Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Apr 24th 2013
Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt
Blu-Ray - The Complete Series
Daten City, a city between heaven and hell, where sin runs rampant and Ghosts wreak havoc. Atop a hill, in a church entirely ill-suited to their personalities, live Panty and Stocking, two fallen angels tasked with destroying the Ghosts. Panty is blonde and strong and foul mouthed; Stocking is quieter and more efficient and of the loli-goth persuasion. Under the guidance of their priestly handler, Garterbelt, they do their job… grudgingly. Very grudgingly. Stocking would rather lounge around eating sweets and Panty would rather be out bedding anything with two legs and the proper genitalia. But when the need is dire, they kill Ghosts like no one's business. Though the town tends to get very badly damaged in the process.
Forget Panty & Stocking; this vile concoction, from the usually-interesting folks at Gainax, should be called The Great Waste. Never has so much talent and imagination been squandered on something so worthless. It's the kind of show you want very badly to encourage: fearlessly different, madly inventive. But it goes so very, very wrong. If you must watch, plan carefully. It's a real liability having to walk around for days with a convulsive grimace stuck on your face.
At its best Panty & Stocking is a derivative bore. At its worst it's a stomach-turning feast of grossness—but swathed in a cartoon surface of such demented energy that you want to just lose yourself in its overflowing insanity. The show looks and acts like a Cartoon Network production on a particularly manic acid trip. Animated by the FLCL side of Gainax and backed by a formidable team of assistant directors (including, among others, restless experimenter Osamu Kobayashi), the show is a wonder of crazed color and mad movement. Its lines are square and chunky, its animation often deliberately crude, and its energy level set somewhere between nuclear meltdown and supernova. The show is an orgiastic explosion of hyperkinetic eye-candy. Blink and you'll miss a wacko visual invention; let your attention wander and you may never get your bearings again.
Unfortunately, most of the time all of that virtuoso madness is impossible to enjoy. The series is clearly intended as a Gainaxish take on envelope-pushing American comedies. It wears its influences on its sleeve, co-opting Invader Zim's Gir for Panty and Stocking's mascot character, bringing in Ren and Stimpy as a married Ghost couple, and using South Park-styled cutouts in its jokes. But it has no understanding of what made any of those shows great. It apes the form—the bodily fluids, the deliberately unsympathetic characters, the flouting of taste and propriety—with no concept of how the form yields humor. There's no comedic logic to its transgressions; it just does hideous things because, well, that's what gross-out comedies do, right? Its humor is painfully self-conscious, and curiously lifeless for how energetic it is.
And without the comedic payoff, the show's push to defy good taste means that it's just, well, tasteless. There isn't a fluid in the human body that doesn't splatter the screen at some point, usually during an episode devoted to that particular fluid. The very first episode is about a feces-monster. It ends, quite naturally, with the entire city drenched in poo. There's an episode about a booger ghost who starts a nose-picking fad. (And who also propels his zeppelin with nosebleeds. Two fluids in one episode. Score!) It ends with Stocking jamming a giant booger into the moon's nose, causing it to sneeze all over Daten City. And then there's the sperm episode, in which the grudges of wasted sperm form little sperm Ghosts armed with leaky penis-guns. We won't speak of the vomit episode. Toilets, urinals, sewer pipes, used condoms, and sleazy porn are also recurring motifs. And that's just a sampler. Garterbelt turns out to be a bondage-loving pederast. (Why? Who knows?) One episode has Brief—a lovelorn nerd who follows Panty around—give anal birth to a full-grown Panty and Stocking. The finale involves Panty regenerating her hymen and trying to lose her virginity again.
Don't wait for some of that quality Gainax writing to come galloping to your rescue either. The show is essentially the world's filthiest take on magical girls. Panty and Stocking fight a monster per episode, collect coins called Heavens (to earn their way back to heaven), and cycle endlessly through their established behavior patterns. The episodes are formulaic, the story directionless, and as for the girls themselves, they're self-centered sociopaths whose main distinguishing features are their appetites: Stocking's for sweets, and Panty's for sex. Although to be fair, their sociopathy does take different forms. Panty is crass and openly violent, Stocking sarcastically heartless.
To be fair to the show too, it does make a laudable effort to mix things up. One episode is a game show where Panty and Stocking are tried for murder American Idol-style. The sperm episode begins as a military movie that only slowly reveals itself as a metaphor for the tribulations of spermatozoa. Some episodes even shoot for semi-real emotions (the Romeo + Juliet half of the finale) and others try radical stylistic experiments (the vomit episode, the weird Hee-Haw half of the finale). Ultimately, though, each episode is like a new and novel variety of animal poop: you can admire the variety in shape and texture and odor, but they're still unpleasant.
If anything, Funimation ramps up the show's already staggering level of vulgarity. The characters are nastier, more poisonous, and given to inventive streams of invective. And weirdly enough, it helps. The range and flexibility of the cursing is sometimes very funny, and the English writers clearly understand this brand of humor better than the original writers did. The comic timing, the wordplay, and even the use of character—especially in the case of the Ghosts—are all better in English. The enthusiastically over-the-top performances also add extra color, and the fun that the actors are having can be infectious. It isn't enough to actually make the show enjoyable, but it's definitely easier to forget your nausea when the English track is running.
This set comes smothered in extras. There's a twenty-minute video in which the English cast and crew describe their impressions of the show and its characters, and a ten-minute one in which they talk about dubbing it. There are nine minutes of exceedingly foul omake videos, multi-angle videos of the live-action explosions that finish off each ghost-hunt, and a forty-minute(!) documentary about the ghost explosions. There is an exhaustive collection of every TV spot, DVD commercial, and promo ever made for the show. There are sixteen minutes of outtakes, a twenty-five minute interview/talk show segment featuring the main Japanese cast and crew, and a ten-minute behind-the-scenes video about a live-action special effects shot used in the finale. Plus the usual trailers and clean OPs and EDs, and reversible covers for the cases inside the box.
When Panty & Stocking plays to its strengths, occasionally something entertaining will slip through. A smattering of sight gags that thrive on the show's style and energy, say, or a music video that makes the most of the show's fabulously trashy synth-pop soundtrack (and earns mega-geek points for giving a nod to In the Court of the Crimson King). Only once, though—when Panty and Stocking's demon arch-nemeses Scanty and Kneesocks show up—does hope of sustained quality flare up. It dies soon enough, buried under a crush of standalone depravity. But in the meantime it does deliver the show's one indisputably good episode. That one episode combines everything good about the show, from its broad physical humor to its lunatic stylization to director Hiroyuki Imaishi's proven knack for wild action, into a delirious mash-up of Tex Avery and John Woo that leaves you with a stupid grin where your grimace used to be. If the whole show were that good, it'd be a cracked masterpiece instead of a grotesque waste. Which is what makes the waste so tragic.
Overall (dub) : C-
Overall (sub) : D
Story : F
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : A-
+ Synapse-stinging style.
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