Pop Team Epic is a show which doesn’t care what you think. A show which unabashedly obliterates anime, video games, and the media in one fell swoop. It’s a runaway train running roughshod over the picnic of nerd culture, featuring some of the most high-impact comedy per episode in anime this side of Nichijou.
However, before we proceed let’s talk about comedy. Specifically, the lost art of the genuinely funny parody. This was common back in the 70s and 80s, and the art of parody had subsections. On one hand you had your “genre” parodies: the kind where the humor came because it sent-up genres or individual films (Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein & Spaceballs.). On the other hand, there were the “anything goes” style of Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker. These films relied more on slapstick and visual puns to be funny, yet still containing those genre parodies (Airplane!, The Naked Gun, and Hot Shots!). This lead to a third type: the deconstructive parody. A parody which took apart a certain show or (film) with absolute precision, and kept some of the goofy charm back into the subject matter (Late Night with David Letterman, and Seasons 3-8 of The Simpsons).
So where does this leave Pop Team Epic? Well, it bares more resemblance to something like the Zucker Brothers crossed with Brooks’ genre send-ups. Heavily reference-based, yet the writers love what they parody.
The core structure of all twelve episodes are (for the most part) the same: you have a series of reoccurring segments, and one major segment taking up a majority of the twelve minutes. Simple enough, right? Well, the episode is rerun, this time with different voice actors and combines both the original airing and the new rerun together as one episode. You could complain about airing the same episode twice, and you’d be partially correct. Yet you’d be selling yourself short. Why? Easy, the reruns have different jokes in the episodes. It’s a pragmatic way to reruns, and keeps things interesting.
This leads to the main characters: One is Popuko: A short schoolgirl with blond pigtails, and who the term “hair-trigger” is not so much applicable but sent directly to her mailing address.
The other lead: Pipimi, a taller schoolgirl with blue hair is calmer, but not to be mistaken as nicer who acts as the “straight-man.” They’re our main characters, and the only characters who appear in all 12 episodes.
The Animation Styles
If left you’d only be getting half the experience because the series is also a showcase of different animation styles. It combines traditional anime production, computer generated segments, intentional off-model animation, stop motion with felt characters, sand animation, and NES style graphics into one show. It’s like Liquid Television with recurring main characters.
You have the main animation style, split between Kamikaze Douga and a company called Space Neko Company. This style is clean and professional, and utterly boring to talk about because it’s well animated, and serves the purpose.
A different kind of animation style occurs in the “Bob Team Epic” where the animation is intentionally off-model, and (at times) very disturbing. The company behind these: AC-bu (or AC Department, depending on translation) is known for their (intentional) off-model animation, and it fits a show that’s a complete non-sequitur.
Music-wise, there really isn’t a lot to talk about. Overall, the music is okay. The OP (Opening Theme) is memorable, and there are three different music videos with felt figures of the characters; one of them, a parody of the Earth, Wind and Fire music video of “Let’s Groove“. It’s not much to write home about, and didn’t overstay it’s welcome.
Lest we forget how it tears apart nerd culture is different in each episode. One episode there will be a parody of Kinji Fukasatsu Yakuza films, another episode a parody of Shojo fluff, and yet another will be a parody of detective shows. Popuko and Pipimi do not discriminate on who they blast next, just whether the jokes hit.
There are a couple sections which bear mention:
Episode 1: The opening show switch. It’s been talked about a bit, honestly though it was clever of the show to open like a generic idol show. The show then goes “psyche!” and reveal itself to be Pop Team Epic.
Episode 1: The hard-reset parodies. These help to solidify the quality of the comedy. It’s starts out like a parody of Your Name, then an atomic explosion happens. Hard reset. Final Fantasy parody. Hard reset. They continued to go through at seven different parodies in the span of about 3 minutes. Suffice it to say, these parodies were pitch perfect, and downright genius in integrating our two leads into said parodies.
Episode 7: the Hellshake Yano animatic: The two animators were flipping pages on these sketchpads and it felt like being in a storyboard pitch session. The energy was unsurprisingly infectious, and you could tell their excitement in telling this story of a rock star and how his guitar strings kept breaking yet continued performing in the go-to place of rock star fame in Japan: The Budokan.
Episode 10: Ginza Hostess Detective: A brilliant, and absurd parody of Japanese detective shows. It’s hilarious from the American perspective because the process of guessing the murderer, is like a 1970s detective show. You’d expect Columbo to show up and ask: “…Just one more thing.”
In a sea of Isekai over-saturation and sequel seasons, Pop Team Epic is an anime which doesn’t come around often. It is a mind-bending show which tears apart anime, with reckless abandon, that is unflinchingly funny. It’s the show Kill la Kill wanted to be, yet never could. A completely hilarious show that loves what it parodies.
New episodes of Pop Team Epic air on Adult Swim’s Toonami block: Sunday, 12am EST. The series is also available on Crunchyroll.