As self-absorbed as I may come off, I am aware of the baggage that Kill la Kill is bound to draw in, its ‘expression’ is certainly not a subtlety. Though the function of this fan-service is often to distract its audience, asexual as I am, rarely causes anything more than a vacuum of thought. That is unless the creators become too confident in this technique and the lack of a substance becomes more distracting than any pair of tits, or the creators expect me to be distracted by middle-school students, in which I become deeply afraid as to how I came to find the animation. And despite the main character’s suspiciously minor age, the former exception is more relevant to this analysis. Or I should say, the substance lies in its overuse of fan-service, funnily enough.
Having polished their presentation to its highest point, in my opinion, the Imaishi team at Gainax couldn’t have premiered their new animation studio more fittingly. With just half a scissor to wield, Ryuuko Matoi enters Honno city to find the perpetrator of her father’s murder, and when the student council president of the fascistic academy running the town suggests they know of the incident, Ryuuko becomes suspicious that they might be the holder of the second scissor in the pair that used to belong to her father. And it is through its incredibly stylized and expressive style that the intense and tongue-in-cheek tone is able to feel like a cohesive whole like I don’t think many other creators could’ve achieved. When a giant breaks open the door to a classroom in the opening scene to episode 1, literally flinging it through the window on the other side of the homeroom before towering over the teacher asking for a student that has revealed themself to be a rebel of the academy, you know exactly what this series is about to throw at you.
The production, from the grande animation and musical set pieces to the small but influential edits and sound effects, work to portray the immense tension you are put through, as well as the cartoony moments, the series being as much a comedy as an action drama. The blend of these elements works surprisingly well, often depicting its tense scenes equally light-heartedly as the explicitly comedic ones, which you would expect to trivialize the threat but instead creates an exciting vibe and an even bigger tension when shit really hits the fan. This all comes together to help the narrative’s inherent amusement, almost looking like a parody of anime centered around high school, but ironically never becomes a laughingstock because the presentation never forces you to take it seriously, which then lets you more naturally treat the story as a serious threat. I was rarely reminded of its absurdity in a negative sense, and in this way, I think the audiovisual elements of the show, and the narrative, make a cohesive whole.
But to bring it back to the series’ use of fan-service, even here, I think the visual presentation really helps to hinder the sexual undertones to go in an inappropriate direction. Although shocking at first, the exaggerated tone helps even the most excessive scenes feel in line with the series, and, in comparison to something like Fire force, is much easier to get used to. And although there are scenes wherein this is kind of ruined, especially when Ryuuko is sexually harassed by her family for what must’ve been the fifth time, I also believe the imagery to be a good contributor to the series’ commentary on fascism and freedom.
Although the series clearly doesn’t present itself as political theory, much like the tower of The Lighthouse, Kill la Kill’s use of symbolism as a form of power is incredibly intriguing from a political perspective. Satsuki is quickly presented as a fascist dictator, which is funny since they’re a student council president, but what I find more interesting is how this ideology is represented through the character’s view of expression and the commodity of power she wields. Clothing already existing as a class structure in the universe, the way in which it is distributed unfairly, often giving exceptions to those close to her where she would disown those beneath her. And in this way, the sexual presentation of the series serves as an opposition to the inequality and lack of freedom under fascism, where no one can perform superiority in their nude body. And although this symbolism can get tied up in some visually and narratively derivative action scenes; and repetitive interpersonal drama between Ryuko and Senketsu, the way in which this symbolism never gets a true conclusion until everything has been packed makes the story of Kill la Kill especially engaging, as you’re always on the look-out for details that might change the implications of the story.
Although the hyperbolic statement that ‘Kill la Kill saved anime’ might not have been meant to be interpreted at face value, the character of the show has undoubtedly changed what anime has become in the modern sense