Kill la Kill is something I like. At face value, it’s kinetic, brash, and big. But beyond that, it also has moments of levity interwove perfectly with moments of gravity. The show has versatility, and it’s this versatility that makes Kill la Kill the compelling thing that it is, and why I still find myself looking at it twenty weeks later.
(But for now let’s mostly focus on the first twelve–I had meant to write this post earlier, but you know how it is.)
Kill la Kill has a very impressive first half–it really is quite astounding how much stuff went down in the first twelve weeks. The show made great headway with its plot, while also developing its ensemble cast well, and dropping cool bits of background information on them. At week twelve us loyal viewers had a pretty good picture of Ryuuko, Satsuki, the Elite Four, and Mako’s lovably idiotic family, as well as a lot of the inner-workings of their world.
The show moves at pace which most anime find too scary. And they should–what Kill la Kill does is a very difficult thing to pull off well, but in the hands of an expert writer like Nakashima and a Professional Crazy Person like Imaishi, the show holds together very well. Nakashima’s script is expertly polished to lack anything that could potentially drag the show down, with only the most pertinent and/or exciting parts making it onto the TV screen. While Kill la Kill may seem fast and loose with the way the story moves and the way characters scream and announce things, there is a distinct method to the madness–everything is fits together well. This keen attention to story construction likely comes from Nakashima’s experience as a playwright, and the show’s bold theatrical style (the yelling and stuff) can be attributed to this as well. This is complemented by Imaishi’s big, showy direction, which is all about making things larger-than-life–forced perspective, speed lines, rough character outlines–all that good stuff. His sharp sense of style also gives the show an extra edge.
The main thing that makes this kind of pacing possible is the show’s grounding in convention. The murdered father, the hierarchy of powerful enemies, and the main character who gets stronger as time goes by–it’s nothing new, but the show makes use of the audiences’ familiarly with these tropes and doesn’t waste time dwelling on them, instead throwing its own weird and original stuff in the mix. The show has a lot of silly hyperbole, and it works because its so earnest and upfront with itself. Any weaker show wouldn’t take silly things like “their clothes are alive” or “these school clubs can murder people” all the way, but Kill la Kill does.
At first I thought a lot of Kill la Kill’s elements were just plain stupid, but I couldn’t help but love the show because it was so confident in the way it presented itself and continues to do so. Now I love how it takes everyday elements from Japanese school life and makes them extreme. School uniforms that make students into super-powered maniacs? Sounds good. Clubs that have ridiculously unique attacks based on their specialty? Give it to me. A student counsel that will literally go so far as to murder students for breaking their iron clad law? I’m lovin’ it. The show doesn’t ease you into this kind of mindset either–it forces you into it from the very moment Gamagoori busts through the classroom door in episode one. It’s going to do things the way it wants, and if you don’t like it, don’t let the door hit you on your way out.
Sushio’s wild sense of design brings a lot of the show’s crazy elements to life vividly. While cartoonish exaggeration is used to depict the school clubs by taking their designs to logical conclusions–the biology club literally being surgically modified freaks with exposed brains and skulls–the Elite Four’s designs draw more on mecha anime influence, with nearly all of them transforming into some kind of weird robot. The show’s visual aesthetic in general is rough and larger-than-life–complimenting everything else in the show very well–and has a compelling visual diversity that keeps everything interesting. Animation-wise, while quite limited–most likely due to Trigger being a new studio–the show never looks bad, and always captures the eye. There may not be much actual movement, but the show has very good framing and cutting. The show also boasts many cuts that make the sakuga people go wild at least once per episode, so it effectively makes use of its resources to make the show shine where it counts. The most workmanlike part of the production is the background music, which is simple and does the job, but typically doesn’t do more than just underscore the action.
The show boasts a diverse range of characters, but my favorites are pretty standard–Ryuuko and Senketsu. Maybe this speaks to my lack of exposure, but I think Ryuuko is quite unique as a leading woman. While Strong Female Characters are nothing new, I think the realistic grit in Ryuuko’s speech and her uniquely Japanese-flavored juvenile delinquent attitude is rare in anime these days. She’s the perfect opposite to Satsuki, who’s speech is more in the tradition of affected anime dialogue. Ryuuko’s transformation from simple punk kid to super-powered punk kid is the main attraction of the show. Her rough, not-scared-of-nuthin’ attitude towards any struggle is the main thing that keeps me watching. Ryuuko and Senketsu’s bond is also quite compelling–witnessing the two them grow and learn about each other is one of the story’s many satisfying aspects. After Ryuuko comes Mako and her family in my personal ranking–they are aggressively poor in both behavior and design (Barazou’s lack of pants is a nice touch) and Mako’s hyperactive character is a welcome comedic foil to Ryuuko’s focused and serious personality. The Elite Four are a fun and varied bunch, with Gamagoori’s rock-hard adherence to rules and constantly changing size (pretty sure that’s a Hokuto no Ken joke) making him the most amusing of the four. The weird thing him and Mako have going on is also funny and unexpected.
While Kill la Kill is characterized primarily by its dangerous spirit, when looked at closely, there are a lot of diverse elements that make up the show, and it’s due to the show’s great versatility that all these elements fit together without seeming strange. While Sushio’s aesthetic is easily recognizable, every character’s design is very unique–the same could be said for their varied personalities. The show has a strong basis in convention, but throws in a lot of original elements that elevate it above its conventions. Wrap this all up with Imaishi’s distinct directorial vision, and you have something very exciting.
In the weeks since the show’s climatic twelfth episode, it’s broken away from its shounen path, and opened up the world for us, giving us more surprising twists and turns. There are four weeks left, and I’m pretty confident Nakashima and Imaishi will be able to wrap things up in the coolest way possible.