Have you ever found yourself thinking the following? “Man, Excel Saga is really good, but I just wish it weren't paced so slowly!” Okay, well, you probably haven't (unless you've also caught yourself thinking: “Man, crystal-meth should really be one of the four basic food groups. The FDA is so square!”) The fact is, I'm not sure why or for what demographic, but Nabeshin and company decided the world needed a two-episode OVA that covered about as much material as ten episodes of Excel Saga, and I'm glad they did because they're probably the only ones who could've (and certainly the only ones who would've) given us anything like Puni Puni Poemy. Ten year old Poemy Watanabe is like a younger, more-likeable, less-evil, even-more-hyper Excel, who lives in a shack on the beach with her parents (Nabeshin, based on Shinichi Watanabe, the real-life director of the OVA, and Miss Kumi Kumi, both from Excel Saga, which Nabeshin also directed). Poemy has some normal kid problems: she's in love with the dashing K (but K could care less), her best friend Futaba is in love with her (but Poemy could care less, if she's even noticed), and she is having trouble realizing her life's dream – to become a voice actress and break into anime.
But Poemy has some not-so-normal problems as well, most notably that she “can't stay in character.” She refers to Nabeshin as “director” and refers to herself in the third person, a la Excel, calling herself "Kobayashi" (as in Yumiko Kobayashi, the seyiuu by whom she is voiced in real life). Then there's the fact that, even though “Kobayashi's” own dream is to become a voice actress, she's called upon by a dead fish to defend the
Earth from alien invasion by transforming magical girl-style into “Puni Puni Poemy” – an adult persona who can fly, (etc.) with (apparently) the aid of the world's dumbest looking costume. Oh, and the dead fish turns into a magic wand thing.
The magical girl genre has been in terrible need of some satirical ass kicking for quite some time now, and though other shows have tried, Puni Puni Poemy is the first one to hit the bull's-eye. There are several reasons for this – most notably that the show best equipped to take Sailor Moon and co. down a peg, FLCL, ultimately had better things to do. Despite some genuinely funny gestures in the genre's direction, FLCL was far too smart a show, and far to aware of its own brilliance, to kick magical girl anime below the belt (which, after all, is where the ass is by definition located). There is no such problem in Puni Puni Poemy, which is not to say that the show isn't smart (because it is) but rather that it is delightfully unafraid to take a cheap shot when there's nothing to be gained by keeping the intellectual high ground. Thus the disingenuous rhetoric of “friendship” that bonds magical girls to one another by denying the very homoeroticism by which it is powered becomes, in Puni Puni Poemy, Futaba's unapologetically explicit desire to bed Poemy as early and as often as physically possible. That hallmark of the magical girl genre, the transformation scene (animation which tends to be reused endlessly, in part for budgetary reasons), is brilliantly undercut as well. Predictably, it's spoofed as the needless fan service fest it so often is (Poemy's wiggling butt is given its own close up before it is re-clothed in the Puni Puni Poemy costume), but the best part comes near the end when – just as things look hopeless – the very fact that the animation can be reused comes in to save the day.
While it's true that this kind of meta-anime, in which the story is little more than a commentary upon the status of anime (or its constituent genre) as such, is becoming trendy enough to seem more trite than clever (and the success of Excel Saga is itself partly to blame for that), Puni Puni Poemy is genre-parody at its best. It isn't just self-aware, but it's aware of its own self-awareness. In a sense Poemy's calling herself “Kobayashi” is itself a parody of the whole meta-anime fad – or at least an exercise which takes that fad as far as it can possibly go. At one point we see Kobayashi herself – in live action footage – recording her part in the studio. At another point – as the semi-magical Assu sisters gather in the bathtub (as they explain, group-nudity is an Assu family tradition, not just an excuse for more fan service) – you can see an (animated) camera and film crew in the background, ignored by the sisters as if they were playing parts in a live action movie. Just when it seemed that there was nowhere else to go in meta-anime, Puni Puni Poemy shows us how a show's desire to foreground its status as anime can be taken so far that it begins to corrode that status itself.
This show is not for everyone. I know people who got headaches from watching just one episode of Excel Saga and I fear that, were they ever to watch Puni Puni Poemy, they would contract brain-scurvy or something. Poemy – voiced in ADV's dub by the spectacular Cynthia Martinez – delivers her lines so quickly that you will miss about half the jokes – almost all of which are funny. Depending on how you view it this is either an annoying flaw in the character or a brilliant way to make re-watching the show as much fun as watching it the first time, since with each viewing you pick up on gags that went by too quickly the time before. Any way you slice it, though, Martinez, upon whose work the dub would succeed or fail, does an amazing job matching Kobayashi's energy with her own and delivering Poemy's lines in ways that simply could not be funnier. Sadly, the dub – like the original Japanese language track, is 2.0 stereo rather than the 5.1 that ADV has wisely been embracing more and more willingly.
Extras actually abound on this disk, though they're not as great as you might think. There's the usual (clean opening, closing, character art, previews… zzz… oh, sorry, I dozed-off), a third subtitle track (which turns out to be in pig-Latin), a commentary track and a behind the scenes video. The commentary track, which they promise is the world's first 5.1 commentary (a) Didn't The
Phantom Menace have one of those? b) Oh, I see, the commentary gets to be in 5.1 but not the actual show. Rock on, man!), features so many VAs that all they do is laugh at each other, make stupid jokes, and talk over one another's observations. This is a shame because some of these people have been on other commentaries (with fewer people involved) and been genuinely insightful and fun to listen to. The behind the scenes video, which shows the recording or the commentary, is fun, but only because you can see what the VAs look like. The only extra that's actually as much fun as you'd expect is the booklet insert, a translation (I think) of the booklet from the original Japanese release, in which a dubious-but-hilarious explanation of the inspiration for the show is provided.
So, Puni Puni Poemy is brilliantly funny, but not so brilliantly anything else that it thinks it's too good to fight dirty; that's good for us, because if this kind of parody is going to matter at all somebody's got to do the dirty work it entails.