The height of anime absurdity
I’ll admit, I straight up didn’t enjoy the first episode of the Pop Team Epic anime. What I’ve seen of Bkub Okawa’s original four-panel manga has been pretty funny, but I wasn’t feeling whatever they were going for in the adaptation. It didn’t take long for my attitude to change, though, and by the halfway point of Episode 2 I was fully on board for the unique brand of absurdity and unpredictability on display. It’s not pretty, and it often makes little to no sense, but it’s hard not to get sucked into the gags so hard you morph into a twisted, malformed Bob Team Epic version of yourself.
The Pop Team Epic anime hit the scene as one of the biggest shows of the winter 2018 season, with a handful of competing companies jumping at the chance to license it. Considering how nuclear-level Internet-ready the adaptation is, this should come as no surprise. It’s a Russian nesting doll of jokes that everyone involved is clearly excited to get in on from beginning to end.
Parodies and references abound, from a pretty amazing take on an Earth, Wind, and Fire music video to scenes adapting Okawa’s follow-up fake-out manga, Hoshiiro Girldrop (which turned out to be a ruse building up to the return of Pop Team Epic). Not everything is going to land, obviously, but they really go in hard for some deep cuts throughout the run. You’ll see spins on video games new and old in short pixel animations, and there’s even an extended riff on Kinji Fukasaku’s classic Yakuza Papers/Battles without Honor and Humanity film series. You know, for the kids.
To say the proceedings can get a little esoteric is a major understatement. For every brief segment that falls flat, though, there’s High Art awaiting on the other side. The purest example of this is the Hellshake Yano sequence from Episode 7, which is an explosion of creativity and hilarity in the form of physical paper-flipping artwork and some very enthusiastic presenters. Moments like this can easily be taken out of the context of Pop Team Epic, if there truly is such a thing, and enjoyed by your average appreciator of artistic genius. Truly, the majesty of Hellshake Yano will outlive us all.
Beyond the joke-a-minute pacing, the weekly structure splits each episode into two parts. The first part is a roughly 12-minute episode comprised of a ton of segments bookended by countless “Poputepipikku” title card bumpers, which will linger in your head for weeks. The second half of the episode is … the first half all over again but with completely different voice actors! No, it’s not just a one-off goof they used for the first installment; this gimmick is pure commitment on behalf of the show’s staff and, especially, the cast.
You’ll get to hear pretty much every voice actor you could imagine at some point in Pop Team Epic, and they’ll likely be behind the voices of lead characters Popuko and Pipimi themselves. The odds of anyone really caring all that much beyond huge seiyuu heads are pretty slim, though, and there’s rarely that much, if any, difference in the content of each episode half. You may miss out on a few added jokes—there are some visuals they mix up and add to in certain instances—but for the most part you can coast through them however you see fit. Personally, I tend to use the second half of each Pop Team Epic episode to do something else while it plays in the background.
Otherwise, the episodes are all thoroughly entertaining, and they’re over quickly enough to avoid overstaying their welcome. Unless doing so is part of the joke, which it totally could be. How does one even go about reviewing Pop Team Epic, anyway? Have I totally played myself here? Maybe you should just watch it for yourself and see if you laugh or not, because I can’t possibly speak for Popuko or Pipimi. I am a mere representative of planet Earth! Pop Team Epic is streaming all over the place, so YOU BE THE JUDGE!
Studio/company: Sentai Filmworks
rating: Not Rated
This story appears in the Spring 2018 issue of Anime USA Magazine. Click here to get a print copy.
For a second opinion on Pop Team Epic, check out Daryl Surat’s feature from the June 2018 issue of Otaku USA Magazine.