Kill la Kill is an anime that has been on everyone’s minds since it began airing last year, and for good reason – labeled the “spiritual successor” of the massively popular Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann and being Studio Trigger’s first major anime, expectations were high and the result is a controversial mix of the expected and the unpredictable.
Now that it’s finished airing, the question remains – is it worth watching?
In a high school dominated by uniform-based classism, transfer student Matoi Ryuuko aims to find the truth about her father’s death. The only clues she has are a Sword Scissor left by his killer and a living sailor uniform. And the only person who might be able to reveal the truth is Honnouji Academy’s dictatorial student president, Kiryuuin Satsuki.
“Subtle” is a word not present in the vocabularies of those who made this anime. Everything is ridiculous, over-the-top, and completely incredulous. Unfortunately, the story suffers for the sake of this insane attitude.
The story is all over the place. Sometimes it’s following Ryuuko in her quest to defeat Satsuki and learn the truth of her father’s death, sometimes it’s advancing through a series of pointless and generally boring episodes that only serve to drag out the show, and sometimes the plot actually advances.
While the core story – Ryuuko trying to avenge her father’s death – is fine, the issues arise with what actually happens instead. Rather than Ryuuko actively trying to find more information, she simply takes on a “monster-of-the-week” type foray as she battles a new club leader from Honnouji Academy for about the first 10 episodes, sort of culminating in tournament-style battles against the Four Devas. In lieu of a series of spontaneous battles where Ryuuko takes out those in her way, there is a clear structure to everything that makes this feel too much like a generic battle shounen in the first half.
The story isn’t necessarily bad, the issue is more with how it is presented. If the story were more of a series of transitions between plot points and less of plot sprinkled into a mess of explosions and fights that have no greater purpose, there wouldn’t be an issue. While twists later into the story are fairly predictable, they at least aren’t preceded by excessive foreshadowing that characters gleefully ignore – they deliver a left hook straight to the blind spot, even if they aren’t very original.
One of my biggest complaints about the “spiritual successor” of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is that the story is basically the same thing all over again. The parallels between the two start from the very first episode and continue until the end, although KLK is far less consistent with its delivery. If you’ve seen one, it will be impossible to ignore the similarities when watching the other.
And as expected, the ending is as crazy as one might have thought, complete with Ryuuko going Super Saiyan and Hollywood-tier cheese.
The characters are a bit of a mixed bag, with the majority of the issues falling on the main character, Ryuuko. As a character who starts as a strong and independent force of justice, her development feels completely forced. All that the writers did was throw in several contrived situations that had her doubt herself for an episode or two only to bounce back stronger than ever, but still the same person at the core – the only positive thing about these situations was the increasing bond between Ryuuko and Senketsu. If the development felt like a natural part of the story, this would have never been an issue, but it was always some artificial event that merely dragged out the story further – the worst offender would be episode 21, which should not have existed.
The other characters mostly fill some necessary role without being very multi-dimensional. In a show as action-driven as this, it’s not an issue, and strangely enough one of the flattest characters is also one of the most interesting – Ryuuko’s friend, Mako.
Through the entire series, Mako is a clumsy, ditzy mess who never changes, but she also serves as the primary means to keep Ryuuko grounded in reality while engaged in a series of ridiculous events of increasing magnitude. She also provides the majority of the comedy in the show without feeling much like a comedic relief character – maybe because the story is so insane in the first place that she’s not quite out of the ordinary.
The other characters, in particular the Four Devas, are relatively static throughout the series; however, their personalities and roles add a lot to the show, especially through their dedication to Satsuki. Rather than feeling solely like plot devices to battle Ryuuko, they feel like real people who have real (anime-logic) reasons to support Satsuki’s goals.
Art and Animation
Going along with the ridiculous story is a fitting visual presentation – characters are literally larger-than-life, huge block text takes up the screen when someone is introduced or uses some special technique, the art and animation style is highly distinct (and lacks the color green), and the weird fanservice (both male and female) is there for some reason.
The most controversial aspect of the show would be the fanservice in Ryuuko and Satsuki’s Godrobe designs. To put it simply, this is fanservice in the same manner as the toothbrush scene in Nisemonogatari – there may have been a “reason” for it, but it doesn’t change what it is. And then there’s the fact that most of the male characters are naked at some point and an entire group opposing the refers to themselves as “Nudists” while wearing as little clothing as possible. Plenty of people have already written essays on the fanservice element of KLK, and while it adds nothing of value to the show, it is excusable to an extent – the only major exception being nearly every scene between Satsuki and her mother.
Along with the Godrobes came magical girl-esque transformation sequences, which unfortunately used the same animation every time, although sometimes these scenes were sped up to increase the rate of bouncing breasts. If you watch the show, you’ll see what I mean. It’s really strange.
Unfortunately, while the anime succeeds with visual style, it does not succeed with animation quality – the quality varied widely, and there were even several times where CG was used very poorly, especially in early episodes. Along with this is the use of far too many still shots, even during fights. Some people look at one of the worst offenders, episode 4, as merely being a reference back to the poorly animated fourth episode of Gurren Lagann, but that doesn’t excuse how patchy the animation appears.
On the whole, the visual style is one of the best things about Kill la Kill, but it remains dragged down by odd fanservice that will turn away many viewers and extremely inconsistent animation that shows laziness on the part of the creators.
While the opening and ending themes were nothing special, the soundtrack for Kill la Kill is stellar. If you’ve seen Shingeki no Kyojin / Attack on Titan or Guilty Crown, you’ve heard just how good Sawano Hiroyuki’s soundtracks can be. And dare I say, Kill la Kill is his best in recent years, although not utilized to its full potential.
There are two major issues with the music. The first is one that unfortunately manifests in nearly every episode – Ryuuko’s “theme,” Before My Body is Dry, is painfully overused. As great of a song as it is, only a small portion of it (DON’T LOSE YOUR WAYYYYYY~) is used, and it is employed in nearly every episode.
Secondly, there seemed to be a stretch of several episodes in the middle where the only noticeable music was a series of famous classical compositions that everyone’s already heard a hundred times before. While the music for the series is without a doubt one of the best features, the utilization does not do it justice.
The voice acting is also very good, especially for Ryuuko, Senketsu, and Satsuki. Most of the other characters fill their roles of yelling everything with too much testosterone, although Jakuzure Nonon in particular has a very obnoxious voice.
During some episodes, I would just be waiting for them to end so that something relevant to the story or remotely interesting would actually happen. During others I would be on the edge of my seat staring at the screen, my eyes glued to the ridiculous fights. This show has left me conflicted – there were things I loved, things I hated, and frankly, while I don’t foresee having any interest in rewatching the entire thing because of how bland the first half can be, I’m very glad that I spent the time that I did on it.
I honestly feel that Studio Trigger would have created a far more consistent and enjoyable series if this had merely been 12 episodes long and the pointless fluff was cut out – the main issue being that many of the earlier episodes merely dragged out unimportant events before the story began progressing again.
As a whole, Kill la Kill was definitely worth keeping up with throughout the season, but as a result of a plot that merely copied what worked for TTGL, a plethora of twists that managed to be easily predictable without blatant foreshadowing, too many decisions that added nothing to the show, and extremely inconsistent animation quality, it leaves a lot to be desired. However, the fact that this is undoubtedly a crazy adrenaline rush of an anime cannot be ignored.
Story – 4
Characters – 5
Art/Animation – 6
Sound – 8
Enjoyment – 5
Overall – 5/10
Recommendation – If you’re a fan of crazy over-the-top action such as Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann or FLCL, you should feel right at home. If you are not a fan of anime that consist of ridiculous events of increasing magnitude without much rhyme or reason, but prefer those that are grounded in a hint of sanity, you’d probably be better off passing on this.
Kill la Kill was certainly enjoyable enough that I am looking forward to what Trigger does next – I’m just hoping they do a better job the next time around.