Making Sense with Nonsense: Overall Thoughts on Kill la Kill

!!!SPOILER WARNING!!! THIS POST ASSUMES YOU’VE SEEN ALL OF KILL LA KILL

Kill la Kill has been a fairly controversial show since its start. Back in the early episodes I remember seeing a great deal of questions suspicious of what I’d call the anime’s “integrity.” Does this story have any legs or is is just a random assortment of wacky and violent things? Is there a solid sense of character development at work, or is it all style and flash? Are the ridiculously skimpy outfits there to titillate or to make a point?

In other words, is the show smart or stupid?

For those who’ve watched through to the end, I think the answer is pretty clear: much like the question of whether Ryuko and Senketsu are human or clothing, Kill la Kill is neither smart nor stupid, yet it’s also smart and stupid.

I’m oversimplifying the point in the hope of expressing my thoughts succinctly, so let me elaborate.

A lot of features of Kill la Kill simultaneously buck and conform to convention. Traditionally, when we think of narrative in anime, we think of it as the visual style serving the plot, but in a lot of cases Kill la Kill shifts between which facet, narrative or style, takes priority, and sometimes they act as equals. In this last regard, I think one of the best moments to showcase this in Kill la Kill is Satsuki’s apology to Ryuko, where her characteristic blinding aura takes on new meaning.

Kill la Kill also encompasses both of anime-as-animation’s dual personas. Is anime a detailed and expressive medium which breathes life into its characters, or is it a series of creative money-saving cheats honed through decades to become a craft all of its own? In Kill la Kill, while it’s easy to tell which moments are which, often the scenes which exemplify the latter quality of anime are so smart and effective that I wouldn’t be surprised if people preferred them to be “static” shortcuts.

When it comes to anime and pop culture references, the series is rife with them. Yet, there’s no need to “get” them to enjoy the show, or to take meaning from it. I’m 90% sure that Ryuko and Senketsu’s decent to Earth is a reference to the ending to Zambot 3, only the show takes the extremely bittersweet conclusion of Zambot 3 and turns it into something more sweet than bitter.

(Pay attention to the last 6 minutes or so. Also, Zambot 3 spoilers of course).

What about the theme of clothing? Did it truly serve the show in the end? When Senketsu burns up in the atmosphere and tells Ryuko that all girls stop wearing their school uniforms eventually, while it doesn’t explain everything in the show, it does highlight one of the consistent themes of the series, which is that it’s about girls growing into women. The moments of embarrassment, the rebelliousness and desire to make up for lost time, there are a lot of different threads at work here (pardon the pun), which may not be entirely consistent, but it doesn’t feel like the ideas presented by the series are any lesser for that. Ryuko’s motto, that she’s all about not making sense, comes to the fore here. While what she says is true in a sense, her ability to embrace nonsense, to swing wildly in terms of her emotions, and to come to conclusions which are less about solving problems and more about coming to terms with things in ways which fit her, all of that has its own logic.

What works, works, and who’s to say anyone has to follow the template laid out for them? Though, even that isn’t wholly consistent because the “purpose” of Senketsu has a clear arc, at least in terms of utility. Of course, the real purpose of Senketsu was to bond with Ryuko in more ways than one.

As for one of the main controversies, that of the show’s depictions of female characters, I find that we’re left with a surprisingly complex situation as well. All of the major female characters in Kill la Kill are strong in significantly different ways, and they each bear their own distinct personalities and personas which celebrate their broad archetypes but also encourage viewers to think about those differences as more than just “uniqueness points.” Ryuko’s strength is her passion, Satsuki’s is her indomitable will, and Mako’s is her relentlessness. This extends to a certain degree to the rest of the cast as well, for both men and women, notably the Elite Four. With respect to the tendency for the series to dress its central characters up in absurdly revealing outfits, it’s a curious thing that often the way that Ryuko and Satsuki carry themselves drives attention away from their curves and towards their intensity. It’s not even entirely a matter of personality over looks, as Senketsu and Junketsu themselves also sometimes help to, in a somewhat contradictory fashion, put the focus on themselves and not on the bodies to which they’re clinging.

kamuisenketsu-small

 

While I find that the initial criticism of Kill la Kill came from a place of fear (oh boy, it’s anime at it again!), I think those who were initially wary of Kill la Kill also had every right to be. There was no definitive sign that the differences and the “stupid” elements wouldn’t transform the show into an Ikkitousen or some other show where the girls are action figures placed into awkwardly sexual poses. There was no definitive sign that its setting would be any different from Baka and Test or any number of series where the idea of “high school” is pushed to the “extreme.” What Kill la Kill manages to do, however, is give these inclinations teeth. It shows that these tropes and “vapid elements” have more power in them than simply their ability to distract and excite, that they can be engaged and utilized to express something I would dare call truly artistic.

 

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14 thoughts on “Making Sense with Nonsense: Overall Thoughts on Kill la Kill

  1. Great write up pretty much alike my own thoughts on the show. Lots of ideas and brilliant aesthetic but they don’t succeed on bringing everything together. It was a bit inconsistent with its characters has well. Overall though they manage to end it in a satisfying way with a really solid last episode.

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  2. I think it’s a fool’s errand to try to do thematic analysis KLK. Not only because the show is such a mess that only the most general readings will pass muster (ie, ‘KLK is a coming of age story’), but because circumstances behind the production stymied thematic consistency from developing; in a Newtype interview last spring, Kazuki Nakashima revealed that KLK had undergone 4 script revisions and included significant input from non-writing staff (in his words, like a “live production”). This is unlike TTGL, which suffered only 1 revision and was Nakashima’s baby more or less. Vestigial remains of the past scripts clearly show up in the final product and muddle whatever Trigger had hoped the major thematic charge of the work would be. The only way one can defend the sloppiness present in the final script is by interpreting “incomprehensibility” itself as the show’s major theme, something I’ve seen a few people attempt (and fail at).

    KLK is an anime that could only have been made by veterans and could only have been fucked up by veterans.

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    • I think that it’s a mistake to think that thematic analysis can only ever be applied to works which are wholly consistent in planning and theme, because not only would this basically disqualify most fiction out there, including the ones which are touted for their thematic merit, but because it assumes that something like Kill la Kill with its “live production” format can’t be looked at in greater depth.

      I once read someone describe Kill la Kill as something akin to freeform jazz, and just as it is certainly possible to analyze the final product of a jazz session, there’s nothing that says Kill la Kill somehow resists analysis.

      Consider any sort of manga that ran for a long time. In most cases, the original creators did not wholly maintain the themes of their series, partly due to the sheer length of it, but also partly due to the fact that people change over time, and what made total sense 5 years ago might make less sense today. You can see this, for example, in Miyazaki’s Nausicaa manga, because over its production he went from believing strongly in Communism to seeing less in it by the end. The result is that it’s “inconsistent” in a sense to the point that by the end the work overturns many of the ideas that it was putting forward in the earlier chapters, but there’s still a rich amount of material worth analyzing and thinking about thematically.

      By having multiple heads in the production of Kill la Kill all of whom were providing input, in a way its “live production” can be seen as an accelerated form of this change and interaction.

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      • It’s not that KLK being a live production precludes it from analysis; it’s that, its format isn’t suited for the type of structured, allegorical analyses of themes that people keep attempting. Nakashima is a very allegorical writer, but his contributions are diluted by Trigger weed-carriers. KLK is less free-form than schizophrenic; too many different authors can do that, after all.

        This is all besides the point, however, because KLK would still be poorly written even if Nakashima was the only writer.

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        • SDS, I really agree with the last sentence you wrote: what this show did beautifully was bring life back into those old tropes. It reveled in them, and reminded us that there was a reason they were tropes in the first place. Kill la Kill is like Cowboy Bebop in the sense that it did many things that we’ve seen hundreds of times before, and reminded us that “it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.” The point of this show was manic energy, passion, and style. And embedded within this stuff are some surprisingly resonant messages about being true to oneself and appreciating the things that really matter in life. It’s interesting to see how many people have reacted to the show like tamerlane. I think, as I wrote in my own blog, that the show’s almost complete lack of irony and its refusal to assume a veneer of sophistication short-circuits many people’s ability to process it, and in a way is both challenging and threatening.

          Here’s what I wrote about it, if you’re interested: http://gnosisonic.wordpress.com/2014/04/02/a-blade-that-cuts-irony-kill-la-kill/

          Btw, great job spotting the Zambot ending reference! I hadn’t seen anyone point that one out, and I can tell it had to have been an influence. I was actually pretty irritated at the second half of 24, because I wanted all of the characters to take part in taking down Ragyo, and I was especially annoyed that Satsuki got left behind. But the fall from space and what happened afterwards is probably one of the sweetest scenes I’ve ever seen in anime, and it made it worthwhile.

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          • Yeah I guess the reason I don’t like KLK isn’t because it’s bad+badly made but because I’m too ~ironic~.

            Hard to take any article w/ random Nietzsche quotes and citations to that dreadful DFW irony article seriously. Why should anyone be impressed that Trigger enjoyed making KLK if the show turned out bad? Also lol you have a gif of that grody CG fight from ep 3 as proof of “stylish animation” and you literally compared KLK to Cowboy Bebop. This truly is the future of the english major.

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            • It’s amusing how you literally have no arguments to make. All you can do is try to appeal to some imaginary cultural judge panel that in your dreams will hand you some kind of crown of “most hip” and “most judgmental.” “Most ironically detached.” Accuse people of being “random” where their choices of quotes are anything but, and you merely look like a selfish, overly-defensive tool.

              The truth is that no one cares about your insecure hipster nerd opinions, because there’s no conviction behind them. I glanced at your other blog posts and all you do is try to show off how well-researched you are, because your entire project is about convincing yourself that your opinion is worthwhile. I already know that mine is, so that’s not something I need to spend my time doing. And that’s why our opinions differ so wildly on “Kill la Kill.”

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              • What the hell are you even talking about mane? Where are you getting these character judgments from? Methinks there is a bit of projection here, especially the part about “insecure hipster nerd opinions”. If anything was ever “insecure hipster nerd”-y it’s quoting Nietzsche when talking about anime and believing David Foster Wallace is a profound thinker lol. Thank you for reading my blog in any case. I hope my good research and strong arguments rub off on you. Namaste.

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                • Your “research” is flawed, incomplete and broken as you completely misunderstood what Nakashima meant by “discarding four scripts”; he clearly said that he had written the scripts for four episodes, not four scripts for the full show. If you want to appear informed you have to at least make sure what you are saying isn’t bullshit.

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                  • to respond more seriously, whether the number of revisions was 2+ or 4+ isn’t important, the salient point is that KLK was written like a “live production”, in Nakashima’s words, not as a single script attributable to a single writer like TTGL was. Too many different authors pulling the show in too many different directions leads to slipshod and muddled presentation of themes, as was the case for KLK.

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                    • You say these things but you do not provide any links, examples, or proof in general. You do not even provide a cause-and-effect form of critical logic. You just assert things and hope someone cares.

                      Lance’s description of you seems apt.

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

  4. Pingback: I Didn’t Go to AnimeNEXT 2014 But I Have Some Thoughts on the Studio Trigger Panels | OGIUE MANIAX

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