Reviewby James Beckett,
Pop Team Epic
Season One Blu-ray
Adapted from Bkub Okawa's popular 4-panel gag manga, Pop Team Epic is an animated sketch comedy that follows the absurd adventures of Popuko and Pipimi, two strange looking girls who cause havoc wherever they go and send-up every cherished institution throughout video games, anime, and every other flavor of pop-culture.
In a way, it seems silly to even review Pop Team Epic, given that the anime goes out of its way to critic proof its own insanity at every turn. After the series' first episode fully commits to the joke of pretending to be a cheesy romance anime called Hoshiiro Girldrop, Pop Team Epic quickly makes its true intentions clear when Popuko literally tears the fourth wall into shreds, her stubby face consuming the entire screen and growling, “I don't think so!”.
From then on, the show becomes what can only be described as the animated equivalent of an internet shitpost. We get a series of random, bizarre, and enthusiastically confrontational sketches that combine memes, pop-culture references, and a general devotion to unbridled chaos to fill out an exhausting and exhilarating eleven minutes. Then, as soon as the credits roll, the episode repeats itself all over again, except now the gravelly, masculine voices of Popuko and Pipimi have been replaced by female performers.
So it goes with all eleven episodes. Sometimes the women's performances air first, and sometimes it's the men's, but little else changes between sketches. You get the impression that the whole gimmick was an excuse to give as many voice actors as possible the chance to run wild in Pop Team Epic's insane universe, in addition to filling out a half-hour time-slot with half the necessary animation. It's a move that's both stunningly cheap and weirdly brilliant, which suits Popuko and Pipimi just fine.
When Pop Team Epic is surprisingly well animated and clever, you can feel the effort of the artists behind it coming through the screen. When Pop Team Epic is being idiotic and gross and weird, that's also clearly on purpose. There's a recurring segment called “Bob Team Epic” produced by the small animation team AC-bu, who have developed an entire aesthetic around being intentionally ugly and bizarre. “Bob Team Epic” transforms Popuko and Pipimi into horrifying blobs with inhuman maws that irritate and torture everyone around them. I wouldn't blame anyone for finding the “Bob Team Epic” segments to be completely stupid and unfunny wastes of time, but they're also kind of amazing in that regard.
Another regular sketch is produced by a French animator named Thibault Tresca, where the pair speak entirely in French (which the show sometimes does not translate). The team intentionally kept Tresca in the dark regarding the basic premise of the show, so the bemused animator just used this opportunity to have Popuko and Pipimi make a bunch of jokes about France. The humor doesn't so much come from the skits themselves, but from the knowledge that the whole segment was made because the crew at Studio Kamikaze Douga thought it would be hilarious to mess with Tresca in a good-natured way.
Then there's Hellshake Yano, which has become infamous in some internet circles, and I'm certainly not going to spoil that one. It may be the greatest work of animation to ever come out of Japan, which is a pretty mean feat considering that the segment technically features no animation whatsoever. In any case, the show shifts between its numerous wildly different sketches often enough that if your taste in humor verges on the nonsensical, something along the way will tickle your funny bone.
The main appeal of picking up Funimation's Blu-ray set would be to experience the English dub of the show, which emulates the Japanese production by recruiting two new male performers and two new female performers to play Popuko and Pipimi in each episode. We've got Chistopher Sabat, Trina Nishimura, Jad Saxton, Greg Ayres, Johnny Yong Bosch, Justin Cook, Stephanie Sheh – the list goes on. It's clear that everyone involved is having a hell of a lot of fun just screwing around, and the dub even makes the effort to dub Pop Team Epic's glorious musical numbers. It's a solid effort, only hampered by the core issue that a lot of the series' humor plays better in Japanese. Some of the sketches are equally funny in both languages, a number of them lose a little something in translation, and there are a couple that just don't work in English. (Hellshake Yano is one of them, and you just can't mess up Hellshake Yano, man.)
I certainly wouldn't recommend Pop Team Epic to every anime fan out there. It can be crass, ugly, stupid, and pointless in equal measure, and Popuko and Pipimi would be the first to tell you that you'd be an idiot to waste time and money on their antics. It's also probably a masterpiece that the world doesn't deserve, a glorious ode to the chaotic nonsense of the universe that will be appreciated by anyone who has devoted too much of their life to consuming the best and worst pop culture that the internet age has to offer. Given the subjective nature of comedy, it's hard to describe the one-of-a-kind weirdness of Pop Team Epic until you experience it for yourself.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A
Story : B
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : A
+ Exactly the kind of crass and absurd comedy that it wants to be without giving a damn what you think, Hellshake Yano is amazing
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