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Jesse’s Review of
Kill la Kill

Brilliantly shrill

New transfer student Ryuko already getting into trouble.
New transfer student Ryuko already getting into trouble.

Let me begin by saying that Kill la Kill is aggressively obnoxious, incredibly garish, and unbelievably self-indulgent to the point that it can easily turn anyone off. But for the few people who can hear past the shrill, look past the visual noise and embrace the incoherence, to try to understand the logic behind the motivations of the characters and the goal that Studio Trigger tries to achieve, they may be rewarded with a great time with Kill la Kill. I’m certainly part of the latter camp.

Ryuko found a new toy, though she's feeling bashful
Ryuko found a new toy, though she’s feeling bashful

Before I continue to wax poetic on this series, as much as I adore this series overall, believe it or not I do have major criticisms. I mentioned earlier, Kill la Kill is obnoxious, garish and very self-indulgent. It consistently breaks the old adage of “less is more.” The series doesn’t know the when to quit. The anime assaults your eyes and ears with a cacophony of visual and auditory noise. If you’re not ready from the get-go, you’ll immediately get a headache.

Student council/kinda fascistic leader, Satsuki Kiryuuin
Student council/kinda fascistic leader, Satsuki Kiryuuin

And even if you are ready, Studio Trigger continues to ramp up the volume knob past 11 that you won’t even have time to steel your resolve for the next episode. Ryuuko Matoi doesn’t know the meaning of the word chill, actually no one knows how to remain calm. This anime is the antithesis of Japanese respectful manners and controlled emotions.

This was unexpected...
This was unexpected…

That said though, it wouldn’t be a Studio Trigger anime if it’s not in your face all the friggin’ time. The more episodes I watched, the more I become engrossed by the the studio’s animation prowess. It’s to the credit of animation director and co-founder, Hiroyuki Imaishi that his studio has achieved such high quality animation for the entire duration. Even though the animation and character designs oftentimes look distorted, disfigured and even grotesque, it’s not by accident; it’s “controlled uncontrolled chaos.” It shouldn’t be a surprise if you’re familiar with Imaishi’s work, which includes FLCL, Re: Cutie Honey and Dead Leaves.

Let our powers combine!
Let our powers combine!

And if that’s not enough, the animation is paired with the impressively bombastic soundtrack produced by Hiroyuki Sawano, who is among one of the top musical composers in cinema and television in Japan today. This combination of obsessive attention to detail complemented by the cacophony of noise is what makes this anime stand out among its contemporaries.

Of course if the story is not remotely palatable, then all of this talent would be wasted. Fortunately, Kill la Kill‘s story hold its end of the bargain. What started out as a typical revenge story of a girl who is desperate to avenge her father’s death, it became so much more as it progressed. In my first viewing when it was originally released, I was convinced that this series is just another typical shounen-style story, where every week Ryuko must fight through the gauntlet of Honnouji Academy’s deadliest students.

Senketsu's final form...
Senketsu’s final form…

Admittedly at that time, I gave up after 6 or 8 episodes (I lost count, my apologies). Several years later, I jumped over the hump as we finally reviewed this series, I was rewarded by a story that smashes my previously low expectations. Every episode after the initial “bad guy of the week” introduction, I was constantly blown away by how deep the rabbit hole of how the relationship between Ryuko, Senketsu (her living scantily clad sailor uniform, which I’ll get to in a minute), her father, Satsuki Kiryuuin (the main “antagonist”), and practically the entire cast are intertwined with each other. I give a huge amount of praise to  screenwriter Kazuki Nakashima for giving life and purpose to all of the characters.

 

A cathartic moment.
A cathartic moment.

If I must give another criticism to Kill la Kill, then I must say that its portrayal of women is in direct conflict to its overall message. In my opinion, this series’ message is about personal growth (or sotsugyou or graduation in the Japanese sense). As Ryuko understands more about herself and her weaknesses, she slowly learns acceptance. She uses Senketsu not just as a weapon but as a shield to her own foibles. And when she finally and truly accepted Senketsu as a part of her is when she gained a serenity for which she hasn’t experienced before. With all that said, I felt that this beautiful message was lost in its audience because of the way the animators designed Ryuko when she wears the questionably erotic Senketsu sailor uniform. I understand that it’s all intentional, and maybe the studio was trying to use this trope as satire. I don’t know what an alternative to how to portray Ryuko’s battle armor without feeling exploitative, but I hope that the industry will take its own advice on its message of personal growth.

Ryuko's graduation.
Ryuko’s graduation.

I’m glad we covered Kill la Kill in the Unwound Show, otherwise it would’ve remained in my large backlog of anime I’ll never watch. This series can be very difficult to get into, especially if you’re new to anime. But if you’re in need of something unique or at least, a not your typical talking-heads or conventional shounen-style anime, give this anime a try, come back here and let us know your thoughts in the comments section. I truly believe that Kill la Kill will be remembered for years to come and it should be in your anime library.

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