This is Daten City: the limbo world on the faultline between Heaven and Hell where angels and demons and Ghosts roam free to terrorise the unsuspecting residents. The only thing standing in the way of complete and utter chaos is the angelic duo, Panty & Stocking, mentored by their very own Messenger of God, the achingly-cool Garterbelt. Evil beware; these three are out to get ya!
Except for a few minor hitches. Panty is a nymphomaniac and Stocking is a glutton for anything sugary, to the point where their respective loves often get in the way of their attempts to save the world. Not to mention the fact that their questionable ethical conduct leads them to cause more destruction than they prevent. But let's not worry about that – this is, after all, an epic struggle against the forces of good and the forces of evil. The forces of good just happen to be horrible sinners and seem to get naked at every opportunity to boot, but let's gloss over the details.
The story is a simple one: in order to get back into Heaven and leave the surface world, the two angels need to collect Heaven Coins. The only way of getting these is by slaying Ghosts in Final Fantasy fashion (“oh look! That random creature had a pencil sharpener on him despite not possessing opposable thumbs!”). Ghosts come in many wacky forms and are manifestations of the malaise of the people or of a corpse who died bizarrely – the first episode features a Ghost who was formerly a plumber that got stuck round the U-bend... probably unsurprisingly, he turned into a poo monster. Other than that, the story doesn't really progress much further. There are some entertaining snippets that read a little like shorts. This is mostly caused by the fact that each episode is broken down into two separate stories and rides its pink Cadillac dangerously close to the ravine of the “Monster of the Week” premise. It skirts away smartly in the last couple of episodes to reveal that there is one major evil in the city who wants to open the Hellsgate (note the spelling: though, the reference to Buffy the Vampire Slayer probably isn't accidental), but it's questionable as to whether this constitutes anything more than the writers going: “Ah! We're almost at the end of the series – we should probably tie it all together now.”
Everything else that goes into the mix, while largely entertaining, is hardly original. This is Powerpuff Girls on acid, minus the fantastic villains. Even the comedy, its biggest selling-point, tries too hard to be funny and boils down to banal toilet humour anyway. And sometimes there's only one place for that: down the plughole!
It's probably no secret by now that I'm a fan of the unconventional animation style and while not being quite on the same plateau as series like Kaiba and Cat Soup, it certainly adds something a little different to the anime field. The aforementioned Powerpuff Girls is a prime example of Western influences that permeate the series, but there's also a hint of the tried-and-trusted Gainax lunacy witnessed in FLCL. The classic magical girl transformation also undergoes an animation surgical procedure and it turns out to be the most memorable set piece of the whole series.
Character designs are a mixed bag in that, the main characters Panty & Stocking are instantly recognisable despite the various animation style changes they undergo, but beyond that, others are pretty much just pulled from other places. Chuck, the zip-up dog-like creature, is a carbon copy of GIR from Invader Zim and Garterbelt is a healthy mix between Bosley from Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, Afro Samurai and Jim “The Dragon” Kelly.
As with the animation, the line between conventional and quirky is smudged and trampled all over with some very energetic backing music to the crazy chase scenes as well as the voice-altered but incredibly catchy Fly Away that accompanies all magic girl transformations. The opening relies heavily on electronica and it seems to be a pretty good choice, fitting the party-loving nature of the two angels.
The voice acting itself is well-judged, from Garterbelt's booming voice to the quick banter between Panty & Stocking, which sometimes seems almost too quick and cutting to be believable, but definitely adds to the humour factor. Briefs was a little annoying with his constant whines of “P-Panty” but these were offset well by the putdowns Panty would throw at him.
Another fantastic directorial choice is the amount of Engrish thrown in. Usually, Engrish in anime is a major no-no and can lead to general mocking by a non-Japanese audience, but the sheer amount of Engrish swearwords ultimately says more to an international audience than repeated “baka's”, etc. It also fits in well with the animation style which is on edge as much as the next scream of “f*ckin' b*tch.”
Despite a valiant effort to create stand-out individuals, Panty & Stocking's characters are generic and heavily categorised by their single bad habit. Panty's lust for sex, Stocking's sweet tooth, Briefs' absurd love for Panty – they never amount to anything other than being vehicles for the jokes and dialogue. After a while, these repeated flaws tend to become a little tired and it's only the odd short, such as when Stocking falls for a misogynistic Ghost, that actually kick us out of the monotony.
The exception to the rule is Garterbelt who seems to have free rein on the character-building. Not only is he a priest on an eternal mission to make up for his hedonistic past, but he also enjoys cooking, bondage and the company of young boys. Considering the amount of airtime he gets, that's pretty good going, and his likeness in style to Samuel L. Jackson is probably no accident either.
The Ghosts themselves get very little time to develop and follow the pattern of being a weekly event rather than a constant threat. The only exceptions are the demon sisters, Miss Scanty and Miss Kneesocks, who appear several times throughout the series but are only really defined by their hatred of the angels. Even though they're introduced as strict people who follow rules and regulations over everything else, their love for order turns to a lust for chaos all a little too quickly for my liking. Even the big bad, Corset, is pretty lame and when your big bad is lame, you don't really have a series (see: Buffy Season 4 onwards).
Director Hiroyuki Imaishi has set out his stall pretty clearly with his zany antics with animation and music as well as the madcap meanderings of the plot. And in a way, he's semi-successful in what he's attempting – there is certainly an Americanised feel to the series and it does manage to draw out a few laughs even if it's not the belly roar that it thinks it is. The issue is that it never really amounts to anything more than just a bit of a laugh. The toilet humour falls a little flat after the thousandth poo joke and there's very little in the way of satire – attempted only once with Garterbelt's implied paedophilia. It has none of the sharp social commentary of South Park, which often smashes taboos in the same way but uses it to satirise the modern world (the debate over euthanising Kenny; the Mothers Against Canada movement).
If you want crazy with a little bit of heart to it, check out Futakoi Alternative or FLCL. If you want to expand you cussword dictionary, stick to your American cartoons – it may sound strange, but they do it a whole lot better.
When there's something strange in your neighborhood, who ya gonna call? No, not the Ghostbusters. Call on Panty & Stocking, the two fallen angels Heaven-sent to clear the surface world of Ghosts – creatures spawned from mortals who met gruesome deaths. At least, that's what they'd like you to think. In reality, they're gun-toting, sword-wielding femmes fatales who lay waste not only to the evil of Daten City, but to all its bachelors and candy treats too. With a healthy dollop of collateral damage and full-frontal nudity, they always manage to save the day. If they can be bothered, that is...