Perhaps it is time to up and say that all this fighting and stripping might represent a shift in personal priorities. Not so much in the minds of those behind Kill la Kill per sé, but rather in my own. There was indeed a time when anime excess was something I could wholeheartedly get behind. “The more bugnuts insane, the better!”, I often thought. After all, there is something about the pure gut nature of the medium that is both dangerous and alluring to many admirers. But as one grows older, often it is depth of context that wins out over visual chutzpah. After all, what good is an experience without that element of thoughtfulness? What good is spectacle without a set of human conversations bursting out around the noise?
Make no mistake. Kill la Kill is on its face a tremendously dopey show. But don’t let that fool you for a second.
Now that we have come to the mid-point of Ryuko Matoi’s ultimate challenge within Honnouji’s grueling Natural’s Election gauntlet, it felt right to finally fess up and come to terms with this series’ paradoxical nature. And while I cannot pretend to pinpoint every fragment and crumb of the mad cacophony of symbolism that is this show, one can at least deduce that it is not as clear-cut as some might have surmised early on. The battling has been pretty nonstop, and our heroine continues to impress with her graceless, yet effective wins against the totalitarian academy’s Elite Four. On top of all this, the mystery behind Matoi’s scientist father’s demise, and the ultimate aim of school leader, Satsuki continue to remain foggy. But for all the hyper-simplicity of Kill la Kill’s storytelling battery, the sheer carnival of absurd battles in between is what offers up the most meat for viewers to gnaw. In here, the action is not a pretext for ideas brewing on the sidelines- the text is in the action.
And while we can definitely chart the last several episodes, and pilfer out a talk of recap for this post, it seems a whole lot more interesting to just dive headlong into the central conflicts and seek out just what the hell Imaishi & Nakashima seem to be making noise about. Looking back to my initial impressions, not much has changed since declaring the show a hyperactive savant’s half-hearted attempt at feminine empowerment. And even as some of the most devastating action moments from this show come at the hands of the female characters of the show, it’s often with this all-too-omnipresent streak of middle-school level lasciviousness. It’s pretty safe to say that the acts of the characters often say more than their words as each side of the conflict spout out virtue after virtue of their respective philosophies. And as on-the-sleeve as action comedies like this go, Kill la Kill offers up some effectively satirical sucker punches.
So let’s look at what we do know about the world of Honnouji, and the conflict that has made up most to all of KlK’s running time
On its surface, the tale of delinquent schoolgirl, Ryuko Matoi’s two-fisted war to defeat Kiryuin’s regime of “uniformity” has been largely one of escalation. Starting off with merely her trusty, yet still mysterious half-scissor, Matoi’s reputation as something of a scrappy, yet devastating quantity has launched us directly into the caustic final circle. While it would be easy to just see the story as a simple good versus evil tale (something even Imaishi & Nakashima’s Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagaan played safely with), there is a surprising twist to our heroine’s rise that may be central to the series as a whole. Despite what we already know about her and her bond with the sentient “Kamui” seifuku known as Senketsu, there are still questions lingering as to what it is, and its true goals. Not to mention the fact that there are still those on the periphery who clearly also wish to see the tables turned, often masquerading as simple allies. And as a result, the battles have become increasingly taxing on nearly everyone.
Even as Ryuko has shown her mettle against theoretically hundreds of bizarre and desperate club members, little of this wouldn’t have come to pass without a lot of mutual exploitation. Movement in the series seems to be constantly at the whims of those willing to use others for their standing in the current order. While Ryuko uses Senketsu, her elder informant in turncoat teacher, Mikisugi (and his clandestine group of rebels, “Nudist Beach”!!) seems poised to use the duo for his own ends. Add this to nearly every major move Satsuki has made since frame one, and you have a culture of exploitation where both the unstoppable forces and immovable objects are in a constant state of strategic puppetry. It’s a sly thematic addition that undercuts a great deal of the show. Within the harsh, pyramid-like structure they are scrapping in, noone seems capable of coming off without looking a little parasitic.
The need to exploit in order to maintain the status-quo (or break it) is high in this series as Honnouji almost plays like the ultimate parody of otaku servitude. While we are indeed watching a show supposedly set in a high school, there are tons of potshots being fired at fictions the young must endure in the name of societal idealism. Be it by use of status, and name dropping as a means to get ahead, rig a game, or just plain circumvent it by way of hyperbolic fisticuffs, Kill la Kill seems eager to bite numerous feeding hands. Even the show’s initial conceit of having Ryuko and various other characters reduced to compromising half-nudity (or is it really “most nudity”?) hints at the exploitation anime companies have been forced to employ in hopes of maintaining what remains of an audience. One only need look at our hero’s reactions to all of this and imagine the animation staff feeling the same “are you kidding me?” manner as projects grow more and more desperate. Everything is at the edge of collapse, and this show’s landscape never lets us forget it.
We can see numerous shades of Japan’s competitive societal norms being lambasted by way of the show’s action and often unsubtle gag barrage. What really sends it all home is in how the aforementioned culture of exploitation makes itself so well known in what has become my favorite episode in #7. Without spoiling anything, this single episode parodies virtually every “perils of success” moral tale imaginable, culminating in one of the most satisfying fights in recent anime history. By making all characters fallible to the illusory nature of success on the bruised backs of the ordinary, we are given a critique on Japanese competitiveness that even rivals the work of one Takami Koshun. (It’s perhaps no accident that Ryuko’s proto-yankii nature is reminiscent of many 1980s stereotypes of working class teens.) Even her adversaries represent different shades of Japan’s “ganbare”/”shogannai” culture, complete with self-flagellating samurai spirits, and a need to mold the youth into the perfect infrastructural ideal. Even our heroine’s often bullish nature isn’t given a romantic treatment. She is often portrayed as inefficient, and ever rash about her strategies. But as adversaries grow increasingly intimidating, it is her openness to unorthodox thinking that often works. It is in her relationship with the scene stealing Mako and the rest of the Makenshoku family, that we are granted some semblance of an emotional core. Perhaps the bastion of faith she stands on in order to face the system on its own playing field. They are the everypeople of the series, doing their best in the maelstrom called their reality.
But furthering this theory, is in what motivates alpha and omega as the story draws toward what should be a finale that could rival Gurren Lagaan’s mammoth climax. When looking closer at what society under Satsuki wants, versus others, plenty comes into focus. Where Satsuki sees solutions in plots within plots, all often in the name of fabric-like consistency, all Ryuko wants is some semblance of closure by way of the truth. She may have gained something of a new family through Mako’s simple-living clan, but it is in this need for understanding that all this crazy is endlessly unleashed upon her. And even as many fight and claw to gain stature within the world model that has been in place since Satsuki took power, there is often a question of what manner of world do others wish to create. So many here are well entrenched, and will do anything to climb the ladder that is dangling before them, whereas Ryuko would sooner break it into splinters. Not unlike the student council of Shoujo Kakumei Utena, a world unmade is hinted at if not explicitly stated. Both poles of this war seem to originate from homes with fragmented families, and yet could not be more different in approach. Micro versus Macro.
And while I am sure that Kill la Kill is not terribly interested in positing alternatives to this world of panic and wayward id, it is at the very least enamored with the idea that things are on the cusp of great change. Much like how I look at anime now versus a decade ago when more seemed to be better. One does not always have to play the game to win. And even when Imaishi seems poised toward making fans choke on a medium’s more cheeky natures, perhaps that is the real goal. The whole thing is like a gauntlet of frustration made manifest in an orgy of silly. While the show revels in its excesses like a junkie’s last great binge, there are fragments of a more pointed mind stewing beneath. A presence doing its best to keep the whole thing from going off a bridge in flames.
Never imagined a show featuring so much underboob would have so much to say about the current state of affairs, but there it is, diary. Now that the canvas has just been widened by the entrance of those likely behind Satsuki’s deep seated disdain for unbridled ambition, I seriously cannot help but wonder where the hell all of this leads.