“Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.” – Oscar Wilde.
Kill la Kill is an anime which has a lot to live up to. The series is directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, the man behind Gurren Lagann. Given the scale of the former, it is hard to imagine how you can create something new that can reach the same standard. The answer is you can’t – but you can create something big and extreme in its own environment. After Gurren Lagann, Imaishi’s next project was Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt which was extreme in terms of rudeness and the adult nature of its humour. In Kill la Kill the over-the-top action mixes with some extreme extremism.
These ideas came about when Imaishi made the following observation. In Japanese the word for “fashion” is “fasshon”. But if you remove the “n” from that you get the word “fassho” which means something else entirely – “fascism”. These two are considered the main themes of Kill la Kill, but along with fashion and fascism, I would argue that there is a third f-word that can be thrown into the mix – “feminism”, which may surprise people who have seen what the main characters often wear.
Kill la Kill is set in Honnouji Academy, a school run under the iron rule of the student council led by sword-wielding Satsuki Kiryuin. The top students are those who wear the super-powered “Goku Uniforms” which are made out of a strange material called “Life Fibres”. Below Satsuki are her Elite Four who wear three-star uniforms made out of 30% Life Fibres: huge and fearsome Ira Gamagoori (Disciplinary Committee Chair); computer-loving Houka Inumuta (Information and Strategy Committee Chair); kendo exponent Uzu Sanageyama (Athletic Committee Chair) and the musical Nonon Jakuzure (Non-Athletic Committee Chair). Below them are the club chairs in two-star uniforms, their subordinates in one-star uniforms, and the rest of the student body in no-star uniforms who live in the slums in the shadow of the school.
Things liven up with a new transfer student, 17-year-old Ryuko Matoi. She is at Honnouji Academy for one purpose only: to discover from Satsuki who killed her father. Ryuko tries to attack Satsuki using her “Scissor Blade”, a gigantic half-pair of scissors, but is easily disposed of. Ryuko returns to the ruins of her late father’s home, where she discovers a “Kamui”, a school uniform made out 100% Life Fibres which becomes sentient when it comes into contact with blood. When the Kamui which Ryuko names “Senketsu”, samples some of the injured Ryuko’s blood, Kamui forces Ryuko to wear it. This is something that Ryuko eventually finds useful, because Senketsu gives her the strength to take on the Goku Uniform-wearing students on an equal footing by transforming into a super-powered form – although Ryuko is at first not happy about how revealing it is.
The series then follows Ryuko and Satsuki’s battles for control of the school and the discovery of the truth. Ryuko is also helped along the way by others, in particular a girl whom she meets on the very first day: the hyperactive and usually always positive Mako Mankanshoku. She not only becomes Ryuko’s biggest ally, but Ryuko moves into her father’s backstreet clinic.
As mentioned earlier, the series is inspired by some of the similarities between words in the Japanese. Apart from fassho/fasshon, there is also the homophonic “seifuku” which can mean both “school uniform” and “conquest”. Plus in Japanese “kill” is pronounced “kiru”, which can mean “to cut” or “to wear”.
But as I said, I think the series is arguably feminist as well. Some might be shocked by this because Ryuko’s uniform exposes so much of her body, with her nipples only being covered by the buckles of her braces for example. Some might even go further and debate about the implications of a school uniform forcing its intentions on a woman. However, examine the role of the characters. This is a series with a female lead who has a female sidekick, who fights against a female villain in a school controlled by her mother. The male characters are mostly on the side-lines and the male characters are often just as naked as the female ones. When it comes to female representation, Kill la Kill certainly beats your average BBC panel game. Even one-off characters add a feminine touch. In one scene you clearly see a mother breastfeeding her child in public. How many British TV shows would depict that?
There are other plus points to this series. There is the way the show mocks some televisual aspects such as the onscreen subtitles. The music is good too, both the theme tunes (“Sirius” by Eir Aoi, and “Gomen ne, Iiko ja Irarenai” by Miku Sawai) and the music used in the show (e.g. “Before my Body is Dry” by Mika Kobayashi) are great to listen to you. The characters are also really enjoyable. My personal favourite is Mako. I love her whacky nature, from her “Hallelujah” monologues in which she spontaneously interjects a speech at a moment of tension in the show, to when she plays a more dramatic role in the action. My favourite episode in Kill la Kill is one in which they try to bring down the system from within by setting up a Fight Club of which Mako is the chair. As a result of this she gets a Goku Uniform of her own, but as she becomes more powerful, the more miserable Ryuko feels. This leads to a fight between Ryuko and Mako in a two-star uniform where she looks like a delinquent student.
It must be said, however, that this release is not without its problems, mainly in terms of the production of the releases. For starters, there are minor mistakes printed on the discs themselves. One disc reported has Episodes 1-5 and the other 6-9. In fact the first disc has Episodes 1-4 and the other 5-9. The aspect ratio appears to be only available in widescreen, so if you have a small TV set the image gets cut. Also, on the first disc the onscreen Japanese subtitles annoyingly have their English translations pasted directly over them. However, on the second disc these translations are more sensibly put at the top of the screen.
In terms of extras, on the discs there iare textless opening and closing, and you also have some web previews. The main extra however in the Blu-ray collection is a 188 page artbook, a direct translation of the original Japanese one, including both artistic depictions of the show and storyboards.
The first collection starts off well. Hopefully some of the production mistakes made in this collection will be avoided in the next releases. Other than that, this is another great step forward in Imaishi’s career.