In the vein of the classic series, Gurren Lagann, and by many of the same creators, comes a series that is built around ultra-violence and nudity. And it’s hilarious.
More than anything, this show has heart. That might sound strange coming on the back of my previous description, but stay with me. Thanks to the folks at Madman, we were able to get hold of the latest instalment of this outstanding series. Due to licensing requirements, Madman is obliged to follow the Japanese release format, and all 25 episodes will eventually hit shelves across 5 blu-ray or DVD sets. Volume 1 saw a limited edition release with a gorgeous art box to hold the set- but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let us examine why KILL la KILL is worth your time.
Trigger is a studio comprised of Gainax stalwarts, and it’s immediately apparent from the grandiose scale, slapstick humour and over-the-top action that these were the folks that gave us the drill-wielding-giant-robot craziness of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. Right off the bat, if you weren’t a fan of TTGL then it’s VERY safe to say, you won’t get much out of KILL la KILL. It’s full of the same style of fighting, comedy and the occasional tear-jerking scene that made TTGL so influential. Instead of humans fighting monster-alien-people, we have a schoolgirl out to avenge the death of her father, with the help of a sentient, skimpy seifuku, and a sword shaped like half a pair of scissors.
Much like the recent classic, Durarara!!, we have a story that shifts and changes as each character’s motivations are unpacked. Every character has a back story, and there are no cardboard cut-out villains, but that’s not to say KLK is without pantomime and camp. Suffice to say, there are enough twists and turns to keep the plot matching the speed of the action. And the action is ridiculous.
Part magical girl, part robot action, KLK (or as I like to call it, “Fashion Battles”) straddles genres and subverts expectations, and after the first few episodes originally aired, many took offence at the silly levels of fan-service and its violent world. Very soon KILL la KILL’s true colours were revealed as people began to realise the low body count (almost zero) and the equal opportunity nudity were paving the way for something truly unique. A familiarity with anime tropes helps the viewer identify the ways in which expectations are flipped, but KLK is easy to recommend, even if you’re a new-comer to the medium.
By disc 2 (episodes 5-9), our straight-faced protagonist, Matoi Ryūko, has teamed up with the exposition-spouting, energetic ball-of-slapstick-comedy, Mankanshoku Mako and together they’re determined to bring down Kiryūin Satsuki, the head of Honnouji Academy. In this brutal school of combat (as well as horticulture, sewing and tennis) each student is equipped with a school uniform of different power levels. These uniforms are imbued with “life fibres” and offer the wearer the ability to perform feats beyond their strength. A student’s ranking in the school determines the social standing of their family, and depending on their performance, families can be moves from shanty-town slums to regal mansions and back again. Much of the series focuses on the true requirements for happiness, as we see Mako’s poor, but chirpy family. Familial ties are a strong theme explored in the series, both the wonderful and terrifying.
Satsuki and the diverse cast of school leaders, the “Elite Four”, are hunting Ryūko (although apparently allowing her to rest during classes) and it’s up to the pair of heroes to fight their way to the top. These action sequences could be a potential stumbling block for viewers, as an unfamiliarity with some of the tropes, or an unwillingness to see out the story could turn viewers off before any of it can be contextualised. The school-uniform-power-suit transformation sequences depict complete nudity (male and female) and the violence is extreme and often-times silly. If you aren’t put off by those elements, KILL la KILL really shines in its comedy, its action and its wonderful characters. It definitely stands as one of the anime highlights of recent years.
The English voice cast have done a great job – especially with pronunciations, which closely match the Japanese. My preference is for the original Japanese audio track, but you won’t be short-changed if you opt for the English audio. The Blu-ray case comes with a reversible cover suited to being displayed should you house the packs in the limited edition box, displaying the episode names on the front, clean artwork on the back, and the title still shown on the spine. The episodes are colourful, and the Blu-ray transfer is generally free of artefacts, but this show won’t win awards for its animation. It’s brash and in-your-face, with great set pieces and colourful, consistent designs, but it uses many old-school animation techniques (along with limited CG) that don’t hold up as well when compared to other modern series.
KILL la KILL surprised me in the best possible way. It gave me characters I care about, memorable moments and plenty of comedy throughout. It’s easy to see why it has such a following, and it feels like a return to a more classic form of shonen anime in a sea of modern series.
We received our review copy of KILL la KILL from Madman Entertainment, and it can be purchased from their web store on blu-ray and DVD, or streamed for free on their anime streaming service, AnimeLab.