Home > Episode Reviews, First Impressions > Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt Episodes 1 and 2 – Crass Act

Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt Episodes 1 and 2 – Crass Act

I spend a lot of time on this site trashing shows for being more of the same rote, apathetic garbage that makes up 95% of anime airing at any given time. So imagine my consternation when I find a show that’s really unique, from a bunch of talented veterans, but still isn’t all that good.

In 2004, Imaishi Hiroyuki made his directorial debut with a film called Dead Leaves. While the film itself was the worst kind of depraved, trashy and nonsensical action movies, its brash, energetic and ultra-stylized style proved that Hiroyuki had some talent as a director.

Three years later, his home studio, Gainax, let him helm his own show, their first original TV series in years. That show was Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, an over the top homage to almost as over the top super robot anime from the 80s, and a huge success for the company.

So, it makes sense that Hiroyuki is back at the helm for their next original work, Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt. Especially since the show seems tailored made for Hiroyuki’s unique talents.

Panty uses a gun to fight demons and has all the sex she can get. That is all you need to know about her

Panty and Stocking are two slacker angels, each with their own vice. Panty is addicted to sex; Stocking to sweets. Together they fight demons, at the insistence of their beafro’d boss, Garterbelt, to earn the currency they need to avoid being kicked out of heaven.

It’s not an especially deep premise, but that’s not really the point. This is a fast-paced action cartoon, each episode comprised of two 12 minute segments named after movies (usually from America) and with just enough plot to scrape by until the action starts and things die.

Stocking is a frumpy goth with a sweet tooth who fights demons with a sword. That is all you need to know

It’s worth pointing out just how cartoonish this is. The weird history of cross-pollination between Western and Japanese animation continues here, with a show that seems to take its stylistic cues from the late 90s/early 2000s American cartoons like Powerpuff Girls that, in turn, were inspired by anime and manga (which originally drew significant inspiration from Walt Disney and the like earlier in the 20th century).

In fact, if you can imagine the Powerpuff Girls crossed with the current fad in Western TV animation: tasteless flash cartoons done on the cheap, you should have a pretty good idea of what Panty and Stocking is. The only thing that would make it seem out of place on Adult Swim is that it was obviously animated by a team veteran professionals, and not two guys doing a hatchet job on some concept art in 2 hours.

Garterbelt's character design shows the kind of racial stereotyping you typically can't get away with in the U.S.

Even if Hiroyuki’s range is limited to bombastic action shows, it’s something he does with style and flair. His touch is all over this one, from the monster designs (the second demon in the first episode looks like Kamina’s logo for the Gurren Lagann come alive) to the whimsical, manga-like storyboarding (reminiscent of the actual manga scenes Hiroyuki did for Kare Kano and FLCL). Everything is done to be as ridiculously outlandish as possible, from the speed metal soundtrack to the hyperbolic action scenes. Even the establishing shots are over the top: the first episode begins with a shot of the church where they live, done in the show’s standard superflat style, that then turns into a completely gratuitous 3D pan around the entire building.

The parallels with American animation are especially interesting when you consider the rest of the show’s Western feel. The comic book-style FX are all done in English, with varying degrees of success, most of the pop culture references are Western in nature (except the very Japanese parody of a magical girl transformation sequence) and it’s very clearly set in the U.S.

From the blonde girl in charge of schools to the football players, this is pretty obviously American, or a reasonable pop culture facsimile thereof

It makes me wonder if Gainax have more than just the typical otaku market on their minds. The high school in episode 2 is very obviously not the Japanese high school so omnipresent elsewhere in anime, but an American high school (or at least one filtered through the lens of a foreigner’s take on American pop culture). The dialogue is short and to the point, not just because there’s no time for meaningful dialogue in a 12-minute sequence and Hiroyuki is mostly incapable of directing a conversation where two people aren’t talking about how awesome they are while posing, but because it made translation much easier.

Thinking about it business-wise, it makes perfect sense. The anime market is in the middle of a slump in Japan, thanks to the economy and products increasingly designed exclusively for the prurient consumption of a very niche segment of the population. If the market in Japan is drying up, turn to the West, where there’s an already-present market not only for trashy cartoons filled with juvenile humor, but also the kind of spastic anime Gainax does best.

Well, they might have to change some of the FX, like the gong that tolls for the death of every demon

Plus, if you do the math, targeting the West makes sense. If you’re making anime for otaku in Japan, whom let’s say make up .1% of the population, or 1 out of every 1000 people, that leaves you with a nationwide audience of only around 130,000 people to support your show and buy your stuff. That’s why late-night anime DVDs are phenomenally successful if they can sell a couple thousand copies—and why they’re substantially pricier than the still-expensive DVD releases in America.

If you can sell in the U.S., you’re basically quadrupling your potential audience. And that’s not even counting Europe, which requires a separate release because of DVD regions, but at that point most of the hard work of translating and dubbing is already done. Even if otaku density is lower overseas, which is debatable, you’re still able to reach substantially more people than you could if you stayed in Japan.

Plus, they drive a pink Hummer convertible. I can't think of a more stereotypically American vehicle, but that might just be because I live in Texas

And if you’re not selling to otaku, then you’re even better off. Slackers and stoners may not be as rabid fans as anime nerds, but there are a whole lot more of them.

So, Gainax is targeting Americans, but can they pull it off? Unfortunately, I’m still not their target audience. I hate the kinds of shows they’re aping, so I’m not very qualified to judge whether or not Panty and Stocking is capable of enticing people who do.

My favorite part of every segment is the plasticine model of every demon that gets blown up after it is defeated

I mean, I don’t find the show very funny at all, but I can’t tell if that’s because most attempts at humor in anime fall completely flat, or because crass-for-crass’s-sake humor doesn’t really do it for me. It gets better in the second episode, but that parts where everything isn’t going crazy and exploding are mostly just really dull. The characters are thoroughly flat, without the simple charms that a cartoon character needs to hook audiences.

If I had to guess, I’d say that Panty and Stocking probably won’t be the kind of hit in the U.S. I’m pretty sure Gainax wants it to be. Cultural crossover hits are hard to predict, and even harder to get right intentionally. Especially if all you’re trying to do is ape something that’s popular elsewhere.

Panty and Stocking's weapons transform from the articles of clothing they're named after, so yeah

If you look at the videogame business—another area where Japanese companies are trying desperately to gain popularity in the West—quirky games like Katamari Damacy were accidental cult hits in the U.S. (while failing to sell in Japan) because they’re original and charming. The recent invasion of Japanese games aping Gears of War haven’t been as successful mainly because they’re just following the same trend as everyone else in West.

Yeah, this guy is all poop

If anything, that’s the one thing Panty and Stocking has going for it: it looks substantially better than just about anything that’s come out of Western TV animation. Its production values, technical grasp and artistic style are miles beyond anything currently airing over here (with the possible exceptions of Archer and Futurama). And it is for that reason—and that reason alone—that I recommend you try it out, provided you can handle the terrible sexual references, the flat humor and the monster in the first episode made of poop.

It sounds contradictory, but even though it’s extremely derivative, there’s nothing else out there like it.

This show is super classy. Right after this, everybody gets washed away by a massive fecal wave

Watch the episodes here.

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