I have a klk question, and I apologize if you've answered it before, but, do you find any significance in Ryuko taking a big bite out of an unpeeled lemon in her introduction? Like, was it just meant to make her seem hard? Or like, does it have some subtext I don't understand? Is she ever seen eating lemon/drinking lemonade as a background thing? I've always wondered about this. Thanks.
I gotta be honest with you: I’m atrocious at talking about symbolism. There’s a reason that my hundreds of essays hardly ever mention it.
So… I haven’t especially covered this before, but I can provide some Thoughts.
First and foremost, the lemon scene has been largely understood as a homage to FLCL, a coming-of-age anime worked on by Gainax—the studio that Hiroyuki Imaishi and Masahiko Otsuka left to found Studio Trigger, which is the team behind Kill la Kill.
In the first episode of FLCL, Naota, the protagonist, refuses to drink the rest of the sour, “Lemon Squash” pop that his friend Mamimi didn’t finish. He claims that he “[doesn’t] like sour drinks” and proceeds to toss the can aside.
However, at the end of the episode, Mamimi offers Naota the sour pop again, and his reaction changes. While he repeats his sentiment—“I told you, I don’t like sour stuff”—Naota doesn’t toss the can aside this time, instead guzzling the drink down.
So, when Ryuko, the protagonist of Kill la Kill, begins the first episode of her show not just forcing herself to consume something sour, but does so purposefully, without flinching… there’s probably something there. Kill la Kill’s director Imaishi did work extensively on FLCL, after all.
But what exactly is meant to be conveyed in either series is entirely dependent on how the “sour” symbol is understood.
On the one hand, the “sourness” could be a symbol of “first love.” For Naota to accept the drink in FLCL would be to accept an “indirect kiss” from Mamimi, who had been drinking from the can previously. The “first love” idea seems supported in Kill la Kill, with Ryuko noting, after Mataro steals her lemon (at least in the original Japanese script), “You’re that eager to learn what first love tastes like?”
Mataro: Bitch, don’t try to be all witty! I’ve had my first kiss!
And with the idea of “first love” comes the idea of childishness. Though it may have some… Unfortunate Implications, in both FLCL and Kill la Kill, it could be said that getting into a first romantic relationship is a sign of growing up. The fact that Naota initially refuses to taste “first love” represents his initial refusal to come of age—and the fact that Mataro in Kill la Kill insists that he has had his first kiss (or “get[s] way more action than [Ryuko]!” in the dub) represents his desire to seem “grown-up” and experienced.
Ryuko’s utterly blase eating of the lemon would then also imply that she has had romantic relationship(s) in the past and is not afraid of them.
However, with all of this, the “sourness” could simply be a larger metaphor: a metaphor of adulthood, maturity, that kind of stuff. Naota deciding to take in the sourness at the end of the first opening episode signifies that his show is going to feature his coming of age—something he initially didn’t want anything to do with, but that the story is going to push him to experience regardless. Ryuko immediately biting into a lemon could then signify that she’s already come of age, but—and more likely, considering Kill la Kill’s ending—it could also signify that she’s not afraid of the hardships, challenges, and “sourness” that comes with coming of age.
In this way, I also see the “sourness” as a bit of a metaphor for moving forward rather than running away. The lemon pop in FLCL is first featured when Naota struggles to tell Mamimi that his brother is seeing someone else—a hard, difficult, “adult” situation that’s not fun and not comfortable. Naota throws the can away, perhaps representative of how he wants to run away from this problem. At the end of the episode, though, Naota has revealed the truth to Mamimi, and he then drinks the pop, signifying that there’s no more running away: he’s growing up, whether he likes it or not.
But disregarding the FLCL tribute, a character introduction that features the character biting into a raw, unpeeled lemon is powerful on its own. It tells audiences right away that this character is badass—whether her lemon-eating is because she’s not afraid of growing up or hardship or “first love” or because of any other reason, you shouldn’t mess with this chick.