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"Panty And Stocking With Garterbelt": Rebirth of Fun Anime

Let me lead by saying that it’s not like there haven’t been good anime the past few years. There’s Baccano, Gurren Lagann, Nana, and Trapeze to name a few from the series side of things, and I must admit that Summer Wars and the new Evangelion movies are all great animated films. Plus, sometimes the driving force behind the current anime industry, moe, has had a few gems in with the tripe. The first Haruhi Suzumiya series was great, and you certainly can’t fault the production values of anything put out by Kyoto Animation. However, you can only watch the same tropes so many times before you get burned out on them, if only because those tropes have been so honed in the past half-a-decade. As such, I can’t really say I’ve been insanely excited about any given anime as of late. In fact, Haruhi sticks out as one of the last series I was truly enamored of, and Summer Wars holds the same spot on the movie front. Maybe that was further exacerbated by a particularly great run of new US series as of late, or maybe that’s just what happens once you get past your 10th harem title.

Then I saw the trailer for Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt, and I felt like I was 16 again. The raw visual fair; the pulsing, electronic sound track; and the clearly subversive mix of cute, simple design, hyper-violence and referential undertones all shouting in a wave of nostalgia. After what felt like a ridiculous parade of psuedo-intelligent animated sleep aids, utterly inane slice of life comedies, and cheaply perverse lolicon fodder, here seemed to be something that actually had raw energy, serious action and tongue-in-cheek sexuality.

Then, after what felt like an interminable wait, I watched the first episode…

It was like someone wrapped Cutey Honey and Gunsmith Cats into The Powerpuff Girls with a side of Bleach, John K. and Jhonen Vasquez for good measure. It was grotesque, foul, warped, hilarious, sexual and completely unapologetic for all of that. If this is a statement on moe, it’s a kick in the dinner plate eyes of every virginal lolita character the Akirabara faithful buy body pillows of. These characters are nasty, crude and ready to shoot, cut, beat and kick the stuffing out of any villain that crosses their path. If it’s a love letter to late 1990’s American animation, it’s succeeds wildly, even capitalizing on staples like classic film references and general genre parody. It should come off as derivative of shows like The Powerpuff Girls and Dexter’s Lab, yet it really feels more like a respectful tip of the hat in a weird way. It’s easily Gainax’s best work since Gurren Lagann, but it may be their funniest work ever, even besting the hilarious heights achieved by their classic Abenobashi Magical Shopping District. In fact, it’s vying for best anime series of the year in my book, and it’s probably in the top five of my global animation list for the year. Visually, it’s probably the most inventive show out of Japan since Dead Leaves.

Hey, funny how the guy who made Dead Leaves also works on this show.

All that praise out of the way, let gets down to the usual review stuff. The setting is a Daten City, a town that exists on the border between Heaven and Hell, and thus is always plagued by the ghosts of people who aren’t properly at rest. These ghosts then take their vengeance on the city in horrible destructive ways. They also always take a form related to their previous interests: a dead plumber becomes a poop monster (thinking Dogma? you’re right) while a dead car fanatic becomes a race car, then a truck, then a TRAIN. What will stop these evil ghosts from ruining the city? Why, it’s Panty and Stocking, two lazy angels sent from Heaven by God to fight the ghosts! With the power of Panty’s panty-gun and Stocking’s stocking-sword, they keep the town safe from said menacing ghosts. Also, for every ghost the girls put to rest, they get some Heaven coins that will probably be a plot point later, but for the most part seem just be a sign that if they don’t collect coins, God’s going to kick-ban them from Heaven.

Perhaps that’s because Panty and Stocking aren’t really good people otherwise. Panty (repeatedly) sleeps with any guy she can find and curses (in English) like a sailor, while Stocking has a hankering for sugar pretty much to the preclusion of all else. Even when they fight ghosts, they wreck up the city, destroy cop cars and crash trains into news helicopters, tallying a collateral damage more akin to a small war than anything else. They also have a transformation sequence that shares more in common with a gentleman’s club than Sailor Moon, further driving the point home that these aren’t the virginal heroines typical of current anime in the slightest. All of this gets on the nerves of Garterbelt, the funky, blaxploitation-homaging priest in whose church Panty and Stocking live. All in all, this isn’t deep characterization, but it’s fun.

Besides, what really makes this work isn’t necessarily the general plot; think about it too much and you might get caught up thinking it’s nothing special or just plain obscene. No, what sells this show is what it does with the setting and its influences. It’s visually unbelievable, effortlessly jumping between buttery-smooth and intentionally stiff animation just to stick a given gag. The storyboards and direction never let a minute or opportunity for a visual gag go to waste. In a time where so many anime seem content to limp along with pacing about as energetic as a slug on ketamine, this show skips along with rapid fire humor and action. This may also have something to do with the fact that it’s doing two 11-minute episodes per half-hour, just like something made for Cartoon Network. The music is easily the best electronica-driven work since the PPG, and Panty and Stocking may even best it some key places (the music for the stripper transformation is relentlessly catchy.) The VA work is also quite nice, though I can’t wait to hear it dubbed. This is the kind of show built for a studio like FUNimation. They won’t even have to localize the humor for the most part, though if they somehow managed to get this on TV outside of the FUNimation Channel, they’ll have to clean the language up a little, I think.

In fact, before I wrap the review, let’s take a pause to make a plea for this show:

Dear [adult swim], it’s your old friend Karl, who made fun of Sealab2021 on DVD for you. I know you read toonzone, so please license Panty and Stocking. I assure you people will actually tune in for it, unlike a lot of other anime you’ve run. Just say it’s from the FLCL people.

In short, Panty and Stocking is my probably my favorite new anime series of the year. I think any hardcore animation fan would probably enjoy it thoroughly as well assuming they can deal with just how unabashedly dirty the show is. Thankfully, it’s up on Crunchyroll, and if you don’t mind waiting a week after each broadcast, it’s free to watch. Personally though, I will buy this the second it hits physical media in the US. Even if this show was only released on Blu-Ray singles in the states, I think it’d be worth every penny.

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