Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Pani Poni Dash!
DVD 5 - Delinquent Genius
Perhaps because she may have been the cause of an outbreak of a deadly—possibly extraterrestrial—virus and was almost indirectly responsible for the conquest of the world by sentient mushrooms, Becky has come under scrutiny by the PTA. They insist on sitting in on her class to determine if she's worthy of continuing in the educational profession. Becky, of course, never shows up, leaving her students with no choice but to find a "shadow double." But who? Later, the arrival of the TV crew for a popular show about school life puts stars in everyone's eyes, but Becky is strangely—and stubbornly—opposed to appearing on it.
One could accuse Pani Poni Dash! of many things, but inconsistency isn't one of them. Wildly unpredictable yes, bizarre definitely, but inconsistent no. After five volumes and twenty-plus episodes it's still serving up the same thoroughly unhinged humor, marching out unprecedented stylistic innovations, and freebasing whatever drug it is that makes an anime show jitter across the room all night peeling off its skin one layer at a time.
The confluence of stylistic innovation and humor is probably the series most prominent trait. An ongoing exchange staged as an NES-era RPG allows the spoken dialogue and the dialogue bubbles to diverge to hilarious effect. The battle between the drama and film clubs is staged as a kaijuu eiga—including miniature sets. And yet another layer is added to the postmodern joke of having cutaway sets and "camera crews" in an animation by stampeding part of the cast (and one of the "crew") off the set during one of Ichijo's crazier stunts. In terms of sheer numbers, the more straightforward jokes are probably dominant and are, in all honesty, funnier. The age-old trick of having outsiders dropped into the tale to highlight the insanity of the protagonist's world works well in the TV crew episode (the crew starts off by entering Old Man's room and making a crack about him being at death's door, only to see Death actually hanging out behind him), and Ichijo's extreme personality is as reliably hilarious as ever. But the peeling back of filmmaking and animation conventions plays the more important role, as it builds a vague sense of alienation and dislocation that sets Pani Poni Dash! apart from its more mundane comedy brethren.
The series also has a surprising knack for building relationships that provides an emotional backbone to support the comic mayhem—taking time out this volume to demonstrate how important Becky and her students have become to each other. The commingling of abuse, affection and guidance in Rei's treatment of Becky will be familiar to anyone with an older sister, and the concern the entire class shows for her well-being during the disc's second half is telling. As an extra highlight, the burgeoning friendship between Kurusu and Serizawa—who unbeknownst to each other are on opposite sides of the war between the film and drama clubs—is too precious for words. Also helping to prevent the series from devolving into an unrelated jumble of gags are the series' habits of building each episode around a single plot thread and of behaving logically (within the strictures of the series' comic-nightmare logic) when you least expect it. The random appearance of a mushroom on Himeko's head isn't as random as it appears, and there're several comic nonsequiturs in the "shadow double" episode that aren't nonsequiturs at all (and eventually build to a great Cutey Honey joke).
Other than the continued violation of cinematic conventions, the cutaway sets, and director Akiyuki Shinbo's trademarked visual quirks, the series' most distinctive aesthetic merits are its cute cast and vibrant color scheme. Colors are bright and supersaturated, leaning heavily toward the warm side of the spectrum. The animators rarely pass up a chance to show off their cast of chubby-cheeked cuties, and exploit Becky's visual appeal shamelessly. Changes in costume aren't uncommon, but Becky's wardrobe outclasses that of the entire cast combined. Rarely does she wear only one outfit per episode and there is a suspicious amount of labor expended on each. Shinbo favors short, sharp editing over animation showcasing—the animation that isn't chibi characters jogging around in 2D RPG-land, though solid, is often used to amazingly frivolous ends. Which is quite appropriate in its own way.
Given the apparent obsession of the animation staff with video games, it's appropriate that much of the music sounds like something from an old-school game. The musical themes are as wildly variable as the series' tone, and are used as appropriately (and generally unobtrusively) as one could wish. The series in on its third opening (and God knows which ending), which is definitely a bit of a step down from its addictive predecessors. The accompanying visuals are just as cool though.
ADV's dub is more faithful than is the norm for humorous series. The cast does a fair job of differentiating the large female cast without betraying their personalities, and like the original, they start growing on you after a while. However, the standout performance is still Mesousa.
The AD-Vid Notes for this title continue to be essential and exhaustively researched. Watching with them turned on requires so much pausing, rewinding, and rewatching that it literally takes twice as long to finish an episode. There are clean versions of all the different endings on this disc, two different versions of the "Yellow Vacation" opening (sung by Rei and No. 6), and a series of out-takes from the interviews with the English cast.
Maintaining a madcap comedy for this long isn't an easy task. Pani Poni is definitely showing the strain; it recycles a few too many of its jokes, and occasionally its insistent energy starts to fray both the show itself and its audience's nerves. Its flaunting of the usual rules of comedy, however, manages to keep things relatively fresh. And it rewards those who've stood by it this long with a small emotional payoff and even a little backstory.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B-
+ Explores the cast's relationships a bit; still does things with humor that no one else dares.
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