For some people, the Di Gi Charat franchise may be as bewildering and complex as the Gundam universe. Born as character mascots for the Gamers store in Akihabara, Dejiko and her friends made their debut in 4-panel gag comics before branching out into anime series, a few volumes of manga, collectible trinkets, and those cat-eared hats you see at every con. And just when you thought they were already insufferably cute, Panyo Panyo Di Gi Charat chibi-fies the characters even further. The end result epitomizes everything that Di Gi Charat stands for: cute, silly, mindless fun.
Consider it a feat of ingenuity that Panyo Panyo Di Gi Charat manages to squeeze so much material out of no plot at all. The 7-minute episodes, which are grouped into sets of four, are more like riffs on a theme (rogue thieves, pirates, or racing) rather than step-by-step advancements of a storyline. Each episode is structured like a typical American TV cartoon, in which a situation is presented to the characters and then resolved—usually with a clever twist—within the time allotted. In this respect, Vol. 2 can be enjoyed without having to watch Vol. 1. However, because of the fleeting nature of each episode, each one is forgotten almost as soon as it's over, and without a true continuous story arc, there isn't much impulse to watch the next episode.
The characters of Di Gi Charat have always been the driving force behind the franchise, and those familiar with other incarnations of the series will find some personnel being shuffled around in the Panyo Panyo version. Absent is Dejiko's usual foil, Rabi~en~Rose, and now Piyoko takes on the task of heckling our green-haired heroine. The addition of MeeK as a character threatens to tip the balance of the ensemble, because her gung-ho attitude is very similar to Dejiko's, but she seems happy to accept a second-in-command role. Puchiko provides a surprising amount of comedic punch, being the "quiet one that nobody expects," while Rinna seems to serve no purpose besides standing around and being sleepy. Yes, these characters are adorable, but do we really need so many of them running around?
To complement its simple, all-ages subject matter, Panyo Panyo Di Gi Charat uses a bright palette of primary colors designed to appeal to children. Fans of more sophisticated animation may quickly grow tired of the flat, almost garish rendering in this series. The character designs, while respectful of Koge-Donbo's original creations, lack the subtlety that make her own illustrated works shine—the Di Gi Charat "Chocola" artbooks, the Pita-Ten manga, and Harry Potter fanart. In creating an anime aimed at younger audiences, Studio Madhouse goes for what works: bigger eyes, brighter colors, and simplified, exaggerated action. The animation itself barely meets the level of smoothness needed to fool the eye, and there are no attempts at tricky angles or challenging movement—but this show can get away with it because it has no aspirations of being a masterpiece.
The predominantly female cast of characters in Panyo Panyo Di Gi Charat calls for one thing: lots and lots of high-pitched voice acting. The cast list for the English dub reads like a who's who of ADV's female VA staff: Luci Christian, Hilary Haag, and Kira Vincent-Davis step in as Dejiko, Puchiko, and Piyoko respectively, with other familiar voices taking the secondary roles. Although they read their lines with the same enthusiasm as the Japanese cast, there's a sense of straining for the higher register, and the nonsense syllables like "nyo" at the end of each character's lines come out sounding rather Americanized, like "nyoeauw." The subtitles are more austere in their approach, eliminating these nonsense syllables entirely and employing a bare-bones translation. Some may see this as an injustice to the original script, but for others, it may be a welcome break from those distracting cat-sounds.
The background music in the series is a forgettable collection of melodies geared towards children's shows and comedy. Like the tone of the show, it's lighthearted and breezy, and mostly non-intrusive. The theme songs that frame each four-episode block are sprightly pop numbers that you may find yourself singing along with—but don't try too hard to make sense of the lyrics. Remember folks, "
Happy! Smile! Hello!" is a state of mind.
Anime connoisseurs, consider yourselves warned: Panyo Panyo Di Gi Charat is silly, it's pointless, and if you know any children (especially girls) under the age of 10, they're probably going to love it. It won't leave much of an impression, and after watching 85 straight minutes of cute little cat-eared girls having flights of fancy, you'll probably be craving more serious fare right away. If you're sweet-toothed enough to give this confection a try, go for it, but you may soon find out why each episode is just seven minutes long.