My Review of Kill Me Baby!

Yasuna is a chipper, energetic high school girl with bravado that’s entirely fueled by her lack of brains. Her everyday high school life might have consisted of endless pep rallies and air-headed trips to the mall with friends, had she the ability to make like-minded friends… Instead, she wound up making friends with the girl seated next to her in the back of the room in their homeroom class, the cold foreigner Sonya. It’s difficult to say what black magic lead these two oddballs to become so tight with each other, but ever since their paths became intertwined, Yasuna’s ideal school life has become nothing but danger and abuse at the hands of her new BFF, who turned out to be an assassin!

Assigned to their school as part of her career, Sonya has little patience for her bubbly friend, who interferes with her work, constantly ropes her into crazy schemes, and even more constantly sets off her PTSD, to which Sonya always has a wrestling hold and a broken wrist to give her in return. And if these two didn’t sound like enough of a classroom disruption, Yasuna soon meets Agiri, a mysterious acquaintance of Sonya’s who claims to be a ninja, and is always ready to supply her two pals with acme-style ninja gadgets, for a small fee of course. With these three nuts in the same basket, school life is sure to be anything but normal or average for everyone involved.

I’ve talked about JC Staff before, to the point that I should probably replace Gainax Month with it. I won’t, of course. JC’s animation production tends to fall into three different camps; In one camp, you have beautiful animation that obviously had lots of effort and resources poured into it, like the first 7/8’ths of A Certain Scientific Railgun and most of Toradora.. Then you have bafflingly ugly anime that tries to look more expensive than it actually is, like Okami-san and her Seven Companions. Finally, you have the camp right in the middle… Anime with moderate budgets that save money wherever possible and make up for it whenever necessary. The majority of their work falls into this category, like Azumanga Daioh, Excel Saga, and of course Kill Me Baby.

Keeping with the trend, Kill Me Baby isn’t a show that really demands a high budget… The characters are chibis, despite technically being in high school, and they don’t demand a wide range of movement to express their parts in any given situation. The budget is normally saved for the rare special effects and lighting techniques, as well as some surprisingly smooth action scenes. The money they do spend on slapstick and physical humor is well spent, causing little to no visible hiccups in the process.

What’s equally impressive, though, is the art style and use of color. This show features a very restrained sense of artistry, using minimal and often recycled illustrations for the backgrounds of any given scene, but they’re still relaxed and detailed enough to blend and come to life in the story. The backgrounds are adequate at the very worst, but what I found myself more attracted to were the colored backgrounds that appeared behind the characters whenever the actual backgrounds disappeared. At first glance, you’d think they just took a bunch of white boards, gave crayons to a few elementary school kids, and pasted the result onto the background in place of actual environments.

On closer examination, however, it becomes clear that each of these backgrounds is intended to express the feelings of the characters and what’s going on in each cut. Imagery similar to a sunrise will be used when Yasuna has what she perceives to be a great idea, and when you cut to Sonya bluntly explaining why it’s a bad idea, you’ll instead see what appears to be the last few rays of Yasuna’s sunrise being trapped under a blue screen that’s covered by vertical white lines… In other words, Sonya’s raining on Yasuma’s sunrise. Mixed colors, whether blended or overlapped, are used respectively to convey agreement or mixed feelings. Weird purple bubbles will look as though their pushing back a calm blue background to convey that Yasuna is disturbing Sonya’s piece, etc.

It’s simple and not terribly deep, but it’s still a really nice touch, and once you start noticing it you likely won’t stop. The character designs should be somewhat on the generic side… The genki girl has messy short chestnut hair, the cold-hearted foreigner has blonde pigtails, and the mysterious girl has long dark hair… But the chibi aesthetic makes these choices feel like more of a deconstruction or parody than it actually is. The facial expressions are thoughtful and detailed, and expressive enough to serve their purpose. The music is kind of forgettable… It’s the kind of samey generic music that you’d expect from a slice-of-life gag show… But the opening and closing themes are just awesome enough to make up for it.

The opening theme is called Kill Me no Baby, and I had a hard describing it until I read someone on ANN calling it sped-up polka music, which sounds about right. It’s catchy, and it’s sung by the main cast members, who repeat the title of the show over-and-over again in in the chorus. The ending theme, The True Secret Behind Our Feelings, is a bit slower, and features the same two actresses singing over a low-key techno beat The songs are cool, but what really sells them both are the videos, which I could watch over all day. The opening’s video features the three girls (and one unnamed character) fighting off an alien invasion! No, I’m not kidding, it shows a UFO attacking the earth, with the ninja, the assassin and the idiot fighting them both inside and outside of the ship. The ending is somehow even funnier, as it features Sonya and Yasuna doing a synchronized dance that looks like it’s going to be morning exercises at first, but turns out to just be a series of hilarious moving poses.

The English dub is… Well, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, but at least the good and bad points are very clear cut. This is a Sentai dub, and based on the period that it came out, it’s fairly obvious that the scripting and ADR directing was in the hands of one Stephen Foster. This isn’t Foster’s usual kind of dub, though… To start with the good attributes, he didn’t rewrite it. It stays very faithful to the original script, with the only real changes being the odd ad-lib from Luci Christian, and these normally work for the better, making her character’s snarky sarcastic humor more accessible to a western audience.

Speaking of Luci Christian, one of the usual positive aspects of a Stephen Foster dub is still present here, and I’m surprised people never gave him enough credit for this… The acting in English is really good, maybe even slightly better than the Japanese. Luci growls and grumbles her way through the long-suffering straight man Sonya, and Hilary Haag turns her childish charm up to 11 for her role as the bubbly Yasuna, and the two of them work off of each other brilliantly. Rozie Curtis also does a fantastic job as Agiri, making her character sound aloof and nonchalant, yet with condescension and some distinctly bad intentions lurking below the surface. Brittany Karbowski is enjoyable as usual, playing a nameless character who’s only known by the descriptive term “Unused character,” and wants nothing more than to find some sort of purpose in the main cast.

Unfortunately, such uncharacteristic quality comes at a steep price. This is a somewhat common thing in Foster’s work, and I plan on talking about it more if I ever review Medaka Box or Kids On the slope, but in order to stay faithful to the script of an anime, Foster compensates by completely ignoring lip flaps. Yes, he makes no attempt at directing his actors to match what they’re saying with what’s on screen, it’s ugly but true. What the characters are saying in English will begin before they’ve opened their mouths, and end afterwards, and no pause is acknowledged. I’d say to ignore it, but it’s really distracting, and it’s hard to get over just how well a better director would have been able to make the dub look and sound a lot better without having to sacrifice one for the other.

I’m not the first person to make this observation, but comedy is hard to review. Humor is subjective, and thus there’s no way to predict whether or not other people will find the same things funny that you do. Kill Me Baby is a slice-of-life slapstick comedy, told mainly through extended vignettes, so I can understand many viewers will likely find themselves losing interest during the full length episodes of a show that ideally should have been presented in 12 minute chunks. I like to find other things to discuss when reviewing comedies, but in Kill Me Baby, the only thing I can really discuss IS the comedy, so bare with me through this.

The style of comedy that Kill Me Baby uses is the classic ‘Straight-man-Goofball’ type of style… Where you have one character acting like a fool and trying to get on their counterpart’s nerves, and that counterpart delivers by either pointing out the goofball’s foolishness or just flat out smacking a bitch. This style is used often in the genre, and I must say I’m quite fond of it myself, but unless both characters take their roles to extreme levels, it’s hard for this dynamic to carry a series. Luckily, both Yasuna and Sonya take their respective roles and make them the central elements of their characters, so that the style can be carried to some very versatile places. Yasuna isn’t just a happy-go-lucky idiot, she’s a prankster, and thrives on the chance to get the better of her BFF, making her a very active goofball. Sonya is extremely edgy, and has a laundry list of trigger warnings, as she’s frightened of most animals, and is quick to become offended, making her a perfectly reactive straight man.

The rest of the cast is small, consisting mainly of two-bit extras that we’re not supposed to commit to memory, such as “Girl who lost wallet belonged to,” “owner of annoying dog,” and “Old man who keeps getting roped into stuff.” Agiri makes for a great third wheel, as her weirdness and casual antagonizing is one of the only things that Yasuna and Sonya are ever on the same side about, giving us rare glimpses of camaraderie between them. Unused Character is, surprise surprise, kind of useless, and doesn’t do much other than act as meta-commentary on the small size of the main cast. She could have honestly been left out, basically, and she knows it. With her and Agiri acting as occasional crutches, this show survives primarily on the strength of it’s two central characters and the wide array of interactions they can have.

For the most part, the story really only has three settings… Walking to school, hanging out between classes, and walking home from school, and the amount of material they can squeeze out of these settings is amazing. Yasuna always has something to bother Sonya with, and even when she doesn’t, she still has enough dimension to carry a satisfying vignette. Sonya herself does of course have the violent and sour reactions in good supply, but for whatever reason, she’s still more or less game to TRY and enjoy her time with Yasuna, and she even shows some shockingly real vulnerability in her occasional confusion over Japanese culture, as well as in the ways her PTSD has believably affected her reactions to otherwise non-threatening noises and events.

I could easily file this show away under the long list of plotless slice-of-life shows, but when I really think about it, that wouldn’t actually be fair. Yes, there’s no long term plot, nothing over-all that the girls are trying to accomplish, despite Yasuna’s futile insistence of a motive in the final episodes. The plots, believe it or not, come in the lengthy vignettes that make up each episode. This isn’t like in Azumanga Daioh or Lucky Star, where entire stretches of story can be made up of just interchangeable interactions that seemingly have nothing to do with each other… For the most part, an episode of Kill Me Baby will consist of quarter-to-half-length stories where something happens… Yes, things are constantly happening in this show, to varying levels of importance or impact… And there’s almost always a clear goal, even if that goal is just the two characters getting the best of each other.

While this style of storytelling doesn’t wear thin easily, the jokes themselves can become kind of repetitive, and it can sometimes feel like the writers were stretching for ideas. Vignettes that remove themselves from the normal setting, such as Yasuna’s New Year’s dreams, kind of fall flat, and the humor can lose steam if you’re bingeing more than a few episodes per sitting, meaning a portion of one episode per day would probably be ideal. Having said all that, I still say that Sonya and Yasuna are the backbone of this series, and while the execution isn’t perfect, it’s still a great concept that the writers are at the very least having a lot of fun with, never having to resort to cheap fan service(Which is good, because seriously, how do you make small anatomically disproportionate bobblehead characters sexy without failing at it like Lucky Star did?). The writer of the original manga, Kaduho, clearly loved these characters, and you probably will too.

Kill Me Baby is available from Sentai Filmworks, and is available on DVD and Blu-ray. It’s also available for free on Crunchyroll, and you can find pretty much the entire series dubbed on youtube. The original manga, by mysterious author Kaduho, is not available stateside. The follow-up OVA series, Kill Me Baby super, can be viewed online in many different places.

Out of all the anime comedies that I’ve reviewed thus far, I think the one this most closely resembles would be Squidgirl… A fun series built on the strength of one really strong concept, enthusiastically explored in enough creative ways to excuse the somewhat lackluster backdrops that it’s set against. But like Squidgirl, it’s biggest problem is just how simple it is. Sure, there’s some complexity to the characters, but there’s little to no depth to any of it. It’s not really worth a second look unless the humor really worked for you, but in my case, it definitely did, and as fast-paced as the jokes in it are, you’re sure to find at least a few moments per episode that’ll work for you to. It’s a decent comedy that promises some great laughs, and that’s all it really needs to be. I give Kill Me Baby a 7/10.  

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