Shinichiro MikiRomi ParkMayumi ShintaniAya Suzaki
Kill la Kill
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2013
Director: Hiroyuki Imaishi
Actor: Ami Koshimizu, Ryoka Yuzuki, Aya Suzaki, Hiroyuki Yoshino, Katsuyuki Konishi, Mayumi Shintani, Nobuyuki Hiyama, Romi Park, Shinichiro Miki, Tetsu Inada, Toshihiko Seki, Yukari Tamura
Keywords: anime, SF, magical girl, boobs
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 24 episodes
Website category: Anime 2013
Review date: 27 October 2015
Clothing is evil. (You can see where this is going already.) More specifically, it's sentient, blood-drinking and capable of transforming you into a superhero in stripperiffic battle armour on the borderline between "indecent" and "obscene". Exactly how embarrassing is it? I suspect you probably wouldn't get arrested if you went outside in it, but I wouldn't risk it if I were you. Anyway, this is anime, so we're talking about a sentient blood-drinking schoolgirl uniform, obviously.
Meanwhile your enemies will include your school's student council, who are planning a massive military operation against all other schools in the post-apocalypse toxic fascist wasteland that is Japan. After that, the story gets really bonkers.
Welcome to Kill la Kill, the second biggest anime hit of 2013 after Attack on Titan. You might have spotted that it's not entirely serious. Riotously entertaining and exaggerated beyond sanity, the most remarkable thing about it is... the animation. No, really. It's nutsoid. It's totally bugshit. This was the first production of Studio Trigger, from the people who gave us Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann and Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt. Within the first forty seconds of ep.1, you'll see what I mean. That's how long it took to hook me.
The animation production process has a rough stage. This will be messy, at times semi-scribbled preliminary animation that's been knocked off as a prototype stage, en route to the finished product. This will probably have a lot of energy, but normally one wants to smooth things down and prettify the art for a general audience.
Now imagine a show that's deliberately aiming for that rough-hewn energy. Everything is as wild and kinetic as possible. The most stupid things possible will be weaponised. Fight scenes are ludicrous. Ryuuko and Satsuki's fight in ep.3 has a massive explosion caused by them glaring at each other. And that's only ep.3 in a show that never stops trumping itself. The show's first half spins its wheels a bit plotwise, with lots of mooks in an affectionate parody of fight-of-the-week magical girl warrior shows, but the last dozen episodes will make you go "holy shit". They have ever-escalating plot developments and some of the greatest villains you've ever seen. There's not an ounce of subtlety in them, but they're monumental. Imagine the most unstoppable iron-willed baddies in all the other shows you've seen, then imagine them being crushed like bugs. Welcome to Kill la Kill's villains. They're magnificent. They're probably the biggest reason why this silly show is so colossal.
It doesn't lack drama, mind you. It's full of high melodrama, in fact, while the Ryuuko-Senketsu relationship is human and complicated. However tragedy is generally getting played for laughs, while the main characters aren't angsting over the horrible things that have happened to them. The tragedy isn't there to make you cry. The show's goal isn't to make you feel pain, but simply to blow you through the back of your seat.
It reminds me a little of Cutey Honey and I wonder if it might not be a conscious riff on that show, or at least on some of its themes. Ryuuko's quest to avenge her murdered father is like Kisaragi Honey's, but deconstructed. Both are kick-arse magical girl action heroines with a nude transformation sequence, getting in fights every week and making friends with a cartoonishly drawn family of rogues and perverts. Both shows are famous for their nudity. Ragyo Kiryuin also reminds me of Go Nagai's Silene from Devilman, although apparently there's early concept art suggesting she might have been based on Maleficent from Disney's Sleeping Beauty.
What about that fanservice? I'm not sure I'd call it fanservice, actually. The art style's so rough that the show never seemed salacious to me. It's just funny. The nudity's there for laughs and is also, I'd point out, gender-equal. (Occasionally a girl's modesty will even be preserved by underwear miraculously appearing when moments earlier she hadn't seemed to be wearing any.) Besides, the sleazy outfits aren't even flattering. You'd never wear them, not because they're immodest but because they're ugly. The most attractive girls in the show are the ones who keep their clothes on, i.e. Mako and in some people's opinion Nui, if you don't mind her being a super-cutesy murderous psycho bitch.
Mako is fantastic, by the way. She has no powers. She stays out of fights. She's just Ryuuko's best friend at school and an indestructibly perky airhead who had me falling about with laughter. Her ultimate romantic fate is a topic that could be discussed at length, but that's unrelated to what I love about the character. In a gleefully sleazy show, Mako is basically non-sexual and exists to be goofily cool and funny.
It's deceptively intelligent. When Tomoko saw some of ep.1, she said it was doing clever things with kanji that I didn't understand. Even the title has hidden meanings. "Kill" is a transliteration of "kiru", which has various meanings. Wear clothes. Cut (e.g. clothes). Cut a human, fatally (i.e. kill). You could also read the show as a metaphor for girls' adolescence, being about a teenager who's going through changes that are triggered by bleeding, in a story about clothes, body issues and gender roles applied to girls. I could extend this further, but spoilers. (The Kiryuin family are relevant to this discussion, incidentally.)
The blood-drinking thing was occasionally a bit ewww for me, but it's mostly not an issue. You might want to avoid this show if you're phobic about needles, though.
It's awesome, in the teenage fist-pumping sense of the word. Is it deep and thoughtful? Underneath, perhaps, but you'd never guess because most of what makes this show explode off the screen is, basically, shallow. The fights are amazing. The villains are titans bestriding this earth. The show's last third has a plot twist to poleaxe you in almost every episode, while the characters experience lots of strong emotion. Ryuuko goes through hell. This storyline could easily have turned out dark, brooding and intense, but of course there's no danger of that. I'm not sure if this is a show you'll feel the need to rewatch, but you'll have a blast and a half if you do.