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I'm rewatching Kill La Kill and I've noticed that the word "kisama" is used by every one of the bad guys (Student Council, Satsuki Kiryuin, Ragyo, and so on) to address basically every good character (i.e. Ryuuko, Mako, her family, etc.).

I know that in the Japanese language there are multiple different ways to address another person depending on the level of familiarity you have with them and so on, and I know that "kisama" is the most impolite way of addressing anybody (and it's usually translated as "bastard" or something like that when it's used).

My question is: why does Satsuki Kiryuin use "kisama" to address the Elite Four? They should, at least, be worthy of a bit more of respect. Was it a stylistic choice that Satsuki would address virtually everyone (with few exceptions such as the butler and Iori, for example) in such a disrespectful way, or is there a different meaning for "kisama" I'm not aware of?

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    It looks to me like we've only seen kisama used to address people condescendingly or in conjunction with swear words and death threats, so it kinda became synonymous with "Hey, you bastard!" but the original meaning is lost on us since we haven't often seen it used otherwise. – Hakase Jan 11 '15 at 22:59
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My question is: why does Satsuki Kiryuin use "kisama" to address the Elite Four? They should, at least, be worthy of a bit more of respect.

Well, for the one thing, this is anime. Typical conventions governing the use of honorifics in actual spoken Japanese frequently go out the window in anime.

[...] or is there a different meaning for "kisama" I'm not aware of?

It so happens that the "bad guys" that use kisama frequently are precisely those who typically speak in a mildly archaic-sounding register of Japanese (from memory: Satsuki, Gamagoori, Sanageyama, and Ragyou - but not Inumuta, Nonon, or Nui). The use of kisama in an archaic register of Japanese is not harsh as its use in a modern register would be - historically, kisama was in fact a polite word (roughly "honorable person"); cf. here or here for what little English-language reading about this I was able to find.

Even in modern registers of Japanese, I feel that kisama is a smidge less harsh than its typical (shoddy) English translation "you bastard", though I don't know if other people would agree.

Was it a stylistic choice that Satsuki would address virtually everyone (with few exceptions such as the butler and Iori, for example) in such a disrespectful way [...]

I imagine the reason that Satsuki addresses Soroi (her butler) using a different pronoun (kimi) is that kimi is a more familiar term of address than kisama, and she feels that she can open up to Soroi more than anyone else.

But really, I think this is mostly down to characters using more "powerful" language for dramatic effect (e.g. to express Satsuki's general disdain for most people) since this is an anime rather than real life. You'll see this happening in many an anime; Kill la Kill is by no means unique in this respect.

  • So it was actually a polite word as well, then. Now it actually makes more sense. However, it is kind of strange to hear the same word with so different a meaning depending on the moment in which it is used. Anyway, thanks for the answer. – ThCP Jan 12 '15 at 15:33

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