My episodic notes, reactions, and commentary from the first half of Kill la Kill, which aired during the Autumn 2013 anime season.
Looking for episodes 13 – 24 from the second half of Kill la Kill? Click here!
Everything is by and large as it was when I originally wrote them in the Hangers category when the show was airing. They have been sewn together and provided for the convenience of readers to look back on my feelings on this series specifically, without needing to click through numerous pages.
Kill la Kill (Episode 1)
An episode so nice, I watched it twice. Or rather, once for the initial hype train go around, then a later viewing to be able to break it down more to see what’s ticking, kicking and if I actually liked what I saw.
Certainly there’s the whole “Studio Trigger is saving anime” hyperbole going around, which is operating at multiple different levels. Folks who who hold a passing familiarity with some of the previous work of many of the staff members and are just looking for their next “ZOMG wild and zany” fix, people who enjoy seeing how a new studio decides to position its first TV show, those who are fans of following illustration styles and influences through the history of the medium, and so on.
So this is The Big One this season.
You know what I noticed watching this show?
I subconsciously kept leaning forward.
It has a sensation of speed, kinetic energy throttling ahead on multiple cylinders. An effect not at all dissimilar to something like Redline, in more ways than one and not all of them in the best way. Most notably, the narrative of the super powered sailor suit introduction could have been done better given the rape trappings they opted to go for, rather than just blasting ahead through it to get us back in the fight and a return to the action. For now, I have no reason not to trust the studio will aim to make due on themes they want to use; Hiroyuki Imaishi has distinctive ideas on camera direction and techniques, and Kazuki Nakashima does enough writing outside of anime. I like to imagine this was Trigger just hurling a raw fastball at the plate, since the first episode of their first TV series is the sort of thing one might just want to kick off with a screamer pitch and leave everything else for later, damn the consequences.
It is gasoline caffeine amphetamines.
It has that wild-but-oddly-focused sneering look in its eyes where it’s so pumped up it thinks it can do things like run a mile to the store and back in ten seconds. And by golly, there’s so much unleaded gumption in its system it might actually be able to do it.
And bring back snacks.
Kill la Kill (Episode 2)
If the first episode was slamming the pedal to the floorboards, I found this one to be more akin to a power slide. Which is not to say it is going out of control or off the track, far from it. Rather, it is moving in for where it wants to go and using its early aggression as a means of building more strength and improving its position.
We get to meet Mako’s family, we see more of the homeroom teacher (boy howdy do we), we are given more of the mechanisms behind Senketsu and see some of the heart of goku uniform production. All of this will be important, these are Things We Will Be Making Use Of, please read the in-flight safety guide and remember to apply your own oxygen mask before assisting others.
I appreciate how Senketsu is cogent enough to give explicit timers. He knows the limits of how much blood he is draining, and I can rest assured that the show should now not pull random “…And then Ryūko randomly ran out of blood fuel and passed out in the middle of the fight” escapades for a Dramatic Defeat in a Big Fight going forwards. Senketsu does not say Ryūko can not fight, but a two minute warning is a two minute warning. And I am sure those timers will be tested in the future. And I am certain they will be thrilling. And now genuinely dramatic should she lose.
I have seen reports the third episode has already been screened to a select group of folks in a Japanese theater and they are absolutely sworn to secrecy on the content. The word that has gotten out is that we are at Season Finale levels of material, and it is only episode three. Good golly that is what I wanted from this production; put me squarely in the Retro Old Person Club if you want (I don’t mind, look at the username I keep), but Studio Trigger Is Here For The Cartoons I Remember.
Kill La Kill (Episode 3)
I would say the advance reports from the Japanese theater that had a showing of this episode prior to release about it containing season finale levels of tomfoolery were completely on target. Ryuuko gets a proper up and tumble showdown with Big Boss Satsuki, transformations are had and new powers are unlocked. The kind of work, say, a standard giant robot action series drops when it wants to have a big finish to close one season before coming back to continue the story. Except in this case we are at episode three and are just trucking along.
Certainly the over the top representations of fanservice continue on, but think of that wording, as this is much of what we are working with here: representations of ideas on how people are viewed by others, how they view themselves, and how we in turn view the both of them. Satsuki, in her bombastic speeches in the throes of combat, explicitly talks about the values of the masses regarding the female body and what it means to her. The way the generic student body is shown swooning over her are juxtaposed against the animalistic drooling folks have regarding the more embarrassed Ryuuko, and so on and so forth.
We’re in a global entertainment culture where things like roleplaying games will routinely stoically show the highest level female character equipment massively undressing the characters to no emotional effect. We have two separate instances of wedding dresses being addressed, via Satsuki’s Junketsu uniform she utterly dominates and Ryuuko prominently staring at one in a daze during the Sukeban Deka referencing credits. These ideas on clothing representation are a topic the series wants to breech on a direct mechanical level.
If I am being perfectly honest, I think something very bad is ahead for Ryuuko. By the end of the episode we have her face stylistically taking on the appearance of Senketsu himself with the shadowing and she is practically spitting venom as opposed to the more heroically oriented statements she had made near end of episode fights previously. Something will probably blow up in her face as body image lessons are really tough, and she may very well take a potentially quite wrong one for a time as she interacts with the thematic ideas the show wants to deal in. I have a nagging sense Satsuki’s relationship to Junketsu will backfire on her as well.
Kill La Kill (Episode 4)
The cartooniest episode of this cartoon to cartoon thus far in our cartoon season.
I think this has a few notable things going on as a result.
Certainly, it is no secret that Trigger is a company with some pretty tight financial resources. In that respect, having a whole episode operating with a more frantic and choppy style does have a functional purpose, without a doubt. However, this is also an episode all about pajamas, which are among the simplest (and most comfortable) clothes one tends to have in their wardrobe arsenal. A more easygoing and relaxed animation style is entirely appropriate on a thematic level, in addition to setting up the Looney Tunes style gags right down to the good old Fake Landscape The Characters Run Into And Knock Down trick.
Ryuuko is forced to tackle the episode essentially sans Senektsu. While she does manage to pick him up near the end, his abilities are not what really saved the day, to the point where he himself even mentions his power would not have been sufficient to get Ryuuko to school on time. Instead, she tackles the obstacle course, faces the traps, and on the overall does what she needs to do using her own head and ingenuity up to and including straight up commandeering the air cable car express for the final push.
Ryuuko has not had this much screen time without Senketsu on hand since the start of the series, and this episode is keenly important in forcing her to face the dangers of Honnouji Academy without that option after already firing up her opposition. As much as she may be wishing she had Senketsu, she is still very much her own person and still capable in her own right, even when as “defenseless” as one would feel in pajamas.
…Which, if we are being honest, is also still a lot more clothing than the Go Nagai heroine of Kekko Kamen was granted while making many similar points and jabs at the nature of costumes. Our heroine there pretty much just had a mask, boots, and scarf. It will be interesting to see if (or more likely when) Kill la Kill makes a go at interpreting that level of frankness going forwards given all the “Get naked!” sheanigans.
With the next episode entitled “Trigger” and looking to shift the animation style back from what we experienced here, I can only imagine what Studio Trigger may have up their sleeves.
Kill La Kill (Episode 5)
I remember stating previously that Ryuuko was in danger of going down a bit of a rougher direction given how her characterization was shifting, and leave it to Senketsu to bring us back to that. Her blood is salty, and she is getting too cocky.
We have the introduction of there being another organization out there in the form the Nudist Beach folks, which I’m nowhere near surprised that Aikurou is on board with. He’s been one of the only folks seemingly aware of a much larger gameplan going on, and given his statements about Ryuuko possibly proving to be a powerful ally, we’ll need to see what leads up those series of strings.
Ryuuko’s primary objective has been to get information on the death of her father, with key secondary ones going towards Doing The Right Thing and such, but this hasn’t necessarily been much in her regarding bigger political games or whatnot. Watch it turn out that Aikurou was somehow responsible for the death of his dear friend Mr. Matoi all as a part of some larger gambit to dislodge the Kiryuuin’s or something by driving Ryuuko on some independent forward quest for revenge.
It is interesting that nobody else outside of Ryuuko has been able to hear Senketsu until now. That’s been sort of a running little bit in its own right, given how silly that can look to an outsider, just seeing her rambling to her uniform. However, now we also have recognition that Senketsu can actually be heard by other people should he seem to actually care for them to be able to listen. As there is stated concern that Senketsu could be a dangerous entity leading to one being consumed and destroyed by him, that will certainly be something to play with one way or another going forwards.
Kill La Kill (Episode 6)
If I didn’t know any better, I’d say Aikurou Mikisugi has all of the makings for being a much bigger enemy threat to Ryuuko.
And I’m not saying I do know any better either. But he clearly has been good enough at throwing folks off his trail that the Kiryuuin’s haven’t caught on to his double act even though he’s employed at Satsuki’s school (or have they), and his chauvinistic shenanigans are consistently ridiculous enough after hours that Ryuuko just gives up trying to get more information out of him this episode.
Which may well be his entire game; I feel he wouldn’t be deflecting inquiries with remarks about if she would make a trusted ally or not otherwise. Father Matoi is dead, after all, and he did only have this one other associate…
In either event, we get a double showdown with an Elite Four member via Sanageyama’s antics. First go around, he is defeated due to vision blocking messing with his mechanics, and so for the second he has his own eyes sewn shut. As a lot of this series has to deal with matters of perception and where gaze is coming from, I think his decision here is keenly important. While it’s not like Sanageyama was distracted by Ryuuko’s body per se previously (he honestly would have won that first fight had she not taken the gambit to cut off a part of Senketsu to blind his vision grate with), he was reliant on gaze to act and react.
Now that he has decided to remove that aspect, everything visually looks the same to him and their decisions will be made using other information. While the overheating mechanic has been given an ear previously with all the steam and whatnot these uniforms generate, it did feel at least a little unfortunate that was used to bring the second fight to a more abrupt end. However, Ryuuko was definitely going to lose that fight had it continued, as the toolset she has been using had no solutions to handle him.
The Satsuki fight was much of her preaching about her views on gaze, and in the Sanageyama fights he now potentially represents a lack of visual judgment. I’ll be interested in seeing what they do with the embodiment of the other Elite Four members going forwards as they surely will receive their own direct showdowns with Ryuuko.
Kill La Kill (Episode 7)
Well a Fight Club was certainly one way to drill through a large number of Club President challengers in short order. Which, given Satsuki’s disposition at the end of the episode, was her entire goal for allowing Ryuuko and Mako to run such an operation at all.
Arguably, she likely always knew it would come down to the two of them butting heads at the end. The direct result of whatever would happen at that destination was far less important than the journey they would take to get there, allowing an ample purge to proceed entirely within the rules of the academy while at the same time without Satsuki’s hands visibly touching the dials.
This episode has given us the largest direct insight on the kinds of differences that exist at the various levels in the social pecking order. Often mentioned or alluded to, and now here for all to see. And as is routinely the case in rags to riches stories, what we see is that things are certainly lonely near the top. Genuine croquets and cutlets though!
The way this society is structured is something I think is essential to keep in mind, particularly during and after this episode. The status level of the students at the academy feeds directly into determining the entire fabric of their family life. Their households, food supply, even friends. We always knew that, we just get to see how the other half lives while ideally considering one further point:
The Fight Club created by Ryuuko and Mako to raise their own standards of living and “game the system” as it were are wholesale bulldozing the lives of everyone and everything in their path.
They are evicting countless families.
Mark Twain had a quip I think is appropriate to remember in all this: “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”
And a whole lot of naked people have been throttled down the ladder, for good or for ill, so Satsuki can hold her election plans.
Kill La Kill (Episode 8)
We revisit the ruins of the Matoi mansion, and there is nothing to see in that same basement we once met Senketsu in. Squeaky clean even, compared to the levels of debris and other destruction that had been there before. Our sailor fuku is under the impression the homeroom teacher is likely behind this, and it’s a valid point that links with my previous thoughts that Aikurou Mikisugi is potentially a significantly larger threat than we have thus far seen on screen.
He is so chauvinistic that he is merely exasperatedly tolerated by Ryuuko when she has not outright dismissed him, and yet is that not a most dangerous of patterns to establish in our interactions with such behavior? It builds false senses of security. He’s playing the long game.
He’s the only reasonable person who would engage in such cleaning at this stage, and I would imagine he is either looking for something or trying to engage in some variety of subterfuge. On top of that, given how this society is structured (living arrangements based on the achievements of the family children), the nature of the Matoi house has also slipped my mind, and how Ryuuko’s father could have had it while she was such a ravenous delinquent elsewhere. So that’s an intriguing series of things I’m sure he would have shed some light on had Ryuuko not rushed off while he was in his death throes!
As we have mostly a flashback and establishing episode for the Elite Four fights that are to come, it is fitting that our leads don’t really have anything else to do anyway. Mako, as she states, has nothing on the line due to her zero star status as thus does not need to engage in the week long assault at the school. Ryuuko and the Elite Four know they can essentially walk through whoever would be left standing. And they do. So they spin some wheels in the meantime, quite literally. A calm before a torrential storm.
We get a small glimpse of Gamagoori’s uniform capabilities, clearly more BDSM oriented in nature and absorbing punishment before release. Ryuuko would be giving them precisely what they want in attacking them. On a narrative level that certainly makes a nifty little puzzle for her to have to figure out on the fly, and thematically will have implications as well regarding her treatment of the situation in a series that has a lot of plates spinning regarding sexual politics and identity.
As Sanageyama will represent aspects of gaze when his time comes again, I am curious to see how Inumuta and Jakuzure are parlayed and transformed by which kinds of associations and themes.
Kill La Kill (Episode 9)
We may have a throwdown to get to, but Gamagoori is a pretty standup Disciplinary Committee Chair though because despite all this one still needs to keep to the school schedule!
On the one level, sure, I could just ramble off jokes about ball gags and bondage, self flagellation and an ultimate whip of love. That’d be a super fun post, even. But, we need to think about that, yes, things like BDSM and the like do actually require quite a bit of resolve and dedication to follow-through. Certainly, the front part of that (Bondage and Discipline) is represented in the actual construction and format of Gamagoori’s uniform itself, while the second half comes from the execution: Masochism in taking abuse as a means of generating energy, and Sadism in applying that energy.
Not just the whipping and the like either, but most critically in his attempt to quite literally mold Ryuuko into a “proper female student” with an actual honest to goodness mold. The control of that, the melding of someone into a different form, to get that sensation of them submitting to such whims. And then in how such focus and resolve comes back around and become in its own way a type of arrogance and downfall.
Now this is all framed with flashbacks to Gamagoori’s past, which is critical as a whole part of this. There are a lot of reasons one gets into BDSM. Some folks find value in being under the power of a controlling entity, generating a sense of security. Others get a lot of pleasure from maintaining approval from that figure. It can even become adopted a means of escape, where the responsibilities or stresses they have can melt away into a sea of helplessness and obedience. Any number of which, in their own ways, reflect the relationship vectors Gamagoori has with Satsuki given what he has gone through to get to this point.
And thus when Ryuuko calls him out for declaring her uniform slutty and asks what of the school president? Well, “she’s an exception!”
And I’ll be interested in how his defeat affects that relationship and its control protocols going forwards.
Kill La Kill (episode 10)
On the one hand, I’m glad that at one point during this episode I thought to myself “Someone really should be selling tickets to this event, they’d make a killing,” and low and behold the owner of the TV store in the slums manages to start charging for electricity time.
On the other, well, they really do have the poor folks over a barrel since this is such a big deal for how their society functions that it is something everyone wants to see.
Houka’s performance in his match does not really surprise me; even if as raw entertainment it is not as fulfilling, it is thematically apt. His is a kind of robotic thinking where they know stuff but are not as prone to extemporaneous problem solving. So too does Houka freeze when a vector of approach arrives that his research had not prepared a ready made answer for, rather than make a go of trying come up with a response on their own. Particularly after his own little grandstanding speech on the value of psychological damage and unexpected attacks, which optical camouflage certainly provides, but again that requires no actual problem solving on his behalf. The whole “he was in it for the data, not victory” thing is a nice attempt of saving face, but realistically and appropriately rings hollow.
This comes back to Ryuuko then, who as a consistent thematic point has touched on the nature of recklessness previously, and she flat out mentions it several times here as her only option between the Houka and Nonon fights. The band leader herself responding in kind with her own recklessness, where she reaches a height higher than where Satsuki stands, is also something ringing loudly. I can see her failure potentially resulting in Satsuki punishing her harder than any of the others, as that is some incredibly brash action from someone who has known her for the longest time. Nonon is not following the notions Satsuki was speaking of as a child to her regarding structures of sand, concrete, and the mind.
Aikurou making phone calls to trigger man Tsumugu about Senketsu evolving too quickly seems appropriate, as all of those acquired life fibers (and particularly the high quality influx from Gamagoori) should certainly be resulting in… something. SoonTM.
Kill La Kill (Episode 11)
“Gosh everyone seems to be having so much fun!”
Yes we are my main maniacal Grand Courier lady person. You have a most excellent point.
As we have been working on, Ryuuko’s recklessness has been getting higher and higher, to the point of Senketsu noting it out loud as her signature move when she makes a renegade go at Satsuki during the Nonon fight. Which then immediately fails. As it should, as that is a ridiculous level of hubris. And things are only going to get a lot worse.
That she did not realize that a Goku uniform based around concepts of performance, music, and otherwise showcasing a grand nature would have an encore is one thing. That Uzu Sanageyama’s entire getup is destroyed in a single twist of a fingernail by Nui Harime after Satsuki herself of all people is visibly rattled and yelling at him to get back is another. And while Ryuuko can’t see them, we have our Nudist Beach folks a bit unsettled as well from their distant position.
Incidentally, at this time I do not fully think Nui Harime may be the one who killed Isshin Matoi? I mean, it would certainly fit within her capabilities, given what we have seen. And she has an appropriate blade (Purple being on the opposite end of the light spectrum from Red, and we’ve already seen a lot of the warping of the light spectrum in this show). And she did say she did it. I think she may just want to get the immediate rise out of Ryuuko though, even if Nui may have been at the event in question with intent to kill. Someone else may have ended up doing the actual blade insertion however, perhaps accidentally due to a fight. There’s a zone of leeway for pulling a blade out versus putting one in for instance, and why the full pair of scissors was broken down to component blades before or during the murder. This likely has to do with what Mr. Matoi wanted to tell Ryuuko as he was dying, before she ran off chasing someone that night.
We’ve been playing with small fries, in any event, as the larger Kiryuuin ownership and production empire, wedding dresses, and branch meetings comes more into the forefront.
Even with all this going on, Mako interactions were a particularly strong showing. Snappy one liners, climbing on Gamori, even resulting in his eventual “You voluntarily admit to being an underachiever? That’s the spirit!” reaction. Given the commentary in the Trigger newsletter this week, they were originally going to have multiple scriptwriters for this series, but Nakashima in the end is tackling the whole thing because Mako was incredibly difficult to keep consistent between different writing parties. And I certainly more than believe that. Are you reading the Trigger newsletter? You really should be!
Shame, then, that someone in this cast is likely ending up on the cutting room floor next week for the final episode of the year. Maybe Senketsu, perhaps Mako, could be Ryuuko, possibly a wildcard. I trust Trigger enough for them to try to fully capitalize on pulling some stunt to drive people nuts to carry them over the production break.
Kill La Kill (Episode 12)
To the surprise of I imagine a lot of folks, myself included, a lot of the expected pins did not actually happen to get pulled this week.
Ryuuko did not die. Mako did not die. Senketsu did not die even though the Banshi was cut. And so on.
I imagine that because it was so expected, it was decided to avoid going that route and merely potentially dance around it the whole time. It’s a fair play, and it certainly kept the tension high enough. I enjoyed that, as I still expect that rug to be pulled eventually. A ticking time bomb hidden away somewhere.
In related news, it turns out Nui did straight up kill Mr. Matoi as well. I had doubted that last week for legitimate reasons, but as it goes he was himself the inventor of the Rending Scissors. Fair play, and he managed to take out Nui’s eye for her murderous trouble.
Satsuki in many ways was the real main character of this episode. She’s a borderline paladin, with her immediate “I’m going down!” reaction to Ryuuko becoming worn by her own uniform and ensuring her team of lieutenants gets the student body evacuated. She has of course always been shown with such refinery forged will and resolve, but it is particularly so on display here given her command of the situation and ensuing reactions to everyone from Nui on down. She is a indeed framed as essentially a divine knight come down to slay a monstrous dragon. And when the opening for needing to avoid that bloodshed is opened, she holds firm and prevents outside intrusion to obverse the results lest there be unnecessary casualties.
I’ve been suggesting and mulling this for a while around here, but I still consider it a very likely scenario that Ryuuko may not be the primary heroine of this piece. Satsuki has a very large operation in play, and is one step ahead of everything regarding our lead character in everything at all times right down to knowing that Ryuuko would be too worn down after the Naturals Election to be able to stop her objectives regarding the western academies. And yet Satsuki’s goals and ideals are also regarded as essentially small potatoes by her mother.
There’s going to be a lot to unpack here regarding what all this will actually mean regarding the larger thematics of wearing ones clothes and the like, but it sets us up very well for whatever will come after the production break.