After about three or four weeks of dragging my feet as people’s signatures, avatars, and image macros reminded me, I finally decided to sit back and soak in the latest show created and produced by one of the more experimental and well known studios of Japan – Gainax. Titled “Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt”, the show focuses on two ill-behaved titular sisters who have been sent to Daten City, somewhere between heaven and hell, where they are mentored by the strange Reverend Garterbelt. The girls must combat ghosts, monsters usually being created from the revenge of the deceased or regretful, to obtain heaven coins, the only way that they will be given access back into heaven. The situation is not made any easier by the girls tendency to go off-task, along with the appearances of demon duo Scanty and Kneesocks who immediately become arch-rivals with the angel sisters. The show contains elements of comedy, parody, action, ecchi (describing something naughty), and the supernatural. You can probably guess that with such a blend of genres that a show like this would not take itself seriously, and you are correct.
Having animated such high-energy work such as FLCL, Dead Leaves, Gurren Lagann and other shows, Gainax was up to the task and the show’s bold look is congruous with the punchy, obnoxious subject matter. At first it seems that the studio seems to be experimenting with a style of animation more familiar to western audiences than what is recognized as “anime”, which seems valid if you notice the several references to cartoons such as Invader Zim, Ren and Stimpy, and Transformers. However, despite the skilled artists mimicking the basest traits of each, along with sticking to the motifs that most clearly define and limit Japan’s cartoons, I doubt that this is the case. The characters are more angular than may be expected from a cartoon labeled as “anime”, but Japan’s philosophy which dictates the principles that make up the look and actions of the characters are just as pronounced as ever. There is an interesting segment in episode seven that shows people living in a different area from Daten City, but this is short-lived and likely as far as the visual experimentation on the show will go. Not all of what Japan’s cartoons are inclined to is offensive to me, to be fair. Given the show’s look, the use of CGI does not stick out in a distracting way, and the color schemes are pleasing as always.
It may seem unfair to say that Japan has confined itself to a philosophy for their animation in the first place, especially when all cartoon creators certainly do not follow it. On the other hand, if there was a western equivalent of the “ecchi” genre in animation, I have yet to see or hear of it. A theme of this show is indecent and vulgar humor, which I am not against so as long as it is set up well. Not so much puns, but rather visuals that revel in it, especially those involving Panty. In one segment of the fifth episode, it appears to show Panty and a man having sex when it turns out they were only picking each other’s noses. At least a Japanese cartoon is trying to put the focus on its strength by setting up expectations, even if every such action is unnecessarily said aloud. In the end it feels fruitless though, as you will get to know the flat personalities of the characters so quickly that you can see scenes like these coming from a mile away. I don’t think it is normal to laugh hysterically if you are not surprised. The extended references to western cartoons does not help the show’s cause as it puts even less of the burden on the characters to show their character. From the ten episodes I watched, nothing pushed the characters outside of their usual emotional boundaries, and since there are only sixteen more episodes planned, I doubt anything will until the last episode, which will likely be a feeble effort made after the fact.
In a cartoon, you can only have as many stories and situations arise as your characters allow. Because Panty and Stocking are so basic, along with other characters who reinforce the setting of the show to be in this one city, the show is bound to become repetitive, even with only twenty-six episodes total. Chuck, a pet of sorts for the sisters, gets zapped, Garterbelt brings a situation to the girls’ attention, the girls defy him only to eventually get up and get to work, having some vulgar banter between each other and the ghost, then taking off their garments, then destroying the ghost, then complaining about the number of coins they get afterward. This is virtually what happened each and every time for ten episodes, or if you want to count each segment as an episode, eighteen. There are of course minor variations on each plot point that are only noticeable because of the strong, yet basic personalities of the angels. When will the plot advance? The fact that episode ten was some sort of cryptic, extended parody and made the least sense makes this even more of a mystery.
Again, it should be stressed that the show does not take itself seriously, but that begs the question as to why such an artistically inclined studio such as Gainax would waste its skill to shallowly experiment. Why would they do anything ecchi related if it’s such a banal genre where nothing new is meant to be done, but rather to satisfy the expectations of the viewer? The studio has certainly shown its disregard for what “fans” think of their work anyway, as could be seen with their response to negative fan reaction of Otsuka’s guest direction of the fourth Gurren Lagann episode. Why would they think their strengths would be enough to make it seem like slapping a new coat of paint on high-energy comedy with parody was a brand new thing? Even if were to be really drilled into everyone’s head by dismissing these questions for the sake of fun and pure entertainment, who is it supposed to entertain? Themselves? Something is not adding up. The lasting appeal of such a shallow, gaudy effort like Panty and Stocking is ephemeral at best.