Sunday, August 3, 2014

Anime Review: Kill la Kill

The last year or two there have been a handful of anime that have been so successful in Japan that their popularity has bled over to the United Sates. There have been enough titles that have done this lately that I am legitimately wondering if we’re on the verge of a new anime boom. I’m talking about shows like Attack on Titan, Puella Magi Madoka Magica and, of course, Sword Art Online which as you know I was very fond of. Even the new Sailor Moon anime, Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Crystal, has generated a tremendous amount of buzz. But of all these surprising hits I’m willing to bet that Kill la Kill is the goddamn strangest.

Kill la Kill was directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi and written by Kazuki Nakashima, the same team responsible for Gurren Lagann, one of the most popular anime of the last decade. This show was the first full length show to be produced by Trigger, a brand new studio. Debuting in 2013 it only wrapped up a few months ago and the turnaround of it showing up on various streaming services was pretty fast. Licensed by Aniplex of America as of this writing Kill la Kill has not yet been released on home video in the USA but is has been shown on Hulu and Netflix.

The internet has been abuzz about Kill la Kill for months now and I was seeing references and debates about it for quite some time before I bothered to give it a shot. And really I only did it so I could see what all the fuss was about. Well I have and I’ve got an opinion on it.

Full review after the jump.

She's here to kick ass and drink sake
And she's too young to drink sake
Honnouji Academy, and its surrounding town, is a fascist state ruled by its ruthless student council president Satsuki Kiryuin and her extremely loyal Elite Four. What’s more the students of the academy are provided with Goku Uniforms that grants them all manner of powers (ranging from no-star to three-star levels). Enter: Ryuko Matoi, a wandering transfer student who has come to Honnouji to find clues about her recently murdered father. After accusing Satsuki of having information she tries to take her out but is soundly defeated by one of the president’s low level flunkies. Escaping to her old home Ryuko soon discovers a sentient school uniform presumably left by her father. Called Senketsu the uniform grants Ryuko powers of her own making her strong enough to fight Satsuki’s minions on even terms. The two young women soon find themselves at war with one another.

When I initially started watching this cartoon I was unaware of the connection between it and Gurren Lagann but even in my ignorance it became very clear very quickly that this show was a spiritual successor to the 2007 anime. If you enjoyed Gurren Lagann you will likely find some enjoyment out of Kill la Kill because both shows draw from the same pool of ridiculous, over-the-top craziness that somehow translates in hot blooded awesomeness powered by the Rule of Cool. The result is an anime that gives you exactly what you want so long as what you want are massive fight scenes that spill into ludicrous levels of unbelievability and then takes a few step past that line for good measure.

Sastuki, taking her role as class president to the next murderous logical state
In short this anime takes a shojo magical girl series and a shonen fighting series and tosses them both in a blender along with a big bag of hallucinogenic drugs and then injects the result directly into your eyeball. Whether this sounds interesting or revolting to you will almost certainly determine whether this show is for you.

The cast of Kill la Kill features a wide array of colorful characters. I really liked that Ryuko was the main protagonist of the show. A rough and tumble teenage delinquent she’s the type of lead that would be right at home in just about any shonen fighting manga series except she’s also a girl which is rare. But I thought that was a good choice because it makes her feel unique among other anime protagonists even if it’s just due to a gender swap. Satsuki, who is functionally the opposite of Ryuko, makes a really good foil for our protagonist. It helps that both characters are more than they seem in their earliest appearances in the show and go through quite a bit of character development before the series ends.

The rest of the cast are not as developed over time but are a still fine and energetic bunch. From Ryuko’s overly enthusiastic, and possibly dim-witted, best friend Mako Mankanshoku and her outrageous family to the members of the ridiculous yet strangely appropriate named Nudist Beach, to the delightfully bonkers Nui Harime; there’s a lot of characters to like in this show. I do wish that the Elite Four were utilized a bit more. The show does use them correctly for the most part but we get glimpses of their back stories that make them seem extremely interesting but the show never follows through. After I watched the show I found out more of their backgrounds were listed in a Kill la Kill Light Novel (in the notes section of all things) which upsets me for a variety of reasons. They were good characters but they could have been great ones if the show took the time to explore them. At 24 episodes would it have killed Trigger to up the count to 26 and use the extra time to go into their backgrounds a bit more?

The Honnouji Student Council: Greater than the Indigo Pokemon League
The plot was a pretty gripping one (albeit really f**king weird but I’ll get back to that later). It was simple, yes, but once things went from “which club president do I have to beat up this week” to a conflict with greatly raised stakes it pretty much had me hooked. There were some issues that were predictable but also things that came out of nowhere so it balances out to be pretty good. Things could have probably been tighter, and they sure as shit could have made more sense with the storytelling, but that might have been at the expense of the overall tone and in my opinion that wouldn’t be worth it.

The artwork of Kill la Kill is its most obvious weak point. On top of things looking fairly ugly to start off with, and the fact that things get downright hideous on occasion, there are also the clear art tricks to give the illusion of animation as well as some stock footage around. Being that this is Trigger’s first TV work it would make sense that their budget might be fairly low so it is probably understandable. Gurren Lagann had a similar issue and like that show Kill la Kill suffers for it but you’ll likely forget about as the series continues.

Pictured: Pretty much 80% of what Kill la Kill is all about
No, where Kill la Kill really takes a left turn is with how goddamn weird it is. It gets so ridiculously bizarre in its world building that it sometimes makes Gurren Lagann look like Monster. A lot of what makes the show this way are spoilers but even the basic concept of “students battling each other with school uniforms that give them superpowers” is a pretty out there concept and yet that is only the tip of the iceberg. By the time the series end you would have seen shit that if it appeared in any other context you might assume you were having a fever dream. To make matters worse the series is so stylized and fast paced that the storytelling has a tendency to run off the rails. As such things don’t really make a giant amount of sense when you start watching it. I think things came together pretty well eventually but I know a lot of people would likely stop watching well before that happens. Kill la Kill is worth a watch but don’t come into it expecting to immediately understand what the hell is going on because you will get frustrated pretty quickly.

My personal major problem with the show is the fan service. Honestly I’m not even sure I can properly call it “fan service” seeing just how much of it was either played for laughs or oddly important to the plot. This show is more or less satire after all. But even so there’s a lot of naked teenagers running around and a lot of overly sexualized situations all of which I found distracting. Even Ryuko’s transformed armor seems like a disturbed person’s wet dream fantasy…but, again, the scantily clad nature of the suit is a major plot point (seriously) so it’s hard to rant about it. I guess I just wish some of this stuff had been toned down. Not nearly as crucial was the amount of time dedicated to Aikuro Mikisugi hitting on the underage Ryuko or the really uncomfortable, and very likely abusive, relationship between Satsuki and at her mother (I don’t want to talk about her mom too much because of spoilers but goddamn that woman is gross). That shit easily could have been left out.

We could probably rename this anime "Jailbait: The Series"
A minor nitpick for Netflix is that the subtitles (and it’s only available there in subtitles as of this writing) had a tendency to disappear with the constant appearance of kanji showing up and be translated. So someone will be talking then suddenly giant red kanji text will appear on the screen (because it’s that kind of show) but I have no idea what the shit they’re saying but the subtitles are translating the text and not the dialogue. It got pretty frustrating. But again that’s not the show; that appears to be Netflix.

At the end of the day Kill la Kill possesses most of what made Gurren Lagann special except the ability to make viewers ignore the show’s flaws. This show has issues and you won’t likely just forget them due to being distracted by the Rule of Cool. That said this is one of the most unique anime I’ve ever seen despite clearly being influenced by familiar genre. The creators were clearly thinking way outside the box and managed to make a (mostly) comprehensible series that ends up being really fun. And make no mistake ; this show is really fun. I imagine this will be a “love it or hate it” type of anime but if you like over-the-top zaniness and batshit crazy scenarios you’ll want to watch this show. If you hate that sort of thing I can’t imagine you’ll like this anime at all.

And I guess there's something about friendship and loyalty? Maybe?
 I give Kill la Kill 4 Adorable Pandas out of 5


-Strong Female Lead 

-Very unique 

-An extremely fun cartoon 

-Over-the-top antics and “Rule of Cool’ used well 

-Fun cast of characters 


-Loaded with fan service (even if it’s satire) 

-Can be difficult to follow 

-Animation can be bad at times

I often have trouble deciding what anime to watch next so if you have any suggestions for shows I should check out e-mail me at If it's convenient I'll try to watch and review it.

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