Monday, March 30, 2015

Review: "Kill La Kill"

Take all the elements that make male, anime fanboys drool; isolate, refine and purify them into a thick paste; subject this paste to intense heat; repeatedly distill the congealed sludge this produces in a seven-stage process, separating all solid material; pulverize the resulting dust-like powder; then compress the fine residue into a rock-like bolus. What you're looking at is anime crack. Or Kill La Kill ...

Because Kill La Kill is anime crack.

The setting is a lunatic dystopia in a vaguely defined near future or alternate history somewhere in Japan. A crappy city exists in a subservient, dependent, quasi-feudal relationship to a fascist private school at its core. Said school is basically Battle Royale with a lunch room. We're talking a Machiavellian, back-stabbing, infighting war of all-against-all, in which various crazy-competitive cliques, clubs and factions fight to climb to the top of the school hierarchy. The key to the climb is your uniform, kids! Not just a status symbol. Uniforms give you powers. The better the uniform, the more powers you have. (Later on, we discover the uniforms are symbiotic/parasitic alien life forms.)

So that's how this world works. But Ryuko Matoi -- a pissed off girl at the edge of 17 -- steps into the scene and upsets the social order. Her weapon: a giant pair of scissors. (Or half a pair, which I guess is a sciss.) Revenge is her chief elective. She's looking for the man and/or woman who killed her father, and is ready to fight here way to the top of the pyramid to get it. She also befriends a goofy family in the city for occasional side-trips for comic relief.

The secret of Ryuko's power is an unstoppable, self-aware uniform that beats anything the school's got. How's she put it on? Well, uh, it sorta puts her on. Imagine the transformation scene from Sailor Moon as story-boarded by Humbert Humbert. The garment adheres to her in a sexed up, grabbastic, rapey embrace full of jiggling cleavage and strappy things snapping in place over pudenda. (Hey, the thing's got one eye, so what does that tell you?) It's a parody of fan service, yep. But it's also bloody well fan service. (You could say the same thing about the whole damn show.)

The series clues you in on these basis points in the first few episodes. After that, the minor characters,   backstories, flashbacks, subplots, plot twists, reversals and complications start multiplying like the microorganism in The Andromeda Strain. Don't worry about it. Basically, the characters spend most of their time fighting. Anime crack to be sure.

But it's top quality crack.

Gurren Lagann and Kazuki Nakashima are the brains behind this wretched excess -- two refugees from Studio Gainax who opened up their own anime studio, namely Trigger. Hiroyuki Imaishi directs; Gurren Lagann writes. They seem to be mocking Gainax' utopian aspirations, Neon Genesis Evangelion especially. (Instead of giant robot suits, school uniforms. Har-de-har.) The show also hinges on punning word play: the Japanese words for "fashion" and "fascism" sound almost exactly the same. Clever jokes aside, there seems to be real thought (and historical knowledge) about the way fascism actually works. Hitler liked to set up redundant organizations fighting for the same turf. He was also into kicky boots and killer uniforms.

Like any good parody, the series mocks the conventions of its genre -- while still delivering a good story in terms of that genre. (Blazing Saddles still worked as a western; Young Frankenstein was a great horror flick Hey, both Mel Brooks movies, but you get the idea.) Kill La Kill works so well, in fact, that it's hard to triangulate what it's mocking. My guess is the notion of a hypersexualized, ultraviolent babe as a symbol of female empowerment. English major crap to be sure. If I can think of something better, I'll let you know.

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