Friday, 24 December 2010

Reverse Thieves Secret Santa 2010 - Pani Poni Dash!

Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way, I'm writing out this stupid song 'cos I don't have much to say, hey!   Ahem, sorry about that... in the spirit of Christmas and all that other wonderful stuff, here's something a little bit different to while away your Christmas Eve - my entry for this year's anime Secret Santa project, organised by those lovely Reverse Thieves.  In case you're not familiar with the idea, here it is - everyone involved throws their name into the ring complete with a link to their MAL profile (or similar), each person then gets that information randomly assigned to another individual, whose job it is to pick out three anime series or movies they feel that person may enjoy.  We all then get to choose one of those shows (or more if we wish) to watch, cogitate and then discuss.... which is why this post exists.  It's kind of like a Secret Santa but for watching anime, see?

Anyhow, my three assigned shows were an intriguingly mixed bag.  On the one hand I was dealt Bamboo Blade (which I ignored as I was already half-way through watching it via the UK DVD releases for UK Anime), and on the other I had Kobato (the plus side of which is Kana Hanazawa, the down-side of which is CLAMP).  This left me with proof that whoever chose my Secret Santa shows knows me scarily well, for my third pick was a SHAFT produced, Akiyuki Shinbo directed comedy series - Pani Poni Dash!  Yep, that pretty much fits the bill for "stuff I would watch without a second thought" pretty well.

So, here we are, talking about this oddball 2005 comedy effort from SHAFT based on an on-going manga.  Indeed, the first thing of note as a fan of recent SHAFT efforts is just how far they've come since 2005 in terms of animation quality - it may only be five years old, but this series is already showing its age quite badly if you ask me, while the show's animation budget looks decidedly cheap and cheerful even compared to SHAFT's usually sparse but snappy efforts.

That said, there are obvious pre-cursors here to what we've later seen from the likes of Hidamari Sketch and Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei - the use of generic  characters to fill up classrooms here is more than a little reminiscent of the former, while the background gags sprawled on blackboards and the like was picked up to an even greater degree in the latter.  Even in terms of Pani Poni Dash's voice acting cast we find precursors to Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei in particular - Ai Nonaka's turn as Ichigo is an almost eerie forebear to her part as Kafuka Fuura in that later show.

As far as the actual content of the series itself goes, Pani Poni Dash continues that tradition of anime comedy that loves to reference other works, be they anime, manga, video games or movies - right from the off, we're greeted with a spoof of Planet of the Apes, and the references only come thicker and faster from then on.  The trouble here is that the series frequently tries way too hard to shoehorn these in almost as a substitute for well-crafted humour, and that insistence on piling on these sight gags and parodies ended up turning me off for large chunks of some episodes.

Married to that is the rolling out of tropes and catchphrases for the various characters - yes, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei does this too but it does so with style, a nod and a wink to the viewer if you like, whereas Pani Poni Dash frequently leverages those phrases and personality traits out of what seems to be laziness.  Throw in frequent, hefty and incongruous moments of fan service, and you have a rather irritating blend.  When even the premise of the series (an eleven year-old genius gets a job as a teacher, while also being monitored by aliens orbiting the planet) seems arbitrary and pointless, you begin to wonder whether the series has anything going for it at all.

Luckily, it isn't all bad - some of the show's running gags remain funny throughout, such as the weird cat who lives in vending machines and dishes out cans of drink warmed to body temperature, or even more so unlucky rabbit Mesousa's complete inability to hold anything due to a lack of fingers and thumbs.  SHAFT's visual panache does also shine through on occasion, merrily toying with the fourth wall by showing sets and production staff milling around at frequent intervals to break things up a little.  Away from these regular highlights, the comedy is far more hit and miss, and more often than not (in my admittedly subjective opinion) it misses way more often than it hits the mark squarely.  Perhaps I just didn't "get" a high enough percentage of the references made to enjoy it fully, but c'est la vie.

To sum up then, watching Pani Poni Dash was an experience I'd class as "interesting" rather than "enjoyable" - I don't regret sitting through all twenty-seven episodes (OVA included) and I'd be lying if I didn't say that it got a number of laughs out of me along the way, but it tickled my funny bone less than any other SHAFT produced comedy I can remember (with the possible exception of Natsu no Arashi's second season - this series wasn't that bad) and I get the feeling that it's only going to age poorly more and more as time goes by.  Still, as a view on something a little older from one of the studios I tend to gravitate towards for my anime viewing each season, it was an enlightening and educational experience.

So, with that I shall bid you all adieu and wish you a very merry Christmas.... in fact, I'd go as far as to say I hope you all enjoy an Ichijou Feast tomorrow and have an omega merry Christmas of the year.  Mahohohoooooo~.

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