Kill la Kill
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 19 of
Kill la Kill ?
How would you rate episode 20 of
Kill la Kill ?
The moment-to-moment speed at which Kill la Kill's plot unfolds means that a timeskip of a mere month still feels like a world-changing eternity. It's appropriate, admittedly, coming off the cavalcade of twists and revelations that wrap in the opening minutes of Episode 19. We know more than ever about the characters making up this polygonal power struggle and the least about where they'll be going now. It makes sense to give all the status quo shake-ups time to settle with a period of darkness. It also means that we have an immediate understanding that the show is meant to feel different at this point, meaning that this time the pacing lulls feel just a bit more purposeful.
One irony of skipping a month to set up new situations for everyone is that the main heroines, at least, stay pretty much in stasis until we catch up with the timeline. Ryuko is in a coma, Satsuki is imprisoned, and even Mako has been swallowed up by a human-controlling COVER, so it falls to the Elite Four and Nudist Beach to carry most of the events of the 19th episode. That's mostly catching the audience up on what we implicitly missed, but the viewpoint shift makes for a novel way to do so. They're firmly on the other ‘side’ of the show's narrative conflict now, but that just means the Student Council quartet are as fun to watch together as ever, with Jakuzure in particular stealing the show as she snarks through just about every scene, whether it's expositional sitcom antics or one of the too-brief dust-ups with Life Fiber forces.
That does immediately come around again to the question of how our sympathies for the Elite Four are supposed to land. Things got a bit blurry as far back as learning Gamagoori's backstory, but these guys were still capital-A Antagonists up until an episode ago. The storytelling almost seems conscious enough of the disconnect, with Mikisugi demanding an explanation from them on why they didn't work with Nudist Beach from the start. But that's brushed off with a simple explanation that Satsuki's plan required maximum secrecy, and we aren't getting any more insight without her here to personally articulate the warped principles that led her to her scheme of choice. That's frustrating, because there are allusions to her drive, least of all her apparent willingness to destroy the school she'd built along with herself if it meant a chance of killing her mother. And when we cut to Satsuki herself later, she and Ragyo exchange dialogue indicating that this play utilizing the power of the villains themselves was seen as the only effective strategy for taking down the clothing cabal.
It feels too mechanical, though, at a point in the story that I think demands we understand how Satsuki actually felt about what she was doing. A theme I touched on in previous episodes was the point that power used for others' sake is an end that could be justified by particularly potent means. It's something Ryuko kept coming back to in her own pursuit, and we now know there were more connections between her and Satsuki than we'd thought. But the uncompromising methodology of Satsuki's choice to subjugate an entire school, town, and social structure is something the story still refuses to dive into from her viewpoint. The focus is instead still entirely on the idea that Ragyo is so heinous that she has it coming (her inappropriate intimacy towards Satsuki continues this episode, just in case you didn't get it yet. The spanking was a bit much, I thought), alongside the idea that the girls' father, Soichiro/Isshin, was such a clearly opposed force for good that the need to avenge him has only increased exponentially across both their lines.
That aspect at least gets brought into interrogating relief with Ryuko's side of the story. She's experienced a rude awakening after a couple of fashions, and is taking the news of her own inhumanity about as well as one would expect. It's interesting because while there is a question of how moral it was for Isshin to point his own daughter as a weapon to destroy his wife, Ryuko's more fixated on what it means for her role before, during, and after all this. For the first time in quite a while, she's forced to consider herself, stuck with knowledge of what she is and questioning if she deserves to do anything with her power, which she now sees as tainted, inherently villainous. It comes back to that question of whether one should work within or without the system: Ryuko now sees herself as inexorably tied into that system she was to destroy, and her own experiences taught her that such methodology is futile in terms of trying to change things.
Even amidst all the explosive awakenings and suggestive sight gags, this really is a more somber affair for Kill la Kill than usual. Just one episode after their rapport seemed to be solidified, Ryuko now wants nothing to do with Senketsu, that rift symbolizing just how far she's fallen from her previous attitude and mission. Mako's pep talks can't cut through the tension or revive her spirit. The show's making clear that its own old tricks aren't valid anymore, even as its production keeps its trademarks in rotation. That score is still hitting as hard as ever, but now it's blasting a mournful ballad over Ryuko riding away from her friends on the most extra chopper she could find. There are still outlandish fights, but our heroes are just getting away by the skin of their teeth, or outright losing, as in Ryuko's reckless run towards the end. It's good that they have the mood down, since animation-wise, these are far from the best Kill la Kill has looked. Some real obvious shortcuts are taken, down to repeating the scissor-blades-against-blackness trick from episode 13 for Ryuko's latest rematch against Nui. Though if you're here for the specific spectacle of a naked Satsuki running down school hallways slicing up suits with her toenail, the twentieth episode at least delivers on that front.
That's an appreciable element, that things continue to keep happening in these episodes of Kill la Kill in spite of its more low-key styles. Among triumphant moments like the Elite Four jumping in to retrieve Satsuki, you have continued revelations like Nui actually being a Life Fiber test tube baby or swerves like Ryuko being forced into wearing Junketsu. Neither of these elements is necessarily surprising, and the latter in particular is a clear setup shuffle for the even bigger, more obvious choice in spectacle the twentieth episode leaves off on. But it's accomplished with a panache and confidence the series has cultivated to this point. Even Ragyo's handsy happenings with Ryuko ring with kind of a sick third-time's-the-charm success, making clear this is just part-and-parcel to her preference in progeny manipulation. It's one last signal of how wrong Ryuko wearing the white Kamui is, even as I can't help but find her bancho-styled take on it incredibly cool. Kill la Kill has been mixing in slowness and downtime more often in its run, seemingly seeking to construct more noticeable arcs out of the few episodes it has left. These episodes aren't the best it's put out, and exploration of some ideas and motivations seems to have frustratingly fallen by the wayside, but they still capture the effectiveness of tone the series has at its most confident.
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