Review: "Panty & Stocking With Garterbelt" Complete Series: Stay Classy, Gainax
I won’t beat around the bush: Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt is a wasted opportunity. Here we have a show that should have been a lot of fun: It’s brimming with visual creativity, sports a unique look compared to many modern anime, and doesn’t take itself seriously at all. In many ways, it shares aspects with certain American cartoons, which can be a nice change of pace if you’re burnt out on the usual material. Unfortunately, all of these positives are undermined by a relentlessly crude and childish humor, uneven animation, and a dub whose sole purpose is to cram in as many four-letter words as humanly possible.
The premise for the show is pretty basic, and is essentially an excuse for the characters to participate in pop culture parodies: Two fallen angels have to gain a certain number of coins to regain entrance to Heaven; they receive coins by destroying supernatural threats that terrorize the city. The two angels are Panty, an unapologetic slut whose panties can transform into a gun when removed, and Stocking, a sweets-obsessed gothic lolita whose stockings become a sword. They’re sent on missions by Garterbelt, an exasperated preacher with a giant afro. Among the many villains is a ghost who can possess vehicles (including a bullet train), a cheerleader at a high school who is literally a queen bee, and a feces monster, among many others. The only recurring villains are a demon duo, Scanty and Kneesocks, who are basically bizarro versions of Panty and Stocking.
As I said above, the humor in Panty and Stocking is a real letdown. It’s the epitome of the misguided idea that a bunch of curse words and nonstop sex jokes automatically equals “adult”. Well, it doesn’t. If anything, it comes across as incredibly immature. The show has a monotonous, one-track mind when it comes to the humor. Nearly all the jokes boil down to two things: toilet humor, and “Panty is a whore.” It starts to get old after the first episode. Ditto for the volleying name-calling and insults between Panty and Stocking (and towards everyone else, for that matter), which feels very mean-spirited for no reason, and makes it impossible to like the main characters. And just in case you think I’m prudish about the content, I’m not. Scatological and insult humor can be done right; it’s all in the execution. This just felt foul for the sake of it. And unrelated to all of this, it’s also repetitive in certain aspects; I greatly enjoyed a gag in the first episode where the defeated villain was suddenly presented in live action when it exploded. But when every episode ends this way, it loses its freshness.
This is all incredibly disappointing since the overall look of the show is original and stands out from the crowd; it feels wasted on such crass material. But even so, the actual animation is a mixed bag. On the plus side, it always has dynamic poses and staging, and you can tell the artists had fun working on it and putting their own personal touches to the direction. The thick lined, super deformed character designs are an acquired taste, but I didn’t mind them (although the transformation sequences, displaying the two characters in non-SD mode, are more traditionally attractive). But the animation doesn’t always have a smooth look: It looked like they just used key frames for certain scenes. It’s a recurring problem from Gainax, actually. And I also spot what looked like Flash tweening in places (that is, just sliding a part of a character’s body without making a new drawing). I also had issues with the show’s comic timing, which felt “off” far too often, although I suspect that’s more about the differences in Japanese and American humor styles and not inherent problems in the direction.
Admittedly, Panty and Stocking wasn’t exactly the cleanest show in its original Japanese, so I’m not claiming FUNimation pulled a Shin-chan by taking a relatively family friendly show and making it filthy, but even so, the dub feels like it’s trying too hard to be edgy. The constant swearing and nicknames for anything below the waist, all written and delivered without wit, gets draining in short order. And while Jami Marchi and Monica Rial are well-cast as Panty and Stocking, respectively, they also don’t feel like very creative casting choices. The only positive thing I can say about the dub is about the opening to episode 3-2, “Pulp Addiction”, where literally every sentence said by some soldiers can double for a sexual euphemism. Yes, it’s sex-obsessed, but at least it has some variety in the sense that it’s enjoyable to see how they take familiar war movie dialog and make it dirty while still playing the scene relatively straight.
The three-disc DVD set includes all 13 episodes (most made up of two shorts each) and the special episode “Panty & Stocking in Sanitarybox”, which is a series of shorts running about 1 to 2 minutes each. The animation is inferior to the TV series but the humor is just as bad. Also included is every ghost explosion from the series, with other angles not seen in the episodes. Accompanying this is a three-part, 40-minute behind-the-scenes documentary about the crew filming these explosions. Forty minutes seemed pretty excessive for such a short part of each episode, although it was neat to see the details put into it. The other major feature on disc 3 is a “live commentary” featuring the Japanese cast and crew discussing the show; it runs 23 minutes. The highlight of the video conceptual artwork series of Panty and Stocking; Panty in particular went through a lot of revisions. Also included are some Japanese Panty & Stocking TV ads, an 11-minute making-of-a-live-action scene from the final episode (which required filming a woman in lingerie), 16 minutes of English dub outtakes (as well as recollections of the VA’s favorite moments in the show), textless openings/endings, and the U.S. trailer for the show. There are also other FUNi trailers on disc 2. So if there are any issues with the DVD, they’re not in the lack of special features; there are plenty here.
If you laugh at four-letter words, you’re the perfect audience for Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt. But if you want a mature and smart adult comedy, this isn’t it. It’s written for pre-teen boys who think that they’re getting away with something by watching this in private without their parents knowing. And since I’m not in that category anymore, I was sighing heavily instead of laughing, and that’s a shame considering how different it is from many other TV anime. As much as it pains me to say, since I was actually looking forward to it, I can’t recommend Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt.