Not sure whether to be joyous or offended – Anime Critique: No Game No Life

no-game-no-life_oTitle: No Game No Life (NGNL, Noge Nora)
Format: TV series
Genre: fantasy, satire/parody, comedy, ecchi
Series Creator: Yu Kamiya
Series Director: Atsuko Ishizuka
Studio: Madhouse
Series length: 12 episodes
Original Airing dates: April 9, 2014 – June 25, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download with fansubs

 

 


Synopsis:

“Siblings Sora and Shiro are inseparable, both in the real world and in the game world. Their individual skills combined make them an invincible team: Sora, with his astute intuition and penetrating insight; and Shiro, with her remarkable intellect that goes beyond prodigy-level genius. In the real world, they are hikikomori, reclusive and unsocial, but in the game world, the siblings together form [ ] (Blank), a mysterious group of undefeated online gamers who win every game they play with unbeatable scores. Because the account names of the players are always left empty, they become simply known as “Blank”. One fateful day, after beating a mysterious challenger in a game of online chess, the siblings receive an offer from their opponent to be reborn in his world, Disboard – a fantasy world where everything is determined by games. When they accept the proposal, Sora and Shiro are summoned to Disboard by that world’s God, Tet, who they discover to also be their former opponent. Together, Sora and Shiro begin their journey in redeeming the weak human race of Imanity and conquering the world to challenge Tet for his title of One True God.


Review:

There is a bad habit in many subcultures to lap up any mention from more mainstream forms -be it positive or negative- as well as lose one’s mind whenever a reference to something that we adore/worship/participate in is shown or mentioned within various media. Often such flashes are negatory in one’s favour yet one does love to have one’s passions & existence acknowledged by greater beings, do we not?

Visual media also loves throwing in as many references & acknowledgements as they can be they intentional or craftily snuck in & we consumers do love our little Easter egg hunts? Go on. Admit it. You look for them all of the time. As both a challenge & as a way to prove yourself superior in some petty fashion. There is no shame in such a thing –we all do it, after all.

Yet this is probably why, in the end, I felt myself a little ambivalent towards No Game No Life.

Because it praised us nerds, geeks & gamers with one hand -showing us as clever, resourceful & deep down well meaning people- & mocked us with the other -displaying us as socially dysfunctional perverts who cannot cope within a game in our hand or a pair of tits to stare all.

It attempts to pander too much to both sides, showering kudos & contempt equally.

Yet, it is not entirely without its merits.

Some reviewers have already praised it highly, even calling it “a must watch for any gamer” yet, as I said as a few lines above, it reeks to I more of pandering then any genuine affection for its greatest audience & consumers. Gamers & the socially inept have always been fair play for ridicule in media but at least NGNL attempts to be even handed.
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This is done through the stepsiblings, Sora & Shiro -who are collectively known in the gaming & online worlds as Blank. The undefeatable team who can destroy even the most skilful hacker or cheater with seamingly the greatest of ease. That is because they believe themselves to be a single unit, with super genesis Shiro masters games like chess & FPSs & all that comes with such intelligent or tactical games whilst the older sibling Sora uses his masterful understanding of people to use bluff, cheat or know when others are cheating. But they are both broken by their talents, scorned & ridiculed by their peers, so they locked themselves up in their room to play games all day. That is before the god Tet takes them from our world to the land of Disboard, where games rule & murder can never be committed.
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This is actually an interesting conceit because it establishes that Disboard is defined by 10 Commandments set forth by Tet that can’t be broken yet can be subverted. Such as the rule about cheating, where it doesn’t say you can’t cheat, just that you have to face the consequences if you’re caught doing it & it can proven. The Commandments hold everything in check & about Blank to push their plans forward by exploiting & obeying the rules as well as learning how others do the same.

Yet the trouble with this is that when they try to explain the rules for a wager or game & they flash by too fast or are stuck in a bunch of untranslated text (or the text is translated but that translation fucks with your video player something chronic!). It’s annoying that rules that are pretty bloody vital to the plot are rushed by; possibly so you don’t see any holes them or so you don’t try to guess how Blank will win.

My other major issue with the series is. . . Can you guess? Can ya? Can Ya? CAN YA?!

YEEEEEEEEEEEEEES! IT’S HYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYPERSEEEEEEEEEEEEXUALIIIIIIIIIISAAAAAATION!!!

This time perving on a fucking 11 year old (Shiro, who isn’t actually fucking but I can never go past a chance to swear. . . prick).

I honestly don’t mind that she’s rendered painfully cute, with a mouth too small & eyes too big even for anime standards but there must ALWAYS be a line drawn when you draw an 11 year old semi-naked (& fingers should be broken for drawing a naked 8 year old with a fluffy tail!). All the major female characters other than the one time antagonist Clammy are hypersexualised & the reason Clammy isn’t is because she’s mocked for having no breasts & using magic to make it seem otherwise during on of the many bath scenes.

Both Shiro & Sora share a perverted natured, as does the violent angel (Flügel) Jebril. Their usual victim is Steph, the granddaughter of the former king of all Imanity (Disboard’s name for humans) who is depicted as clever in terms of running the day to day functions of a kingdom but terrible at games, losing to Clammy before Blank take the crown away from her. The sight of Shiro wearing Steph’s panties on her head whilst making her act like a dog is monstrously disturbing, more so because Shiro acts so cute & innocent most of the time.
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I could beat the Hate Drum a bit longer, but I won’t.

Visually, this series is stunning. Incredible use of light, colour & fantasy settings as well as interesting (yet hypersexualised) designs on many of the characters. Because there are 16 races (equal to pieces on a chessboard), they each have to have very individual designs & they do stand out well. The elves are generic with blonde hair & pointed ears but the Flügel with their wings & halos are pretty awesome; whilst the werebeasts are your standard anthro-beings, which is played up for laughs with Sora -the virgin- wanting to conquer them so he can have a harem of cat & bunny girls.

The relationship between Shiro & Sora is also exceptionally well rendered. With each having absolute faith in the other & going catatonic if they are out of visual range for too long (which is actually genuinely funny). They also back each other up in games & contests when the other is lacking & transfer this knowledge to real life activities -such as running a country based on pacifist route in Civilisation. Even when they are backed into a corner by an opponent, they always rely on & trust each other utterly; drawing upon that the strength to win.
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The series also ends on a vexing note of noncompletion story-wise. Just leaves things open to a possible sequel series, which I’m not sure has been announced (unlike other 12 episode series from this season).

Despite how much this series gives with one hand & takes with the other, it was genuinely entertaining & fairly original in its story. There were some exceptionally clever bits as well as well done reference gags (even more than a few quick obscure ones). It is designed for nerds & gamers, especially in its sexual pandering, but it still mocks the culture that supports it. If you can forgive it that trait, you will probably take a lot of joy in the Easter Egg hunts as well as the clever solutions to the games through the series. Although if you enjoy the sexualisation of Shiro & Izuna, I’ve got a couple of bricks that I want to introduce you to!

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The H Hides the Greatness – Anime Critique: Horizon In The Middle of Nowhere (series 1 & 2)

horizon-in-the-middle-of-nowhereTitle: Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere (Horizon On The Middle of Nowhere, Kyokaisen-jo no Horaizon, Horizon On The Borderline) [series 1 & 2]
Format: Blu-ray
Genre: sci-fi, ecchi, comedy/parody, fantasy, action
Series Creator: Minoru Kawakami (original Light Novel)
Series Director: Manabu Ono
Studio: Sunrise
Series length: Two 13 episode series
Original Airing dates: Series 1: 2011; series 2: 2013
Reviewed format: Blu-ray release through Madman


Synopsis:

In the far future, humans abandon a devastated Earth and travel to outer space. However, due to an unknown phenomenon that prevents them from traveling into space, humanity returns to Earth only to find it inhospitable except for Japan. To accommodate the entire human population, pocket dimensions are created around Japan to house the populace. In order to find a way to return to outer space, the humans begin reenacting human history according to the Holy Book Testament. But in the year 1413 of the Testament Era, the nations of the pocket dimensions invade and conquer Japan, dividing the territory into feudal fiefdoms and forcing the original inhabitants of Japan to leave. It is now the year 1648 of the Testament Era, the refugees of Japan now live in the city ship Musashi, where it constantly travels around Japan while being watched by the Testament Union, the authority that runs the re-enactment of history. However, rumors of an apocalypse and war begins to spread when the Testament stops revealing what happens next after 1648. Taking advantage of this situation, Tori Aoi, head of Musashi Ariadust Academy’s Supreme Federation and President of the student council, leads his classmates to use this opportunity to regain their homeland.


Review:

On paper, Horizon In The Middle of Nowhere (wrongly called Horizon On The Middle of Nowhere on the blu-rays that I have), is a series that I should utter despise because it is full of beyond hypersexualised Fan Service, sexual molestation, strong nationalistic sentiments & revisionist history. Yet this is one of my favourite series of the past decade. In fact, I’ve watched both series over 4 times & purchased the blu-rays as soon as they were available.
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The first thing you will notice & have to get past when watching this series is a pretty big thing to get past. That is to say: Oppai. Breasts. Bosoms. As a critic greater than I has already said: Stonking Great Tits!

The majority of the female characters do have Mammoth Jugs & those that don’t have emphasis on other body parts or jokes made about their lack of bust.

Yet I couldn’t hate the series for that because it is so over the top & outrageous that their bodies couldn’t really be sexualised despite some of the animators best efforts. & the hyersexualisation plays strongly into the humour & male characters are punished for their perverted habits (especially the central protagonist Aoi Tori). Everything is so beyond the Proverbial Eleven that I refuse to take any of it seriously & that’s pretty much the intention of the series as a whole. For all the seriousness of it, it’s still immensely silly & that’s why I love it.

At first the plot & background is very dense & hard to get through, with tons of unique phrases & ideas thrown at you without explanation but if you ride it out & accept what they’re saying most of the terms are explained in the end (or the subbers put in dodgy explanations on the top of the screen). A lot of these terms are mixes of various languages, with lots of Japanese-English thrown in (especially Tori’s non sequiturs) But also consist of a bastardised Latin & Classical Greek from old religious terminology. Again, it’s easy to pick up on what these mean in the subbed versions but the English dub is so poorly handled that it will all go over your head in that version.
HitMoN cast
Despite the denseness of terms & narrative history (all hang ups from its Light Novel origins), the series itself is fairly light & fast paced. That is not to say that it lack impacts but is light in terms of movement, with lots of flitting & jumps but without the confusion that happens in so many other series. In fact, there are many running gags that go across both series. The humour is very much character based & there are lots of characters to look at.
HorizonCharacterCorrelation
Usually this would be a negative in any series but each character is so clearly defined in terms of appearance & personality that you never get confused over who is who, what their roles & abilities are & what are their quirks & relationships to others within the cast. There are lots of fast gags based upon characters reactions to each other -such as dealing with Tori’s apparent stupidity or the rest of the cast calling Shirojiro a scumbag because of his obsession with money. Even though you don’t get to spend a lot of time with many of the characters, when you get character development it is handled exceptionally well.
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The greatest example of this is the central protagonist Aoi Tori, given the nickname “Impossible” by the Testament Union because they believe him to be utterly useless -which is why they gave him a position of great authority within the City-State of Musashi. Yet Tori is the perfect example of an Ironic character (based upon the classic Eiron model) because, despite his surface of utter stupidity, he displays a deep level of cunning, understanding & ability that means he can overcome his opponents in the least likely of ways -such as tricking Honda Masazumi (also called Seijun by her classmates) into arguing for his side during a debate battle. Even at first his goals seem shallow -to confuse his love to the girl whose death he blames on himself- but he actually has deep, long term goals that he’s ben building up to for years & was given the catalyst to chase when events larger then himself occurred -such as the Lord of Mikawa decides to disregard the Historical Recreation Program & bring about chaos so people can break free of ideology & fight the oncoming apocalypse. In fact, Tori is a great example of Confucius’ idea of the Superior Man who draws great people to his side.

This is actually a strong positivist theme within the series: that a person cannot achieve anything alone & must rely on those with talent & practised ability in order to reach their noble goals. This is something that Tori not only excels at by having loyal friends with unique abilities but he also has absolute faith in them & their abilities, vowing to take “everything that is Impossible” onto himself so people can achieve their heart’s desires. To this end Tori makes a Shinto spiritual contract where he can supply anyone fighting on his side with 1/4 of Musashi’s ether (mana) reserves, giving them basically unlimited energy, but the price he pays for it is if he is sad for just a moment he will be killed. Yet he takes this burden on for his friends & to reach the one that he loves & who stands parallel to him.
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This individual is the titular Horizon, whose soul was placed into the Automated Doll P-01s after her accidental death as a child. Being an Automated Doll (a form of gynoid) Horizon lacks proper emotions, mainly because they are all locked away in the series Macguffen, The Armaments of Mortal (Deadly) Sin, & her logical emotional stance of matters drives a lot of the humour & drama or both series. This is because she does what she believes is best for the good of al rather than what her personal desire dictates, which stands her in parallel (a strange debating style within the series) with Tori, who wants to restore her to her full self regardless of the consequences (basically sparking a world war).
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I do wish that I had more time to talk about the other characters but that will drag this critique out a fair whack. The majority of them get their time to shine, even if it is a single episode, but many have a chance to develop over the course of both series. The 2nd series mainly focuses on the ninja Tenzo, who is obsessed with busty blondes but is ultimately loyal & helpful towards his friends (& was one of Tori’s 1st followers due to Tori’s abilities to twist Tenzo’s personal perversions to suit his [Tori’s] needs). His arc is about him coming to realise that he has personal desires outside of his service to others & that he must follow his heart to save the one whom he loves. Other characters such as Suzu also get time to develop. She seems at first to be the typically timid stammering one whom everyone has to protect but she goes beyond that trope. Despite being blind, her other senses have been enhanced, giving her the ability to notice things before other people. She is also hopelessly in love with Tori but wants to see him happy with Horizon but its her love & devotion that allows Tori to be able to love & care for her back, putting his upmost trust in her when she lacks it herself.
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Other great characters include Tori’s loud, arrogant, abusive older sister Kimi -who may just be the most powerful character in the entire series & yet the kindest despite the abuse she doles out. The part wolf knight Nate “Argenté Loup” Mitotsudaira, who is also hopeless devoted to (& possibly in love with) Tori but does her upmost to serve him as she sees him as “her king”. Even the homeroom teacher Oriotorai Makiko (stupidly translated officially as Mrs O for some bizarre reason) is given a bit of screen time after her rampage in the 1st episode but not enough time is given to her deeper connection with all the mysteries within the series.

The enemies are also rendered interestingly. Not simply being cardboard cutout evil, they each have their own motivations & wishes to live up to the Re-enactments of History & being able to live up to their Inherited Names (people in this future take on the names & actions of historical figures in order to be as close to the original history as possible).

Unfortunately this does lead to my major issue with the series.

That is trying to place Japan as centrally important to global history & the ones with the power to save the world & future.

There is no doubt that Japan has some incredible history with incredible figures but it was (& in some ways still is) an isolationist nation who rejects foreign influence as much as it -as an extreme consumerist nation- craves them.

One of the main messages behind much of the series is to put Japan at the centre of world history, as an influencer & major player as well as saviour where in fact it had no role what so ever in these events. This happens with every form of national media (such as the US’ obsession with them saving the universe & now them as being the conquered underdog fighting against oppression for Apple Pie or some shit like that).

For me, this is annoying because I am programmed to pick up on agenda in media, so it kept slapping me in the face whenever they talked about it because it just plays to so many cultural superiorism tropes & traits. Again, this isn’t unique to Japan but once you study it academically it sticks out like the proverbial in a nunnery.

Though enough of the negatives.

Amongst the other positives are great action sequences, that both play with & parody Shonen fight scene tropes. Such as the fist fighter Noriki (one of the good guys) saying “If you knew that why did you explain it?” whenever an opponent expounds on one of his techniques.

The action sequences are also fast paced without being confusing. You are always aware of who is doing what on screen. Even in the hectic ariel battles -which themselves are parodying Macross style missile-hell swarms- are clean in terms of defining the actions involved.

Also, once again, we must address the elephant (or Mammoth Jugs) in the room.

This is pretty much the first anime series that I saw that stuck a huge pair of tits on not only one mecha but two. Also, all the female clothing is designed to show off breasts, hips, arse & public mound in ways that few other series dare to but it’s odd in the fact that they are just out there. There are no explicit panty shots or flashing teases, they were just out there. This isn’t a good thing but does numb one to what they are watching. At least in balance, from my tainted male perspective, it does balance out with the majority of the 2nd series having Tori running around entirely naked with no justified or explained reason. Yet that all plays into the humour & lots of gags revolve around peoples’ reactions to a naked Tori literally appearing out of nowhere.
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In the end, there are far too many positives to outweigh potential criticism from me.

Except for one.

One veeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeery big one (bigger than the boobs in the series).

& that is the lack of a 3rd series.

It may seem utterly petty but the ending of the 2nd series sets up for future series, by flashing to various new characters observing the ongoing conflicts & by the Automated Doll of Musashi saying that people should get ready for a continuing journey.

Because of strong sales of the DVDs/Blu-rays & the ongoing nature of the Light Novels, there is a very strong chance of more series to come -especially given enough of a gap between the different media forms that they aren’t have to chuck a Bleach or Naruto & put in entirely new stories with no relation to the main plot whatsoever!

If they do make a series, that would be bloody marvellous! If not, these two collection are still worth the watch.

Great pace, excellent characters & stupidly outloud laughing funny, please give it a chance.

Surprise of the Season – Anime Review: KILL la KILL

Title: KILL la KILL
Format: TV anime
Genre: sci-fi, parody, comedy, ecchi, action
Series Creator:  Hiroyuki Imaishi
Series Director:  Hiroyuki Imaishi
Studio: Trigger
Series length: 24 episodes
Original Airing dates: 3/10/2013-27/3/2014
Reviewed format: download with subs
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Synopsis:

“Set at Honnouji Academy a fictional high school in Tokyo Bay set in Japan that is dominated by its fearsome student council, led by Satsuki Kiryuin. The council members wear special uniforms called Goku Uniforms that grant them superhuman abilities, which they use to oppress the rest of the school’s students and staff. Ryuko Matoi, a student wielding half of a scissor-shaped longsword, transfers to Honnouji Academy in search of the owner of the other half of the scissor blade, the person who killed her father, Isshin Matoi. Defeated by the council after interrogating Satsuki over the killer’s identity and whereabouts, Ryuko comes across a sentient sailor uniform she names Senketsu, who puts himself on Ryuko. Using Senketsu’s special abilities, Ryuko stands up against Satsuki and her henchmen, the Elite Four, to liberate Honnouji Academy from their iron grip and solve the mystery of her father’s murder. She befriends fellow student Mako Mankanshoku and lives with her family in the slums surrounding the academy.”

WARNING: A fair few spoilers to come!

To say that KILL la KILL was the surprise anime of the last two season is a massive understate.

Despite all of its flaws (which shall be addressed later) was an incredible stand out amongst many very good (& some very mediocre & beyond terrible) anime series from the past 24+ weeks. It was constantly engaging, witty, silly & appropriately dark when needed. Like Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann before it, KILL la KILL parodied established genres & tropes exceptionally well but, unfortunately, does overstep the boundaries a bit -especially in regards to sexual tropes & imagery.

The plot is genitals out batshit insanity to the point that if you tried to describe it to someone who has no idea about anime, they’d walk away vowing never to watch any Japanese media.

The basis of it is: typical angry heroine Matoi Ryuko goes to the strange Honnouji Accademy to find who murdered her father, only to be confronted by the extreme weirdness of the students wearing Goku Uniforms, which grants them super human abilities. The academy is ruled over by the tyrannical Kiryuin Satsuki & her Four Devas (also translated at the Elite Four), who wish to use it as a staging ground to take over other school in Japan. After attempting to challenge Satsuki & being defeated, Ryuko returns to her ruined home & discovers the sentient God Robe Senketsu, who grants who super powers in exchange for drinking some of her blood. Now armed with a weapon to take on Satsuki, the Devas & the empowered students of Honnouji, Ryuko & her new best friend Mako seek to find the truth behind her father’s death as well as stomp as many heads in as she can. Only to find herself beaten & manipulated at every point along her journey.

That’s the start of it but it goes well twisted beyond that point.

The real & utter strength of this series is the fact that no matter how batshit insane the plot gets, it still keeps you utterly hooked through its humour, plot twists &, especially, its characters.
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Ryuko is your typical action hero, angry at the world so she lashes out before thinking, but she goes through a lot of character development during her arc -coming to terms with who & what she is. Similarly, Satsuki begins like your typical arch-villain, found of posing & pronouncing but she has a lot of depth to both her character & motivation to het background. Because of how my brain works, I guessed one of the major plot twists very early but it still didn’t ruin any of the reveal. One reason for that is because even if the protangonist & antagonist do seem very stock, they are surrounded by crazy & interesting side characters.

Mako is Ryuko’s self appointed best friend (& possible love interest) who is always at her side. She is also utterly (intelligence wise) stupid & prone to spouting bizarre inspirational monologues along with equally bizarre physical gestures. Yet her utter stupidity, randomness & inability to be shaken by anything that she sees is what makes her so awesome to watch. She is the ultimate wild card whenever Ryoku finds herself on the ropes or despairing over another lose to Satsuki’s forces & plans. Reality has hold on Mako & that means that she can do almost anything to help support Ryuko in her battles.

The Four Devas also have a huge amount of depth to them, going beyond mere minion status to full characters.
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They are each given time on screen to develop, especially Gamagoori Ira (Disciplinary Committee), by showing how they first came to serve under Satsuki (whom they all refer to as Satsuki-sama). They also seriously beat Ryuko over the course of the 1st half of the series, which subverts so much of the normalcy of anime narrative. They are never shown as true villains & stay true to their own personal goals whilst still loyally serving Satsuki. There are no usurpers in the wings or overly caricatured characters but there is a hell of a lot of parody on many conventions of character creations as well as very clever subversions of trope.

And then in the 2nd half of the series (eps 13-24) it truly goes insane as it is revealed that the true enemy of all humanity are living clothing called Life Fibres & that Senketsu was created for Ryuko (along with her special Life Fibre severing scissors) so she could successfully battle them. Also that the organisation known as Nudist Beach (they are all actually naked) was created by Ryuko’s father in order to help destroy the Life Fibres & save the world.

At that point, all attempts at logic & sanity are shattered -especially with the introduction of Satsuki’s mother, Ragyo, and her twisted pixie-like assistant, Nui. Who are the ones behind the Life Fibres & part of the reason that Ryuko is able to bond with Senketsu.

Unfortunately it is that bonding it is that bonding process that draws my ire & almost stopped me watching early on.

That is because the transformation is so hyper sexualised  (especially the Box Shot [won’t explain, watch the vid in the link]). The costume is intentionally revealing & plays into Ryoku’s character development but I still felt as though it was a huge step backwards for what could’ve been something more interesting &/or inventive. I know the how transformation is a parody of the old Magical Girl transformation but it still irks me for some reason.

At some point, pretty much every character is sexualised in some way (especially some of the men) but it still feels cheap. At least they actually play it straight for the most part & when they draw attention to it, they do it for the sake of parody & comedy (such as Mikisugi’s magic glowing nipples).

Everything in this series is turned up to the proverbial 11 (again, if you don’t get the reference you are way to young or a bit thick), especially the sexualisation of the body & the violence (blood flies everywhere in weird ways), which is both a positive & negative. Positive: adds to the parody levels well. Negative: a lot of people are too mentally ill-equipped to know that it’s a parody.

Yet despite all this excess & hyper-ness (or because of it) I utter adore this series. It has its fault but they can be overlooked because of all the great things that is does well.

Also a quick mention of the soundtrack. That is another thing that works really well. Especially the character leit motifs (the songs that play when characters appear or do an action). Many of the people who worked on the music also worked on Attack On Titan’s OST but they sound poles apart. My favourite track from the series is the transformation theme Until My Body Is Dry: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNo0EhDhpBE

Basically, when it boils down to it, the extreme originality & oddness of KILL la KILL is the main reason that you watch it. It does to the Action & Magical Girl genres what Gurren Lagann did to the mecha genre (only better in my view).

It’s fun, it’s stupid, it’s (literally) genitals out insanity & you’ll kick yourself for not enjoying it.