I see the phrase “so bad it’s good” pop up frequently in reviews of some popular series. It takes no genius to see the paradox of the words, and I dare believe the emotional background behind the people choosing to use this expression is almost always the same. The reviewer has, in his or her mind, a clear definition of what a quality anime is. He or she is then shocked to encounter a title which meets almost none of the criteria, and yet manages to be extremely fun. This puts the reviewer in a bind – is his or her taste not quite as refined as previously assumed? Better put the blame on the show being bad enough to act as a parody of its own concept.
But because art is a dialogue, it is not surprising that there will be shows not normally up a given reviewer’s alley that will nevertheless win him or her over. It is all quite straightforward – anime should promise, and deliver on its promises; whip up expectations, and meet those expectations. Series like Code Geass and Gurren Lagann had plenty of flaws, but they knew exactly what they wanted to be, and were upfront enough about it. People violently opposed to the styles of those shows were spared the time necessary to finish them, and everyone else knew what they were getting themselves into. We suspend disbelief when diving into the multitude of fantastic anime worlds, and we can just as well suspend judgement and expectations, if the show is skillful enough to talk us into it.
So in a sense, I see all this “so bad it’s good” thing as people being tsundere about shows they unexpectedly came to like. But the reason I am writing about this all is that there are indeed scenes/episodes/series out there, however rare, that need to be bad in order to be good – in a literal, and not tsun tsun sense. And watching Kill La Kill ep. 8 made me wonder if it is not one such example.
Getting my personal opinion on the show out of the way, I had a difficult time warming up to Kill La Kill at first. The rapid pace made it difficult to connect with any of the characters. But it is getting to the point where I can say I am enjoying the show for what it is, especially since we’re finally seeing some character development for the cast.
Episode 8 was received by fans as a “smooth transition episode” and by haters as an episode where “not a single thing actually happens”. But even proclaimed fans note how the elections changed nothing. So I was not alone in expecting some kind of twist, even if it was unlikely anything could go awry – the students still had on the uniforms they used up to that day, and so the power gaps were still there. The characters themselves agree, Nonon quipping that the result was obvious to begin with. That was one pointless revolution, I thought.
But then, is that something new? Mankind did experience several revolutions where great ideas reached critical mass and exploded, bringing about a new order. But if you take the time to watch the news, your average revolution is little more than a coup d’état, changing nothing but the name of whoever’s on top at the moment. The people of Africa get dragged into very real domestic wars, but those never result in real change.
Satsuki’s little purge is a shining example of such a revolution because it brings together two conditions:
1) people fighting each on their own, and for their own benefit only, with nothing greater to unite them and prevent them from stabbing each other in the back whenever the opportunity arises
2) a completely skewed power balance, with the eventual victors starting out with more firepower than the grunts they crush have combined
One of the characters wonders at one point if Satsuki is going to destroy the system she herself has built up. The answer is: no she is not. To Satsuki, who sees the common folk of the academy as little more than swine acting on base instincts, the result of the elections is obvious to begin with. In their selfish struggle for power and wealth, the students inevitably protect the system keeping them on Satsuki’s leash, preventing any chance of actual change.
Seen like that, this episode had to be pointless. Because pointlessness was the point.
Those “so bad it’s good” elements of a show are fascinating, because they are inevitably playing with fire. No show quite gets across the horror of time loops as well as Suzumiya does in its Endless Eight episodes. The portrayals found in Higurashi and Madoka (heck, even Steins;Gate) are poetic, dramatic and beautiful. And we want that sweet veil of false beauty in our entertainment – we might want to watch people suffer, but only from a safe distance. Endless Eight is so vicious in making its point that it almost entirely fails as entertainment, even if it succeeds as art.
Here is hoping Kill la Kill does not feel too obligated to be bad from now on.
PS Then again, I might be going easy on the episode because of it having Nakahara-sama, albeit in a short scene.