Kill la Kill: A Binge Review

The Bad

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Wait! Wait! Let me explain!

Mako Mankanshoku. Apart from being a cheerleader/damsel/expositor for our protagonist, Mako serves very little purpose to Kill la Kill’s story. I suppose she could be considered short-hand for your typical air-headed high school student; but as primary supporting cast, there should have been a bit more to her. In fact, it’s rather remarkable how ignorant she remains of the events unfolding around her. It’s effective comic fodder to be certain, but only to a point.

Mako practically steals every scene she’s in, and I know that it’s intentional, but her humor becomes so one-note that she becomes more of a distraction rather than an asset to an otherwise well thought-out story.

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To be fair, I could watch this scene all day.

While I know fans of the series consider any word against Mako to be akin to heresy, there’s nothing more to her that can’t be encompassed by the adjective “ditzy.” Where almost every other character is layered, Mako remains — almost stubbornly — uncomplicated. That might be the key to her charm for others, but for me, she sticks out like a sore thumb.

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I’d say it’s not what it looks like, but I’m not even sure what this looks like.

Aikuro Mikisugi. While Mikisugi is introduced as the teacher of our protagonist, he is, in fact, an officer for Nudist Beach, the resistance movement dedicated to thwarting the plans of the evil clothes. And there is no more concise way I could put that.

So you’ve probably gathered by now that Kill la Kill is a rather eccentric show. My problems with Mikisugi don’t stem so much from the fact that he has a tendency to strip in front of adolescent girls. It’s that apart from that disturbing aspect, he’s utterly forgettable.

Seriously, if he had kept his clothes on, I’d recall absolutely nothing about him. As Ryuko’s surrogate Obi-wan Kenobi, his main shtick seems to be to do nothing more than tease us with how much information we don’t know.

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Well, I suppose he teases us in other ways too.

Our Heroes

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The Good

What I enjoyed about the dynamic between Satsuki and Ryuko was that they were portrayed as two sides of the same coin from the start. While it was utterly predictable that they would be revealed as related in some fashion, the interplay between them is pitch perfect.

Satsuki is portrayed as imperious and disciplined; manipulating the students under her to do her bidding without question. While it is initially assumed that she is in league with Ragyo (the main villain), it is ultimately revealed that Satsuki was only consolidating power to thwart her. Satsuki’s iron-fisted attitude was merely indicative of a “destroy all competing revolutionaries” strategy rather than true sociopathy. In this way we can see her as a rather sympathetic anti-hero. Satsuki had to sacrifice so much of herself that there is nearly nothing left to her other than her persona as Mistress Kiryuin. Nearly.

Ryuko, as the series focus protagonist, is the polar opposite. She is rebellious and self-entitled, seeking only to avenge her murdered father. If there is any similarity between her and Satsuki, it is their dogged single-mindedness. Ryuko will have her vengeance; no matter how much fetish wear she has to put on.

Ryuko_vs_Satsuki

Wait, what!?

Yeah, I suppose it’s about time I should talk about the show’s… aesthetic tastes. Now at first glance, one might assume that this belongs in the “problematic” section, but actually; I consider Ryuko’s and Satsuki’s combat uniform’s to be the apex of the narrative’s presentation.

Ryuko

“Sure you do, Ryan. Sure you do.” -Ed.

Alright, let me explain why I consider the Senketsu and Junketsu uniforms to be more than simple fan service. When Ryuko first accidentally dons Senketsu, she reacts about how you’d expect anyone to react. However, her uniform grants her greater power and durability when she wears it (thus immeasurably improving her chances throughout the show’s many fight scenes). As time passes, she grows to accept and even enjoy wearing Senketsu.

To this end, the capstone element of Kill la Kill is unveiled. We can view Senketsu as a metaphor for Ryuko’s burgeoning sexuality. At first it’s embarrassing, awkward, and the subject of ridicule amongst her peers. But, practically speaking, one can never be a fully realized person without coming to grips with their own sexual persona.

What does this have to do with fighting imposed social structure? Everything really. Kill la Kill’s relationship with nudity as a narrative device seems to be tied to the idea that nudity (rather, exposure) is the purest form of genuineness and personal vulnerability. That’s why the final shots of the show look like this:

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This vulnerability stands in stark contrast with the “trappings of propriety” in which we reflexively and obsessively bundle ourselves. For that matter, is there any other element of human personhood that is subject to so much scrutiny and societal pressure as sex?

Between pressures to have/not have it/have it with a specific person/gender, it’s easy to see how someone might make the argument that the institutions (both established and otherwise) that presume to regulate such innate, natural behaviors really are space aliens intent on bending humanity to their sinister purposes.

Oh, did I mention that Life Fibers are space aliens? They’re space aliens.

So Ryuko’s relationship with Senketsu runs in parallel with her relationship with her own personhood as defined by her versus personhood as defined by society. Only when Senketsu is destroyed in final battle, is she truly free to explore all that life has to offer: romantically, spiritually, and familiarly.

The Bad

Like its villains, I have few problems with Kill la Kill’s heroes aside from some nitpicks. Most of the issues stem from a few inescapable tropes of anime. From Satsuki’s plans being utterly obscure until their reveal, to Ryuko seeming to have the same deep personal epiphanies more than once.

But the fact is, the show just works! And it works because of its very strong characters. It’s about more than two half-naked teenagers fighting to stop clothes from taking over the world… despite being exactly as silly as it sounds.

Ryan J. Hodge is a science fiction author and is a games industry veteran. His latest book, Wounded Worlds: Nihil Novum, is available now for eBook & Paperback.

You can now follow Ryan on Twitter @RJHodgeAuthor

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8 thoughts on “Kill la Kill: A Binge Review

  1. Kill la Kill is one of the greatest experiences you can have in this life, I fucking love this show.

    And I just watched Gargantia in one sitting and liked it pretty good, I haven’t really gone back to Attack on Titan I guess I wasn’t that into it.

  2. Gargantia: that’s an all right show. Not setting any worlds on fire, but it does the job.

    Now for Kill la Kill. What makes that show really great for me is how everything you analyze exists and can be discussed in depth. But the actual experience of watching Kill la Kill is to be slack jawed going “Wow, I cannot believe Hiroyuki Imaishi is a human being allowed to make to walk among us, he is a wizard.” Kill la Kill is the kind of show that comes when people who have something to say are paired with people who put their entire subconscious on the screen. Which is why I love Kill la Kill.

  3. This article should be titled “Kill la Kill: A Brief Thesis”. I was thinking to myself how well written this was. I guess it makes sense now. I’m jealous of your way with words. I hope to purchase your book in the near future.

      1. Hi Ryan. Thanks for the great offer! I tried direct messaging you on Twitter, but it won’t allow me unless you follow me back.

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