Reviewby Jacob Chapman,
Kill la Kill [Limited Edition]
Almost as soon as it began, the Naturals Election comes to a violent end as the Toad, the Dog, the Snake, and the Monkey start falling to Ryuko's scissor blade. However, before she can drag Satsuki down into the ring with her, Ryuko is interrupted by an unwelcome guest with a shocking revelation beneath her not-so-innocent smile. Our heroine might get to duel Satsuki after all, but not in the way she had planned, and her fight for survival rapidly transforms into a fight to preserve her own humanity.
The whole twisted struggle leaves Ryuko in deep conflict over her relationship with Senketsu and her increasingly complicated quest for vengeance. Unfortunately, she couldn't have picked a worse time to get all torn up. All this time, she's been playing into Satsuki's hands, and the debutante-turned-dictator is ready to launch a school-wide "field trip" on the tri-city area, with the goal of glorious conquest. If Ryuko won't stop Honnouji Academy and their insidious clothing corporation sponsor "REVOCS" from taking over the world, who will?
Fresh off of Gamagoori's defeat in episode 9, this passel of Kill La Kill episodes is manically paced and insanely hot-blooded, somehow topping the intensity of all prior events in an explosion of peak emotion, peak animation, and peak performance from both the cast and composer that give the series its show-stopping sound. After the comically anticlimactic circumstances of Inumuta's duel with Ryuko, episodes 10-14 pile highlight after highlight on relentlessly, and even in five short episodes, the desire to break for a breather comes up more than once. Yet, in all this shock and excitement, it feels like something essential to the Kill La Kill experience is sorely missing.
Oh, right. This was a comedy series once, wasn't it? Until episode 14, at the tail end of this release, it's easy to forget this show's silly roots as Kill La Kill swerves firmly into heart-pounding drama and never lets up on the accelerator. As tightly paced as these episodes are, (and for as thin as they stretch the animation budget,) it simply doesn't have the time for fun and games anymore. The Elite Four's Goku uniforms transform from one combat mode to another, each with their own bizarre battle tactics, from "probe regalia" to "whistle missiles." It makes for a rare onslaught of spectacle above and beyond expectations for a TV anime production, and thanks to some smart pacing and clever use of shortcuts, it feels like the explosions never stop for a full hour and change of fight after fight after fight.
As it blazes through the halfway point in its run, Kill La Kill faces the challenge of taking its high school delinquent revenge story and blowing it up into a fight against a horrifying global dictatorship. That's a tall order all by itself, but the series also has to somehow drag the shortsighted Ryuko along with it inside of three episodes (ignoring the two that are devoted solely to fighting the Elite Four, shonen tournament style, where Ryuko's character motivations are not challenged.) Needless to say, Ryuko has to be pressed into her new heroic revolutionary role kicking and screaming, and she's nowhere near ready for it, even long past the 1st-cour finale. Her turmoil isn't always easy to watch, but it is always exhilarating, and her new antagonists are more than threatening enough to justify all her newfound fears. Not much is known about the puppetmaster Ragyo yet, but fortunately, her right hand lolita stooge can hold center stage all by herself.
"Grand Couturier" and fresh-faced villain Nui Harime is terrifying because she seems like something that shouldn't exist, even in a wacky show like this. In a show filled with powerful, passionate, muscular combatants (even the girls,) Nui's twig-like frame, jump-cut movements, and robotic smile seem out of place. Even the lither opponents who fight using their skill and wits over raw power, like Inumuta and Jakuzure, have a familiar human weight to them. Inumuta contorts his pasty nerd body around in a leotard that is not remotely shy about his spandex-shielded anatomy, while Jakuzure tugs against her battle-robot's shell with a meaty heft and resistance behind every gesture. Nui is nothing like any character we've seen animated thus far, moving instead like she's made of paper, or more accurately, as if she's aware that she's made of paper. Kill La Kill is a cartoon, and in its world of fleshy, full-throated humans, Nui behaves like a drawing on a page, frequently breaking spatial barriers like split-screens without comment and casually leaning on subtitles that she shouldn't know are there. Even Mako at her cartooniest doesn't possess the eerie self-awareness that Nui exhibits at all times, and this allows the resulting "monster girl" to get away with anything; she's just an inhuman, untouchable force of meaningless destruction. The audience immediately understands that there's no revenge to be had against this weird being for poor Ryuko. Her father might as well have been killed by aliens or a freak accident, and her quest for vengeance was pointless and self-destructive from the very beginning. So...now what?
Well, for a string of episodes that revolves almost entirely around the emotional paralysis of its heroine, there's not much dead air. Episodes 10-12 are constant action, broken only by occasional commentary from the peanut gallery in the stadium, and often countered by action that breaks out into the stands to threaten those would-be commentators. Episode 13 is a quieter combo of resolution and setup, but ends with yet another stunning twist, and by episode 14, Kill La Kill thankfully falls back to its looser comedic antics. While its return to goofiness is technically a "step down" from the pulse-pounding climaxes that came before it, there's only so much screaming of "Bitch, I'll kill you!" that the human heart can handle in one sitting. The nonsensical field trips to Kyoto, Kobe, and Osaka are packed with the series' very dumbest humor to date, and can be an absolute blessing after so much angst...unless of course, you have a bone to pick with the show's ludicrous stereotypes about each of those regions. There were definitely complaints about the Osakan side of the adventure when these episodes aired, and that controversy will keep on chugging into episode 15.
On that note, the series' english dub continues to excel, adding Stephanie Sheh's too-sweet-to-trust giggle to the mix as Nui Harime. Performances in both languages have grown stronger as the cast settles more comfortably into their roles, but it's in the gaggle of one-off characters introduced during the field trip episodes that the dub begins to stand out more. Thanks to its Western influence, Kobe is populated with fratty "all-American" bros in English to replace the Japanese's engrish-heavy characters. Kyoto is populated by stuffy shrine guardians speaking slightly archaic Japanese, so the dub opts for some pretentious "theater-y" locution that also works very well. Then the show reaches Osaka, and the crooked cash-obsessed Boss Takarada opens his mouth to unleash a jaw-dropping, jive-talking Riff Raff impression in the English dub. On the one hand, it's a pretty spot-on equivalent of the Japanese intent for an American audience, so that speaks to the quality of the adaptive script and tone-aware direction. On the other hand, it's as much a nervous laughter situation as the original intended stereotype was, albeit for very different reasons. If nothing else, it'll definitely get your attention!
Extras are consistent with past Aniplex releases for the show: double-sided poster, postcards, and nothing outside of web preview footage on-disc. The 2nd soundtrack CD also comes with this release, and includes more of Hiroyuki Sawano's background tracks, like the leitmotifs for the Elite Four characters, Mako's slowly melting remix of the Hallelujah chorus, and off-vocal versions of favorites from the 1st soundtrack CD like "Before my body is dry" and "Blumenkranz." On that note, it is interesting that these two CDs seem to cover all the same content as the two corresponding Japanese OSTs, just with completely different track order and placement, perhaps due to reverse importation concerns. It is genuinely hard to tell if the US soundtracks have exactly all the same content as the Japanese versions do. In any case, if there are any tracks missing in the shuffle, they're too minor to notice. All the best pieces are gathered across these two soundtracks, and they make excellent goodies for the limited editions.
Kill La Kill soars to new heights as it shreds through its halfway point milestone, but there's also joy to be had in coming down from that high. For everything that happens to Ryuko in the disaster that brings down the Naturals Election and almost the entire school with it, she honestly hasn't changed much, if at all. The story is forced to rail around her as she freezes up, plants her feet, and refuses to let go and move forward. It's absolutely to the show's credit that this still results in a wildly entertaining experience. Still, once the dust has settled and there are no more shakeups to shove her around, it'll be Ryuko's responsibility to carry this show, and it'll be interesting to see how rocky her journey becomes as she rebels against her wildly altered reality that's only going to get weirder as REVOCS conquers the world.
Overall (dub) : A
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A
Animation : A-
Art : A
Music : A+
+ Proves itself capable of impactful drama, outdoes itself again in action choreography and artistic creativity, the emotional and spectacular height of the series thus far
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