Sunday 25 March 2018

Anime REVIEW: Pop Team Epic

Pop Team Epic
Pop Team Epic is available in streaming form subbed by Crunchyroll, Hi-Dive & (in Australia and New Zealand) AnimeLab, as well as dubbed by Funimation

Animation is such a wonderfully diverse medium. It can be educational, comedic, heartwarming, all of the above or so much more. On the other hand, there's Pop Team Epic. Originating as a four-panel webcomic by Bkub Okawa, the series quickly shot to fame and it wasn't long before the internet was awash with out-of-context images of the two schoolgirls. If you've spent any time in the anime/manga circles of discussion boards or social media, you've probably encountered the likes of "your life ends 30 minutes from now" or "doesn't get it at all" at some point. So of course it was only a matter of time until Pop Team Epic arrived to conquer the world of anime, with the long-awaited adaptation kicking of 2018 and nobody quite sure what they were getting themselves in for. Calling it "unique programming" would probably be putting it lightly...

Pop Team Epic does Your NameEisai Haramasukoi!

Pop Team Epic chronicles the misadventures of two schoolgirls - the short and quick-tempered Popuko, and the taller, calmer Pipimi. No internet, movie, anime, series, song or video game is truly safe as the pair blast their way through a barrage of skits which vary from the obvious to the outright bizarre. Friends, sisters, lovers - however you see these foul-mouthed girls, there's absolutely no guarantee what you're going to see next.

Japon MignonYour motherfucking life ends in 30 minutes

The first thing you need to do if you want to have a good time with Pop Team Epic is to throw all expectation out of the window. While other anime based on four-panel manga strips may weave their episodes into a coherent story, that certainly isn't the case here. There's no structure, no narrative and very rarely any internal logic to what the hell is going on. Pop Team Epic has earned its reputation as "the shitpost anime" for a reason - it takes no qualms launching into a barrage of skits that range from the mundane to the extremely bizarre, throwing joke after joke out there in an attempt to see what sticks. One minute the show could be offering a biting and somewhat apocalyptic criticism of the idol industry, and the next just messing around with the concept of the pair going to France and not getting along with the food. Even the girls themselves can go from seemingly average schoolgirls to ghostly apparitions or race-winning cyborgs the next. The only real constant is their personalities - Pipimi is calm and stoic but also quietly sadistic, while Popuko loud and angry but also extremely loving of her sidekick. The pair are an absolute joy whatever situation they're in, and there's definitely a pleasure to be taken away from these two seemingly innocent schoolgirls shouting, swearing, smoking and being about as uncouth as they could possibly be.

Humour is of course entirely subjective even at the best of times, so it's almost certain that Pop Team Epic isn't going to click with everyone. Many of the sketches don't feature conventional punchlines and instead simply revel in surreal situations, while others may require an understanding of who or what is being parodied. Rest assured though, the breadth of Pop Team Epic's pop culture repertoire is suitably impressive so chances are no one is going to be completely lost in a myriad of obscure references. The series as a whole includes the likes of Your Name, Android Kikaider, Chrono Trigger, Street Fighter, Robocop, My Neighbour Totoro, The Shining and so much more. The fact "Let's Pop Together" is a near-faithful recreation of Earth, Wind & Fire's "Let's Groove" music video should tell you just about everything about how diverse it can get. 

An Idol DocumentaryJinzō Ningen Popuko

Some sketches will definitely require multiple viewings to pick up on everything. Which is just as well, because each episode actually only runs for 12 minutes and actually immediately repeat themselves to make up the full 20-minute time slot.  This decision is slightly more than just a troll-worthy attempt to fill the running time though, as each version features slightly different variants on certain jokes/skits as well as pairing together a number of different veteran seiyuu to voice the girls. One half will feature male voice actors, the other female - resulting in a total of 12 different voices for each of the girls across the whole season. As well as providing a rather fun game of "guess the voice actor" each week, some of the pairings are truly inspired. For example, episode three reunites Ryūsei Nakao and Norio Wakamoto who provided the voices of Freiza and Cell in Dragon Ball Z, while episode four features Yōko Hikasa and Satomi Satō (aka K-On!'s Mio and Ritsu). Episode one is a particularly special case for the show, as the pairing of Masashi Ebara and Hōchū Ōtsuka was actually pitched in the manga years before the show became a reality. Just another sign that there's a very obvious method to Pop Team Epic's supposed madness.

However the real charm of Pop Team Epic is the sheer variety it has. This doesn't just apply to what it can pull out of the pop culture bin each week, but also the various animation styles for each of the segments. As well as traditional 2D segments there's 3D character model skits, stop motion musical numbers and of course "Bob Team Epic" - a rather unique interpretation by animation team AC-bu where there's no such thing as consistent character models. It feels like each respective team was told to simply do whatever they want, and had an absolute blast doing so. Pop Team Epic's crowning moment of glory isn't even animated in the traditional sense, as AC-bu's Shunsuke Itakura and Toru Adachi tell the story of legendary guitarist "Hellshake Yano" through kamishibai-style interactive storyboards. Just how they managed to put the whole together, let alone film the skit in a single take is truly incredible. You never know what you're going to get, and that'll be the element that keeps you watching right until the very end.

Bob Team EpicHell Shake Yano

Not everything Pop Team Epic does works though. As fun as the two version episode format may seem there isn't really enough difference between the two to warrant immediately sitting through the whole thing all over again, so the parts definitely could have benefitted with a bit more ad-libbing to make them feel more unique. There's also the curious case of "Hoshino Girldrop" - the show-within-a-show that after opening the series becomes its weekly next episode preview section. In any other show it'd be a passable gag, but in Pop Team Epic feels pretty vanilla compared to all the other weird and wonderful things the series gets up to.

Pop Team Epic was never going to be an easy thing to review. The series wholly relies on the individual's threshold for surrealist humour, and for every person that loves it there's going to be someone that utterly hates it. But the creators knew that all along, and the fact they didn't seem to give a damn either way was what made it so thoroughly entertaining each week. You may laugh, you may despair or you may just be continuously baffled by it, but whatever the case may be it's likely to provoke some sort of strong reaction in you. And if it's done that, then it's done it's job. All you can do is try it and find out for yourself.

Let's Pop TogetherOTP

An under-appreciated masterpiece or a new low for the anime industry? I couldn't honestly tell you, I zoned out thinking about Hellshake Yano.

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