Name: Kill la Kill
Hiroyuki Imaishi (Director, Gurren Lagann, Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt)
Kazuki Nakashima (Writer, Gurren Lagann)
Hiroyuki Sawano (Composer, Attack On Titan)
One of the most frustrating things about having a laptop out of action for over a month is that I have missed an awful lot of anime, as websites like Crunchyroll, Daisuki, Wakanim and Animax don’t like Flash players, ruling out my Wii U browser and other than Crunchyroll and Daisuki, the others don’t have iOS apps. This meant that despite how much I wanted to, I could not watch Studio Trigger’s Kill la Kill until the other night. However, I have managed to blast my way through all five currently aired episodes and well, thought that I should share my thoughts on them.
Kill la Kill gained a lot of attention prior to its debut due to it being the first television anime produced by Studio Trigger, an animation studio founded in 2011 by former Gainax employees Hiroyushi Imaishi and Masahiko Ohtsuka. Trigger’s previous works have been limited to smaller work (like a single episode of The Idolmaster) or OVAs, such as the crowd-funded Little Witch Academia. It is obvious that the production of Kill la Kill was not something the studio took lightly – they wanted to take their time with it and that has shown.
One of the factors that put this series on the radar of many people was that it reunited Hiroyuki Imaishi and Kazuki Nakashima (the director and writer of the critically acclaimed Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann respectively). Personally, this didn’t phase me much as I didn’t actually like Gurren Lagann (okay, put your guns down now!). What drew me to Kill la Kill was when I watched trailers and saw the striking art style. It instantly stood out from the rest of the fold; it was obvious that Kill la Kill wasn’t just another shonen series, which is down to Director Hiroyuki Imaishi, whose previous works have been known for their unique and energetic looks. Due to being without a laptop for a while I couldn’t watch the series when it started, but I started to see users on Tumblr uploading screen-caps and GIFs that shared a style similar to Little Witch Academia, an OVA produced by the studio and this only increased my intrigue even more. What was this series? Well, I had to found and now, I have: In short, Kill la Kill is over the top in almost every way and doesn’t give a damn – in fact, it embraces it with open arms.
The series’ setting is the Honnouji Academy, which unlike the typical high schools you see in series’ like K-ON!, looks like a towering fortress and is overrun by Satsuki Kiryuin, the daughter of the board of director’s leader and head of the Student Council dictatorship (in fact, the early episodes try to constantly remind the viewers of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime in a way that probably was meant to be subtle, but wasn’t). Fellow students and even the staff find themselves oppressed by the towering Satsuki and her council, who are powered up by “Goku Suits” that give them superhuman abilities. The series’ protagonist, Ryuko Matoi, is a feisty 17-year old transfer student who quickly puts herself at odds with the council, by declaring that she is out for any information she can get about the identity of her father’s killer.
It is really easy to forget that this series is set in a school due to the utter brutality of the Student Council, such as proudly displaying a stripped down and executed attempted thief across the school’s entrance. Hardly any of the scenes so far have done anything even remotely school-like, with the focus being on Ryuko having to fight Satsuki’s various underlings who are out for her for disrespecting Satsuki and possessing a blade capable of damaging the Goku Uniforms. The bizarre mix of high school life and over-the-top action leads to some very unique and entertaining action scenes, such as one episode where Ryuko, after protecting ditzy and hyperactive classmate Mako from a 110 Million Cannonball Serve barrage for missing Tennis Club practice, has to face off against the rather psychotic-looking team captain in a rather deadly game of tennis – let’s just say the walls are completely outlined with giant spikes and players deliver serves with enough force to shatter the ground.
When these action scenes do happen, they are presented in an incredibly stylistic and fluid way that makes the level of destruction and ridiculousness actually feasible to swallow, as well as an absolute treat for the eyes, such as in an early episode where Ryuko and Satsuki’s fight begins outdoors, then goes through various rooms in the school building, only to end up outside again – it was chaotic, catastrophic and dayum did it look good.
In any other series, the likes of Satsuki and her followers would be seen as rather cookie-cutter villains for an evil organisation, but the setting of Honnouji Academy provides a unique and extremely fun twist. Sometimes, I was watching episodes and thinking “Actually, you know what? School life was sort of like this…just not as over the top” and let’s be honest, it is. You have the popular students in their closed off cliques that make life a living hell for everyone else and staff who don’t do anything about it – we’re just lucky that it (usually) doesn’t go as far as people being dipped in deep fat fryers. Maybe amidst all the insanity, we can fit in some sarcastic social commentary?
Kill la Kill‘s greatest strength though is that it is a series that balances on that fine line between seriousness and comedy and does it perfectly. We can have a really tense scene where Ryuko is squaring off the possible killer of her father, swearing that she will find out the truth, only for the scene to effortlessly and seamlessly switch to the bizarre and random Mako, with a “Hallelujah” heralding the beginning of her random skit-like statements about Arceus-knows what, such as how Ryuko should just strip naked and somehow, the story manages to etch these random outbursts into being incredibly relevant to the story with the moral of needing to become one with your suit and let’s not get into the ridiculous poses Mako does when making these explanations. Actually, here’s an example:
- Sometimes, these situations are reversed and random bits of comedy are injected into serious scenes, such as when Ryuko is talking to teacher Aikuro. While in a deep explanation about the inner workings of the Life Fibres of the Goku and Kamui Suits, Ryuko asks Aikuro about the rather scandalous design of he garb when it was worn, to which his reply was stating that it must have been to her father’s tastes. Ryuko’s dramatic reaction completely suits the feeling of the scene as a whole, just not the question and answer it proceeded, but it succeeds so naturally because Kill la Kill has the comedy-drama mix down perfectly.
- The biggest example of the amazing ability to jump between comedy and seriousness (that yes, I will soon shut up about) is to compare episodes 4 and 5. Episode 4 features the incredibly comical and far-fetched escapade of the characters having to get through an obstacle course to make sure they aren’t late for school, which has everything from an old lady with a machine gun, to a Pulp Fiction reference and a dog that gets nosebleeds from seeing a human’s panties! Then jump to Episode 5 and you have a more serious episode looking at the relationship between humans the Life Fibre suits. There’s also the amazing soundtrack from Hiroyuki Sawano that has actually given me goose-bumps on numerous occasions – when “Don’t Lose Your Way” kicks in…BAM, you know things are about to get epic.
- One of the most obvious things about this series, which has attracted a lot of attention to it though, is the level of fanservice it offers. You just have to take one look at Ryuko to see that:
It’s also pretty much a fact in this series that the majority of guys are perverts – Mako’s father, brother and even dog are constantly trying to see Ryuko change, while the various background character guys are seen with nosebleeds and taking pictures during fights. What is brilliant though is that blatant fanservice goes both ways, with Aikuro clearly not being one with body issues (it also doesn’t help that he’s voiced by Shinichiro Miki. Even as a perfectly straight man, I can admit that he has a rather seductive sounding voice).
The level of fanservice, mixed with Satsuki being a despot ruler has lead to a lot of discussion on certain social media websites that won’t be named about whether this series is empowering to feminism or misogynistic (those two are so far apart that I find it odd to think how anything could be on the fence between the two, but eh). The thing about the fanservice in Kill la Kill is, the purpose clearly isn’t to titillate like it is in series’ like To Love Ru – here, the purpose is clearly to add to the ridiculousness. One of my favourite moments was when Ryuko was squaring up with Satsuki, only for Mako to intervene and promptly tell Ryuko to get naked, as she’ll clearly beat Satsuki in regards to bust size.
- I’m not saying that any kind of exploitation is acceptable depending on the intention (as some people are bound to try and spin it) – Kill la Kill is definitely a series with a lot of emphasis on nudity (the amount of times it comes up in the show is quite a lot, especially when what is shown is quite tame compared to other anime) and we all know that in a few months we’ll be seeing adverts of figures of the leading characters. It’s hard to really say without sounding rude but, the thing is, what did people expect from the people behind Gurren Lagann? Behind Yoko Littner? This is a show where everything is deliberately over the top – the school, the characters, the fight scenes and yes, the fanservice. That’s what Kill la Kill is – it’s absolutely everything receiving a massive power boost from a Goku Suit of its own.
- To be honest, Kill la Kill probably isn’t the best show to write a literary thesis on. It’s something to sit back, with a cold drink in one hand and a remote in another and just enjoy the ride. It’s wacky, it’s over the top, but bloody hell, it’s amazing. I would seriously recommend this series – I just hope the rest of the series is as good as the first five have been!
- Kill la Kill is currently available for streaming on wakanim.co.uk!