Tuesday 1 April 2014

Anime REVIEW: Kill la Kill

Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann and Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt are two of my favourite anime series, and both share a number of things in common. Not only are they both from Gainax, but are also both directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi. However Imaishi has now left the Gainax fold, starting up his own studio - Trigger, with other former Gainax employee Masahiko Ohtsuka. After wowing audiences with their debut short Little Witch Academia, Trigger reunited some of the staff behind Gurren Lagann (including writer Kazuki Nakshima) for their first full-length, two-cour series. The end result is Kill la Kill, and it was teased to do for high-school battle anime exactly what Gurren Lagann did for mecha. To say anticipation was high is an understatement.

Kill la Kill's protagonist Ryuko Matoi
The best schoolgirl/uniform team-up you'll ever find

Kill la Kill is set at Honnouji Academy, a huge high school set atop a tall mountain controlled by its fearsome student council. Students are classed according to their abilities, with the top students living in luxurious apartments while the underachievers are left in the shanty towns are the foot of the mountain. One day a transfer student named Ryuko Matoi arrives at the Academy, wielding one half of a red scissor blade. Ryuko challenges student council president Satsuki Kiryuin and her Elite Four, seeking the identity of her father's murderer - the owner of the scissor blade's other half. After a swift defeat by the council, Ryuko returns to her derelict home where she falls into a deep pit. Here she meets Senketsu - a sentient sailor uniform known as a "kamui" that can grant her superhuman power.

Ryuko returns to Honnouji to challenge Satsuki and her students, all of whom have their own superpowered "Goku uniforms" of varying power levels. It isn't long before Satsuki reveals she has a kamui of her very own, as Ryuko defeats student after student in an attempt to take down Honnouji Academy. However this isn't the only thing Ryuko should beware of - just what is the rebel group Nudist Beach, life fibers and Revocs - the clothing company owned by Satsuki's mother Ragyo?

Satsuki and her trademark stare of doom
My new waifu

It's clear from the very first episode that Kill la Kill has absolutely no interest in pulling its punches. After being introduced the hulking never-quite-sure-how-big-he-actually-is disciplinary committee chairman Ira Gamagoori gleefully jumping down the side of a huge tower in pursuit of a rogue student, the story begins to move at a breakneck pace. By the time the credits roll we've met Ryuko and Satsuki, discovered Ryuko's motivations and had that first satisfying  Senketsu transformation scheme. While the plot details just keep on coming (especially in the latter half when all it begins to hit the fan), that sort of pace remains the norm. It's a show with boundless amounts of energy which can rarely be taken on a single front. The serious moments are peppered with comedy, and the comedic moments often have a hint of seriousness behind them.

Mako in the middle of one of her glorious speeches
Possibly the craziest one here

But what makes the show truly successful is its amazing cast, who all bring something different to the fold. Ryuko is essentially the perfect protagonist you want for a show as ridiculous as this one, constantly questioning the developments in place of the viewer but at the same time going along with things nonetheless. This is only strengthened by her dynamic with Senketsu, who is perhaps the strongest you'll ever feel toward a talking piece of clothing. But even Ryuko pales in comparison to the brilliance of Satsuki, who's overall development across the show's 24 episodes was by far for me its biggest highlight. Calm, collected and seemingly always one step ahead of everyone else, Satsuki is a brilliant foil to Ryuko's hot-headedness before developments reveal Satsuki to be a more layered and driven character than you might initially perceive. While the show's ultimate big bad doesn't quite have the same impact as Satsuki does in those early episodes, her introduction is vital in propelling Satsuki to go from strength to strength.

Satsuki's Elite Four
Defeat them and become Pokemon League Champion

And that's just our two (three) main characters. Each side of coin has their own groups supporting them from the sideline, constantly outdoing each other in sheer insanity. Upon arrival at Honnouji, Ryuko quickly makes friends with the underachieving Mako Mankanshoku - a girl small on academic smarts but big on heart and appetite. And while Ryuko has Mako to prop her up, Satsuki has her Elite Four - the aforementioned Gamagoori, athletic club leader Uzu Sanageyama, information/strategy leader Houka Inumuta and non-athletic club leader Nonon Jakuzure.While nowhere near as off the wall as Mako, the four share a great dynamic and are united in their utmost devotion to their leader. And that's without mentioning Nudist Beach leader Aikuro (and his shining nipples), Mako's family or the psychopathic Nui Harime. Gurren Lagann featured a big group of characters in Team Dai Gurren, but arguably many of them fell into the background. Kill la Kill on the other hand refines this and ensures everyone is memorable in their own special way.

Aikuro gets his strip on
Oh Kamina, when did you become such a beautiful man?

Of course reading this you'll have seen the pictures, noticed the incredibly skimpy outfits/semi-nudity and perhaps written the show off as nothing but flash and fanservice? Wrong. While you can't deny that Kill la Kill character designs are both risque and there to titillate a certain sect of the anime fandom, it most cases (save for some rather uncomfortable moments involving Ragyo) never draws direct attention to itself unless its in the name of self-mocking. There's no exploding clothes or boobs popping out like you'd get in Ikki Tousen or similar girl-on-girl battle shows. Meanwhile the animation itself is top quality (if a little varied in some episodes) and the musical score the perfect accompaniment - even if the words "Don't lose your way" will be drilled into your skull by about six or so episodes.

The ever crazy Nui Harime
Cute is the new crazy

Some overenthusiastic anime fans have heralded Kill la Kill as the series that "saved anime", something I can't ever see myself agreeing with. If the medium was in such desperate need of saving, I don't think one series would be able to manage it alone. A title like that is also going to bring a certain level of expectation with it, a level that I'm entirely sure anything could live up to. So ignore the hype and watch Kill la Kill for exactly what it is - an absolute rollercoaster of a series that amps everything up to 11, is clever in its sheer ridiculousness and features an unforgettable cast of characters. Those familiar with Imaishi and co's previous works will be thrilled to know that absolutely nothing has changed except for the studio name slapped on it, and newcomers to their unique brand of craziness will find this a great place to start. Welcome to anime Trigger, you have certainly made your impression.


Zero Beat said...

Is a good show!

Lucas said...

Do you recommend it subbed or dubbed?

Raie Jimenez said...

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One or more of your reviews has been added to Anime Gauge. I just want to notify you of this.

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