First Impressions – Kill la Kill

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Please, won’t someone think of the children?

Considering that the studio is for all intents and purposes defunct, the first two days of the Fall season have a remarkably Gainax feel to them.  The influences their work had on Kyusogiga are obvious (and there are a few staff crossovers as well), and now we have Kill la Kill – by far the highest-profile project yet from Imaishi Hiroyuki’s Studio Trigger.  This was possibly the most anticipated series of the season along with Kyoukai no Kanata (which defeated it by a single vote in the LiA preview poll), and with both shows at the front-end of the season schedule Fall 2013 is hitting the ground running in a way we don’t usually see.

My anticipation level for Kill la Kill was off the charts, but for whatever reason I’ve had an unsettling feeling that this show was going to be a disaster – there was just something in the previews and description that made me feel as if Imaishi was trying too hard here (as he did in Panty & Stocking, which some loved but which for me was mostly a misstep).  I’m happy to report that the premiere was nowhere near a disaster – in fact is was rousingly entertaining, though I do have some concerns about whether this kind of series can hold up over two cours.

The bloodlines of KlK are pretty impeccable – Imaishi directing, fellow Gainax legend Sushio repeating his TTGL roles as Animation Director and Character Designer, and my old pal Koyama Shigeto (BONES and Gainax veteran of Eureka Seven fame) providing Art Direction.  Most crucially, unlike with P & S Imaishi is teamed with TTGL writer Nakashima Kazuki, who also wrote the superb Oh! Edo Rocket.  It’s Nakashima-sensei’s involvement that gives me hope that Kill la Kill is going to be more Gurren-Lagann than Panty & Stocking, with a story that will give it staying power once the wacky visuals and even wackier humor are no longer enough to carry the series on their own.

It’s too early to say if that will happen – in the premiere the story and characters are very much secondary to the pure bombast – but I did enjoy it much more than the premiere of P & S w/GBKlK almost rivals Kyousogiga for pure energy, though the premise is much more accessible – we have a crazy school called Honnouji Academy where the Student Council rules in an abject reign of terror, helped by magical star-rated “Goku” uniforms, that give them superpowers.  The strongman of the outfit is Gamagouri Ira (Inada Tetsu), but the real power is in the hands of President Kiryuin Satsuki (Yuzuki Ryouka), whose father in the head of the school’s board of directors.  There are a number of other introductions with some famed seiyuu behind them, but the standout is Sports Club President Sanageyama Uzu (Hiyama Nobuyuyki, one of my favorites, who played Viral in TTGL).

Into this madness steps transfer student heroine Matoi Ryuuko (the excellent Koshimizu Ami), wielding half a giant red scissors.  She calls out the Prez immediately, and is promptly taught a lesson by Sangeyama and his Goku gloves.  Turns out she’s looking for the person who killed her father, leaving half the giant scissors behind – and she gets a little help from teacher Mikisugi Aikurou (Miki Shinichirou) who seems intent on overthrowing the Student Council.  He points her towards a talking sailor uniform (Seki Toshihiko) which quite hilariously forces itself onto her body, granting her superpowers of her own which allow her to pummel the Boxing Club Captain to a pulp.  Along the way we also meet genki airhead Mankashoku Mako (Suzaki Aya), who appoints herself Ryuuko’s “bestie”, and her little brother Mataro (Fujimura Ayumu), who fancies himself a street punk and fills the ecchi-obsessed bozu role.

One gets the sense very quickly that this is the sort of world where logic and conventional plot rules are going to be irrelevant, and characters arcs aren’t really going to be the point.  It’s very, very silly, gleefully stupid and utterly frenetic – the feeling is of a bunch of overgrown boys (and a few girls) cut loose in the studio with no supervision, and having way too much fun.  The premiere is also peppered with clever visuals, like introducing Ryuuko as she’s biting into a lemon (it makes the point), and the way she kicks a fallen microphone into her hand to call out the Student Council for a rematch.  It’s also a master class in how to take a limited budget and make a show look really good: Imaishi and Sushio use a combination of very brief sakuga animation sequences, very discreet CGI and lots of cheap still frames passed off as stylish choices and come up with something far more distinctive than most episodes that likely cost more.  This is a two-cour show, and I imagine Imaishi is well aware of what he has to work with financially – it’s his studio and he knows the limitations, so I expect the visuals to continue to be solid.

The question for me is, will there be enough interest in the story and characters to keep Kill la Kill fresh for two cours?  The raw energy and sense of fun in the premiere is undeniable, but it’s hard to keep coming up with new craziness for 24-26 episodes (P & S couldn’t do it for 13).  But Imaishi likely handled series composition himself there (under the pen name “Geek Fleet”) and it’s Nakashima that may be the key to keeping Kill la Kill powering to the finish line.  He’s a terrific writer, inside anime and out, and the best reason to hope that Kill la Kill is going to be more than raw energy and irreverence and amount to something truly substantial, a series that allows Trigger to stake their claim as a new power in the anime industry.  As a fan of Gainax, there’s little that would make me happier than to see it succeed.

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ED: “Gomen ne, Iiko ja Irarenai. (ごめんね、いいコじゃいられない。)” by Miku Sawai

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24 comments

  1. j

    Wait, I don't get it: what's the lemon supposed to mean?

    Watching the PV, I entered KnK fearing it'd pander too much to the fanservice. And yes it did, but Oh Boy I didn't think it'd be such an adrenaline rush. Those first 5 minutes….Oh my God, they were priceless. I think you summed it up when you said this looks like it was done by a group of people having waaay too much fun doing this (and that's a very good thing btw).

    I didn't know though this would be two cours…seriously? Damn, now I'm also intrigued to see how it keeps me hooked.
    In a nutshell, I love the animation and I love the humour, but man, I'd like that outfit to go away thankyouverymuch. Seeing as this is only the first episode, it's hard not to think they'll only be showing more skin from hereon. Because of it, watching KnK feels more like a guilty pleasure, when it shouldn't: it has its own damn merits without the fanservice. I'd like to recommend this show to my friends, but now, I'd only be making an embarrassment of myself if I did so :(

  2. I just assumed the lemon meant "This is one tough chick. This is not a cute, sweets-loving moe girl – this is a badass piece of work".

  3. M

    Life gives you lemons, eat the crap out of them!

  4. L

    I noticed that her uniform assimilated the thread from the boxer dude's uniform, which may mean KLK is going the opposite direction with the clothing—she's going to get more covering as the series progresses. (I hope)

  5. K

    I noticed the uniform thing too. It would be a funny jab at how the most powerful armours tend to be the most revealing and impractical.

  6. j

    Luxorcism, I also wondered about that. I hope it's true!

  7. I

    Have you never seen a 70's anime / manga?

  8. B

    She will get more covering. Those threads are pieces of itself that were cut away in a swatch by someone using the scissors. That person probably was the one who killed her father at the same time. Her uniform is simply collecting its pieces that were cut from it and used to make the starred uniforms.

  9. A

    I'm hard-pressed to think of many first episodes as fast-paced and chaotic as that, but damn did it pull it off well. I, too, was worried Kill La Kill wasn't going to live up to the hype, but I felt it did that and then some. As far as the length of the series goes, I'm thinking Ryuko may subjugate the school by the halfway point and then they'll all combat some larger threat, but who knows. Also, it's damn good to have Hiyama back; it feels like he doesn't appear often enough these days which is a shame considering he's one of my favorite VAs.

    Oh, and a couple of slight corrections: Sanegayama is the Athletic Committee chairman and the president of the boxing club was the guy that Ryuko defeated. Loved the part when Satsuki's underlings appeared in front of her to try to prevent his blood from spilling on her.

  10. Sorry, name avalanche in the premiere.

  11. G

    There were some good moments in the episode but overall I thought this series was very sloppy. Almost like it was animated by a couple of high school kids and aimed at middle school kids. I'm gonna pass on this series. Coppelion was excellent so at least I have something good to watch on Thursdays.

  12. R

    I thought Fall was supposed to be a season for sports — it still is, and I'm looking forward to the two new sports series — but it seems like it's also a season for the eyes. Seriously, I just watched Kyoukai, Kyousogiga, and Kill la Kill — I now need to shut my eyes a bit and rest.

    I actually quite like this first episode of KlK. It gave us a bit of the plot and introduced some characters, and above all, it's crazy, fast-paced, fun, bold, and loud…as loud as when my mum yells at me (no, mum, I still love you). It touched on fascism, so I don't know if it will expand on this. Like you said, KlK really depends on whether Nakashima Kazuki can turn this visual madness into something meaningful and engaging. I don't like the part when they showed too much skin, but I'm thrilled to hear the voice of Miki-san. Hisashiburi desu ne.

  13. t

    "One gets the sense very quickly that this is the sort of world where logic and conventional plot rules are going to be irrelevant, and characters arcs aren't really going to be the point.

    It's interesting that you said that,here's a bit from the staff interview:

    "Q: So with this major directional change, what were the effects on the story?
    N: Initially we were making a battle-manga type show, but it changed to character drama. The battle-show planned for a complete story ended up becoming a work where regular characters' development/drama will be thoroughly explored. The work coincidentally became much more interesting from there."

    So it does seem that character arc might become the point,couldn't find the other interview I wanted to share but it basically said that they came to the same conclusion you did while writing the script that an all out action/battle premise wasn't going to hold up over two cours so they deviated from that.

  14. I've seen that interview, but I'm a bit skeptical – I sensed at the time that this was more of a PR campaign (one of the things that unsettles me about Trigger is that they seem hyper-focused on PR and surfing trends) aimed at reassuring viewers than an actual change in the focus of the show.

    That said, we do have Nakashima-sensei, who's basically the difference between TTGL and P & S, so there's hope that's all real. My initial reaction to the pilot was that it would be a great OVA – I seriously doubt it can hold up for two cours if it doesn't have something very different in the arsenal.

  15. i

    Are you watching Araki? This is how you be bombastic.

    Like Kyousogiga, Kill la Kill was bomb(boob)astically fun. There was that zany and wacky feel that Gainax brought to their best shows, though it lacked some of the more subtle moments that TTGL or FLCL has in their premiers. Somewhere in the last ten years the art of being fun but occasionally subtle has been all but lost.

    But I didn't expect H&C from Trigger, so that's fine. It was very much a grab and go type introduction episode. A lot happened, some background info, plenty of action and service. It'll almost certainly be popular with a certain crowd with just that but for I need some more on the character/story to get fully invested and unfortunately not since Fate/Zero has there been an action anime to make me do that.

  16. Z

    Pretty good with some nice touches such as the lemon, Gamagouri's manic laughter.

    Totally not okay with the Cutey Honey sling bikini outfit. Completely unnecessary considering it's original form is a demonic sailor fuku.

  17. S

    Enzo, you're surprisingly reserved to this episode, me thinks. My reactions was more of the lines of "wow, wtf? HOLY SHIT. wow. this is madness. BRILLIANT MADNESS." (I'm sorry, but it's hard to describe this episode without caps).

    Anyway, it completely blew me away. And some great comedy too (tidbits like the lemon-love joke… brilliant)

  18. My reaction was what it was – I liked it a lot, amazing energy and visual style given the budget, it didn't impact me on any level story or character-wise. If this is going to be compel for two cours, it will have to deliver some on those fronts. What made TTGL great, for me, was the character arcs (especially Simon's) and the beautifully crafted story. If it had just been fanservice and people screaming for 27 episodes I think it would have grown tiresome.

    Go Nakashima, go – you hold the future in your hands.

  19. H

    Mixed feeling on this one. I liked most of the humor, the nazi council/fantasy school setting and lemon eating protagonist – but the fanservice outfit (clearly necessary…) felt very juvenile and contrived. That side of the show in general felt like it was penned by an uninspired 14 y/o. IIRC, the fanservice in TTGL was always laced with witty humor.

  20. g

    The fanservice is seriously just icing on the cake.
    This anime has already hooked me with its visuals and presentation.

  21. A

    The outfit-armour thing is degrading, I seriously hope that changes!

  22. B

    Her uniform is not gratuitous – it starts scanty so it has somewhere to go toward completion. Keep watching and you'll see. It will increase in power and coverage as it absorbs its threads that were cut from it.

  23. B

    I thought the first episode was so stupid. I wish it was more serious.

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