Kill la Kill & Space Dandy – Embracing the Unquantifiable (OR: THE UNIBROW)

Text version and links:

Kill la Kill: A Love Story – the enormous KLK analysis that precludes any need for me to do one. Also kinda must read to fully get where this video is coming from:

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Post-modern art is often thought of as flying in the face of labels or critique, but I wonder if it doesn’t more generally fly in the face of quantification. As a scientifically-minded culture, I think it’s natural that we seek to quantify and qualify everything to the furthest extent possible. We want to understand and be able to communicate our understanding as best we can. I also think that every emotion and thought is probably quantifiable if explored to a far enough extent. However, I don’t think that such quantifications could ever be completely comprehended by the human mind. In Psycho-Pass, a literal hivemind was used to try and qualify human behavior by interpreting quantified data, but the system still admitted its own bias in doing so, pushing the idea of objectivity into a sci-fi future beyond even that show’s reach.

If we can’t really interpret the world around us objectively or describe all of our thoughts and feelings in a way that others can perfectly understand, then it stands to reason that we can’t judge works of art based on any set of hardline rules. Many works of art purposely adhere to popular standards and try to send comprehensible messages because they can reach a larger audience by appealing to something more broadly understood. However, I think there are some shows which seek to capture, or even comment on, the unquantifiable.

Space Dandy might be considered a comedy series, but I wouldn’t say that a lot of it is laugh-out-loud funny. Often it’s more that the series is just delightful or fun to watch, or creates a feeling in the viewer that they enjoy having. What feeling that is exactly is hard to say. The word “fun” gets tossed around so much with Space Dandy because it’s such a broad range of feeling. “Fun” doesn’t really describe any one emotion, so much as it does a state of being. You know when you’re having fun, but fun can involve a huge variety of elements. Trying to put into words exactly what makes Space Dandy “fun” is incredibly difficult–and I think that’s intentional.

Space Dandy is impossible to pin down. Sometimes it seems to embrace absurdism, sometimes it seems to have a clear message, sometimes it goes full tilt into the bizarre and difficult to interpret, and sometimes the story has no real resolution, the characters don’t have obvious motivations, or the exact feeling that the story is meant to convey is not clear. There’s a reason Space Dandy makes people feel weird and uneasy sometimes, and why it seems to get less critical acclaim than the likes of Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo, which were more direct and clearly emotional. And that reason has nothing to do with the quality of its writing, and everything to do with the series’ indefinable being. No one can accurately tell you what Space Dandy is about or what kind of show it is–they can only tell you vague things like that it’s fun and strange and about a dandy guy in space, which aren’t particularly helpful critical standpoints.

But even in all this confusion, Space Dandy does manage to resonate. It manages to appeal to people, asking that you take a step back and stop trying to fit the show into your existing paradigms of what anime is or should be. Even though we can’t figure out why or how the episodes make us feel something, it’s clear that the show very often manages to tap into our senses somehow and give us something to relate to and appreciate. It shows that inside our minds and hearts are emotions that we recognize, but don’t know how to explain.

If Space Dandy is about embracing the indefinite, Kill la Kill is about challenging definition. The difference is that Space Dandy barely acknowledges the existence of clear definition, whereas Kill la Kill actively battles against it.

In the masterfully written post Kill la Kill: A Love Story over on the blog Chromatic Aberrations Everywhere, the author claims that Kill la Kill challenges the idea of dichotomies while encouraging the embrace of all disparate ideas to form one cohesive whole. In its final episode, Ryuko battles against the symbols of pure order and pure chaos while representing not so much middle ground, but totality.

I think the series best challenges artistic dichotomy in its use of nudity. Many critics would struggle to decide which parts of Kill la Kill’s nudity serve an artistic narrative purpose, and which parts of it are audience-pandering fanservice. The truth is that all of the nudity is both, and it challenges our use of such a dichotomy in the first place. At the end of the day, it’s not that this is “Art” or that it’s “Pornography,” but simply that it’s “Nudity.” Nakedly truthful–it is what it is, and it isn’t anything else. But it’s also everything else, because Kill la Kill uses symbolism out the wazoo. Again, there’s no room for dichotomies in this show. Nothing is just a symbol or just what it is, it’s always both. Kill la Kill shows us how trying to define ourselves by just one ideal or set of concepts belies how complex we actually are–and states that only by embracing our complexity and all the parts that make up who we, collectively, are, can we work as a functional whole.

Kill la Kill and Space Dandy both fascinate me, because both of them are created by teams of the most intelligent, creative and downright legendary figures in the anime industry. These aren’t just veteran directors and writers, they’re titans of animation, renowned for creating some of the most revered anime series in existence. So it’s interesting to see how both teams would create something which appears at once deliberately simple and low-brow, yet obviously containing incredible depth and technical capability. What we get is not something like Quentin Tarantino making his part of the Grindhouse double-feature–we actually get the likes of Kill Bill or Inglourious Basterds–a deliberate fusion of the so called high-brow and low-brow elements of the medium that challenges the distinction between the two. Creations that unify cultural ideas, emotions, and norms, into something that goes beyond quantification and becomes its own entity that we can only define by our experience with it. This is not high or low brow–this is unibrow.

2 thoughts on “Kill la Kill & Space Dandy – Embracing the Unquantifiable (OR: THE UNIBROW)

  1. Pingback: Anime Power Rankings Presents: The Top 10 Shows of 2014 » Behind The Nihon Review

  2. Pingback: Critical Analysis – Media Does Not Exist in a Vacuum | PavoKujaku

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