Shelf Life
Laugh Factory

by Bamboo Dong,

This past week has been monumentally stressful for me because of grad school-related happenings. You always read these “motivational” posters on walls that suggest, “Stay Positive!” or “Live Like You're [Whatever BS]!” but I'm fairly convinced that most of these only help bolster the emotions of those who've recently stubbed a toe, or noticed that their roommate only left one square of toilet paper left on the roll. You know, not actually real problems. For me, there's not too much that can shake me out of the hellish depths of my own mind, but sometimes if I can get a good, solid laugh, a ray of light will wriggle its way through the murk. So this week, I watched two comedies, hoping one of them would strike my fancy. The thing about comedy, though, is that it's very hard to do. If everyone could write jokes, the world would be a funnier place.
While I think Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt is a beautiful show, and is wildly unique in its visual execution, I don't think the English adaptation writers are as witty or creative as the ones working on Shin-chan. “WHAT? But Panty & Stocking are so cute, but yet so vulgar!” you scream. That's just the thing—whereas the English adaptation of Shin-chan is snide and sarcastic (more on that later) and aware of the idiosyncrasies of American suburban life, the English adaptation of P&S is just vulgar. It adds little to the original Japanese script, other than everyone calling each other sluts, whores, c*nts, f*ckwits, dickdrips, assjobs, and other portmanteaus. It basically just takes a previously raunchy script, and then milks it for immature laughs by giving everyone a foul mouth. And at the same time, it completely changes the atmosphere of the show. Garterbelt saying to the girls, “Get back to work, you incompetent girls!” is vastly different from, “Stop f*cking around, you dumb whores!” I'm no bastion of etiquette, but the latter seems excessive.

“So then why not just watch the Japanese version?” you ask. Because comedy is inherently cultural. Watching a British or Japanese or French comedy is very different from watching an American comedy. The comic timing is different, the origin points for satire or referential humor are different, and the limits for what pushes social boundaries is different. So as an American consumer, I would expect the English adaptation of a Japanese comedy to be the one that most suits the greater American populace.

That leaves us then with something like Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt. There are moments that are hysterically funny, at least to me, but those also coincide with visual gags. There are splash screens and intermittent scenes where the animation style changes, switching from its trademark blocky color explosions and exaggerated character designs, to those that riff on other entertainment genres, like melodramatic soaps, or sentai-style foam monsters. Another scene I enjoyed was near the end of the season when Panty is at a celebrity party and sees Brief through a garishly lit aquarium. As she walks towards the aquarium, hands outstretched, a dramatic vocal ballad plays. It reminded me of every trashy drama I watched in high school and college, and it was perfect.

Visual humor was never Panty & Stocking's problem, though. It's funny seeing Panty's proclivity for sex manifest itself in shots where a line of men move past her bed like a line at a buffet, or a town get rampaged by a giant, dripping poop monster. It especially helps that the show's art style is so unique. Chunky, angular, neon, and that kind of cute-ugly that people have come to embrace in pop culture products like The Powerpuff Girls or the fighting game Skullgirls, it's the kind of series that makes me yearn for more outlandishly animated anime.

It all circles back to the English adaptation. Replacing “feces” with “shit,” or replacing, “go away” with “f*ck off” isn't comedy. It's run-of-the-mill shock. It pulls a reaction from viewers because, lo, here are these cute girls yelling swear words every other word. Halfway through watching this boxset, my roommate and her boyfriend walked in, and the boyfriend was mesmerized. “Come watch this,” he said to her, “this is so gross! She just put her finger in someone's nose.” And when Panty and Stocking were calling each other c*nts back and forth, he laughed merrily. “What's going on?” he laughed. And that, distilled, is the typical reaction toward Panty & Stocking. It's weird and it's gross and it's bizarre… but I'm not sure it's funny. I swear excessively, so I'm no role model in this regard, but I don't think a potty mouth is what makes or breaks comedy.[TOP]

I will admit though, that like most things, one's tastes for comedy are very personal and very subjective. Especially for comedy, I should say. Because while I know some people who would go wild for Panty & Stocking, they might not enjoy Shin-chan with the same gusto as me. Three seasons later, I still deeply appreciate the efforts of the Shin-chan English adaptation team, even though I'm not as jazzed about the show now as I was at the start. Part of that is just time and attention span. I imagine everyone has a life quota on how many times they can stand seeing Shin's butt dance, and mine is reaching its red zone. Part of it also is that certain jokes just have an expiration date. I love Republican jokes as much as the next blue blood, but after three seasons… at some point, Newt Gingrich stops being a viable Punch Line.

What I love about Shin-chan's English adaptation, though, is the way the writers have effectively grabbed this semi-surreal, semi-tongue-in-cheek portrayal of the your (a?-)typical American suburban family. They've taken this Japanese cartoon, picked it up, and transplanted it into America, and they've embraced its new surroundings. They've essentially created a new show, with new references and new jokes, and they make it work. Shin-chan embodies a ragged, dysfunctional America that shines in its haggard characters. There's a bit where Shin's neighborhood decides to organize a Neighborhood Watch because there's rumors that there's a killer on the loose. While on patrol, Shin's dad sees a suspicious looking fellow trying to break into someone's house, and asks him, “Are you a killer? Or just a run-of-the-mill lady raper?” It's this underlying current of cynicism that makes Shin-chan work so well for me. Other times, it can make a great joke out of a two second gag. One of the episode titles is, “Relapse (Don't Do It)” which Laura Bailey croaks to the tune of, “Relax (Don't Do It).” And that's it. Two seconds later, by the time you realize what just happened, the joke's already over.

I freely admit that Shin-chan isn't for everyone. I do, however, think that the localization team for this project tried much harder, perhaps out of necessity. Panty & Stocking is vivid and gorgeous, so all you need to make it extra weird is a little punch here and there. Shin-chan looks like it was drawn by grade schoolers, so of course you need something to make it more compelling. Ultimately, after this week was over, I found that I had laughed out loud many more times with Shin-chan.[TOP]

It wasn't all laughs this week, though. Somewhere along the week, with my craving for more Downton Abbey at a peak, I ended up watching the first season of Emma. It might sound a little snotty, but the first thing I noticed is how low-fi the series looks. If you watch as much anime on Blu-ray as I do, it's actually a little jarring seeing a show like Emma on your big screen in standard resolution. Give it a few minutes, though, and all is forgotten, because the atmosphere in Emma is absolutely transfixing.

Emma is your classic story of what happened back in the Victorian era when classes collided over love. William is the son of a wealthy merchant, and when he grudgingly pays a visit to his ex-governess, he's immediately smitten by her maid, Emma. Their “courtship” is cute for a while—he woos her the only way he knows how, by trying to buy her gifts—but ultimately things come to a halt when his father finds out. A romance with a maid? Absolutely not. The father would rather his son be with someone more appropriate to their station.

And there you have it, the bittersweetness of love in a time in which people weren't allowed to choose whom they courted. If you like that kind of thing, then Emma is absolutely up your alley. Its drama and romance elements push the series faster than your typical slice-of-life, and while the interaction between Emma and William and the various vertices of the love triangles aren't that much more compelling than your average lovelorn Victorian romance, it's engaging enough to hold your interest for the entirety of the season. The characters are charming and likeable, and their star-crossed love is one that you naturally want to root for.

For history buffs, the meticulously researched backgrounds and clothes are a delight as well. I've always been That Annoying Nerd that likes to point out anachronistic costumes in period pieces, so I was happy to see a work of historic fiction that didn't just pay passing lip service to an arbitrary old-timey calendar year. Granted, some would argue that not being able to watch Emma in English, but I'm actually glad that Nozomi never produced a dub for this show. Bad English accents have a way of ruining shows and movies set in England—especially when it's a period piece that relies on linguistic differences between classes. This isn't to say that there aren't plenty of good voice actors and actresses that couldn't do a splendid job with an Emma dub, but what's provided is plenty enough. The series is delightful and relaxing to watch, and if you like Victorian romances, you should give this a go, especially at this new price point of an entire season for $39.99. It's well worth it.[TOP]

Alright everyone, that's my time. See you next week!

This week's shelves are from "punkbikerdude" who wrote:

"Hey, what's up! I've been into anime since the late 90's, but wasn't too serious about collecting until the end of college. I really started in on manga when I graduated and began working, and then started with anime just a couple years ago. I have fond memories of late-night Sci Fi Channel showings and Toonami on weekday afternoons, so old school shows definitely rock my socks and make up most of my collection. My room is set up as kind of a mini-theater, and I can pull down the wallscrolls for a fairly large projector screen. Awesome.

I enjoy reading the shelf life articles, and thought I should finally send in my pics. Thanks a ton!"

Very cool setup!

Want to show off your stuff? Send your jpgs to [email protected] Thanks!

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