Kill la Kill

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Kill la Kill is an exercise in absurdity. Forget everything you heard. Don’t try to analyze symbols that exist only to be cool. Kill la Kill is an anime with an absurd premise that seeks only to make things more absurd. At some point, people fight using rulebooks and shooting bills.

Randomness has been a common feature of comedy. Use it too much, and it stops being random. After all, if anything can happen then nothing is surprising. Kill la Kill isn’t random. Rather, it operates from a set of symbols and keeps finding ways to take them further.

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In fact, it’s because it has a set of symbols that it’s so unique. Originality is connecting two distant things. Kill la Kill was born when the director noticed how similar ‘fashion’ and ‘fascism’ were. The whole thing relies on connecting clothing to dictators who laugh maniacally and want to dominate the world.

It should’ve been obvious for us now. After all, uniforms are a big deal in militaries which are dictatorships. No one did it before, not like this. It’s true that it’s not explored very deeply. The main villain wants to take over the world mostly because it gives Ryuuko something to fight, but it works.

The series is absurd because it has its own style, and keeps finding ways to add more to it. That’s why Nui Harime is so surprising and at the same time is so fitting. She fits with the series’ obsession of clothing, but until then we haven’t seen a cute fashion girl.

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The heart of the series, though, is in the characters. For all of the pictures of Ryuuko scowling, Kill la Kill is a hilarious comedy. Good comedy comes from funny characters, not funny punchlines. By making sure every character is a joke, they manage to make every situation funny even when they’re ridiculous.

It’s a difficult approach. Your characters can easily become one-note. They can become a joke or even a punchline that simply repeats itself. But the characters aren’t embodiment of jokes. They are ideas pushed to the extreme. The joke of Gamagoori isn’t that he screams a lot, but his ridculous devotion to discipline. Again, the show uses ideas as an inspiration point that affects everything

There are also a lot of them, and so there is a lot of room for varied interaction. The ideas these characters represent constantly bounce off each other and clash. They’re also pushed to the extreme in a way that makes them all close-minded. So the interaction never changes anyone. Rather, we two buffoons completely sure of themselves refusing to admit they’re wrong.

The series also has no filler interaction. There isn’t a single line of generic dialogue. Everything the characters do and say is modified by their personality. It’s not even a case of voice actors putting a lot of effort. The writing itself makes sure you can recognizee the speaker. This is why the characters feel so alive and real, even though they got blasted with missiles and don’t die.

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They’re not psychological portraits, of course. They’re mythic, embodying some ideas with grandeur. Yet, for all its lack of realism it feels more real than most anime. That’s because in real life, people react to things in ways that are uniquely them. So no matter how much you exaggerate, having this trait is the most important.

Since the characters feel so alive, the anime actually has effective drama. It’s shocking at first, but the serious moments are touching. They’re also pushed to the extreme, of course. Mako’s eyes become a faucet but it doesn’t make them any less effective. The series establishes that these are living beings. Since they feel real, so is their drama. After all, a rock falling from the sky isn’t emotionally engrossing. A living person falling is tragic. When it’s someone we know, it’s even more.

The variety and pure nonsense of this cast actually becomes an integral part of the plot later on. While the story of conformity vs. uniqueness is shallow, it uses the right symbols to bring it to life. It might be divorced from reality, but a story of a bunch of crazies fighting to keep their silly personality intact is relatable. It’s easier to believe it when the people fighting for uniqueness are as unique.

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The irony is that the only character who goes through a major change is Satsuki. She’s at first a symbol of conformity and The System, later to reveal she has different intentions and then to admit her methods were wrong. I’m not sure whether it was meant to shed more light on the ideas. It’s a little too disconnected. Still, it’s a good example of how flexible it is.

The visuals are also a big deal. The amount of sexual fanservice has been blown out of proportions. The art style is closer to the Western caricature than traditional anime. Characters are often blobby and in weird shapes. The women have figures, but they’re mostly just there. Shots that emphasize their sexy build are rare. Many bodies are only vaguely female.

Besides transformation sequences and a few suggestive shots, the series ignores nudity. It’s there. Some people sport their abs and you can get a decent idea of Ryuko’s figure but that’s it. Anyone looking for hot shots to screenshot will be disappointed.

Everything else about the art style is brilliant. The expressive character design is a given. It’s the environment and action scenes that are more unique. Nothing is literal in this world. Every environment expresses the atmosphere, but is never meant to be taken literally.

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This may some like a problem for those who care about precise details. If you care about precise details, read history. Fiction isn’t reality but an expression of human thought. The scenery of Kill la Kill is physically impossible, but is important for the immersion. That’s because humans don’t take in precise details. We take in certain cues that make perceive our environment in some way.

The action is the same. It’s rarely a case of tactics. It’s cool people swinging their weapons and uniform while color flashes. It’s a lot of fun but I’m surprised the Porygon effect didn’t surface. Besides the lump of exposition around the middle, it’s the only weak spot. Sometimes it’s too much, the colors flash and move and things explode and the only result is a headache. Kill la Kill is mostly good at controlling its nonsense (which is why it’s so impressive). A few action scenes are the only ones where its style works against it, doing more harm than good. It’s a small case.

The anime also sometimes feel a little too long and overloaded. It’s never enough to ruin it, but by the final battle the series has less steam than before. As good and epic as it is, it’s not enough. The series pushed things to the edge so much that they didn’t have much for the end but a huge lump of fibers.

Still, the flaws are tiny and barely worth talking about. Kill la Kill is the essential anime about beating people up and saving the world. There’s no reason to watch long shounen anime that never end when you have this. Even One Punch Man, which was a lot of fun looks tame and silly by comparison. It’s a series worthy of the hype, and I hope the fandom will keep it popular for a long time.

4.5 glorious Mako speeches out of 5

 

 

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Danganronpa: The Animation

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I could’ve written this review without watching the anime. For all its twists and turns, Danganropa works like you’d expect it to. Even the claim that it’s not as in-depth as the game doesn’t feel relevant. It’s a darkly humorous anime filled with hilarious characters. There isn’t much psychological depth, but everyone is memorable and no one gets demonized.

Danganronpa understands why Death Game scenarios work, and what are its strengths and weaknesses. These scenarios rely on a fairly unpredictable out come. We know the main character wins, but not always who will be his final match. The most important part is the characters. Their personality modify their interactions, the methods they use and how the ‘matches’ go.

By abandoning any characterization, you’re left with emptiness. All you will have is a show of violence, which can only be entertaining for so long. Thankfully this isn’t BTOOOM!. You can tell by just looking at the brilliant character design.

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Every character has a distinct look. No character is allowed to look like another. I haven’t seen a cast with this much effort put into the design. Everyone sports different hairstyles, outfits and even shapes of the eyes. The differences are more than just to tell apart the character. Each detail helps to point to the personality of the character. This is how character design should be – expressing the character using the visuals.

They are not psychological portraits. They are a collection of quirks, but these quirks never point to some realistic personality. The characters are, after all, chosen more for their skills rather than their personality. Normally this would lead to perfect, boring characters. In this guys, the talent points more towards some personality that’s exaggerated and made to feel alive, if not realistic.

It’s not that these are shallow without hope. There is hope for some depth and the show occasionally taps into it, but that’s not how we get to know the characters. We know them like we know our classmates – we know their patterns and learn to laugh about it. Even without the psychological aspect, it’s a vivid, entertaining cast.

They’re so entertaining that even the dullest characters (Who are for some reason the main ones. Someone was taking crazy pills) are entertaining. Neagi and Kirigiri are archetypes without much blood in them. The former is normal and means well. The other is a cold girl who always runs off to the writers, who tell her how to solve the mysteries. They never reach the heights of Fukawa or Junko or pretty much anyone, but they’re a cut above characters in the same style.

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The best of them all is Monokuma. He’s the embodiment of the series and why it works. If the premise and the characters don’t look weird enough, we also get a talking teddy bear that runs the school. He treats the violence and absurdity flippantly, as if it’s normal.

Isn’t this how comedy works? It presents an absurd situation where no one recognizes the absurdity. Although Danganronpa‘s story is a mystery, all the techniques are comic. It puts more emphasis on weird situations than a coherent puzzle. The mysteries aren’t exactly cleverly built. They’re messy and require some leap of faith, especially as the series goes on. The final twist is pure comedy.

Good mysteries are more than just predictable. They have an interesting structure and don’t rely just on the outcome. Absurdity is one way to do it. Even if Danganronpa‘s structure is fuzzy, it’s never boring. Every mystery is unique and memorable.

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The comedy also works because of its darkness. This is another case where darkness isn’t used to minimize the horror but amplify it. The bear is cute and the academy looks pretty, but it’s a cruel way of life. There seems to be no other solution than dying or killing, and yet the series knows this isn’t a good reason to sacrifice absurdity or characters. Just because a situation is harsh doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a funny side to it.

There is almost something meta about Monokuma. That route is never explored, which is a shame. It could’ve lifted the anime a little higher. Monokuma keeps telling the students to kill each other so he won’t get bored watching them. Isn’t this why you watch the anime? You watch it to see them kill each other. Wouldn’t be boring if the students decided not to kill each other, but just to kill time with each other?

The anime explores this question a bit, but not enough. Extending the time where the characters just being themselves could’ve put these two next to each other – School Life and Mystery – and we’ll have to ask ourselves what we prefer and why.

It doesn’t suffer from the over-abundance of ideas like its sister anime, Future Diary. In that one, ideas came and went. There were a lot of hints they could be explored but then they were dropped. While Danganronpa has these routes, it knows it can’t explore all of them in 12 episodes.

 

The few themes that appear – despair, violence, friendship – are used to spice up the story. The story is slightly shallower, but it’s also more organized and better paced. I’m sure the visual novel has more ideas, but in 12 Danganronpa manages to tell a hilarious mystery and not get sidetracked.

It’s in no way just advertisement for the visual novel. It’s a very entertaining anime filled with vivid characters, weird situations and a funny mystery. The approach to the genre is different, but better than the common one. It may lack substance, but it makes up for it in being entertaining. You don’t need a lot of episodes and fights that last for hours to be entertaining. You just need characters and situations that are odd enough to be memorable. You don’t need punchlines to be funny, you just to find the funny in already existing situations/characters.

3.5 upupupupupu out of 5 upupupupupupu