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Review: "Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt" and Blu-rays

Panty and Stocking with GarterbeltThese aren’t the lovely angels, and they’re barely considered angelic. Panty and Stocking are sent on a mission from God (or more likely, a guy named Garterbelt) to take down ghosts to earn their way back into Heaven. The Anarchy sisters couldn’t be any more different from one another: Panty is obsessed with sex (and has a personal goal of banging 1000 guys before she gets back to Heaven) and Stocking is obsessed with sweets. The pair are led by their questionable boss Garterbelt, and have a bit of help from Chuck, their green dog creature. Is this Blu-ray re-release of the hit Gainax series Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt worth the double dip? Is the series worth checking out on Blu-ray if you haven’t tackled it before?

Many of the 13 episodes in the series are split into two stories, similar to many Cartoon Network and Adult Swim series. There are two stories that progress for the whole half-hour, and one episode divvies it up into three. Also, like the American-influences the series wears on its sleeves (or socks, as it were), plot is fast and loose. One episode may end up with the girls dead, but they’ll live the next. The villains and events that premiere in one episode may make return appearances and continuations in later ones. What plot there is thrives on parody and experimentation, with many of the intended jokes being clear from the title. One episode might be a riff on the zombie apocalypse genre, while another might see how many jokes and plot points can develop from a single camera angle. Largely, the series follows the “Monster of the Week” example set forth by Super Sentai (more on that later), Sailor Moon, and even Scooby-Doo. A new monster shows up every episode, and the girls banter and try to defeat it (or in a rare case, defend it). Repeat ad infinitum.

Panty and Stocking with GarterbeltThe story is very minimal, and thankfully so. The minor plot point of “we need to defeat ghosts to get back into heaven” is only there when needed, and as a way to propagate conflict beyond the two girls bickering. With a minimalistic plot, the series allows itself to venture down whatever road they desire; want to do a music video episode? Go ahead. Want to do an episode about a businessman unhappy with life (and only have Panty and Stocking cameo)? Sure. Want an ongoing plot about Panty being re-virginized, and how that would prove cataclysmic for Earth? We can actually use the plot if you want to, then. With the unique age range it finds itself in visually, it is fully adult when it comes to plot and writing, and even if the visuals appear childish and simplistic, there’s occasional nudity. The series ranks up there with South Park and Beavis and Butthead on the crudeness factor (if not the social commentary one).

Visually, the series is groundbreaking and amazing. Gainax has always had a high bar when it comes to innovative art styles, and Panty and Stocking may be their largest and most free attempt at going overboard. Previous shows, such as Neon Genesis Evangelion and Gurren Lagann, had to at least keep the semblance of an ongoing story, and while FLCL got to feature the craziness, it had continuity keeping it in check. Panty and Stocking features everything from high-quality animation (the transformation scenes give the premise of a more traditional anime at times), Cartoon Network 1990’s-style (many people refer to the series as a demented version of The Powerpuff Girls), and even low-budget Flash animation, and shows such as Drawn Together are cited as inspiration. At times (at least once per episode), live-action is used (laughably, the special features refer to these “tokusatsu” elements as “Power Rangers-like”, instead of just a more-accurate “special effects”), and a few episodes get especially creative with rotoscoping and more. When they get creative, things are truly enjoyable and visually amazing. When they stick with the same art style for many episodes, you start to see the flaws and tire of the novelty, but as a whole, the series has a visual style all its own that is a welcome breath of uniqueness.

Panty and Stocking with GarterbeltThe dub is of a debatable nature, but not inherently “bad” or “good.” Having watched it in a group, some people will love the extra-vulgarity of the dub, while some will miss the fact that the Japanese-language track is missing many of the swears. Beyond the language, the voices work perfectly in their absurdity, from the blaxploitation voice of Garterbelt and the hoity-toity nature of the Demon Sisters to the main female leads, and even the support guy. If you don’t like the dub, or are curious how slightly tamer the girls might be in their native Japanese, you can always turn on subtitles and read along.

Extras are surprisingly substantial. This box set contains the OVA special, featuring many one-shot stories that expand on the actual episodes, countless promotional videos (original Japanese television and DVD commercials), behind the scenes of the live-action special effects, interviews and outtakes with the US cast, textless songs, and a Japanese interview. The extras are filling and nice, and thankfully include many English-produced bits, a much-welcomed feature in an American release of a Japanese show. The Blu-ray release comes in a hardbox with reversible covers on the disc art, making it a proud piece to stand on a shelf.

Gainax can rarely do wrong, and this release of Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt further highlights how notable the series is. It may be a little crude. The novelty of the animation may wane after a few episodes. If anything, this series is more an experiment than most series that have been on air and on shelves in recent years, and for that it has to be lauded. The Blu-ray set shows it at its finest. Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt is one of the most imaginative series to come out in recent years, breaks the mold when it comes to animation, has a script that’ll make you laugh your ass off, and is one of FUNimation (and the industry as a whole)’s finest Blu-ray releases.

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