The Spring 2015 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Punch Line ?
Several reviewers have beat me to the punch on describing the "plot" (or trying to describe the plot) of PUNCH LINE, so I won't waste my time or yours on the blow-by-blow of this episode entitled "Panty Panic." Suffice to say, this is cuckoo-pants krazy komedy that relies on nonsense logic and zero breathing room to yank laughs out of viewers, and trying to explain the story is sort of past the point. Beyond the insanity of its story, I was more intrigued by what it looked like PUNCH LINE was trying to be, and specifically why it was failing so hard at that goal, at least as of this first episode.
Punch Line is to FLCL what Rolling Girls is to Kill La Kill. I don't want to boil noitamina's newest effort down to one simple analogy like that, but it sure helps me contextualize a lot of its problems (along with its few strengths), because I saw something very similar shake down last season, and I can basically paint the signs by numbers now.
1) Both Punch Line and Rolling Girls are overly ambitious passion projects with too much going on in the first episode to an off-putting extent. PUNCH LINE is its head writer's first anime project, and the director is a relative greenhorn with a Gainax-colored past (which also explains the Furi Kuri influence.) They've clearly decided to debut this original idea full-force with guns blazing. It's bright, loud, and crazy from start to finish.
2) Both shows clearly evolved from the style and content of their source inspirations (FLCL in this case, Kill La Kill for last season's trainwreck), however, the inspiration is tangential enough to the new creation that you can't really call it anything but its own thing. It's not a rip-off, it's not derivative, it is just very clearly and heavily inspired by something else. PUNCH LINE's plot based on a free-association mishmash of puns made literal recalls the heavy wordplay of FLCL, as does its animation style and crass stupidity laced up in colorful cuteness. That said, this is not FLCL, and PUNCH LINE has more in common with Rolling Girls as an animator showcase love letter that struggles to stand on its own two feet...
3) Both shows are slickly animated and have a fairly nice sense of color design, but an absolutely tasteless sense of aesthetic thanks to their Suicide Soda* approach to art design. There is such a thing as too many visual ideas, and PUNCH LINE has this problem in spades, slapping overdesigned costumes on overdesigned characters before shoving them into elaborate CG-hybrid backgrounds and sprawling setpieces with no cohesion whatsoever. Where is my eye supposed to go? I have no clue, it's just jingling keys and packed frames assaulting my vision for scene after scene. There's also such a thing as too many narrative ideas, and Rolling Girls and PUNCH LINE look to be headed down the same bad road on that count too.
4) Humor is a highly subjective thing, but even though PUNCH LINE's sense of humor (if this guy sees panties, the world will explode!) is very different from Rolling Girls' (cute girls stumbling through a superpowered world!), I found them both equally lame. PUNCH LINE is just trying too hard to be funny, using devices and jokes that felt old 20 years ago to stuff up a plot already overstuffed with three times the premise that one show needs. If you're starting out the gate with too many concepts, that problem is only going to snowball with time, and the result will be even less pleasant to watch, especially if (when) this comedy decides that it wants to get sentimental later.
On the plus side, work that's trying this hard to impress usually ends up speaking to somebody, so maybe this nigh incomprehensible onslaught of surprisingly toothless cartoongasm is just the drug you never knew you needed. As for me, while it's far from the worst show of this season, I think it's absolutely the biggest mess so far, I felt secondhand embarrassment for the production team while watching it, and can only hope that MAPPA's next effort, comedic or dramatic, is a little more focused and competent.
* Suicide Soda is what I remember calling the "mixing every fountain drink into one at the self-serve" thing as a kid, but maybe your childhood had a different term for it. No matter how little you put in, the orange drinks and the Dr. Pepper are gonna dominate the flavor. Kids have frightening tastebuds.
This series is available streaming at Crunchyroll.com.
I am very divided on Punch Line. On the one hand, it's got some creative storytelling, a wonderful sense of energy, and dynamic direction and animation that harkens back to the glory days of studios like Gainax exploring the awkward edge of adolescence with terrific visual flair.
On the other hand, it's a show about a boy who sees panties and then the world explodes.
Punch Line opens with a bang, as Yu Iridatsu finds himself in the middle of a high-speed bus-jacking by a masked terrorist group. Suddenly, the costumed hero Strange Juice appears, driving her motorcycle through the front of the bus and saving the day! But the villain tricks Strange Juice, and now she's on the ropes! But what's this - seeing a girl's panties has powered up Yu, and now he's charging the villain, sending both of them careening out of the bus and into the river!
From there, the story quickly jumps to Yu waking up in a ghostly spirit form. Apparently, as helpful spirit-cat Chiranosuke explains, his body has been stolen by another spirit - and in order to get it back, he's going to have to find the secret tome the Nandala Gandala from somewhere within his apartment. But every time Yu sees panties, his excitement meter will fill up - and if he ever goes past “Full” excitement and on to “Max,” he'll pass out in a fountain of nose-bleeding that will for some reason also summon a meteor to destroy humanity. But that's okay, because he can always go back and try again - after all, temporal realities don't apply to spirits.
The show explains all this with as much energy as it can, though the exposition does get heavy and direct at times. But most of the episode is pure, giddy entertainment, split between the initial bus-jacking, Yu getting accustomed to his ghost body, and the final search through the house as Yu seeks the Nandala Gandala and bumps his way past all the various characters that occupy his complex. Every element of these segments is imbued with wild but purposeful energy - characters emote with wacky smears and great expressions, the direction makes great use of dynamic pans (helped along by very intelligently applied CG backgrounds), and new tenants are introduced naturally with little titles as they go about their daily domestic adventures. The backgrounds are colorful and full of great personal details for each room, making the whole complex feel like a living place well-worth exploring. The time-reset conceit only results in the smallest deviation in timelines this week, but promises all sorts of fun future shenanigans. And the various lives all the show's characters are living beg for exploration, from the superhero-tech wiz combo of Mikutan and Meika to the mystery of whoever's stolen Yu's body. This episode is dense with potential while largely graceful in execution, brimming with ideas and little treats of animation.
But the panties. Why did it have to be panties? Punch Line is like a lovingly prepared, perfectly tabled can of spam - that so much beauty and thought has gone into a show centered on the danger of a boy seeing panties just… well, it makes me sad. Maybe this is all a big trick - maybe the series actually will go in more compelling directions, and won't just be the most lavishly garnished slice of fanservice imaginable. I enjoyed this episode, and really hope Punch Line ends up surprising me with its own eventual ambitions. But right now, it feels like this show might be suffocated by its own premise.
Yu-tan's day is not going well. First the bus he's on is hijacked, and then just when he discovers that the sight of a girl's underwear can give him superpowers, his soul is forced out of his body by a spirit (from space?) who puts wards up around his room so that he can't reclaim his flesh. A ghost cat tells him that he has to find a sacred Indian tome in order to drive out the squatting spirit, and it's somewhere in Yu-tan's apartment building...which is entirely populated by weird girls, one of whom turns out to be Strange Juice, the masked superheroine who very nearly stopped the highjacking and whose underwear trigged Yu-tan's initial transformation. Incidentally, that's something he's going to have watch while he's a spirit, because if he becomes too “excited” his powers will cause the extinction of humanity. Good thing he can travel back in time and try not to blow everyone up a second (third, fourth) time.
Superficially there are a couple of strange overlaps between this and Mikagura School Suite in that both shows have a fujoushi character and that, more remarkably, both feature floating felines. Both also try to cram a lot into a single episode, which really feels like a trend this season. We're subjected to a lot of explication in Punch Line, mostly as Yu-tan learns about his new state and power, but this is an example of telling rather than showing. That only goes for the main plot, however; each girl's quirk is shown rather than explicitly stated with the exception of Rabura, the exorcist. That works quite well, allowing us to gather that one girl is a BL fan and another enjoys knitting without ever really mentioning it; it's definitely one of the episode's greatest strengths.
At its heart, however, this feels like a panty fetish show. Not only do we see almost everyone's underwear (Yu-tan included), but these girls wear the frilliest, silliest looking undergarments I've ever seen. Since they're Yu-tan's trigger for some pretty epic nose-bleeding, there's a variety of forced scenarios for them to be flashed, and if underwear is just a fact of life to you, this can get pretty grating. It's lucky that the characters are all nice and interesting to look at and the animation is mostly smooth and attractive. There are lots of background details too, showing that a lot of thought really went into each character's living space, so if the underwear isn't front-and-center, there's always something to notice in the shot. I also really like Strange Juice's superhero outfit – the translucent cape is an especially good touch.
Punch Line clearly wants to be a saucy comedy, and at that I feel it fails. The jokes rely on the absurdity of a cat spirit, panties, and Yu-tan's reaction to them, and none of them are particularly entertaining. The show looks nice, but that's really about all I can say for it, unless you like underwear and nose bleed jokes a whole lot more than I do.
Rating: 3.5 (of 5)
Review: Punch Line is the Noitamina entry for this season, and it is a saucy, high-spirited, fun-loving project somewhat in the free-wheeling spirit of FLCL or one of Gainax's other bombastic titles. It is patently absurd and amusingly ridiculous, but unlike other series this season which have tried a similar approach, this one actually gets it right.
The story focuses on Yu Iridatsu, a teenage boy who has a (literally) apocalyptic inability to control his own libido; a single look at panties is enough to change his hair color and put him into aggro mode, and if it happens a second time while he's in that state, well, the world will end in a catastrophic asteroid collision. (I'm sure there's some kind of symbolism which could be read into that, but I am not inclined to go there.) So he is told by a ghostly talking cat after an incident involving him flipping out during a bus hijacking results in his spirit being forced out of his body by a bodyjacker, and this actually happens when he inadvertently sees the panties of a couple of neighbors in his apartment building while looking around for a special book that will allow him to return to his body. Fortunately spirits don't have to obey the laws of time, so he can go back in time and try things again (presumably not for the last time in the series). He's more careful this time, and in the process he learns that a couple of his neighbors are actually behind the heroine Strange Juice, who played a principal role in rescuing his bus from hijackers/terrorists. But being cautious isn't enough when Fate seems to be conspiring in a roundabout way to make sure that Yu is exposed to panties. . .
For those expecting something more lecherous, the fan service mostly doesn't go beyond the (frequent) panty shots. In fact, that whole aspect of the show is as much an exercise in juvenile humor as it is actual service. In other respects the show is much more inspired, such as how his neighbor's “transformation” into Strange Juice is actually shown to involve the more practical act of getting a uniform to fall down from a hidden compartment and then changing into it. (She even wonders aloud why it's necessary to do the dance but admits that the whole change sequence does help her get in the right mindset for the role.) It is also surprisingly good at diligently setting up jokes that will pay off a few minutes later, such as an incident with an unraveling sweater, or a comment by the talking cat about Yu leveling up his power level later proves to be literally true.
The story isn't content to just rely on its gags, though, and that is the biggest place where it gains some separation from its competitors. There's definitely a bigger picture here that Yu is not seeing yet, one which involves many of the girls who share his apartment building working together as a vigilante squad and a suggestion of a major terrorist network which they oppose. That gives Yu a firm direction once he gets (or as he gets) his immediate problems sorted out, and I have to think that him being a spirit and the whole Strange Juice business are plot threads which will eventually intersect in a big way. A well-staged action scene and good use of musical score certainly don't hurt.
If you don't get hung up on the panties thing then this one shows some promise. A few other series this season could learn some lessons from it.
Yuta has two problems today. One, he apparently explodes with superpowers when he sees a girl's panties. Two, his body has been possessed by another spirit, so right now, he's a ghost. A talking cat spirit (there are a lot of these this season) tells him that he needs to find the Nandala Gandala, an east Indian book with a spell in it that can help him repossess his body, but he's going to have to do it without seeing any more panties, because if he gets too excited and rockets past his superpower threshold, an asteroid hits the earth and wipes out humanity. This is going to be difficult, because Yuta lives in a boarding house packed with ladies flashing their pantsu – and one of them happens to be an idol singer-turned-masked vigilante superhero called Strange Juice.
Did you get all that?
Punch Line is a noitaminA show by studio MAPPA, who you may remember from last year's Rage of Bahamut: Genesis, and there is nothing about this show that will remind you of that one, or of the sort of shows that usually wind up in the noitaminA block. Nope, this is nonstop zany comedy where none of the jokes land and the premise isn't funny to begin with, animated with a particular zeal for wild takes and crazy slapstick. The humor revolves almost entirely around Yuta exploding with firehose-like nosebleeds every time he sees a pair of panties, along with some lame attempts at superhero parody. None of it works – the show is rapid-fire eye-searing excess in service of absolutely nothing, a million uninspired jokes thrown haphazardly at the screen with a roughly one percent success rate. It's trying very very hard to make you laugh and it isn't trying to do anything else, which is a shame, because it's really bad at doing that.
I say “one percent” and “almost” because there is one joke that works. When the cat spirit is walking Yuta through the rules of being a ghost, he wakes up his laptop and his screen has a youtube video of two cats having sex in public, which he nonchalantly closes. The joke is, he was watching porn, and he has to conceal the window. I laughed. That's it.
Again, the people who made this are trying really, really hard to amuse you, so it almost feels bad dumping on what seems like a very sincere attempt, but this show doesn't work. When your entire joke is “he looks at panties and then goes WHOA PANTIES! OH MY GOD PANTIES!! and then he gets a huge nosebleed!! and also the world will end if he sees too many panties!!” and you don't really do much of anything aside from work really hard to drive that premise into the ground over and over and over again for 22 minutes, I can't endorse your product. Sorry MAPPA. Better luck next time.
This series is available streaming at Crunchyroll.com.
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