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First Impressions: Kill la Kill photo
First Impressions: Kill la Kill

3:00 PM on 10.08.2013

Imaishi and crew hit it out of the park

I made it two minutes into the first episode of studio TRIGGER's Kill la Kill before feeling a huge, stupid grin take over my face

The way I see it, that's got to be some kind of record.

The latest TV anime by Hiroyuki Imaishi (Gurren Lagann, Panty & Stocking), Kill la Kill's first episode is a whole lot of things; absurd, sexy, fast paced, and even goofy. There isn't a minute that goes by without something going crazy onscreen. As the credits began to roll on the debut of TRIGGER's first original series, I found myself with but one thing on the mind:

Why haven't I seen episode two yet?

Ryuko Matoi is the new girl in town, on a quest to find the missing half of a giant pair of scissors she wields like a sword. She believes that the person who murdered her father possesses the other half, and she's looking to get revenge. Her journey leads her to Honnouji Academy, a school ruled by the terrifying student council and its ice-cold president, Satsuki Kiryuin. They wear powerful Goku Uniforms which grant them inhuman levels of power and speed, which Ryuko finds out the hard way. Battered and defeated, she returns home only to discover a talking school uniform deep in her basement. The strange creature forces itself onto Ryuko, granting her the power to fight back against the corrupt student council.

As is the case with shows that have such strong debuts, the above synopsis really does no justice to the breakneck lunacy that was the first episode of Kill la Kill. You really have to see it to believe it.

I don't think anybody will argue that episode one was attempting to be a narrative masterpiece, but there's no doubt that Imaishi and his team know exactly what they're doing. The tone is significantly more zany than I had expected, but it actually works due to the unique art style and the speed at which new information is presented to the audience. There's very little downtime in this opener, which makes for a uniquely fun, even gripping, 24 minutes of TV. Time seemed to zip by, and then all of a sudden the credits were rolling.

Each story beat was tightly related to the next, and the character introductions, while snappy, were designed around giving the audience the information necessary to the next chunk of story. More often than not, first episodes are a bad way to judge a series going forward due to the limitations of having only 24 minutes to hook the audience. Kill la Kill basically moves in the opposite direction, taking what could have been two episodes of content and smashing it into one. Normally that doesn't really work.

Imaishi and his team make it work.

This is largely due to the ridiculous visual style that, while often busy, helps the world to feel alive. Every shot is loaded with foreground and background information, even when there isn't much animation to speak of. Shot choices are clear and deliberate; I dare you to find a boring composition in the entire episode. There's an obvious sense of mise en scene here that elevates the whole production above most other TV anime. Kill la Kill is a beautiful looking show despite the clear budget restrictions that the folks at TRIGGER seem to be battling. There are times when the animation is wonderfully alive, but there are also moments where shortcuts were obviously taken. That being said, the overall aesthetic and constant sense of movement helps to distract from those problems. Much to my surprise, Kill la Kill does make use of CG for certain shots, but it's tastefully done and doesn't distract from the action onscreen.

I've seen a lot of people make comparisons to Imaishi and Nakashima's last collaboration, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. As much as the aesthetic is a bit similar, Kill la Kill is much more manic compared to TTGL's relatively slow build. Visually it's much more rough, striking me as a kind of throwback to '70s animation and even Go Nagai's works. Ryuko's battle suit, something of a point of controversy, manages to fit within the trappings of the show despite being completely ridiculous. She's clearly not fond of wearing it, but manages to use it to empower her. It's a strange juxtaposition that just might work depending on where the show goes.

As first episodes go, Kill la Kill's is a triumph. Endlessly entertaining, and a spectacle on many levels, it's a reminder of how fun and creative anime can be at its best. I can only hope that TRIGGER can keep up the pace on a weekly basis, because we very well might have a huge winner on our hands.

Keep your eyes on this one. I know I will.

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