In the first episode of Kill la Kill we find out that Ryuko Matoi has been traveling from school to school looking for her father’s killer. Her only clue being the scissor blade that she carries in a case. She is looking for the other half of the blade that the killer had. When she arrives at Honnouji Academy the blade is recognized by Satsuki Kiryuin so Ryuko knows she is hot on the trail of the killer.
In Japanese history and entertainment stories of avenging the death of a family member, usually a father, comes up again and again. The structure of such tales is a simple one. A family member is killed, usually killed in a fight, the killer leaves and a family member searches until they find the killer to challenge them to a duel. Variants exist, it may be a daughter in law who was killed and is being avenged by her mother in law as in one of the episodes of the TV series Baian the Assassin, which is available in a box set in the U.S. Or it may be the father avenging their child, any variant that a storyteller would come up with.
The most famous case of an actual vendetta, and the prototype for many later stories, is the tale of the Soga Brothers. Soga Gorō and Soga Jūrō were the sons of Kawazu Saburo Sukeyasu who had been murdered by his cousin Kudo Suketsune. The boys were small children when this happened and their mother eventually marred a man named Soga hence the family name of the brothers.
Years later, in 1193, the boys saw their opportunity and attacked and killed Kudo Suketsune while he was accompanying the Shogun Yoritomo on a hunting trip. Various tales have Suketsune either drunk or with a prostitute when he is killed, both could easily have been true. In the fight that followed Jūrō was killed and Gorō captured. The shogun was impressed with the bravery of the two young men and wanted to pardon Gorō but Suketsune’s son insisted on an execution so Gorō was killed. There are many variants of this tale which was first written down around 1266, before then it had been told by performers as entertainment for the listeners. There are also songs, Nō plays, illustrated books, bunraku puppet plays and of course kabuki. Some of these tellings played fast and loose with the tale to better entertain the audience who would know the original tale and liked new twists on an old plot.
One of the kabuki plays that was very loose with the tale is Sukeroku where the dashing dandy title character is causing all sorts of ruckus on the street in order to start fights so he can see the blades that others are carrying, in this case he is looking for his father’s sword that was stolen by the killer. The play is done with great dialogue and lots of humor and continues to be a favorite of audiences since it was first performed in 1713.
Speaking of kabuki stories, one of the classic movies from Japan which is available in the U.S. that deals with vengeance is Revenge of a Kabuki Actor in which an actor has years later found the murderer of his parents. Whether it be samurai, gangsters, or—as in the case of Ryuko—students, the vendetta trope has a long history in Japanese storytelling.
Kill la Kill is available to stream with English and Spanish subs in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Columbia, and Argentina