Friday, October 15, 2010

Fall 2010 - Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt

If there is any animation studio in Japan whose animation style has been hard to predict, it likely could be Gainax. While it has explored serious undertones and messages (Wings of Honneamise, Evangelion), the studio's primary style is deeply rooted in comedy. At times, the format can be situational (Mahoromatic), confrontational (FLCL), or just plain crude (Ebichu!), but the principle remains the same: it's hard to tell what's coming from Gainax until it charges through the gate.

There is one thing to keep in mind with Gainax's works—there probably hasn't been an envelope they have been afraid of pushing, but their latest production, Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, may be the studio's riskiest venture into comedy yet.

Some fans may mistake this show as a Dirty Pair knockoff, as Panty and Stocking, two angels that have fallen to Daten City due to their corrupt behavior in Heaven, play opposites of each other like Kei and Yuri did. For the blonde vixen Panty, most of her corruption is due to her immense libido for handsome men, while the gothic-lolita Stocking snacks on sweets all day. To get back into Heaven, they must follow the assignments sent to them through their assistant Reverend Garterbelt and collect coins that spring from the "Ghosts" that terrorize the city. To exorcise the Ghosts...let's just say that their weaponry lies in their names.

If anything, Gainax is definitely shooting for shock value with the series. The first two half-episodes show the angels at two very different speeds and classes—the first moves Panty to the bowels of the city's sewers where a monster made up of bowel movements lurks, while the second launches the two at subsonic levels in an attempt to stop a speed demon. Considering that direction was left for Hiroyuki Imaishi, known for his high-speed, rebellious styles in anime (Dead Leaves, Gurren Lagann), the pace of Panty & Stocking is so sonic that it just might leave the Japanese viewer gasping for air.

It may be that Gainax isn't exactly shooting for popularity amongst its Japanese viewership—the presentation of the series is certainly one that is far more Western in influence. Episodes are given the Cartoon Network touch, almost to the point that the creators of The Power Puff Girls should consider this a "homage" or a "lawsuit-waiting-to-happen". Sound effects are plastered over the scenery in chunky letters , while curse words are either spoken in English or bleeped out during the broadcast. Even the floppy mascot Chuck (chakku means "zipper" in Japanese) seems to be an ode to Gir from Invader Zim.

There are some parts about Panty & Stocking that won't sit well. The poop humor. The unfiltered swearing (sometimes aided by Crunchyroll's liberal translations). Panty's flamboyant sexcapades. Combined with the cartoonish art style, these will likely confuse some parents, if not offend them completely. This show is not meant to be consumed by minors. However, it's not as if we haven't seen the humor before in Gainax's shows—"Death Race 2010" felt it was straight from Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi's science-fiction parody episode, down to the panty-licking demon, and FLCL was full of odes to the likes of South Park.

People expecting the run-of-the-mill anime should turn back before passing the point of no return, as Gainax may have reinvented the wheel to the point that Panty & Stocking is no longer considered "anime". The artwork is so cutting-edge, the music by Taku Takahashi of m-flo fame so dance-hall electronic, and the subject matter is so taboo that fans will either love it to death or hate it for being too unique. I'd consider Gainax's attempt to break the mold a colossal success, as long as the show doesn't violate any major censorship laws along the way.

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