ANIME & MANGA - Review
15:26 - 26th March 2014, by Matt Kamen

Kill la Kill: Episodes 1-12

After her scientist father is killed in mysterious circumstances, Ryuko Matoi has a grudge to bear. Drawn to the mysterious Honnouji Academy in search of the murderer, she finds herself pitched against the cruel Satsuki Kiryuin, the Student Council president who rules the school - and the city it dominates - with an iron fist. Armed with one half of a colossal pair of scissors and clad in a sentient, vampiric sailor outfit that grants her immense powers (at the cost of her modesty), Ryuko battles her way through Honnouji's hierarchy with the hopes of pummelling some answers out of Kiryuin.

Yes, it's a threadbare plot, and one that seems at first glance to be an excuse for cheap near-nude thrills, but Kill la Kill makes up for it by being stylish as hell. Visually, the series owes much to its spiritual predecessor Gurren Lagann, both in turn inspired by the energetic work of Devilman and Hannape Bazooka creator Go Nagai. Tonally, it feels like a mash up of Kill Bill's outlandish and hyper-kinetic violence and the cheesy perviness of Russ Meyer's 'sex kitten' films from the 1960s and '70s. An unusual mix, but one that works staggeringly well.

As for those "cheap, near-nude thrills"? Kill la Kill miraculously dodges being sexist, misogynistic, or even creepy, and instead presents itself as remarkably pro-sex and body-positive. It pokes fun at the anime industry's tendencies to objectify women, while simultaneously providing something for viewers with baser interests. A tricky balancing act, but one director Hiroyuki Imaishi manages well.

Most individual episodes do feel a touch formulaic, usually following a pattern of Ryuko being drawn into battle against one of Kiryuin's super-powered lieutenants, while the delightfully idiotic Mankanshoku family she lives with cause comedic misfortune. However, the enemies are wonderfully imaginative, each a bizarre funhouse mirror of school sports or teenage drama. The longer threads surrounding Ryuko's father's murder, the nature of the Academy, and an underground resistance movement opposing Kiryuin's rule all help build a surprisingly complex world, too. At the mid-point, viewers already have answers to at least one of the central mysteries, and the rest have developed in surprising ways.

Streamed on Wakanim, the presentation of Kill la Kill offers little to criticise. Episodes are released promptly, video quality is great (though can take a few seconds to sharpen the image when activating high-definition mode), and subtitles are clear. Testing playback in a variety of network environments, including a busy coffee shop, posed no problems, with overall quality remaining smooth and consistent. It is worth noting though that certain browser plug-ins, particularly on Chrome, may need to be disabled before videos will load.

However, Wakanim's streaming model itself isn't quite as accessible as rivals such as Crunchyroll - while the latest episodes are free to watch with ad support, earlier ones are bought using credits. At one credit per episode to stream (around 79p) or two credits to buy a full HD, DRM-free episode to own, it's an incredibly fair price. Not keeping at least the first episode free to view does make it hard for newcomers to decide if they want to invest in the series, though.

There are also a few small issues with regionality. Some parts of Wakanim's site remain in French, making it slightly cumbersome to navigate for non-Francophones, while the ads served up are for French products. It's perhaps unsurprising, given the company's origins, but it makes for an odd experience for English-speaking viewers. The lack of tablet or smartphone access at present is also a drawback, but not so great that anyone should risk missing an outstanding series.

Kill la Kill is sexy without being exploitative, fantastic to look at, knowingly ridiculous - and a hell of a lot of fun. An exceptional series for which great presentation is only slightly let down by some access woes.
SCORE: 5/5
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