# Art For Art's Sake (Kill la Kill First Impressions)
I watched *The Auteur* recently, and was surprised how implausible I found the concept - a serious, artistic director, firmly devoted to his vision, making porn. Well, maybe that's not so plausible - the defining characteristic of porn is that it panders to the viewer, offering exactly what they want with minimal effort. But eroticism seems like a powerful (if crude) tool, something artists would do very well to have in their palette.
We see a few instances of this; the British Museum's current "Shunga" exhibition is well regarded, erotic but commanding aesthetic respect. But this seems to be fundamentally a matter of orientalism; it's impossible to imagine a similar exhibition accomodating, say, the works of Luis Royo. In the west there is this sharp line between serious artistic endeavour and anything with the potential to titilate. (I recall an introduction to *Lolita* which was at pains to point out that, although originally published as porn, the novel in fact had its scenes carefully arranged to frustrate such tastes). Of late I've been reading some really quite excellent stories produced by a small internet circle. They're not copyright-breaking fanfiction, and there's a lot of genuine artistic talent on display. But because their style runs to erotica, none of the members seem to think about even trying to do anything with their stories except give them away on the internet.
Interestingly this does not seem to be the case in Japan; many successful creators got their start in outright porn. Indeed, a number of popular series (*Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha* and the various *Fate/\** works spring immediately to mind) have their origins there. Going in the other direction we have "Takotsuboya", the frustrated aspiring manga artist who turned to pornographic fanfiction (the open sale of which is entirely accepted in Japan). And to a certain extent we have Studio Trigger, a group of animé industry veterans who have turned to making something terribly self-indulgent.
That's not to say *Kill la Kill* is a bad show (nor their previous work, the web series *Inferno Cop*, to which my thesis also applies). It's a beautiful reminder of all the things that made old animé great, as well as a love letter to a dying form that's as acute as *Chrono Trigger* and as slick as anything Tarantino ever did. We're reminded forcibly that animation is not live action, that the usual rules do not apply here; at times it feels like the show is emphasising its own cheapness, shocking not even for the sake of shocking but just for the sake of reminding you that it can. The visual style owes something to *Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann*, but also drows us back to the early '80s when every anime looked like this (if in lower resolution) - the greys, the thick lines, the crude but powerful tricks to convey motion or emotion.
At times it can seem like a conscious answer, a "this is how you do it", to *Attack on Titan* (though I suspect many shows would fit equally well here). If you've already discarded realism in your setting, you might as well bend it as far as it will go. If you hit your budget, don't pan over still frames, just use more stylization (I just rewatched episode 16 of *Simoun* with some friends, and the power of this approach is attested by the fact that I hadn't even realized there was any budget issue). And your viewers are nerds and know they are, so it's ok to give them what they want - no use trying to hold on to your dignity or that of your main character. Ironically it is this very commitment to pandering that, more than anything else, proves the integrity of this show. Love it or hate it, there's nothing insincere about it.
Does it work? Again, Tarantino is the obvious comparison. I remember a friend's comment: he's perfectly recreated the '60s grindhouse movie, but you know what? They sucked. It's a pulp throwback in the same style as that, or *Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow*, or *Raiders of the Lost Ark*. All of which I loved, and to hell with mainstream artistic pretension.
Maybe that's the right answer; to abandon the art establishment as inherently bankrupt, and value only that which is entertaining. But *Kill la Kill* is both more and less than this. For all its beauty you can see deep underlying problems, the kind that killed this style in the first place. When the mooks dropped into boiling oil turn cartoonishly into walking, talking tempura, it not only drags us out of the scene, it makes the whole universe that little less credible. When students are executed for minor infringements the school setting seems laughably unsustainable, at which point the morality of a heroic intervention becomes more questionable. When the uniform that's bound to our heroine violates her not with regret, but with amusement - not the grim amusement of a psychopath exercising his power, but the jollity of a schoolkid for whom this is all a bit of a lark - it makes its (his?) superficial humanity all the less coherent. I'm all for wacky settings, but a series needs to follow its own logic if it wants the viewer to care. Otherwise we get something like the weaker episodes of *Code Geass*, where no peril could possibly seem relevant because we all knew Lelouch would pull something fresh out of his ass to get out of it. Go far enough down this line and we stop caring about the characters, which even the prettiest show can't survive.
And yet in its singleminded perfection of a particular style, *Kill la Kill* achieves something beautiful and pure. I'm not yet sure if I enjoy it - no, that's not true, I definitely enjoy it, but I don't think I could recommend it to anyone else. It's unlikely to be a good series, at least by modern standards. But it is, truly, a work of art.
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