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.

Heartcatch Precure Gettin’ All Self-Referential

Over the past few episodes, big things have happened in Heartcatch Precure. During this time, the show has made some references to past Pretty Cure series, and here’s a couple I’ve spotted.

Again, this is towards the end of the first half of the series, so there are spoiler-worthy things happening. I’d highly recommend you go watch the show before you read any further.

In episode 21, new fairy mascot creature Potpourri asks a number of characters if they could be the third Cure to go alongside Blossom and Marine, with one of the candidates being female soccer player Sayaka. When Sayaka mentions that her only skill is soccer, Potpourri assures her that in the past there have been Precure who were also good at soccer.

This refers to Natsuki Rin, aka Cure Rouge, the third in a line of Cures who are good at Sports (Cure Black = Lacrosse, Cure Bloom = Softball).

The bigger event of course is when Myoudouin Itsuki transforms into Cure Sunshine. Unlike Blossom and Marine who use “Heart Perfumes,” Sunshine uses a “Shiny Perfume.”

This is in reference to the character Kujou Hikari, aka Shiny Luminous, who was first introduced in Futari wa Pretty Cure Max Heart.

Further supporting this is the fact that the powers of Cure Sunshine are mainly defensive in nature, which was also the role Shiny Luminous provided to the original Pretty Cure girls.

However, the big difference here is that while Luminous never shed her protective role on the team, Itsuki comes into the team as the only trained martial artist to become a Cure, which means she balances her barriers with actual physical combat experience.

So that was just a small observation. If you’ve made it this far, congratulations on watching an excellent show and may I hope to see you once the series is over.

“Gundam Fighters” Flash-based Fighting Game

I’ve wanted to talk about this for a while but just couldn’t ever seem to get around to it. That ends today.

This is Kenkoudaa’s Gundam Fighters game, which crosses over Gundam heroes from multiple series in a humorous and highly referential 1-on-1 fighting game. Choose from Amuro Ray, Char Aznable, Setsuna F. Seiei, Shinn Asuka, Emma Sheen, and many more. The best part is, if your favorite character isn’t in the game now, there’s a chance that he or she will eventually be, because Kenkoudaa actually continues to update Gundam Fighters. Cagalli was not always in the game but around version 1.5 she was added to the roster. On top of that, she was recently rebalanced to make her a more effective character!

The controls for the game are very simple, and even though I said that they improved Cagalli there really are no grounds for actual balance. A is a basic attack, S and D are special moves, F is a super to be used when your meter is maxed out. Holding down on your keypad activates your shield, and holding A for the basic attack makes your character do an anti-shield attack. Some attacks can also be done in the air.

There’s characters to unlock and a variety of modes to play, so it’ll occupy you for some time. Or if you’re like me you can just go into training mode and take a look at the super moves!

EDIT: By request here are some more exciting screenshots!