Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Nov 21st 2013
Kill la Kill
Episodes 1-6 Streaming
Honnouji Academy is a brutal, rigidly hierarchical high school where students wear ranked uniforms that give them superhuman powers. It's ruled with icy ferocity by Satsuki Kiryuin, whose family manufactures and controls the special uniforms. Ryuko Matoi is a wandering fighter looking for the person who killed her father. Her only clue is the half of the murder weapon left at the scene: one side of a pair of giant scissors. Ryuko thinks Satsuki knows something, so she busts her way into Honnouji to challenge her. And promptly gets her butt kicked. Ryuko is going to need some help if she's to take on the Kiryuins. And she gets it in the form of a powerful, sentient sailor uniform. A powerful, blood-drinking, totally pervy uniform.
Born of the same creative partnership—between director Hiroyuki Imaishi and screenwriter Kazuki Nakashima—that spawned the fabulously mad Gurren Lagann, Kill la Kill has a lot of expectations riding on it. And it carries them pretty easily. It's easy to nitpick the series' episodic simplicity and lament the loss of Lagann's flabbergasting narrative bravado, but such misgivings are ruthlessly steamrolled by the joyfully anarchic spectacle that Imaishi and his crew of former Gainax madmen serve up. There's no denying that Kill la Kill is, for now, a less adventurous and thematically rich series than Lagann, but it may actually be more fun. Which is kind of flabbergasting in its own right.
Stripped of Imaishi's unhinged energy, Kill la Kill is a pretty straightforward school-brawlin' anime. At its core it's an episodic chain of schoolyard adventures in which Ryuko brawls her way up the school's hierarchy, her eyes always on the big boss: indestructible Satsuki. Each episode is a new bout, with a new—usually more powerful—opponent, and a new hurdle for Ryuko to overcome. Repetition is important, each self-contained episode running through the same basic steps and cradling its central battle in an increasingly comfortable nest of pointedly repeated character shtick and frequently recycled signature sequences. Rare is the episode that goes by without a reaffirmation of the wacky camaraderie of Ryuko's homestay family or a striptease by homeroom teacher Mikisugi (we'll get into that later).
It's a familiar structure, a tried-and-true skeleton into which the show slots tried-and-true characters. Ryuko is the brash outsider, the unknown underdog who shakes up the order established by reigning queen Satsuki. She has her wacky sidekick in uber-airhead Mako, a perhaps-untrustworthy ally in mysterious Mikisugi, and a roster of fightin' clichés to face down in Satsuki's council of three-stars (the diminutive schemer, the strength-seeking hothead, the uber-loyal tank, the info-gathering ninja).
If that sounds rather dispiriting, remember that right now we're figuring without Imaishi or his Studio Trigger cohort. Add them back in, and... well, let's just say that dispiriting is not the word that comes to mind. Insane, yes; and wild, bizarre, and perverse; but not dispiriting.
Imaishi uses the generic school-action outline as a container into which he pours all of his most chaotic, outlandish, Tex-Avery-ish impulses. Honnouji is an unforgettable impossibility; a riotous slum populated by a seething mass of crudely-drawn peons and dominated by a schoolgirl who runs her despotic regime from a hilltop campus crowned with autocratic architecture that would make Stalin blush. Ryuko's fights are nuclear collisions of shameless fan-service and outrageous action weirdness, delivered with mad invention and a complete disregard for reality. Mikisugi's stripteases—he simply cannot keep his clothes on when delivering the show's info-dumps—are wonderfully cheap and hilariously ribald (oh, the nipple damage). Whenever Mako interjects in one of Ryuko's fights—which is often; she's fiercely protective of her new friend—it's always with an impossible disjointed montage, the comedic genius of which simply cannot be described.
We could go on like this pretty much forever. The parade of animated inventions simply never lets up. There's a stony anti-clothes guerilla who uses sewing-themed weaponry (his gun shoots needles; his grenades are shaped like spools of thread), a boxing midget who fights with transforming mecha-gloves, a pointy-toothed tennis psycho with a machine-gun racquet, and a lethal obstacle course that forces Ryuko and Mako to run a delirious Looney-Tunes race up the campus hill (with pauses for recurring panty gags and a manic homage to Clint Eastwood's The Gauntlet). From the opening reel to the end credits, every episode is an unbridled feast of cartoon excess; a dizzying display of Trigger's peculiar action genius, freed from all constraints of logic or reason.
And it is a joy to watch, perhaps a purer joy even than Gurren Lagann, which after all had intense emotions, neck-kinking plot twists, and deeply dark undertones to distract from its outlandish visceral charms. Not that Kill is without premonitions of oncoming depth. The bond forming between Ryuko and Mako is gaining an incongruously sweet power, and glimpses of Satsuki's mother and Mikisugi's past hint that the web that binds Ryuko to the Kiryuins may be broader and more complex (and potentially more tragic) than these episodes let on. The series is also oddly unpredictable in its fights—Ryuko loses with surprising frequency, though she always survives thanks to her willingness to run like a rabbit—which bodes well for the intensity of any future bouts that might truly matter. You also get a niggling sense that Kill is doing something sneakily subversive with its repetition.
But for now at least the show is pure, glorious spectacle, unhindered by heavy emotional or mental lifting. It's retro shonen action pushed to such loony, hyperactive extremes that it's both thoroughly cool (especially where Ryuko and Satsuki are concerned) and screamingly funny. As I said, a joy.
(Hiroyuki Sawano's score, for the record, is an eclectic, rock-and-electronics tinged work with a good handle on mood and enough sense to hang back when it isn't needed. It is not, however, close to being on par with Imaishi's visuals. Not that that's unexpected.)
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : C+
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : B
+ A nonstop feast of berserk cartoon imagination; very funny and very cool.
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