Kill la Kill: The Magic’s in What You Wear

Copyright © 2013 by Trigger and Kazuki Nakashima
Copyright © 2013 by Trigger and Kazuki Nakashima

As much as I’m into seinen anime and manga that deals with more mature themes and plots, I’m not above a little high-octane, devil-may-care action and adventure now and then. Sometimes you need a little bit of mayhem like FLCL to balance out the dark twists and drama of something like the Evangelion franchise.

And when I needed something new and exciting to sink my teeth into after trying (and failing) to enjoy Twin Peaks, I found salvation. Its name? Kill la Kill.

Our show takes place in a fictional Japan, where clothing equals power and the elite wear the most prestigious attire, imbued with Life Fibers. We follow the story of a teenager named Ryuko Matoi, who transfers to the prestigious Honnouji Academy to confront Satsuki Kiryuin, its domineering Student Council president, about the identity of her father’s killer. In the course of her search, Ryuko receives a sentient sailor’s uniform called Senketsu, who aids her in her quest to fight Lady Satsuki and her Elite Four. Meanwhile, Ryuko makes both friends and enemies along the way, from the free-spirited Mako Mankanshoku and her family to the aggressive Tsumugu and his allies in the Nudist Beach organization.

Copyright © 2013 by Trigger and Kazuki Nakashima.
Copyright © 2013 by Trigger and Kazuki Nakashima

So what does Kill la Kill have to offer?

Deranged animation in abundance.

If you like seeing the overexaggerated reactions and quirky little stop-action moves associated with anime, then you’ll love this show. Half the deranged animation comes from Ryuko kicking butt with filler enemies and the other is Mako and her family doing anything at all. Sometimes the pacing of this animation is so fast that I have to rewatch a scene just to catch all the little visual gags and shout-outs that the creators put in.

A world built on fashion and glamour.

After the initial clashes between Ryuko and the servants of Lady Satsuki, we delve into the show’s strange mythology of clothing. With bizarre elements like Life Fibers and Goku Uniforms, there’s some justification for seeing fashion as a kind of weapon in its own right. Putting on a Three-Star Goku Uniform or one of the Kamui sailor outfits actually gives characters the power of a god. In this show, the phrase “the clothes make the man” is incredibly literal.

Of course, this also means there’s tons of fanservice, from both men and women. Tons of panty shots, Action Girls running around with the barest amounts of modesty, and shirtless men disrobing in slow motion. You’ve been warned.

Touching moments among the cast of villains.

One thing that surprised me early on in the show was how often we saw things from the point of view of Lady Satsuki and her legion of Club Presidents. Sometimes they were plot-relevant scenes, having to do with the Opponent of the Week or the Life Fibers. At other times, we’re treated to quiet moments of camaraderie, like a flashback of how Satsuki and her right-hand man Sanageyama first met. These little touches do a lot to humanize a cast of otherwise hammy, two-dimensional antagonists. This depth becomes important to the plot later on.

Fight scenes that would make Gurren Lagann proud.

It’s no surprise that this series gets a lot of comparisons to Gurren Lagann, since both the director and writer of that show collaborated again on Kill la Kill. Fight scenes are giant in scale, with massive crater impacts and victory achieved by one’s superior resolve, especially for fighters like the massive Ira Gamagoori. One blade stroke from half of an oversized scissor is all it takes to shred an enemy’s uniform and remove them from the fight in this show. Those moments are designed for maximum comedy and brilliance.

Honestly, I came into this show expecting somehing like Gurren Lagann or FLCL. What I got was something better (though obviously nothing can really top FLCL for sheer insanity in an OVA). I loved the main cast, the epic fights, the random comedy from the Mankanshoku family, and the surreal animation of the final arc. It’s a loud and wild show that will cling to you like a nice suit long after you’ve watched it.

The English dub of Kill la Kill is available through Aniplex and Adult Swim.

Bibliography: Kill la Kill. Directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi. Written by Kazuki Nakashima. Trigger (studio). Aniplex of America (US license). Adult Swim (Toonami). Original run: October 3, 2013 – March 27, 2014.

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