ANIME & MANGA - Review
10:02 - 6th March 2015, by David West

Kill La Kill - Box 1: Episodes 1-9

Kill La Kill contains many familiar anime motifs – you’ve got your battling school girls, skimpy outfits, and a plot about the protagonist seeking revenge for the murder of their father. But the series slams so much style and humour onto the screen that the end product is a bristling, invigorating series that pumps new life into a well worn premise.

The set up is fairly straightforward – armed with one half of a giant pair of scissors, Ryuko Matoi is searching for the person who killed her father. Her quest takes her to Honnouji Academy, a high school where the elite pupils wear special Goku uniforms that give them super powers. At the top of the Honnouji Academy food chain sits the proud and severe Student Council President Satsuki Kiryuin, guarded by her Elite Four of the toughest, most loyal pupils. Convinced that Satsuki knows something about her father’s death, Ryuko launches a one-girl assault on Honnouji, occasionally aided and abetted by her only friend amongst the student body, the air-headed Mako Mankanshoku. While she might be outnumbered as the lone girl against an entire Academy, Ryuko has her own special uniform, a sentient sailor suit called Senketsu that is fuelled by her blood, and together they set out to fight their way to the top.

Kill La Kill is the brainchild of Hiroyuki Imaishi and Kazuki Nakashima, the duo behind Gurren Lagann, and is the first original series from Trigger studios, the company Imaishi helped found in 2011.

They’ve certainly hit the ground running. The show is a manic riot of colour and movement. Bodies and faces are thoroughly elastic and the many battles play out like Loony Toons on acid – how many action series feature someone being battered by a thousand tennis balls served by a perfectly synchronised squad of girls? Particularly in the early episodes, Kill La Kill functions as a highly effective spoof of action staples, but where a series like Cromartie High School worked by playing it totally deadpan, this show goes gleefully over the top at every opportunity. The fourth episode is devoted to the students struggling to navigate a booby trapped obstacle course to get to school on time, each trap more outrageously silly than the last. Plus there’s a breastfeeding mother with a machine gun. Not something you see every day.

The slapstick physical comedy suggests the best of Tex Avery and Chuck Jones, as well as series like Baka And Test: Summon The Beasts.

In battle, Ryuko’s sailor suit transforms into an outrageously skimpy costume, but this isn’t the sort of fanservice fest seen in shows like Sekirei or Ikki Tousen. In no small measure, that’s because the characters are so busy leaping around the screen that there is no time for lingering shots of body parts, but also because fanservice is not the focus here. The skimpy nature of Ryuko’s battle armour is mainly used as the springboard for more jokes as characters suffer explosive nosebleeds or as Ryuko struggles with her own embarrassment about her revealing outfit. There are plenty of references to other franchises sprinkled throughout the script – from the super-powered uniforms – Goku for the Honnouji outfits and Ryuko’s Senketsu is a Kamui class uniform – to Mako’s pet dog called Guts.

The scriptwriting insures that every episode has a strong dose of action, but it manages to avoid becoming a Villain Of The Week format series. One episode sees Mako, who has always been a lowly no-star student, earn her own Goku uniform, promptly proving the old adage that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. While the idea of having the heroine be forced to fight her best friend may not be all that original, it’s the execution that makes this seem fresh and exciting. The screenplay may be high on wackiness, but the writing does a smart job of setting up subplots that slowly bear fruit. Even the job of handling exposition about how the super suits work is done without letting the pace dip. Onscreen titles are used regularly, both to introduce new characters but also for comic emphasis when someone pulls off their special signature attack move in a fight.

The music impresses throughout the series, with a strong score by Hiroyuki Sawano. Slightly wandering off topic, but some later episodes (not in this first release) make fantastic use of Rossini’s William Tell Overture and Beethoven’sSymphony No. 5, another reference to western animation and the clever interaction between the characters and classical music in cartoons like The Rabbit Of Seville.

Production values are good. There is some use of still frames from time to time, but not obtrusively so, and the all-important action scenes jump off the screen with energy. The transformation sequences repeat the same animation, while there are some inconsistencies – one of the Elite Four, the muscle bound Ira Gamagoori, has a habit of changing size from shot to shot. Despite the goofiness, there are many elements not suitable for kids – when Gamagoori transforms for battle, he wears a ball gag in his mouth. Good luck explaining that to the little ones.

The voice cast is strong – Ami Koshimizu, who was tremendous as Holo in Spice And Wolf, has the defiant attitude and moxie to make Ryuko a compelling heroine, while she has excellent support from Aya Suzaki as the over-excitable Mako. In the English dub Erica Mendez and Christine Marie Cabanos do a good job matching the deranged intensity of the Japanese leads.

Not only stylish and fast paced, Kill La Kill is that rarest of anime that dares to endorse the virtues of non-conformity. Ryuko may be loud and brash, but she is much more exciting than the personality-free drones that comprise the rank and file of Honnouji Academy. Kill La Kill beats the odds and lives up to the hype.
SCORE: 5/5
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