Kill la Kill
Episodes 11-12

by Christopher Farris,

How would you rate episode 11 of
Kill la Kill ?

How would you rate episode 12 of
Kill la Kill ?

Did you know the Naturals Election arc is really only four episodes long? Believe me, back when we were watching Kill la Kill as it aired, it felt much longer. The pacing issues around the initial fights (Gamagoori should have been shorter, Inumuta should have been longer) is mostly to blame for that wonky feeling. But as episode 11 opens on the serious shonen showdown phase of the arena being totally trashed and both opponents actually flying now, things start to come back together for this second half of the tournament. It definitely feels like it all fits together more tightly, to the point that I can probably analyze these eleventh and twelfth episodes broadly, as an overarching whole.

I mean, there's still the individual fights to look at, and the climax of Ryuko's battle against Jakuzure is a great point to open on with how hard it goes. Far from the seeming static of the Gamagoori fight or the anticlimax of Inumuta's, Ryuko and Nonon's high-flying duel absolutely cuts loose with all the resources they conserved in those preceding episodes. It's fast, it's fluid, and it's even more noticeably fanservice-y by its own standards, an advantage depending on how deeply you ascribe to that element of Kill la Kill's artistic philosophy. But it's not just artful articulation; the conceptual elements feel like they're firing on more cylinders as well: Ryuko takes her new aerial abilities as a chance to circumvent the tournament wholesale and go straight for Satsuki, indicative of the lessons learned in the Fight Club episode about trying to work within the confines of the system. And her take-down of Jakuzure in the final phase of their battle happens thanks to Ryuko utilizing her own skills in an outside-the-box way, evolving herself the same way Senketsu's powers have been during this storyline of serial smackdowns.

The fact that there even is that last phase to the fight with Jakuzure does bring the issue of pacing in this arc back to mind. By the time the cruel kid conductor is back up and running with yet another power-up, the commentary from the characters on how long this has gone on feels like perhaps-unintentional meta text on Kill la Kill not knowing when to quit while it's ahead. The resulting battle-of-the-bands is still an extremely cool moment, delivered by a particularly impressive audio front for the episodes that I will discuss a little later in this review. However, it's an unavoidable question whether the Jakuzure fight needed this much episode time devoted to it, especially as we come away with very little insight into her character, especially compared to what the likes of Gamagoori got in the same number of episodes.

That could be partially intentional, seeing as Jakuzure's flashback was all last week and there's a new character these episodes are really about putting over. Yes, Harime Nui is here, and that means there's plenty to talk about just with regards to her. She sticks out strongly already, just in comparison to how willing Kill la Kill is to inform us about her. As mentioned several times already, the series has shown characters to us, made them a regular part of the cast, but still taken its time providing us with actual background on who they were. Even Satsuki made us wait a couple episodes before we got a peek at what made her tick. But Nui is teased just subtly enough in the background of the Jakuzure fight, and when she is formally revealed it's just hit after hit of making clear what a major new addition she is.

We know Nui represents a major threat because Satsuki loses her cool immediately upon seeing her. She follows through on that threat because Sanegeyama, representing the previous biggest hurdle Ryuko has faced, falls to her in the single pull of a thread. And this framing paints the danger she represents as an outside force, apart from the system Ryuko's been railing against this whole time. Like Tsumugu before her, Nui is presented as a fundamental unknowable, which is a terrifying prospect when Ryuko's core battle strategy revolves around knowing her opponent and her ability to overpower them. And that setup provides the amazing contrast for the biggest revelation right before Nui actually starts fighting: That she wields the other half of the scissor blade that killed Ryuko's father! Now that is a killer episode-ending cliffhanger!

The presentation of Nui's introduction brings me back to the music of Kill la Kill. I've praised regular Studio Trigger collaborators Hiroyuki Imaishi on direction with writer Kazuki Nakashima, but Hiroyuki Sawano's score cannot be counted out as an element of what makes shows like this so legendary. Episodes 11 and 12 of KLK in particular provide a grab-bag of supremely effective sound strategies, from the rock number laid over Ryuko's tuning of Nonon's classical music to lend that clash a ‘dueling banjos’ effect, or the triumphant full appearance of Ragyo Kiryuin's theme song as she puts in another early appearance, marking her as a presence of major importance even as we're still unaware of the full implications at this point in the series. And Nui's introduction has these moody, heavy tunes playing over the revelation of precisely who and what she is. That music and Ryuko's reaction articulates for us the gravity of her existence, clashing against her cute design and smiling face. Kill la Kill can be completely unsubtle and over the top a lot of the time, but it can also create a mood when it wants to, and the music is a masterful component of all of that.

Talking about what works about Nui does also necessitate discussing elements that can make her something of a divisive character. Despite theoretically being the person Ryuko's been looking for since the beginning, she still seems to come out of nowhere in the eleventh episode, dropping in as another new, stronger opponent that seems to be Kill la Kill's only recourse for plot advancement at times, and trading on more of that awkward anticlimax subversion in cheating us out of the Sanegeyama rematch. While we definitely get a loaded picture of her various quirks and odd personality, at times she only seems to have been thrown in as an antagonizing agent to move the story along at a point where it was stuck dragging otherwise. It can somewhat feel like Nui was inserted as a living, dangerous plot device only to be set aside for later when her job was done, especially after she was exiled by Satsuki at the end. There is also the question of queer-coding, being unambiguously handsy with Ryuko while also presented as a dangerous villain. I personally can't view this as an issue of the only representation in KLK (putting it out there now, I personally interpret the Ryuko/Mako relationship as romantic), but it smacks of Nui coming across as a cheap cliche even by Kill la Kill's tropey standards, and it's also not the last troublesome place the show will go with that concept of those dangerous lesbian molesters.

It's hard to get all wound up about those aspects of Nui's presentation in the moment though, just because everything surrounding her and her fight in episode 12 is so dang good. Nui's drop-in deployment aside, it features some pivotal plot-shifts that actually were well-foreshadowed going into this. The star attraction is obviously Ryuko's berserk transformation, springboarding off the warnings about evolving too much, too quickly. That sports a wonderfully unsettling design, an example of the strong artistry across both these episodes, with the animation itself not too far behind. Seeing Satsuki transform for the first time in many episodes lends itself to some strong cuts for her fight with the rampaging Ryuko. It's definitely another high for Kill la Kill on the visual front. But it packs an emotional punch as well, bringing Mako in as the one to save the day (after some deftly-directed misdirection around whether Satsuki or Mikisugi would be the one to do it) by following up on seeds of characterization planted during that Fight Club episode! The Naturals Election arc sometimes struggled under the weight of being the first multi-episode Kill la Kill story, but by the end it's pulled one hell of a sleight-of-hand in making so many preceding episodic events part of its arc, heralded in the way virtually every major character introduced so far is involved in its big final brouhaha.

I'm not sure if all that retroactively irons out the pacing issues from the first couple episodes of the arc. But analyzed on their own level, it makes the eleventh and twelfth episodes of Kill la Kill another set of its best. As we hit the halfway point, having gotten to know the series pretty well by now, these feel like a showcase of everything distinctive about the series so far. From the action to the characterizations, to yes, some of the more unsavory style elements, it's the Greatest Hits of this first half. And lucky us, there's still half the show to go.

Rating:

Kill la Kill is currently streaming on Netflix, Crunchyroll, and Hulu.


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