Anime Review: Kill la Kill

A review of the highly controversial fan-service heavy meta-comedy, action show animated by studio Trigger: KILL LA KILL
Average User Rating:
5/5,
  1. Anime Review: Kill La Kill

    Series: Kill La Kill

    Original Release Date/Run: October 2013 – March 2014

    Genre: Action, Comedy, Drama, Magical Girl, Ecchi

    Director: Hiroyuki Imaishi

    Writer: Kazuki Nakashima

    Studio: Trigger

    Number of Episodes: 24 + 1 OVA


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    Overview

    Kill La Kill takes place in Honnō City at a fictional High School called Honnouji Academy. The student council, led by Satsuki Kiryuin, rule over the students of Honnouji Academy with an iron fist. This is until new girl Ryuko Matoi, who wields half scissor blade, appears on a quest for vengeance against the user of the other half scissor blade.


    Little does Ryuko realize, is that the student council and members of the school clubs are given special outfits that grant them special enhancements, powers and abilities making them a force to be reckoned with. Each outfit is given a star rating, with one being the lowest and three being the highest; however, there is far more to the materials used to make these outfits that Ryuko comprehends.


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    Personal Opinion


    Kill La Kill is like that overtly drunk person you run into at a pub or house party or randomly on the street when you're with a group of friends: they’re incoherent and obnoxious, like to ramble and make little to no sense - yet they spend a great deal of time and effort trying to rationalize their story; but they’re sure a lot of fun to watch. Okay. Perhaps that’s a little harsh to say, after all I enjoyed watching Kill La Kill a lot, and contrary to my initial statement, overall it is a good series. I stress “good” and not great, as Kill La Kill has some monumental flaws that inhibit its ability to make it a great anime with strong narrative and thematic impact.


    In the defense of Kill La Kill, such flaws would otherwise completely destroy any other anime; however, one of the wonderful things that Kill La Kill demonstrates is that a piece of art/animation can redeem itself by being much stronger in other areas. It’s creative, has good characterization, well implemented and executed comedy, a vibrant color palette, is well-paced and overall a lot of fun.


    What I'm getting at here is that just because a piece of art/animation might be lacking, weak, or a complete loss in a couple areas, it can make up for this by delivering on other areas. If I were to sum up Kill La Kill in a few words, they would be; “good but inconsistent”.


    Story/Plot


    The plot starts off pretty straight forward and logical both from a narrative and thematic perspective which is very entertaining and leaves plenty open for conceptual and literal interpretation. While some of these thematic concepts are well developed, there are many other ideas Kill La Kill attempts that are not explored sufficiently or are abandoned all together so that the plot and story can go into an obtuse direction. This is usually fine if it’s well set up and foreshadowed; however, on Kill La Kill, when the plot decides to take an abrupt turn in direction, it fails to sufficiently set up or foreshadow most of the later plot threads. The result is that Kill La Kill ends up having to spend a great deal of screen time rationalizing this drastic plot change to the audience with expository info dumps.


    It's almost as if a different team of writers came in for the second half of the series, more or less ignored what had been set up so that they could take the story in the direction they wanted to by shoehorning in their "cool" ideas. However, this is not the case; it's the same writers throughout the entire series, which is pretty strange considering the overall execution of the story here.


    While this is true and I stand firmly by it, I will also admit the direction it goes in is at least interesting and entertaining and the only reason it barely works is because of how over the top and outrageous the tone of this show is. It’s at that point where it's almost as if the story-line of the show is meant more to serve as a vehicle for all the hysterics the show has to offer as opposed to making logical or narrative sense. That’s neither a compliment nor a criticism.


    Thematic Analysis: What's it all mean?


    Thematically speaking, Kill La Kill has great ideas, only that a few of those ideas are given the necessary development to grow and mature into a strong resolution while others are merely touched on at a superficial level or are resigned to being utilized as plot devices or even abandoned all together.


    This outcome is a direct result of the obtuse plot shift that occurs halfway through the series, which I brought up earlier. It is here that Kill La Kill is severely inconsistent and suffers the most. Thematically it's sloppy and messy while also making some strong points, almost as if someone's playing darts blind and taking as many shots as possible and hitting the target a couple times.


    Granted, while there are only a couple of ideas that are consistently explored throughout the series or are episodic in nature, it does add some depth to an otherwise silly show. Unfortunately since there are also many more thematic ideas that get choked out, it gets particularly jarring for anyone wanting to do a thematic/narrative analysis of Kill La Kill.


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    Some of the well-executed ideas are utilized in an episodic fashion making a few of these episodes like their own little self-contained stories. The amazing aspect here is that they contribute to the few consistent overarching themes while also developing the characters as individuals on a mental and emotional level.


    Of the few thematic ideas that are consistent and well executed, the most consistent thematic idea that encapsulates most of the concepts Kill La Kill explores is the idea of staying focused. Not losing sight of who one is. Not losing their way. Don't lose your way as the song goes.


    This becomes far more evident when Kill La Kill deals with the idea of family bonds, friendship, togetherness and unity making it possibly the strongest thematic thread of the entire show. What allows for this is that there are some good smaller, more episode based ideas that feed into it. One perfect example is the episode where the Mako and her family, are confronted with gaining status. This alters their behavior; the way they interact with others, their incessant materialism and as a result, they lose their way. It is at this point they're ultimately faced with their family morals being put to the test.


    This is one of the better episodes, not only because of the character interaction but how its conclusion reinforces some good thematic ideas while setting up some plot and character motives. This episode also provides some great world building and social commentary on various levels with the sociological hierarchy of the setting by exploring its structure in greater detail. The reason this works is that Kill La Kill establishes elements of this thematic idea early on in the series quite well by using visuals with something as simple as repeatedly showing the structure of the town Kill La Kill takes place in; it’s literally set up as social pyramid with the wealthiest high status population on top and the poor on the bottom.


    Kill La Kill also deals with the concept of vengeance and power when Ryuko's acquisition of power throughout the series allow her to enact her vengeance. It is during these scenes when Ryuko is confronted with vengeance and the emotional toll it takes. As a result, Ryoko at various times during the course of Kill La Kill, literally and figuratively becomes drunk on power and thus, the very monster she set out to fight. She loses her way; and it's her friends and family that are able to save her.


    Now, there are some other good, well thought out episodes that do this where the thematic idea is more character and situation based and works as a stand alone episode since the idea is resolved; however, the issue with some of the other themes that come up in a similar fashion go unresolved and they’re never revisited. That brings me to the thematic problems that infect Kill La Kill; I see there are some ideas that begin to develop, but are either just lip service, or they’re not developed to the extent the narrative demands or they get abandoned all together.


    As an example, one of the thematic motifs Kill La Kill attempts is fate; however, this thematic idea comes and goes and is as transient as a flaky person’s promise. It’s really sad too because there are some great opportunities here where this thematic idea could’ve been integrated into some of the other ideas and character arcs. The show presents but fails to develop the thematic idea of fate beyond a surface level. There’s the scissor blades, the red thread motif that comes up, the way characters are connected, but aside from great imagery once in a while, it’s not as developed thematically as it should’ve been. Instead, the theme of fate becomes subordinated as a plot device as opposed to a thematic one. The result here is that instead of using the thematic idea of fate to really analyse its own philosophies or exploring the characters’ perspectives, it exists as a means to rationalize the convoluted plot.


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    One more thematic example that I feel needs to be addressed to better illustrate where Kill La Kill runs into problems is during the second half with the clothing motif. This is a great concept during the first half of the series brimming with thematic potential. Not only does Kill La Kill start off by conveying this idea that clothing is a way for people to express themselves, but it presents how clothing becomes an extension of an individual's personality.


    It doesn't stop there either; it utilizes this motif to illustrate how people internalize their hobbies and what they do and how their clothes are a reflection of that. The way this motif can be related to real world interpretation is practically boundless; use your imagination here. It even connects to one of the main ideas of "don't lose your way" with how this theme relates to status and the social hierarchy.


    There are numerous times Satsuki mentions this out loud with how clothing doesn't make the person who they are and how it's important to be confident as an individual. This is also evident in how she refers to people as "pigs in human clothing." This is something Ryuoko learns early on in the series that kicks off some of her character development.


    Unfortunately, this great thematic motif suffers the same fate as some of the other thematic ideas I had touched on earlier. It's abandoned due to the series taking a completely different direction with its story. Understand, I'm doing everything within my ability to give Kill La Kill the benefit of the doubt here. With the direction the story takes during the second half of Kill La Kill, I'm pondering, even trying to rationalize, how it connects thematically to what had been established with this motif earlier in the series.


    I feel that even if I look at this from a deeper metaphysical level, it could be interpreted that clothes wear people. That individuals put so much of their identity in their clothing they forget and lose who they are; they cease to be individuals. While I do feel that's a solid interpretation, I also feel that I'm really reaching out on that one. Art is subjective after all; meaning it's open to interpretation. However, I feel it's some confirmation bias on my part here, as I'm trying to rationalize what Kill La Kill is doing here thematically. I suppose in all fairness someone else may see it as a good interpretation; which I'm also fine with. I guess it varies from person to person, as it should.


    I suppose a fair assessment of this clothing theme would be that it does make sense during the second half of the series when a person really thinks it over. However, I strongly feel that this motif should've been articulated better during the second half, particularly in connecting it to the earlier episodes.


    I feel that Kill La Kill has a lot of great thematic ideas that could’ve been put to good use, from something as simple as doing more with the gritty aesthetic of the series contrasted with the lighthearted comedy, to the tyranny and oppression motif complete with 1984 references and high school life. At the same time, Kill La Kill does manage to have some well-implemented and well-executed core thematic ideas that are consistent throughout the series.


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    Characters


    Despite how harsh I’ve been to Kill La Kill, I still like the series and have plenty of good to say about it. One of those areas is the characterization and because of how it’s executed, it’s practically the glue that holds the series together. The characterization is very efficient with how it goes about fleshing out and developing characters. Everyone in the main ensemble cast is given a good backstory of who they are, how they met each other, where they fit into the story and has thematic relevance in their development without eating up too much screen time.


    Then there’s some strong implicit fleshing out and development of the characters with how they’re presented visually and how their actions, motives and behaviors convey their place in the story thematically. While some of this can get repetitive, I find that it reinforces a particular character’s goal thematically and how it affects them as a person.


    This adds a strong dynamic to the already interesting and enjoyable ensemble cast, and while that’s a fine thing, like any good art/entertainment that has an ensemble cast, it ensures narrative stability by anchoring the main story line to two primary characters. This is one of the definitive strengths of Kill La Kill that allows it some redemption over its flaws.


    I also find that from a character perspective is where some of the smaller thematic ideas and overarching ones work. These ideas are well executed in a functional and thematic sense, not only in how they’re integral to some of the growth and development the characters undergo, but they also give the characters' experience more validity.


    A perfect example of a well-implemented and well-executed character arc on Kill La Kill is the episode that focuses on Uzu Sanageyama's character arc earlier in the series. What makes it such a great episode is the thematic integration and use of imagery coupled with Uzu's character development as well as the frame composition and overall structure of the episode. Aside from the way Uzu's story arc on this episode links to the show's primary themes, it develops him as a character along with his relation and dynamic with Satsuki leading to an amazing resolution.

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    Clever Antics


    The vast majority of comedy on Kill La Kill is well-executed and creative. The way the animation, visuals, dialogue and music are utilized, contribute to the strong execution of humor while also providing something relatively fresh, unique and effective.


    Kill La Kill pokes fun at a lot of different things with variety of jokes. The humor is well-executed with how a joke is introduced and revisited throughout the series. What particularly works here is the gradual escalation of a joke as the series progresses. The humor is even effective at times for foreshadowing and reinforcing some of the thematic ideas on Kill La Kill.


    Out of all the jokes in the series, I’d say there’s only one that I really have an issue with and that’s mostly due to my personal experiences, understand, it’s how the scene is handled; how the joke was executed with its content and framing that bothered me. Aside from that one issue I have with the humor, if everything else in this series was as consistent, effective and well executed as the comedy, it would be a phenomenal show; however, my prior criticisms still stand.


    Animation


    The animation, visuals and aesthetic contribute well to the humor, characterization and the thematic ideas whether they undergo development or not. The series has an inviting aesthetic to it and does a great job of establishing the tone of any given scene. It’s also pretty cool to see a slightly unique character design style come up. There’s also some great framing which supports the humor, characterization and even some of the dramatic scenes and thematic ideas the series brings up. Overall, this is where the show’s creativity and unique style really shine and compliment a lot of what it does well.


    This adds a lot to many of the fast paced, intricate action sequences that occur on Kill La Kill which makes them a lot of fun to watch. What I really enjoyed here is how the animation is utilized, from how some action scenes are framed with how there’s a 360 view to how and when close up shots are executed. The action, like the characterization and comedy, is a definitive strong point of this series.


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    That said, the animation gets pretty inconsistent at times; while there are some breathtaking, intricate, fast moving action and comedy scenes that are ridiculously well animated as well as some great establishing shots, there are times where the illusion crumbles. What I mean is that there are times where it’s easy to tell when a key frame is being manipulated around or enlarged to create movement. The issue here is that while many anime put this style of animation to good use and hide it in plain sight making it almost unnoticeable, Kill La Kill actually tries harder to hide it and as a result, it becomes more obvious and somewhat cheap looking at times.


    Ecchi Fan Service


    The only other aspect to bring up regarding the visual presentation is that Kill La Kill does consist of some ecchi fan service scenes such as the magical girl transformation, the occasional bath scene and naked men and women charging into battle.


    While the majority of the ecchi fan service is meant for comedic and thematic purposes, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s ecchi material. I’ve heard people rationalize the fan service here as “lamp shading” or “parodying” actual ecchi stuff, which is fine. However, I disagree with this interpretation of it considering how gratuitous and explicit it gets sometimes, regardless of whether it’s meant to make a thematic point or it’s done to parody ecchi in anime. The point is that there are people who enjoy anime who find such content alienating for numerous reasons and that’s fine. It’s also fine if you’re cool with it. I’m not trying to discourage people from watching it, by all means, if you want to try it, go ahead, I’m just letting you know it’s there.


    Music


    The music is amazing, Hiroyuki Sawano, who also composed a solid score for Attack on Titan, composed the music for Kill La Kill which consists of a variety of melodies that complement and enhance any scene in how; from something comedic, to dramatic to suspenseful action; it helps to convey the tone of a scene. A cool example is the use of exotic scales during some of the comedic parts, particularly something that sounds like the harmonic minor that complements scenes where Mako does these frantic monologues. These parts are funny on their own because of their energy, content, and visuals, but it’s the music that completes the execution of these scenes.


    English Dub


    I watched Kill La Kill in English as I do most of the time with anime and for the most part it’s done very well. All the actors do a great job on this show and I feel they fit the characters they play very well. The only real issue with the English dub are the first couple episodes with the character Ryuko. It’s pretty easy to tell that the voice actor playing her is not as experienced as the rest of the cast and is getting into the groove on those first couple episodes. Even Erica Mendez, who plays Ryuko has admitted to wanting to redo those first couple episodes because she feels her performance is lacking there.


    Despite that particular issue, Erica Mendez does find her bearings and is able to settle into the role nicely and even on those earlier episodes where the performance is a little shaky, the timbre and texture of her voice still fits the character like a glove. Erica Mendez is perfect as Ryuko even on the first few episodes.


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    Conclusion and Recommendation

    Kill La Kill is messy and inconsistent when it comes to its plot and themes, but makes up for this with its creative approach to its animation and visuals, well executed comedy, fast paced and suspenseful action and its colorful cast of characters. Overall, this is one occasion where the style, fun and rule of cool on Kill La Kill is enough to carry the series despite its inconsistent and at times, incoherent substance.


    If you as an individual want a fun, entertaining and action packed ride with amazing characters and you don't mind some ecchi fan service here and there, I feel I can confidently recommend this to you.

    Special thanks to @Shannon Apple, @Tonto-banchou, @Kuze and @KT Samurai for their extensive feedback and useful suggestions.
    tripplej, Tonto-banchou and Kuze like this.

Recent User Reviews

  1. OctalKey
    5/5,
    "This is the one with the Lesbians right"
    This was a pretty intriguing review, from one anime fan to another, I genuinely appreciated your intelligent criticism of the show's weaker story. It was outrageously funny and so fresh to look at, with the unique art design of the setting and characters, but it did try to delve into "srz bidness" territory with the final arc and the complexities of the "Clothing Wears Humans" conclusion. I still can't fault the anime entirely for failing at trying to stay determined it get this point across, because it was just so self-aware of how ridiculous and easy-going it was with the fanservice and comedy.

    Great review, I really respect and agree with a lot of your judgements.

    It's a terrific anime if you want to have a good time instead of watching something more Seinen.

    Also, I was surprised when I watched it and discovered I had no one to ship Ryuko with...I was like dang...
    1. Neon Walrus
      Thank you for your thoughts, I'm glad you enjoyed reading this.

      I found this show somewhat challenging to write about since I do really like it, but have a lot of compliments and criticisms for it. To make things more tricky, some of the show's aspects shared strengths and weaknesses. It came down to being able to organize and articulate my thoughts on it.

      This is obvious when I'm talking about the thematic ideas the show deals with. Some are perfectly implemented and executed, while others are messy and even contradictory and then it's also how some of them are utilized that causes issues.

      I feel that the clothes wearing people theme is up to the individual though. Me personally, I feel it could've been better articulated and set up since I feel that I really need to reach pretty deep to get it.

      Then the show even contradicts itself in that it's talking about abandoning clothes and materialism and Ryuko beats the villain by wearing all the clothes. Something I was going to bring up in the review, but decided to leave out.

      The issue here is that action requires further confirmation bias; I'd have to rationalize Ryuko as a Christ figure of sorts bearing everyone's sins; which can work if you want.

      However; Ryuko as a Christ figure is a stretch since some of her behaviors reflect this, while others are the polar opposite. I mean, she embodies some of these ideals since she doesn't care about status or materialism, but she's also brutish, violent and very unforgiving.

      Overall though, I really did enjoy watching this show. It at least took some interesting risks.

Comments

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  1. Kuze
    That choice of ahem...cover image tho.
    1. Neon Walrus
      Yeah, I probably would have gone with something a bit more conservative myself if I chose it.
  2. Neon Walrus
    Just wanted to mention a special thanks to Tonto-banchou, Kuze and Shannon Apple who offered some good constructive criticism, suggestions and organizational/structural ideas for this review.

    Many of these suggestions and ideas I've been implementing on my future write ups. Once again; thank you.
      Shannon Apple and Kuze like this.