The only thing more mystifying than the existence of Punch Line is the reception it got from the anime community upon release. Not necessarily the violent levels of hatred it got given the premise – although anyone who saw the PV should have been prepared for what was to come long ago – but for some specific bile they used to discredit it itself. FLCL without a clear direction or identity you say? First of all, if something doesn’t have an identity, than how it can possibly be compared to something else? Second, who exactly made that shitty comparison to begin with?
I’ve compared Bruno Mattei to a piece of cheese, and yet I don’t see how the two anime are similar in the least. FLCL established from the start that it’d be a story about a kid struggling with inner demons, whilst Punch Line established at its start that it’d be about a boy being thrown into an unfamiliar situation, Silent Hill-style if Silent Hill replaced the horrifying monsters and dense fog with horrifying anime girls and dense wackiness. They couldn’t be more different. A closer comparison would have been if you matched Punch Line up with…well, Silent Hill. The most accurate comparison would have been if you compared it to Steins;Gate or Madoka aka “the best anime of 2011” according to most people. In fact, I can just see those three anime being siblings with the former two having grown up to be mega-successful corporate sell-outs whilst the latter is the black sheep that nobody loves because he’s ugly and misunderstood and the only one who’ll so much as breathe the same air as him is Samurai Flamenco.
Sorry for spoiling some important plot points to those who get the references, but considering how so many fans of them will probably never watch this show (and non-fans probably won’t either), I don’t think anyone’s going to cry about it. I mean have you seen the ratings this show is getting in Japan? Even Glee at its worst is laughing at ’em. But yes, Punch Line is basically Steins;Gate’s story combined with Madoka’s execution, except with magical girls replaced by Flamenco-esque superheroes that fight with the finesse insanity of a character from Air Master. And the result? Not bad. Not great, but the fact that it has so much bile thrown at it compared to Steins;Gate or Madoka is very confusing to me.
Punch Line is admittedly a very off-putting anime, even once you discover what it’s really about. I mean I knew right away that it’d be an anime about time traveling in order to stop disaster and I still had moments when I couldn’t really dig deep into it. I’ve made it clear that I’m not a fan of the visual novel structure and that even the best of what comes from “visual novel writer” anime can’t get away from having entire episodes devoted to boring setup and explanations that don’t progress things in any real way. This is particularly obnoxious in the second half when after a really hilarious reveal regarding who’s who and what’s what, the show repeats events from the first few episodes from a different perspective. It would have been fine if the reveals actually progressed things, but all they did was make me go “yeah, I kinda figured. Can we go back to playing that dramatic music again, please?”
As for my opinion on the panty antics, I honestly don’t give two shits. I don’t usually like ecchi humor (actually, I’ve never liked ecchi humor), but it’s not an automatic turn-off for me…1% of the time. I was sold on following the show when I realized that despite the first episode telling you otherwise, Yuta’s nosebleeds don’t cause the destruction of the world so much as make him time travel to said destruction. That little flash-forward bit that happened right after his first eruption as a ghost wasn’t exactly subtle about it. So I figured seeing if they can follow through on this “end of the world” conspiracy and tolerated how he has to act like a pervert in order to turn into a Super Saiyan. That said, I’m not really sure why he has to do that considering everyone else seems to have no problems powering up themselves. I know he has body issues, but so do some of the other characters, and I very much doubt the author had gender differences in mind in regards to the issue apart from a cheap gag.
Not to say that the comedy is good. But for what it’s worth, it’s not bad when it’s not focusing on making the main character try to relive the early to mid-00s. There are a couple of moments that made me laugh like Miyazawa Kenji before the show realized his true identity was more obvious than a 50-foot tall giant hunchback trying to blend in on the Mayflower. However, for a show called Punch Line, I’d have expected an ending that blew my expectations so much that I’d crack up harder than Ed from The Lion King after going through a large amount of coke. But no, the show plays out rather fittingly climactic before ending on another panty joke. Not a bad thing as most VN adaptations tend to chicken out with some awkwardly crowbarred-in “true ending shit” that ruin the flow when you bring it to the moving picture medium. Still, I felt it could have been stronger. Maybe I missed one of Uchikoshi’s many hidden messages. I dunno.
With regards to the actual story, my main issue with it is that it doesn’t really push its agenda hard enough. I know it’s common in visual novel-type stories to mask characters’ personal turmoil by having them act like anime stereotypes, but it’s also common in light novel adaptations to have heroines whose bust is three sizes too large break the laws of physics and for Republicans to hate the legalization of gay marriage across the country, so I wouldn’t go around using that as a defense if I were you. More than though, whilst the show actually tackles many of the political grudges and youth culture issues that Japan is suffering from underneath all the wackiness, it doesn’t really say much that you wouldn’t know about them other than saying we should fight ‘em with a giant robot, which isn’t applicable to the real world at all unless Japan has a secret facility they’re not telling us about. It also doesn’t say too much about superheroes that you haven’t seen before. In fact, it’s actually kind of standard with the only thing standing out being that all the sentai members are female.
But there is one standout clever moment in the end, and without getting too spoiler-y, it involves a sacrifice that whilst kinda predictable and nothing all that new in theory, is pretty f*cked up when you think about it. Could it have been a metaphor for how Japan’s youth will always suffer for its crimes? Is it a subversion of the childhood-friend trio trope? Honestly, it could be, but I don’t care enough about the show to analyze it. Maybe if said scene wasn’t succeeded by another panty gag…
Punch Line isn’t leaving this review without a positive grade from me, but said grade has a bit of a noticeable minus-sign next to it if you know what I mean. Whilst a good majority of the show is solid enough, it succumbs to the same middling lows expected of VN writing and the only thing that really amazes is the visual style. And that takes a noticeable hit during the middle stretch because in order to make the finale as impressive as possible – which they succeeded at quite spectacularly mind you – compromises have to be made, and Mappa aren’t exactly KyoAni/Bones in terms of raking in the dough. Still, as a fan of animation and what can be accomplished with it, Punchline does a fine job of satisfying that itch, so if you want to see what the medium can accomplish and aren’t deathly allergic to panty/nosebleed humor and Rie Kugimiya’s nasally voice, check it out.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to look at that other Spring 2015 “visual novel writer” anime that people seem to think is a much better series and stomp holes into its pristine soullessness with all the ferocity of a kangaroo riding a jackhammer. What, I already did that? Well why don’t you read my stomping of it again anyways?