The Winter 2018 Anime Preview Guide Pop Team Epic
How would you rate episode 1 of
Pop Team Epic ?
What is this?
Daichi's parents are about to leave on their overseas trip, so he needs to keep an eye on Sosogu who's a teen idol—no, never mind. Actually, Popuko and Pipimi are here to have absurd adventures in Paris, beat each other up, love each other, and use explosives while shady alien figures plot how to dominate the anime season. Pop Team Epic is based on a manga and streams on Crunchyroll and HIDIVE, Saturdays at 12:30 PM EST.
How was the first episode?
SimulDub Update: Funimation did right by this oddity and dubbed every line as faithful to the original (nonsensical) intent as possible. There's no attempt to make the comedy any more comprehensible or traditional, and there's no added exclamations of "frickin" or "double-yoo-tee-eff" to act as substitute punchlines, despite the open temptation of nebulous lip flaps. Pop Team Epic in English is just as enjoyably upsetting as Pop Team Epic in Japanese, and thank god for that. Since there's no notable alterations to the script, it's up to the performances to carry each pointless new skit. Those loose lip flaps allow Ian Sinclair, Chris Sabat, Colleen Clinkenbeard, and Justin Briner to really cut loose in every scene, often taking their voices to places you never hear in more straightforward anime. Just like great anime can demonstrate a voice actor's emotional range, this shitty anime (the show's words not mine) seems like the perfect opportunity for the cast to just play around with a vast range of weird intonations that don't belong in any sane cartoon. It's surprisingly fun to hear how different actors perform the same material, sometimes even sounding like different actors from themselves as they try out different pitches and affects in different scenes. (Colleen Clinkenbeard's range has always been impressive, but nothing demonstrates its power quite like hearing her voice change completely between lines as a series of Pipimis.) Everyone sounds like they're having fun, and the results are infectiously funny. This dub is an easy recommendation for anyone who wants to enjoy PTE with their substance of choice, and I'm glad that the show's format will allow a wide range of Funi's voice talent to enjoy a turn as Pipimi or Popuko.
So I'm not going to waste your time trying to explain Pop Team Epic's first episode. Plenty of people have beaten me to the punch on that one, and frankly it's just the kind of thing you have to experience for yourself before you'll know if you'll love it or hate it. That said, I'm not going to claim that you have to be a certain kind of person to "get it," because as with most anti-comedy, there's technically not anything to "get" here. Pretending to understand Pop Team Epic is a waste of energy, because enjoying Pop Team Epic largely relies on accepting that it cannot be understood. It is the animated equivalent of a trollface jpeg. It is literally a superdeformed anime girl with two big meaty man hands flipping you the bird. It both speaks for itself and says nothing at all. You can't convince someone who likes it to hate it and you can't convince someone who hates it to like it. And I don't want to convince people not to hate it, because if no one hated Pop Team Epic, it would lose all its power.
I think that's the dirty little secret behind not only Pop Team Epic, but all shitpost-style humor. It's only funny if people make the "mistake" of engaging with it sincerely—even if it's just one person. Without any marks around to get angry at the feeling that they're being played (but continuing to engage for fear that they would really be owned if they gave up), there is no joke. This is also the intended function behind the practice of trolling, before the term was morphed into a too-cutesy term for bog-standard online harassment. Old-school, non-harassment-based trolling is basically just increasingly more elaborate variations on playing a prank without a punchline. It's like the old "What's updog?" joke, except you replace updog with a truly nonsensical word that cannot ever be figured out. The joke is that someone thinks there's a joke, and they're wrong.
Anyway, what I mean to say is that there would be absolutely no reason to like Pop Team Epic unless there were also people who hate Pop Team Epic, so by all means encourage people to hate on it and feel free to thumb your nose at anyone who says they "really get' it. Such is the paradox of anti-comedy. If this is your first exposure to anti-comedy, you don't necessarily have to find it "funny-ha-ha" to enjoy it. The style has a long history as a way of finding amusement in the absence of comedy; basically taking joy from the conscious creation of meaning from objective meaninglessness. As a rare entry in that fairly small niche of comedy, Pop Team Epic's quick pacing and willingness to embrace truly painful pointlessness makes it a pretty good one—but it wouldn't be any good if at least some people couldn't call it out for being pretty bad too.
Oh, if only Hoshiiro Girldrop, the idol/harem series we're being trolled with at the beginning of both parts of this episode, were the actual anime here. As bland as its setup and opener were, they still look infinitely more entertaining than the real truth about this episode. (And don't you wonder about that giant dog? Perhaps a spin-off featuring that show will eventually be made, as in the case of Kujibiki Unbalance.) For the mental health of anyone who actually watches more of this series, let's at least hope that the snippets with the secret cabal scheming to control the anime season are actually going to be regular element rather than a one-shot deal, as that meta notion was almost the only other thing remotely entertaining about this episode.
Basically, the first half of the episode is just a collection of short gags featuring anime or other pop culture references. Occasionally even odder bits are included, like a collection of gags about a trip to Paris being preceded by a brief life-action clip of someone being interviewed in French explaining what's coming – if you actually know French, because it isn't subtitled at all. Presumably for some faint attempt at humor, the two girls are also voiced by men this time around. After the closing credits in the middle of the episode, the show decides to repeat the whole thing scene-for-scene, only with different voices and the subtitles actually added this time around for the French-speaking parts.
The cover of the first volume of the source webcomic shows both girls giving the viewer a double-middle-finger, and that's about what watching this episode feels like. Supposedly the source material has a cult following, and I get the impression that this was aiming for an irreverent appeal along the lines of Robot Chicken, but if so then the creators missed the mark. The parts that aren't the fake Girldrop or the bit about the Illuminati are also enormously ugly, which even if intentional kills any visual appeal of the series for me.
Been a long time since I've had to say this about an anime series, but I actually can't recommend any of this first episode beyond the first couple of minutes to anyone.
Giving Pop Team Epic a review and a score is, in many ways, an exercise in futility. Pop Team Epic does not care if it is liked, or even if it is understood, by the people that are watching it. Following the brief fake-out introduction to a nonexistent pop-idol comedy, this show spends about ten minutes delivering a barrage of half-formed gags, barely comprehensible pop-culture parodies, and some of the most intensely (and intentionally) ugly visuals it can possibly muster. To say that these ten minutes resemble a fever-dream would be doing a disservice to both fevers and dreams, because they at least are rooted in some kind of semi-predictable, biological functions. Only after what seems like an eternity of word and visual salad being thrown haphazardly at the screen, without any discernible rhyme or reason, do the credits finally begin to roll.
And then the whole thing starts all over again, scene-for-scene, save for some slightly different voices being used to voice Popuko and Pipimi.
So yeah, Pop Team Epic is a troll show. One can't even really criticize it for not being funny, because it isn't even really trying to be funny, at least not in a traditional sense. It's pure, unadulterated anti-humor, the kind of intentionally belligerent and aggressively awkward non-jokes that are so irredeemably stupid that they loop back around to being…“hilarious”? It takes beloved cultural touchstones like Your Name, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and the entire nation of France, tosses them into a meme-blender, and mashes the puree button for twelve minutes straight. It's the animated Japanese equivalent to Adult Swim stoner mainstays like Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, and if that sounds like something you would enjoy, then Pop Team Epic will be right up your alley. If you are looking for any semblance of plot, reason, character development, or common decency, then you will absolutely want to look elsewhere.
Now it might sound like I hated this experience, but that isn't entirely true. I usually really enjoy this kind of absurdist nonsense, and even when I don't enjoy it, I can at least respect it. It takes an absurd amount of confidence to fuel all of one's passion, energy, and money into a project that is designed with the precision of a steal-fighter to piss off and irritate as many people as possible. Even if I didn't “enjoy” this series in a traditional sense, I can appreciate its mission statement. There's too much safety in a lot of modern day entertainment. Too many instances of artists trying to paint by numbers. Pop Team Epic is here to scribble over all of the numbers in permanent ink and replace the paint with a bunch of poorly photoshopped drawings of middle fingers raised high, copied and pasted across your television screen ad infinitum.
Rating: I think my brain is bleeding
Can the rating scale even be applied to something like Pop Team Epic, a conglomeration of anime and video game references, absurdity, and giving exactly zero shits about its audience's expectations? The last part isn't entirely true, people tuning in because of familiarity with the manga were probably prepared for whatever the hell it was I just watched. Pop Team Epic is a cacophony of animation that even has the audacity to repeat itself (practically) verbatim at the midway point. It's all about screwing with expectations and it does a stellar job of sticking that point.
After a false opening sequence (this one fell a little flat for me, Mr. Osomatsu already did this bit) the episode jumps straight into an extended dream-within-a-dream sequence all the while throwing out references to Your Name and Kemono Friends and setting up a sci-fi plot that is probably meaningless. The episode claims that it's over, has a few more sketches, then an ending sequence and preview to match the OP.
Then it replays the entire episode again, with a different voice cast and a few other minor changes.
I kept expecting a change up moment. “There's no way they're actually just repeating the whole first half with a different voice cast and subtitles on the French bit.” I kept telling myself that and I was wrong over and over again. That was my mistake, I kept trying to latch on to some overarching reason things were happening and Pop Team Epic was having a good laugh at my expense. Fortunately, I like having my expectations messed with and will happily devote 25 minutes a week just to come away saying “What the hell?!” every time. I kinda hope they don't pull the same segment repeat gag every time, but on the other hand it would be very in line to do it. And I would watch both halves every time out concern that something will be different this time. I'm perfect prey for this show.
Rating: Two middle fingers right the heck up there
How do I even begin to describe Pop Team Epic. I'd once have thought simply describing the original 4koma would be difficult, but watching this anime has proven how shallow my thinking originally was. The Pop Team Epic 4koma is a deadpan, surrealist piece of comedy that rides on the contrast between its quasi-cutesy protagonists and alternately foul, harrowing, or utterly bizarre little skits. Some of its entries are simply weird, whereas other find a sublime comedy in the simplest possible setup-payoffs, or denial of payoffs altogether. It's a comedy about comedy, and thus very popular among us living-in-our-own-heads internet types.
The Pop Team Epic anime doubles down on the weirdness of the original manga in every possible way. This first episode is a series of nigh-incoherent skits that only rarely have punchlines, more often simply offering one absurd image or twist before scampering on their way. There are My Neighbor Totoro references and Skyrim references, but the show doesn't really make “jokes” out of those things. There's an intentionally un-subtitled sequence where we listen to a man presumably describing creating CG versions of the Pop Team Epic characters in French, followed by the characters actually going to France, only for this two-part segment to end on one more random stranger giving our two heroes the finger. There are pixel art segments that go absolutely nowhere, and an alternate-art sub-show seemingly designed just to see how grossly these character designs can be perverted while still remaining recognizable. And when this episode finally ends, the credits are followed by an entire friggin' episode do-over, with the cast now being voiced by entirely different people.
In short, Pop Team Epic says Up Yours to anyone who's seeking any conventional sort of comic setup-punchline, but still finds plenty of comedy in its resolute refusal to be coherently funny. It's essentially like if the most abstract of Nichijou's little interludes were all lined up beside each other, smooshed into quarter-length snippets, and taught how to say a lot of naughty words. It's crude and visually simplistic and impossible to recommend, and I am going to watch every single episode. As someone who readily admits to having had their brain broken by too many years of consuming internet memes, Pop Team Epic feels like the comedy all of us now deserve. Please watch this show if you value your time even half as little as I do.
I normally really enjoy theatre of the absurd, but Pop Team Epic leaves me wondering why. Just “why” in general – why is this a full-length episode, why isn't its humor working for me, why is the dog afraid of snow today…that last is when my mind was wandering during the second half of the episode, because it is virtually identical to the first half – same gags, same dialogue, same order. There are some differences (they swap out voice actors and the fact that the French segment has subtitles the second time around), making it like one of those “Can You Spot the Differences?” puzzles in kids' activity books that I was so bad at, and quite honestly requiring more active watching than the show merits.
This doesn't mean that there aren't some reasonably funny jokes every so often – along with the Totoro gag, there's also a Pokemon one and some decent video game references. There's a lot of fun had with the visuals as well, putting Popuko and Pipimi on a variety of backgrounds of varying levels of realism and playing with different styles of animation. One of the highlights is when Pipimi rescues Popuko from the aliens who are possibly running the whole show as an experiment on her from their spaceship and as the girls leave, the aliens discuss the inadvisability of making a Pop Team Epic anime in the first place. It's a good moment of metafictional humor that acknowledges the overall absurdity and the risks taken with the way the episode is put together. Honestly, the episode would have been better with more of this.
I'm not sure how Pop Team Epic is going to continue on. I don't know that it can maintain this frenetic ADHD style over multiple episodes, and the “Hoshiiro Girldrop” gag is going to get old if they keep using it the way this episode does. I suspect this is a series that works better in its original four-panel format, and it would also benefit from shorter episodes. It may manage to do something new each week, but I don't think I care to find out.
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