Review: Kill la Kill

Totally not Sonic Adventure 2, the anime

Kill la Kill promo poster

Evening readers, the Inverseman here with a review of Trigger’s latest work, Kill la Kill. With great expectations from an all-star team, how was the show?

Kill la Kill - Honnouji Academy wide shot

In a world much like ours, Honnouji Academy is the totalitarian school where students are marshaled under the iron fist of Satsuki Kiryuuin and her student council. The students are equipped with Ultima Uniforms, super-powered clothes that grant the wearers incredible abilities. Ryuuko Matoi is a new student looking for the person who killed her dad. Armed with only a scissor sword and the mysterious Godrobe uniform Senketsu, Ryuuko challenges Satsuki’s authority to uncover the mysteries behind her late father and the Ultima Uniforms.

Kill la Kill Ryuuko's first day

As stated in my earlier impressions back in fall, this show is ridiculous. The sheer zaniness of sentient uniforms in a world where clothes are everything, a rebellion led nudists, and nearly naked girls causing mass destruction, you gotta hand it to Trigger for making their crazy worldbuilding. The animations and designs are smart and clever from the constant clothing motifs in the cast’s bizarre weapons, to the propaganda-style typesetting of characters’ names and special attacks, to the sterile yet brutal city-on-the-hill image of Honnouji Academy. Fights are well-choreographed and so constant that the adrenaline pumps with every battle. Technically speaking, we’ve come to expect great art, and Trigger delivers.

Kill la Kill Ryuuko vs Satsuki

The characters themselves are very strong. Ryuuko and Satsuki are deep characters with real motivations and complex struggles. Whether it’s Satsuki reporting to her mother or Ryuuko stubbornly taking on the whole world, you know every battle they fight is hard-fought and every victory is hard-earned. Of course it’s easy to craft a godly overpowered cliche or the dreaded “strong” female protagonist, which is why the two leads are deeper in their flaws as well. Ryuuko is impatient and wild, and it’s certainly no gimmick like clumsiness or moe; in certain scenes when she lets her emotions get the better of her, she pays for it in real consequences that affect her and those around her. Satsuki seems immaculate, but you see a bit of humanity in her in the early arcs and changes within her as the series goes on.

Kill la Kill Ryuuko vs Four Devas

Senketsu himself shows to be a great mentor and friend to Ryuuko, going from a simple parasite-tool-esque entity to something much greater. As for the supporting cast, Satsuki’s Four Devas have their own stories and aren’t just your average big-villainous-team. Mako isn’t just Ryuuko’s sidekick, but has her own motivations and desires as a character beyond being Ryuuko’s hyperactive cheering section. The characters are lovable and easily among the strongest suits of the show.

Kill la Kill - Life Fiber Synchronization

One of the motifs I loved about Kill la Kill was the deliberate fanservice. In your average anime, fanservice is a bad sign regarding actual quality beyond cheap gags, but Trigger is fully aware of the culture in anime. In spite of the extremely risque outfits Ryuuko and Satsuki don, the characters themselves are far deeper than any average fanservice anime character. Ryuuko and Satsuki are so headstrong and competent as characters with depth that when they don their ridiculous guises, you have to take their fight seriously.

There’s very little motivation to cater and pander to the sexuality of the characters when there exists higher hanging fruit, making the scenes oddly asexual. In the audience, the viewers are so invested into the characters and their incomprehensible world that they disregard the near-nudity and just want to see the action. Not to mention after seeing the transformation enough times, you get to desensitized to it that the last of any sexuality is drained. Trigger has created a juxtaposition of visual fanservice and its intentional functional failure to cue the cheap ogling gazes, the result is a hearty “take that” to fanservice anime these days.

Kill la Kill Satsuki's glow

The show is not without its flaws though. The ubiquitous pacing issue causes the show drags in the middle and the resolution of the plot is somewhat predictable, though it was still engaging. The pacing woes carry over the plot and into some of the more minor characters, namely Nudist Beach and Ragyou’s subordinate Rei. A few themes, namely the fascism and dictatorship themes slowly get set aside past the first few episodes in exchange for the more tried and true friendship and save the world fare.

Worst of all is that some critical plot points seem almost inconsequential in the grand scheme of the series. Case in point, Nudist Beach appears to be important early on but falls to the wayside after other characters gain a massive power-up a la DBZ syndrome. Though there are deeper scars within which will sound the spoiler alarm.

SPOILERS BEGIN HERE

Kill la Kill - Mako's spiels

Kill la Kill Nudist Beach

Much of the critique of Kill laKill  comes from comparison to a certain other ridiculous action anime, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. Gurren Lagann had inherently genius pacing, properly spiraling out to get bigger and keep just enough time for each major event before exploding into a bigger one. While Ryuuko made her mistakes and did indeed learn from them in a compelling way, incidents such as her berserk transformation and her falling under mind control were so quickly resolved they had little bearing on the endgame of the plot.

Meanwhile Simon had just the right number of episodes to grapple with his issues, which not only shaped him like how Ryuuko was shaped by her mistakes, but also had a lasting impact on the plot at large.  The plot also fell into a more railroaded path towards the end, where everyone expected the final battle against Ragyou and the forthcoming heroes’ victory, unlike Gurren Lagann where there were legitimate twists into how big and how wild the plot would become.

Gurren Lagann past-present poster

Granted, these comparisons are also both warranted and unwarranted. On one hand, Kill la Kill indeed does take cues from its older sister series, so a certain expectation is consciously and unconsciously seeded in the viewers. With an emphasis on the extreme and going over-the-top every episode, that expectation is a breakneck pace with unpredictable turns at every episode, literally.

On the other hand, we must also recognize that this series is indeed it’s own series, it has its own themes and messages about accepting oneself in a world gone made to address, not the manly Spiral Energy story that’s already been told. Moreover, Gurren Lagann is in many ways a perfect storm, making it an almost unfairly tough act to follow. So yes, the series does pale in comparison, but it is by no means an inferior work.

Kill la Kill Kiryuuin family face off

Kill la Kill Ryuuko and Satsuki face off

SPOILERS END HERE 

Hiroyuki Sawano’s soundtrack is amazing as usual. The same composer behind Guilty Crown‘s stellar tracks hits home yet again. The voice acting is very unique and fits perfectly from Ami Koshimizu making Ryuuko the perfect kind of tough to Aya Suzaki more than holding her own with Mako’s rapid-fire soliloquies. Add all this to the fantastic animation and design of the series and we have a series that certainly looks and sounds beautiful.

Kill la Kill Driver's Ed

All in all, Kill la Kill may not have been the next masterpiece of the ex-Gainax crew, let alone the unrealistic “savior of the anime industry”, but it’s still a show that I’d recommend to nearly anyone. Yes, even after the whole fanservice grab, I’d still suggest it when you see how it barely becomes a concern. I can say, while not perfect, I thoroughly enjoyed Kill la Kill and I give it a solid 4/5, more than worth a watch. Join me next time when I make a new school club.

Pros

– Fantastic art and design

– Clever themes and motifs

– Complex and lovable cast

Cons

– Pacing issues detract from other departments

– More cut and dry story with looser ends

Rating: 4/5

rating40

Miscellaneous details:
Studio: Trigger
Director: Hiroyuki Imaishi
Writer: Kazuki Nakashima
Character Design: Sushio
Music: Hiroyuki Sawano
Original Run: October 3, 2013 – March 27, 2014

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Inverseman

The Inverseman is an evil overlord from an alternate dimension representing humanity's anti-existence who wound up becoming a modest civil servant.

Inverseman

The Inverseman is an evil overlord from an alternate dimension representing humanity's anti-existence who wound up becoming a modest civil servant.

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