Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Pani Poni Dash!
DVD 3 - Class of Death
Momotsuki Academy continues to prove to be an otherworldly—sometimes dangerous—place to get educated. No. 6 finds herself at the center of a mystery romance, put-upon rabbit Mesousa continues to be abused on all fronts, and cat-gods still lurk in the vending machines. Becky agonizes over her lack of dreams, only to be trapped—along with everyone else—in Himeko's, the aliens continue to watch, and possibly-psychotic, possibly inhuman class rep Ichijo continues to raise all kinds of hell. The God of Banchos (along with Cow-bancho, and Kunoichi-bancho) destroys the school in an attempt to defeat Becky, whose attempts to finagle food out of her students when the cafeteria closes down naturally come to no good. Eh?
Ever wonder what would happen if visually-oriented director Akiyuki Shinbo were allowed to freely indulge the bizarre sense of humor he sometimes displays? Then welcome to Pani Poni Dash. Just as Petite Cossette was the distillation of his visual opulence, so too is Pani Poni Dash the pure manifestation of his logic- and narrative-defying humor. And the result is in many ways exactly what one would expect. It's a hallucinogenic comedy freak-fest that devours narrative conventions and traditional continuity with equal relish, all while adhering to an erratic, floating pace and nonsensical dream-logic all its own.
In many ways the show feels like a comedy steam-valve, an explosive bleeding of pressure in which its creators let all of their comic urges loose in one cathartic tidal wave of gags, comic nonsequiturs, and straight-up weirdness. Like any act of artistic indulgence, the appeal of the result will vary greatly from person to person. The humor comes from all sides, bleeding in from literally every corner of the screen, with little sight gags crammed into virtually every frame. Shinbo leaves no comedic avenue untrod (comic repetition, straight sight gags, character-based humor, word play, situational humor, parody, comic escalation) and even invents a few of his own (using deliberate perversions of the shot-reverse-shot to showcase equally deliberate continuity errors). There are plenty of head-scratching "what the hell was that about" moments, but it's to be expected that some humor will work better for some viewers than for others. However, more so than the humor, the purposefully disorienting pace, the pointed refusal to conform to anything resembling a traditional narrative, and the surreal imagery will be as severely off-putting to some viewers as they are utterly engrossing for others.
Taking into account its freewheeling, careless nature, the series is surprisingly adept at developing clear, distinctive personalities for its large cast. They may be one-note cutouts, but each character's personality is drawn with broad, colorful strokes that make juggling the entire cast in one's head without confusing them a surprisingly simple task. Indeed the best humor is often character-based, such as the deadpan antics of the deeply disturbed Ichijo, or the succession of indignities visited upon Becky's sad-sack pet rabbit Mesousa. This volume also reveals the almost motherly concern for Becky's personal growth that underlies Rei's incessant teasing.
Whether deliberate or just a result of the director's demonstrated fondness for expressionistic imagery and disdain for the rules of traditional cinematic continuity, the series' highly individualistic sense of style forcefully prevents the wandering of attention. The cutaway panoramas (including fossils and garbage in the soil), the revolving procession of animals, scarecrows, and tea-kettle-headed men that fill the student seats not occupied by main cast members, the random objects and characters that casually wander through the frame, the supersaturated kandy-color palette, the adorably round-cheeked cast, the mild fan-service—there's no dearth of visuals to occupy one's attention during the occasional dull moments or stretches of unsuccessful jokes.
While each episode's tone is set by the criminally catchy opener ("Roulette, Roulette," the second opener so far), the in-episode music takes a firm back seat to the visuals: present when necessary, but often excised altogether. The more intrusive upbeat pieces are sometimes too noticeable for their own good, but the rest of the time the soundtrack performs invisible support—far from bad, but not outstanding either.
As is becoming ADV's habit, the dub is a perfectly serviceable but fairly unremarkable work that provides dub fans with what they want, while leaving the sub-preferring crowd with plenty of reasons to stick with their preferences. The female voice talent has the unenviable job of voicing a large cast while trying to keep the performances distinct, and do so with varying degrees of success. Among the primary cast there are no real highs or lows—though Himeko can be unbearable, she's no more so than her Japanese counterpart. Mesousa, cat-god, and Giant Salamander on the other hand are performed to perfection. The English script occasionally inexplicably removes lines of dialogue and makes more alterations than is strictly necessary, but given the emphasis on visuals, the impact is minimal—though it completely botches the sleep apnea joke in episode 12.
Of course, the most prominent extra for this series are the pop-up AD Vid-notes, which are hell-bent on turning viewers into students of Japanese pop culture. Beware, the sheer number of them means you'll have to be quick with the pause button. Other extras include a version of the Pani Poni X song accompanied by childish drawings, a slight variation on the "Roulette, Roulette" opening, and an amusing video of the English cast discussing their own high school experiences. The textless endings include versions for all four of the variations aired on this disc.
Make no mistake, Pani Poni Dash isn't consistently funny. The out-of-left-field humor ensures that some (occasionally entire tracts of) jokes will fail miserably. But the pure visual invention that permeates every scene ensures that it's never boring, and for every joke that dies like an armadillo beneath the wheels of a semi-truck, there's bound to be one that finds your funny bone and then proceeds to kick it in the ass.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : B
+ A comedy that looks and behaves like no other comedy currently on the market.
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