Visual Timing: Three Great Things About Kill la Kill

Kill la Kill, the new anime from the creators of Gurren-Lagann and Inferno Cop, is pretty much living up to the huge amount of hype surrounding it. For me, there are a few areas pertaining to the visual element of the show which really stand out.

1) Kill la Kill excels at creative sight gags.

When it comes to works that are humorously absurd, often times we say they succeed despite themselves because the humor is because it takes itself seriously and doesn’t realize its own power. In contrast, we then say other works fail to capture this glory because they tried too hard. I find Kill la Kill generally hits that sweet spot where the humor is clearly intentional, but doesn’t go overboard in extending its jokes, so it’s even more possible to appreciate its cleverness.

Two scenes from episode 3 stick out in this respect. The first happens at the beginning of the fight between Ryuko and Satsuki, when their combined willpower literally blows away the surrounding bystanders. It’s a pretty typical sight in anime which wants to establish the sheer power of its primary characters. Then, in the next shot, Kill la Kill extends that sequence to the point of absurdity by having the bystanders’ bodies continuously flying through the air. The shot lasts for about 5 seconds, and during that time it’s easy to wonder if there are more bodies being blasted away than were actually standing there moments before.

The second is after the battle, when Satsuki says to Ryuko that in order to fight her she’ll have to go through her goons, her goons’ goons, and her goons’ goons’ goons. Kill la Kill sets the image up in a somewhat abstract fashion, much like one of those old dramatic Dezaki Osamu painted stills (which I just found out recently is called a “harmony” shot thanks to Anipages). Then, as the show switches to a bird’s eye point of view, you realize that Satsuki and all of her minions are actually standing there like they’re posing for a group photo.

These sight gags stretch their conventions just far enough to pull you out a bit, but neither of them overstay their welcome. Both of them use the screen to create strong images, which brings me to my next point.

2) Kill la Kill has strong image composition.

The series uses a lot of the extreme poses key to a Kanada Yoshinori-style animation, but even in still shots and pans Kill la Kill exhibits a lot of intelligence and creativity which both enhances the mood of the show while also encouraging an appreciation in the animation (or lack thereof).

This shot of Ryuko and the tennis club captain from episode 2 literally consists off two figures sliding and changing size against a background. There’s little to no animation, and yet the moment helps to create tension because the initial image of the two standing away from each other on the tennis court gradually turns into a face-to-face confrontation with the net acting as a visual separator between the two. I find it really impressive because it was able to do so much with so little, and it’s a trend you’ll see throughout each episode.

In the same episode, Ryuko confronts Satsuki. Satsuki begins to swing her sword and she grows to massive proportions on-screen to convey the idea that she’s a massive threat and that she’s much more powerful than she looks. Obviously from the context of the show she’s not actually getting bigger, and this sort of visual representation reminds me of two things.

First, is an American football manga mentioned in Fred Schodt’s Manga! Manga!, where a tiny Japanese player blasts through a massive American roughly five times his size. Second, is Fist of the North Star, and I don’t just mean the giant mohawk thugs. That series often exaggerates the size of Kenshiro’s foes yet shows them to be relatively even in size moments later, just to transmit danger.

3) Kill la Kill makes a lot of anime references but doesn’t overdo it.

This point relates heavily to the first.

Kill la Kill makes numerous references to old anime each episode, but doesn’t depend on them for success. In episode 1 Mako can be seen performing a Kinniku Buster from Kinnikuman on her little brother, but it’s never referred to by name, and there isn’t any sort of big fancy scene where she jumps from the air and lands with an impact. They save those moments for the actual fights.

A lot of the anime and manga references involve Mako, which makes me think that this is part of her purpose as a character. In episode 3, she goes to “shield” Ryuko but more to give a strange speech about how Ryuko should get naked. During that lively sequence this shows up:

That’s right, Kill la Killi threw in a Space Runaway Ideon reference (see 14 seconds into the video). Evangelion is known to be inspired in part by Ideon, and to have ex-Gainax employees bringing it out doesn’t surprise me too much. Again, the reference doesn’t linger too long, is more about the ridiculousness of Mako as a character, and is actually a little easy to miss.

There’s also the recurring use of stars blinking in and out in Kill la Kill. It reminds me of the opening to Evangelion, right before the title logo appears, and I really suspect that it’s intentional.

Actually, I think Mako herself is an anime reference, as her hairstyle and position as the main character’s best friend immediately reminded me of the character Maki from Aim for the Ace! Ryuko’s messier hair even somewhat resembles Aim for the Ace! heroine Hiromi’s style relative to Maki’s. That Mako’s first name is written in Katakana like Maki in the Aim for the Ace! anime, that she is a tennis club member, and that her membership sets up the conflict in episode 2 all point towards this being likely.

In each case the references aid the show but do not dominate it. If someone fails to get certain references (and given the amount it’s going to happen to pretty much everyone, including me) then it doesn’t unravel the humor or make the series any less visually strong. If a reference does get through, it is capable of becoming not only a matter of spotting the homage but also considering how Kill la Kill relates to that older work. For instance, there’s this interesting relationship between Kill la KillGurren-LagannAim for the Top! Gunbuster, and Aim for the Ace! that I’d like to unravel in terms of how these shows approach similar ideas.

I also have other thoughts about the narrative and thematic elements of the show, but I’ll save those for another time. If you want to check out Kill la Kill though, it’s being simulcast from a variety of sites: Crunchyroll, Hulu, and for international audiences, Daisuki.

John Rambo and Sorrowful Warriors

In a prior discussion with Sub of Subatomic Brainfreeze, he brought to my attention the existence of a Sega-made Japanese arcade game based off of Rambo. Yes, the 80s Sylvester Stallone movie franchise. He told me all about how indicative the game was of how the Japanese perceived the movies and John Rambo as a character, and upon further thinking it shed light on a difference between Japanese and American culture.

According to Sub, the narration in the Rambo Arcade Game places great emphasis on how “sorrowful” John Rambo is as a person, and this idea of Rambo carrying great sadness within his stoicism is repeated throughout. Well of course that makes sense. This is the same culture which gave us Kenshiro, and Kenshiro is all about being a stoic hero who is full of emotion within.

As far as either of us could tell, in Japanese fiction stoicism acts as an indicator for emotion and sorrow, which contrasts greatly with the American idea of the expressionless badass, who while not entirely without emotion tends to be “unmoved” by traumatic events or the plights of others, though still willing to do the “right thing.” Their tears are not allowed, as they are a sign of emasculation.

I thought about the concept of the “sorrowful warrior” and any portrayals in Japanese entertainment thereof, and I recalled one in particular: Sol Badguy.

Sol is the hero of the Guilty Gear series of fighting games, and his character is quite reminiscent of Joutarou from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. He doesn’t talk much, is quite aloof, usually has a hardened expression on his face, and is incredibly adept in combat. It’s easy to see him as just a guy who knows what he wants and acts on his own, but then I remembered a significant fact about Sol Badguy.

As with many fighting games, characters in Guilty Gear have their own theme songs/stage background music, and Sol is no exception. The Guilty Gear series took it one step further and gave all of the characters vocal versions of their respective themes, and the first lyrics in Sol’s theme song say it all:

He’s a sad soldier.

I have to wonder, is it the case where whenever Japan and America see the same stoic badass hero, each ends up having a very different perception?

Nanto Ho-oh Ken

This is a Hokuto no Ken Joke



頭文字 Impressions Fall 2008

The new season is finally under full swing, and I’ve been looking forward to it for quite a while. As of now, it really doesn’t disappoint.

The new Hokuto no Ken anime tv series, the first in about two decades not counting Souten no Ken, is Raoh Gaiden: Ten no Haoh. The series is a prequel to the Hokuto no Ken anime showing a younger Raoh and his rise to power along with those two characters they introduced in the new movies, one of which is a woman who is not Completely Useless but still is clearly not there to be the main character.

The entire episode is spent with anticipation, just waiting for that moment where the calm Raoh encounters a bunch of thugs who think they own the post-apocalyptic place, and having Raoh deliver a king-sized fist to their face worthy of a fist king. And in this regard the first episode delivers. But unlike Kenshiro, Raoh has little mercy for anyone, though he’s not as quite as big of an asshole as when he first appeared in the manga. The originally manga slowly retconned Raoh from just a Jerk who Conquers to Guy Who is Trying to Save the World By Taking it Over, and this new anime reflects the latter concept.

Toradora! focuses on the relationship between Ryuuji, a guy who much to his own chagrin has inherited his puppy-killing facial features from his departed Yakuza father, and Taiga, a tiny girl whose small size belies her fierce and eccentric personality. Hence the name Tora (tiger = taiga) Dora (doragon = dragon = ryuuji). It sounds typical, but the first episode took me by surprise, and this is from someone who’s read the first novel. A lot of other bloggers will talk about how good the voice acting is and how different (and better) Kugimiya Rie is in this role versus her previous tsundere characters, but the real star of this show isn’t the voices, as good as they may be, but the pacing and atmosphere.

Whereas most shows with a similar premise would try to be more frenetic, more extreme, Toradora is surprisingly slow and subtle, even during gag scenes. The pacing actually reminds me a bit of Cosmic Baton Girl Comet-San, which I had reviewed previously.

The trailer alone made me a fan of Casshern SINS, and the first episode does not disappoint. This is Casshern for a new era, with a style darker and very different from the 70s or even 90s version, and Casshern is much more of a bishounen than in the past, but not in the way the disappointing live action movie turned out. The first episode looks like a marriage between Tatsunoko Pro and Studio Madhouse, which it is, and that’s all I really need to say.

Casshern is voiced by Furuya Tohru, so with this and Gundam 00 we’re getting double the dose of Amuro Ray.

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