Kill la Kill
Ryuko Matoi comes to Honnouji Academy with the aim of finding out the truth about her father's death, and soon clashes with Student Council President Satsuki Kiryuin, who's also the tyrannical leader of the school (and its surrounding community), and who seems to have even grander ambitions than that. On a seemingly unrelated note (but it actually isn't), is it really true that clothes make the man (or woman)? Ryuko may show us, in the end.
There is a sort of anime comedy that features crude character art, rampant vulgarity, incessant lowbrow gags, and outrageously over-the-top situations, all delivered at warp speed (or perhaps Ludicrous Speed?)- there may be battles, but if so they are conducted in an utterly slapstick manner, with preposterous weaponry. These shows- several of which are in the Recommendations- are NOT for everybody (a non-aficionado acquaintance of mine dismisses this sort of thing as "stupid humor"), and even the better ones are pretty hit-and-miss, but sometimes I find myself in the mood to enjoy this sort of thing.
And then there are the shonen shows, the fight shows; they may ALSO feature preposterous battles, but here they are nevertheless meant to be taken seriously. Shonen shows don't have to have male principals doing the fighting- and several of the major combatants in Kill la Kill, including of course the lead, are female- but these are obviously aimed at a male audience. If the leads are given some humanity, AND humility, these can be fun (Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple), or even compelling (Battle Angel.) But they too often feature poorly-developed characters who don't seem capable of much more than pretentious posturing during engagement in seemingly interminable fights, and long before one of them threatens to show the other their "Ultimate Technique!" (there usually seems to BE one invoked, eventually), I find my own attention wavering. I expect my eyes glaze over too, though I can't be sure unless someone else watches ME watching this. (This invoked a random thought: what's with signs saying "Watch Your Head"? How's that possible? Your eyes are IN it.) Examples of shows where I at least felt The Glaze happening are Get Backers and (God help us!) Terraformars.
Kill la Kill is a hybrid of these two types of shows: its fights are always outrageous, and yet we are clearly meant to take the threat here seriously enough to care- even though when we get the whole picture (this takes a while) it turns out to be one of the most bizarre ones I've ever encountered, even in anime. Its fights, as in the lesser shonen shows, get so prolonged that I started to lose interest (when one of the antagonists SEEMS to be finished, they always seem to find some wellspring of strength- or, more often, some gimmick- that allows them to bounce back), but the show's wacky comedy, as particularly embodied in one individual, would suddenly break the mood- and magically broke my ennui as well, and brought my attention back to life. At least up to a point.
Ryuko has one blade of a pair of giant scissors (a "scissor") as her weapon, and her thirst for revenge- whoever has the other blade is likely her father's killer. She initially can make no headway against Satsuki and her guardians, fellow students dressed in "Goku uniforms" that can transform to superpowered battle armor. (The only one of these that I found notable was that worn by Ira Gamagoori, an S&M-themed outfit (appropriate for the head of the Disciplinary Committee, I suppose) that seemed nearly as punishing toward Gamagoori as it was to his opponent.)
Ryuko eventually acquires a fanservice-friendly outfit of her own (is there any other KIND for a female anime character?) that puts her on a more even footing with her opponents, but, again, her initial encounters with Satsuki & Company don't go well- she ends up retreating a LOT- and she somehow falls in with a girl named Mako Mankanshoku and her family. Mako is the picture of innocence- she's literally DRAWN that way, with a cartoonishly round face and enormous eyes. Mako is also chronically manic (although also earnest and well-meaning), and is, bottom line, the very model of ingenuous stupidity. In the early part of the show she's usually the Damsel in Distress who Ryuko has to rescue. (In one great sight gag, Ryuko handles Mako exactly like a prop; elsewhere Mako has my favorite line in the whole show: "If they had slit open my belly, my lunch would have spilled out, and I would have had to eat it all over again.") But later in the show- when the fighting starts to dominate over the comedy- Mako will save Ryuko (AND my attention span) quite a few times. You see, Ryuko has anger-management issues, and the plot's myriad twists give her adversaries ample opportunity to exploit that fact; but at these points, when Ryuko is beginning to succumb to the "Dark Side" (and when the fight had usually been going on so long that I was beginning to "glaze"), Mako would literally leap right in and bring Ryuko back to her senses with one of Mako's patented giddy, insane appeals to virtue and truth. I've NEVER seen a sidekick character used quite this way before, nor have I ever felt so grateful toward a character that I might have intensely disliked in some other show. When things were growing pretentious and boring, Mako's intervention saved all that, so I felt as grateful toward her as Ryuko ever could. Alas, it doesn't quite last to the end; late in the show Mako's role gets a bit re-purposed.
And to be frank, despite Mako's tempering the show's fights with vital comic relief, I STILL liked the show a bit better in the earlier stages, before its slapstick humor was supplanted by apocalyptic (albeit often absurd) combat. There's a marvelous episode early on where Ryuko has to dash to school in pajamas to avoid being late, while death traps spring up to block her way (and somehow end up tugging her pajama bottoms down in the process.) I think I loved it because I could see this as exactly like the sort of nightmare an actual female student might suddenly find herself awakening from, screaming. Another episode is a morality play, in which Mako and her family get a boost in their social status, with unexpected results. (Mako's family includes her father, a "back alley doctor" with a shockingly high mortality rate AND a desire to see Ryuko nude in the shower; her little brother Mataro, a thief and would-be gang member (though a rather ineffectual one) who ALSO wants to see Ryuko nude in the shower; and her mom, who seems inexplicably normal.)
Kill la Kill is a show with a lot of stuff in it. A LOT of stuff. We've got awfully broad satire- the citizens of Osaka should sue, by the way; they get lampooned about as brutally as Monty Python used to depict the Scotch. Of course there are those fights. We've got an extensive cast of supporting characters, some of whom will end up changing their alliances. Almost EVERYBODY in this show will wind up naked at some point; nudity is actually built INTO the plot of the show, though to explain WHY wouldn't just spoil things, it would probably take all day (and would STILL come across as thoroughly nonsensical.) And as with a video game, Ryuko must fight her way through numerous "mid-bosses" before the final boss- the final bosses, really, and judging by their appearance I guess humanity was lucky to survive the Disco Era.
I would have preferred it if this show had been a bit more spare; rather than the "kitchen sink" approach, I prefer shows with fewer ideas but ones developed with greater depth. But I loved Mako, and if a show can make me love a character I'd normally loathe, that's definitely an accomplishment of some sort. Shonen fans will find plenty of action (albeit often silly action, and way overdone in my opinion.) I vacillated between three and four stars on this one, but I guess too much is maybe a lesser sin than too little. You have to pretty much not just suspend disbelief, but expel it entirely, to enjoy the show, but with a little effort- OK, a LOT of effort- it CAN be done. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: TV-MA city here. Everyone winds up naked, but it's usually more stylized nudity; e.g., what you'd find in Sailor Moon transformation scenes, rather than graphic. There are LOTS of underwear scenes, too. People get skewered and cut in half, but nevertheless there's little "real" death (again, explaining WHY would take all day.) There's quite a bit of lowest-common-denominator vulgarity here (also true in some of the Recommendations.) Right Stuf recommends for 16+. As do I.
Version(s) Viewed: Streaming on Crunchyroll.
Review Status: Full (24/24)
Kill la Kill © 2013 TRIGGER, Kazuki Nakashima/Kill la Kill Partnership
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