Heave-ho! The Otakon plunder waits for no man! Anime! Manga! Games! Fan art! And freebies! Haul ‘em all in ye scalawags!
Good evening readers, the Inverseman had the wonderful pleasure of attending Otakon last week, and between meeting Gen Urobuchi, plenty of voice actors, and seeing premieres out the wazoo, I was able to snag the dub DVDs for Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt at the Funimation booth, and tonight I’ll be reviewing the dub!
Why am I making a dub review? Okay, I’ll give it to you short and sweet so just place your cursor here.
Well, now that that’s out of my system, let’s dig deep.
OK, so Panty & Stocking is Gainax’s way of making an American cartoon. With style cues from The Powerpuff Girls, tons of English, an episodic format befitting of Saturday morning cartoons, the gross-out factor of Invader Zim, the references of Family Guy, and (as paramount) the raunchy vulgarity of South Park you could say this show has American sensibilities through and through.
For those that don’t already know: the Anarchy sisters, the sexed-up whore Panty and the sugar-crazed goth (and personal favorite) Stocking, have been cast out of heaven and the only way back up is if they beat up the evil ghosts terrorizing the sleazy Daten City and collect Heaven Coins to buy their way back in supervised by the big black preacher, Garterbelt.
So firstly, the show itself. I’ll say, if you’re the “classy” type that doesn’t really take to toilet humor or idiot humor for 22-minutes, this isn’t your show. You’ll tire of it after two episodes and change the channel, not gonna lie. But if you can swallow that load, you’re in for a treat. Everything about this series screams style. The art pops and is colorful like an American cartoon. There are even title cards akin to your average Saturday-morning schtick. In fact, lots of the design of Daten City is like a mash-up of LA and NY or whatever the situation calls for. But the art really turns it up to 11 when there are sudden shifts in the art direction. Like a 180 degree turn. When Panty and Stocking do their stripperiffic transformation sequence, the art budget skyrockets in detail and quality.
Sometimes the episode’s art will shift for the whole thing. The “Vomiting Point” episode had a very Taiyo Matsumoto feel the whole way. And then there’s the ghost-destruction sequences which are grand like the budget. Onomatopoeia spurt all over the screen and any money saved in the simple art style is quickly blown off on whatever crazy thing Gainax does to keep the show visually fresh. Anyway, the art is as dynamic and engaging as the show itself. I love it when Gainax gets experimental.
The audio and OST is poppy, techno-y, and all-around perfect for the tone of the show. When you have such an in-your-face (and all over it) show, you need a soundtrack that will do the same to your eardrums. Having a proper transformation theme that plays every time the girls get “serious” adds to the perfect set of cues.
The problem that would immediately present itself with this kind of show is the “joke budget.”
“Yes, we get it. Oh look, a row of men, I know what Panty is gonna do now. Wow. A bakery. I wonder what Stocking is gonna order.”
You won’t make it past episode four if you beat a dead horse, so what’s Gainax to do? Well, I’m glad they put an honest effort to mitigating that as much as possible. Firstly, make the situations zanier (the Transformers episode). Second, change perspectives. What does Brief, Garterbelt, or even Chuck do on a “regular day”? Third, introduce new motivations, like the RUUURE enforcing demon sisters Scanty and Kneesocks who are worthy and entertaining rivals in their own right. This should produce enough fuel to keep the show going. I’d say if this was a 26 episode series, I’d fear that we’d be out of material far sooner. A good job here. But if this humor wasn’t funny for you in the first place, as I mentioned before, it will feel like “dead horse edition”.
One of my few qualms about this quirky show is a bit of focus problems. Panty tends to get lots of limelight in the earlier episodes unlike her little sister Stocking. Maybe flashy hoes pop out more inherently? Or maybe I like goth chicks a lot more so I’m biased? Even towards the end of the show, while still resolving Brief’s love life Panty scarfs down a bit more dedicated screen time. So it feels like she runs off with a lot of the first and final parts of the series, leaving Stocking with the mid-season munchies. Fortunately, the very end hints at a season two where Stocking will play a special role, so redemption I guess? (Trust me, the ending must be seen to ensure this hope)
A second, but decidedly minor nitpick I have is Chuck. All of him. Personally, I don’t find him likeable. While he’s reminiscent of GIR in his ratty green dog duds, it’s in looks only. He’s disgusting even for this series and is only meant to be a punching bag while GIR is cute, adorable, and most importantly, funny. Chuck is literally there to annoy and be chucked around by the rest of the cast until he spews whatever bile from whatever bodily orifice is featured this week. He has his moments, this is true, but if Gainax wanted me to feel about Chuck the same way the angels do, mission success.
Finally, the voice acting. I originally saw the show in Japanese and proceeded to table it on the back-burner as the demands of life piled on in that golden nine month long job called the school year. But waiting for summer vacation was worth it. This is one of those shows I would wholeheartedly say is better dubbed, like Cowboy Bebop or Baccano!. The voice work shines like a gem here; a gem filled with f-bombs, bodily waste, and elaborate descriptions of sexual organs, but a gem nonetheless! Jamie Marchi and Monica Rial run the full nine yards with their roles. Jamie’s performance hits all the notes I would expect from Panty, in all the right places and all the right ways. Monica Rial channels her abilities to have Stocking be her brooding snarky self with homerun adorable outbursts like her “pudding-gasm, (best sticky goo in my mouth all day)” Even supporting roles are perfectly cast. Sabat puts his soul into Garter and Joel McDonald’s panicking completes Brief. You can tell the cast isn’t “copying the Japanese”, which leads to disaster, instead they’re owning the roles in a powerful way. That and something about English dubs is that 10 for 10, we get African characters down right even if a Caucasian actor is voicing him.
But while on the dub, I feel that when it comes to dubs, it’s not necessarily always the voice actors that make or break the performance. “The voices are bad” doesn’t cut it here in my realm. And “doesn’t sound exactly like the Japanese” is begging for a bad dub, or heck, a bad performance from any actor. You need a reason why, because it’s 2012 and voice acting has come a long way. There are plenty of A-list voice actors these days (Yuri Lowenthal even got to be in the recent Men in Black 3) so what else could make a dub “sound not good”? There are two other factors we’re always missing, the director and scriptwriter.
Without proper direction, the actors won’t know if they’re on the same page with each other in their performance. You need someone to go macro and see how the big picture pieces together. Especially since we naturally can’t hear what we actually sound like to other people. Why else are there good and bad conductors in a musical performance? Kudos to the direction staff for this series for being the invisible glue that holds everything together.
And then there’s the script. This script is a beautiful thing. Instead of taking the subtitles and dolling them up to make a bit more grammatical sense, we have actual writing here. With so many swears, obscene metaphors, pop culture references, and downright dirty jokes it supersedes any of the humor one could have gotten from watching the original (without a fluent understanding of Japanese). And it’s all perfectly appropriate for this anime, instead of needless injections found elsewhere like “that damn fourth Chaos Emerald”. You can tell the writers of the dub script got creative from every sexual euphemism one can imagine from Panty or Stocking’s fear of “going emo” rant if she doesn’t eat in five minutes. If I ever met such cartoony vulgar women, this is exactly how I’d imagine they would speak. In fact, the directors at Gainax themselves enjoy the dub too because the good folks at Funimation taught them far more ways to curse out and insult people in English! Good job! You can tell there was much love in this script, and it shows.
In the end, that’s how you dub anime correctly. You make sure that you not only have “good voices” from actors that “own the roles” but clear direction and a script that when read and performed doesn’t sound like subtitles but like “real” people reacting to “real” things (well, real for the context of that show). I applaud the script writers and I’m glad they pour their all into jobs like these.
As an end note, I’ll remark on when I got a hold of the three-disc box. I noticed the presentation. The font and quality of the box already show that Funimation put a lot of care into every asset of the box to convey the show’s attitude. With this minor detail of candy neon colors, you know something bigger lies inside.
Wait a minute? Three discs? Yes. For once we have Extra features. And I don’t mean the creditless openings and closings and trailers for other shows, that hardly counts for “extras”. The third disc contains the Panty and Stocking in Sanitary Box short collection, extra clips and funny bits to tickle your fancy like what Garterbelt does in the tub or just how did Brief handle the zombie episode anyway? The kicker? It’s all dubbed too, which deserves its own mention in its own right. Outtakes are wonderful and even better is the “behind the scenes” of the ghost death scenes and the last episode from the Gainax staff. This is definitely a worthy cherry on top.
Join us next time when we enter the alternate reality thought-wave trap.
Director: Hiroyuki Imaishi
Character design: Atsushi Nishigori
Music: Taku Takahashi
Original run: October 1, 2010 – December 25, 2010