Concrete, glass, steel, and steam. At least that’s what makes up most of the buildings in the post-apocalyptic Tokyo Bay’s upper quarter in Imaishi’s latest series, Kill la Kill. Everything in Kill la Kill’s world is utterly dominated by the powerful heiress of the Kiryuin family, Satsuki, and as decreed by her, all of the region is separated by one’s performance in school. Social class and class for… erm, school, is synonymous; a student’s uniform is the sole determinant for whether one lives the ragged slums or the upscale, modern city up above. While the slums beneath are frequented by petty thieves and violent criminals, the upper cities may be even more frightening for their iron-fisted regime and disturbing level of uniformity.
Imaishi’s most important artistic signature is by far his love for anarchy, a theme so dominant in the anime that he’s directed that it’s virtually omnipresent in all of them, whether it be Dead Leaves or Panty and Stocking. Every single one of Imaishi’s original series revolves around rebellion so much that the creative team behind these shows barely try to hide it (the main characters in Panty and Stocking are named the Anarchy sisters, for God’s sake). However, what’s more interesting to me is how this idea is frequently expressed through visuals through an equal portrayal of destruction and order. Rarely ever is the conflict between order and rebellion purely a feature of the text: it’s a motif that’s aggressively ingrained into animation as well.
In order to portray complete anarchy through the medium of animation, it is absolutely necessary to portray at least some form of order, because without it, there would be nothing to rebel against. In many cases, the creative staff goes to extremes; to merely scratch the surface (mostly since I want to revisit this in-depth next week), much of the imagery seen in Imaishi’s series are that of repetition and machinery. These two visual motifs are called upon frequently in order to juxtapose with and, even more excitingly, give way to the waves of inevitable mass destruction and violence so common in the guy’s series. The style of higher-level neighborhoods made exclusively for the “orderly” one stars and above are no exception to this either, and it reflects as well in the buildings.
The living complexes in the picture far up above are built with a heavy emphasis on modernity, featuring a focus on a boxy, efficient form and no attempt to disguise the materials for what they really are, i.e. glass is glass, concrete is concrete, etc. As the great modern architect Le Corbusier would say, these housing units are merely “machines to live in.” It is also especially important to point out the uniformity of the buildings and the lack of individual personality. Much like the aforementioned Corbusier’s infamous and rather massive living unit, the Unite D’Habitation, it exists only to accommodate those who need to live inside: unlike their counterpart found in the slums, they need no individuality or flashy appeal, just the key image of limitless efficiency and freedom through shaving off anything which could be considered complex or unnecessary.
However, the main contradiction with Modernism is that despite its claims of liberation through simplicity, strict adherence to a rigid model of efficiency is anything but liberating. This contradiction is essential to Kill la Kill. Complete and utter dominance won’t bring individuality to those who adhere strictly to the rules as we can see from the mindless, formless image of the student body. Even the head honchos at the top of pyramid are bound to this: the Elite Four and Satsuki Kiryuuin are so possessed by the importance of order that they’re just as controlled as the people they obsessively bully and boss around. It is precisely for this reason that the indistinct, concrete-bound and even Brutalist character of buildings in Kill la Kill were chosen: no matter how efficient and free they make life seem, in the end they’re just as bound to the strict laws imposed on that of the lower-quarter.