Sunday, July 3, 2011
Anime review: Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt
Panty & Stocking is a comedy that is no-holds barred. It doesn't shy away from vulgar and offensive humor; rather it embraces it, relying on it as a heavy fuel for each episode. It's downright rotten in a lot of cases, but can - at the same time - be absolutely hilarious to those not so easily offended. With only thirteen episodes, the series has only so much time to nail down its formula, and though it does its fair share of experimenting, the final product is a nice balance of comedy and action.
The story begins by explaining that Panty and Stocking are two angels who have fallen out of Heaven's graces and must defeat ghosts on Earth to earn enough coins to return. And that's honestly all that needs to be said for any given episode. It certainly helps to watch the introductory episode first, but there's not a whole lot of consistency between episodes, so watching them out of order won't make a huge difference (save for the very last few). Panty is obsessed with sex, while Stocking loves sweets, and their being angels is more of a title than a reflection of their actual behavior. They frequently swear, kill ghosts, and take out their anger on their pet Chuck.
Most episodes follow a two-part format, with each containing a separate and unrelated narrative. There are only a couple of exceptions, once when the demon sisters Scanty and Kneesocks are introduced, and a second time when three smaller stories are thrown into the mix. The first half of the series follows a pattern of the angels fighting one ghost after another, while the second half opts for a greater emphasis on the characters, pitting the angel sisters against the demon sisters time and time again, and even exploring the sibling rivalry Panty and Stocking have.
With regards to the angels, their differing personalities play off each other quite nicely. As mentioned above, this can sometimes lead to them butting heads, but often it leads to cooperation like Stocking helping Panty in combat by offering up a strategy she hadn't previously thought of (or vice-versa). Personally I found Panty to be the more enjoyable of the two lead characters throughout the series. However, I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that more is revealed about her early on due to how outspoken of an individual she is, whereas Stocking tends to remained more reserved, save for when in the company of Panty and Garterbelt. As for the rest of the major characters, they are all rather one-dimensional, but because there are so few of them, it works to the story's advantage. Scanty and Kneesocks will always put their full faith in whatever latest scheme they've cooked up, while Garterbelt will yell at the angels to get their act together, and Brief will provide many a chuckle through his awkward and unfortunate timing (despite his purest intentions and role as the voice of reason).
Some of the early episodes suffer from the fact that the series can't seem to decide if it wants to be more ironic and full of pop culture references in the style of FLCL (another Gainax work), or if it wants to aim for something more akin to the early seasons of South Park, aiming for crass and offensive. Thankfully, most of this identity crisis is dealt with by the time episode five rolls around, and from there the series does its best to find a balance between those two comedic stylings. Some of the jokes, such as the Transformers parody, are meant for a specific crowd, and those who are not as familiar with the material being parodied probably won't find it to be even half as funny as those who do.
The last two episodes are much more action-heavy than most, and while they are also very story-driven, they don't sacrifice the comedic value. It's a fitting string of events to end on as the series reaches its climax; that is, until the very end of the final episode. I won't spoil what specifically happens, but I will say that Gainax attempts to throw a curveball in the last minute of the show that is neither logical nor amusing. If Panty & Stocking were a more serious anime that aimed to mess with viewers' heads in the vein of Evangelion, such a twist would have been acceptable. But what's really the most frustrating about it is the fact that there is little consistency throughout the entirety of the series that would point to such events happening, especially considering how well the characters involved know each other by the time the story comes to a close. It doesn't completely ruin the final episodes, but it does leave an ugly mark on an otherwise perfect stream of events. If Gainax has no plans to make a second season, it was a really low blow to the viewers. If they do have plans to continue the story, however, their first move should be fixing this error.
The animation style is unique for an anime, and though Gainax has been known to produce some very visually appealing visuals, as was the case with Gurren Lagann, Panty & Stocking's artistic direction is more along the lines of American animated series like Dexter's Laboratory or The Powerpuff Girls. There are, however, a handful of scenes drawn in a more current anime style, most notably when the angels or demons power up their weapons for battle. The defeat of each ghost is shown with an intentionally cheesy live-action prop explosion. The soundtrack is comprised of a number of original compositions by various artists, and maintains a club techno feel throughout which is not only very catchy but also incredibly befitting of the series.
Funimation has announced plans to release the series stateside in 2012, and they will have work cut out for them in dubbing Panty & Stocking. On many occasions, what makes Panty and Stocking's lines or even banter with Scanty and Kneesocks so humorous in the way in which the voice actors pronounce them. Key words are exaggerated (and in some cases become catchphrases for characters), while many English words stick out because of their lack of a Japanese equivalent. There is some Engrish here and there, but for the most part the pronunciations seem deliberate, as a way to set the series' characters apart from the crowd.
Though it has a bumpy start, Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt does well to identify itself as a blend of pop culture references and dirty humor in the end. It's not as brilliantly scripted as some of Gainax's other works, though this is one of the few straightforward comedy series they've done. So with that in mind, the fact that this series realizes and embraces its offensive humor puts it above others in the same subgenre. At thirteen episodes, the series feels neither too long nor too short. It has its shortcomings, but the cast is really what makes Panty & Stocking so enjoyable. And if Gainax plans to make a second season, it will probably flow much more smoothly and consistently, as they can hopefully gather from the first season which elements work and which ones don't.
My rating: 7.25 (out of 10)