Kill la Kill FINAL : A Farewell To Uniformity

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Well there’s a feeling I haven’t experienced in an age. Looking back at the first piece I slapped together regarding Studio Trigger’s initial leap into the television series gauntlet, I’m pretty sure there was no awareness of what would happen. In fact, one could say that I was a bit of an unabashed naysayer regarding Kill la Kill. On its face it seemed like just another hyper-referential Imaishi noisefest. And while it maintains this facade throughout the 24 episode run, I sincerely didn’t expect to love it as much as I do now. Now, the mental drifting goes back toward his previous works, and it is clear that this is a show that required a few big warmups before happening. This is a refined and wisened Imaishi & Co., taking on roughly 40 years-plus of a medium’s history, and coming up with one of the most satisfyingly warped serial experiences I have ever witnessed. And just because they are wisened, this in no way implies matured. As far as wacky shows go, Kill la Kill is unrepentant, even as it treads classic alpha vs. omega stories with aplomb. (and that is exactly why it works.)

We can talk all day about the show’s referential nature, but to do so would mean to undermine what Imaishi & Nakashima have fashioned here as pastiche. In order to do this, one has to grasp why this is so. When one thinks of not only anime, but film in general over the last several decades, we must consider the role of post-modernist works, and how they succeed beyond the obvious. And to do this, we must think of some of the most effective uses of direct filmic response over this time period. Star Wars, Matrix comes to mind. The point is, it doesn’t matter how referential your show becomes. What matters is if it is in service of a larger story. And this is where KLK pretty much wins across the table. There is an inherent knowing behind all of the creative decisions. One that might not be as clear to some viewers, but it is present throughout the posturing and fighting.

The goal here is one of deceptive restraint. (Yes, I said “restraint” in a Kill la Kill discussion.) This is where we see a visual nod to a classic work of the past carefully embedded in service of the project’s larger themes. Not merely apparent for obvious reasons, but more as a direct symbolic response. And this is but one place where this show succeeds. It rarely to never feels superfluous, nor tacked on merely for nostalgia reasons. There is a more aware, more heightened reason as to why. Confession: upon my initial viewing of Gainax’s Top Wo Nerae! GUNBUSTER in the early 1990s, there was a feeling that something was being missed in my neophyte mind. I earnestly was not aware of all the anime & classic science fiction nods that were happening throughout, and I was taken by it regardless. THIS – is precisely the kind of effect that is happening here. It does not require us to be medium junkies in order to appreciate it. It’s just enough a melange of past and future, that it hardly seems to be issue-worthy.

So what we’ve just discussed, factors greatly in why the show ends up becoming as multifaceted, and exciting as it is. As much as a lot of it is TRIGGER’s way of respecting their sempai, and doing good by what they learned from their elders at Gainax, it is also a story of generational strife, and what it often does to families. Threads that find themselves at odds by reinforced beliefs between the generations lies burning at the heart of the show. There is a genuine concern for this tension between parental expectation, economic interests, and independent thinking. Even as the world is at last briefly shown as a complete, naked, and honest entity, the show implies that this is a constant struggle. One far beyond one massive spacebound battle for the soul of humanity. With this playing itself out in the most ridiculous, visually assaultive manner possible, the series kind of gets at the heart of why I love anime in the first place.

Before being whittled down to a calculated series of tropes and ideas ready for market, anime was far more emotional, far more unrestrained & far more surreal than it has been for years. And while many may argue that it is only in the post-1990s that we have come to a place where indeed everything and anything could happen within the form, it has long become something synthesized. And by this, I mean..controlled. Kill la Kill is kind of a kiss off to the current model and is also keeping the best elements of the past slung happily around its shoulders. The legacy of many a young, hungry, intense artist is at the heart of Ryuko Matoi’s battle for familial understanding. And even though we can see the initial episodes as being a perpetuation of oh-so many expectations based on toy and hobby item sales, the remainder goes out of its way to see well past all this to become its own, wild, restless entity. By the end, so many of the show’s more questionable qualities become moot, and the focus becomes resoundingly clear for all anime studios to see. Uniformity as an end goal – quite the terrifying prospect to the heart and soul of this project. It sees what has happened, and is daring more fans and makers to alter course.

This is exciting stuff.

So where to now? Where does one go after such a profoundly crazy ride? I could lie, and say that Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagaan could serve as a happy methadone for the days and weeks ahead, but seriously. This was a show (let me correct myself, IS..a show) that makes careers and possibly leaves a well-planted mark in the story of anime. Whether one finds personal value in the madness inherent or not is beside the point. As a production, it is all something of a miraculous thing to exist. Like a stubborn weed amongst forests of uniformed concrete, the tale of the Kiryuin family, the Makanshoku family, the Elite Four, Nudist Beach, and others find themselves as singular in a medium landscape that will continue to feel fresh and exciting for a long time to come. If TTGL was a loving appetizer, then KLK is that obstinate, scrappy main course that can make one want to be a punk chef of their very own.

Oh, and during the epilogue – I squeed.

Katsucon 2014: Cherry Tea Maid Cafe

Maid Cafe

Bamboo is really, really intelligent. There’s a thoughtful demeanor about him that conjures some mystery. He spent practically the entire time listening to my colleague Mori, rarely speaking unless a question was posed towards him. He was perfunctory.

That’s not to say he was a bad butler. In fact, just the opposite. He immediately sensed Mori’s gregarious nature and proceeded accordingly, serving the role of an engaged audience making succinct comments when suitable.

All proceeds from the Katsucon Cherry Tea Maid Cafe go to Relay For Life and the American Cancer Society. Even if it did not, I was perplexed by Mori’s reluctance to pay $1 per game. The maid cafe is the place where one visits to indulge. It’s silly to have money as an objection.

I played four games of Connect Four with Bamboo thanks to the generous funding from Mori.* Bamboo showed no pretense of letting me win. He won twice and we stalemated once. That was the highlight for me. The one raffle ticket from my sole win was just an added bonus.

Maid Cafe

The food proved better in appearance than taste but that’s never the focus at the maid cafe. The exorbitant prices mean the charity of choice benefit handsomely.

Katsucon changed venue from the bar restaurant upstairs to the Pienza located in the atrium of the Gaylord. The notable change in lighting may hold the most impact. Warmer and darker, it provided a more intimate ambience compared to the upbeat brightness of last year.

Unfortunately, the space seems to have shrunk. Located in the rear section of Pienza, it comprises roughly a quarter of all available tables. No doubt the parent establishment wanted to ensure it will not have to turn away regular customers. The section occupied by the Maid Cafe is fairly well hidden. Shrubbery blocks sight of the busy walkway infront while architecture elements does same from the rest of the venue.

The Katsucon Maid Cafe continues to exercise good judgement in requiring an advanced reservation. This allows the maid or butler to provide undivided service to the patron. It’s magical to have your very own servant all to yourself for an hour. And I am grateful that they honored our reservation, even when we were fifteen minutes late. That said, I was disappointed that we were not offered a choice of servant like last year. I really preferred a maid. Bamboo is still great though!

It’s a shame I only visited on Friday. Katsucon Cherry Tea Maid Cafe remains a mandatory stop for any attendee.

More pictures here.

Maid Cafe

 

 

 

* I had no cash on me.

Katsuya Terada Interview (SDCC 2013)

An example of Terada's
An example of Terada’s “rakugaki” doodling style, taken from his sketch Tumblr.

Katsuya Terada is a Japanese illustrator and character designer, perhaps best known as the character designer behind Blood: The Last Vampire and also an illustrator for Nintendo Power‘s early issues. He spoke to me at San Diego Comic Con 2013, as he was nominated for the Eisner Award for Best Painter and Multimedia Artist that year and also had a 10 year retrospective of his work .

The interview was done courtesy of Dark Horse Comics, and was conducted at their booth at SDCC.

How does it feel to be nominated for the “Best Painter and Multimedia Artist” Eisner award this year?

Frankly, I’m surprised…just the mere fact that I got nominated for it is an honor. If I don’t win, it doesn’t matter, but the mere fact that I was nominated is enough. [ED note: the winner for that category that year was Juanjo Guarnido, another Dark Horse artist.]

What inspired you to do a darker version of the Monkey King/Journey to the West (Saiyuki) story, and what do bring to it that’s special or different?

Everyone grew up with the tale of Saiyuki; even Osamu Tezuka did his version. When Son Goku is put in a cave…someone who’s been crammed up for years in a mountain is naturally going to tend you towards violence—a natural reaction to that situation. I don’t think that’s really been depicted before.

You have a philosophy of illustration called rakugaki (short illustrations or doodlings wherever you go). How have you developed that philosophy over the years?

It’s an impulsive thing…I’ll take a pencil and think, “that’s a cool thing,” and especially being able to depict things to exist or don’t exist that are or would be three dimensions in a two dimensional way. That excites me, being able to go around and say “I can depict that, I can depict that.”

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Recently a 10 year retrospective of your work was released. How have your thoughts about art changed over the past decade?

I haven’t changed that much…maybe I couldn’t draw as much 10 years ago, perhaps, not because I was a worse artist, but there were things I couldn’t depict then that I can now. I do feel more satisfied with my art now, personally. I want to be able to look at things 10 years from now, 20 years from now, and be able to say to myself, “I’m impressed.” A lot of what I do, especially the rakugaki work, is for my personal entertainment, but I want to be able to draw things that I can show to other as well.

You are perhaps best known in the US as the character designer behind Blood: The Last Vampire. Have you been approached by other anime studios to do other designs, and is that something you’d like to pursue further if given the chance?

I did character designs before and after Blood: The Last Vampire, for games and anime. I don’t think I would gravitate toward doing just character design…ultimately character design is just drawing pictures, and that’s always just part of my work. There’s some work that perhaps you may not have heard about, like for Korean games that you might not be able to access in the US…but it’s just a part of drawing pictures for me.

A Legend of Zelda illustration from Nintendo Power by Terada.
A Legend of Zelda illustration from Nintendo Power by Terada.

You’re also well known for doing illustrations for the older Nintendo Power issues, and they were very impressionistic. What do you see the role of a game illustrator being in a time when video game graphics have become so sophisticated?

It’s still very necessary. Back in the day, due to the limited graphics, you were kind of projecting the characters from the art onto the game…now, the process is just more direct, but it’s the exact same thing in many ways. It’s like in the movies where the graphics are so good that you can’t tell the difference anymore. It’s like the importance of having a movie poster.

What would you give as advice for aspiring artists and illustrators?

When you are young, you have all this ambition, you can’t think you can fail. But when you get older, sometimes all you can see is where you’re lacking, which is kind of unsatisfying. So when you’re young, find out what’s out there, find out what needs to be done, and pursue that.

Kill la Kill: A Final Stretch (Beyond Gainax)

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Twists at breakneck speeds, revelations abound, and allegiances reversed. There seems to be no stopping the heartpounding freight train that is Kill La Kill’s final stretch of episodes. Common cause has been unveiled, leaving it a war of nudes versus clothed avatars of shame, and former enemies now aligned with the once thought only rebellion. With many of the principle roles now falling perfectly into what could be considered destined ones, only one element remains dangling precariously; heroine, Ryuko Matoi. Traumatized, distraught, and more than a little angry about the truth of her origin, her rudder is all but completely broken off. Unwilling to see herself as part of any side other than her own, it is up to a most unexpected ally to make a grand leap in hopes of her salvation. (even if it means beating the tar out of her first..)

 

Contrary to what the internet would like you to believe, it’s often a great pleasure to be wrong. Looking back at twenty episodes of Studio Trigger’s grand kiss-off/GAINAX love-fest, Kill La Kill, one couldn’t truly be faulted for being a tad presumptuous after years of often disheartening material. So what happened to make this jaded naysayer hit the about-face button so violently? Well, the show as it has been thus far owes much of its success to not only understanding the so-called Gainax formula so well, but to how well it eschews so much of what often hobbles many of the mother studio’s shows. More about playing with form, rather than clumsily taping together with function. What Imaishi and company have successfully fashioned, is the first truly post-Gainax series. One that takes everything since Top Wo Nerae!, and amps up the levels to near murderous methedrine levels, complete with hair-raising cliffhangers every week. Honesty time, it has truly been a long, long time since I have felt this way with any show.

 

Say what one wishes about previous Imaishi efforts, this is the first truly breakthrough series from a director who’s style has often overridden any semblance of meaning within and without. As great as Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagaan is, there remains a feeling there that is more akin to a dry run at “Hero’s Journey” territory. What KLK offers up, is something both representative of his powers as a stylist, and as a fledgling visual satirist, doling out both incredible energies and sneaking wit beneath oodles of crimson chaos. Even when the show hits an occasional iffy note, more often than not it is countered with something far wilder and more insane that what had come before. Always on the brink of total collapse, the show flirts so often with the bad, and yet it corrects course as if performing a high-wire act, knowing full well that the key to a successful display of showmanship, is the semblance of fallibility. KLK seems to know very well that it’s playing matters quite close to the wire, and yet it never steps away from the edge of that ravine.

 

And it’s all in the service of some very real concerns regarding the delicate balance not only the young must maintain in life affairs, but everyone. Even as the show has made it alarmingly clear that issues are to be approached in grandiose, broad strokes, it does so with such a deft, visual manner that it almost becomes a moving political mural. A warning, not only to the elder otaku set, but to all passionates that the moral standings we take are often of a musical chairs nature. One of the show’s biggest stylistic triumphs is in how it eschews a lot of the typical muddled anime thematic posturing that bogs most series down, and allows action to dictate more. Even as characters spout out about their requisite viewpoints, it is often within battle that their truest intentions for the world are made clear. Imaishi seems to finally have grand control of his best strengths(visual hyperbole and overt visual metaphors), and is hitting far more than missing this time around. And Nakashima’s story supervision has kept the story developing at such a uniquely effective clip, that one doesn’t mind so much when grand escapes happen, and one is asking questions as to how. This particular story is about the language of action, and what happens when we run so hard against another that we begin seeing the other side’s attributes. That there is more than one justice in the world, and in life we find ourselves dabbling in more than one to see what fits. The origin of community as we strive toward larger goods despite differences. While some of these were indeed explored in TTGL, it feels so much more refined and singular here.

 
And yes, I realize the absurdity of using “refined” to describe a series that largely consists of largely disrobed teens fighting to the tune of immense collateral damage. But despite all the anarchy and unisex debasement on display, it all seems to be in the name of greater ambitions for anime on television. Even if Kill La Kill’s final stretch turns out to be a typical series flameout, it will no doubt be spectacular. I can’t imagine the staff behind this having it any other way.

 

(Oh, yes. And I have to remark here that I kind of geeked out about those flashbacks regarding a younger Ragyo & Soichiro Kiryuin. Their hair.  Maaaan.)

Katsucon 2014: Tom Stidman

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Tom Stidman is the first ever Fan Guest at Katsucon. A staple in fandom for over a decade and highly involved with local conventions, he had four panels this year covering various materials. He did an excellent interview with Otaku Journalist before Katsucon XX so I just wanted to catch up briefly with him.

The Paper: Tell me about your Katsucon as a fan guest.

Tom Stidman: It’s my best Katsucon. Absolutely fun. I only had to do panels so [it was] very relaxing. It also served as a testbed for me in making better panels. It’s a great place to learn to make panels for bigger cons.

TP: In your interview with Lauren (Otaku Journalist), you set out to provide “high quality programming” and being “a good representative to fandom”. How did you think you did?

TS: I did well on programming. I didn’t just want to do a Q and A, I wanted to bring more…I should do more. I promoted the con beforehand by reaching out [to the media]. I donated items to the charity auction. There’s always room to improve. It’s a learning experience.

TP: If you could do it again, what would you change if anything?

TS: [Exhales and ponders a bit] I may not change anything. I learned stuff that can translate into conrunning. Definitely won’t change the experience.

TP: What specifically did you learn that can translate over to running a con?

TS: I am sorry I cannot disclose details.

TP: No problem. Last question. What was the best part or moment of Katsucon for you?

TS: It’s hard to pick a best moment. There’s so many…. best to interact with folks, meet people, the other guests. Freedom is also great. Besides panels, I could do other things. Time is not on your side as a conrunner. It was much easier… I got to relax with friends.

Readers can find out where else fandom takes Tom via Twitter.