“Haters gonna hate, lovers gonna love.”
That’s what everybody’s been telling me about Panty & Stocking, and I’m sick of hearing it. Do we really have judge our anime in such absolutist terms? The K-ON! fandom had the exact same problem; they labelled anybody who did not instantly agree with their unconditional worship as a hater… or worse. Well, if you hold such an extreme opinion, about K-ON!, Panty & Stocking or any other anime, I’ve got a message for you.
Reality does not exist solely in shades of black and white. Panty & Stocking is not the second coming of the messiah, nor is it an abomination spawned from the depths of hell. It’s just another anime, rife with strengths and weaknesses of all kinds. In other words, it’s exactly like every other anime ever made. Sure, there are superficial differences in art style and writing, but this show really isn’t as incredibly revolutionary as you may have been lead to believe. I neither love nor hate it, and I’m hoping this review will help to deconstruct some of the absurd mythos the fans and anti-fans have constructed.
Panty & Stocking is centered around two girls, named (surprise!) Panty and Stocking. Although ostensibly sent from Heaven to defend Daten City from ghosts, these girls are actually lowlife layabouts who ignore their duties at every opportunity. Panty is a sex-addicted slut who beds every man she can get her hands on, and Stocking spends her time feeding her rampant addiction to sugary sweets. Only the machinations of the Reverend Garterbelt, their afro-sporting mentor/taskmaster, convinces this less-than-dynamic duo to actually fulfill their duties: slaying ghosts, collecting heaven coins and protecting the innocent people of Daten City.
The first episode is split up into two eleven-minute shorts, much like the American cartoons on which it was based. The first briefly introduces the main characters, who must fight against a massive sewer-dwelling ghost made of human feces. The second revolves around a speed demon/phallic metaphor ghost who leads the girls on a high-speed chase using a variety of vehicles. Both of these monsters are defeated with the help of special weapons: Panty’s panties turn into a gun called Backless, and Stockings stockings turn into an as-yet-unnamed sword.
Read more after the jump.
Here’s a breakdown of Panty & Stocking‘s strengths and weaknesses.
What I Loved
The Art (in theory): I absolutely love how Gainax has blended the distinct American style of Genndy Tartakovsky and Jhonen Vasquez with anime aesthetics, particularly in the character designs. These bold, expressive art lends itself to the kind of visual comedy that both gag-based anime and American cartoons excel at. We’ve seen this kind of cultural crossover before with shows like Teen Titans and Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi, but Gainax taken it to a whole new level.
The Animation: Wow. I mean… wow. The animation is amazing. Despite mimicking the low-budget flash-rendered appearance of more recent American cartoons like Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, this show really flexes it’s animation muscles during the fast-paced action scenes. Some of these shots are so fluid, visually impressive and outright insane that they bring to mind another classic Gainax show, FLCL.
The Music: I know a lot of fans disliked the music, but I must disagree on this point. It had a really great Daft Punk techno/house vibe that I thought matched the onscreen action perfectly… especially during the stripperific transformation scene.
The Visual Gags: I’ll go into more detail about Panty & Stocking‘s disappointing humor below, but the visual gags were easily the funniest part. One especially amusing example is the previously mentioned transformation scene, which has the girls dancing on stripper poles to flashing dance-club lights and techno music. Some have said that this is Gainax’s statement on the over-sexualization of magical-girl tranformation scenes, but I just think it was a great one-off joke. Another example is the destruction of the ghosts, which is depicted by live-action scale models being blown to pieces in an apparent homage to oldschool daikaiju films.
What I Hated
The Art (in practice): Okay, so Panty and Stocking both have great character designs. Too bad you never get a chance to appreciate them! Gainax has crammed so much colorful, flashy, overly complicated detail into every frame that it’s damn near impossible to appreciate the strengths of the art without freeze-framing. Everything is too busy, almost to the point of causing eye strain. Just because you can stuff your show full of psychadelic visuals doesn’t mean you should.
The Comedy: This is the show’s main failing. For a gag-based cartoon, Panty & Stocking‘s jokes are strangely underwhelming. I have nothing against the more raunchy aspects of its humor, but it seemed like Gainax thought that simply including as many double entendres and scatalogical references as possible would make it funny. That may have worked back when such crude material was a novelty, but I’m afraid they’re about twenty years too late. There’s no shock value here, but I did find myself scratching my head a lot.
Panty & Stocking certainly has a strong foundation, but I don’t think it was utilized effectively. The character design and initial concept are fantastic, but in practice everything falls flat. The disappointing comedy is the most damaging flaw; the writers tried to mimic the humor of American cartoons, but the end result comes off as merely a poor imitation. This is ironic, since the art and animation easily outclasses even the most expensive American effort, despite being crammed with overcomplicated psychadelic visuals. Overall, this makes the first episode of Panty & Stocking somewhat disappointing. It’s fun to watch, but a shallow series like this really needs good comedy to be entertaining; instead, it winds up being merely forgettable. I have hope, however, that future episodes will improve… especially since this kind of show takes a while to hit it’s stride. I mean, have you ever watched the first season of Spongebob? It’s positively atrocious. If that show needed twenty episodes to find a winning formula, then I’m certainly willing to give Gainax an equal chance.