Saturday, October 9, 2010

Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt: Innovation Through Junkfood

Did you know that Twinkies used to be made with real cream and eggs? Shocking but true. None of this white foam grown in a lab that we’re accustomed to today. But this moist, fresh goodness carried a fatal flaw—Their limited shelf life created a bottleneck for distribution and potential profit. Incorruptible, artificial ingredients proved to be the vehicle that spread Twinkies across the land to fulfill their manifest destiny and fill the coffers of their masters. Even in today’s age of hypochondriac health nuts, business is still as good as ever. We may be educated enough to balk at the potential dangers of foods laced with unpronounceable chemicals, but we are not sophisticated enough to keep ourselves from eating it.

Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt is likewise devoid of all nutritional value. Brash, crass, and brazenly derivative, my gut reaction was that I was seeing anime finally swallow it’s own tail. Japan is now taking pot shots at America for biting its style which evolved from Tezuka who stole from Disney. Is that the joke? Is Gainax banking on a parody of weeaboo Western cartoons? Of course, nothing is ever so straightforward with the most subversively innovative studio in the business.

Series director Imaishi Hiroyuki has never been shy about his love for American cartoons. His contribution to Fooly Cooly (Episode 5 for those counting,) was laced with South Park references about as subtle as Kenny getting impaled by the town’s flagpole. The super flat, super hectic shootout between Amarao and Haruko in the barbershop owes itself as much to Genndy Tartakovsky as to John Woo. Panty and Stocking’s visual style is the obvious evolution of a man obsessed with chunky lines and clean action. The look is more pragmatic than political.

It is also sinister in its economics. Chemicals are to Twinkies what digital animation is to anime. It’s no secret that physical ink brushes have been replaced by electronic tablet pens. Japan is holding onto their pencils and paper for dear life, but the harsh fiscal reality is prying away their fingers, one by one. You can’t fight being undercut. You can’t fight the rise of India and Korea, and you can’t fight the raw cost efficiency of digital animation.

Panty and Stocking may not be a game changer, but they embody a larger paradigm shift. Waving farewell from atop their makeshift ark, the titular lovely angels openly mock the old guard with the stunning results of what a glorified Flash animation is capable of. Those who don't make preparations to jump ship will find the bedrock that the industry was built upon eroded and eventually swallowed up by a sea of change.

This is not to say that simplified, tablet-based animation will bring creative genocide upon the medium. If anything, it will have the opposite effect. Going paper-free will allow studios to produce more footage with smaller teams and modest budgets, the windfall from which will provide the capital for ambitious, experimental projects that challenge boundaries and keep fans interested. Do you really think Ho-Hos and Ding-Dongs would have hit the market without their creamy filling that doubles as embalming fluid?

There’s no denying that the all-natural is slowly being phased out in favor of the artificial. Like most matters of taste, once acclimated, we won’t be able to tell the difference. Sure, we instinctively know something’s not right when we look at the ingredients. But if you’re honestly worried about the nutritional value of what equates to a cultural snack cake, it’s something you shouldn’t be imbibing in the first place.


  1. The dog character on that show looks similar to Gir from Invader Zim.

  2. That's the kind of thing that is immediately obvious to American audiences but will be lost on the Japanese until some pop culture guru like Machiyama Tomohiro steps up to the plate to make a big production out of what every Hot Topic kid in the States inherently knows.