Kill La Kill
In a dystopian future/alternate history/fantasy world/whatever the fuck there’s a high school in the middle of a squalid, crime-infested urban mass called Hannoji Academy that’s ruled with an iron fist by a council consisting of students granted superhuman abilities by “ultima uniforms”, which are ranked on a three-star scale depending on the level of power they give the wearer. Led by the fearsome Satsuki Kiryuin, the council enforces its draconian will on the school to create a brutal Orwellian social order where “fear is freedom, control is liberty and contradiction is truth” and student executions take place on a more or less daily basis. Into this bizarre environment steps transfer student Ryuko Matoi, wielding a sword made out of half of a giant pair of scissors that was left at the scene of her father’s murder and on a mission to track down the other half- which she believes Satsuki has. Before she can land a hit on Satsuki she gets her ass handed to her by one of Satsuki’s super-powered underlings, causing her to retreat to the ruins of her childhood home where she discovers a sentient uniform that bonds with her. As it turns out the uniform is insanely powerful and her scissor blade was designed specifically to destroy Ultima uniforms, meaning Ryuko is now fully kitted out to take on the student council and seek VENGEANCE against Satsuki for killing her father.
So this is a full series from Studio Trigger, creators of Little Witch Academia, and as you may have gathered from that synopsis it is completely fucking bonkers. From literally the moment the episode starts over the top hyper-powered characters are jumping off buildings and kicking each other through walls while giant red text flashes on-screen to spell out the names of special attacks. Absolutely no attempt is made to explain or justify the absurdity of the world or the story. Either you accept Kill La Kill on its own terms or you don’t.
I thought I did, at first. This episode wastes absolutely no time getting to the point, which is a refreshing change from a lot of anime series that tend to waffle around and pad out the runtime. I really like Ryuko and Satsuki as characters and the show has an immediately striking visual style.
But as the epsiode went on cracks started to appear in the facade. The artistry on display is phenomenal but the actual animation is quite poor most of the time, which combined with the frenetic and busy visual style makes some fight scenes all but impossible to follow. The over the top style goes from cool and eye catching at the start to just way too over the top by the episode’s end, as if the animators are trying too hard to be cool. There’s a somewhat uncomfortable scene where the sentient school uniform (who is presented as being male) rips Ryuko’s clothes off and literally forces himself on her, and I rolled my eyes at the fact that the uniform’s battle mode puts her in what is essentially a robo-bikini. Maybe this is maybe a parody of the whole chainmail bikini thing- the outfit somehow protects her entire body despite only covering a small portion of it- and if you wanted to be really generous I guess you could read Ryuko’s embarrassment at being forced to wear a revealing outfit to achieve her goals as some sort of commentary, but mostly it’s just juvenile and stupid. I also have to wonder where they’re going to go with this premise. The preview for the next episode makes it seem like it’s going to be a super powered student council member of the week deal, which given how sloppy and incoherent the action scenes in this episode were I’m not sure I’d be interested in watching.
I’m going to stick with this series just because of how interesting it looks, but I really hope the animators tone it the fuck down next time and find some reason to give Ryuko a less idiotic battle outfit (some sort of red thread comes out of her defeated foe’s uniform at the end and fuses with her own, so maybe that’s the direction they’re going).
Beyond The Boundary
Our hero Akihito is on his way home from school one day when he spots a cute girl wearing over-sized red glasses standing on the roof, apparently about to jump off. Being a fan of girls wearing glasses (this is literally his given justification) he races up to convince her to step away from the edge. Instead she back-flips over the fence around the roof and stabs him in the chest with a sword made from her own blood. It turns out the girl, Kuriyama Mirai, is a hunter of “dreamshades”, and Akihito is a half-shade who is also immortal. Their relationship therefore consists of Mirai, who as it turns out is actually pretty god-awful at the whole monster-hunter thing, following Akihito around and trying in vain to murder him. Drama and wacky hijinks ensue.
Beyond the Boundary is the next series by KyoAni, a studio known for cranking out facile, pandering moe bullshit that all the otaku lose their fucking minds over for some reason. And to be sure, there are definite moe elements at play here- Mirai fits right into the pigenohole of the clumsy and kind of dumb glasses-wearing girl who falls over a lot- but for some reason I found this show clicking with me in a way that their previous efforts never have. A lot of the dialogue is unusually sharply written, the episode is snappy and fast paced, the character designs and action scenes are gorgeous and there’s some decent humour as well. Although at the same time the episode falls at several points into groan-worthy “as you know we live in this urban fantasy setting where things work like this” exposition and Akihito’s friend/love interest spends the entire episode calling him a pervert, which I guess is supposed to be hilarious.
I don’t know, maybe I’ve just become so jaded that I’m giving Beyond the Boundary a pass where it doesn’t deserve one, but I found it pretty enjoyable. The opening animation includes some truly spectacular fight scenes as well as a lot of ultra drama so we’ll see where it goes.
And the award for biggest waste of resources and artistic skill of the year goes to…. Coppelion!
It’s the post-apocalypse and three high school girls with very little personality traipse into the overgrown ruins of Tokyo to look for survivors, led from a helicopter by their school Vice Principal who sounds like a serial killer. The girls have been genetically engineered to survive whatever caused the city to be destroyed and is making the ruins inaccessible to normal humans. For some reason they do this while wearing their school uniforms, including distractingly short skirts that regularly billow in the wind to show glimpses of their underwear.
The big draw with Coppelion is the absolutely drop-dead gorgeous background art, which honestly rivals what you’d see in theatrical productions- in the scene I took that screencap from every single one of those flowers is moving in the breeze. It really is beautiful to behold.
For ten seconds, until the characters come on screen. Then you realize the character designs are pretty ugly- all three of the protagonists have enormous gazelle-legs that take up more than 70% of their bodies and they’re frequently drawn with thick black outlines which clash horribly with the almost photorealistic backgrounds- our three protagonists are either bland or annoying and not a whole lot actually happens in this episode.
What annoyed me about Coppelion is how badly it botches a seemingly easy premise. There should be a real sense of mystery and adventure in the idea of exploring the ruins of a long-dead city, but the fact that two of the girls whine and complain constantly and have generic stock personalities so cliched they were already cliched in the 90s (one of them eats a lot!) and the third acts like an unflappable badass put me more in the mindset of a wacky school comedy than an exciting sci-fi adventure. And I know this should be a minor point, but the school uniforms just make it seem like the characters aren’t taking their job seriously. The plot- in so far as there is one- is paper-thin, with the supposed big twist of the girl’s mission having an ulterior motive that they’re not aware of telegraphed miles in advance. The near-constant fetishization of the girl’s short skirts- which begins within the first thirty seconds- sealed the deal for me.
Coppelion could well turn into something interesting, the ending animation shows lots of moody, surreal imagery that seems to suggest the story is going to get darker than it is at the moment, but based on this first episode I feel like the production committee spent an astronomical budget animating someone’s half-baked webcomic idea.