Watson is a New Zealander in his 30s. He knows what anime is, but never watched it growing up and has still seen few titles to date. And a little while ago, I sat him down to watch the first four episodes of Kill la Kill.
This article is the the sixth and final (sort of, see the bottom of this post for details) of its series – the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth were Watson Watches: Azumanga Daioh, Kuroshitsuji, AnoHana, Free!, and Death Note. As usual, Watson knew nothing about the anime before watching other than the title, and the following questions were given to him to answer afterwards.
Fans and critics have frequently used words such as ‘creative’, ‘inventive’, ‘over-the-top’, ‘absurd’, and ‘insane’ to describe Kill la Kill. Do you agree with these? If you could pick only a few words to describe the show yourself, what would they be?
For me the first word that came to mind was ‘silly’, but I suppose ‘absurd’ sounds better so let’s go with that. I don’t think I agree with all of them however. The show is ‘creative’ and ‘inventive’ in the sense that creating a show is by definition creative/inventive, but I get the feeling that these fans mean something more than that. The thing is, I can’t see what it might be – the show seems to be mining the tropes about anime pretty heavily, and these things got to be tropes by being heavily used to start with. So it’s not clear, to me at least, exactly what is creative about it.
If I had to pick a few words to describe the show, ‘absurd’ and ‘over the top’ would certainly make the list. After that, I’m not sure: maybe ‘intense’ but ‘uncomplicated’? It sure dishes out huge, steaming helpings of in-yo-FACE action without worrying much (or indeed at all) about making sure it’s all consistent and coherent. But it never pretends to be anything it isn’t, and that sort of honesty gets a certain amount of approval from me.
Studio Trigger, the company behind the show, was only formed in 2011, and Kill la Kill is actually the studio’s first original television anime series. Does this surprise you? If you had known this before going in, do you think it would have impacted on your experience of the series in any significant way?
It’s a bit of a surprise, because the show seemed very comfortable with what it was doing. I suppose that’s a testament to the skill and knowledge of the creators. I tend to be a bit more forgiving of people’s first attempts at something, so if I might have been more charitably inclined towards it if I’d already known that. But I can’t honestly say that it would have made a huge difference.
Because of this, the studio was working under tight budget constraints – particularly in comparison to the likes of AnoHana or Free!. Was this obvious to you, and did it affect your enjoyment of the show?
It was obvious that the creators had gone for a rougher-looking visual aesthetic, but it was not obvious that it had been forced on them. I thought it was a deliberate choice – partly a homage to the manga I presumed the show was based on, and partly a reflection of the show’s focus: Kill la Kill is about scantily-clad schoolgirls and ridiculous fights, not refined sensibilities. In any event, it seemed to suit the show fairly well.
Apart from the visuals, there wasn’t anything else that screamed ‘low budget’ to me. The soundtrack seems to be fairly generic and uninspiring, but to be honest the same is true of a lot of other shows so it didn’t stick out. The world-building and character-building also has a lot of bare spots, but once again that seemed like a deliberate choice. “Why has this girl been transferred to this ridiculous school-city? Because fuck you, that’s why. Now shut up, it’s time for another dose of violence and skimpy clothing.”
I have to be honest, this seems like a case of taking disadvantages and making them work. Credit where it’s due, the creators have done a good job incorporating their limits.
Despite being commonly cited as a shounen title (i.e. one which is primarily targeted towards teenage males) by many viewers, the lead character of Kill la Kill is female, as is her best friend and both main antagonists (one of which appears later on in the series). This is fairly unusual for any action anime, much less one that makes use of so many shounen tropes. What do you make of this?
If you say its unusual then I’m not going to disbelieve you, but it makes perfect sense to me. The entire point of the show is to manufacture excuses for over-the-top fights and girls in scanty clothing, so why wouldn’t you want a female protagonist? The only thing that surprises me is that there aren’t more major female characters so there can be even more opportunities to get them undressed. We’re talking about a teenage male target audience after all, so once we’ve included ridiculous fights and girls with severe wardrobe shortages, I’m not sure what’s left to add. Giant robots maybe, but I’m told there’s already some anime about that.
Is there such a thing as ‘too much fanservice’? And if so, does Kill la Kill cross that line?
I’ve got to say that I’m not exactly sure what ‘fanservice’ is. Normally that wouldn’t bother me, but I feel like there’s something being asked which isn’t present in the words themselves, or at least not their ordinary usage. The last time I encountered the term was in the Free! article, and in that context it referred to scantily-clad boys being shown off for the viewing pleasure of the (mostly female) audience. Presumably the same can apply with sexual preferences reversed as well.
If that is the case then I wouldn’t say Kill la Kill crossed that line, exactly. More like jumped over it buck naked with a rose clenched between its butt-cheeks. The show is the most blatant example I have yet encountered of deliberately applied anime sexualisation – the central premise of the show is literally nothing more than an excuse for female characters to be dressed up in lingerie. There were a couple of moments where the show seemed to be teetering on the brink of self-awareness about that, and for a tantalizing instant in episode 3 I thought it might be about to snap into something much more grown-up than I had initially taken it for. I was mentally preparing myself for an admission that I had badly misjudged the show.
Had this all been building up to a devastating commentary on power, and what people will do for it? Could we be treated to a survey on the corrosive effects of challenges to one’s sense of self? Was it going to reveal the dangers of obsession with a cause, no matter how noble?
Spoiler: no. HELL no. What we got instead was a short lecture on the importance of being naked, followed by what can only be called an unsatisfactory conclusion to the episode which nonetheless promised a good deal more in the way of unlikely mega-battles. I’m not going to say this was a missed opportunity because it stayed absolutely true to what the show had so far promised to be. But to have come so close to a climax like that, and then be pulled back from the brink, is distinctly frustrating.
Getting back to the whole fanservice issue, Kill la Kill seems to be entirely premised on providing copious quantities of it (either in the form of ridiculous smackdowns or equally ridiculous underwear). And that’s all very well, but it’s not much to base an entire series on. I feel like if fanservice is all you’ve got, it’s not going to take long to get old. So yes, I would say Kill la Kill does cross that line.
Many fans who often seem to shun such obvious and copious amounts of fanservice in their anime appear much more accepting of it in Kill la Kill – perhaps in part because Kill la Kill isn’t a show that takes itself particularly seriously, and perhaps also because the fanservice has been labelled by some as ‘equal opportunity’, with both male and female fanservice being portrayed (and/or parodied) throughout the series. Do you think these factors make fanservice any more acceptable than it would otherwise be?
So far I don’t remember seeing any guys dressed up in bondage underwear, so I’ll take it on faith that they exist (no, really, there’s no need to search for images for me). In any event, I think there is a point to be made along those lines; Kill la Kill doesn’t take itself remotely seriously, and it’s completely obvious right from the start what the show is all about. This means everyone who keeps watching knows what they’re getting into, and I think that sort of up-front honesty does help quite a lot. It lets the audience make an informed choice about whether this is something they want from a show, and if it’s not they can happily leave it without feeling they might be missing out.
You’ve now seen the first four episodes of Kill la Kill. Will you be watching any more?
I don’t think it’s likely. So far the premise of the show has failed to grab me, and if I want to look at poorly-drawn cartoon porn there are easier ways. That’s not to say that it’s bad, of course. In some ways it seems technically well-executed, and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying something where you can park your brain at the beginning of each episode without missing anything. But it isn’t giving me the experience I’m looking for from a show, and that’s the bottom line.
Question of the post: What do you think of Watson’s reactions, and do you have any other questions for him? As always, Watson himself will reply directly to anything aimed at him.
Note: Although this is the last specific anime in the Watson Watches series, there will be one more post next month to wrap things up, where we’ll be discussing Watson’s overall experiences with the medium thus far and how his opinions regarding anime may have changed (or not) as a result.