A while back, our own Trent Cannon covered the chaotic wonder of Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt, and I was thoroughly intrigued. I was also disappointed to discover that it didn’t appear possible to stream it legally anywhere in Europe, so I made a mental note (and an Amazon Wishlist entry) to pick up the Blu-Ray release “sometime” and check it out.
As it happens, my sister-in-law picked up the Blu-Ray version for me for Christmas, and thus I am now in a position to comment on my first experiences with this marvellously ridiculous animated series.
What. On. Earth.
I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting when I first started watching the show, but it exceeded all expectations, in a variety of different ways But we’ll come back to that — let’s first talk a little about what this show actually is and where it came from, for the benefit of those who are still unfamiliar.
Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt is a Japanese TV series produced by Gainax and localised by Funimation — more on that latter aspect in a moment, because it’s an important part of the overall story. It originally aired between October and December of 2010, and consisted of 13 episodes in total — most of which were split into two discrete segments — plus a standalone special in April of 2011. There was also a manga adaptation that ran between August 2010 and June of 2011.
The origins of Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt are supposedly in a trip that the staff of the anime Gurren Lagann took after finishing that project. While on that trip, the staffers got drunk and openly shared their ideas and opinions with one another — someone somewhere in the mix decided that attempting to make a show with all of these ideas, however ridiculous, would be fun, and thus the concept was born.
Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt is specifically inspired by American adult animation from the ’00s. Hiromi Wakabayashi, the man who initially came up with the idea for the show, specifically cites the oft-forgotten (and excellent) Comedy Central title Drawn Together as a particular inspiration on Panty and Stocking — in conversation with Grant Alexander from Pixar in 2011, he noted that he and his colleagues were watching the show at an American convention and couldn’t believe the explicit things it was getting away with on TV.
“I thought… why don’t we do that?” he pondered. Why not, indeed.
Wakabayashi also noted that he was a big fan of Glee, Gossip Girl and Power Puff Girls, and there are touches of all of these things that you can find in Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt — along with deliberately poking fun at a controversy with Gurren Lagann: a tendency for certain productions to go “off model” between scenes and sometimes between episodes, leading to a very noticeable disparity in visual quality and sometimes even art style.
For the unfamiliar, in 2007, Gainax co-founder Takami Akai stepped down from his position at the company after making negative comments about the popular 2channel online forum, alongside Gainax production staffer Keiko Mimori. Both of them were upset at a seemingly negative response to the premiere of Gurren Lagann from the otaku of 2channel. Notably, according to reports from the time, Akai claimed that reading comments about Gurren Lagann was “like putting [his] face next to an anus and breathing deeply”.
It didn’t stop there, though; after the fourth episode of the anime aired with obvious artistic differences from the first three, there was another wave of negative outcry from otaku — not just on 2channel this time. Speaking with Alexander, Wakabayashi claimed that the “drop in quality” was a deliberate stylistic choice by series director Imaishi in homage to the variable quality of many anime series from earlier years, but no-one quite got the joke in context. So they repeated it in Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt — and it worked a whole lot better there.
Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt follows the misadventures of two fallen angels who — supposedly, anyway — are trying to get their halos back by fighting capital-G Ghosts in Daten City, a limbo-like place somewhere between heaven and hell. Under the watchful eye of the reverend Garterbelt — who, it should probably said, is absolutely no saint himself — they attempt to earn “Heaven Coins” in order to buy their way back into heaven, and thus they take on a wide variety of different challenges.
And I mean different. In the first episode, they’re fighting poo monsters and exploding toilets. In another, they’re fending off the spirits of vengeful sperm and manifestations of eating disorders. In another still, they turn into Transformers and spend an entire episode fighting each other over an absolutely meaningless feud between the pair of them.
The show could easily become a formulaic “monster of the week” format, and at times it deliberately leans into this — but as the series progresses, we start getting more and more of a hint of an overarching plot, which makes the whole thing immensely satisfying by the time you reach the conclusion.
It doesn’t take itself seriously at all along the way, however, as is probably already very apparent. This is where the deliberate disparity in animation and art styles comes in.
While the majority of the show is presented in a deliberately angular homage to western shows such as the aforementioned PowerPuff Girls and its ilk, the girls’ “transformation” sequences, during which they remove their namesake item of lingerie in order to turn it into a holy weapon, are presented using a completely different art and animation style. And any time they defeat a ghost, said ghost is represented as an obviously cardboard and plasticine model in a dodgy-looking background before being blown up by actual pyrotechnics.
All this would be an absolute delight in itself, but particular attention must be paid to Funimation’s localisation of the show — because unlike many other Japanese shows out there, Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt is actually one of the few series where seemingly almost everyone will recommend you watch the dubbed version rather than the original Japanese audio.
The reason for this is that the show is already an homage to chaotic American animations from the mid-’00s, and the use of energetic American voices simply adds to that effect. Not only that, as amusing as it is to hear Engrish swearing in the Japanese voice track, something just feels more… “appropriate” about the obscenities and foul language of the show’s script being screamed out by English-speaking voices. One can’t help but feel that this was probably the intention of director Imaishi and company from the very beginning.
Now, I should probably say at this point that in recent years, I haven’t been a huge fan of the more “gross-out” side of American animation. I haven’t watched shows like Family Guy and American Dad since their first few seasons, having become very tired with their running jokes, and a lot of stuff released more recently just hasn’t appealed for one reason or another. And stuff that I have enjoyed — Bojack Horseman being a good example — doesn’t quite feel like it falls into the same category, what with their more dramatic and tragic elements alongside the humour.
And yet I absolutely adore Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt — I think partly because despite how anarchic and energetic it is, it never feels like it’s trying too hard to belabour a single point or to make a running gag seem funnier than it is. Each episode is fresh and interesting, rarely repeating material from previous episodes — aside from things that are funny to see repeatedly, such as the ghost explosions and the transformation sequences. (Those in themselves can be seen as homages to classic Japanese B-movies and magical girl anime, anyway.)
In other words, Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt has an underlying current of genuine intelligence and wit running beneath the absolute nonsense that unfolds on screen. It pokes fun at things in a clever way, from multiple angles, rather than beating you over the head with a single joke until you laugh out of sheer frustration. It’s unpredictable — and exciting because of it.
And most of all, it has genuine heart and soul; you can tell the real affection that Imaishi and company have for the shows they’re parodying, whether it’s through the visual style, the “two-segment” format of each episode as seen in classic American cartoons, or simply through the production values of the show as a whole. It may be a chaotic, anarchic mess, but it’s a beautifully presented chaotic, anarchic mess — of that there can be no doubt.
Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt is a modern classic, and well worth your time if you’re in the mood for the anime equivalent of a slap in the face with a wet towel, but in a nice way. Even if you’re tired and jaded at the predictable nature of western animation, don’t let this show’s deliberate homage to that subset of the animation medium put you off — remember, this originally came out more than 10 years ago at this point, which is when even western shows were a lot more fresh than they are now.
And, rather than that meaning the show feels dated, it actually makes it feel rather fresh and exciting. 2010 was a world away from the apocalyptic dystopia we live in today — and it’s nice to have the opportunity to return to those slightly happier days, even if it’s just for 20 minutes at a time.
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