2010 is now behind us, and as we journey ahead into a lush landscape of new Japanese animation territory we leave in our wake the bulk of the best series to arrive on our computer screens, various other monitors and mobile devices within this past year. With them, we depart from the chaotic of unique universe the overlords at Gainax threw at us when they produced Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt. It was arguably the most divisive show to come out in the 'ol MMX, and even with the slight possibility of a second season continuation hanging over the heads of the fanbase and industry pundits alike, debate still rages on as to whether or not the first batch of episodes is all that wonderful to begin with.
A quick note before I get started; somewhat of an attempt to calm the masses prior to someone losing their shit in the comments. I did not include episode 6 ("Les Diaboliques") or the finale because, even though episode 13 is technically split into two sections, both of these pieces are basically one whole (very good) episode each and would automatically be #1 and #2 on the win list. This article's focus is to illustrate how successfully, or poorly, Panty & Stocking executes in the short form.
The Best Parts
5. (tie) "Pulp Addiction" (Episode 3, Part B) / "Vomiting Point" (Episode 5, Part B)
The B segments of P&S are where the Gainax figureheads lay back in their developmental chairs and let the creative juices flow into our eager, wandering eyes. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it fails quite horrendously. When the manic energy of the staff comes into just the right degree of adroit focus, it can be a glorious thing to behold. Such is the case with both "Pulp Addiction" and "Vomiting Point". The first of these two episodes opens with yet another overplayed homage to Saving Private Ryan, but manages to do something totally unexpected in that the doomed soldiers are a squadron of sperm making their way into the vagina and their adversaries consist of tissue box aircraft bombers and the blockade wall of a condom. When Panty and Stocking face off against the ghost sperm soldiers (who've hijacked a tissue factory) at the climax, they dispatch them with lazy ease. In this show, much of the time, the most functional feature of an episode is how well it holds up when the Angels' antics are not on display.
The absence of our heroines is also what propels "Vomiting Point" into greatness. I need not even focus on the fact that the animation is of an entirely different breed here, because the core story of this Part is what makes it infinitely memorable. There's a township just across the way from Daten City, and it's full of normalcy: boring people living increasingly boring lives. Instead of the struggle between the Anarchy Angels and a horrendous ghost, the fight presented is between a down-on-his-luck aging businessman and himself--his own self-worth. His younger, more adept co-workers are rendering his position obsolete, and he can't even find the time to get his daughter a proper gift for her birthday. In the end, Panty and Stocking's universe does combine with this mundane one in a flurry of beer vomit, and it's the simple act of signing some autographs for a beaten-down man's optimistic child that brings everything to an extremely satisfying conclusion.
4. "If the Angels Wore Swimsuits" (Episode 9, Part A)
If you want something other than the full-length episode 6 that showcases the awesomeness of the Demon Sisters, look no further than "If the Angels Wore Swimsuits". Many opinions on this episode were initially mixed and I'm not quite sure why. The change of the primary art director leads to one of the downright *prettiest* segments to be seen in the series outside of finale-land. When Panty & Stocking restrains itself from fabricating a complex concept and compacting it into an 11-minute spot and instead takes a very simplistic approach to character and setting development, the show is rocksteady in its prime game.
The set-up is this: it's summer, Scanty and Kneesocks claim the beach the Angels are flaunting their bathing suits upon is theirs, and so a volleyball match between Angels and Demons, Good and Evil, initiates. Expert athleticism via sets, blocks and spikes is displayed, expected cheating ensues from Team Demon, tempers flare without any actual weapons blazing or vengeful violence and soon some newly spawned instant-ghost sea creatures run amok (Stocking x Tentacles bondage included). It's eye candy, it's tight, it's clean (no vagina jokes from me...oh wait too late), it's not needlessly over-the-top and it's damn entertaining from start to finish. This is the best "lightweight" episode of the season, without question.
3."Once Upon a Time in Garterbelt" (Episode 11, Part A)
It took 10 episodes of me being on the fence regarding the Angels' afro'd, negro-culinarian, pedophile, hot-tempered priest of a boss to bring me over to the dark side. The dark side being, obviously, the proud cult that favors Garterbelt's iffy personality. His character makes many viewers uneasy, and even though he would sometimes chime in with wise, sage-like words at the beginning or end of certain quasi-arcs, the majority of his on-screen behavior, up until this point of revelation, is disconcerting to say the least. When Panty and Stocking stubbornly decide to brave the dangers of Garterbelt's church basement hideaway, the black man's shrouded identity becomes much more clear and sympathetic.
After battling some suits of armor and passing by various semi-historical portraits in the Hall of Garterbelt, they find their earthly employer's history in thickened text form. Man, now it's easy to see why Garterbelt is so quick to throw a tantrum when the Angels are acting a fool: this dude's been through some disturbing dilemmas. As it turns out, he lived a life of atrocious crime, he was murdered in glorious Scarface fashion and he was then called on by the gods to relive the gauntlet of horrors of early Earth's upbringings step by crucial step until his vaguely detailed task is completed. The episode concludes with Panty and Stocking falling asleep while reading the tome, and Garterbelt practicing BDSM into the dead of night. The priest's failure is a running theme, as well as how the Angels could care less as to the unspoken origins of their superiors. Self-indulgence and masochism. Hand-in-hand, by the book.
2. "Ghost: The Phantom of Daten City" (Episode 9, Part B)
What surprised me most about the backlash that occurred when this episode hit was that "Phantom" actually attempts to portray Stocking in a much more positive light, and the resulting aftermath was hordes of people angrily, almost hatefully, labeling her a slut. Yes, the ghost she falls in love with is, close to literally, a piece of shit. But seriously, who cares? She loves him, for whatever reason, and that adoration is never broken even after this wistful act concludes.
Panty's efforts to break the unorthodox couple up are all but foiled, underlining the sense that this relationship is purely meant to be. 8 episodes of ghosts being vanquished through brute force, and finally, unexpectedly the ghost here is set free through affection from an beautiful angel (the shallowness of Stocking in "The Diet Syndrome" seems to only be towards her own body image). The whole of episode 9 is a real accomplishment: a tone sonnet which spans across the hectic heat of summer and the serene chill of winter. Hot sun in your eyes, volleyballs and a possessed blue whale flying...then snow gently falling on a ring made of feces. That's just poetic.
1. "Panty + Brief" (Episode 12, Part B)
This episode can be seen as a capsuled version of the entire series, plain and simple. It starts off with some slapstick foolishness and finalizes with some the quickest and most winning emotional character progressions of recent years. Stocking is admitted back into Heaven for reaching her holy-coin goal, but Panty is denied re-admittance due to her outlandish sexual conduct while on Earth; as penalty she must recollect all the Heaven coins by herself. Panty's response to this is essentially: let Brief do all the work while I accomplish my own mission of having intercourse with 1,000 guys before returning to my rightful place in the clouds. This sentiment does nothing for the Panty-haters out there, but minutes later, Gainax sets into a motion a 180 about-face for the Panty character, placing front and center a relationship that has been secretly building since Brief's penis-weapon was revealed to be a shotgun.
See, Brief is much more than just a geek. Panty is much more than just a cum-dumpster. These people have feelings. Gainax always does a splendid job of projecting so much madness into the medium via offbeat characters, out-of-the-box animation and music, but they always remember that it's genuine
penis heart that is the key to unlocking the commitment from an audience.
Honorable Mentions: "The Stripping" (Episode 7, Part B), "Nothing to Room" (Episode 11, Part B)
The Worst Parts
5. "The Runny" (Episode 5, Part A)
It's disheartening that this episode has a such a superb look to it (the short moonlit combat scene near the end is nearly stunning), but the main subject matter is so off-putting that nothing else matters when aligned into retrospective. I wish I could remember "The Runny" for its quirky art style, but I just remember it for all the obnoxious orgasm nose-picking and snot gags. The writing staff went for a caliber of jokes that, someone, somehow, must have thought were humorous, and yet the proceedings just falls completely flat on its face right from the get-go with no room to breathe.
4. "Inner Brief" (Episode 10, Part A)
Inside-the-body tales are always an opportunity for animations to go crazy with colorful aesthetics: it's a genre cliche that I welcome with open arms. This being Gainax, the studio at the top of the anime pantheon, I had high hopes for seeing Panty and Stocking screwing around with Brief's kidneys, lungs and digestive tract or something along those lines. What cards was I dealt? Crudely drawn imagery of the Angels casually assaulting Brief's brain, as well as far too much outside-the-body business with Garterbelt sticking his finger up Brief's anus. Also, Pregnant Brief. Oh god...Pregnant Brief. Not cool. Not cool at all.
3. "1 Angry Ghost" (Episode 8, Part B)
BEFORE YOU GO ALL APESHIT ON ME...yes, the Monkey Lawyer is the pinnacle of awesome and his entire likeness (sans the above screencap) is hereby omitted from this blurb. If I described the on-goings of "1 Angry Ghost", namely all the references it contains, it seems like it might be the most amazing episode ever. Just to name a few: death-centric game shows, Tom Cruise, Magnolia, banana hair and Ren & Stimpy. Bottom line, the animation is just downright ugly, the jealous ghost-wife plot takes all the wrong turns and for most of the running length Panty and Stocking are being punished by maniacal voltage electrocution. None of this is comical, nor serves any sort of purpose. But Mike, what if there is no purpose? Does there have to be a purpose? If a story isn't going to have a purpose (which was likely the intention here), then it should at least serve to make us laugh. Or, it should strive to make us go WTF to the point of being a meme-ish spectacle. This is no spectacle. It's not even a can't-look-away train wreck.
2. "Chuck to the Future" (Episode 10, Part B)
Another attempt at a stylistic gimmick gone horribly, horribly array, "Chuck to the Future" would no doubt be #1 on this list had I not taken a strange liking to Part III of the needless Chuck Trilogy (which I can only attribute to my respect for blatant Lynchian techniques). Honestly, I don't know why this bit even exists (in my Annotated Anime review I said it should be on the BR/DVD--I was being generous). "Chuck" is nothing special to look at, and the misfires of Flash animation (the giant hand) are enough to make me question Gainax's allocation of seals of approval before committing to the worthiness of a final product. Episode 10 is, all in all, 90% a bonafide shitfest. Lucky enough, the "D. City Rock" music video swoops in to save the bedeviled day right after this unforgivable monstrosity.
1."Sex and the Daten City" (Episode 2, Part B)
This is when many, many people (who don't have the patience that I do) dropped Panty & Stocking like a sack of cold, metal dildos (yeah, try and remove that image from your mind). Everything about this episode is half-assed. The animation is bland, the plot is dimwitted and above all, it almost forces the viewership to despise Panty and Stocking. Even by episode 2, people were already at the "Okay, we get it...Panty is a whore" level of frustration, but then the show goes and crams a celebrity sex-tape arc down our throats. This kind of event, in real life, makes people hate otherwise borderline-passable for C-list celebrities. With "Sex", it made people hate Panty. While I was watching this Part, I hated Panty & Stocking; I hated that I had to review 11 more episodes. Passionately. Good thing I stuck with it, though. Gainax: they have knack for toying with people's predilections.
There you have it. There's no going back now.
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