Kill la Kill
Episodes 7-8

by Christopher Farris,

How would you rate episode 7 of
Kill la Kill ?

How would you rate episode 8 of
Kill la Kill ?

I regretfully haven't made much time yet to talk-o about Mako in these Kill la Kill reviews, but with this famous seventh episode on deck, there's no better time to make up for that. Ms. Mankanshoku isn't a regular combatant in the battles that mark the standard method of progression of Ryuko's plot in this show, but that's precisely what integrates her role into it. We learn in both the seventh and eighth episodes that Ryuko never really had a home or a family life of her own, so bunking with Mako as she has since the beginning provides a respite from all of the fighting. Ryuko isn't just taking on all comers in the name of revenge for her father; every time she saves Mako from being taken hostage, she reinforces that her power is here to protect something as well. That's a key difference between her and Satsuki that the series wants to emphasize as much as possible here, with the seventh episode attempts to cement that dynamic by turning it on its head for a bit.

The core ideas of episode 7 are extremely good ones, ripe for exploring Kill la Kill's layered philosophies on power and what people can do with it. Ryuko and Mako taking on Honnouji Academy's system from within by forming their own club, rather than simply reacting to regular challenges, speaks of the obvious option those dealing with such corrupt institutions have. If you have power that you've been righteously using up until now, is it possible to use that to join and reform a broken hierarchy? Kill la Kill thus far has seemed to be articulating the evils of individuals: Satsuki and her Student Council are the villains controlling and oppressing all elements of the academy town, and if they're taken down things can be fixed. But the events of this episode go extremely hard on suggesting that the evils of power structures may run deeper into systemic issues, and those that join are either warped by its influence or snuffed out if they refuse to compromise.

For a show previously running more into black/white clashing of ideals, it's a starkly real-world approach to the question of institutions. The moral of Mako's Fight Club itself doesn't land on any one side either, not outright yelling for dissolution of the system wholesale yet, nor completely committing to the point that anyone working within is corruptible. Chief to this conundrum is Mako herself. The girl's best points have always been her honest forthrightness, reliably coming in as she always does to deliver outlandish, choir-backed speeches articulating exactly what Ryuko and the audience need to hear about why she's fighting. Mako has power, but it's not in her fists (even when they're wrapped in the fighting finery of her two-star Goku Uniform), it's in her unflinching articulation of her principles. And it's a pity that this episode keeps getting sidetracked instead of focusing on that.

This episode's big weakness is how muddled the parable of its central conflict becomes. This is mostly on account of its use of the age-old storytelling adage of the inherent nobility of poverty, opposite the moral corruption of wealth. The Mankanshoku family, annoying as it is a lot of the time, at least succeeds in coming across as a pack of people that truly love each other. The symbology of their increasing wealth with the success of Mako's club slowly tearing apart their close-knit family dinners and thus their bonds is heavy-handed in the way Kill la Kill has always been, but feels like a mistake in singling the money out as the major influence. As long as KLK is commenting on the real-world mechanics of institutions, it shouldn't also ignore that poverty in reality can be a crushing factor that destroys lives more than any amount of late-running business meetings.

The idea that being well-fed and taken care of would suddenly cause the Mankanshokus to become jerks who don't care about each other beggars belief beyond understanding the cartoony storytelling trope we're interfacing with. And while the element of wealth as power is undeniable, this whole segment focuses far too much on the corruption of the money itself rather than any gesture towards what should be the central problem of power. It's frankly a baffling misfire given how spot-on Kill la Kill usually is with that theme, and ends up turning a huge chunk of the episode into a distraction. There is a late pivot that tries to recenter things better, Ryuko making a point about not getting comfortable with wealth made on the backs of others (hers, in this case). But that still gets swamped under the revelation that Mako herself had unimpeachable intentions for the whole exercise, and it was only the burgeoning greedy ambitions of the family members that caused her to lose her way.

The muddier, lower-effort thematic choices in this episode have always dented it, which is frustrating in the face of the obvious cool factor. Mako finally gets to fight in a way that dynamically warps her role in the story up to now, and the whole thing turns out to be a climactic cap-off before we head into the next story arc. That's great, and while the animation in this episode looks a little sketchier than usual, it still hits where it counts (check out all those incidental club Goku Uniform designs we get to see!). And I love some little details that come about as part of the choices, like Mako's family stripping off their finery at the end as they learn their lesson, lending yet another spin to Kill la Kill's ongoing nudity narrative. But in terms of evocative thematics, it's the most obvious stumble so far in the series, with the feeling of several missed opportunities hanging over it.

Thankfully, the following episode opts for a more easy pace (by Kill la Kill's standards, anyway) as we head into that fighting genre staple, the tournament arc. Though given that it's structural satire all the way down, Satsuki of course refers to this life-or-death battle-royale as an ‘Election’ (the ‘Naturals Election’ specifically, in one of the best examples of the show's terrifically translated puns). There's honestly plenty to appreciate here just in the beginning, as it shows that for the actually strong characters like the Student Council and Ryuko, a week-long brawl where they just have to survive and show up to the school courtyard is practically a vacation. That lets them wade through this warzone while still treating it as the ‘calm before the storm’ in front of a big status-quo shifting multi-episode arc. Only Studio Trigger could pull something like this off.

But that bizarre coziness lets Kill la Kill go places it hasn't before. It's simply sweet seeing Mako and Ryuko go on a scooter ride together, or reflect at the ruins of Ryuko's house as we learn more about her past and real motivations for avenging her father. It's important for Mako to be here as the ‘home’ Ryuko has now as I described much earlier, as well as to continue grounding the situation as a ‘normal’ student for Gamagoori's part of the second half.

Gamagoori's been an eclectic presence codifying Kill la Kill's coolness since the very first moments of the show, but here we finally get some insight into his nuances and discover he's actually even cooler than we thought. The elaboration on his principles and beliefs in how he serves Satsuki and the school, extending even to assisting Ryuko in these trying times, speaks to that earlier question of arguably good people working within corrupt systems. Gamagoori's flashback explicitly marks him as someone trying to be a force for righteousness, and seemingly makes similar allusions to Satsuki herself. Villains and corrupt exploiters of power existed within this scholarly setup before she even took it over, so was there perhaps a more salient reason for her doing so beyond wanting to amass control for herself? Well obviously those of us who have already watched the show know the answer, but this bit sticks out as good foreshadowing. It also loops back to Gamagoori's characterization, being illustrated as it does in his Goku Uniform activation. Underneath all the BDSM jokes is a point about a man whose self-flagellation is at the expense of the good he genuinely believes he is carrying out amongst all the punishment that's meted. And that's just the warm-up as we get ready to see his principles more directly clash with Ryuko's in the next episode.

That makes episode 8 of Kill la Kill a much tighter exercise in contrast to the preceding one, but they stand parallel each other effectively, at least. This is just the first of several transitory places for the show. Getting comfortable with how our systems provide for us can inevitably lead to a crashing downfall regardless of how much wealth was involved getting there, and an unbroken string of fighting without clear direction can destroy us from within. Satsuki has her own motivations for rebuilding the school's hierarchy from the ground up, but she is right in some ways regarding Ryuko (and by proxy, us) not getting complacent lest we succumb to natural selection.

Rating:

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


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