Kill la Kill
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 23 of
Kill la Kill ?
How would you rate episode 24 of
Kill la Kill ?
It's interesting. When I first started down this road nearly three months ago, I was excited to relive Kill la Kill for the opportunity to dive in and more deeply discover and dissect its themes than I had initially all those years ago. I've praised Kazuki Nakashima's tangible motifs in his writing and Hiroyuki Imaishi's ability to manifest those in miraculous cartoon visuals. The idea of using that visual language to explore fascism, its roots, and the necessary nature of opposition to it resonates with the same level on which Gurren Lagann had depicted its own struggles. There was also the question of Studio Trigger depicting aspects of femininity with the same gusto as had been seen with the idea of ‘manliness’ in that series with all the drills; After all, were scissors not a perfect motif for going nuts on the yonic imagery? It's easy to recall Kill la Kill at its core as another in the catalog dedicated to the examination of ideas wholly encased in dedicated visuals.
In practice, seeing Kill la Kill with fresh eyes has made it much more clear that it can't be categorized as an application of components over an expected framework from the crew that made it. The exploration of fascism was there, to be sure, but it was more a conceptual backdrop to project its characters' evolving struggles onto. Fighting against all-oppressing dictators and the power they wield is a motif that unites the actions of both the heroes and the villains-turned-heroes in the show. The series already wrapped its metaphor of the combining conglomerate of the parts of humanity as perfectly as it could back in episode 22, so with these last two episodes dedicated to a big blowout akin to a multi-stage JRPG boss battle, most of the gesturing at that subtext can go out the window.
It's direct declarations all the way down, instead. Ragyo's crushing philosophy is represented as a literal whole-cloth amalgamation of humanity, meant to cover the entire Earth, silencing and eventually destroying it. It's an unsustainable system, to be sure, but it's executed in the name of expending all its contributing resources and moving onto the next entity to conquer. But that unification, of Ragyo's COVERS and Ryuko's super-mode powered by all the available Goku Uniforms, also strongly exists to narrow things down by the end to a one-on-one final battle. Ragyo represents an oppressive system that must be ended, of course, but she's also in-narrative a monstrous embodiment of where Ryuko's issues stem from that she can personally confront. Ryuko has united the powers of all her allies and brought together both sides of the scissor blade – the usage of which, we're told, is the only thing that can fully sever the Life Fibers. It's perhaps the tightest embracing the series has of the true purpose of Ryuko's side teaming up with Satsuki's side by the end: The moral that all other ideologies must unite in their purpose to cut through the crushing efforts of fascism.
But that's the back-ported points justifying the character arcs of Ryuko, Satsuki, and the others to get them to this big show-off segment. So it goes the same for any aspects of exploring femininity. Not to be glib, of course, but perhaps it's for the best that Hiroyuki Imaishi and Studio Trigger didn't try too hard to position Kill la Kill here as a demonstrative thesis on feminine identity. There's the imagery of the scissors there, sure, and the various lines throughout about unashamedly embracing your body and presentation that was mostly just decently-thought-out excuses to dress (or undress) the fanservice in. The final episode in particular features aside lines about Ryuko coming to be grateful for the unique state of her own body, or Mako declaring how her ladyfriend has paved the way for the girls of the show's world to wear whatever they want. But again, that's all mostly couched in character terms, letting us arrive with Ryuko at the end of her hero's journey where she can unashamedly admit who she is.
These are elements of Kill la Kill, and they are large parts of what make it Kill la Kill. But having come this far to see it end as it does, again, it's become clear that those concepts aren't why Kill la Kill is here. Instead, amusingly, the series' purpose as it ends is the same as when it began: As a declaration of intent. This was Studio Trigger's debut television anime, and it's not so much a story of humanity fighting for their way free from oppression as it is a story of Imaishi, Nakashima, and all their pals fully stepping out from the shadow of Gainax to show everyone what they were really about on their own. Way back when I was talking about the tenth episode, I mentioned that Ryuko's line about crazy begetting crazier to spell victory could be an articulation of the studio's strategy itself. Following on from the realization in the previous episodes that the manic uniqueness of the people they've found themselves surrounded by is what drives Ryuko and Satsuki to fight, they find themselves yelling paraphrases of that several times as these final two episodes explode expertly in front of us. "Not making sense is kinda our thing" say the characters, and the company that created them.
With that as an objective, and the finer points of the themes ironed out in the previous two episodes, this last pair is free to do whatever Studio Trigger wants, which turns out to be just about everything. It's a cavalcade of character and concept moments I could just gush about forever. I love the final Goku Uniforms the Elite Four get, all of them adopting a body-baring style reflecting the lessons of the Kamui and their time working with Nudist Beach. I love Mako alternatively getting a turn as the heavy-hitter of the team, while still turning out great comic beats and a fist-pumping day-save on a giant hamster wheel. Even as there's an odd break between the penultimate and final episodes for one more team tea party, I really appreciate the sweet sentiment behind it, and the way Nui's sudden interruption of the credits means we still continue into the second half of the final battle with some momentum.
There are clearly some saved-up-for-last artistic efforts being unleashed at the end here, especially in the final episode. The series is able to commit to stunts like a fully-animated combination sequence for Mikisugi and Tsumugu's DTRs only to have them obliterated half a second later. They mine for pathos the best way they know how, appearing to kill off everyone's fave Gamagoori, just for him to roar back to life minutes later recreating his legendary drop-in stunt from the very first episode. Between the 23rd and 24th episode, the series has sequences set to a new insert song, both opening themes, and the now-classic Before My Body Is Dry (that'd be the 'Don't Lose Your WAAAAAAAY!' song). Kill la Kill has always promised hype, and here at the end it's purely coasting on that.
Is that enough to overcome leaving its ideas and explorations mostly in the dust by this point to focus primarily on itself instead? I'm not sure it makes for the tightest experience overall, but it's hard to deny that the show earned it on pure energy. Returning to simple character work by the end, there's something heartening about the purity of how Ryuko's character arc comes to a close, sacrifice of Senketsu necessary as it is. The show can declare that she's grown up past her angsty revenge-seeking days through the obvious symbology of giving up her school uniform, and happily enjoying Satsuki's company while also out on her date with Mako. She can articulate that growth in the parlance of the story's overall lessons, not constantly raging against an oppressor but reminding us that all people must be ever-vigilant as humans in the face of those who would oppose them. There is a post-finale OVA episode, the contributions of which to the characteristic energy and concepts of the series are debatable, but it's not available on any of the streaming platforms I'm covering here, so I'll just leave it alone. Kill la Kill doesn't have quite as much to say by the end as it would appear at first, but even as it mostly turns out to be a simple declaration of who we are and why we're here, there's nothing wrong with listening to Studio Trigger yell that as loudly as possible in this case.
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