Kill la Kill
From the makers of FLCL, Gurren Lagann and Panty and Stocking, Kill la Kill is the first television production series under the newly formed Studio Trigger. Its is a tale of a transfer student, Matoi Ryuuko, wielding a scissor-sword, comes to Honnouji Academy to look for her father’s killer. Opposing her is the Student Council President, Kiryin Satsuki, as well as her personal guard of the Elite Four, who are developing uniforms of immense power. After an initial fight, where Ryuuko ends up being defeated, she stumbles across a sailor uniform that gives her the power to overcome her enemies and give her the answers that she seeks.
Kill la Kill takes all the worn-out tropes and clichés of anime, amps it up to eleven and then delightfully invert them to give something exciting and fresh. While Ryuuko’s tale of revenge is a tad predictable, it is the execution of the plot points that makes it stand out from its peers. Everything is exaggerated to the extreme including the school setting, characters, concepts to the absolutely epic action that happens. The show makes a point of never dwelling on a single event for too long and continually ups the ante in every single episode. There is little filler and the show is pretty subversive by playing with the viewer’s expectations and then completely changing the outcome. When the action does slows down, there is a metric ton of references and homage to western culture ranging from Marvel Comics to classical music and literature. At the same time, Kill la Kill is mindful of its own Japanese heritage and folklore, drawing parallels to Oba Nobunaga, anime of old and new while not overly heavy-handed with its references by keeping it quick and tucked away in the background. Some elements of comedy are thrown in, complete with visual gags, puns and slapstick humor. However, a point of contention is the hit and miss nature of Mako’s antics, which may not go well with every viewer.
On a first glance, Kill la Kill’s visuals is reminiscent of cell animation at its peak during the late 1990s with its warm color palette and strong outlines. The backgrounds are drawn to the style of oil paintings and provide a epic and cinematic feel to the show instead of the drab outlines that other shows often present. In the animation department, Studio Trigger takes every possible shortcut in producing this show by utilizing extended single frames, sometimes even coming down to Inferno Cop levels. However, the style and energy placed into the visuals, more than make up for it technical shortcomings. Studio Trigger knows that this is an anime and plays around with that fact by slapping GIANT RED TEXT on everything and breaking the fourth wall constantly through changing perspectives and character proportions. Everything is presented with the force of a runaway freight train and doesn’t let up until the viewer either gives in or walks away. The animation quality sometimes does take a nose dive that is too steep to ignore (Episode 4) with repetitive sequences, sloppy frames and limited motion. As well, the hilariously bad CGI in some places (I’m looking at you Episode 3), is enough to break the viewer’s immersion. That being said, I applause the production team for making Kill la Kill never having a dull moment onscreen and being innovative with such a limited budget.
Much like the explosive theatrics that is plastered all over the screen, the characters are outstanding in the way that they inject themselves into the show and overarching plotline. Ryuuko’s tomboyish behavior, recklessness and imaginative fighting tactics solidifies her as one of the strongest female leads I’ve seen in recent years. At the same time, she does get embarrassed my her scandalous-looking outfit and is vulnerable due to her past of growing up as a delinquent loner, making her feel like more of a teenager being thrown into absurd situations and less than any pre-established archetypes of a typical shouen show. Her nemesis and my personal favorite, K Satsuki, is the student council president who runs Honnouji Academy like a fascist regime and literally radiates power. Although she is on par with Ryuuko’s combat power, Satsuki prefers to use her various schemes and henchmen to do her dirty work and knows more than she lets on. Bolstering the two already formidable leads, the supporting characters are very memorable in their own right with the Elite Four, the eccentric Mako, the nudist stripping homeroom teacher, and various factions duking it out. Each characters adds their own brand of wackiness into an anime that doesn’t holds anything back.
The soundtrack composed by Hiroyuki Sawano (of Attack on Titan and Blue Exorcist fame) is outstanding in every aspect and holds up the show when the animation decides to takes a break. By combining genres ranging from rock, electronica, vocals, jazz and bass, Sawano creates a score that is distinctive, addictive, energetic and flows perfectly with the over-the-top nature of Kill la Kill. Some standouts includes the rock-oriented ‘Before my body is dry’, ‘Blumenkranz ‘, and the disturbingly haunting theme of Harime Nui. The character voices is equally as strong as the soundtrack with Ami (Code Geass’s Kallen Stadtfeld and Spice and Wolf’s Holo) portraying the hot-blooded and bash Ryuuko, Yuzuki Ryouka (Air’s Minagi ) as the totalitarian Satsuki and the relatively new Suzaki Aya as Mako. Opposing the main leads, Paku, Romi adds an edge of as the sadistic Kiryuuin Ragyou and Tamura Yukari (Higurashi’s Rika) as the batshit-crazy psycho Harime Nui. Male leads are also excellent with their respective VAs doing exceptional work on voicing Sanageyama, Gamagoori, and the fabulous Mikisugi.
Although the primary draw of Kill la Kill is the sheer ludicrousy of action that happens, there is a good amount of depth in terms of the themes nudity, clothing and sexuality. The amount of nudity and fanservice shown in Kill la Kill far exceeds any typical anime, showing off asses, breasts and glowing nipples left, right and center. In fact, Ryuuko’s skimpy uniform only gets more powerful when the user shreds her shame and embraces her naked self. However, more often than not, the exaggerated use of fanservice is sometime more along the lines being a parody rather than anything sexual or pandering to the audience. While other shows uses sexiness to pour gravy over the main course of the plot and characters, the nudity is interwoven into the narrative and provides context for analysis and discussion. And this is where the beauty of Studio Trigger’s masterpiece lies, where it can appeals to the causal action-oriented viewer by giving them a roller-coaster ride on afterburners while layering the show for analysis and discussion for the more savvy anime fan.
For its first production work, it feels that this is the culmination of Studio Trigger’s legacy by combining the energy and randomness of FLCL, the over-the-top nature and scale of Gurren Lagann, and sexualized content of Panty and Stocking into something very unique and very deserving of all the hype that it is given.