I don’t have anything against “popular” anime in theory considering I have freaking Cowboy Bebop on my favorites list, but most of the present-day ones haven’t been clicking with me and the ones I used to like haven’t held up over time. No, I’m not referring to elitist bait that’s a hit with the blogger crowd like Tatami Galaxy and Gankutsuou, but stuff that the merchandise wizards and the general MAL populace can sing to high heavens and market considerably at the next anime con like the only three anime people remember from Shaft these days (four if you arguably count Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei). Between my generally pessimistic views on anime trends and the fact that most shows are a product of cashing in on them, before Kill la Kill came around, the last time I can honestly say I enjoyed an anime loved by the mainstream that still holds up by today’s standards was Spirited Away in 2002 and arguably Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu in 2003.
And even then, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I worship Kill la Kill. I guess it takes a dedicated fan to plunk down over two hundred “George Washingtons” for the entire series on blu-ray, but there’s no way in hell I’m doing anything else like buying a stuffed Mako plushie or adding to the hundreds of discussions regarding whether the show is a series about female empowerment (it’s not). I do think there’s some credibility regarding its take on dictatorships and fascism and all those other evil governments that we continue to complain about despite the fact that they’re not really doing anything new when you get right down to it, but f*ck me if I’m touching that subject with a ten-foot pole. Because when you get down to it, the main reason I like Kill la Kill is because it’s fun. More importantly, it’s one of the best anime satires I’ve seen since…well Guilty Crown really, and isn’t that just sad?
Here’s how most anime satires seem to work: do a cliche with one new twist added into the mix and then proceed to have a discussion regarding why said twist exists in the most dry manner possible, insult another anime whilst doing the exact same thing as said anime, or just insert a talking hedgehog into the mix and hope in vain that the mere novelty will get a laugh out of you. In other words, the kind of satire that makes me lose all faith in humanity. Kill la Kill, by contrast, practically dominates the competition to an illegal degree by managing to parody school settings, shonen action, magical girls, Go Nagai fanservice, and conspiracy thrillers solely through usage of “the rule of crazy” AND weave in an actual engaging hook amongst all the craziness regarding a girl’s quest for revenge and the truth regarding the cause of said revenge without a single pause to breathe and being completely comfortable within its own zone. So even if you don’t know what it’s satirizing, you can still follow the story pretty damn well without getting taken out of the experience by some obnoxious fourth-wall gag.
The basic gist of the plot is that after her father is killed by an unknown assailant, delinquent high-schooler Ryuko Matoi follows the clues left behind to Honnouji Academy, a faux Nazi-like school run by student council president and master swordswoman Satsuki Kiryuin. Suspecting said president of being the killer, Ryuko attacks her only to be beaten soundly due to the academy employing student bodyguards with the ability to use life fibers, synthetic clothing that augments a person’s capability to the nth-degree. In the wake of her defeat, Ryuko finds a mysterious talking school uniform that gives her the power to stand up to those life fibers in exchange for making her fight whilst looking like a BDSM club member. Utilizing said power, she works towards discovering the truth behind the school whilst conquering the challenges laid out to her by the student council and dealing with the wacky antics of her foster family.
Before the show aired, I remember reading an interview stating that the team’s plans for it was to make every episode seem like the penultimate one. And boy does it show, because even when it slows down in order to clarify things, Kill la Kill refuses to let down on the energy. It keeps things exciting in theory, but it also means that if the writing isn’t up to snuff, it can become kind of wearisome. And there were times when it definitely had that problem, particularly in the final stretch where cards were overplayed a bit too much and things basically boiled down to DBZ-levels of “I am more powerful. No, I am more powerful!”, which I guess is why the show has been getting a bit of backlash since it ended along with the “too much fanservice” complaint, the “style over substance” complaint, and the “doesn’t hold a candle to Gurren Lagann” complaint. But it led to an epicly suitable finale along with a pretty great epilogue that rounded things off in an exciting way whilst bringing in a fresh angle to avoid feeling drawn out so I could forgive that.
– Although that epilogue was an OVA we wouldn’t see in a few months, so the show can’t really depend on that to save itself for the same reason you can’t use the “it’ll be fixed in the Blu-rays” excuse some people have given for Sailor Moon Crystal. Either make it work in prime time or prepare to face the consequences.
And since I brought up that Lagann comparison complaint, I’ve been getting some questions regarding why that show isn’t on my favorites lists whilst Kill la Kill is. Honestly, I don’t get why. Whilst they share similar plot points and aesthetics, they’re really nothing alike story-wise. Lagann is an underdog story that tributes the super robot genre with a lot of energy and basically follows a classic formula. Kill la Kill, by contrast, doesn’t really give a fuck about the rules even when it seems like it does, with the story mostly being an excuse for all sorts of creative chops that can only be judged solely on whether it made me laugh. And you know what? Laugh I did. Despite its problems at times from the incredibly obvious budget limitations to the repetitive rivalries, it was generally funny and the surprisingly awesome English dub added to that greatly. Whoever voiced Ryuko nailed down her “straight girl in a crazy world” role perfectly to the point that it felt like she was an American who didn’t understand the rules of anime, and all I can say to that is “Sister!”
Actually, when you get down to it, that’s probably why Kill la Kill clicks with me so much. I like anime, obviously. I wouldn’t write about the medium so much if I hated it. But it’s pretty damn obvious that I’m kind out of place in anime fandom both in regards to my opinions and my writing in general to the point that I might as well be a stranger. Nevertheless, I like associating with it and have my buddies that are deep within the community, and whilst I’ll never be the savior that said fandom wants or needs, Kill la Kill allows me to live in the fantasy of being said savior through Ryuko being a female parody of my mindset and the rest of the characters being a parody of anime fandom in general. Pity I don’t have a best friend as cool as Mako, but if it means not eating her family’s food, I think I’ll live. Sort of. *Sob* I really do want a friend like her.
But even if it didn’t click with me to the degree it had, I’d have thought the backlash was silly the same way I thought the backlash against Attack on Titan and Terror in Resonance was silly (Your Lie In April’s backlash though, I could give two shits about, especially since it’s in the top 15 on MAL as of this writing, and the top 10 if you ignore the fact that half of what’s up there is Gintama). Okay fine, the “savior of anime” memes were annoying as hell, but you cannot deny that they took chances that paid off in ways that were progressive in a forward manner – regardless of the quality of said progression – in a medium that’s built on being stagnant when it’s not setting trends back by fifty years. Plus, whilst Kill la Kill’s story does demand a satisfactory degree of seriousness (I wouldn’t like the show if it didn’t), the main reason you’re supposed to watch the show is to laugh and have fun the same way Jojo was created mainly to laugh and have fun with it, and whilst you’re allowed to treat it the same way as Titan, I’m going to shake my head at you if you do.
Does Kill la Kill have problems even by those standards? Sure. Do I think it’s the savior of anime? Didn’t even know it needed saving, but no. Is it as good as Gurren Lagann? Not a fair comparison. Is it my favorite anime of 2013? I think I prefer Flamenco on the whole – and by the way, Lagann shares a lot more comparisons with Flamenco than Kill la Kill.
Is it a good stand-alone anime? Yes. Why? It’s fun. It’s funny. The characters are likable. The visuals are mostly interesting even when it’s on the cheap side. The music is…well the music is crap, but it fits well what’s going on. The story, whilst not the deepest thing ever, was engaging and lent itself well to the many different hats that this show wears from tributing many different anime genres to standing on its own as a functional product. I don’t regret the Aniplex prices I paid for this – especially with the kickass dub and other extras I got as a result – and I’ll gladly do so again if I had the chance to take my decision back whilst secretly being thankful that that awful company never licensed anything else I enjoy.