Over the years, anime fans reveled in hypotheticals about American properties. Questions of how Japan would handle shows like Dexter’s Laboratory and Powerpuff Girls became staples of conversations, regardless of the fact that Japanese productions of American cartoons were fairly common in the 1980s. In 2010, Gainax decided to indulge such a possibility with Panty & Stocking With Garterbelt, a series that twists, molds, and molests the very hallmarks that exist in American animation.
Daten City is a metropolis nestled between the borders of Heaven and Hell. It’s an urban jungle, the churches are shuttered and the idea of morality seems to escape the populous. Countless citizens try to eke out a living, though many let out their last gasps with crushing regrets. The build-up of negative energy is so severe that ghosts are beginning to manifest, in order to extract their revenge on the very citizens that wronged people in life. Be it the plumbers who overworked to the point that they drowned in their latest job, the spurned prom queens, or the foodies that constantly hungered for one more bite. In this city of sin, the only hope for the innocent rests in the hands of the church.
Garterbelt is Daten City’s afro-sporting missionary, who recently took an angelic pair of sisters under his wing. These girls aren’t the typical halo-sporting, harp-strumming visions of religion that one would expect, though. They were both expelled from heaven for their lewd, crude behavior and their insatiable vices. As a punishment, the two must pay their way back into heaven by cleaning the unholy filth that litters the streets of Daten City. For each ghost busted, the girls will earn “Heaven Coins”, which they can use to buy their way back into the beyond. Through their punishment, Garterbelt will serve a dual role as mentor and motivator for the girls, as he tries to point them on the path to salvation. He’ll have his work cut out for him, though, since the girls seem more than happy to live sinfully decadent lives, Daten City be damned!
At first glance, there really seems to be little to get excited about. The cast is comprised of a gaggle of unlikable bitches and stereotypes, who exist to play through shallow, often borderline stupid plotlines. The dialogue is littered with toilet humor and four-letter words, to the point that one begins to wonder if the show was written by a room full of sixth graders. Visual comedy is hit-or-miss, and any real character development is effectively erased by the end of each episode. In short, this seems like it should be a black hole of content, where clever ideas march out to die. It’s a bizarre mish-mash of concepts that simply shouldn’t fit together that, by most metrics, would normally have viewers running for the doors and calling for the blood of those who would dare unleash such an abomination upon the world.
And yet, somehow, the show manages to work despite these shortcomings.
Panty & Stocking is a difficult series to give a definitive commentary on, due to its bipolar nature. The show varies wildly in quality between episodes. The higher quality installments are packed with witty dialogue, sharp writing, and clever jokes, and are an absolute joy to watch. These include episodes like Transhomers, a brilliant parody of the 1980s Transformers TV show, that lovingly recreates (and pokes fun at) the plots and visual styles of the ’80s classic, and Of The Dead, a hilarious homage to the old zombie flicks like Dawn of the Dead that features some fun wordplay, clever visual jokes, and incredibly clever uses of a motorized marital aid.
Unfortunately, for every good episode, there seems to be an equally bad counterpart. Episodes like Ghost: The Phantom of Daten City and Excretion Without Honor nor Humanity are the very embodiment horrible television. These are the episodes that not only exhibit, but magnify the show’s many flaws. These episodes place a damper any the excitement that the rest of the series manages to generate.
Visually, Panty & Stocking is unlike anything to come from Japan. The show takes numerous cues from a number of American cartoons, with characters that look as if they belong in the worlds of Powerpuff Girls or Invader Zim. English onomotopoeas like fly across the screen, in a clever nod to the campy 1960s Batman TV series, and episode title cards are based on popular American films like Raiders of the Lost Ark and 12 Angry Men. At key points, the series breaks from its American-inspired motif to deliver short cuts of the Angel Sisters in a over-beautified Japanese format. It’s jarring, but it certainly works in the context of the show itself. The show’s musical elements are fairly bland and forgettable, outside of an insert track titled Help! We Are Angels. This catchy synth-rock tune embodies what the show itself aims to be. It’s catchy, it’s bouncy, and it’s just plain fun to listen to.
While the quality is uneven and the overall end product isn’t as polished as many of Gainax’s other properties, Panty & Stocking still has its flashes of brilliance. While this writer enjoyed the series as a whole, the uneven quality and generally strange presentation will turn away a number of potential viewers. Still, the show is worth a look as both a raunchy comedy and an example of experimental animation.