Kill la Kill

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Monday, July 14, 2014

Kill la Kill is one of those series that had a considerable amount of pre-release hype, and the main reason was because of the talent that was responsible for its production. This is the first television anime produced by Trigger, a studio formed by ex-Gainax staff, and is directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi (Gurren Lagann, Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt). Based on the previous works of the staff at Trigger and the short previews that were released prior to its airing, it seemed that Kill la Kill would be another over the top anime that had a frenetic pace and completely unpredictable moments. After watching the 24 episodes, this turned out to be exactly the case as there was often so much action and sheer absurdity happening on screen that I had to take a breather after watching. It’s hardly the deepest story out there and does offer some familiar action tropes, but when it comes to pure entertainment Kill la Kill definitely delivers.

The story begins with Ryuko Matoi transferring to Honnouji Academy in search of her father’s killer. She carries half of a giant scissor blade, and it is believed that the other half is in the possession of the person that is behind her father’s death. Honnouji Academy is hardly your normal high school though, as it is built like a giant fortress and ruled by the Student Council who has a tight rein on life in the entire city of Tokyo Bay. The school has a class system and students wear Goku Uniforms, which grant them special superhuman abilities based on how many stars they have. The number of stars a student has also determines where their family lives in the city, with no stars living in slum like conditions. The Student Council President is Satsuki Kiryuin, whose mother is a CEO at the Revocs clothing conglomerate and on the school’s board of directors, so she is essentially able to rule as she pleases. Honnouji has also been conquering other schools around Japan and implementing the Goku Uniform class system at all of them.

Ryuko believes that Satsuki may have something to do with her father’s death, so one of the first things she does after transferring to the school is challenge her to a fight. It doesn’t take long for her to find out that Satsuki and the Elite Four of the Student Council are more than she bargained before, and she comes away defeated. During this time Ryuko is befriended by Mako Mankanshoku, a very outgoing girl who doesn’t always seem to be the brightest but has a big heart, and ends up living with her family in the slum part of Tokyo Bay. She also comes across a living sailor uniform named Senketsu in the ruins of her father’s home, which is activated by her blood and gives her superhuman powers similar to the Goku Uniforms. It turns out that the Goku Uniforms are powered by what are known as life fibers, and Senketsu is capable of cutting through them. With this newfound ally at her side, Ryuko once again tries to challenge Satsuki and the rest of Honnouji Academy and learn more about her father’s death.

It’s certainly not the most original plot, as the whole revenge angle has been done in so many television shows and movies before. But it’s everything that surrounds this core element that makes Kill la Kill so over the top and fun to watch. The first couple of episodes have Satsuki throwing all sorts of different club presidents at Ryuko under the ploy that they will receive more powerful uniforms if they win. There are some other elements thrown in between the fights, as any time Mako or her family pops up onscreen it usually results in a humorous moment, but for the most part the episodes are structured around Ryuko fighting various people connected with Honnouji Academy and generally causing the maximum amount of destruction possible. Her homeroom teacher is also revealed to be a member of the secret society Nudist Beach, who are adamant about taking down the Life Fiber powered Goku Uniforms and stopping Honnouji’s rule, all while fighting with as little clothes on as possible.

Towards the halfway point the focus shifts from a story of revenge to one of saving the world. You see, it turns out that Life Fibers and the original form of clothing that humans had were actually sentient beings from space and they are now trying to take back over. There’s a bit more to it than that, but I don’t want to spoil too many of the twists that happen around this time as not all of them were completely obvious. I did feel that some of the changes in character attitudes and events that happened during the second half felt a bit rushed, but that didn’t take away from my enjoyment. The main idea behind Kill la Kill’s story may be a bit typical, but when there’s non-stop mayhem and destruction happening in almost every scene with both male and female characters fighting in skimpy outfits on a regular basis it’s easy to overlook.

The characters are all likeable in their own way, and this includes the Elite Four who act as villains. Each one has a Goku Uniform that transforms based on their particular specialty, and it gives them extremely flashy and over the top attacks. Disciplinary Committee leader Gamagoori is a huge guy who has a masochistic side, and his uniform gains strength as he either takes damage or inflicts it on himself. The other three are no slouches either, as Jakuzure uses an entire symphony orchestra integrated into her transformed uniform, Sanageyama has lightning fast speed and the ability to see through people’s moves, and Inumuta is a genius that takes in as much information as possible to analyze and see through attacks. The Elite Four are given a slight bit of backstory, mainly based around how they came to serve Satsuki, but their personalities are fairly one dimensional and they serve as a means for the action to progress. The same is true of Ryuko and Mako, as the way they act throughout the story doesn’t change all that much either, but they are likeable and you find yourself rooting for both of them at different points.

Trigger’s animation is all over the place, and it matches the frenetic pace of the series. There are some obvious dips in quality at points with reliance on still frames and sudden shifts in style that seem to be budget related, but the animators are able to use some clever tricks so that it isn’t as noticeable. It also helps that there’s so much happening from one scene to the next that unless you’re purposefully looking for changes in the animation you won’t have much time to focus as you’ll be too busy staring at the explosions and insane attacks. It should definitely feel familiar to anyone that has watched Gurren Lagann, Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt as you can tell some of the same staff were involved, and the way the characters were designed reminds me a bit more of an American cartoon than anime. I’ve seen mixed opinions about Kill la Kill’s animation as I looked through different blogs, but I liked the overall approach that Trigger went for and thought they made the most of what budget they had. It’s a lot to take in at once, and sometimes I had to watch one episode at a time instead of marathoning straight though, but that may actually be a positive element.

Kill la Kill has a nice mix of established voice actors and newer ones, and they must’ve had a lot of fun performing this script. There’s at least one character yelling in almost every scene, and the voiceover work seems to have been directed in a way where everyone was encouraged to be as flamboyant and over the top as possible. This works to the show’s advantage, as it doesn’t take itself too seriously and allows the acting to match up with the chaos on-screen. I’d also like to mention that Jakuzure is voiced by Mayumi Shintani, who I swear only appears in Gainax anime roles (she has previously been Haruko in FLCL and Tsubasa in Kare Kano). The background music is another area where Kill la Kill excels, as it uses some heavier rock tracks to build up the tension and fights and keep the energy level at a high. As far as the music goes, the only aspect I wasn’t crazy about was the opening/ending themes, as they seemed just a little too normal and mellow for the type of anime this turned out to be.

Kill la Kill is the anime equivalent of a 1980s action movie. If you focus too hard on the storyline it’s easy to poke holes in and it becomes apparent that a lot of the themes are the same familiar tropes. But that’s not really not the point of watching, as the sheer chaos of the action, well timed bits of humor, and copious amounts of near nudity will keep you coming back to see just what the staff will think of next. In this regard the series is a definite success, and thanks to its likeable (if somewhat one-dimensional) cast and ability to be downright silly with crazy action scenes that only grow in scale as you get further in, Trigger’s first television anime comes recommended. Just turn your brain off and enjoy the ride and I think you’ll appreciate it a bit more.

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