The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 80 – Kill la Kill

Kill la Kill

As we continue to look into the vast and curious group of anime set in schools that would never exist in real life, we have a series with like last week’s anime, Princess Princess, deals with an unusual look at school uniform. But this series has more sinister subject matter, dealing with fascism. It’s a lot stranger, a lot bigger, a lot more revealing, and pretty bonkers. This not surprising given that the director of this series is the man behind the enormously brilliant Gurren Lagann (No. 50).

Kill la Kill is directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, who also directed the adult comedy Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt (No. 19). Running from late 2013 to early 2014, it was the first TV series made by Trigger, a company formed by Imaishi after he left the highly regarded anime studio Gainax. Like Imaishi’s Gurren Lagann, this anime is also big, action-packed and highly comical. It’s a new take on the “magical girl” genre, it’s totally preposterous, but it’s still loads of fun.

Kill la Kill is set at Honnouji Academy, a school situated on top of a hill somewhere in Tokyo Bay. It is however not run by the headmaster or teachers, but is governed under the fascistic rule of the Student Council led by sword-wielding Satsuki Kiryuin, daughter of the school’s director, fashion mogul Ragyo Kiryuin. The school has a caste system where those higher up wear “Goku Uniforms”, school uniforms made out of a special material called “Life Fibres” that give the wear superpowered abilities.

After Satsuki, the next most powerful students are the wearers of the three-star uniforms made out of 30% Life Fibres. These are the “Four Generals”: kendo exponent Uzu Sanageyama (Athletic Committee Chair), music-loving Nonon Jakuzure (Non-Athletic Committee Chair), techno-savvy Houka Inumuta (Information and Strategy Committee Chair),  and gigantic Ira Gamagoori (Disciplinary Committee Chair); then there are the two-star uniform wearers who are mainly the heads of school clubs; one-star uniform wearers who are general loyal servants; and last the no-star uniforms worn by most of the school population, who are treated terribly and live in slums on the foot of the hill.

Enter into the mix a new transfer student: Ryuko Matoi, a 17-year-old girl who has arrived at Honnouji Academy for one purpose – to find out from Satsuki who killed her father. To do so she has on her a powerful weapon, the “Scissor Blade” that is able to cut Life Fibres. At first she easily loses to Satsuki and her allies in a fight, but then in the ruins of her father’s house Ryuko discovers a sentient talking uniform called Senketsu. Senketsu is a “Kamui”, an outfit made entirely out of Life Fibres, who forces Ryuko to where it. This proves useful as whenever Senketsu consumes Ryuko’s blood it can transform into a more powerful (and more revealing) outfit, which allows Ryuko to take on Honnouji Academy on an equal playing field.

As the story plays out, Ryuko battles Satsuki and the rest of the Goku Uniform wearing students to find out the truth about her father’s death. In the meantime she is assisted by her teacher Aikuro Mikisugi, who we learn is actually a member of an anti-clothing paramilitary group called “Nudist Beach”, plus hyperactive student and best friend Mako Mankanshoku, a zero-star student whose father runs a clinic in the slums. Ryuko moves in with her and together they plan their various rebellions.

There are several reasons for why Kill la Kill makes for a fun watch. For starters there is the traditional trademark of Imaishi’s work – that bigger is better. There is no way that this series was going to be as big as Gurren Lagann, but as the series progresses the story not only effects the school, but later the country and the planet. The only thing that is short is the cut of Ryuko’s transformed uniform, which has a revealing gap starting from right below her nipples (which are neatly covered up by a pair of braces) all the way down to her hips, where she wears a tiny microskirt.

The series may seem lowbrow, but there are interesting themes connected to the anime. In Japanese, the words for “fascism” and “fashion” are almost identical, these being “fassho” and “fasshon”. Not only that but in Japanese the words for “school uniform” and “conquest” are homophonic, both being pronounced “seifuku”. While in Japanese “kill” is pronounced “kiru”, but the word can also mean “to cut” or “to wear”.

Aside from wordplay, there is a mixture of humour on-screen. Mako is the most comic of the characters. She will often interrupt an important scene to deliver a motivational speech to inspire Ryuko on, and her bizarre family also add to the humour. There are also moments where the comedy plays around with television. This comes across with the use of subtitles. When a character, item or important part of the plot is introduced, large subtitles appear. The camera will often then cut to a different angle, where you still see the subtitles standing but at an odd angle.

What at first seems to be a series where you can just watch a girl wearing a very revealing costume is actually an anime with various comic elements and themes working together. Not only that, but this was a show from a relatively new company with a small budget, plus the plot is full of twists that grab the viewer’s attention. It is one of the best anime to be broadcast in 2014.

Kill la Kill is released on Blu-Ray by All the Anime over three parts.