Kill la Kill and Grounded Conflict

So. Kill la Kill.

Alright, I guess we gotta start this one right at the beginning. Kill la Kill is the first full-length production by Studio Trigger, a new studio whose claim to fame is sucking Gainax dry of all the talent they had left during the Gurren Lagann/Panty and Stocking era. Or, well, at least the one piece of talent most closely associated with that era – Hiroyuki Imaishi, the director of both those shows. Imaishi’s style, frenetic and impressionistic and somewhat uniquely indebted to western cartoons, is really friggin’ popular – Gurren Lagann in particular is one of the most beloved shows in the western fandom, and in spite of its recent mud-dragging, the Gainax name still conveys nostalgia and magic for a lot of fans.

So Kill la Kill came out of the gate with some pretty heavy expectations on its shoulders. With the writer and director of Gurren Lagann reunited for a show that gave every indication of being as hot-blooded and stylish as its predecessor, it’d be difficult for any show to really please everyone.

Fortunately, Kill la Kill is extremely good at pleasing people.

Kill la Kill

Imaishi and his team of animators seem primarily responsible for that one – Kill la Kill’s visual aesthetic is fantastic. As with his previous works, it combines classic anime influences from the 70s and 80s (Go Nagai, Osamu Dezaki, and many others I know diddly about) with both a bit of Gainax’s post-Eva style and a deep debt to Looney Tunes-esque western animation. This often results in what seems like several different art styles being represented on-screen at once – something that might normally damage the immersive nature of the show, but something that actually works to Kill la Kill’s benefit for reasons I’ll discuss shortly. And influences aside, almost every big shot in the show is designed to astonish – dynamic angles, composition brimming with busyness and excitement, a great eye for framing everything to emphasize tension and beauty. The color work also helps here – backgrounds are painted in gorgeous arrays of colors, outfits clash against each other with all sorts of bright contrasts and symmetries, and basically every shot exhibits a greater, starker range of color than most other shows out there. And finally, the show’s constant arranging of its shots into many layers of light and color contribute greatly to both the visual depth and the atmosphere of the production. Kill la Kill looks great.

The direction and pacing never slouch, either. Kill la Kill jumps from shot to shot with a kinetic energy few shows can match, and seems as excited to tell its story as anybody. The first episode in particular is a tour de force of dynamic pacing and tone-juggling, but highlights pop up all throughout its run – the first confrontation with one of the Elite Four in episode six, and the climactic battle with Ragyo in seventeen and eighteen are also both breathless, stellar feats of in-episode pacing, all of which are bolstered by Kill la Kill’s fantastic soundtrack. Even the more inherently ridiculous episodes demonstrate how Kill la Kill’s understanding of timing is also reflected in its sense of humor – personally, I’d say the overtly absurd episodes like four and seven are actually some of the strongest in the series.

Kill la Kill

Kill la Kill’s visual aesthetics aren’t just energetic, though – the show also deliberately plays with perspective and the 2D frame in a variety of interesting ways. From “spinning” flat characters to demonstrate surprise or unbalance, to the bold character-announcing letters that repeatedly prove they actually exist in Kill la Kill’s world, to characters even reaching across split-screens to poke their adversaries, Kill la Kill delights in breaking the fourth wall and overtly demonstrating its own cartoon nature. As I mentioned before, things like this would generally tend to break the viewer’s sense of immersion… but Kill la Kill counters this by not really caring if it breaks your immersion. Kill la Kill’s here to have fun, and by completely discarding any sense of grounded reality, Kill la Kill allows itself access to some actually surprisingly effective tricks of visual presentation.

Ultimately, it’s clear that Kill la Kill’s production lacked in animators, time, or whatever else is necessary to ensure high quality animation – the show looks pretty damn cheap, and still frames abound. But through its strong visual aesthetic, playful sense of reality, and many creative visual shortcuts, Kill la Kill practically turns that lack of polish into a strength. It’s almost a kind of “animation minimalism,” which is kind of an absurd thing to say in a show where everything is as loud and huge as possible, but there it is.

Kill la Kill

So yeah, at a glance, Kill la Kill is a pretty beautiful piece of work. That’s important, honestly… because the writing is significantly less strong. So I guess it’s probably time to talk about what Kill la Kill’s actually about.

Wait, let’s not do that. First, let’s talk about Grounded Conflict.

Grounded conflict (synonymous, in my mind, with good conflict) is conflict with definable stakes – conflict where you understand the forces, tensions, and powers at play, and thus can cheer or gasp appropriately as the conflict progresses. In general, I tend to see grounded conflicts fall into two broad categories – rules-based conflict and emotional/thematic conflict.

Kill la Kill

Rules-based conflict is simple – you’re invested in what’s happening because you understand exactly what’s happening, and the back-and-forth of the forces involved is inherently compelling. Rules-based conflict is the larger part of why sports attract spectators – it’s fun to see an interesting contest between people with roughly equal tools, or even imbalanced tools, as long as you can understand what those tools are. Most sports shows also fall into this category, along with scattered other shows like Hunter x Hunter. The fun comes from knowing all the pieces that are on the board, and thus wondering how those pieces will be thrown at each other, and what schemes your heroes or villains might come up with given the tools at play. You know something’s exciting because it’s not what you expected given those tools, or it uses them in an interesting or compelling way. Things are risky, devious, or surprising because they exist relative to a playing field that’s actually been established. Rules-based conflict is basically Game As Conflict, and is a staple of sports shows, action shows, and thrillers, and actually tends to show up in a variety of small ways in pretty much any genre.

In contrast to rules-based conflict, there is emotional/thematic conflict. This conflict doesn’t require the rules of the game to be articulated – it can fly by the seat of its pants, and make stuff up as it goes along. What invests the viewer in emotional conflict is the emotional arc being articulated. It’s someone realizing something they should have known all along, and thus gaining power from the support of their friends. It’s someone admitting they actually love someone else, and thereby freeing their tortured mind to find a solution that hadn’t previously occurred to them. Emotional conflict still has definable stakes, but instead of being tied to the overt rules of the conflict it hand, they are tied to the emotional or thematic journey that conflict is being used to articulate. You might not be able to invest in the action on-screen as dramatically effective sport, but you hopefully already are invested in the emotional turn or thematic revelation that drama is becoming a visual articulation for.

Kill la Kill

These styles of conflict are important, because they are why audiences care about what’s happening. Audiences don’t necessarily care about explosions and Final Forms in the abstract – for drama to be effective, overtly dramatic events have to be tied to systems the viewer can invest in, be they either understandable overt frameworks or emotional/thematic cornerstones of the narrative. Without grounded conflict, actions scenes are just so much Stuff Happening. Without grounded conflict, spectacle is boring.

Alright. We were talking about Kill la Kill, right? Let’s do that.

Kill la Kill is the story of Ryuuko Matoi, an angry, thick-headed girl determined to exact revenge upon her father’s killer. Throughout the course of the narrative, she makes friends, clashes with the imperious Satsuki Kiryuuin, and has all sorts of crazy, hot-blooded, occasionally silly adventures. By the end of the story, Ryuuko will learn to control her anger, discover her father’s killer, and ultimately realize she didn’t really want revenge at all – what she wanted was a family, and in fact, she already has one.

Wait, did I say “by the end of the story?” I meant by the halfway point.

The rest of Kill la Kill is a whooole lot of Stuff Happening.

Kill la Kill

It’s a little more complicated than that, but… well, actually no, not really. The show builds somewhat consistently towards a dramatic conflict in the first half – Ryuuko’s character learns to trust Senketsu (her talking exploitation battle-suit), and to rely on the adopted family of classmate Mako Mankanshoku. Satsuki is set up in direct contrast to Ryuuko, calculating and reserved where Ryuuko is brash and emotional – even their color schemes are direct mirrors. And all of this leads up to a conflict where her father’s killer is revealed, Ryuuko goes berserk, and Mako talks her down with a speech on the importance of finding family where you can… and then things just continue. Senketsu is destroyed one episode, and gathered back together the next. Ryuuko actually un-learns to trust Senketsu and rely on Mako, forcing a direct repeat of Mako’s earlier rescue. Satsuki remains imperious but pragmatic until the last couple episodes, where she’s “forced” to discard a pride the show never really portrayed as a weakness in the first place.

On a character level, the second half lacks both focus and consistency – the characters feel like entertaining tools, not people. And on a narrative level, the show actually dithers too much to really maintain momentum – it’s kind of unfortunate the show draws attention to its own pacing, because while the show is busy, the fundamental conflicts actually move at a very slow pace. The grounded conflict can’t come from the definable stakes of the fights themselves – Kill la Kill establishes itself from the start as a show where things happen Because They’re Awesome, and characters develop new powers for “must get stronger!” reasons basically at random. It can’t come from investment in the character arcs, because they’re either inconsistent or essentially static. Additionally, the show directly baits and then subsequently mocks the threat of character death all throughout its run, meaning there’s no real fear of lasting consequences. So… does the grounding come from the show’s thematic arc?

Kill la Kill

Man, I don’t even want to talk about Kill la Kill’s themes. Kill la Kill treats thematic points the same way it treats any other interesting ideas – as fun toys to play with for maybe an episode or two before dropping them and scampering off to the next thing. There’s a bit about controlling your representation at the start, which initially seems almost like a direct addressing of the show’s absurd, campy fanservice (which, along with the show’s cavalier treatment of rape, makes it kind of an awkward recommendation). That essentially turns out to be just a personal articulation of Satsuki’s philosophy, because the issue is largely dropped until it suddenly emerges again in the last episode.

There’s a consistent “performance” motif throughout, which is actually pretty interesting, and lines up nicely with the show’s playful breaking of the fourth wall – but outside of “performance is power,” that idea isn’t really explored any further, and doesn’t tie directly into the main conflict in such a way that it could drive investment. And then there’s issues of family, which, as I said, are largely resolved at the end of the first half, until they aren’t any more and the show becomes about escaping the shadow of your parents’ legacies. That might be the show’s strongest consistent thread, and most of the show’s emotionally effective moments do hang on the bonds developed between the strange extended family of its cast. But even that is far from consistently portrayed, and there’s just so much thematic noise clouding the signal that ultimately I kind of side with Ryuuko – this is a show about incomprehensible people doing incomprehensible things.

Kill la Kill

Which is fine! As I said at the beginning, the show has a fantastic way with spectacle, and really does work as pure popcorn. I certainly wish I was more invested in that spectacle, and am less fond of the show overall as a result, but I still enjoyed my time with it. And the show having various thematic threads that I don’t think are coherently articulated doesn’t mean the show really is meaningless – there are a bunch of fantastic interpretations of Kill la Kill out there. Frankly, I think the internet is a lot better at writing Kill la Kill than Kill la Kill is. So for me, in the end, Kill la Kill is a shiny bauble – it pleases and entertains, but it’s not filling, and its lack of a stable emotional/thematic core undercuts the kind of investment that would elevate it to the upper echelons of popcorn shows. Without grounding, its conflicts lack tension or dramatic weight, and even pure spectacle needs somebody holding the wheel. Beautiful and energetic but ultimately too scattershot to promote genuine investment, I award Kill la Kill a 6/10.

45 thoughts on “Kill la Kill and Grounded Conflict

  1. I pretty much agree with the text of your review, but personally there are some things that you mentioned that I take far bigger issue with than you did. I feel like the pacing of the show was pretty poor overall, not just in the second half. It was pretty evident (not just for me, judging by the episodic discussions even early on) that it was going to be a Ryuko/Satsuki team up, but by the time the first cour ended the main plot had barely advanced. Senketsu saying that the pacing was fast and doing a sped up recap in the intro to the second cour was a great gag but also pretty untrue, considering how much it dragged its heels. Then it was immediately followed by the school trip, which was probably the worst part of the show. And of course, the thematic retreads (like you mentioned) meant that it was a show about things happening but nothing HAPPENING for far too much of its runtime.

    Second thing is that I pretty much couldn’t get over how gross the show was. And I choose the word gross pretty specifically. It talks out of both sides of its mouth regarding how its characters are depicted. Sure, it pays lip service to the idea of choosing how your represented, but it’s pretty much entirely undercut by the show itself. It’s using that very theme as window dressing, taking the idea as a sort of pornography. I think I would not have minded as much if they didn’t address it at all, instead of doing it in such a backhanded, sleazy way. At least then you can just chalk it up to fan pandering. Instead, it almost literally made me feel dirty whenever I watched the show try to deal with those topics. That’s not even getting into how poisonous the whole culture that this show was both enabled by and enables. And yeah, the show “doesn’t care” about ideas. And it’s not the show’s responsibility to change the culture. But shows don’t exist in a vacuum and ignoring social context is, quite literally, a privilege at best and grossly irresponsible at worst. That’s not even getting into sexual harassment being played as a joke (which, again, you mentioned, but I was more incensed by). The best thing you can say about them is that they were tired jokes that have been done a million times before. Like, why were they even there?

    Judging by both this review and also previous comments you made, I know you share at least some of my reservations, if not all (not that I want to speak for you). It’s just that as a personal reaction, KlK was too gross for me to enjoy on pretty much any level. I don’t think it’s the worst anime I’ve watched, especially on a technical level, but it’s definitely the one that made me angriest. Not just at the show’s politics, but at the awful decisions they made throughout and just GOD DAMN IT THE SHOW COULD HAVE BEEN SO GOOD. IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN SO GOOD! The intro to the first ep is one of my favorite intros to any series ever! But it just got hamstrung by its awful, awful writing. Well, more than hamstrung. More like getting its fucking torso chopped off in half. I’d probably grade it at a 2/10, speaking strictly personally. Even on a technical level, I don’t think I’d put it at more than a 5/10, just because of how badly it dragged and how meaningless and cliched it all was.

    PS. This came out as a pretty long rant! Probably not the best venue for it, but oh well. Also, I think now I’ve replied to you once each on Reddit, Twitter, and your site. Happened naturally, but… is probably next! A question is going to pop into my mind any second now.

    • I completely agree with your problems, and frankly it was a relief to me when the show just finally stopped pretending to be about gender and accepted it was a trashy, sexist exploitation piece. I’ve talked about how KLK’s incoherent treatment of its ideas is actually far worse than not engaging with them at all, and by the end, I was just tired of its various grossnesses. Which is actually the exact problem, isn’t it? That Kill la Kill successfully normalized its male gaze fantasy “they’ll learn to like those outfits” bullshit.

      Ugh. The more I dwell on that stuff, the more mad I get, and Trigger’s trashy little action show isn’t worth it. It’s a shame.

      • Yup. That’s exactly right. And the people (like some who commented on reddit) who absolutely cannot see past their own privilege and deny there’s a problem altogether (or worse, think it DOES A GOOD JOB)…It breaks my heart seeing people like that. It makes me ashamed to be an anime fan. The show does too, but man. Man! I don’t even understand how to communicate with someone so blind, willfully or not. It also makes me even angrier at the show for enabling people like that. Though, granted, without the show I might not know who to ignore.

  2. Pingback: Kill La Kill: A Love Story | Chromatic Aberration Everywhere

  3. Well, let’s be honnest here : the only reason we continued to watch the show was because of Mako.
    Seroously, in more than one way, Mako is the heart of the show (she’s the one resuming and solving all the biggest conflicts after all.)

    And, I’ll give the last word to Shakespeare :
    “it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

  4. Looking for any deeper meaning KlK for me was mostly like looking for nutritional value in a bowl of Froot Loops unfortunately it didn’t do sufficiently on any one front. It seemed to that the show realized how silly stripping down=FEMALE EMPOWERMENT sounded and moved on from that. The amount of “because I said so” logic being employed cheapens the resolutions to some conflicts which was a bit annoying after a while.

    • I’m pretty amused by the thought of the show actually realizing its own ideas are pretty dumb. “Sorry about that, ignore what I was saying earlier. It’s all incomprehensible!”

  5. I agree with pretty much everything you said here, but another issue that I have with Kill la Kill, perhaps on a more meta level, is that by the end, it lost itself in what it was always trying to homage/parody.

    I mean, the whole second half of the story was basically Evangelion, minus the fantastic character development. I get that it’s a nice funny throwback to Gainax, but at what point does it stop being an homage and starts being just outright lack of inspiration.

    Ultimately, Kill la Kill feels to me like Trigger desperately tried to grasp ideas of Gurren Lagann in presentation, and Evangelion in the whole super plot twist department and put it in a new setting. But in the end, it just feels like a hodge-podge of ideas, and lacks consistency. I guess that if Trigger got anything right, it was that as long as there is sufficient spectacle and Rule of Cool, people will eat up anything like it’s the second coming of Jesus.

    • I feel like Kill la Kill had too many ideas and too little story. You can’t be about everything – unless your ideas meaningfully reflect each other, they’re not doing anything.

  6. So I completely agree with most of your assessment of this show. Most being the key word there. You were spot on about the visuals and direction, and spot on about the lack of thematic consistency. However I really have to disagree about the character arcs. I’m pretty sure I’ve said this before, but each of Ryuko’s set backs were distinctly different internal conflicts. You talk about her having the exact same issue of having to learn to trust senketsu and her family, but that time it was not about family so much as personal identity. Even the previous time you mention was more about controlling her rage then not trusting Senketsu. I also disagree with Satsuki’s arc being poorly done. But ignoring for a second which one of us, if either, is right about the character arcs, if we assume that some people saw character arcs that they could get invested in, then the show now actually has weighted conflicts, which for me it did. This significantly improved the investment I had in the show over what you had, and thus improved my overall enjoyment.

    I have also been thinking for awhile on why I love this show so much in spite of it not having real substance to it. I think what it comes down to is that at the end of the day the most important part of my entertainment is that it is entertaining. Usually the thematic substance of a show is one of the parts that I pull the greatest entertainment from, so it seems odd that I enjoyed a show that lacked it almost entirely to this extent. But Kill La Kill seems to have almost been an exercise in seeing how far they could go with a show on pure style alone. Even the themes they sprinkled in were more style than substance. Practically every aspect of the show was parodying some common anime trope in some fantastic manor. The end result was an extremely polished piece of entertainment that had very little value outside of being entertaining, but that still means when I rate based on how well it entertained me it gets a top notch score.

    Now I can only hope that Trigger takes what it has mastered with style and applies it to their next few adaption shows, which they are not responsible for the plot and themes. Hopefully by the time they make their next original anime they will be ready to combine their mastery of style with some real substance and make a truly fantastic show that will impress both critics and the masses alike.

    • I’ve been meaning to write some sort of thing about how criticism often downplays the emotional experience of a show in favor of some “correct” way of responding to the touchstones provided, and you’re definitely hitting on that here. You’re right – if the character arcs work for you, the show is much better, and that’s totally valid. But by the same page, you articulating how you felt the various trials added up to a coherent cycle of progression can’t really change how those events didn’t seem to click for me in a visceral sense. Obviously this runs into a “nothing means anything it’s all subjective why criticize anything blah blah blah” absolute if taken too far, but I do think there’s something to how the narrative turns of a story have to make a visceral emotional sense for a story to work, even if they can ultimately be explained through the narrative details of the story.

      If we’re going to disregard that and return to talking in pure craft terms, then I’d say those turns probably didn’t work for me the way they worked for you because I both felt they shared too many resolution beats and also weren’t all set up so well by the narrative. That’s why I make a distinction between the first half and the second half – I felt like the first half’s conflicts and resolutions all felt satisfyingly in tune with the show’s existing variables, whereas in the second half they felt more like plot twists for their own sake.

  7. re: skimpy outfits

    While the show certainly had its share of issues when it comes to exploitative depictions of female characters (and Ragyo being rather overly rapey of her daughters), I think the way it handled nudity ultimately ended up working pretty well.

    By the time we get into the back half of the show, everyone, male and female, is wearing basically nothing. There are jokes about male characters wearing the equivalent of female “combat bikinis”, but isn’t that what the Nudist Beach “uniforms” basically are? By the time the show is over, we’ve seen everyone naked so much that it pretty much stops meaning anything.

    Not saying this excuses it, or that people aren’t right to feel grossed out over it, but it actually did do something interesting here, if imperfectly.

    Plus, for all that, it most certainly had empowered female characters with tons and tons of agency.

    P.S. and while I think everyone has avoided this subject so far, one reason I see to support Ryuuko/Mako over Mako/Ira is that it somewhat lessens the problem of having Ragyo and Nui be bi/lesbian but also evil and, well, rapists. Again, not perfect, but at least trying

    P.P.S. Mako/Ira is hilariously one-sided anyway, and some people might want to consider how those pairs of relationships are kinda flipped from what is normally seen. Just a thought.

    • My main problem with the treatment of female characters in Kill la Kill is that the show basically proposed it was going to engage with ideas of representation, and then ultimately dropped the point. Because Ryuuko was never actually able to control her appearance until the epilogue, and because Satsuki’s clothing-related philosophy ended with her episode three speech, I felt like the show’s message regarding representation was basically “you have to learn to like the sexualization society will impose on you,” which I just fundamentally disagree with. That, the camera’s male-biased gaze, and the rapey stuff all put me off it on a sex politics front.

      I certainly agree that the characters’ actual personalities were fine on that front, and obviously far superior to the infanticized feminine ideal crap other shows pull. But that’s its own thing.

      • But doesn’t the show try to go toward representing the journey you have to go trough to find yourself and how you want to be represented ?
        I’m not saying it does it very well but Ryuuko existential crisis(X2), people having different views and ideas (being all incomprehensible) and the theme retaken in the last episode point toward that idea. The sexual angle and the gaze would be more about being comfortable in your own body and with yourself. Confidence won’t stop the gaze or make you impermeable to attacks. IT SHOULD have explored its idea more deeply and in a more consistent way but ultimately it was passable for me (maybe I’m buying too much into that last episode).

        • I actually think if the show had split up what it crams into its last episode across the second half of the show, the entire thing might have actually worked for me. In fact, I might actually really, really like that show – that’d give the second half focus and possibly lead to a more concise thematic core.

      • To not sound terrible I like to say that the show did portrayed a character that manage to control its image outside perception with Satsuki. The people who are close to you are the more likely to accept the way you want to be seen and others also looked at her with respect (and her mother attempt to ridiculised her only ended in frustration). I feel like Ryuuko going insane once more too close to the end didn’t gave the show the chance to do the same with her.

  8. A question:
    You say you like Jojo, a show which is spectacularly good at breaking/forgetting its rules and, well, has no thematic conflict. So there is/should be something Jojo does right that KlK does not, hence the difference in entertainment, and that something is not that Jojo has a rules-based conflict. So what is it that KlK did wrong for you?

    Yeah, this is basically the same Jojo v KlK question everyone loves to ask and nobody knows how to answer.

    • Yeah, the question’s definitely occurred to me – JoJo clearly has no weight to anything it does and is about absolutely nothing. I’ve actually wanted to write a post specifically about JoJo because it’s such a weird case – I think JoJo’s success is the result of a lot of things, and that it mainly works in the same way Code Geass does. It actually has great pacing, and varies its narrative in more immediately compelling ways than KLK. Its setpieces tend to break their own rules, but also work as great, Sherlock Holmes-esque “HOW DID HE DO IT?!?” nonsense-drama. And it also works as both well-directed spectacle and absurdly written, so-bad-it’s-good melodrama at the same time. There will be episodes of JoJo I enjoy purely for silly reaction faces, absurd musical cues, and the ridiculous names of the various characters.

      I don’t think there’s a rule to JoJo, and I don’t think it’d be a safe show to take as a model for anything else. What it does probably shouldn’t work, and only works because it is so very good at it, and has such a tremendous energy and spirit of narrative invention. When I think of JoJo, I think of action setpieces no other show would conceive of or attempt done in an incredibly distinctive style – Kill la Kill has style, but I don’t think it has nearly the same dramatic creativity.

    • I think what makes Jojo feel a lot less, well, “superficial” than Kill la Kill is that Jojo does a better job of encoding its themes into its presentation. Jojo does have its themes – it’s a story about defying expectations. Its art style reflects this, its storytelling reflects this, heck it’s in the title. Its very simplicity is what allows it so much flexibility with narrative structure. Compare this to Kill la Kill where it fit in too many different themes and failed to link them together coherently.

      • Yeah, JoJo is focused as hell. Pretty much the one thing that shifts is the overt narrative, and that always seems to shift in inherently compelling directions.

      • For me JoJo just feels so much more sincere and earnest in it’s camp and ridiculousness than KlK does and I can’t articulate why for the life of me.

  9. Shiny bauble is a fine choice of phrase to apply to this show.

    The whole show just screams, “Watch me! Watch me!” And you do, and see it as the super fun, entertaining show that it is. But at the end of it all, what are you left with? Something shiny, but not focused enough to cause lasting change.

    • Yeah, I can’t think of another show with a more severe change in energy from when I was watching it to when I wasn’t. The show is pretty dazzling, but…

      • Yeah, I can’t think of another show with a more severe change in energy from when I was watching it to when I wasn’t.

        Don’t forget Kyoukai no Kanata thoughts a few days after watching it. Also very much a case of “Shiny bauble”.

  10. Personally, while I liked the 1st half of the show, the second half was what made me love it. It got a more overarching narrative, we went to locations outside the academy, and there was a stretch of episodes from about 13-24 where they all ended with cliffhangers and hooks.I had so much fun watching it week to week because its narrative was so crazy and moving in all directions.

    I will agree that the show wasn’t the most consistent with characterization or theme, but then again I didn’t come to watch an anime from the makers of Gurren Lagann for its story. In many ways the show had better characters than TTGL.

    • Yeah, I may have been doomed from the start with this one. I liked Gurren Lagann for pretty specific reasons that I’m thinking aren’t necessarily core to what these creators do, because you’re right, this show was just like Gurren Lagann in all sorts of ways.

  11. That is the thing I’ve felt about the previous shows made by the same team: they’re spectacle and nothing. And maybe this wouldn’t bother me so much if it weren’t so damned OBVIOUS that the creators obviously think this show is “meaningful.” The second half dragging also reminds of Guren Lagann’s issues; highly entertaining first half, but then it gets full of itself and keeps trying to convince its viewership that it’s something is not, leading to a TON of lost momentum. Guys, I can understand WANTING your show to be meaningful, but you’re just not any good at trying to put meaning into it.

    • I’m not sure they even really did want their show to be meaningful – personally, it almost felt like something they felt obligated to care about more than something they wanted to actually express. I think these guys just really like having fun and making things explode.

  12. In the future, you might want to try to write a review without constantly adding links to images in the text. This review contains fifty-one links, which I personally think is absurd (and very distracting). It makes the piece feel like something written for readers with severe ADD. What’s the point of writing about something if you’re constantly going to be literally showing the reader what you’re talking about? Trust your own ability to describe your subject matter without having to literally, visually show it. Show it in words. As someone who has written a novel, I feel like you will understand what I’m talking about.

    • I’m actually trying to cut down on images in general, but Kill la Kill in particular I kinda felt the need to include more images – I feel many of its strengths are in its visual expression, and I did want to do those strengths justice. It’s also just a way to avoid having to do a close reading with examples for every damn point I’m proposing.

      But yeah, I agree it’s not ideal. It’s something I’m working against.

      • I disagree with this sentiment. It’s like people saying that usage of gifs and pictures at all in modern blog essays dilutes the message, which I feel is ignoring that it’s pretty much an evolution of a new medium. Not simply text, images, video, or audio, but a combination of it all, in a world where media is more and more commonly cross-platform. If I want to read a non-networked text I turn to print, otherwise it’s a bit of a waste of the online base of operations.

        What’s the point of writing about something if you’re constantly going to be literally showing the reader what you’re talking about?

        What happened to “Show, don’t tell?” Why not let the source material speak for itself, and then use the writing to convey insight that may not be immediately obvious to the audience from the source material?

        Links can always be ignored, anyways, but for the people who do want a supplementary material, why not include it? As well, better to have said material immediately linked, no pun intended, to the sentiments it supplements, instead of having to page back and forth as we still have to do with footnotes in print. Even regular documents hosted online tend to make footnotes and references linked, to save us the tedium. It also ultimately improves writing flow, because, as you said, it allows you to sidestep wasting words citing examples every other sentence.

        I also come from a debate background, wherein rather than aiming for good rhetorical/writing structure, evaluations are made on argument interaction, and said arguments must be supported by direct evidence quotations. As in, we literally said out loud during speeches, “[argument gist] [evidence cite a la “this is Bill in 2009″] [quote]” and the entire paragraph the quote was from had to be printed on the page.
        And I prefer that format, than to guess which scene this one thing said was supposed to refer to. The images linked may be more optimal than the ones I was aware of, and why not take advantage of the bonus 1000 words they’re worth? (For example, sexy beast 80s Kaiki)

        Who needs the risk of purple prose when the perfect reaction macro or gif will convey things so much more clearly?

        In addition, due to said debate background and my general argumentative leanings, (naw, really?) if I encounter a closed essay, I tend to interpret it from an opposing stance, instinctively looking for weak points to quibble. When presented in a format conducive to wiki walks, I’m more likely to keep an open and receptive mind, as the plethora of paths to external media reminds me that it’s not just about the argument at hand, but a possible way to enrich my experience of an endlessly larger world.

        That said, text-only posts would be a lot easier to get away with reading at work. Add some random graphs, while you’re at it. :3

      • Actually what you need is a litebox plugin so that images pop-up over the text, and can then be dismissed. Much easier than having them load and replace your current page or loading in a new tab, depending on how a person has their browser set up.

        • I can actually make that the site’s automatic display mode? That sounds fantastic, I’ll have to check that out.

      • Its certainly possible to do so, I don’t know the details but @kabitzin on twitter (my wonderful blogmaster) could probably point the way.

      • I actually don’t think you can. This is hosted on, plugins are for There’s a way to activate “hover” via wordpress itself, but it’d be for every link, and is usually annoying.

  13. On the topic of camera and overall presentation of the sexuality in the show. I actually feel that it stopped to be lecherous after the tournament arc. After that the characters always looked strong and confident in their poses obviously there still was boobs and asses (honestly those were always portrayed very crudely in the show using very sharp/angular lines outside of Ragyo-rape-train which was meant to make us feel vulnerability) but it felt like the goal was always to show the strength/badassness of the characters and being dynamic. My main concern on sexuality after this point would probably be elements in the ”Ragyo scenes” (I would actually have been ok with the bath, prison and treesome scenes if there wasnt that hand going at that place and suggesting way too much without adding anything).

    • Even if the intent was as you said, the camera focussing on cool/confident/strong/badass-portraying poses rather than sexual male gaze, those poses in and of themselves are the result of male gaze conditioning. See the eschergirls and repair-her-armor entries on KLK. (Or see eschergirls or the Hawkeye Initiative in general.)
      See also the Female Armor Rhetoric Bingo.

      • Those arguments are way too broad and diminutives. They could be used against any instance of sexy badass female. To me the real societal issue would be the overabundance of the trend in medias and not the concept itself.

        • Urggh, I can’t believe I let a week slip. I had a response ready last Friday, but just never got around to posting it. My apologies!

          It’s not an indictment of the characters, or even the designs/poses themselves. But you can’t really say that the camera and poses stopped being lecherous and were instead portraying some form of strength and confidence. Those poses are the result of normalizing the male gaze so that female poses that are supposedly strong and confident and badass (I’ve give you dynamic) are actually these ridiculous and often anatomically impossible contortions designed to shove tits and vag into our faces. The purpose of the eschergirls and Hawkeye Initiative is to point out how these poses are patriarchal-male gaze and not a general sexual gaze, because male characters aren’t subjected to them, and aren’t seen as particularly sexy in them.

          There’s a little more wiggle room on the outfits front because the males in KLK do get ridiculous outfits as well, plus Nudist Beach and all that, but it’s still not a perfect analogue. Even Free! didn’t give us intimations of delicious animated package.

    • Yeah, it did get better in the second half – my problems there are more just the storytelling issues I talk about here, along with it basically dropping those ideas from the first half. Even the Ragyo scenes, while crude and overstated, aren’t nearly as bad as the “lol rape” jokes from the first half. It’s as you say – they’re intended to be uncomfortable.

  14. I’m going to take an odd position here…Trigger has admitted they purposefully kept early episodes vague because they “maybe wanted to change something to be cooler later”. They refused to commit because they wanted the freedom to be cool.

    Or as I should like to call it…Trigger played it safe, and KLK is a very “safe” show (I know I say this with looney tunes antics and incest). No commitment, no risk, they are that person who refuses to apply themselves because they fear failure. Not to detract from, as you pointed out, the fantastic visual language they used. But since none of it -meant- anything, what good will it be in the end?

    • Yeah, it kinda seems like Trigger left themselves open to basically throw in any fun-seeming ideas as they went along. And I think they did that, and that the results are clear in the slow, safe path of the first half, the incoherence of the second half, and the lack of any real thematic focus. It basically seems like improv, which works fine for a concert or comedy hour, but less well for a long-running narrative.

  15. I have to rate this article as a fail. Why? Because it misses that at the halfway point that KLK switches from R acquiring a family to defending it. Now, you might not think that change was pulled off well – actually I got bored with the first half of the show and but enjoyed the second when I tried it. But if you haven’t recognized such an obvious modulation of theme in a story that others do seem to have found very affecting, then you’ve goofed and have to re-think. TTGL arguably swapped themes twice. As for why you should do this: an anime runs much longer than a movie! Working to the end of the theme and switching to a story about the consequences of that ending means that you don’t fo stale. So in TTGL you have the revolution, the consequences of the revolution, and then the war against the Anti-Spirals which synthesizes the two previous phases. (If you really want to understand TTGL read Laos Egri’s books on writing: their influence is all over the show – which is why the Drill Speech is virtually a quote of Hegel, whose philiosphy Egri based his techniques on. Hegel and his followers talk a LOT about spirals and how they’re the shape of evolution.)

    As for the sexist-or-not: I think KLK was trying to provide and deconstruct/reconstruct fanservice at the same time. PASWG pulled this, perhaps because Panty’s sexuality was such a big part of who she was and she had such agency. I don’t think KLK does, although I disagree with the idea that it said >>>That Kill la Kill successfully normalized its male gaze fantasy “they’ll learn to like those outfits”<<< in the context it was made – that of fanservice. Well, no: at no time did R or S indicate that they enjoyed the way the outfits sexualized them, and at the end of the show those outfits had been destroyed and you saw the clothes they chose to wear for themselves are very different – so this isn’t really an excusable argument.

    So what did the kami represent? I think fairly obviously puberty. It happens to you against your will, its scary and empowering, if you’re a woman it certainly has to do with blood, and teenagers feel alienated, opressed, heroic and out-of-control. They can also make big changes to society via pop culture (eg clothing and music.)

    As for whether KLK did this well: no. Some things it did very well, but budget and time were obviously limited, and I think the riskiest thematic content got messed up. That said, audiences can be pretty dumb – a lot of reviews of PASWG say the show is just rude word jokes and miss the much crueller more subtle humour (eg Panty’s discussion of protein with G in the first episode) let alone the thematic content (largely about agency.)

  16. >
    DataportDoll on April 18, 2014 at 9:37 am said:
    I’m going to take an odd position here…Trigger has admitted they purposefully kept early episodes vague because they “maybe wanted to change something to be cooler later”. They refused to commit because they wanted the freedom to be cool.

    This is what they did on TTGL: most people think it worked.

    Or as I should like to call it…Trigger played it safe, and KLK is a very “safe” show (I know I say this with looney tunes antics and incest). No commitment, no risk, they are that person who refuses to apply themselves because they fear failure. Not to detract from, as you pointed out, the fantastic visual language they used. But since none of it -meant- anything, what good will it be in the end?

    Very few animes mean anything “in the end”. I’d say KLK tries harder than and takes more risks than 99%. Also, are you aware what the history of this production team is and its current status? They have about the riskiest portfolion in anime history TTGL, Dead Leaves, FLCL and PASWG – and this their first show as an independent and the budget was obviously low. If they screwed up, they’d be gone – and probably homes would be lost and careers over. It’s easier to talk about “fearing failure” when you don’t work in a high risk creative industry yourself and to pretend it’s just lack of moral fibre, but in the real world, no!

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