There is no question that this season's break-out anime is Kill la Kill, the newest anime by the creators of Gurren Lagann. As it reaches its halfway point, it's not hard to see why. It's a series that seems only concerned with one thing: having fun in the most awesome ways possible while taking you along for the ride.
Good — Over-the-Top Action
In a lot of ways, Kill la Kill is what comes about when you take an idea and then let your imagination run completely wild. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the series' action scenes. Each battle is stupendously over-the-top. The enemies fight with everything from super-powered tennis rackets and kendo swords, to biology scalpels and musical instruments.
But more than crazy weapons at every turn, Kill la Kill creates a world where even the laws of physics can't keep up. For one thing, strength and speed seem to be subject to willpower and wardrobe alone; and swords can crash with such force that they create an explosion, which then turns into an implosion — before becoming an even bigger explosion.
All together this makes for an anime that becomes pure eye candy the moment a battle begins.
Good — Crazy Comedy
The comedy in Kill la Kill is as over-the-top as the action, and several episodes revolve around comedic scenes instead of action ones. The comedy tends to come in two forms: slapstick or sexual humour. The slapstick works quite well, relying on visual gags (read: the character of Mako) and clever wordplay. The sexual humour tends to work as well, for the most part, as it centres on Ryuko's, the main character's, overt over-sexualization — though occasionally it goes a bit too far into the realm of pandering. But we'll get more into that later on in the section about fan service.
Good — A Totalitarian School-Based Society
The society seen in Kill la Kill is interesting as it explores a totalitarian regime hidden within the guise of a twisted meritocracy. Simply put, nearly everything of the world we see is based around the school and the students' roles in it. Being an average student leaves your family poor and in the slums. By becoming an above average student, you are granted your first super-powered uniform and your family moves to the middle class section of town. Becoming a team captain grants your family a mansion and a life of luxury.
But while this all seems merit-based, it largely isn't. To get more power, you must prove yourself to be better than the people who already have the power. And of course, as those above you already have the power, only someone with an outside edge like Ryuko can advance inside the system — though she would obviously rather destroy it.
Perhaps the most interesting thing to come from the setup is how it develops the character of the main villain — the student council president Kiriyuin Satsuki. She clearly believes that her system is fair, that the strongest — and thus most useful — will rise to the top regardless. It is her belief that makes the anime's premise even possible — it's the reason why she allows Ryuko to work her way up the ladder toward a one-on-one duel instead of simply overwhelming her with pure numbers. Kiriyuin truly wants to know on some level if she has been wrong all this time.
Good — Taking Magic Girls to the Extreme
As Gurren Lagann was to mecha anime, Kill la Kill is to magical girl anime. That is to say both take the tropes common to their genres, subvert them, and then take them to the farthest possible extreme. In most magical girl anime, the heroes get costumes as a by-product of activating their power. In Kill la Kill, the costume is quite literally the source of Ryuko (and the villains') power.
For another example, magical girls often have skimpy or tight outfits, yet never seem embarrassed by the fact. In the world of Kill la Kill, being embarrassed by your skimpy outfit actually lessens your power. Even the classic magical girl transformation sequence is taken to a whole new level of fan service with its plethora of crotch shots and boob bounces. And speaking of fan service...
Mixed — Stupid Amounts of Fan Service
Like everything else in Kill la Kill, even fanservice is taken to the extreme — Ryuko's costume being the primary example. Really, it is only a little less revealing than a micro bikini — with only suspenders and a micro skirt to cover up the naughty bits. (Kiriyuin hardly gets off any better with her costume.)
Thankfully, the fan service is a bit more even-handed than I would have expected (though it is still miles from equal) as Ryuko's teacher has the habit of performing a strip show each and every time he dives into expository dialogue.
And while I do enjoy the subversive idea that embarrassment affects power, it seems more like an excuse to present even more fan service than an integral part of the plot/world.
In the end, Kill la Kill is an anime doing everything it can to exemplify the term over-the-top. The action is over-the-top; the humour is over-the-top; the fanservice is over-the-top; everything is over-the-top. But behind the rampant fun this series exudes is a clear knowledge of how to subvert anime tropes as well as dish up a moderate helping of social commentary. If nothing else, Kill la Kill's first half is an incredibly entertaining watch, and it will be interesting to see if it can keep up this pace as it heads toward its finale.