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.
6 thoughts on “Kill la Kill FINAL : A Farewell To Uniformity”
Thanks for sharing this wonderful post, It is awesome.
Kill La Kill really snuck up on me. I did see the visual panache and energy early on, but my early judgment was a lot like yours: style over substance, frenetic pacing as a substitute for story.
How wrong I turned out to be! It never stopped being cheeky, or fan servicey, or cheesy: but we were being prepared, almost without knowing, to care about the wacky characters, especially the Kiryuins…and who would have guessed that it would be clothing itself–specifically, I think, uniforms–that would become the theme. I read somewhere that the show’s title is actually a clothing-related pun in Japanese, “cut to wear.” Given that, of course, I predicted somewhere near the middle that everyone would probably get naked by the end…and I was not surprised 🙂
Which leads me to one other interesting thing: this show of course has the most bounce since Gainax Bounce was coined, but for the vast majority of it I did not experience it the way I experience most anime sexualized fan service. It almost didn’t feel like fan service in the usual sense, except for some of the yuri scenes later…did you get the same vibe? Kill La Kill just doesn’t feel the same way. Course I am looking at this as a straight dude so maybe I’ve become desensitized!
In either case I was shocked at how triumphant Kill La Kill turned out to be. Trigger is picking up where Gainax left off. Now, on to read that manga about the life of Moyoco and Hideaki Anno…
Thanks so much for the grand comment, Mike!
Indeed, this is perhaps the biggest surprise I have experienced in quite some time. I think the next gen Gainax family has finally synthesized all that I enjoy most about the more seedy sides of the medium enough to make it a language all its own. Kill la Kill, is by all accounts a big bad tribute to all elements that tend to give anime a bad rap, and yet it does it with a punch that I had not expected.
As for the service element, I feel like Imaishi and Co. have figured out the age old problem of what to do in a service-laden industry: make us choke on it. Make it so pronounced on all sides, that it ultimately becomes a grand metaphor for the Japanese adult-child mind itself. By embracing all that is irrational, it finds humanity and family in ways that would perhaps make other studios blush.
But that’s just it. It’s the kind of artistic statement that more need to see, and will hopefully learn from.
There is passion in them there cels, and that goes such a long way.
Weeks later, I am still reeling with excitement over how well this turned out.
Now to seek out that Anno manga myself. The future seems to be in good hands,
This was awesome show. Has element of reverse oepidus, or elektra kind of anime. It appeals to deep thinker audience, and also at the same time, shallow instant gratification audience like me because of pace and good comedy in it. So it can be enjoyed with light heartedness too. I also loved Shouwaness of the show, that Rikidouzan television of 50s was pretty nostalgic. Mankanshoku family is very Shouwa. Their familial tie is very shouwa, like they always eat dinner together, though they are in poverty living in a shanty house, warmth of family is which we lost in Heisei time, since today we buy dinner at conbini like Famima individually. So, I really loved Mankanshoku family, and also Mako, a girl from shita-machi (low town).
The concept of “Clothing is sin” is interesting. I didn’t know nudism was that deep, I thought these people were just a bunch of obscene exhibitionists, but after watching Kill-La-Kill, now I’ve developed a sense of respect to nudists.
…except KLK was the usual Imaishi noisefest? If this is wisened Imaishi, then what is the Imaishi of TTGL, who knew not to cloud up Nakashima’s script with lame tryhard humor?
There are numerous problems with this article. Generalizations about the medium that aren’t true (1990s anime was “more surreal”??), namechecking postmodernism when it’s irrelevant to the show, ridiculous predictions about KLK’s future reception. Even the show’s stans are giving it a 6/10 average! To call TTGL, an infinitely more competent show, the appetizer to KLK’s main course is ludicrous; they are both cut from the same cloth, but KLK is significantly less ambitious. All this hyperbole about KLK is gonna seem really silly in retrospect.
To be fair, TTGL is a bit more standard. And from this author, that is where that show falls into growth spurt territory. For all the charms and successes of that series, it ultimately feels a lot less unhinged, and more adherent to classic “Hero’s Journey” movements. Which is all good considering how well done it is. But one of Imaishi’s greatest strengths lies in sheer anarchy, which is something KlK excels in.
So I guess it depends on the preferred spice. And I would consider this series far more ambitious, and a lot less safe than the last Imaishi/Nakashima because it precisely is dancing to a more precarious song than before.
And if this sounds at all like hyperbole, that is because we are dealing with artists who revel in such a realm, and yet find themselves thematically successful in spite of it.
And yes. Without the “edge anime” era of the mid to late 1990s, this show likely would never have happened. But if we want to get technical, this all harkens back to the 70s (Go Nagai)-the goofy 1980s(Project A-ko, Urusei Yatsura, Prefectural Earth Defense Force, etc.). It’s a colossal melange of wacky, without the chain of Campbellian mythos to hold it back.
All about the spice. Again.
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