Matt Kamen says his prayers...
Imagine, if you will, Heaven: eternal peace, endless bliss, perfect contentment – sounds pretty boring, right? It’s the things that are bad for us that make life exciting, so it’s easy to imagine why two ne’er-do-well angels got kicked out of paradise. Banished to Daten City, an inbetween realm bordering Hell, Panty and Stocking – known as the super-powered Anarchy Sisters – are charged with taking down evil ghosts to earn their way back into the good graces of the powers that be. Unfortunately, Panty is more interested in sleeping her way through 1000 men, while Stocking would rather stuff her face with cakes and sweets than get involved with troublesome spectres. Both girls are put under the watchful eye of the afro-sporting Garterbelt, and while they’ll reluctantly follow his orders, it’s usually only if they can get something for themselves out of doing so. Throw in a geeky sidekick to abuse, a strange green dog as a mascot and a pair of demonic rivals, and the stage is set for chaos!
Panty & Stocking is a huge departure from much of Gainax’s catalogue. Be it the girls’ main combat ability – turning their underwear into magical guns – or the bizarre nature of some of the ghosts they have to apprehend, Panty and Stocking’s world is one that’s designed to be as outrageous as possible. It’s perhaps the ultimate example of cartoons not all being kids’ stuff, with episodes featuring the vengeful spirits of discarded sperm causing a tissue paper shortage, a toilet ghost that literally wants to take a dump on Daten City, a rogue porn tape, and a legendary penis that can open the gates of Hell.
In developing the series, director Hiroyuki Imaishi and his co-creators, including writer Hiromi Wakabayashi and character designer Atsushi Nishigori, deliberately looked to create something far removed from anything typically found in anime. Instead of looking at their peers and contemporaries in Japan’s animation industry, they took inspiration from western animated shows, such as Craig McCracken’s Powerpuff Girls and Dave Jeser and Matt Silverstein’s Drawn Together. Episodes of Panty & Stocking are a lightning-fast explosion of dynamic action and bad-taste jokes, peppered with pop-culture references to Nirvana, The Beatles, My Chemical Romance, Pink Floyd and Gorillaz. That last one is key, as Jamie Hewlett’s art for the animated rock band, plus his earlier Tank Girl graphic novels, are clear influences on the highly stylised appearance of the show. Western movies from Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet to Michael Bay’s Transformers are also mocked outright, as are constant nods towards Gainax’s other serials.
The self-knowing pre-credits warning of another intentionally crass western show, South Park, probably sums up Panty & Stocking’s appeal best: “The following program contains coarse language and due to its content should not be viewed.... by anyone.” Yet just like the bad behaviour that got its heroines kicked out of Heaven, this is a show that proves really is the things that seem wrong that make life exciting.
Panty & Stocking: Complete Collection is out on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.