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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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