The 2nd Dimension

Friday, October 14, 2011

Viewing Journal: Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt (complete)

Series Overview
DVD Info

Overall= B+
Story = B
Video = A-
Audio = B+


A company of ghosts has moved into Daten City, taking advantage of human greed. Two angels, Panty and Stocking, are sent from heaven to exterminate them—but in reality they got kicked out for bad behavior. (Source: ANN)

When I first heard that Studio GAINAX was creating a new anime called Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt I conjured up all kinds of preconceived notions about what it would be like and as a result I immediately dismissed it. However, after hearing and reading some reviews, I thought I'd give it a chance. As it turns out, it is not the kind of show I thought it would be, but is exactly the kind of show that I probably should have thought it would be. It's perverted as expected, but it is approached with such a self-aware, ironic, unrestrained and unabashed style that it exudes energy, unpredictability and fun, even if not as much hilarity as I would have liked.

What there is of a plot involves two earth-bound angels named Panty and Stocking. Panty is obsessed with sex and Stocking is obsessed with sweets and each will indiscriminately partake in their obsession anywhere, anytime. Because of their torrid ways, they were kicked out of heaven and sent to Daten City. There they live in a church with their clerical overseer Garterbelt who doles out heaven's orders to fight "Ghosts"—vengeful incarnations of objects or concepts ranging from feces to obesity to high school cheerleaders—that show up around town so the two can hopefully earn their way back into Paradise. The real gimmick of the show, however, is how they fight the ghosts: Each removes their namesake apparel which then transforms—in true magical-girl style—into their weapon of choice: Panty getting a revolver and Stocking getting a katana.

Of course, this is not so much a plot as it is a framework that allows the animators to let their unrestrained libido's run wild by putting the characters in any number of disparate situations, many of which have nothing to do with fighting ghosts. Overall the effect is something like a mix between the shock value of South Park and the fast-paced random energy of FLCL, but without the thematic value or social commentary of either. The show doesn't have the wit or comedic timing to make it laugh-out-loud funny, it's more about getting caught up in the fast-paced random insanity and wanting to see what crazy situation Panty and Stocking are going to get themselves into next and how they are going to get out of it. And while Panty and Stocking themselves have their characteristic wanton desires, the fact that they are so unapologetic and bad-ass transforms that perversion into energy, making for crass humor that is fun and surprising.

Still, without an underlying meaning or direction, that kind of crude, arbitrary storytelling can get tedious and mind-numbingly boring after a while because it seems so pointlessness. Thankfully, things pick up around episode 6 when the main antagonists Scanty and Kneesocks show up. They are essentially the devil versions of Panty and Stocking—complete with their own transformation sequence—and are the first to legitimately challenge the angels, allowing the show to create a bit more of a continuity. It's the first time in the series where the comedy is based more on character interaction and conflict instead of parody or crass humor, bringing a renewed energy to the characters and narrative.

The thing that makes this crass and perverted humor successful is that it is done to such an extreme as to be self-mocking; except, of course, when it's not. The fact is that the show is at times uncomfortable to watch because at one level it's like, "Ha ha . Isn't it so silly that panty is having sex with an entire football team;" but on another level you can tell that the creators are actually getting off on it. The moaning lasts a little too long and sounds a little too genuine, and the aforementioned transformation sequences lingers a little too long in certain places to be considered entirely ironic. Instead it seems like in the midst of all the wackiness, it's attempting to be genuinely titillating. So while you are laughing at the stupidity of the perversion, it suddenly turns the tables so that the audience is actually laughing at itself—or at least at the creators. That could be genius if it was intentional, but I not sure that it is, which is why I say that, while it doesn't ruin the show, it does make those scenes awkward to watch.

Another weird thing is that this show is filled with references to American pop culture. In fact, it seems so tailored to American audience—including all the on-screen text being in English—that if a company dubbed the show into English there would be very little other than the frantic tone that would indicate that it originated in Japan. Even the animation is mostly done in a very two-dimensional, heavy lined, Power-puff Girls type of art; the notable exceptions being the aforementioned transformation sequences and the live-action shots of model ghosts being blown up. But it's the specific references that are omnipresent throughout the series that make it either specifically designed with a US audience in mind, or simply a homage to to the US entertainment industry from an different country's perspective. And while it's fun—if a little strange—to find so many references to things like Sex in the City, the Transformers movie, and Las Vegas when they are integrated into the story well; there are times when the entertainment value and even the general comprehensibility of an episode is entirely reliant on knowing what the reference is. For instance, there is one episode that is one long music video with references to Lady Gaga, tATu (who?) and other singers but since I'm not up on my music videos I didn't get much if any of the references. The worst example is an episode called "Chuck to the Future" which was little more than a direct black-and-white re-enactment of an obscure movie using Panty and Stocking's much-abused dog Chuck. Of course, since I had no idea WHAT movie it was referencing (though I later learned it was Eraserhead), I had absolutely no idea what the point of episode was. Although, I think that even if you did know about that movie it still wouldn't be all that great because there didn't seem to be any parody in it, just a strait-up re-enactment. Point is, those kinds of things took away from the enjoyment because they relied so heavily on having a detailed pop-culture knowledge, which I don't have.

The animation style is probably one of the the best things about the show and the biggest contributor to its tone because if it had a different art style it would be a very different show. The fact that it uses that flat art style with heavy line work means that at the times when it does imply Panty's rampant sex, it's hard to take it too seriously because the art is so unrealistic. And, like I mentioned earlier, the art does switch styles from flat to detailed during the "transformation" sequences to live action when the "ghosts" blow up. On one hand the switch-up seems arbitrary, but on the other hand there is a certain method to the madness. For instance, the scenes that are detailed are done so partly in parody and partly because, as I mentioned earlier, they are at least partly meant to be genuinely erotic. Doing those same sequences in the show's usual flat style would make it seem more ridiculous. There's probably equally valid reason for the live scenes, but if so I'm not sure what it is.

Overall, while I wouldn't call this show laugh-out-loud funny, it is a lot of fun. It's the kind of unrestrained outrageous humor that Americans are used to seeing in their more adult-oriented animation, but with an energy and randomness that is distinctly Japanese. I'd recommend it for both anime fans and even some non-anime fans.

[ For a full list of reviews see the Viewing Journal Archive ]