I’ve gushed a couple times already about what a cool character Ira Gamagoori is, both in terms of what a great showcase he is for Kill la Kill’s visual excesses, as well as how interesting his characterization is within the show’s themes. So the stage, or giant battle-platform-tower as it were, should naturally be set to put the Disciplinary Committee head on all-out display in his battle with Ryuko here in episode 9. In practice, however, it winds up feeling like not all it could have been, perhaps a consequence of all that great Gamagoori content they’d already showered us with in previous episodes taking away from what could be shown off here.
Studio Trigger cheekily shrouded Gamagoori’s transformed Goku Uniform states in shadow in the previous episode, treating that as just a tease so that the full impact would still hit as he goes to town here. Similarly, spending a more down-time-y episode explicating on how his ridiculous BDSM Iron Man getup works makes it easier to get right to the good parts of actually fighting in this one. It works for a quick moment, but then we realize that this single battle is going to take up the entire episode’s time slot, and with Ryuko already fully knowing what she’s up against, there’s not much to do beyond watch her unstoppable force crash against Gamagoori’s immovable object until she comes up with a plan that actually works. Kill la Kill has shown it can do longer fights a few times already, Ryuko versus Satsuki in the third episode being an obvious standout. But it doesn’t work as well here due to the sheer amount of time it’s taking up, the necessitated repetitiveness, and its bottom-bracket billing in the tournament pretty well ensuring we know no surprise outcome is on the way at this stage.
That isn’t to accuse this episode of being boring, something that Kill la Kill’s presentation ensures is borderline impossible for it to do even in its most minimal moments. But it lacks a lot of the punchy back-and-forth we’ve come to expect, and that especially stings considering that this is the show-off showdown for a character as delightful as Gamagoori. He’s almost more lively in the minutes leading up to the fight; the animators gleefully continue his running gag of being able to be any size he wishes, an effect that continues even through the more somber affair that is this episode’s flashback to him and Satsuki in junior high. Though as with the other points it feels a bit undercut by how much of it was led into last week.
The question of why someone like Gamagoori would ultimately follow someone like Satsuki seems to be answered with a fairly opaque explanation of principles, that his determination impressed her, and he ended up seeing the same dedication in her. That prior flashback was important in making clear that corrupt power structures were already present and being exploited before Satsuki’s takeover, and the implication seems to be that Gamagoori saw her as the best option to reform it with the only method available: Strength. There’s an argument that Gamagoori’s principles maintain manifestation in her fascistic system represented in his self-inflicted power-punishment. See, just like Ryuko’s saucy sailor uniform, it’s sexy and thematic!
It also clears the way for a big finish to let the show roar back to life at the last minute. It’s classic shonen battle stuff, with Ryuko making a last-minute gambit to pull off an improbable win based on details we’d been given earlier. But the flair it applies to its formula is how Kill la Kill has made hay so far, and Ryuko shifting Senketsu so she can transform into friggin’ Wolverine is absolutely that appreciable kind of thrilling surprise. It also immediately keeps us in the mind of this tournament’s whole motif, the idea of ‘evolution’ powering Satsuki’s motives. There’s perhaps too much of a delay in getting there, but by the end of episode 9, Kill la Kill proves it’s still all about moving forward.
And thankfully, that continues in the momentum of the tenth episode! It’s almost as if they’re aware of the foot-dragging of the ninth and wanting to make up for it. The irony being that the previous episode actually comes off even more languid by comparison, but this has always been a show more about the effort than a perfect result every time. It also marks the point when a defeated Gamagoori sits down next to Mako Mankanshoku in what turns out to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship, so I’m obviously going to look upon this one fondly. The other draw at the beginning of this episode is the promise of content focused on Houka Inumuta, the one member of the Elite Four who hasn’t really done anything yet.
Inumuta is fun to watch in the moments he gets in this episode. Trigger is clearly having a blast drawing his flourishes like posing wildly while typing all over himself. But the irony is that his presence here still isn’t much about himself, as he’s instead used as a vehicle to ask prudent questions about the power levels of the series and where they might be going with these. What does Ryuko’s continued evolution represent, and how does it tie into her surprising ability to wield a uniform made entirely of Life Fibers? The funny part comes from the point that his insistence on mere numbers isn’t enough to contain everything that Kill la Kill has encompassed in its battle-themed insanity so far. Ryuko’s ultimate counter of “Make a crazy attack crazier, and it’ll hit” might as well be Imaishi and Trigger’s life mantra at this point, and it’s enough to force Inumuta to give up early.
Inumuta’s fight getting cut short less than halfway into the episode is pretty good as a subversive gag within Kill la Kill’s standard structure so far. But it does continue that odd occurrence of us just not getting to know much about the guy. Even the episode opening flashback to his own first meeting with Satsuki feels more about her than him, reiterating the striking impression she makes on powerful people in order to sway them to her cause. It foreshadows Inumuta’s somewhat cowardly self-saving ways, sure, but a clever set up for an anticlimax still results in an anticlimax.
But there’s almost a whole theme of one-upmanship as these battles go on, continuing to Nonon Jakuzure. That’s three fights so far in two episodes, take notes, other battle-actions shows! And that helps fuel the overall feeling of escalation, backed as well by Jakuzure’s swelling diegetic classical music score and by her eventually taking the fight to the skies. Yes there’s a lot to love about Satsuki’s seemingly self-appointed best friend (if you know me you know my personal favorite charm point of hers is being Trigger’s contractually-obligated Mayumi Shintani character for this show) so lucky for us her fight’s still going even as this episode closes. There’s something to be said about the point when both combatants are in the air is when the action truly feels like it’s achieved liftoff.
Jakuzure’s characterization has more going on than Inumuta, but she still feels a bit one-note at this point compared to the likes of Gamagoori and Sanageyama. Her devotion to Satsuki has been ever-present, and her requisite flashback seems to mostly subsist on demonstrating that Miss Kiryuin and her unique worldview has been inspiring people to follow her as far back as kindergarten. The brevity and lesser depth of these latest flashbacks almost feel shortchanged, as there’s plenty to explore in what motivates different people to follow an obvious tyrant. Rather than any physical reward, Jakuzure seems to regard her friendship with Satsuki as the most valuable possession itself. Adjacency to power can be as tempting a trade as the power itself, but this is only speculative characterization at this point. Ironically, upping the explosive quotient of the actual battles leaves less space for Kill la Kill to weave in characterization and musings on the nature of the power they wield.
That’s fine for this tournament arc, especially as things escalate to such absurd levels by the end of the tenth episode. But this is obviously Kill la Kill’s freshest flirtation with multi-episode storytelling, meaning things don’t feel quite as tight as they did back in its more singular outings. But there’s that point about evolution again, and the show needing to explore different ways of presenting itself to grow its art and narrative. It means the series can come off as uneven in places like this, but I feel it’s an even trade for seeing its crew get to experiment with what they want to do with it, treating the series as their own living, changing thing.
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