A grown man’s appreciation for Japanese cartoons.
Kill la Kill spoilers ahead.
As the anime experts say, “It’s anime o’clock!” So what better way to celebrate than with the anime that started it all: Kill la Kill. My experience with anime beforehand was probably similar to a lot of other Westerners growing up in the 90s, which is to say I watched Pokemon, Dragonball Z and the odd Studio Ghibli film. In the West, animation is usually reserved for the younger audience or used for irreverent comedy shows like Rick and Morty or Family Guy, and there really isn’t much outside that. But go back a number of years when I signed up to Netflix, and I decided to browse the anime category, spurred on by a number of Japanese games I was playing at the time.
I unearthed some shows that the anime community recommended, such as One Punch Man and Violet Evergarden, which don’t get me wrong, are fantastic in their own right, but I still didn’t consider myself a fan. That said, I continued looking up some more suggestions, and that’s when the name Kill la Kill appeared, presenting itself as an action comedy. A good counter pick when compared to the cry-athlon that was Violet Evergarden…and my first impressions weren’t great. With those unfamiliar with the premise, Kill la Kill is a show about women wearing magical clothing that gets all the more powerful the more revealing it becomes – and looking back at it now, isn’t really that absurd for anime.
But back then, it was everything that made me dubious of getting into anime in the first place, the contrived plot points in service of getting as much lady skin on screen as possible. Yet, as I pressed on, I began to come around on Kill la Kill, mostly down to its madcap presentation and just its sheer range of expression. One thing I noticed is how much more varied characters are drawn in anime when you stack them up to their Western cartoon counterparts. The main character Ryuko Matoi will feature softer rounder details to make her look friendlier, or harsher, more angular features to make her seem more threatening, for example. I know this isn’t exactly groundbreaking stuff in this type of show, but remember I hadn’t watched anime for years.
The world felt so alive, with so many fun little details that I eventually got pulled in. One thing I love about Kill la Kill is how it switches tones and structure between its two parts. The first part is more akin to your typical slice-of-life anime, with mostly self-contained stories that help you understand the various characters of the show. While the second part ramps up the stakes, with episodes that flow together to form a larger plot leading towards an exciting finale. Both parts serve their roles perfectly, with the first getting you invested in the cast, while the second getting you invested in the world. Even its fanservice becomes better as the men start stripping off along with the women, remember objectification is fine when it’s happening to both genders – I think? The nudity starts to represent more nobler themes such as freedom, rebirth, and the abolishment of classism and enforced hierarchy. While this doesn’t excuse the leering camerawork that appears earlier in the show, Kill la Kill eventually manages to use its nudity for a pretty decent message.
And despite its knack for up-skirt shots, Kill la Kill’s cast actually consists of mostly women with motivations going beyond kissing the sexy young man. It’s usually a trend in anime to have female characters be pretty much inconsequential to the plot, with their only purpose being the token love interest. But in Kill la Kill, Ryuko Matoi is avenging her father, Satsuki Kiryuin is trying to save the world, Ragyo Kiryuin is trying to take it over and Nui Harime is just there to be an asshole. If I have to choose between an interesting character that is objectified and a banal character that is shoehorned in, I’m taking the one whose defining trait isn't just: is a woman.
By the end of Kill la Kill I was thoroughly converted, in fact, I was actually a little mad at myself for writing anime off for so many years. Kill la Kill made me see why anime has attracted such a passionate fandom, but is it the greatest anime I’ve ever watched? Well, that’s a bit more difficult to answer, with the reason being that I’d never seen anything else quite like it before at the time. I do wonder if I were to watch it today, whether it would have the same impact. I believe that I would still have enjoyed it, but the reason why it left such an impression was because it felt so new to me. In fact, even months later, the anime shows I watched after always had me saying, “That was good, but it was no Kill la Kill.”
While it is in my upper echelon of anime picks, I can understand if people think Kill la Kill is nothing special, but what’s more important is that it showed me the appeal of anime. And thanks to it, I’ve now had the pleasure of watching shows like Neon Genesis Evangelion, Cowboy Bebop, Mob Psycho 100, Samurai Champloo, Space Dandy, Black Lagoon, Fate Zero (the only good Fate show incidentally), Land of the Lustrous, Dorohedoro, Made in Abyss and many more.
It has also lead me to Keijo………and I’m not sure how I feel about that.