Few and far between are anime which I can consider to be perfect. In fact, from the beginning of my anime watching career back in 1998 until this writing there have only been a total of five shows which have garnered a solid “10 out of 10” from me. Granted, my finicky tastes and weird perfectionism may not hold water with anyone else, but I would like to say that anything that I find to be so exquisite can be held up as an example of what the medium can be- that it can stand on its own as a real artistic expression. That said, it’s been a while since I last found such a show and for once I’m going to write about it. Meet Kill la Kill: the best magical girl show I’ve ever seen.

Before I begin to justify my outrageous assertion, perhaps it would be useful to define my terms. If you are unaware, the magical girl genre of anime is something that has become iconic of anime in general. In most of these shows a seemingly ordinary girl is suddenly given or discovers hidden powers within herself that allow her to defeat the big bad guy of whatever series it is. This is usually accompanied by a cute animal companion, a magic stick, and an overly feminine costume. Perhaps the most recognizable examples are: Sailor Moon, Card Captor Sakura, and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha.

Exhibit A

Exhibit A

The magical girl show is Japan’s answer to the coming of age stories which have been present for boys since the beginning of the medium and the counter to the Western vision of how girls become women. I continually find it interesting that the feminist-ideal-suppressing Japanese culture is producing these shows about girls who become powerful women while our own culture continually struggles to come to grips with a post-cinderella era of narratives. Regardless, as a coming of age genre, the magical girl series are full of what you would expect to find in such shows: problems with puberty, finding one’s way in life, making and keeping friends, burgeoning love, and overcoming obstacles. Each of the shows deals with these in slightly different ways. However, I’ve never seen one go quite so over the top with these themes as Kill la Kill.

Kill la Kill is a story of a girl named Matoi Ryuko who shows up at Honnouji Academy wielding a sword shaped like half of a giant pair of scissors. She demands to challenge the head of the student council and ruler of the school, Kiryuin Satsuki, who she suspects of having killed her father. However, Satsuki and the other high ranking students are in possession of Goku uniforms, which are clothes that grant their wearers extraordinary powers. Because of this, Ryuko is quickly defeated. She returns to the ruins of her father’s house only to find a sailor suit which attacks her and drinks her blood, transforming her into an ultra-powerful fighter with the skimpiest armor. Thus emboldened, she journeys back to school to take down the student council and her father’s killer. And that, my friends, is most of the first episode. From there it becomes only more nuts.

Pictured: Normal Japanese Highschool

Pictured: Normal Japanese Highschool

The series was put together by Imaishi Hiroyuki, director of Tengen Toppa, Gurren Lagann and Panty and Stocking with Garter Belt. He also had some heavy input on FLCL. If you’ve seen those shows, you can kind of get an idea of the style and energy that Kill la Kill has to offer. Most people remember Gurren Lagann as one of the best shounen animes in recent memory with overly dramatic flare and machismo dialed up to 11. And as much as I loved Gurren Lagann, it waned in its promises by the end of the show, forcing me to only give it a 9 out of 10 afterwards. In contrast, Kill la Kill is Imaishi’s magnum opus. It is the intensity and style of Gurren Lagann mixed with the humor and sexuality of P&SG and the teenage allusive power and musical genius of FLCL.

Kill la Kill takes no prisoners and pulls no punches. From the very start it embraces the energy and absurdity not only of the magical girl genre, but of the pubescence that it represents. To demonstrate how it does this, take for example Ryuko’s outfit Senketsu. To operate, he must drink her blood to provide her with power. Which is fine, but to be completely in sync, Ryuko must accept her body in this new and embarrassing transformative outfit. The allusions to being a girl at that age are all but written out for the viewer. The show accepts “this is what we are about” and runs with it. That’s not all, though. From growing up and finding cynicism, to holding on to some semblance of childlike innocence, to forging one’s own path through high school with guidance (but without subservience to any other map but your own), to dealing with fashion and trends, to the symbolic take over of Japanese culture from Western influences, this show takes them all on with style and substance.

The alternative title was "Underboob: The Animation"

The alternative title was “Underboob: The Animation”

I can’t rave enough about how well put together Kill la Kill is. The animation is subtle in quiet situations and almost abrasive when the action ramps up. There is nothing out of place in any scene. Even the tiny off-handed details are placed in such a way that tells you that they were deliberate choices. From the absurd rants of Ryuko’s friend Mako to the powerful speeches and admonitions of the Disciplinary Committee chair Ira, the stylistic madness of this show keeps the energy flowing inconceivably through every episode. It never grows old or tired. This is also thanks in no small part to the music. It’s subtle enough that sometimes you don’t even notice it there, but it is always there pumping and driving the mood like a well oiled engine. It even doubles as an amazing workout album.

I would really like to talk more about the plot and how deep and rich all of the story telling elements, characters, and themes are, but to do so would be to diminish the impact of the twists and turns that come by watching it for yourself. Genuinely, I’ve never seen a show this good that has kept me on my toes at every turn. Imaishi and his team knew what their audience would be on the lookout for and anticipated how we would predict the unfolding plot. Using this, understanding and respecting his viewers, he turned everything on its head so many times in so many amazing ways- making the actual story even better than what you thought was going to happen. Narrative play like this is a joy. Coupled with its uncompromising belief in its own story and that enthusiastic style, Kill la Kill is an extraordinary show.

Go watch it!

Go watch it!

Do I recommend Kill la Kill? I can’t recommend it enough. It is simply incredible. I’ve not had nearly as much fun with a show that on the surface is completely absurd, but which also has such a deep and substantive message underneath. This show has so many memorable moments, scenes, and characters for me. Kill la Kill  is honestly one of the best animes, and one of the best Japanese television series of all time.

[score:5/5]

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