It’s not often I come across shows that I would consider an “instant classic,” a term that is often thrown out by a lot of movie critics. There have been a lot of anime classics in recent memory that have proved to be worthy of the spotlight and has garnered intense admiration from both casual and hardcore fans. However, these past couple years have proved that the ones that do get a great deal of hype and attention during its inception are looked at with mostly skepticism as to whether they deserved all of it to begin with. Then in the year 2013 , out comes a show named Kill La Kill. A show that had the same extraordinary exposure that not only justified its own hype, but managed to break the mold for current trends that will make it unforgettable for years on end.
If you don’t know the history of how this project was made, it’s quite an accomplishment, to say the least, for a little studio like Trigger. Being headed by director, Hiroyuki Imaishi, a man who previously worked for Gainax and directed the other anime classics like Gurren Lagaan and Panty & Stocking, but later left in 2011 to form Trigger with co-director Masahiko Ohtsuka. Considering how Gainax has been doing as of late, this would probably be the smartest move any director would’ve ever made. The studio has made a few production credits before Kill La Kill and had gained some exposure after making the short film Little Witch Academia. Finally, they made their first official anime series in Kill La Kill. Out of all of the debuts for anime studios, you couldn’t have asked for a stellar first impression quite like this show.
From the very opening of the first episode of Kill La Kill, we are now being shoved into a world that is chaotic and filled with disorder within the social classes of people. Not just from the actual story itself, but from the art style and animation that comes with them. Every single character is drawn with fluid clarity while at the same time very disorganized with a really cartoonish aesthetic to it. These sorts of thematic set-pieces shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has seen Gurren Lagaan; at the same time, it can be argued that Kill La Kill is ten times more wacky than Gurren Lagaan in terms of tone and art style. It’s these two aspects about Hiroyuki that really make him one of the top anime directors living today, in how he has this huge vision for spectacle. More often than not, he does not disappoint in any of the shows he’s been at the helm of.
To describe the plot in the simplest terms, it’s quite absurd, silly, anarchistic, and ridiculous in many areas. Many might see this as a negative at face value with the advent of gratuitous fanservice being thrown out left and right, the uneven pacing, and the alienating nature of how the story is told with hardly any context. Yet, despite all of these aspects that might sound negative at first, upon closer speculation of the show as it goes along, all of them feel really proper to Kill La Kill’s overall vision of how it portrays its story, characters, and art. All of them have the specific purpose of being the way they are and they succeed in achieving the amount of charm and personality it incorporates with them that make them entertaining to watch and laugh at. Now, if it were animated in a traditional way, like how most anime shows are animated, it wouldn’t have necessarily been bad, but it just wouldn’t accomplish nearly enough with the lack of coherency with the tone and animation.
In critiquing the actual plot itself, it’s not necessarily the most original that anime has come to expect. Just your average revenge action show that follows a linear narrative of a girl, named Ryuuko Matoi, with her sidekick, Mako Mankanshou, who she encounters early on in her revenge journey to kill the main villain of the show, Satsuki Kiryuuin. That shouldn’t suggest that Kill La Kill needed to have a complex story to begin with. Everything else that makes the show work is its self-awareness of how nonsensical the action scenes are and the ridiculous amount of fanservice that would put most ecchi series to shame. As I’ve described the show’s plot as anarchistic before, I meant that in the sense of how the writers feel that they basically shot down the cliches that have plagued the vast majority of anime today and make them of their own accord that make them unique to Kill La Kill. They are the same cliches, but they make it fresh by how they portray it in an old-school layout with the Japanese texts that pop up, which are reminiscent of anime from the ’90s. As with Gurren Lagaan, Kill La Kill’s grand finale proves to be worth the joyous ride thanks to some well-developed cliffhangers that add some very interesting plot twists.
Along with plot, the characters that sprout up in Kill La Kill are no less than unforgettable from their personalities to their eventual growth as real characters. Individually, I’d like to start with the main hero, Ryuuko Matoi. Her intentions are simple in layman’s terms, however her enthusiastic rage and determination written to her archetype are absolutely stellar. It’s these two facets that make for an ingenious hero in an action shounen show with the great size and scope that Kill La Kill has. They make the hero engaging and attention-grabbing so we can empathize with her struggle to overcome any obstacle that gets in her way of achieving her goal, whatever the case may be. As the plot goes further, her growth is handled with great clarity and pacing. Her strength and courage become more vivid to see while she improves her well-being as a person after learning new information about who killed her father and so on.
Another character that deserves her own spotlight is the lovable Mako. Probably the most eccentric out of all of the characters in Kill La Kill, although her entire family could be construed to that as well. The same way how Ryuuko is a fantastic character due to her charisma and attention-grabbing, Mako is like that but in a different angle. She’s the primary comic relief for the show and thanks to the great snappy animation, her comedic antics that involve jumping on people affectionately to show her love for her friends and her attempts at trying to encourage Ryuuko to stay strong are all incredibly sincere and entertaining. Most of the charm that is apparent in the show come from Mako, and it’s a great blessing that she’s given a huge amount of screen-time, which really gives her a lot of material to show forth.
To finish off the rest of the cast, our main villain Satsuki is about as charismatic and devoted to her goal as our main heroine, which is saying a lot. She has an extremely intimidating presence to her and likewise is always a great sign for a villain. Due to spoilers, I won’t go further on how the other villains play out, but needless to say they all fill out their roles just as well as Satsuki does. The male characters in the show all have the same type of charisma that made Mako a great character, with the similar comedic schtick that only differs slightly due to their genders. Another sidekick to Ryuuko is her own talking outfit Senketsu, whose amusing quips are pretty genuine and funny.
Fanservice has been the black sheep of anime for many people who generally can’t get into it. Some may say that there’s no such thing as an intelligent way of showcasing fanservice, but that’s far from the truth. Sure, there are many examples that do fail in doing so, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that fanservice can’t be done in a positive manner; in which Kill La Kill may be the best example that we have. Allow me to explain. You have girls wearing very provocative clothing in this show that barely covers every part of their body that might seem like they are just portrayed as objects or characters just for the sake of sexual promiscuity. Bad fanservice like this is when girls are only portrayed as that and nothing else, but good fanservice is when the girls themselves actually control their sexuality and body that overshadows the potential scenario of becoming just an object of affection. When Ryuuko puts on the suggestive outfit, she still becomes a strong woman despite being portrayed in this lewd fashion and is able to become one with the outfit, along with Satsuki. When you want fanservice to become intelligent, you need to realize the true strength of how girls can truly become independent beings and still become strong characters, while pleasing the audiences’ eyes as a bonus. If you don’t even attempt in doing so, then you’ve failed to gain any sort of merit to the fanservice.
For a while, there hasn’t been many action anime that actually made me feel really excited to watch the actual action, due to how the animation in most of them don’t really translate well with great flair and precision. Backed up with the animation of Kill La Kill, I found myself really engaged with the action in the show by how the art style of the characters and how they move really fluidly in the retro looking animation. The way to do action right is to keep the action flowing with minimal interference while we listen to the characters thinking to themselves for almost a minute on how they’ll get out of a certain situation. Not a dull moment passes by with the level of creativity that is given to Kill La Kill’s animation and the action sequences are just one of the few big reasons as to why this is the case.
With music being the main driving force of how action can be exciting, The main genre Kill La Kill focuses on is your typical guitar-driven orchestration that is influenced by many J-Rock acts as of late. The other thing that also gives the show its added camaraderie is the voice casting. Ryuuko being played by Ami Koshimizu is probably the most appropriate voice actress anybody could’ve picked. I would even argue that this is Ami’s best role that she has ever had in her career since Kallen from Code Geass. Another amazing performance is by the up and coming star Aya Suzaki playing Mako. Her energetic voice fits perfectly with Mako’s presence in the show and the amount of enthusiasm she expresses through her lines that go on for quite a while in each episode is quite astounding, to say the least.
The accomplishment of Kill La Kill’s influence is something that will live on for as long as anime will continue to prosper. It’s a show that does not care what its detractors say about it, because it simply doesn’t have any rules or order to be found in its bones. Imaginative ideas are very hard to come by with any medium as of now, but that is to be accepted with how the economic climate is in Japan. Kill La Kill and how it was created by a young studio goes to show that these possibilities still exist and will continue to exist for however long this medium will live. Trigger studio has a lot to prove for whatever projects they’re planning to do in the future, but with this as their first main series, that possibility is but only at arms reach.