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Ok, so I will preface this by saying that I am by NO MEANS an expert here, just a Japanese major/speaker who is dedicated to being an otaku. Also, The minute I started watching Kill La Kill the names were hilarious to me, so I did more digging than the initial puns I heard, and then my husband pointed out to me I should post this stuff. If there are any *native* Japanese speakers out there who want to correct any of this, please speak up, since this is my version of throwing linguistic darts at a dartboard.
Ok, so in the interest of NOT spoiling it for all my friends and followers who haven’t watched much KLK yet, I’m going to keep these very bare-bones. Also, two hours into this I realized I am only going to do the main characters. Maybe I’ll do the rest later. Whatever.
Matoi Ryūko (纏流子): Our main character, and bitchin’ revenge seeker. Her first name, Ryuuko, has a couple possible meanings: 流子 could literally means ‘child of the current’ or ‘child of the flow’ based on taking the literal meaning of the kanji 流, which is usually used with its kun reading ‘naga’ like in the word ‘nagasu’ to indicate the flow or current of a river, etc. But, There is also the possibility that 流 is a reference to a very archaic use of the kanji which means ‘exile,’ making her the ‘exiled child.’
Next, her family name Matoi is the kanji 纏, which is the kanji from matomeru, which can mean ‘to collect, to amass or to gather up’ or ‘to wrap up or bring to conclusion’. But, again, there’s another meaning, which more closely resembles the pronunciation ‘Matoi’, and that is as part of ‘纏いつく’(matoitsuku), which means to entwine, or to wrap around something. Okay, and this one is slightly spoilery, but one of the OTHER readings of ‘纏’ is in the verb ‘纏う’ which mean ‘to wear or be clad in’. Which, if you go by the conjugation would work out to her being ‘纏います’: matoimasu (clad in or wearing). This is made even more interesting by the fact that the kanji 纏 directly contains the radical 糸, which means ‘thread’.
RIGHT. So, with a completely lack of specificity, she could be ‘child who is entwined in the flow’; ‘exiled child of the collective’; or ‘child clad in the flow’. Aaand I’m gonna leave that right there because any of my other thoughts or definitions on the matter would ruin somebody’s enjoyment.
Senketsu (鮮血): It’s the name Ryuuko gave him, it literally means ‘fresh blood’. There are no levels of meaning here beyond the obvious.
Kiryūin Satsuki(鬼龍院皐月) : The very easy surface meaning of Satsuki is as the designated name for the fifth month of the Japanese lunar calendar. We would think of it as May, and it’s generally associated with early summer and first blooming. It’s a pretty common girl’s name, even though Ms. Kiryuuin has the more archaic spelling for it. But, more interestingly, ‘satsuki’ can also refer to satsuki azaleas, which grow only in Japan, and are very commonly used for the art of bonsai. Please take a moment to recall that bonsai trees are carefully cultivated and shaped by their owners over the course of years.
Ok, so her family name 鬼龍院 is actually very easy to parse: ‘Temple of the Demon Dragon’ or even ‘School of the Demon Dragon’, depending on how you want to read the kanji 院. 龍(ryuu) also can mean ‘imperial’, so It could be ‘Temple/School of the Imperial Demon’
So Satsuki is either poetically the ‘first bloom of the imperial demon temple’; or literally ‘May of the Demon Dragon Temple/School’. Personally, given the very strong connection to cultivated bonsai trees, I very much would stress that the implication of her name as implying something more like ‘the carefully groomed first blossom of the imperial demon temple’ And uh. I don’t want to give away anything else?
Junketsu (純潔): Literally means ‘purity.’ However, the kanji reading break-down would be ‘pure purity’ if taken literally, it’s a double-purity; two kanji both meaning and pure and undefiled. The play on words is that the pronunciation of the second kanji is the same as the ‘ketsu’ from Ryuuko’s Senketsu, which means blood, so Satsuki’s armor can also be understood as ‘pure blood’ to Ryuuko’s ‘fresh blood’ armor.
Mankanshoku Mako (満艦飾マコ): I love Mako the best, I really do. And this is made pretty easy by the fact that her first name is in katana. So it doesn’t have any particular meaning as is. But, the two most common spellings for the name ‘Mako’ in Japanese are 真子 & 魔子, the first means ‘truthful/genuine child’ and the second means ‘demon/witch child’. Uh. Given Mako’s personality, I’m gonna go with the first one.
Her last name ‘満艦飾’ precisely means, ‘dressed up’ as in ‘full dressed ship.’ It’s pretty much the English equivalent of saying Mako’s last name is ‘all decked out.’ Which is hilarious.
So if we want to go with my take on her first name, Mako can be read as being ‘child all decked out in honesty’ or ‘dressed up in the truth’. Kind of ‘what you see is what you get’.
Gamagōri Ira (蟇郡 苛): Those of you who have seen Gamagōri’s transformation will die laughing when I inform you that his first name, Ira? Literally translates as ‘torment or chastise’. Repeated twice, ‘iraira’ means to annoy or irritate. There are no words for how pleased this makes me.
His last name? 蟇 is ‘toad’ and 郡 means ‘district or county’. So he is literally ‘a district of toads’ (please pause while I laugh hysterically). However, the most common use of the *pronunciation* of ‘gamagōri’ would be Gamagōri city, which is located in Aichi Prefecture, Japan. It uses the kanji ‘蒲郡’ (cattail region) rather than the ‘蟇郡’ (toad region).
Truth be told, this is possibly a joke that you’d have to be Japanese to get? Anybody know what’s up? Studio Trigger is also located in Aichi, but not particularly close to Gamagōri. My closest guess would be that this is some sort of in-joke related to Gamagōri being plagued with toads. /shrugs
EDIT: Many people have awesomely pointed out that Gamagōri’s theme song is ‘GoriLLA’ and that when saying his name all together it comes out as ‘Gama Gorilla’, not to mention that the animation style pokes fun at and plays with the ‘gorilla’ body type he has.
Sanageyama Uzu (猿投山 渦): First name will probably ring a bell - it’s the same ‘uzu’ from Uzumaki. It means ‘whirlpool or vortex’.
Again, this is another name that is a kanji word play, and what appears to be a local area pun. In this case, ‘猿投山’ refers to Mt Sanage, in Aichi prefecture, and is conventionally pronounced ‘Sanagesan’. The kanji for the location rough translate to ‘monkey toss’, which is related to a very old legend about some emperor pitching his beloved pet monkey into the sea from a shrine at the top.
So yeah, I’m pretty sure poor Sanageyama’s name might literally mean ‘vortex of monkey tossing mountain’ which is frankly so goddamn hilarious I can barely breathe. Also explains why the other Elite Four are always referring to him as ‘monkey’ - it’s in his name.
Inumuta Hōka(犬牟田 宝火 ): This is another weird one. 宝火(houka) could be pronounced the more typical ‘takarahi’ for the given kanji. They’re the common kanji for ‘treasure’ and ‘fire.’ So ‘treasure fire’. I have no answer for this one, because until I paid attention, I honestly thought his first name had to be 放火 (also pronounced houka), which means ‘arson’. So, I have no clue what the heck.
犬牟田 is also a damn mystery. It is literally ‘dog + pupil(eye) + field’ . Unless they mean 牟 to be the sound a cow makes (same kanji) which would make his name ‘dog + moo + field’. Unless his name is supposed to mean ‘dog in a field of cows’ I have no idea. Anybody who can decipher this one for me gets a virtual cookie.
EDIT: The cookie goes to lore-flaneur, who points out that the “dog in a field of cows” reference might be the one to stick with! ‘It could refer to a couple of things: that a dog in a field of cows is a shepherd-type dog, corralling them, and/or really good at disguises.’
Jakuzure Nonon (蛇崩乃音): 乃 is a possessive particle indicating belonging or coming from, and 音 means sound. So ‘Nonon’ literally means ‘of or from sound’ which makes sense with her powers.
蛇崩 is a combo of ‘snake’ and the kanji meaning ‘to level or demolish’.
So Jakuzure’s name is pretty clear: ‘the snake who demolishes from within sound’
Mikisugi Aikurō (美木杉愛九郎): Look at all that beauty and love! 愛 (ai) means love, and ‘kurou’ is a common surname, which literally means ‘ninth son’. Again, this is another one where I’m stumped, because 愛苦労, with alternate kanji for ‘kurou’ means ‘love troubles.’ And I really want that to be the pun. But I think I’m probably reading too much into it?
The kanji 美木杉 literally mean ‘beautiful cedar tree’. But, there’s another bad pun here because ‘mikisugi’ is also slang for ‘too beautiful’ or ‘gorgeous’, a shortening of ‘美すぎる’.
Given that his surname is an awesome play on words; his first name could be too, especially given the outrageousness of his character. I would find it awesome if the pun on his name is supposed to be ‘too beautiful for love troubles’ but my husband just accused me of overreaching on that one. Thoughts?
Kinagase Tsumugu (黄長瀬紬): Yay, another easy one! 紬(tsumugu) is a cloth made from raw silk, or often used to mean the pure silk itself.
The best match I could find on the last name was hint that 黄長石 is the Japanese name for Melilite, which is a type of crystal found in igneous rocks. 瀬 means ‘shoal’ or ‘rapids’. So fucked if I know. Thoughts?
Matoi Isshin (纏 一身): Isshin is a pretty common way to indicate the entirety of oneself. Interestingly, it’s most commonly used in conjunction with a variety of verbs to express that someone devoted themselves (or used all of oneself) towards a cause or purpose.(一身を、一身に）
Since I already explained various reading of ‘Matoi’ with Ryuuko, I won’t repeat it here. Suffice it to say her dad the professor would read as ‘being completely wrapped up’; or ‘his whole being is entwined’; or at more of a stretch, ‘given over to wearing or being clad’
Harime Nui (針目縫): Nui probably drives me the most nuts because she has a great, big katakana ネ(ne) on her right eye, but her name is ‘Nui’! AUGH. Anyway! I barely had to check the kanji on her name, because I’m a stitcher, so use the term ‘nui’ a lot. It means ‘sewing’ or ‘to sew’.
Harime means ‘seam’, so Nui has the most boring name out of everyone: her name means ‘to sew a seam’. If any one sees something else there, please let me know.
Edit 2: lore-flaneur has chimed in on this as well, saying that she thinks Nui’s eyepatch ‘is the radical for “thread”, or also the katakana for both “nu” and “i” combined’
Personally, I think you should take all of us and our theories with a grain of salt, since her darn eyepatch doesn’t really look much of anything like 糸, 予 or any particular combination of イ and ヌ mushed together either. In conclusion: GUH. I’ll wait for some wit at TRIGGER to inform us of their intentions.
Kiryuin Ragyo (鬼龍院羅暁): Ragyo is quite literally ‘the gauzy silk of dawn’.
Combine with ‘imperial demon temple’ for best results.
Hōōumaru Rei (鳳凰丸礼): The ‘rei’ in this case is the kanji for ‘thank’, which can also be used as ‘manners’ or occasionally ‘to give bow or honor to’.
Houou(yes, that is a lot of the ‘o’ sound) is the word for Chinese phoenix, but in this case her entire last name ‘Hōōumaru’ is very precisely the name of a Western-style Japanese frigate, launched in 1853. Translating roughly it means ‘phoenix circle’ . Ok, wow. Further digging out of frustrated rage, I discovered that ‘鳳凰円’ Also pronounced ‘hōōumaru’ and also meaning ‘phoenix circle’ is one way of referring to a style of crests which Japanese nobility used. Historically, it was believed that phoenixes appeared to herald the birth of a great ruler, and came at dawn.
If I need to explain the connection to Ragyo here, I might pinch someone.
Ok, that’s it, that last one is making me call it the end out of frustrated linguistic and cultural rage.
Feel free to Message me if you would like to correct anything, or have further thoughts!