28 June 2014

hell hath no fury - bodies and women

Previously, we have talked about Kill la Kill; and in the ebook, we will talk a bit more about the grotesque, the feminine, and the way bodies and nudity are portrayed. 

But for now, I (Kit) have been rewatching the films released in the franchises of Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Revolutionary Girl Utena. And in Kill la Kill, in Madoka Magica, and in Utena, much is made of bodies. Of shapes. Of forms. Of women and of power.

In Kill la Kill: not only are there the Kamui (Senketsu, Junketsu, and so on) but there is Kiryuin Ragyou; we learn that she has combined with the alien Life Fibers. Her back is filled with star-shaped scars, and she accentuates the body; she speaks of shame and the human need to cover oneself, even as she delights in her ownership of other bodies (such as her daughter Satsuki's). Nui could count as a strange, absurd body; she is said to be an artificial humanlike creature, made out of Life Fibers. She can create copies of herself, she is even animated with less frames than is usual for anime.  This creates a deliberately strange and alien effect; we see her pink outfit, her smile, her apparently bubbly demeanor; and then shudder when we notice she does not move in a way we would expect her to. When we get used to her smiling face and energy... that is when she becomes more terrifying. You could even call her hysterical. 

In Madoka Magica? We are first introduced to Kaname Madoka - in the film - during a morning routine involving walking, washing up, getting dressed for school. A major turn in the plot of the franchise comes out of the reveal that the bodies of the magical girls.. are not their own, in a sense. The bodies are but spare containers, with extra strength and endurance, the ability to use magic, and it is the Soul Gems which encase the magical girls' essences. The body can be injured, tortured, or destroyed, but as long as the Soul Gem is active (and near the body), they will eventually live to fight witches again.

The witches themselves are abstract shapes and images; often, the witches are illustrated in a different style than the main animation, illustrating an image shift. They are not made the same way as our magical girls. They are Other. Distorted. Unfamiliar. Weird. The magical girls reject the idea that their bodies are now shells/containers, because their bodies are familiar to them; their faces look the same, their smiles, their hands, their legs, their feet. But in the case of the witches, who were the Other, who were the Strange Enemy that they pledged their souls to fight... their horror comes from the fact that they turn into something that is no longer recognizable. Their speech is distorted and alien. Even the witches' environments are strange, filled with symbols and shadows that usually reflect the origin of the witch... if only by association. The environment seems chaotic. Images over images masking any coherence, the witches are what magical girls become when overcome with despair: as if humanity, coherence, flesh and blood were masks. The usual methods of communication do not work. The witches are powerful - yet powerless. They try to communicate, to not be alone - with the end result (in the franchise) being listlessness, despair, disappearances, attacks, suicides. 

In Utena, gender ambiguity and boundaries get brought in as well: we are introduced to Tenjou Utena (the main character) charming the school - except for people who think that she dresses too masculine, that she looks like a boy. Arisugawa Juri, the fencing team captain with elegant orange-yellow curls, faces despair and shame due to her obsessive love for another girl and her regret and pain. She is elegant, beautiful, a classic feminine beauty, a princess; and yet her transgressions are that she is a warrior, that she is not the 'right' body for loving women. 

And then there's Anthy, who is described as both a bride, and a witch. As docile, meek, subservient: and yet mysterious and fierce - as a source of pity and a source of rage.

But above all, a source of power.

What will you do with that power? With your body?

With your own two hands?

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