This Post Was Warmed By My Body Heat
It shouldn’t be a surprise if you’ve seen Girls High or even read what I had to say about it that the high school comedy genre is not highest on my hot list, and slipped even further after that crap series. I think OCD alone caused me to finish watching that one. Face it, you’re either Azumanga Daioh! or you’re not. But some good reviews prompted me to check out Pani Poni Dash!, a show with a ridiculous premise that stands out even in a medium filled with them.
As the narration dramatically begins the first few episodes of the show, “Rebecca Miyamoto was born to a Japanese father and American mother, educated in the US and became MIT’s youngest graduate ever. She returned to Japan to become a school teacher… but she was only 11 years old!”
That’s where the willful suspension of disbelief must start. How can this plot hook possibly work? Well, it’s never a sappy coming-of-age thing, it’s never creepy, and the phrase “little kid teacher” is inexplicably funny. Plus, the random madcap craziness of Pani Poni’s humor keeps you distracted from pretty much everything else, including its numerous shortcomings.
The jokes are key, and they’re all over the place. Usually watching anime attempt to be humorous is a painful exercise in pratfalls and Giant Sweat Beads. Again, unless you’re Azumanga Daioh. But Pani Poni gives the viewer something more akin to early Zucker Brothers flicks like Airplane!, where paying too much attention to the joke in the foreground will leave you missing another in the background. The chalkboards in classes are constantly changing, and while you might miss a lot of references as an English-speaker, you’ll get just as many. Most of the obscure references are visual jokes, where the traditionally delivered jokes are more conventional slapstick fare. But the overriding style of humor comes in the form of random non sequiturs.
The characters are purposely walking anime stereotypes, to the point where Becky starts her school year off by calling them “class rep,” “bully,” “bookworm,” and “boring.” That’s not even counting the other classes, who feature a cosplay girl, a magical girl, and a klutz… the list goes on. But for the most part, they do have their charm, especially the ditzy cowlicked spazz Himeko (complete with nonsensical catchphrase), bizarre ninja class rep Ichijo, and resident cute-voice Number 6. A running sight gag in the entire series finds the rest of the school reduced to copy-pasted templates — sometimes boring-looking kid, sometimes fat girl, sometimes flower pots.
Pani Poni treads a thin line of sweet sincerity much of the time, and manages to get away with it by being understated and never letting the minimal character development get in the way of the rapid-fire jokes.
Inexplicably, there is a rabbit mascot called Mesousa that serves as the parody for all animal mascot characters ever. He’s ignored, mistreated, and used like furniture by his human companions, plagued by the ignorance of other non-sentient rabbits, and constantly stalked by a hyper-creepy cat who claims to be a god and lives inside vending machines. Getting a cold soda on Pani Poni is an impossible task thanks to the Cat God’s practice of warming them to room temperature with his body heat. Weird, yes. Funny, also yes.
Shaft (who worked with Gainax on This Ugly Yet Beautiful World) hasn’t really done anything impressive here, but I don’t suppose impressive is really necessary. The style switches as fast as the jokes fire off — the characters may be rendered traditional, super-deformed, or as cardboard cutouts or puppets from one minute to the next. There are plenty of tricks used to get away with lazy animation that actually further the jokes, so there’s not a lot I can complain about. And some of anime’s finest hide-the-fanservice visual jokes are here. Character designs are competent and get the job done — none of the characters are very fantastic-looking, but they’re distinguished from each other. Mesousa again wins with his great design, followed closely by the endangered salamander and disturbingly vacant-eyed Cat God (like the evil bizarro version of Chiyo-chan’s “dad”).
There are a lot of episodes to this show and virtually no continuing storyline from one episode to the other, so I switched back and forth a lot. Strangely, I think this has lengthened the show’s life span for me. Just when it gets old and repetitive, as it kinda does, I switch again. But the dub really isn’t bad at all. The squeaky factor of the girls’ voices isn’t too bad, and Becky’s (Hilary Haag of Super Milk-Chan) occasional temper flare-ups aren’t too grating. I’ll say it the final time, though, Mesousa steals the show with Christine Auten’s hilariously pathetic reading.
Music & Credits
There are two opening themes and quite a few closers, most of which are pretty enjoyable. The first season’s closers are the best, with one of those ultra-cute rainbow fart songs playing over a kind of fun animation that features different characters’ super-deformed alter egos parading around. Incidental music is good, at least I think so. I don’t really recall any of it, so at the very least it must not have gotten in the way much.
The primary strength of Pani Poni Dash! — its machine gun delivery of jokes — is also its primary failing, since about 10 episodes in you start to see it running out of ammo, where a show more reliant on setup and timing like Azumanga Daioh could continue to succeed. It can also be a little tiring to endure the fast-paced assault on your senses, but overall it’s one of the funnier high school comedies in anime. It doesn’t insult your intelligence or sensibilities like Girls High, and lacks that overbearing sweetness that Azumanga Daioh slaps you around with sometimes — but you won’t get attached to it as much either, and you won’t find yourself tearing up at the end.