And now for something completely different, a new review. The Winter season has brought an enjoyment I haven’t found in this media since forever, both in a good and bad way. Shows that made me cry and laugh, to feel utter disappointment and disdain towards projects who were hyped for nothing. But we are at the end of it, and that means I already picked my top three shows and let’s begin with a show that really broke boundaries and exceeded expectations of being a shitty anime to be one of the silliest things I have seen. Come out of the woods and embrace the absurd, today I will review Pop Team Epic.
About the show
Pop Team Epic (ポプテピピック) is a 4-koma written by Bkub which started serialization on Takeshobo’s Manga Life Win website in 2014 and released several other “seasons” after. The adaptation was announced on April Fool’s Day 2017. The anime consisted of twelve episodes, 24 minutes long, well 12 minutes but with different voice actors on each half.
Hoshiiro Girldrop’s story revolves around the protagonist Daichi, a male high school student whose parents are going on a trip, leaving him on charge. Although Daichi is excited to enjoy his new life, he won’t be alone for so long, especially since his childhood friend Sosogu pays a visit but there’s a catch, he doesn’t remember her. Daichi must also help Sosogu and her friends to make their dreams come true and be the best idols without letting their secret known to the school and fans. Hijinks ensue as the two experience new adventures while Sosogu tries to conquer Daichi’s heart. COMEDY ensues as they begin to fall in love with each other again and both will question the NATURE of LOVE.
One of my most anticipated shows, the adaptation of Pop Team Epic was a strange occurrence. At this point is difficult to find somebody who has not been exposed to the manga or even out of context panels that are used as memes. How does an autoproclaimed shitty manga becomes a show and does not fail at it? Well, with Pop Team Epic the answer was gathering a team of rookies and first timers (in animation) and said to them “Do whatever you feel” and it paid off. With Pop Team Epic I tried, and others too, to predict what was going to be adapted and how, and I’m glad we were wrong. Each episode of Pop Team Epic outdid itself and went beyond a mere copy and paste of the pages of the manga. The episodes were in charge of different creative teams and everyone brought their own take on this silly referential and absurd manga with a hate/love relationship towards pop culture. On my review of Aho-girl I talked about the nuances of reviewing comedy shows because repeating that something is funny does not reflect at all why a comedy anime is good and there’s no difference with this anime, all the pieces made this a unique experience.
The skit that represents better the anomaly and wonderful work behind Pop Team Epic is the Hellshake Yano section made by AC-Bu. Up to this point, most of the sketches animated by AC-Bu were just a minor part of the show and it was something completely different from your usual Anime. AC-Bu’s excels on its own genre of exaggerated and purposefully bad drawings, you might know them from videos like Galo Sengen and if you did, the thought of giving them the task of adapting Pop Team Epic or any other show was not probably on your mind. But someone did it and nobody expected to reach the levels they went to create this skit. Back to Hellshake Yano, the previous episode featured the same joke but made by Space Cat Company (which was in charge for the majority of the skits) and it was OK, another non-sequitur joke that is a staple of the manga. And then, a week later, I am presented that Hellshake Yano is now on the hands of AC-Bu, and naively thinking I knew the structure of the joke I didn’t expect much of it. But then, AC-Bu himself with the help of probably a dozen of sketchbooks brought me the emotional documentary of Hellshake Yano. Their technique borrowed from traditional Japanese street theater, and their voicing the characters and the special effects of this grandiose concert makes it for an unforgettable sketch. The ability to do whatever you want to elevate a joke is a fresh thing to see on Anime and more so knowing that the parts they adapted are the first draft and the studio didn’t meddle with them.
I could talk all day about Hellshake Yano, but let’s not forget that Pop Team Epic is the sum of its parts. My second favorite collaborator was UchuuPeople with its insert songs. Not only they brought a classic animation technique with their dolls but the songs they wrote for the show reinforces the self-awareness the creators have about the material. They also made the strangest parody/homage I’ve encountered in Anime, unless I’m mistaken this is the first time I remember seeing a show making a song inspired by Earth, Wind and Fire that talk about their haters. Space Cat Company had the task to animate the majority of the long sketches which gave a new life to the 4-koma jokes, they took no prisoners from obscure manga references to Cool Runnings (That’s a movie I haven’t thought on ages) but a couple of them were misses for me. It is important to mention that another aspect that makes Pop Team Epic great is the gimmick of using different voice actors for each episode thus creating a diverse array for in-jokes and adlibs regarding the seiyuus. Again, creativity was not bound to committees but to make the best of it.
Another thing I want to address is the reaction that Pop Team Epic had for its use of references. Everybody, even me, wanted to compared it to shows like Robot Chicken, Tim & Eric, Rick and Morty and others. Some of those were in jest, others with contempt about it and I don’t blame them. Here in the West, we have an oversaturation of references. Media companies are digging for old and memorable movies/tv shows/games to be rebooted and show them to the audience as if they were dangling a shiny object to a cat. They expect that your nostalgia will fill their wallets and it’s tiresome. But there’s a clear difference between Family Guy/Rick & Morty and Pop Team Epic and that’s the awareness and silliness of its act. Being in the joke, and using pop culture as a way to lampoon its temporary state is the way to avoid looking down on your audience as if they were conditioned to react to “THINGS I KNOW SO I CLAP”. They even conclude the show with the “what if” Pop Team Epic was a mere series of mediocre adaptations without a pinch of sincerity.
My comparison with Monty Python in the title is not a joke, although I wish I could upset some people too. The creative process behind the creation of these two shows are similar: Rookies who have worked behind the scenes of other shows are given the task to create their own thing, the studio gives them carte blanche to do whatever they want and with that liberty they made a show completely different from their contemporary ones. If you rewatch the first episode of Monty Python, the first sketch is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as the host of a T.V show featuring the deaths of famous people. This is a silly concept and one that is in the same vein of a producer cloning an idol to take over the world. Both shows are filled with references and obviously there are jokes that require some context but if you don’t know the context and the sketch still works, then their job is done. Well, my comparison also goes to AC-Bu and the animation done by Terry Gilliam, both serves as a palate cleanser and use an unorthodox approach to animation. I can list other uncanny similarities like: No punchlines, making fun and treating your studio/channel/producers as the enemy, breaking the 4th wall, insert songs, and having recurring characters.
Pop Team Epic is shitty in a couple of ways. The show hit its lowest point to me on the sixth episode, I did not get most of the jokes at the time and the gratuitous references were not on my radar. Even after learning some of the original intentions behind the large sketch of that episode, I still not like it and it is my least favorite of the series. Another drawback was the Japan Mignon segment, not because of its creator but the sketchs were made with a Western (French) perspective on humor which does not fit the anarchic tone the show had. What I wanted from that segment is for Popuko and Pipimi traveling to other parts of the world and wreaking havoc there. Maybe if there’s a second season, they can pull this off and invite animators from all the world to collaborate.
Pop Team Epic is not for everybody but as it is now, you either consume or are consumed by its influence. If you like absurd humor, or experimental animation or just want a breath of fresh air when it comes to Anime, Pop Team Epic is there for you. Being a first, I recommend to buy the BDs/DVDs and then watch the anime where anime is, supporting an Anime that goes beyond the line of the strict and formulaic production and succeeds, it is worth throwing a couple of dollarydoos.
Now, because a show that walks the extra mile to make a joke, I think I should follow its example, so as a reward to reading this review I present to you the opening of Pop Team Epic’s Flying Circus. Enjoy.