Two: Characters matter.
I’ve been waiting for some reason, any reason, to feel a sense of excitement about Kill la Kill. The first episode was pretty good but full of unsettling potential long-term issues, and it’s been a downward slide after that. I want so very badly to love this show – it speaks to a part of me as an anime fan that’s had so little to feel excited about over the last six years. I freely admit that I was more than worried after the frankly mediocre fourth episode – not all that far from believing that despite the pedigree, Kill la Kill was never going to be anything more than it was.
It’s way too early to believe the corner has been turned – one episode does not a series make – but this was one hell of a good start. The most basic reason is that a couple members of the Trigger team must have sold some blood, because the episode looked halfway decent. More importantly if you add not only Konishi Katsuyuki – anyone who played no less than 11 roles in Outlaw Star and Full-time Panda is OK in my book, but of course most relevant here is that he was Kamina in TTGL – but Shintani Mayumi, no less than Haruhara Haruko herself to any cast, you’re probably going to make a show better. And Trigger did here.
Even more important than that for me, though, is that this was the first episode where it really felt as if Nakashima Kazuki was actually involved. The juvenile humor and over-the-top fanservice was dialed back to a manageable level and the episode actually felt like it was about something. There was some balance to the tone, and a glimpse of the larger plot that actually makes it seem marginally interesting. That’s huge, if Imaishi and Co. keep it up – what we were getting before was something like Panty & Stocking on a shoestring, and one P & S was comfortably more than enough.
Konishi’s character is Kinagase Tsumugu (safe to say the two Tsumugus this season could hardly be more different). He’s a bulked-out sniper with a signature way of speaking, his own theme song (easily the best BGM of the series so far), and a big-time grudge against Kamui. He’s also, like Aikurou-sensei, a member of “Nudist Beach” (a more correct English expression would be “Nude Beach” but as they use Engrish in the script, I’ll defer), which seems to be a group established (possibly by Matoi’s father) for the express purpose of thwarting the Kiryuuin family’s plans for world domination. He feels he owes Aikruou a great debt, but considers Kamui too dangerous to accede to his wishes to lay off Ryuuko.
Tsumugu blows into Honnouji Academy like a breath of fresh air, a third force shaking up the stale dynamic of Ryuuko’s battle-of-the-week against Satsuki’s flunkies. Added to this mix is Jakuzure Nonon, the last member of the Four Elites and the one in charge of the non-athletic groups like gardening (who have what seems to be an army of Audrey II clones) and light music. She says she’s “been with Satsuki the longest” and while she injects herself into the Ryuuko-Tsumugu battle, she does so while showing none of her true strength – indeed, it seems she’s serving a larger purpose for Satsuki that doesn’t involve actually defeating either of them. I’ve been pointing towards this moment for a long time and while she’s a supporting player in this episode, Shintani doesn’t disappoint. It’s a rare thing indeed to hear she or any of the main FLCL cast in anime and as Kayano Ai did in Golden Time, the actor manages to have a presence that’s far larger than their character’s initial screen time.
Characters do matter, and Tsumugu and Jozon are immediately more interesting to me than anyone else we’ve met so far. And because we’re not inundated with puerile humor non-stop, moments like Mako’s signature freak-out have a much better comic effect. I still find the whole touching friendship between Ryuuko and Senketsu pretty darn silly – it’s going to take some doing for me to really buy into the whole sentient clothes conceit as something to really give a shit about – but the sense that there are larger stakes in play can do nothing but help this show’s staying power. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and Kill la Kill took at least a couple of big ones this week.