A World Cut From One Cloth: Personal Sin and Systemic Sin in Kill la Kill

A screenshot shows dramatic on-screen text that says, “REVOCS CO. LTD. AUDITORIUM.”
A screenshot shows brilliant beams of light and an unidentifiable shape. A voice says, “I put this question to you, gentlemen!”
A screenshot shows brilliant beams of light and an unidentifiable shape. A voice says, “What is clothing?!”
A screenshot shows rainbow light passing over a crowd of identical bald businessmen wearing sunglasses. The men say, “Clothing is sin! Man's original sin!”
A screenshot shows the businessmen looking toward the source of the rainbow light. The voice from before says, “Indeed. Clothing is sin.”
A screenshot shows the back of Ragyo Kiryuin. She says, “When man ate the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge,”
A screenshot shows the businessmen listening to Ragyo as she continues her speech, saying, “he became ashamed of his nakedness”
A screenshot shows the businessmen listening to Ragyo as she continues her speech, saying, “and covered his nethers with fig leaves.”
A screenshot shows Ragyo's legs by a long, white dress. She says, “From the time humanity first gained free will as human beings,”
A screenshot shows Ragyo looking straight ahead at the audience as she continues her speech, saying, “it has been his fate to cover his body in the clothing called sin.” Dramatic on-screen labels introduce Ragyo as the REVOCS CEO.
A screenshot shows Ragyo standing on stage with brilliant light coming out of her. She says, “Clothing made by REVOCS is sold in 90% of the world's countries.”
A screenshot shows Ragyo standing on stage in front of a world map with brilliant light coming out of her. She says, “and controls an overwhelming share of the market.”
A screenshot shows Ragyo standing on stage in front of a world map with brilliant light coming out of her. She says, “Why is that?”
A screenshot shows a close-up of Ragyo with dramatic shadows on her face. She says, “Because we alone know man's sin and create clothing for clothing's sake!"

Ragyo’s grand entrance in Studio Trigger’s Kill la Kill (2013) marks the begin­ning of a chang­ing tide in the story. Up until this point, Ragyo’s daugh­ter Satsuki is the main vil­lain. Satsuki rules a high school called Honnouji Academy with a sim­i­lar bril­liance to her moth­er. There, cloth­ing is lit­er­al­ly power as some stu­dents are grant­ed spe­cial uni­forms imbued with Life Fibers that give them super-human strength. The high­er you climb up the aca­d­e­m­ic and extracur­ric­u­lar lad­der, the stronger your uni­form. Matoi Ryuko arrives at this strict­ly struc­tured high school with only one goal in mind: avenge her father and take Satsuki down. With her giant scis­sor blade and her own Life Fiber uni­form called a Kamui, Ryuko cuts her way through club leader after club leader, deter­mined to reach Satsuki for a prop­er show­down.

Yet much more unfolds in the world of Kill la Kill, and Ragyo’s intro­duc­tion sends a clear mes­sage that she is the real vil­lain to con­tend with. Ragyo’s goal is to spread cloth­ing enhanced with Life Fibers around the globe so that she can cre­ate a world “of one cloth.” She wants all of human­i­ty to be swal­lowed by Life Fibers, for­ev­er rest­ing in a beau­ti­ful silence. To achieve this goal, she exper­i­ments on her­self and her own chil­dren to enhance the bond between humans and Life Fibers. We learn through flash­backs that Ragyo exper­i­ment­ed on Satsuki at a very young age, but those exper­i­ments failed, so Ragyo decid­ed that she need­ed to begin with a much younger child. That next child is Ryuko, who does actu­al­ly become a per­fect blend of human and Life Fibers. However, when Ragyo does­n’t see imme­di­ate results, she lit­er­al­ly dumps baby Ryuko in the garbage. So fixed is she on her ulti­mate vision of the world that she strips away abun­dant life, love, and com­mu­ni­ty from her chil­dren and every­one else she inter­acts with. She sex­u­al­ly abus­es Satsuki and Ryuko. She uses the power of her cloth­ing com­pa­ny to build her wealth and ensure that every sin­gle per­son expe­ri­ences sub­ju­ga­tion via Life Fibers. Of course, she would frame that as “the bliss of being worn by cloth­ing.”

These acts are sins. Some of them are per­son­al, mean­ing Ragyo com­mits them as an indi­vid­ual against other indi­vid­u­als. Others are sys­temic, mean­ing they stem from Ragyo’s posi­tion of power (specif­i­cal­ly through her com­pa­ny REVOCS) and affect large groups of peo­ple, if not the entire world. Ragyo shows us how these per­son­al, one-on-one sins con­nect to sys­temic sins.

Sin and Violence

A screenshot shows Ragyo standing behind Satsuki and inappropriately caressing her. Ragyo says, “You wear it well.”

Ragyo is refer­ring to Satsuki’s own Kamui, which she’s wear­ing in this pic­ture.

Most of us don’t think about how our per­son­al inter­ac­tions with each other on a daily basis can con­tribute to sys­temic oppres­sion. The sys­temic and the per­son­al often seem entire­ly sep­a­rate. After all, a sin­gle per­son can­not take on all of the bur­den and respon­si­bil­i­ty of a sys­tem. The more priv­i­leges we have, the more dif­fi­cult it is to see this con­nec­tion. This is appar­ent in Christian reli­gious life, as not many church­es clar­i­fy how per­son­al sins con­tribute to sys­tems. Part of that comes from dif­fer­ent emphases on sin and sal­va­tion.

If you were to walk into a church and stick around for a few months, you might come away with one of two gen­er­al under­stand­ings of sin and sal­va­tion.

  1. Sins are per­son­al wrongs we com­mit against one anoth­er and God, such as lying or steal­ing. There’s a heavy focus on indi­vid­ual piety and moral­i­ty, par­tic­u­lar­ly around sex­u­al prac­tices and addic­tive behav­iors. Because this is the under­stand­ing of sin, the atone­ment (or sal­va­tion) the­o­ry that fol­lows is that Jesus’ death and res­ur­rec­tion for­gives those per­son­al sins, restor­ing us to God and to one anoth­er.
  2. Sin is the sys­tems of racism, clas­sism, sex­ism, ableism, homo­pho­bia, and so on that deprive peo­ple of abun­dant life with each other and with God. There’s a greater empha­sis on social jus­tice and dis­man­tling the col­lec­tive, sys­temic ways we harm each other. This under­stand­ing of sin leads to atone­ment the­o­ries fram­ing Christ’s death and res­ur­rec­tion as an upheaval of the oppres­sive, first cen­tu­ry Roman gov­ern­ment. It paves the way for lib­er­a­tion from all such sys­tems. This lib­er­a­tion restores peo­ple to God and com­mu­ni­ty by allow­ing them to live fully and abun­dant­ly.

Rarely are these approach­es con­nect­ed in a clear-cut way. Grasping sin, its impli­ca­tions, its con­se­quences, and its for­give­ness is a vast sub­ject with­in Christianity. Shirley Guthrie makes this con­nec­tion clear­er in his book Christian Doctrine. He empha­sizes that Christianity’s main pur­pose in dis­cussing sin is to reveal the for­give­ness of sin. “The basic truth is not that we are sin­ners but that we are human beings cre­at­ed in the image of God. Sin dis­torts, twists, cor­rupts, and con­tra­dicts this truth, but it does not change us into some­thing other than what God cre­at­ed us to be” (213).

The notion that we are cre­at­ed “in the image of God” means that the intend­ed goal of our lives is to live fully, abun­dant­ly, and health­ily both with God and with one anoth­er. Sin breaks that con­nec­tion. “[Sin] is not only mur­der­ing other peo­ple but sim­ply let­ting them starve to death phys­i­cal­ly or emo­tion­al­ly because we decide that social wel­fare and for­eign aid are ‘money down a rathole’” (215). The act of one per­son mur­der­ing anoth­er is an exam­ple of per­son­al sin. It hap­pens on an indi­vid­ual level and defies the goal of humans liv­ing fully and abun­dant­ly with one anoth­er. Neglecting to sup­port social wel­fare and for­eign aid is an exam­ple of sys­temic sin. Its con­se­quences affect entire groups of peo­ple and main­tain a mind­set that poor peo­ple should just work hard­er and peo­ple in other coun­tries are not our prob­lem.

Avenged Seven Billionfold

A screenshot shows Satsuki pointing her bloody sword at Ragyo, who is pinned to a cross. She says, “Honnouji Academy is the fortress I created in order to defeat you!”

A screenshot shows Satsuki pointing her bloody sword at Ragyo, who is pinned to a cross. She says, “Remember that, Ragyo Kiryuin!” Ryuko stares in shock.

Caption: Satsuki (left) betrays Ragyo (cen­ter) by pin­ning her to a cross.

Theologian John Dominic Crossan con­nects per­son­al sin to sys­temic sin by talk­ing about esca­la­to­ry vio­lence. Violence increas­es with suc­ceed­ing gen­er­a­tions and caus­es more sin on a wider scale. A bib­li­cal exam­ple of this appears in Genesis 4 when Cain kills Abel. Cain laments once God dis­cov­ers what he’s done and says “any­one who meets me may kill me.” Yet God says, “Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suf­fer a sev­en­fold vengeance.” A few vers­es later, Lamech, a descen­dant of Cain, says “I have killed a man for wound­ing me, a young man for strik­ing me. If Cain is avenged sev­en­fold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”

What began as a one-on-one occur­rence between Cain and Abel trans­forms over time into some­thing with much high­er stakes and greater con­se­quences. If some­one from anoth­er tribe kills Lamech, then his own tribe will kill 70 peo­ple from the killer’s tribe. The threat of vio­lence and its esca­la­tion prompts the cre­ation of sys­tems meant to keep soci­eties in order, and to avenge seven hun­dred­fold and seven thou­sand­fold any threats to that order.

Honnouji Academy is a sys­tem born of esca­la­to­ry vio­lence. Two of Ragyo’s per­son­al sins, sex­u­al­ly abus­ing Satsuki and aban­don­ing baby Ryuko, are the ones that cut Satsuki the deep­est. What is the result of these par­tic­u­lar one-on-one sins? Satsuki cre­ates her own sys­tem to avenge them seven bil­lion­fold, in true Kill la Kill style. That sys­tem is Honnouji Academy, which estab­lish­es its own hier­ar­chies and per­pet­u­ates its own injus­tices. Even though the school’s true pur­pose is to rebel against Ragyo, it’s still a sys­tem cre­at­ed in response to per­son­al wrongs.

For the first half of the series, Satsuki has to keep up appear­ances for her moth­er, which is a big rea­son why she’s so author­i­tar­i­an. Under this facade, she tests Ryuko to see if she has what it takes to fight Ragyo when the time comes. Ryuko, of course, is entire­ly unaware of Satsuki’s true plans. Even so, Satsuki reveals some of her beliefs about human nature in one of these early tests. Satsuki has manip­u­lat­ed cir­cum­stances to pit Ryuko and her best friend against each other. When a fight seems unavoid­able, Satsuki vic­to­ri­ous­ly spouts her views about human­i­ty. “This is human nature in its purest form! Prosperity will lead to greed, and greed will lead to their even­tu­al down­fall! Once they have a taste of world­ly plea­sures, they’re enslaved by them for­ev­er! They’ve become slaves to this acad­e­my I have cre­at­ed! Truly they are pigs in human cloth­ing! Pigs! Which must be tamed by force!”

Some of this rhetoric may be part of keep­ing up appear­ances, but it does declare that there is some­thing innate­ly flawed––perhaps sinful––about humans. Therefore, a dei­fied ruler like Satsuki must exert her power and lead­er­ship over them. This is the way to their sal­va­tion, as she intends to use Honnouji Academy and all the schools it con­quers to defy Ragyo.

Honnouji Academy’s rebel­lion against Ragyo sparks an all-out war between human­i­ty and Life Fibers. It’s only resolved when Ryuko and every­one fight­ing with her eschew the nudity/clothing dichoto­my and show illog­i­cal love and ded­i­ca­tion to each other. Such ded­i­ca­tion main­tains their human­i­ty and fos­ters com­mu­ni­ty.

Religion and Empire

A screenshot shows a crowded stadium as Ragyo speaks to the audience. She says, “Ladies and gentlemen, I put a question to you.”
A screenshot shows a crowded stadium as Ragyo speaks to the audience. She says, “What is the world?”
A screenshot shows Ragyo standing on a podium and addressing the audience. She says, “The world is clothing.”
A screenshot shows Ragyo standing on a podium and addressing the audience. She says, “Life Fibers are the ruler of this world.”
A screenshot shows a cross structure on a podium with several bright lights shining on it as Ragyo finishes her speech. She says, “I, Ragyo Kiryuin, know and carry out their will!”

Religion has played a vital role in the estab­lish­ment and main­te­nance of empires through­out his­to­ry. Christianity specif­i­cal­ly was used as a tool for con­quest and often pro­vid­ed the­o­log­i­cal jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for colo­nial­ism. Christianization often went hand in hand with oppres­sion and exploita­tion in Africa, India, and Latin America in the 18th, 19th, and 20th cen­turies. This type of Christianity is, in my view, a dis­tor­tion of the faith. Yet those in power often suc­ceed in pre­sent­ing a dis­tort­ed ver­sion of Christianity that ulti­mate­ly serves their own pur­pos­es and thou­sands of peo­ple will go along with it.

This is pre­cise­ly what Ragyo does in her grand intro­duc­tion. When she retells the events of Genesis 3, she takes a the­o­log­i­cal posi­tion that cloth­ing and sin are inter­twined. Humans had no desire for cloth­ing until sin came into the pic­ture and made nudi­ty shame­ful. This dec­la­ra­tion adds reli­gious fuel to the dis­com­fort of nudi­ty and pro­vides the ground­work for an entire col­lec­tive mind­set: to be clothed is to be accept­ed, pow­er­ful, and priv­i­leged while to be naked is to be dis­grace­ful and pow­er­less.

Ragyo’s actions close­ly fol­low Crossan’s descrip­tion of empires.

  1. Religion––pro­vides the ground­work and jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for achiev­ing a cer­tain escha­to­log­i­cal vision the world. This is why Ragyo’s first sig­nif­i­cant appear­ance involves her tying a reli­gious story to her own com­pa­ny’s story.
  2. War––an inevitable trial that must be dealt with and over­come to achieve the escha­to­log­i­cal vision. Ragyo is so con­fi­dent in total suc­cess that the per­fect ver­sion of her plan does­n’t involve much blood, death, or pain. Rather, it involves swift dom­i­na­tion fol­lowed by total silence. However, Ragyo is pre­pared for war and near­ly crush­es the rebel­lion from Satsuki and Ryuko.
  3. Victory––the reward for per­se­ver­ing through the trial of war. Ragyo is cer­tain of this as she watch­es Life Fibers cover the world in the series finale. Her escha­to­log­i­cal vision is unfold­ing before her eyes.
  4. Peace––the final state of things, with the empire call­ing the shots, of course. This is the escha­to­log­i­cal vision itself, the ini­tial promise from the reli­gion ful­filled. Ragyo’s vision of peace is for Life Fibers to cover every­thing in a beau­ti­ful silence. Humanity will ful­fill its des­tiny of feed­ing the Life Fibers so they can repro­duce and scat­ter across the uni­verse. To Ragyo, this is right because human­i­ty evolved to wear clothes in the first place.

A screenshot shows Ragyo standing on a podium with her arms spread. She says, “and nothing but tranquil fibers will fill the world.”

Personal and sys­temic sins have us repeat this process. One-on-one vio­lence esca­lates into trends and we’ll use our sin­cere­ly held reli­gious beliefs to jus­ti­fy the ways we try to dom­i­nate each other, whether it’s through vio­lent wars or cov­er­ing every­one in silence. Although Ragyo is a fic­tion­al char­ac­ter in a show from a coun­try where Christianity has a tumul­tuous his­to­ry and is not a dom­i­nant faith, her actions can still help us under­stand how the per­son­al con­nects to the sys­temic. Sin pre­vents us from treat­ing our­selves and each other like we’re beings cre­at­ed in the image of God who are meant to expe­ri­ence abun­dant life. When we can’t view each other like this, we’re prone to per­pet­u­ate both indi­vid­ual and sys­temic harm.

About Taylor Ramage

Taylor Ramage is a fiction writer and blogger whose interests include anime, theology, intersectionality, and pop culture. She also enjoys memes and bad (read great) puns.