(originally posted April 25th 2014)
‘Kill la Kill’ is a fairly recent anime series, and one that was highly recommended to me. I didn’t really know what to expect. All I knew was that the protagonist was female, there was a lot of fanservice and it was as insane as another anime series called ‘Gurren Lagann,’ which I absolutely loved because it was so insane. After watching it, I realised that sometimes it’s good to not know what to expect, because what you’ll get will shock you to your core.
‘Kill la Kill,’ at first, sounds fairly formulaic. Ryuko Matoi is a seventeen year old high school student (aren’t they always?) who is looking for her father’s murderer (again, aren’t they always?). Her search has brought her to Hannouji Academy, run by the student council president, Satsuki Kiryuin, who may or may not be the killer. Ryuko seeks revenge and answers from Satsuki, armed with two items left by her dad; half of a Scissor Sword and a living sailor suit who Ryuko names Senketsu. So far, so Japan.
If the story sounds incredibly basic, that’s because at first, it is. But like any good show, that’s really only a tiny fraction of the whole plot. Things escalate soon enough, with Ryuko’s past and Satsuki’s own motivations being brought into question, culminating with the fate of humanity hanging in the balance. I’m keeping things simple because I really don’t want to spoil the show, as the point of this article is to give people a reason to watch it. To sum up, though, the plot grows out of what appears to be a predictable series of events into full-on insanity. Much like ‘Gurren Lagann,’ which sacrificed conventional storytelling for sheer awesomeness. If you’re willing to put up with some insane moments that might not make much sense in exchange for explosions and blood-pumping action, then you’ll grow to love this show.
Honestly, though, I wouldn’t recommend this show for its story (even if I personally quite like it). I would recommend it for its characters. You might have written a plot that puts H. G. Wells to shame, but unless you have a cast that’s likable or interesting, your audience is gonna get bored real fast. ‘Kill la Kill,’ however, has quite possibly one of the best casts I’ve seen in an anime.
Ryuko herself is a great protagonist. At first glance, you’d think she’s your typical loner character but the show quickly throws her into situations where she’s forced to interact with other characters, where her true personality shines. She does have the tragic backstory but she doesn’t go through self-pity (at least not at first but her reasons are spoilers so I’ll shut up), she possesses a sense of humour, she truly values the companionship of others and she’s pretty kickass, which is always a plus. Every time she got into a fight, I was rooting for her all the way, and every time something bad happened to her, I felt for her and wanted to see her pull through.
Then there’s Senketsu, the living sailor suit I mentioned earlier. I’m not sure what it was but I was instantly drawn to him and he quickly became one of my favourite characters. Maybe it’s despite his almost demon-like appearance and his desire for Ryuko’s blood (which he only needs to remain active and doesn’t take any sort of pleasure out of), he’s friendly, wise and very protective of Ryuko. Hell, the two’s friendship is constantly put to the test and even questioned by others. Not to mention Ryuko is the only one who can hear him, putting a thin layer of tragedy on him. It’s surprising how much depth can be put into an article of clothing, especially when his only desire is to ensure Ryuko’s safety. The guy’s devoted.
But the true star of the show is Mako Mankanshoku. Dear God, this girl is amazing. She acts as the show’s main source of comic relief and I fell in love with her due to her hyperactivity and pure ditzyness. In the first episode alone, she’s taken hostage and threatened as a means of luring Ryuko out, and yet she doesn’t seem the least bit concerned. But what makes her so great is how bizarrely insightful she is. Her simple outlook on life is not only responsible for her own optimism, but also helps Ryuko on a number of occasions and the friendship between them soon becomes completely natural. And even though Mako usually needs rescuing, she returns the favour a number of times, even getting involved with the action.
I would talk about Satsuki, given that she functions as the main antagonist, but to do so would give a lot away. I’ll admit, at first I found her boring, due to her stick-up-the-ass demeanour but by the end, her previous actions paint her in an all-new light and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t change my opinion of her.
The rest of the cast are all lovable and insane, each in their own ways, and you’re bound to fall in love with at least one of them. I particularly adore Mako’s whole family, which are just as bonkers as she is, as well as doing enough to keep them relevant to the plot. There are also a few characters that you will love to hate as well. I’m serious, this show has some of the most disgusting and disturbing villains I’ve ever seen. Particularly this one. Seriously.
I also need to give credit to whoever made the music for this series because it is simply amazing. Usually, my interest in an anime’s soundtrack is delegated to the opening and ending themes; aside from that, I probably can’t list many tracks. ‘Kill la Kill’ on the other hand has a number of memorable tracks. Nearly every main character has their own distinctive theme that perfectly matches them and the music for the action scenes is suitably energetic. There’s one track in particular that begins with the line “Don’t lose your way” and every time I heard that, the biggest grin would appear on my face and I would immediately throw my arms down as if I was a drummer in the most kickass band ever. More action music needs to create this level of hype.
Now, I should probably mention the obvious about this show. The fanservice. Yes, there is a lot of it. Hell, both genders are subjected to it. In fact, the simple idea of clothing in general plays a really big part in terms of the plot. Now, usually I can tolerate fanservice as long as it doesn’t happen too frequently, but ‘Kill la Kill’ seems to love having its characters barely wear anything. However, this actually didn’t bother me in the long run. Why? Let me explain.
When Ryuko transforms for the first time using Senketsu, she is clearly embarrassed by what she’s wearing; she doesn’t like how revealing it is. When she battles Satsuki (who also has her own version of Senketsu), she is utterly thrashed because her own embarrassment is holding her back. Satsuki, on the other hand, doesn’t care how she appears. She doesn’t let it hold her back and, as a result, is more powerful. I’m not gonna go too deep into this because I don’t want this to become some analytical essay but the show sort of deals with embracing oneself, whether it be because of their upbringing or past or just being comfortable with their own sexuality. There are probably people who could explain it better but I did find myself trying to find any hidden meaning in what was on screen. Still, if you’re easily put off by fanservice, you’ll probably lose interest very fast. Which is a shame since (if you couldn’t tell by now) this is a really good show.
Something I always take into account when judging a show is how much I’m entertained and how invested I am. ‘Kill la Kill’ fills both categories immensely. There wasn’t a moment where I wasn’t having fun watching it. It also covers practically every emotion one should feel when they’re watching something. It has moments where I laugh at loud, but also moments that scare me. Then something happens that fills me with sadness, followed by a scene of undiluted awesomeness that makes you cheer. I think any show that can be this broad deserves praise.
Ultimately, I can’t change your mind if the mere presence of the fanservice is enough to put you off, but to those undecided, I wholeheartedly recommend ‘Kill la Kill.’ I was once in your position, and after watching the first four episodes, I was hooked by its lovable cast of characters, its rocking soundtrack and the sheer badassery that Ryuko and co. delivered. I guarantee that you’ll feel the same.