Pop Team Epic has been both a treat and a trick for anime fans. When the absurdist 4-koma series made it’s shift into the medium of anime, people knew that it would aim to deliberately shake things up, get under some skin and place viewers and staff alike way out of their comfort zone. The end result is one of the oddest and funniest anime to premiere yet this 2018.
Some of the more coherent jokes in Pop Team Epic are riffs on online geek culture with homages to movies, games, TV shows, viral memes, and anime fandom in general. It’s no surprise the show has resonated well with the smug anime girl avatar crowd such as myself because it clicks to see Popuko and Pipimi approach every situation and stylistic change with either abrasive aversion or endearing affection. It wants to go the extra mile with its references such as the few times Pokemon has surfaced, or the extended sequence where Popuko aims to get her made-up dance off the ground as the latest anime fad dance. Admittedly, a couple of the referential jokes fizzle out quickly, but with the show’s breakneck pace, it makes sure that they keep it coming with the jokes.
Knowing that they can only do so much for a show intended on being around 12 minutes, they step up their game by creating a second broadcasting of the show with the voices switched up, often creating new jokes out of the pre-existing sections. With new voice actors in every episode and two airings for male and female versions of Popuko and Pipimi’s voices, it gives you the chance to hear a good selection of highly talented VA’s who are having a ball with the show’s absurdity from contemporary talents like Yuuki Aoi and Tomokazu Sugita to older legendary voices like Wakamoto Norio and Furukawa Toshio.
Where Pop Team Epic excels, however, is in its innovation. The anime adaptation took liberties to go outside of the box when adapting some of its chapters, opting to create entirely different artstyles around them. Segments of the show are dedicated to completely changing how chapters are shown including CGI animated skits created, dubbed, and introduced by a French animation studio, pixelated video game montages, stop-motion animation with felt dolls, and Bob Team Epic, the grotesque MS Paint version of the series’ chapters. The previews of each episode also tell a continuous story about an absurd fictional slice-of-life anime, Hoshiiro Girldrop with wacky twists and turns after every episode. Many of the show’s funnier segments also come from a massive genre shift that occurs sometimes like dedicating time to a haunted house horror story, a coming-of-age story told almost entirely in English, and a cooking show featuring bizarre dishes. And it’s nonetheless admirable to see how much attention to detail they had with the aesthetic homages the anime has for older games and film. There’s a sense of creativity in the craft and dedication the studio put into pulling off the most elaborate and joyous trolling on the general public.
One of the most hilarious aspects of the anime adaptation is how far they push the staff into its brand of madness. Many are in contempt of the material they’re working with, including the director, and have segments dedicated to the staff working in rebellion of the work by cutting corners on animation or being filmed as unable to work with the lack of focus in a couple segments. Its a work that, in its entirety, jabs at the nature of anime production, from mocking the amount of effort animators prefer to focus on Blu-Ray editions through art-shifts in the show and Blu-Ray covers, to airing Episode 8 eight times as a tribute to Haruhi Suzumiya‘s infamous “Endless Eight” arc. Pop Team Epic‘s last hurrah is a season finale where Popuko and Pipimi destroy King Records once and for all with different outcomes depending on the broadcast, ending each time with voice actor Aoi Shouta appearing to save the day by either carrying the girls off into hyperspeed or performing the ending theme song. There’s a labor of love put into this show’s brand of crazy, but it couldn’t have come into fruition if the staff wasn’t on-board with making the manga’s adaptation that wasn’t the ballsiest, most self-deprecating anime they could put out.
No one is safe from Pop Team Epic‘s quadruple middle fingers, but its unpredictability and uncontrollable chaos are what make it hilarious. It’s sense of humor is not for everyone, and people have already wrote it off as the internet meme show, but for fans of anti-humor and nerd culture, there’s a lot of value to be had with what the show and manga bring to the table. With the two broadcasts airing side-by-side, it’s a show that rewards repeat viewings, as crazy as that sounds. I, myself, will probably rewatch it soon just to see what I missed the first time around. And in today’s meme-heavy culture where haunted Astolfo plushies and Ichigo getting friendzoned to Blonde Redhead’s “For the Damaged Coda” get the same laughs as a stand-up special, there’s never been a better time than now to revisit surrealist comedy like Pop Team Epic. I, for one, welcome our new Hoshiiro Girldrop overlords when they return for the next season.