No seriously, what the hell is this? How does something like this become the new big thing in anime? I never even heard of this series prior to its anime adaptation, and now it’s everywhere. I mean there’s a lot of bizarre stuff that ends up getting popular within the community and I understand that Vine was a pretty big thing back when it existed. Hell, ProZD’s most viewed videos are basically him doing Vine skits. I just…seriously, this is the new cute girl show we’re supposed to worship?
As I’m typing this up, Pop Team Epic has essentially become this year’s Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid in terms of memetic popularity. There’s way more cosplay of it than every other show that aired this Winter. It has inspired so many memes and reaction gifs that you can’t avoid, meaning that even if you haven’t watched the show, you’d know what said show is about after spending five seconds with any section of the anime community. Lots of people on Twitter have taken to renaming their handles as some version of Hellshaker Yano. Yeah it’s got low scores on anime ranking sites, but that doesn’t change how you can’t avoid the memes. The world has been taken over by an orange-haired midget and her purple-haired deformed friend who at this point have grown so powerful that they literally changed the meaning of “giving the finger”. Remember when it used to be the visual equivalent of an insult? Well when they do it, it’s the visual equivalent of “you just orgasmed right now”.
I’ve got to say, I’m generally bad at predicting what anime is going to be a hit, but it’s stuff like this getting popular that makes me think I should never try predicting what’s going to be a hit ever again. It’s part of the reason why I hesitate to do season previews: because pre-expectations mean even less now than they did back then. Remember when we first saw Neo Yokio’s initial trailer and thought the show was going to be unwatchable? Then the toblerone meme became viral and suddenly it became recognized as the final form of anime? Yeah, why even bother fighting what you don’t understand at that point?
I did my best to resist when “Nico Nico Ni” became a meme, but as of this moment, I give up. You guys win. There’s nothing to be gained from trying to resist the zeitgeist, plus it doesn’t help that Winter hasn’t exactly been that exciting a season for anime. This was the season that gave us a bunch of new original ideas on broadcast TV as well as when the Netflix anime project started taking off, and the end result has not given me much of an exciting aftertaste.
The big hits this season suffered from major storytelling issues that betrayed their confident presentation…
…whilst the better cult anime suffered from a lack of memorable moments and having about as much story as the new Monster Hunter game. As I finished series after series trying to extort some kind of enjoyment or writing material from them, the only one I came out of with some motivation to give a full review to was ironically from a medium I’ve never shown any sort of respect for in the first place – the 4-koma adaptation. I’ve never gotten into these because it’s just a bunch of quick-fire monkey cheese that doesn’t work nearly as well in animated form as it does in comic form. It’s like if the animated adaptation of The Boondocks was just Huey sitting in front of his computer for twenty-minute chunks rather than Huey using Chinese martial arts on adults who kick his ass.
But these days, I try to give the big shows more of my time than I probably should. After all, sometimes things are popular because they’re good, and most anime fans aren’t going to read about subject matter they’re not interested in. That’s why I never bother looking at anything on Tumblr (that is, anything on Tumblr and anything about Tumblr), which is ironic because the Tumblr community is a huge part of why this show is so massive. So you guys ready for this?
Alright, let’s get into describing what Pop Team Epic actually is first. The series is a gag comedy centered on two cute(?) girls getting in variety of antics, except said girls are of the “ironic moe” variety rather than the more straightforward one that Kanna Kamui embraces. But it’s not the kind of ironic moe that Madoka Magica and all of its copycats embrace. It’s more along the line of Panty and Stocking w/Garterbelt where the girls flip you off and say very crass things whilst partaking in lots of parodies. Except despite the iconic middle fingers, it’s a lot less crass than Panty and Stocking.
The face of the series is an orange-haired girl named Popuko, who’s the shorter and more reckless of the duo. Pipimi makes up the other less popular half, and she’s basically a long-necked girl with purple hair who has somewhat more common sense, but still has no qualms with shooting you with a rocket launcher if you so much as sneeze funny. They basically spend every half-hour for twelve weeks acting out a Japanese version of Robot Chicken in that the series is nothing but short rapid-fire parodies that lean towards exposing the nasty side of those genres and products you love so much, lampooning popular films like Your Name, old classics like Steamboat Willie, and pretty much everything the original author Bkub has seen – which is about as much as me, and I’ve seen a lot of shit in my life. Although the sexual content is toned down greatly whilst the WTF quota is given a major upgrade.
And let me just get this out of the way right now…no I don’t think this show is funny.
At times, the novelty is cute. Watching Popuko hang out with a censored version of Totoro, only for both of them to get hit with a bus from out of nowhere is kind of fun to talk about with friends. And there’s a certain kick to watching these two crazies invade an anime you’ve already seen and messing up the continuity with their own trademark weirdness. There are also a bunch of live-action segments where certain anime staff members comment on the show or go crazy on the voice actors for not getting their pitch right in what I assume is the Japanese version of a mockumentary, as well as something called “Bob Team Epic” which is basically when the characters are animated in this weird free-flowing style that’s about as entertaining to watch as those Osomatsu-san skits when the characters are reimagined as females (in other words, even less entertaining than when the characters are animated normally). Some more skits are mixed in there as well, but all you really need to know about them are on Youtube, because Pop Team Epic skits are incredibly easy to find there.
But novelty is something that only goes so far, because at the end of the day, you’re supposed to be watching comedies because they have, y’know, comedy in it. And when you’re laughing more at the reactions and discussions you have with people about Pop Team Epic rather than the actual watching of Pop Team Epic, that’s rarely a good sign of the show’s quality. It’s the same sort of logic that gave us the third season of Rick and Morty, and let me tell you right now that I’m really hesitant to buy the blu-rays for it because I’m not sure if I can summon up any motivation to watch Pickle Rick ever again. Seriously, how many of us thought that new installment was an improvement on the first two seasons? Did you, Gary Oldman?
Didn’t think so.
So I guess the question we have to answer next is why Pop Team Epic is so fun to talk about despite not being actually funny. Well despite the apparent high IQ you need to understand the humor, there’s one very simple answer for this: it’s an anime that was built to be reacted to.
I mean were you expecting a more complex answer than that? There hasn’t been a single anime that was either popular or good that hasn’t had some intrinsic “get a reaction” factor involved with its story. A lot of anime fans tend to either gush or reject series, or even certain episodes, just based on one standout scene. And of course, Robot Chicken’s source of humor is built entirely standout scenes from Woody killing Buzz to that “what a twist” meme. The only real difference between Pop Team Epic and Robot Chicken once you take the cultural differences out are that in the former, there are two recurring characters in most of the skits. But even then, there are no consistent rules regarding Popuko or Pipimi besides their desire to fuck anime, which is not much of a difference from Robot Chicken’s desire to fuck your childhood.
And when I mean no consistent rules, I mean by normal standards. Within their universe, there is some consistency that can only exist within the series’ universe. For starters, the voice actors for the duo switch every half of an episode. Usually it starts off with the duo being voiced by a female pair, but after eleven minutes or so, they suddenly get incredibly masculine voices that surprisingly fit their designs. I’m not really sure what the point of this gag is other than to pair up seiyuu that worked together in the past. Maybe it’s to emphasize just how little fucks the two give about being identified by the VA like most anime characters by the fanbase, like how Shana or Taiga Aisaka are inseparable from Rie Kugimiya.
Also, each episode is basically one eleven minute routine told twice, with only very minor variations in the scenes on the second go-around like French characters suddenly being subtitled to the inclusion of somebody reacting to a scene in a Let’s Play format. I honestly don’t get the appeal of this style at all. Some people say it’s the best part of the series, but I’m still watching mostly the same scenes and jokes all over again, and it’s repeated every episode to boot, so that means the appeal is going to wear off fast. If I looked up the word “repetition” in a dictionary, I’d probably instantly amend a new definition that said “the worst part of every Yoko Taro game ever”.
If you ever look at any of the reactions to Pop Team Epic, you’ll probably see something along the lines of “anime is saved thanks to shitposting” or “Dank Memes” or “This is the anime version of Anitwitter and I love it”. So I guess the new question we need to answer is “how much of Pop Team Epic is actually memetic?” Also, “are said memes actually good”? Because believe it or not, I really like and really dislike a lot of anime memes.
For example, I really enjoy the Pot of Greed meme (look at the comments on the posted video if you don’t know it).
I get a lot of mileage out of the “Is That a Motherfucking Jojo Reference?” meme.
Hell, “Nico Nico Niiii” is starting to growing on me a bit.
And of course, I’ve pretty much loved every Danganronpa meme I’ve ever seen.
On the flipside, I pretty much hate everything to do with Meme in Abyss (seriously, this is supposed to be funny, why?)
All of the memes to spawn from Osomatsu-san can go die in a dumpster fire.
And I don’t get the Cory in the House meme because I never even heard of it until a decade after its creation.
So where exactly does Pop Team Epic lie in regards to spawning quality memes, which is especially important given how that’s pretty much the only way the comedy can stand out? Because believe it or not, the actual product doesn’t have to be funny or good itself to spawn a funny meme. Hell most people like Fist of the North Star parodies, and about 90% of that crowd have never actually even seen the show.
Well, with the exception of Hellshaker Yano, I can’t even recall the majority of the skits, let alone whether or not they’re meme-worthy. Most of the memorable parts of this series come more from the original manga than anything, and it doesn’t help that cursing doesn’t seem to be allowed in the anime whether you’re watching the Crunchy translation or viewing the Funimation dub, which tends to lend a lot of weight towards fucking anime. And it seems the Internet agrees with me, because whenever I google image search “Pop Team Epic memes“, it’s mostly pictures of the manga with the occasional animated parody I only vaguely recall like the Pokemon one, which just has Pipimi reimagined as the three original starters and no other punchline. I do remember the opening dance scene in the penultimate episode, but that’s as far as my imagination will take me.
And the only fan memes I can even bother caring about are along the lines of “Pop Team Epic is the best anime of 2018″, which is half-genuine and half-steeped in the Internet being dicks. I’ve read somewhere that a lot of today’s generation embraces this sort of shitposting culture because it’s the real-life version of camp, but I personally don’t see the appeal in trying to figure out whether someone is being serious or not online if the camp is just existing for its own sake rather than gearing said personality towards something substantial like a review or a skit. Sure I’ll remember Popuko and Pipimi when the show is over, but as for what they actually do, I’m mostly drawing a blank. You guys ever played that fifth mainline Ace Attorney game, Dual Destinies? Well to those of you who have and really like that game, answer me this: do you recall any of the actual cases from it? Or do you just remember the colorful characters?
My opinion that Dual Destinies was one of the weakest written entries in the Ace Attorney series should pretty much sum up why I think Pop Team Epic, at least in animated form, just doesn’t work the way any of its reputations suggest it should, whether it be for genuine laughs or memetic mutation. For comparison’s sake, there are a lot of things I can remember from Robot Chicken. I remember the skit regarding that father who became obsessed with Inuyasha. I remember the Star Wars special. I remember when Garfield got shot. I remember that magical wish-giving bunny who was turned into a complete wreck by a girl going through puberty. What does Pop Team Epic have to match any of those? Totoro and Popuko getting run over by a bus…and that’s pretty much it. Well okay, I do remember the Your Name skit, but I couldn’t tell you the punchline of that “I’m me” gag for the life of me.
Even Pop Team Epic’s “fuck you, anime was a mistake” attitude is kind of weak. I’m definitely not the only one who’s noticed the irony that for all its bravado, it’s still indulging in all the fame and merchandising that most anime require in order to continue existing in and outside of Japan. That’s the inherent problem when you make something that’s post-modern, especially when it comes to Japanese cartoons – you need the viewers’ money and you’re not going to get it by deliberately trolling them. Unfortunately, a lot of Pop Team Epic’s skits consist of anti-humor (skits where the punchline is that there is no punchline), and it comes off about as desperate as you’d expect. Yeah I’m not exactly sad to see all of the low ratings this show has gone on anime ranking sites.
And frankly, there’s not a whole lot else to talk about regarding this show at this point. The quality of the animation is not even worth discussing because it’s deliberately cheap on purpose, it can be expressive when it needs to be, and there are live-action segments within the series as well. The finale is just another Pop Team Epic episode with nothing to distinguish it from the others. There’s obviously no story or character development, because that would require Popuko to stop being a cultural icon, and we can’t have that now can we?
All I can really say is that even with all of my problems, I’m still glad Pop Team Epic is a thing. Something about the way it gets people riled up really appeals to me, and at the very least, it’s incredibly genuine about its approach to entertainment. I’d much rather it become big than, say, Osomatsu-san, which at this point just seems to exist as a cynical attempt to make money whilst wagging its dick in my face regarding how bad it can be whilst still being successful. Yeah, I’ve seen your recent blu-ray sales, Osomatsu-san. Granted they’re not terrible, but your reign is more over than Attack on Titan’s – whose popularity has not only deflated quite a lot since its debut, but is suffering from controversies surrounding the creator being supposedly racist against Koreans and the manga getting worse over time.
As for the actual watching of Pop Team Epic itself though, I honestly think once is enough, and I didn’t even sit through the entirety of most of the episodes once I caught on that each second half of an episode was only a slight variation of the first half. Similar to Yoko Taro games, it’s hard to deny the unique charm this product gives simply by existing, but there are too many bad ideas and bad execution amongst the good. If you discovered Pop Team Epic through the memes like most people tend to, just be aware that it doesn’t get better from there. Because seriously, what’s going to beat this?
Almost as good as the toblerone meme. Almost.
- Pop Team Epic can be streamed on Crunchyroll, Funimation, or VRV.
- Completely disappointed the finale wasn’t just twenty-two minutes of Popuko and Pipimi beating each other with giant toblerone bars whilst shifting through the various animation styles.
- Most likely going to be putting the production studio names next to the anime I review from now on for stylistic reasons.