So what is “Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt”?
People who haven’t looked into it are probably living under a rock, or are wholly uninterested in anime and manga or Japanese culture (why are you reading this then?), but PSG is Gainax’s (“Nadia,” “Fooly Cooly,” “Gurren Lagann,” et al. ) latest show about two anarchistic fallen angels that transform various pieces of clothing into weapons. Their misadventures feature gratuitous amount of sex and violence, all done in the flat toned caricaturized American cartooning style reminiscent of something out of the “Power Puff Girls” (and other 90s-era cartoons).
So you might be wondering: Why am I writing about it now? The show finished up last year in December, the soundtrack already hit No. 1 in the charts. What could possibly I contribute?
Well, what I want to talk about is what PSG embodies, looking back at the entire show.
PSG is amazing for being a toilet-humor show (literally) and still shining like a diamond. This show particularly speaks to the American crowd because of how much it lampoons American pop-culture.
It depicts the stereotypical America through its pop-culture but from a Japanese frame. PSG pays homage to a number of pop-icons in America; not just in cartooning, but through its pop-culture as a whole.
The most obvious of the lampoons is the music video they aired in the final part of episode 10. The video rolls a great deal of Western pop-music into a 5-minute segment of musical homage.
Moreover, the parodies are pervasive throughout the series. The witty title cards are movie poster mock-ups like, “Death Race 2010” or “Catfight Club.” They’re funny and often sexually charged like the rest of the show. Other smaller bits and pieces pop up, like the Blaxploitation influenced Garterbelt – the black Afro-priest, or the formulaic one-shot story style the show had for the first half of its run.
As I watched this show, I realized: this was my childhood.
What I mean is, that this show has balls. Whereas we currently live in a time where canned anime and manga concepts sell marginally well enough to keep studios afloat, Gainax took the risk to deviate from formulaic success and banked on the risqué show.
This might be why it’s such a good show. It’s different. With Gainax’s willingness to reach out to markets somewhat foreign to them for inspiration, it gave something exciting for both the domestic and foreign audience. The Japanese consume American film and music, but they’ve never adopted it for themselves. They usually try to emulate or import wholesale, keeping it separate from their concept of anime and manga.
Reaching out to uncharted territory is a risk animation studios only used to take. The same thing in America is happening in Japan. Set patterns have become prevalent: SHAFT will make surreal fanservice shows that has a sane guy surrounded by a crazy harem of girls, Production I.G. will make post-modern shows that play on Japan’s technologically induced isolation of society, and KyoAni will make moé-blobs. I’m not being fair to generalize all anime as lacking originality, but I don’t see a lot that stands out from the herd.
This is why PSG is refreshing and interesting to me. It’s a throwback to when cartoons could be crazy and sacrilegious, the days when offensive jokes for adults snaked their way into our cartoons like in “Rocko’s Modern Life” or “Ren and Stimpy.” It takes risks, and by doing so, it’s original, especially in Japan.
The characters might be paper-thin, but there’s some kind of charm to them that makes me want more. For mindless drivel entertainment, PSG can be unmatched in quality and belongs up there with all the other brain-rot shows, like Golden Eggs.
Tomo Hirai is a Shin-Nisei Japanese American lesbian trans woman born in San Francisco and raised in Walnut Creek, Calif., where she continues to reside. She attended the San Francisco Japanese Hoshuko (supplementary school) through high school and graduated from the University of California, Davis with degrees in Communications and Japanese, along with a minor in writing. She serves as a diversity consultant for table top games and comic books in her spare time.