Fly Away

A look at Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt

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Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt is anarchy personified. Not the actual political movement but your 14 year old perception of it. It’s a mess of pop culture references, varied animation, and irreverent gross-out humor, tied together and sold to you as an anime. It’s a western cartoon filtered through the lens of Studio Gainax and it’s truly something unique to hold.

Immediately Panty and Stocking makes an impression, largely through its art style, which owes more to the west than it does to any other anime. While anime has been characterized by many people as an incestuous genre that does not take in much outside influence (I disagree with this perspective btw but that’s another story), Panty and Stocking breaks far away from the anime mold. Western pop culture references abound from title cards, to direct homages, to straight up imitations of other art styles.

As protagonists Panty and Stocking are far cries from your average protagonist and even farther from your average female character. They are a pair of banished angels, sisters who were kicked out of heaven for bad behavior, and they are absolutely vulgar, egotistical, and horny, and most importantly act on all those impulses. This stands in far contrast from your average pure, humble, virginal female anime character, who waits around for the main character to choose them from a cadre of other pure, humble, virginal, females and have little to know volition of their own.  In my opinion the fact Panty and Stocking stand so far apart is fucking awesome. I’m all for variety in mediums especially among characters, and anime is sorely lacking in interesting female leads. For a show that breaks away from nearly every convention anime has they are perfect protagonists.

Panty and Stocking as a duo work together perfectly when it comes to writing fun dialogue as they, like many siblings, are constantly at each other’s throats, throwing out cheap insults, and verbally sparing with each other using every vulgar word ever conceived. In fitting with the shows irreverent comedy they constantly aim the lowest blows out each other, and each one tries to then top the other. As someone who has engaged in similar arguments with siblings it was something I could easily get caught up in. But what makes it all the more enjoyable is seeing that through all the insults they do care for each other. It gives the characters a necessary humanity, that many of the cartoons the show seeks to emulate lack. The characters are shitbags but they’re the kind of shitbags that you can root for and love.

The plot concerns Panty and Stockings misadventures as they attempt to regain entry into heaven through the accumulation of Heaven coins, which are collected through killing ghosts. As a premise it is incredibly broad and allows the show to tell a huge variety of self-contained stories, each one told in 10 minutes chunks just like western cartoons. Many episodes take the form of parodies, distorting a classic scenario through the eyes of the shows twisted humor. By far the episodes which standout to me the most are the zombie apocalypse, the transformers parody, and the episode where they are put on trial. The last one in particular I consider one of the funniest things ever created and it best exemplifies the shows style of comedy. The episode manages to include everything from parody of Tom Cruises character in Magnolia, to a monkey lawyer who when subjected to electric shock becomes a Phoenix Wright parody, and have it all fit together.

The show works largely because it’s main characters, shifting art style, and musical score, present the world of the show as a wild and unpredictable place. Immediately the animation gives off the impression that the animators are doing this out of a sense of fun, with constant references to works that the staff were fans off, and no intention whatsoever of being consistent. It says that one needn’t have to try and take this show seriously though it’s completely fine if one wants too.

The motivations of the main characters also help ground the show. It was once said by a much smarter man than I that the clearer a characters motivations the more distinct the character becomes. Both Panty and Stocking have very clear motivations. Both want to get back to heaven but not before indulging in their various vices first. In every episode you can count on Panty wanting to get laid and Stocking wanting to get sweets of some kind. This adds a bit of focus to the chaotic world and allows for the stories to be easier to follow.

The final thing that keeps the show in check is that it is willing to divert from being just vulgar. The second part of Episode 8 serves as the best example of this completely changing the formula. It focuses on a romantic subplot between Stocking and a ghost who well is kinda a literal disgusting shitbag. While the episode focuses on gross out comedy for the most part (a certain joke certainly got me gagging) it manages to actually have a pretty touching ending that said something meaningful about both of the main characters.

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One thing the show also excels at is its supporting cast each one being rather goofy but having a surprising amount of depth when actually focused on. Garterbelt a priest and the angels handler on Earth, for example is on the surface just a parody of Samuel L. Jackson with some sideways jokes about the whole Catholic sex abuse scandal thrown in, but when one digs deeper they find he actually has a rather compelling backstory told in a way that manages to be both cool and pretty funny at the same time. This extends to the other cast members to. The weird Invader Zim esque creature Chuck, at first just serves a cipher for physical comedy and abuse from the sisters is revealed to be a rather fearsome beast in the finale. Brief who is at first just a nerd in a ghostbusters outfit trying to hunt ghosts and crushing on Panty ends up playing a major role in the finale too which I won’t spoil here.

Though by far the best side characters are Scanty and Kneesocks, two demon sisters who are the exact opposite of Panty and Stocking in every way. They are orderly, smugly polite and constantly complementing in each other. They seek to exert order to the chaotic world of the show making them perfect rivals for Panty and Stocking. Also their theme song is fucking kickass.

Actually on that subject the entire soundtrack is fucking cool as shit. Its full of instantly recognizable and catchy electronic songs which add to the show a sense of synesthesia, enhancing the animation similar to another Gainax show FLCL. So many of the songs are seared into the minds of its listener as they are fit perfectly with the scenes they are matched with. Im sure most people would not consider the transformation sequence such an iconic moment without the backing track “Fly Away”

Where Panty and Stocking really appealed to me though was in its last two episodes. The show up until that point was content with just making irreverent comedy built around sex, pop culture references, and toilet humor but they actually tried to go for something serious at the end and make a point. Stocking is ascended back into heaven while Panty is not, because Panty spent too much time sleeping around. Panty and Brief engage in a romantic encounter and end up getting captured. This leads to the classic Gainax trope of putting the characters in a false world before the finale. Panty is placed on a farm and brought up to live a boring life that she is content with. This ends rather quickly as in keeping with the shows sense of humor all her family members are killed off by bikers, with her fictional grandmas final words basically telling her to be a free spirit. This leads to Panty taking a motorcycle and running of to confront the bad guys in a big epic showdown. During this confrontation Panty delivers a speech that is pretty on the nose about how older people try and use concepts like virginity and fears about going to hell to keep people from having sex.

Panty’s speech underlines the entire point of the show which is a celebration of the chaotic id. To be free and tell society and its rules to go fuck itself. It appeals to the teenager in you who wants nothing more than to go out and do a ton of crazy shit just because you can. Unlike some other material with a teenage mindset (cough cough Freezing) there is a certain purity to it all. It isn’t a brutal show for as vulgar as it may be, and it isn’t there to try and make you feel mature, it’s just there to have a good time.

As the show wraps up in one of those big Gainax style endings which never fail to impress it gives every character a moment to shine and really ends on a high note. Then after the credits out of the blue, Stocking cuts up Panty, reveals she is a demon, and Garter has to go collect the various pieces of Panty. Most people hate this ending but I will stick up for it. It’s one last irreverent joke at the expense of the audience, and what better way to end the most unique and irreverent anime series of all time with something no one was expecting.

Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt is possibly one of the weirdest pieces of media I have ever watched and anyone who knows me understands that I fucking love weird shit. As someone who values uniqueness over perfectionism I absolutely love this series.  One a bit of a personal note I want to leave off by saying that this was incredibly fun to write. The last couple of posts though I am proud of them dealt with some pretty heavy shit so Panty and Stocking was the perfect palate cleanser for my mind. So I will leave you with the immortal words of Panty and Stocking “REPENT MOTHERFUCKERS!”

After the End

Some quick thoughts on a single aspect of Steven Universe I enjoy.

One of the greatest feats a work can achieve in my opinion is feeling that its world is real. Not just that the world is internally consistent but the world outside of the current events seems like it exists and the characters we know are just one of many stories being told in it. Star Wars, at least episode IV is a perfect example of this. The galaxy has already been through a major war, the Empire is in control, and while a rebellion exists it is supposedly on its last legs until the plans for the Death Star arrive. It feels like the beleaguered epilogue to a long story with every prop, alien, and spaceship looking like they each have their own long history. This is even emphasized by the fact that it was released as episode IV both as a reference to the serials that inspired it but also using that reference to underscore that this was meant to be just one small chapter of a larger story.

Steven Universe I feel achieves this same sense of a much larger world outside of its main story. The show is almost itself an epilogue to the events of the war for planet Earth between Homeworld and the Crystal Gems. Nearly every major threat they have faced is some kind of fallout from the events of the Gem War in some way or another. Every major character is implied to have gone through their own unique story beforehand such as Pearl’s implied growth from a subservient Pearl to a rebel, or Rose’s various ethical struggles during the war.

It’s a show that is not about “how do we defeat X” but about “we defeated X so how do we deal with the results from defeating X and coping with are various personal issues that result from our fight to defeat X”. For me that is a much more mature and interesting way to build a show than a simple goal of defeating a villain.

This rather short post was made at the suggestion of a buddy of mine called Tesby who runs a blog here. In return I suggested he write about All Star Superman so look forward from that in the future from him.

 

Like a Trashcan fire in a Prison Cell

A look at one of the most underrated shows of the 2000s Morel Orel

Western animation for adults has recently regained its heart. Shows like Bojack Horseman and Rick and Morty have shown an effort not just to make people laugh but to inject real human pathos into their characters. This while not completely unknown in adult cartoons was for the most part rare. The 2000s saw the rise of shows like South Park and Family Guy which reveled in the bleak and the shocking. That mode of uncaring mean spirited comedy would become the norm for most of the adult animation on television especially on Adult Swim. For a long time there focus was largely on making shows that were strange and weird designed to give the audience a season or two of one off gags that shocked them.

One of these shows was called Morel Orel a parody of the classic Davey and Goliath Claymation shorts by Art Clokey. Morel Orels started off as a one-note parody of the Christian themes of these shorts with every episode focusing on Orel, a perpetually happy and faithful child, misinterpreting some lesson from Reverend Rod Putty leading to some wacky and fucked up situation. As time went on you got to know many characters most of whom were one note, such as the aforementioned Reverend Putty whose is defined by his failure in romance, Stephanie the local lesbian who owns a sex shop and the only sane person in the show, and the various members of Orels family such as his repressed mother Bloberta, his father Clay a man who fakes the stereotypical 50s father but is a basket case of emotional issues, and his perpetually angry brother Shaky.

If it was just this would have made this show a pretty generic footnote in Adult Swims history if it wasn’t for the first season’s final episode which centers around Orels parents falling apart and leaving each other. It ends with Orel looking up into the sky completely convinced God will fix the situation while shitty Christmas music plays. It could have been just a cruel sendoff but the marital drama is treated with a real sense of weight with some honest to god shots that make you feel for a goddamn claymation puppet.

From there the show become something much more than just a shallow parody as Orels parents decide to stay together to save face. Every one note character even the background ones started to become more developed, the episodes became much more willing to explore human emotions rather than just one note “Man Christianity is easy to misinterpret jokes”. The abusiveness of Clay to Orel also became less of a Homer strangling Bart type joke but an actual horrific thing. The second season culminates in a two part episode called “Nature” which ends with Clay shooting Orel in a drunken rage shattering Orels perpetually cheeriness. The episode closes with Orel asking his mother why he married his father to which she answers “why not”.

When we pick up with season three the show has fully morphed into something completely unrecognizable from what it was in season one. Almost every episode focuses on a background character fleshing them out from a one note, stock archetype to a fully realized character. The bully Joe and the school nurse Bendy, a dumb blonde stereotype both are given reasons for their actions in an episode called Dumb which revealed Joe is the long lost son of Bendy. It ends with both starting to live with each other and implies both will improve psychologically from the result. Another is the absolutely fantastic “Sundays” a look at the lives of Florence and Dottie both women who attend the church who leave there husbands and start to live together. “Sundays” references many past episodes of the show and underlines how far it has come from the sophomoric humor of the first season. “Closeface” is an episode which is a personal favorite of mine focusing on Stephanie and Reverend Putty who in season two were revealed to be daughter and father (lot a children don’t know their parents in Moralton apparently). It gives both characters a rather fitting ending one that is resolutely happy despite the dark tone the show had taken at this point.

By far where the third season shines through the most is in revealing the backstory of Morels parents which is all scored to the absolutely fantastic music of the Mountain Goats. See Orels father suffers from an abusive and tragic childhood that left him eager for any sort of attention whether it be positive or negative throughout his life. His parents’ marriage was one of convenience as his father as always wanted attention and his mother felt left out by all the marriages her friends where having. That leads to their current relationship issues and some truly amazing scenes especially for a show based around Claymation.

Two in particular I love are the first person walk of Clay Puppington to his room scored to the Mountain Goats “No children”

 

And the scene where his parents marry scored to “Old College Try”

Sadly the shows ending is abrupt and feels tacked on giving Morel a happy ending that seems fitting but leaving many plot threads dangling loose such as a plot by the sinister “Ms. Censordoll” to take over the town, a subplot about Orels friend Doughy grappling with how his desire for attention stemming from his uncaring parents, and a incredibly dark (and not to mention pretty detailed and complex) subplot concerning the sexual assault of Orels teacher Ms. Sculptham (having read the script for the episode that would have resolved this called “Raped” I personally think this plot in general should have been cut as most of it felt like being dark for the sake of it).

This is all caused because when Adult Swim saw what had been produced for the third season they decided that it was too much and cancelled it cutting the number of episodes from a planned 20 down to 13. This is ironic considering that when they requested a third season they wanted it to be as dark as possible. Shows you can’t please the network no matter what. It’s a tragedy that we never got to see a complete season 3 though some scripts and a very rough claymation reproduction of an episode with the original voice work exists. This leaves the show in a position of being a flawed gem. It is a truly great show with some beautiful moments but I can never bring myself to admit that it is amazing given its flaws. Still I love the show in spite of everything and it deserves a place in animation history as a precursor to the likes of “Bojack” and “Rick and Morty”. So give it a watch if you can track it down as it’s a show that I don’t think should be missed.