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No-holds-barred insanity in 'Kill la Kill'

April 14, 2014 2:01pm
One of the greatest ironies in anime is the fact that many shows belonging to the “action” genre don’t really have that much action. How many times have we been treated to an exciting two-minute opener, only to find ourselves having to slog through the other 90% of the episode – a boring, redundant mess that proceeds at the pace of a snail stuck on flypaper?
 
So naturally, I had my doubts going into “Kill la Kill”, an anime that blends elements of the action, magical girl, and school comedy genres in a single package.
 
That the same, warped minds responsible for “Gurren Lagann” are behind “Kill la Kill” should clue anyone in on what to expect from this anime. But, not having seen their previous offering, I was vastly unprepared for what “Kill la Kill” had in store for me.

A tale of vengeance… and a talking, vampiric sailor uniform?
 
17-year-old Ryuko Matoi is out for blood. Someone murdered her father, and her search for vengeance has led her to Honnouji Academy. But Honnouji Academy is no ordinary school; it is a totalitarian regime presided over by a cruel student council, and the elegant yet deadly Lady Satsuki Kiryuin.
 
Armed with giant half-scissors and a temper the size of Mount Fuji, Ryuko attempts to beat the answers out of the student council. But her enemies have learned to weaponize their “Goku” school uniforms, which bestow upon their wearers superhuman strength, agility, and other bizarre abilities. Luckily, Ryuko has an ace up her sleeve: her very own, sentient seifuku – yes, a talking, thinking, sailor uniform – that, upon drinking her blood, transforms into underboob and buttcheek-revealing superhero armor.
 
 
 
If the premise sounds crazy, it’s because that’s precisely what it is. “Kill la Kill” is clinically INSANE. When not parodying itself, it is poking fun at other animes and the medium’s most egregious clichés. It is extremely self-aware of its own preposterousness, and because of this, the humor, which is at the forefront of this series, never seems forced or out of place.
 
The comedy is a combination of slapstick, visual gags, and sexual humor. The latter usually comes at the expense of Ryuko, who is probably the only magical girl who is ashamed of wearing a skimpy outfit. The rest arises from Ryuko’s dealings with the show’s bizarre cast, which includes her spirited but dimwitted friend, Mako Mankanshoku. Mako is the queen of sight gags, and it is often her antics – from taking a face full of tennis balls to blowing snot bubbles every time she falls asleep – that are the highlights of the comedy.
 
And then there’s their homeroom teacher Aikuro Mikisugi who… let’s just say things get blindingly bright every time he’s alone with Ryuko.
 
But such an ambitious level of absurdity is only as good as its presentation. Thankfully, “Kill la Kill” excels in the visuals and animation departments, making every episode turbo-charged eye candy from start to finish.
 
 
 
A whirlwind of gorgeous visuals, story, and unfettered insanity
 
Every scene in “Kill la Kill” is alive with motion. If a character is shown sitting still, something wild is happening elsewhere in the same shot. It is this dedication to detail that allows “Kill la Kill” to be as over-the-top as it is, from its jokes and fan service to its action scenes.
 
Fight scenes rarely deteriorate into a sinful overuse of speed lines combined with slow-panning static images to create the illusion of action. Clothes will flutter. Squishy body parts will bounce. Fighters will dart across the screen and gyrate to the music of clashing swords, as the camera rotates around battlefields at mach velocities. It is amazing to behold, not to mention a heady, spectacular rush.
 
Each episode is superbly paced. As mentioned earlier, most action animes start with a breathtaking, well-animated battle sequence, but quickly degenerate into an extravaganza of tediousness heavy on sluggish, expository dialogues; overdramatic monologues; long-drawn-out flashbacks; and a back-and-forth volleyball match of grunting, evil-eyeing, threat-slinging, endless posturing, and grand showboating between combatants.
 
But not so with “Kill la Kill”, which follows the tried and tested bell-shaped curve of storytelling: an obstacle is introduced in the beginning; the tension gradually increases, building up to a climax; then the payoff, and the falling action. The End. There’s a reason the best storytellers still use this dramatic structure – because it’s damn effective at gluing the viewer’s eyes, ears, hearts and minds to the show.
 
And while “Kill la Kill” does resort to using hackneyed anime techniques such as flashbacks and lazy camera pans, they are expertly worked into the narrative, so that there is never a dull moment in an episode’s 24 minutes.
 
It also doesn’t take forever to complete a single duel or story arc. “Kill la Kill” moves exceedingly fast, so that you’ll have more plot twists, character development, and epic reveals in ten episodes than twice that number in “Bleach” or “Attack on Titan”.
 
“Kill la Kill”, however, falls prey to the “villain of the week” formula. The good thing is, it rapidly shifts gears just when you think the story is getting predictable. “Kill la Kill” has one of the most outrageous plots in anime history; it’s almost impossible to tell where its unfettered madness will take you next.
 
 
 
The feels… right in the heart
 
“Kill la Kill” does well in terms of character development. The more you learn about the backgrounds of our heroes and villains, the more they will grow on you. As hilarious as this anime is, you won’t be laughing when a favorite character becomes the recipient of a soul-crushing finishing move.
 
While at first glance another shouty, angry young hero with a perpetual scowl, Ryuko eventually develops into her own character, one that is admirable and even endearing. Underneath all that attitude and bravado, there is a sweeter, more tender person, and it is because of this that she becomes more sympathetic and three-dimensional.
 
The other characters are also not the cardboard cutouts they initially appear to be. The villain of the show, swordswoman and master strategist Satsuki Kiryuin, will surprise you in more ways that one, as will those who serve as her top generals and confidants – the Elite Four.
 
Even in the unlikeliest of pairings, the friendships that form between these characters are touching. The reward of sticking with them till the very end? Some of the most epic feels you’ll have watching any anime.
 
But “Kill la Kill” isn’t perfect.
 
Never mind that the gratuitous amount of fan service might leave you shaking your head in shame or disgust. While its nonsensicalness is arguably what makes “Kill la Kill” so special, it is also its curse. Even when events in the story take a graver turn, the ridiculousness of its central premise – super-powered school uniforms – will linger at the back of your skull, testing your ability to suspend belief. Worst case scenario, it could prevent you from developing a relationship with the characters or the world.
 
So, as early as the first episode, don’t expect things to make sense. As bonkers as “Kill la Kill” is, its world is actually pretty consistent; it is simply governed by laws far outside our own universe, as if created by some trickster god with a hyperactive imagination.
 
 
 
Totally bonkers fun at its most awesome
 
“Kill la Kill” is simply one of the most fun animes I’ve had the privilege to enjoy in recent years. It not only turns the action genre on its head, it one-inch punches it in the sternum, spinning heel kicks it in the groin, and sends it flying to the Kuiper belt. There is even some social commentary buried somewhere underneath all that campy wackiness, although don’t expect anything Bertrand Russell-ian in scope.
 
Ryuko sums it up best when she says, “Not making sense is kind of our thing.” Don’t try to fight the weirdness; embrace the madness that is “Kill la Kill”, and you will have an awesome ride. Hallelujah! — TJD, GMA News
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