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Review: “Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt” (UK Edition): Where Is Your Moe Now?

by on September 10, 2012

The common visual style of Japanese animation and comics is considered to have begun with the influx of the American versions of these two categories following the Second World War. The wide eyes and button noses of American toons were quickly adopted and over the years integrated with elements of Japan’s own artistic history to create the style accepted around the world today as ‘manga/anime’.

However, somewhere along the line things went terribly wrong.

As time went on, the Japanese animation industry found itself pandering to ensure the cash of the fanboy niche. Challenging and ranged stories and character design were lost in the face of appeasing the increasingly internet-gathered hordes of dejected young adult men who wanted to hide away in a dream world of cute girls having pointless escapades. Creativity and innovation stagnated in favour of appeasing this audience and their idolisation of female purity. So dire has the situation become that several key players within Japan’s animation industry have spoken out about the crushing lack of creative exploration and the folly of the ideals of their reality-challenged audience. Clearly something had to give.

Daten City exists on the precipice between Heaven and Hell. The citizens of this rotten city are plagued by Ghosts–lethal manifestations of restless souls. Heaven responds by sending two angels down to deal with the infestation. However, said angels are not sweetness and joy. Thrown out of heaven for their self-indulgent behaviour, sisters Panty and Stocking only care about defeating the Ghosts in order to receive the celestial currency they need to earn their way back home. Setting up in a church run by afro-bearing priest Garterbelt, the two engage in a daily routine of nymphomaniac sex, bingeing on sweets, and spending more time trying to kill one another than Ghosts. This is anarchy with style.

From the get go Panty & Stocking is a staunch challenge to the accepted order of otaku entertainment. The title characters are not sweet little girls or temples of purity. They’re lewd, rude and oh so very crude. Owing more to the likes of Cartoon Cartoons, Adult Swim and Nicktoons than their benign neighbours in the Japanese industry, the show has a mature and risqué sense of humour that means this isn’t a title for children. Of course, edgy humour is quite tricky to pull off without simply falling into the crass and disgusting. The show is fairly consistent at avoiding the trap, but not completely. An episode with a spirit forcing people to unwillingly pick their noses and another about vengeful sperm ghosts (yes, you read that right) teeter somewhat awkwardly on the precipice. But it says something that the very first episode involves a threat of flooding the city with faeces, and yet the show avoids making this too overtly detailed, unlike some Hollywood movies I could name with a bucket to hand.

One of the show’s greatest strengths is the sheer variety between episodes. Although the first few episodes use the general formula of the pair creating chaos as they hunt a ghost across the city, it doesn’t take long for them to adopt the Western tradition of ‘the characters are in a different role just because’ or being straight out experimental.
 A perfect example of this is ‘Vomiting Point’, which is not only set in a Japanese ghetto of the city but also switches protagonist and visuals as the tale of an unassuming veteran office worker is told in a more realistic art style. Said art style makes the Japanese characters look quite ugly, adding to the show’s deconstruction of obsessive cuteness and forcing the show’s original audience to perhaps take an unwelcome look at themselves and reality.
 In terms of just being plain awesome I really can’t say enough good things about ‘Transwhoremers’, an episode that parodies the long history of the Transformers franchise. What really makes this episode stand out is how spot on accurate it is. Various shows, including The Simpsons, have attempted such a parody before, and it has always resulted in cheap jokes with no attention to detail. ‘Transwhoremers’ just nails it, from the omnipresent redundant narrator and awkwardly posed Studio Ox promotional art of the Japanese version of the original series to the obnoxious blockbuster Michael Bay movies. To be a genuinely amusing show with an original premise is a feat in and of itself but when it can pull off a pitch perfect parody such as this, you know the show’s a winner.
 Another ranged highlight is a music video at the end of one episode with shout outs to everything from the Beatles and Oasis to Gorillaz and Lady Gaga.

Regrettably, the show is not the full attack on the ‘moe’ craze it could be. At the end of the day Gainax knows which side of their bread is buttered, and that if they piss off otaku too much there’ll be no one to buy Rei Ayanami body pillows. Assorted moments that render the characters in more traditional anime style for fanservice shoot a few toes off the foot that is trying to stamp on the cliché formula the industry has become party to. In particular the episode ‘If the Angels Wore Swimsuits’ styles itself as being a ‘we know what you’re here for’ parody of the infamous ‘beach episodes’ but ends up playing out like a standard one, and I couldn’t help but think the older series Excel Saga had done the concept so much better, to the point none of the males are allowed to be seen, much to their chagrin.

Unfortunately the release suffers from a critical authoring error. The last few minutes of the last three episodes on the set’s final disc are missing. Most critically this means the absence of the show’s famous epilogue. I was fortunate enough to have seen this beforehand, but this is obviously a massive error and one that spoils viewing. At time of writing Manga have announced they are looking into this matter and are hoping to have newly printed and corrected releases in stores from September, with an exchange programme for those who have purchased from the initial release.  Enough of the set is correctly presented to be watched but with such a large error, it does lead me to obviously suggest holding off on purchasing until this matter has been resolved.

Extras almost exactly mirror those found on the American release, with the sole exception seeming to be an absent piece on the live action filming for the finale. The largest extra offers multi-angle views on the live action model explosions of the defeated Ghosts, along with a three-part documentary that fully charts the filming and the thoughts of the model makers who produced them. As a model design graduate myself, I found the latter part of the extra most interesting as I could totally understand the feelings of the model makers as they discussed their craft. Whilst the actual multi-angle footage is a nice oddity, there’s no denying it quickly starts to become tedious, and placing it on the first disc of the set is odd as it spoils every single ghost we’ll see over the show.
Another oddity of the first disc is ‘Panty & Stocking in Sanitarybox’, a set of quick shorts that calls to mind ‘Garfield Quickies’. Although these are pretty amusing (the final one seems to be a tip of the hat to the animations of Terry Gilliam) at least one acts as a sequel to a main episode, spoiling its conclusion. Given that most people will watch the feature presentation on a DVD and then check the extras, it would make more sense to me to place both these and the explosion reel on the final disc of the set.
This is also the case for a video covering a series of special event nights featuring panels of the show’s Japanese cast and crew. Filmed after the end of the show it offers a few interesting anecdotes and nuggets of trivia but also rather freely discusses a few spoilers, including a vote of fan’s favourite episodes.

The remaining extras are fairly run of the mill and less noteworthy. Textless opening and ending are welcome, especially the latter, which is a moment of calm sincerity compared to the anarchy of the rest of the show. A collection of adverts for the show feels incredibly padded, with the same ‘pre-release’ and ‘now airing’ adverts being repeated with little to no change, though the fourth-wall breaking on the later featured DVD adverts is at least chuckle worthy. Really bottom of the barrel for me is a dub outtake reel, which splits off into offering the dub cast’s favourite moments with more than a bit too much excitement.

Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt is something of a Marmite release. Some will love it either for the artistic statement it’s making or its over the top sense of humour. Others will hate it for daring to criticise the ‘moe blob’ craze or for having an immature sense of humour. I really do fall into the former category. As the anime industry seems to get gobbled up by safe bets, series like this are needed to encourage the thought that if you have 20+ different series starting each new television season then they should be exactly that: different. Repeating tired ideas or catering to delusional fantasies only wastes a lot of people’s time.

Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt (UK Edition) can be purchased through Amazon.co.uk.

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