The Fall 2018 Manga Guide
Pop Team Epic
What's It About?Pop Team Epic is manga's premiere absurdist phenomenon; a cocktail of non-sequitur pop culture references and a dash of morbid dark humor. Popuko and Pipimi are two schoolgirls with a penchant for the bizarre and violent. Popuko is short and prone to extreme, intense bouts of vicious anger. Pipimi is taller and slightly calmer, though equally as sadistic. Follow them throughout their days as they break things, bicker and generally refuse to make sense. The jokes often end in anticlimaxes, the threats of violence come freely and the memes fly fast and furious. It is the four-panel definition of insanity. Trying to describe it is impossible. In the end, it simply is Pop Team Epic.
Pop Team Epic is an original webcomic by Bkub Okawa. It is published by Vertical Comics and retails for $12.99 physically. A 12 episode anime adaptation aired in winter of this year. The anime is currently available on home video licensed by Funimation and is also streaming on Amazon Prime.
Is It Worth Reading?
What is there to say about Pop Team Epic? It defies description. It defies classification. It defies common sense. Trying to capture the feeling of reading it is like trying to capture an entire school of slippery fish with nothing but your bare hands. Well, I can say this much: I don't think I've laughed at a comic this much in quite a while.
If you haven't seen this winter's megahit anime adaptation, then this single volume release is a fantastic, quick-read door into Pop Team Epic's world of barely-jokes. I had never seen the anime myself, and was immediately captivated by Epic's bizzaro blend of diverse, sometimes obscure pop-culture references and its surprising relatability as a depressed internet dweller. I think the phrase ‘big mood’ was coined to describe some of the strips in Pop Team Epic. The jokes about photo-bombing and ‘arrested for Youtube crimes’, though patently absurd, do feel like moments I've had with my friends. And I think that's the great secret of Pop Team Epic's success. For all its lack of good taste, it captures the current zeitgeist of utter, complete disdain for convention and making any kind of sense in a way that makes immediately compelling to anyone who's spent time on the internet.
I do think that sometimes Pop Team Epic veers too far into ineffective shock. One particular joke that ends in the phrase ‘sexual assault’ (though kind of an interesting commentary on a certain pernicious story trope) feels like it goes a bit too far in the direction of bad taste. I understand that Pop Team Epic is flippant (I mean, look at the cover), but moments like this feel ill-considered in how they bring the manga's pace to a screeching, uncomfortable halt. Mostly, though, Pop Team Epic goes forth at a great clip and the good jokes keep on coming.
Pop Team Epic is popular and a perpetual meme for a reason. Of all the things I read for this guide, I think Pop Team Epic has the most crossover appeal (apart from some extremely specific anime in-jokes). So, this Christmas, if you have some comic loving folks in your family, consider giving the gift of Popuko and Pipimi. It certainly made me laugh a ton, and maybe it will do the same for them.
While I can absolutely appreciate what Pop Team Epic is doing, I can't in all honesty say that I liked it. Humor is, as is frequently mentioned, among the most subjective of literary genres, and the short, in-jokey gags that make up this single-volume series are very hit-or-miss depending upon how well you know the material being referenced. In Bkub Okawa's favor, there's a very wide field to choose from; the book covers everything from Disney films to TV ads and publishing houses (the book's own, specifically), with many nods to the apparent laziness of the volume's own art. At least one or two of the four-panel comics in each chapter made me kind of smile, but I didn't find it laugh-out-loud funny.
The manga is, however, less abrupt than its anime adaptation. That's largely because it's easier to break things up in book format than on the screen, so you can read a chapter, or even just a couple of comics, and then put the book down for a bit. The lack of voice also makes this a very different experience; I preferred it, but obviously that's going to vary by reader. Perhaps the easiest way to frame it is that where the anime had a kind of “Ren and Stimpy” feel (to me, anyway), the manga does not, reading instead like an irreverent take on the vagaries of pop culture and national stereotypes. It's a bit less overwhelmingly weird.
With no continuous plot or even very frequent mention of the characters' names, Pop Team Epic is best suited for those who like their absurdity as bizarre as possible. If you'd rather your manga made a bit more sense, I'd definitely steer clear.
Does Pop Team Epic really need an introduction? The cult classic webcomic is finally published stateside! There have always been fans of Pop Team Epic since its debut in 2015, but after the premiere of the anime in winter 2018, people have been coming out in droves to enjoy Popuko and Pipimi's antics.
Popuko (short blonde) and Pipimi (tall brunette) are two school girls who are always getting into trouble in the best of ways. This volume includes over 165 yonkoma strips ranging from well known ones such as the “Arrested for Youtube Crimes” and “Ah. You are Mother F*cker?” but also include some lesser known ones thrown in the mix. Each one is funny in its own right, whether it is because of Bkub Okawa's genius comedic timing or because of blatant referencing to other series. I also can't help but give a shout out to translator Yota Okutani - they did an excellent job with translating all the fine nuances of each character while still keeping true to the original spirit of the manga.
It's a nice book, too - it includes seven really fun color illustrations of Popuko and Pipimi at the beginning of the volume. At the end, Popuko ominously announces, “Don't you dare think this is the end,” and you know what? I hope Pop Team Epic never ends if it keeps being this inspired.
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