Not All Angels Are Holy: “Panty & Stocking With Garterbelt”

Copyright © 2010 by Gainax.

Animation opens up a lot of possibilities for action, adventure, and comedy, considering how extreme or exaggerated things can get when you stop caring about how “realistic” things have to look.

And then there’s being deranged.  Anime has plenty of that, but then there’s this special little Gainax series called Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt.  And let me tell you… it’s weird.

The Story: Collect Coins, Save The World… Have Sex, Eat Sugar…

Panty and Stocking Anarchy are two angels who were forced out of Heaven to fight Ghosts from Hell and collect Heaven Coins that will let them go back.  However, they’re less concerned about doing their duty and more about having a good time in their own ways.  In Panty’s case, it’s having sex with every male in sight, and with Stocking, it’s devouring every sugary confection and tasty snack she can find.  Yet their priestly supervisor Garterbelt has to keep them in line and focused on every episode’s plot, which usually involves finding a malicious Ghost, killing it with underwear that transforms a mystical gun and sword, and then blowing it up in a sudden live-action scene.

I’m not kidding.  This is how every episode ends.

The Cast: Not All Angels Are Holy

Panty is a blonde bombshell whose need for sex and fame is insatiable and whose panties can turn into a gun that kills Ghosts.  Her sister Stocking is a goth girl who needs a constant supply of sugar and has a pair of stockings that turn into a pair of katanas.  They tend to fight with each other almost as often as they fight Ghosts, requiring the intervention and discipline of Garterbelt, an African-American priest whose default expression is pissed off.

Besides their green comic relief dog Chuck (who’s supposed to be an homage to GIR from Invader Zim), there’s also Brief, a social misfit high school student who’s obsessed with ghost hunting and Panty’s beauty.  He usually ends up on the receiving end of a lot of pranks and collateral damage in their fights, yet doggedly remains friends with the sisters.

The ghosts themselves are often based around a motif specific to each episode… like sperm, nose-picking, Little Red Riding Hood, or bees.  It’s bizarre and more often than not an excuse to have a series of crude jokes.  The most frequent recurring villains are a pair of demon sisters named Scanty and Kneesocks, who are an obvious foil for the Anarchy sisters.  They tend to be smarter and more seductive, although their plans suffer because they’re not foolproof (and the angelic sisters can be surprisingly determined fools).

The Style: Anarchy In Animation

This show? Obsessed with bathrooms. Seriously. Copyright © 2010 by Gainax.

The show is essentially Powerpuff Girls by way of South Park (and in one episode, the characters even get drawn in a South Park style).  It’s crude, it’s loud, it’s fast, and it’s larger-than-life.  To say anything more would be pointless.  You’d have to watch it to fully get it.

Final Verdict: A Crazy, Cool Cartoon, But Not My Favorite

The show is pretty entertaining, but it’s not something I would watch more than once.  I had some trouble just getting through the thirteen-episode series. The jokes and fights can get a little repetitive and I’m just not that invested into the characters themselves.  They’re good caricatures, but caricatures nonetheless.  I’m not saying people shouldn’t watch it or like it, but that I’m not as much a fan of it as I am of other shows like FLCL and Aqua Teen Hunger Force, which are some great animated comedies.

Bibliography: Panty & Stocking With Garterbelt.  Directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi.  Based on the manga written by Tagro.  Gainax (studio).  Funimation Entertainment.  October 1, 2010 –December 25, 2010.

Heaven-Piercing, Spirit-Raising Goodness: The “Gurren Lagann” Anime Series

Copyright © 2007 by Gainax.

Gainax is the studio responsible for such anime as Neon Genesis Evangelion and FLCL (both of which I’ve reviewed already).  Both anime series involve giant mecha, reluctant young men as hero protagonists, and some crazy epic battles.

But whereas Evangelion was more of a deconstruction of the mecha genre and FLCL was pure comedy mixed in with a coming of age story, there is another anime that falls somewhere in the middle, showing us the horrors of war and at the same time promising kick-ass battles, larger-than-life heroics, and mecha that get bigger and bigger and bigger with each episode.

This then is Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.

The Story: A Young Man Kicks Reason To The Curb And Does The Impossible

Just who the hell do you think he is?! Copyright © 2007 by Gainax.

Simon and Kamina are two young men who abandon their underground village and make an expedition onto the surface world.  They soon learn about the Beastmen who keep the human race underground and oppressed, using their giant mecha–known as “Gunmen”–to enforce their will.  Simon and Kamina soon obtain their own mecha, which combine to form a giant mechanism called Gurren Lagann.  And so Team Gurren is born, as they gather allies to take on the Beastmen, their Spiral King, and later on, the Anti-Spirals.

Throughout the show, Simon has to deal with his reliance on his “bro” Kamina and his own sense of self-worth, especially when it comes to fighting battles and protecting the people he cares about.  Eventually, the show becomes not just about Simon proving his value and strength to the world, but all of humanity doing the same.

The Cast: Good Men, Beast Men, And Monsters From Far Beyond

Despite appearances, Kamina is NOT the protagonist in this series. Copyright © 2007 by Gainax.

Simon the Digger is our young protagonist, a boy who’s good with a drill and who has to step up in the face of so many battles for humanity’s fate.  Kamina, meanwhile, is the living embodiment of “fighting spirit,” a decent character but far more archetypal.  They’re balanced nicely by the prominent female characters, the sharpshooting heroine Yoko and the incredibly innocent princess Nia.  There are also a ton of other characters, some of whom get backstory and developing personalities–like Kittan, Rossiu, Viral, or Lordgenome–while others keep showing up just because.

Honestly, of all the antagonists, my favorite was Viral, since he was always after a worthy opponent like Kamina.  And as for the protagonists… Simon was great, hands-down, and so are Yoko and Kamina, but my truly favorite character is Simon’s pet pig-mole Boota.  All he can say is his name, but he’s always fun to watch and more determined than even Simon to fighting the good fight.

It’s amazing how hard it was to find an image of him that wasn’t in Yoko’s cleavage. Copyright © 2007 by Gainax.

The Style: There’s No Such Thing As “Over-The-Top” Here

Much like Fooly Cooly, Gainax made Gurren Lagann with a lot of love.  At times, the animation doesn’t really stick with anything realistic and goes for more comedic or “grotesque” styles, but otherwise, we get very grand, very ornate Gunmen roaming and duking it out across a naturally pretty landscape.

And when there isn’t realism, there’s grandiosity.  You want giant mecha?  How about city-sized mecha!  You want fighting spirit?  How about mecha and cities that are powered by nothing else!  You want alien threats?  How about ones who have to be rendered in 3-D animation just to stand out from everyone else!  Logic takes a backseat to artistic flair in this series and boy is there a lot of it.

Final Verdict: Plenty Of Spirit, Plenty Of Passion

I will admit that, at times, some of the plot in Gurren Lagann seemed to take itself a bit too seriously (you’ll know what I mean when you start hearing about “Spiral energy” in the Anti-Spiral arc).  It’s not terrible in that regard, just hard to take seriously when you consider how ridiculous in scale things can be; at least Fooly Cooly knew it was being ridiculous and just went right along.

But there is a lot of inspiring and well-rendered action for this show.  There’s epic battles, passionate romances, characters discovering their heroism, and dramatic deaths aplenty.  The show itself runs on fighting spirit and seeks to infuse that ethos into every single scene and detail.

I can’t think how else to end this review except with a tribute by a fellow fan called The Azure Crow (whose abridged series of Gurren Lagann you should totally check out).

Rhapsodist Edit: Sadly, The Azure Crow’s account and the video posted above are no longer available due to being taken down by YouTube for copyright infringement.  As ever, the struggle for fan-inspired art in Web 2.0 goes on.

Bibliography: Gurren Lagann (anime).  Directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi.  Written by Kazuki Nakashima.  Gainax (studio).  Bandai Entertainment.  April 1, 2007 – September 30, 2007.

Broken Heroes Trying To Save A Broken World: “Neon Genesis Evangelion”

Copyright © 1994 by Production I.G. and Studio Gainax.

Giant robots piloted by earnest human beings, battling through Tokyo or the Japanese landscape: this is what lies at the heart of every work in the “mecha” genre.  But there is a giant robot show that stands beyond all others, not only for the giant robot fights it gave to the world, but for so much horrible, mind-wrenching symbolism-heavy psychodrama.

So this, then, is the anime series known as Neon Genesis Evangelion.

The Story: In Which Several Young Pilots Fight Monsters, Only To End Up At The Mercy Of Their Own Inner Demons

In the year 2015, the world is still recovering from a near-apocalyptic event known as Second Impact.  A new crisis emerges as bizarre and mysterious beings–known as “Angels“–begin attacking Earth.  Hope lies in the UN agency known as NERV and the young children who pilot the “Evas”–a series of giant robots designed to take severe punishment and preserve the human race from extinction by these unnatural foes.

Shinji Ikari has just been drafted into this war, but doesn’t want to be an Eva pilot.  Yet he does pilot an Eva and prove victorious against several Angels, finding some sense of self-worth through the necessity of his actions.  But not even protecting humanity is enough to keep Shinji from losing himself every other episode in a cycle of intense introspection and self-loathing.  Thus, the battle for humanity’s continued existence is tied to Shinji’s own struggle to define himself and be reconciled with the horrors he faces in the line of duty.

If that doesn't confuse you, then maybe this random image will. Copyright © 1994 by Production I.G. and Studio Gainax.

The Cast: Sad, Broken, Fatalistic, Or Insane–Take Your Pick

It’s interesting to note that every major character in this series has some deep-rooted flaw or psychological trauma that gets reexamined, especially toward the end of the series.  So here are the major contenders:

  • Shinji Ikari: A teenage boy with an extreme inferiority complex who can’t bear to get close to anyone, desperate for his father’s love and unable to help anyone else with their own major issues; believe it or not, he’s the show’s protagonist.
  • Misato Katsuragi: NERV operations director and Shinji’s guardian; she’s often torn by the demands of her duty and her personal interests, especially when it comes to protecting Shinji’s sanity.
  • Rei Ayanami: An Eva pilot with strong ties to Gendo Ikari, Shinji’s father and the mastermind behind all of NERV’s successes; she has few social graces and a dark past that ties into the show’s mythology.
  • Asuka Langley Soryu: A German-born Eva pilot with a condescending, hyperactive personality that easily makes her an irritable character… until the show reveals her traumatic past and makes her one of the most pitiable characters ever.
  • Gendo Ikari: The commander of NERV and Shinji’s father, who keeps his son at a distance despite a long absence; has close ties to a shadowy cabal in Germany known as SEELE, which is trying to start a “Third Impact” and is working on a “Human Instrumentality Project.”
  • Ritsuko Akagi: A leading scientist for NERV who, despite her close friendship with Misato, is keeping quite a few secrets regarding the true nature of the Evangelion Units and the real history of Second Impact.
  • Ryoji Kaji: An agent for the Japanese government and NERV, as well as Misato’s on-again, off-again boyfriend; he’s actually one of the most mentally balanced and likable characters, which is saying something considering this show.

The Style: Ok, Seriously, What In God’s Name Is Going On Here?!

Evangelion has a very distinctive style.  It’s the kind of show that gives us giant robot monsters fighting Angels whose appearance defies all logic.  It’s the kind of show where a brand of supercomputers are called MAGI, the Angels explode into cross-shaped columns of light when defeated, and occasionally one of the characters breaks down into a mental collapse that features random words and images flashed at the viewer at an alarming, unintelligible rate (threatening the audience’s own sanity at times).

To be fair, a lot of the psychological weirdness of the show can be attributed to its creator, Hideaki Anno.  At the time, Anno began undergoing therapy for clinical depression and incorporated a lot of his own angst into the traumas faced by the main characters–all of which culminated in the final two episodes, breaking down all pretense of a traditional narrative and giving way to intense self-examination.

Final Verdict: You Will Not Leave This Show Without A Few Scars

Evangelion is one of those shows that tests its audience with horrors and puzzles as much as it delivers awesome battles and personal triumphs–much like how The Prisoner once tested and attracted an audience in its own era.  However, it’s still redefining itself given how popular and question-raising it’s since become.

There were two anime films released after the end of the series, Evangelion: Death and Rebirth and The End of Evangelion.  The first is just a re-edited clip show, and the second is possibly one of the most bizarre and horrifying ways to show the End of the World in fiction.  However, hope comes now in the new series of films known as Rebuild of Evangelion, which compresses the series into four films while downgrading the angst of the main cast in favor of more awesome feats of heroism and courage under fire.

And really, beyond the Freudian analysis and esoteric imagery, isn’t that what mecha anime is all about?

Bibliography: Neon Genesis Evangelion (anime).  Prod. Studio Gainax.  Cartoon Network (Adult Swim).  October 4, 1995 – March 27, 1996.

The End of Evangelion (film).  Directed by Kazuya Tsurumaki and Hideaki Anno.  Produced by Mitsuhisa Ishikawa.  Toei Company, Ltd.  1997.

Rebuild of Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone (film).  Directed by Hideaki Anno and Kazuya Tsurumaki.  Produced by Toshimichi Otsuki and Hideaki Anno.  FUNimation Entertainment, 2007.

When The Ordinary Is Not Enough: The Fooly Cooly Anime Series

Copyright © 2000 by Gainax and Production I.G.

Fooly Cooly–also known as FLCL–is perhaps one of the strangest anime shows ever conceived.  And at six episodes, it’s also one of the shortest.

The Story The Plot What Happens In The Anime

Calling it “fantasy” or “magic realism” doesn’t even come close to capturing the flavor of the series.  The very basic plot is about a young kid named Naota Nandaba, who hangs out with Mamimi, a teenage girl who was his brother’s girlfriend before he left to play baseball in the US.  Their ordinary life is interrupted when a fast-talking girl named Haruko Haruhara shows up on a Vespa and whacks Naota in the head with her super-powered Rickenbacker 4001 bass guitar.  Since then, Naota has to deal with his gossiping classmates, the twisted affections of both Mamimi and Haruko, and the occasional strange bumps on his forehead that unleash giant robots to terrorize the city.

With a plot like that, I ask, how could this story not be cool?

Editing And Elements What You Can Expect To See

It’s a story that moves a mile a minute, assaulting the audience with fast-paced editing, fantastically bizarre imagery, and even the occasional shift in animation.  The English dub is loaded with so many pop culture references that you can’t stop paying attention lest you miss what’s going on.  The fourth wall’s broken repeatedly, and there’s hardly an important scene with some awesome rock music in the background.  And since there are only six episodes, it seems like this show is determined to feature every major anime trope ever made: giant robotsgenki girlscomplex relationshipsgiant eyebrowspanty shotsnosebleeds, and dark-skinned blondes.

The story does delve into some strange phenomenon related to aliens and giant robots, especially once the characters of Commander Amarao and Lieutenant Kitsurubami are introduced.  They realize the connection between Haruko’s powers and the vague menace of the space pirate Atomsk, and try to protect Naota from taking collateral damage.  Even so, Naota still has to deal with school, social pressures, family issues, and trying to figure out what to do with his life.

The Overall Theme What You Might Take Away From The Show

What really shows–in spite of all the crazy robots, alien superpowers, and over-the-top imagery–is that, deep down, FLCL is really a coming-of-age story for young Naota.  He’s just a kid trying to accept the extraordinary colliding with his ordinary world, forced to confront the life he’s been leading and stepping up to each challenge on his path to maturity.  It’s a little ironic in that he’s more of an adult than most of the city’s adults, so his maturation is really about accepting that he’s still a kid and can be grown up later.

Final Verdict How I Feel About This Series

FLCL is just awesome.  It’s the beauty of sheer chaos.  It’s rock-n’-roll passion in cartoon form.  Many have cited its similarity on other popular shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender and Neon Genesis Evangelion (which I’ll probably be reviewing at some later date). It is worth checking out, even if you’ve never gotten into anime before.  Just one word of advice: don’t try to analyze what’s happening as it happens.  Try to relax and ride this strange beast out as far as you can…

Copyright © 2000 by Gainax and Production I.G.

Bibliography: Fooly Cooly.  Directed by Kazuya Tsurumaki.  Produced by Hiroki Sato and Nishizawa Masatomo.  Written by Yoji Enokido.  Gainax, Production I.G.  Funimation Entertainment.  April 26, 2000 – March 16, 2001.