Pop Team Epic
Episodes 1-3

by Gabriella Ekens,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Pop Team Epic ?
Community score: 3.6

How would you rate episode 2 of
Pop Team Epic ?
Community score: 3.8

How would you rate episode 3 of
Pop Team Epic ?
Community score: 3.8

How does one review Pop Team Epic?

Seriously, this show seems to resist cogent response in general, much less interpretation. Based on a 4-koma comic strip drawn by a Touhou doujin artist and released online in 2014, it's perhaps the first piece of otaku media to be so steeped in shitpost culture that it will be unintelligible to anyone who isn't Extremely Online themselves. Largely a string of non sequiturs and reference jokes, it exists at the intersection of several subcultures, from anime fans to memelords to entrenched gamers. Even on the English-language net, these man-handed @ω@-faced schoolgirls have been popping up on social media for a while, to the point where this bizarre attempt to translate the strip's lunacy to animation had become one of the most anticipated premieres of the season everywhere.

I think Pop Team Epic is ultimately most categorizable as anti-humor, a genre of comedy that derives its humor from the very absurdity of trying to find meaning in its madness. As a general rule, humor derives its strength from the unexpected. In conventional comedy, this comes from playing around with existing lines of ambiguity. For example, that old “Who's on First?” routine was funny because it messed with two ways of interpreting the word “who” for an extended period of time. That punny ambiguity is the joke's pivot point, but it's also the source of the sense it makes. Now, however, everyone knows how these sorts of puns work, so you have to come up with something super-crazy-unexpected to get people to laugh – for example, you might give up on making sense at all.

All anti-humor does is raise its element of surprise to operate on a metatextual level. You were expecting a conventional reversal as the punchline, but instead you got either a mundane response or absolute nonsense. Sometimes you may feel like the “joke” cheated you out of something – your precious time, for example – by not providing a sufficiently funny punchline after an extended setup, but that in itself is also the joke. The real gag was luring you in, tricking you into expecting something, and then denying that expectation, hopefully making you respond with laughter anyway. Anti-humor reveals how meaning itself is an illusion based on layers of human convention and pattern recognition, and that the universe being an unpredictable collection of discordant experiences can also make us laugh. The trick is to pull this off while keeping the audience on your side; your anti-comedy ploy has to make viewers enjoy being dunked on. Otherwise, you're just telling bad non-jokes and legitimately wasting people's time.

In my opinion, Pop Team Epic succeeds at this delicate balance. It works largely because the show wears its shittiness on its sleeve – it sells itself on two super-deformed anime girls flipping you the bird. You don't walk into this unless you want your time "wasted", to be disparaged and confronted by some of the most aggressively stupid jokes in the world. You want to feel like those were secretly the best jokes all along. Do you get it?

But talking about why something is funny is the quickest way to ruin the joke. Jokes are like living creatures in that they don't handle dissection well, and I wouldn't want to do that for something as precious and rare as Pop Team Epic. (Or maybe I should, as a form of vengeance against this show's essential dismissal of my critical acumen. Hmm...) So fortunately for you, I'll be limiting most of this discussion of How Humor Works to this first writeup, dedicating subsequent installments to other topics befitting Pop Team Epic. After all, you can't review Pop Team Epic without a baseline standard of quality that something this unique must first establish for itself. So maybe I have to try speaking its language instead? Or embarrass myself trying. Either way, hopefully somebody has fun along the way.

In the end, do I like Pop Team Epic? It doesn't get that many big laughs out of me, but I still find myself looking forward to the next episode halfway through my weekdays. So yeah, I guess that means I do like it.

Best(?) Jokes(?) in these First Three Episodes
(Share your own favorites in the forums!)
  • The fact that I chose to review this.

  • Why is Pipimi!Totoro censored? Is he supposed to look like a ballsack? Regular Totoro doesn't really look like a ballsack, but now that the association is in my head, I can't get rid of it. Thanks Pop Team Epic, this is the brain poison that I crave.

  • The puppet idol song from the second episode is basically the show's thesis statement. “Seriously, what are you so fascinated with?” “Delve into subculture, but it's still so fake.” “You're so rude, go take a nap.” I don't care what you like because it's all bad. I pretend to hate you, but I love you. I'm an asshole, but secretly a sweetheart. (Or maybe really just an asshole?) This is all in line with the shitposting aesthetic, which hides sincere engagement with the world behind self-deprecation for various personal reasons, rather than embracing nihilism or apathy outright.

  • Popuko waking up to realize it's like 7:00 PM and becoming extremely angry is very relatable, and I hate it.

  • The escalation on that “idol documentary” was fantastic. Also, was Popuko smoking a cigar or a blunt at the beginning there?

  • That Bob Epic Team thing is so aggressively hideous that the show is insulting me just by making me look at it.

May the Popukopalypse commence...

Read Part Two of this review here!

Grade: A

Pop Team Epic is currently streaming on Crunchyroll and HIDIVE.

Gabriella Ekens feels trepidation at the prospect of writing up all of Pop Team Epic, but not yet true fear. You can monitor her mental state on twitter.

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