Titles in bold are songs from the OST. Nod your head to the music as you read
Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt is many things to many people: a daring fusion of East and West; Studio Gainax's follow-up to giant robot extravaganza Gurren Lagann; a brave rebuttal to the moe aesthetic that has overtaken Japan; an attempt to exorcise the stagnant archetypes that have weighed down Japanese animation as a whole. But mostly it is an excuse for its director, Hiroyuki Imashi, as well as other associated animators at Gainax, to do whatever the hell they want. This primarily involves dick jokes.
Now that about half of you reading this have navigated away from this review in disgust, I speak to the remainder: Panty and Stocking is actually a pretty good show. It's not up there with Gainax's best--Gunbuster, FLCL, Evangelion, etc.--but for the crazy experiment that it is, it works more often than it doesn't, proving to be unpredictable, refreshing and surprisingly progressive.
Theme for Panty and Stocking.mp3
The plot is ultimately irrelevant, but here goes: the main characters are Panty and Stocking, two angels who have been thrown out of heaven for acting irresponsibly. Supervised by Garterbelt, a priest with a long history and an enormous afro, they fight chaos-loving ghosts in darkness-plagued Daten City. Unfortunately, Stocking rather be eating exotic deserts than ghost-busting, and Panty...well, Panty rather be having sex. Throw in a well-meaning but ultimately pathetic boy named Brief (who Panty and Stocking refer to derisively as "Geek Boy") and a little green dog-thing named Chuck with a propensity for dying in horrible ways (who is basically Gir from Invader Zim) and you've got the show in a nutshell.
Beverly Hills Cock.mp3
So Panty and Stocking is a distant cousin of the so-called Magical Girl show, whose episodes are primarily devoted to daily Monsters of the Week. But where Panty and Stocking differs from shows of this ilk is its influences. Panty and Stocking takes cues not from Eastern but from Western cartoons, drawing from shows like Dexter's Laboratory and Ren and Stimpy. Probably the best comparison is The Powerpuff Girls, another show featuring vaguely magical girl-ish heroines facing off against monsters every week. Like its predecessors, Panty and Stocking splits its twenty-four minute episodes into segments. Most of these involve fighting ghosts, but as can be expected, Panty and Stocking is best when it is experimenting.
The first couple episodes tackle typically American issues like high school, dieting and celebrity. Things get progressively more interesting from there. In one episode, Panty and Stocking spend the entire time sitting down on their couch, complaining loudly and waiting for food to come. Another episode is an art film triptych that gets progressively stranger as it continues. Another episode is a music video, featuring references to everything from the Beatles to The Velvet Underground to Lady Gaga. Probably the most memorable of all is one episode that is set in the town right next to Daten City, focusing on the life of an elderly salaryman. The animation style changes completely from Powerpuff Girls to Studio 4C, Yuasa-esque art, diving into utter helplessness. There, in the midst of urban decay and the death of dreams, Panty and Stocking are not self-obsessed slackers but beacons of light and hope, Panty's catchphrase "Fuck you!" not a swear word but a revolutionary call for action.
EPTM feat. Kodai of KinKieS.mp3
But in case you haven't forgotten, all this experimentation comes with a torrent of scatological humor. The first episode involves a ghost that eats people sitting on their toilets, and causes people to vomit through sheer physical presence. It doesn't really get much better from there, although later episodes are a little more inspired. Often the show leans a little too much on gross-out humor as a substitute for actual wit: yet another cut to Panty having sex in the corner makes the viewer wish that the show was a little more funny and a little less incredibly gross. But like much of Panty and Stocking, having an appreciation for what the creators are doing helps immensely with appreciating the show itself. The style of animation, coupled with the frequent onomatopoeia dancing across the screen, often provides as much of the joke as the actual substance of the episode. Moreover, some of the sequences in the show are absolutely glorious; witness Panty and Stocking's pole-dancing transformation sequence, and despair (I will not link to the inevitable video on Youtube to preserve the innocence of whatever underage reader remains, although know it's there if you want to see it)
Theme for Scanty and Kneesocks.mp3
But what is possibly most appealing about Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt is that it is obviously a show that its creators had a great deal of fun making. The sheer madcap joy present in the production can be seen in every frame, and if the show can occasionally be a little cynical, it is mostly cynical for your own good. Little details stand out in every episode, and nearly every action sequence is a little triumph in Gurren Lagann style imaginatory excess, from the first episode where Stocking slices a semi-truck in half with a katana made from her stocking to the spell-binding action sequence in the sixth episode that is possibly one of the best of the year, to the absolutely insane climax.
Most surprising, on the other hand, is that in a show that at first appears to be pure fan-service, Panty and Stocking succeed as being independent women in a medium dominated by submissive concoctions of air that exist solely to fall in love with the hero. They're a little unlikable, sure, and the fact that they are so brazenly sexualized in the show sort of fails their case for Nausicaa legitimacy. But, well, Panty basically says it herself in the last episode: she's a bitch, yes, but she's a bitch with willpower, damn it, and if someone stands between her and her friend, she shoots that someone in the head. With her pistols made from her panties. Because that's how she rolls.
Finally: the soundtrack. Listening to Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt is like listening to a dance track mating with a porn film, and the results are about as crazy and distinctive as it sounds. I'm a little unsure exactly how well the music works outside of context, but during the show, it's perfect. Not to mention the song that plays during Panty and Stocking's transformation sequence, "Fly Away", which is genius. Or it's evil counterpart, "Theme of Scanty and Kneesocks." Or the supremely catchy ending song, "Fallen Angel." Genius.
All in all, Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt is a bit of an acquired taste, and definitely not for the faint of heart. But if it isn't as objectively good as, say, The Tatami Galaxy, it is certainly a unique concoction that trades convolution and archetype for crazy inappropriate fun. It doesn't always work, but when it does it can be exciting and, at times, surprisingly affecting. It is a show made by craftsmen who know what the hell they are doing, and if this at all interests you then by all means check it out!
Alternatively, if you still need to make up your mind, search Youtube for D City Rock music video. That should tell you whether or not this series is for you for sure.