Well, after the excruciatingly-long first part of this tribute, highlighting Gurren Lagann, we can finally move on to Imaishi’s 2nd series. A show much more recent and a lot more… audacious than the drill-obsessed mecha epic. Not to say that Gurren Lagann wasn’t crazy, but that was more set in a universe that ran on the Rule of Cool, where this series just tends to take Refuge in Audacity. (Look, I’m sorry that I keep speaking in TV Tropes, just try to keep up.) For those of you who know the director, you already know the series I’m talking about: 2010’s “Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt”.
I mean, it’s all right there in the name: this is going to be kind of a dirty show, and boy oh boy is it. The show blew up the internet back in the fall and winter of 2010 when it premiered and was simulcast on Nico Nico Douga and Crunchyroll, with thanks to its total disregard for the rules and its striking art style.
In fact, let’s just get it out there right now, before people who haven’t seen the show decide to say something: yes, the show greatly resembles Craig McCracken’s “The Powerpuff Girls”. Hell, since it’s an anime, you could say it more resembles the Japan-only version of the Cartoon Network classic, “Powerpuff Girls Z”. However, due to the sheer amount of references to American cartoons and film, as well as the gratuitous amount of English (or Engrish, in some cases).
The stars of the show are the two titular angels: Panty is the blonde and she constantly craves sex. Stocking is the goth-loli girl, and she’s obsessed with sweets. Garterbelt is their keeper, a black priest with a large afro and a penchant for bondage. They’re joined by their seemingly-indestructible pet Chuck (who greatly resembles GIR from Invader Zim), and a geeky boy known as Brief (who dresses like a Ghostbuster!) They live in Daten City, which lies on the fault-line of Heaven and Hell.
Their names are more than a theme, though. Panty can take off her panties and transform them into an angelic gun (or any pair of underwear, for that matter). Stocking can take her stockings and turn them into holy katanas to slice and dice.
Why would the angels need these weapons? Well, it turns out that the two have basically been kicked out of Heaven for their rude behavior, and are now forced to defeat dangerous Ghosts on Earth in order to earn Heaven Coins, which they can then use to buy their way back to the Heavens. Of course, their laziness, crude actions, attitudes, and sisterly bickering keep them from getting the job done a lot of the time.
At the end of the day, though, the heavenly sisters come through and manage to off the ghost of the day, usually involving a sexy striptease of a transformation sequence…
…after which, the Ghost blows up in live-action, super-sentai style.
Ghosts aren’t the only foil the girls face in their adventures. They soon face off against their demonic counterparts: the demon sisters Scanty and Kneesocks. The fun thing about the portrayal of both sides is that the perception of how they behave is drastically reversed: the angels are crude, violent, self-centered and swear a ton, while the devils desire order, follow the “rrrrrules”, and are generally high-class.
The show definitely stands out from the crowd in that it’s as if Gainax was trying to make an American cartoon. The episodes are (for the most part) stand-alone adventures that can be viewed in almost any order. There’s also the fact that most episodes feature two adventures, split up with their own custom title cards, much like how we do it here in the States.
In fact, there isn’t a lot of major plot or any hints of an overall arc in the story (although, there is one). It’s not until the last 2 episodes of the show that a ton of plot comes out, and the stakes start to get higher and higher. When the action gets good, it’s awesome, but the show tends to have more comedy in general. Heck, there’s a whole episode that’s the same shot of the same room, the whole 11 minutes, as we watch the sisters complain about how long it’s taking Garter to make lunch.
The ratio of comedy to action is probably the result of the overall tone of the show. If Gurren Lagann was meant to be the manliest show they tried to create, Panty and Stocking might be the exact opposite, as it revels in its ability to be girly, which still providing enough fan-service for the guys to not get turned away. It uses a very American art style, but sometimes jumps back into a detailed anime aesthetic and includes the same balls-out action sequences Japan (and especially Gainax) is known for. In that sense, it’s actually enjoyable to a huge amount of people.
With that said, the animation can jump around very radically. If the show wants to have a well-animated action sequence, it damn well does it. (The fight scene near the end of the 6th episode comes to mind immediately.) However, sometimes the show just decides to devolve into a much less animated state, as it often falls back on some simplistic, Flash-looking scenes, and it’s obvious, even to people who aren’t animation nerds like me.
The dichotomy between the varying animation styles is often played for laughs. For instance, the show mainly uses a very colorful, thick-lined style for most things, but when we need a shot of just how hot the heroines are (such as during the striptease sequence), it jarringly jumps to a detailed anime style, which is meant to be funny. Heck, one of the episodes is done in a very realistic, down-to-earth style, which only makes it funnier when it clashes with the show’s original style.
I mean, in one episode, in the middle of a heated volleyball match, it randomly takes on a very South-Park-style (much like episode 5 of FLCL, which we’ll get to in Part 3.)
Speaking of that, the show loves to poke fun or just straight-up make homages to various American films and cartoons. Besides the obvious Powerpuff Girls style, the show makes references to Sex and the City, Back to the Future, Watchmen, and more. There’s an episode that somehow combines Phoenix Wright, A Few Good Men, and Ren and Stimpy. No, I’m not kidding.
Heck, there’s an entire episode meant to parody Transformers, and not just the shitty Michael Bay movies. It pokes fun at the original animated series, as well. And before you say that it can’t possibly be aping Transformers…
In fact, I just keep making these really short paragraphs just so I can show off all the screencaps I took of the show parodying stuff you’d recognize. Like when they decide to pay tribute to a bunch of bands.
But, back to the animation. The show is well-animated when it’s intended to be. Maybe the limited Flash-looking bits are meant to cut back on the budget so when they want to animate a ridiculous fight scene, they can? There’s also significantly more CG stuff in this show than there was in Gurren Lagann, only this time it’s meant to be integrated with the 2D stuff. The CG is often used for backgrounds or more detailed stuff like cars. It looks very nice, often opting for a cel-shaded style so it can blend in nicely with the 2D elements.
The Ghost designs are extremely fun, too. These ain’t your parents ghosts; they aren’t trying to make friends with Christina Ricci or some bullshit. They all mean business, are black instead of white (with hints of orange and red), and can be very, VERY deranged. Among a giant Ghost bee and a lingerie-obsessed, panty-eating Ghost, we also have the Ghost of a speed demon…
…and an obese Ghost that spits fattening cream.
Like I said, the show takes refuge in its audacity, which leads me to how the damn thing ends, because that’s one of my biggest complaints. I’m pretty much almost taking a part of a TV Tropes page word-for-word here, but when it comes to the term “Gainax Ending”, this show might be the greatest example yet. It comes completely out of left field, makes absolutely no sense, and then they promise to follow it up with a second season, which has yet to be even announced. Imaishi may be totally trolling us with this one, and since he’s went off and created his own studio, it’s unclear if Gainax or Studio Trigger will handle this second season, if there even is one planned.
When all is said and done though, this is a very entertaining show. It looks unlike any anime you’ve ever watched, it doesn’t feel a lot like an anime, and it just loves how dirty it is. You know when you can tell an actor is having a blast playing a hammy role? Well, this show is basically the animated equivalent of that. Where Gurren Lagann was a love letter to the mecha genre and required you to take it seriously enough for it to become an epic space-opera, Panty and Stocking is a silly show that doesn’t need to you to take it seriously, because it doesn’t either. It does a ton of random things for the heck of it, like a 5-minute silent short meant to be like an art-house film, or the aforementioned same-camera-angle episode.
For those of us who like our anime, the show still delivers from time to time. There are some cool and well-animated fight scenes that are sure to impress, even if it feels that the show doesn’t focus on the central villain or story all that much.
It’s going to turn some people off for trying to be very American, but it’s also fresh for that reason. It just tries to stand out, and it most certainly does that, but it can be a double-edged stocking… I mean sword. Standing out causes it to get a lot of attention, but that also mean it just might be trying too hard for some other people. Again, it’s an enjoyable show, but it can also be divisive for just how it does things, and I think this show is more so than Gurren Lagann.
Still, at 13 episodes, it’s not like this show will waste your time if you decide to check it out. And with the more Western episodic style, you can throw on almost any random episode and be satisfied. It’s definitely worth a shot.
Stay tuned for the final part of this retrospective, which will focus on Imaishi’s other contributions, which don’t exactly warrant their own parts on their own.