someone who has never seen fanservice before. While there was a lot of it in Kill la Kill, it hardly reached the egregious levels some shows have.

Finally, his problem with Satsuki’s mother is hardly a problem limited to Kill la Kill. So many shows use overt sexuality as a way to signal that someone is evil that it’s become a problem that I take note of every time I see it.

Bruett’s opinion piece reads like someone who has never watched anime. He never acknowledges that these issues exist outside of Kill la Kill. Now I don’t know him personally, so he might be the biggest anime fan ever, but his complaints here don’t read like it.

This whole argument comes off like a bit of pearl-clutching about what is, in the larger scheme, a fairly tame show.

None of this is to mention the use of hypocrisy in the headline, which implies that there was an intent to send a message. I don’t think there was. There is a message in Kill la Kill, but it doesn’t have anything to do with objectification or sexuality. And this isn’t really the time to delve into that.

What can we learn from here?

The problem here for Gatekeep Guy is that Bruett isn’t wrong. Kill la Kill could have been a show that explored the line between objectification and sexuality. It makes some feeble inroads in an attempt to handwave away its more problematic elements, but it never really addresses them.

For a show that is about clothing, it never really addresses clothing. It puts girls in skimpy outfits because it’s funny or because it’s provocative, but never really to make a point.

It has lecherous older men and near sexual assault not to prove any point, but because it’s funny or it’s spooky.

The issues that Bruett brings up are not just issues with Kill la Kill. They are issues with anime.

Anime as a whole tends to be pretty careless in how it handles sexuality. You don’t need to look much further than Tiger and Bunny, a show that I like, but has a “comedically” stereotyped gay character.

We can look at any of the harem shows from the mid-90s through now that usually use sexual assault as a punchline. Hell, this is also baked into the manliest show of all time, Armored Troopers Votoms.

It’s not an issue in every show, but it certainly has been an issue in plenty of shows, and we probably should acknowledge that.

This is why having an outsider looking in can be useful. I like all of the good things about Kill la Kill, especially the yuri relationship without ever making it a point to have a yuri relationship. But it does have its problems as well. While those problems are smaller than they would be in other anime, the fact that a “normie” can spot them this easily makes it more important for the established anime fans to do it as well.

It’s dangerous to dismiss the words of an outsider to the subculture just because he doesn’t have a signed print from Angel’s Egg or he hasn’t hunted down a copy of Panzer World Galient. He might have an insight that you would dismiss because you’ve been exposed to it so much.

As always, thanks for reading.

5 thoughts on “In My View: Was Gatekeeping guy wrong?

  1. Yes, people immersed in anime do tend to ignore these things. It is only when I show an anime to someone who doesn’t watch them, that I realise through their reactions how normalised particular tropes have become for me.

  2. Kill la Kill does what it needs to do the get the intended audiences attention. It isn’t the director’s job to make them better human beings, it is to make an anime popular among teenage boys, particularly Japanese boys. The word for it is “pandering.”

    It isn’t on my top ten anime of all time but it was still entertaining and that’s about all you can ask for. It COULD NOT get deeply into the exploration of the line between objectification and sexuality because honest sexuality is almost forbidden in shounen and shoujo. At best, you get a cartoonish proxy for sexuality. Anime such as “Scum’s Wish” are extremely rare exceptions and not intended for the same audience as K la K.

    Take a step back and you see that any exploration of that line will necessarily involve some time spent on either side. There will be scenes of agency interspersed with scenes of objectification and a lot of scenes where both happen at the same time. One might come to the conclusion that agency and objectification are not always mutually exclusive.

    If it gets into problematic sexual behavior it also gets into problematic violent behavior but nobody seems to care about that and I don’t believe we should. Anime is not meant to be a guide for virtuous living, it is a way to work out urges that one ought not to attempt in real life.

  3. OK, that’s a lot to respond to. . .I guess I’ll start by saying that Kill la Kill actually did a fine job of juxtaposing objectification of the female form and empowerment of the female person. But this was focused through the character of Satsuki, not Ryuko or Mako. Satsuki was empowered by her objectification by her fellow students, feeding off of their energy. She knew that they were entranced by her body, but she likewise knew that she controlled their access to it, both physically and visually. Rather than being offended by being objectified, Satsuki’s own sense of empowerment allowed her to encourage it. My thoughts, at least.

    Now, as to the suggestion that Ryuko was repeatedly almost the victim of sexual assault, I would disagree. In most of these instances that I recall, the other characters were usually using Ryuko’s discomfort with her outfit and her own body to intimidate her through their proximity and implied threats. Usually. But I will admit that she was occasionally in more serious situations. As for sexual harassment by the Mankanshoku family, that was indeed a comedic device, a trope. It was never meant to suggest anything serious.

    Lastly, I would remind folks that male characters also appeared in various states of undress–it wasn’t just the ladies. This was a story about clothes controlling the world by first controlling those clothed, so of course nudity would play some part in any effective resistance. That in mind, take a deep breath and consider the premise stated in the previous sentence. . .and, again. . .it’s a comedy, folks, not a serious show. Sexiness and an implied voyeurism were its schtick.

    But again, this is all just personal opinion.

  4. I don’t plan on watching KLK any time soon, but I have seen that gatekeeping tweet and I can sort of understand where he’s coming from in the sense that watching a few shows of the anime genre doesn’t automatically make you well-immersed in anime in general. It would be like saying that knowing how to write 10 lines of Python code makes you a Python programmer. I disagree with how he worded it, but I did see his point.

    Maybe that’s just me speaking too since I was not part of the “normie” list he mentioned haha.

  5. You never reference / link the gatekeep, so I can only go off the article you link, and I don’t see any gatekeeping there. The article doesn’t say that people shouldn’t watch Kill la Kill at all, he basically calls it a great anime and then goes into all that other stuff.

    My opinion on that whole side of things is simply that I don’t understand why Kill la Kill has to be a message of empowerment or whatever in the first place. He’s free to criticize the anime for not fitting his personal ideals but at the end of the day it’s entertainment, not a bill of rights. It’d be like if I criticized every anime I watched that “could have done better at promoting communism” or something like that – I could do it, but I think it’d be ridiculous to do so.

    Regarding gatekeeping, you say: “Or as one person appropriately described it, “It’s like claiming there’s a ‘you must be this tall to ride’ requirement when there isn’t one. You end up just standing outside of the ride shouting at people and looking like a doofus.””

    And it is exactly as you say.
    But it’s laughable how angry people get at that doofus. I see much much more activity from people reacting to or condemning gatekeeping than actual gatekeeping by far. It feels like the “anime community” has never heard of not feeding the trolls before.

    Anyways, interesting post, and I pretty much agree with your take on the guy’s article.

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