Paniponi Dash: Volume 1 - Lethal Lesson
What is it with anime pricing in the UK? Even when you think you have a bargain, you have to check twice. Take ADV for instance. Poor ADV went belly-up about eighteen months ago, although for a while Lace Distribution kept things on life support by repackaging single volumes into boxsets. But, for the last year, all extant ADV stock has effectively been in a clearance sale. Basically everything must go, and once it's gone, it's gone forever type of thing. Many ADV discs are ridiculously cheap, especially considering what you would have paid for them at full price, and I've had my eye on Paniponi Dash now for quite some time. You'd think that getting all the single volumes for under £25 would be a brilliant bargain, right? Except I surfed on over to Region 1 land just in case, and found all six discs plus an artbox, for even less. What kind of world is it where importing still undercuts a clearance sale? Of course ADV is just as kaput in the US, and I did take advantage of over $150 off the RRP…
I also probably need my head examined, as this is yet another high school comedy series that I have invested in. Given the usual demographic for anime, it's no surprise that many series of all genres are set in and around high school, and the potential for comedy, with a diverse set of students and a suitably comedic teacher is always there, as Mind Your Language, Saved By The Bell, and Head of the Class have all failed to demonstrate in years past. Anime studios have a greater degree of success in making high school funny, perhaps with their surreal vistas widened by the sheer imagination that animation affords. There's probably something in the way that I pursue these high school comedies that would no doubt earn a psychotherapist a quick buck, but nevertheless I do enjoy these light-hearted takes on the adolescent experience, with the horrors of puberty, exams, bullies, and obnoxious teachers removed. Of late I have enjoyed Hyakko, which can still be streamed online, and DVD-wise, nothing can compare to Azumanga Daioh, although that hasn't stopped Cromartie High School and Negima from trying. It's Negima that invites greatest comparison to Paniponi Dash, especially the second season. Both shows feature a school teacher significantly younger than the students they are supposed to teach, and both were animated by Studio Shaft, which explains the similarity in animation style, the sheer overload of visual gags, and the countless surreal diversions. On the surface, Paniponi Dash looks like Negima, but without the pesky burden of a storyline.
Rebecca Miyamoto is an MIT graduate who is returning to Japan to teach at Momotsuki (Peach Moon) Academy. She'll be the homeroom teacher to class 1-C, and to keep her company, she has her melancholy toy rabbit, Mesousa. The only problem is that she's only eleven years old. Well that's not the only problem. The school is zany weird, her class is full of weirdoes that keep making her cry, and all the while, an alien spaceship watches from orbit, determining the future of the human race depending on how Becky performs. And while the class may be thrilled to have a genuine omega cute mascot of a schoolteacher, Becky's prone to tantrums, foul mouthed tirades and sheer obnoxiousness.
This first volume of Paniponi Dash from ADV comes with plenty of extras, and five episodes, in which Becky is late for her first day at school, and when she does get there, the students are big, scary and mean; Becky doesn't bother learning the names of the students, she just calls them demeaning names, and now Plain Girl is depressed and hiding in a rabbit hutch; Becky has bed hair which is bad enough, but it's inviting comparisons with the class idiot, so she confiscates Himeko's cowlick, causing her head to deflate; The students have tests impending, which means revision, which means getting together after school, which means spending the night at a relaxing inn, and having a slumber party; and finally, the whole school goes on a camping trip, to a forest with a secret missile base operated by a wandering water spirit.
The five episodes are…
1. Summerwear in the Coldest Season, Winterwear in the Hottest
2. A Safflower Stands Out in Any Garden
3. It's Always Harder on the Ones Who Have to Watch
4. Don't Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch
5. It Is a Treasure If It Is Fulfilling
It's a Region 1 disc, so as you would expect Paniponi Dash gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer in the NTSC format. You have a lower resolution, and with it an imperceptible flicker to deal with (for some people), but you get to live without the conversion artefacts like ghosting, softness, and judder. Paniponi Dash is a visual explosion of a show, and having seen Shaft productions like Moonphase, Negima!? and Natsu no Arashi, that's really saying something. The character designs may be simplistic, but surreal is the order of the day with the animation. Anything goes, the screen is always filled with visual gags, the school blackboard offers countless opportunities for humorous graffiti (translated by the captions, explained by the Vid-notes), and breaking the fourth wall is the order of the day. The school is often portrayed as a television studio (on one occasion a member of the crew wanders on set in the middle of the take, then hurriedly sneaks off again). It's also replete with pop culture references and winks to the audience. It's a frenzy of a show that makes you glad for the invention of the pause button, just so you can take it all in.
You have a choice between DD 5.1 English and DD 2.0 Japanese. As for subtitle tracks, you have minimal signs, full signs, optional translated subtitles with minimal signs, optional translated subtitles with full signs, oh, and the AD Vid-notes tracks as well. The difference between the minimal and full signs is that more of the background blackboard gags get translated, and some people may not want the extra distraction from what's happening in the foreground. Also, the vid-notes come with a popping sound, so that means the audio tracks are here in duplicate (with added pops).
I went for the Japanese track, and as usual was happy enough with that, with some interesting character voices livening up the show. As for the English dub, I survived about 10 minutes of it. Taking a leaf from Excel Saga, ADV's approach to Japanese anime comedy is to make it as loud as possible, which quickly gets annoying. Also a 5.1 surround track is a tad overkill for what's really just a simple comedy show.
The disc comes in an Amaray case, and the sleeve has the 4-panel manga from the episode previews printed inside so that you can read them at your leisure.
Inside you'll also find a 12-page booklet that offers plenty of character guides (you'll need them), some untranslated comments from the Japanese voice actors, and a single page interview with the series organiser.
Animated menus and jacket picture, standard for the anime disc. This one autoplays with adverts for the Anime Network and the now defunct Newtype Magazine.
You will be glad to see the return of the AD Vid-notes feature, especially with this gag rich title. The AD Vid-notes are those little subtitle pop-ups that appear to explain and translate cultural specific gags, point out odd references, little bits of trivia, just so that you don't miss any of the jokes. (Of course explaining the jokes usually kills them, but with so many here, you'll be pleased to see this feature). Just don't use them the first time you watch the show however. There is so much going on in Paniponi Dash, that there are times when the screen is literally filled with Vid-notes, obscuring the action completely, and requiring that you be a dab hand with the pause button.
Also on this disc are all five textless closing sequences, a couple of TV spots for the show, the Special Opening: Yellow Vacation, and the Chalkboard Champions Contest, which has long since expired, and for which we in the UK weren't eligible anyway.
Previews for other now defunct ADV titles include Nerima Daikon Brothers, Excel Saga, Comic Party Revolution, Full Metal Panic Fumoffu, Nanaka 6/17, and UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie: December Nocturne, and they round off the disc.
The very act of reviewing a comedy defeats the purpose of it. To really enjoy a comedy and be entertained, it's necessary to put all else aside and just immerse yourself in it. The minute you start devoting a brain cell or two to an eventual review, it becomes harder to laugh, as you're constantly looking out for those moments that will eventually be worth writing about. Perhaps that's why so few comedy movies make it to awards season. Those Oscars nominators don't put their pen and pad down long enough to actually laugh at the damned thing. So it was with Paniponi Dash and I, as I found that I really couldn't get into the show, felt overwhelmed a tad by the character overload, and the incessant stream of background visual gags that I found distracted slightly from what was happening with the main characters. I made the mistake of turning on the Vid-notes from the get go, and wound up watching the first two episodes again, as I actually missed what they were really about. I think I really need to just put everything aside to watch it for what it is, with no distractions, and with nothing else on my mind. Of course if I did that, there would be no review…
So here I am, firmly on the fence, undecided on what to make of this show. On the bright side, it did make me smile throughout its runtime, and there were several moments where I had to chuckle, and even on the odd occasion, guffaw. Take away the reviewer's handicap, and that probably means that Paniponi Dash is hilarious. Or it could means that it is just occasionally funny, and regardless of notepad and pen, my instincts are correct. Paniponi Dash is what you get when you take the story out of Shaft's take on Negima. It's really just a case of random mayhem collected together, an arena for gagmeisters to work, most akin to a sketch show, and it's really just about using these eclectic characters to generate as much humour as possible. It's random, hit and miss, and feverishly fast-paced. If one gag falls flat, there will be another along in five seconds.
It's also the anti-Negima, in that the main character, Becky Miyamoto may be an 11-year-old high school teacher, but she's no Negi Springfield. She's a genius, true, but she's also obnoxious, prone to tantrums, and when all else fails, apt to hide behind a curtain and burst into tears. Hardly adorable, and certainly not a subject of inappropriate teenage affection. In fact the only one who really finds Becky adorable is Himeko Katagiri, the class idiot, who keeps on saying 'Maho' for no apparent reason, and applying the prefix 'omega' to anything she finds particularly worthy. Rei Tachibana is the tall, elegant bully who has found the perfect target in Becky. Becky may be a genius graduate of MIT, but she can't actually pronounce Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a fact that Rei pounces on. Kurumi Momose is so nondescript that she vanishes into the foreground, while Miyako Uehara is the easily riled bookworm, constantly studying but always failing to achieve academically. Sayaka Suzuki (No. 6) is the sixth Suzuki in school, and is known by her number. She's cute, gentle and kind and supportive of her friends, while Ichijo is the class rep, and is weird, horror movie weird.
Those are the main characters in Class 1-C, and yes, I did refer to the character guide. This is a show that offers character overload, as there are classes 1-A, 1-B and 1-D as well. There's Becky's pet rabbit Mesousa, so melancholy that you want to put him out of his misery, there's Lord Cat, a deity that lives in vending machines and keeps drinks warm with his body heat, and as the disc ended, we briefly met Giant Salamander as well. And then there are the aliens too. It's a bustling mayhem of a show, and it's easy to lose track.
Paniponi Dash is entertaining, but it lacks that spark that makes it something special. It's certainly no Azumanga Daioh, but at least I smiled more often than I did with Cromartie High School. Still, it has another five volumes to develop and grow, or it could be like The Fast Show, which beats you down into submission and demands you laugh through sheer repetition. Maho! If you are going to give Paniponi Dash a try, then for once UK Region 2 is your best bet, as there are still plenty of discs out there at a bargain price, and you don't have to worry about region coding. The waters got muddy in the US when Funimation picked up the licence, and re-released Paniponi Dash as a 4-disc boxset, after completely stripping out the extras, including the essential Vid-notes. If you do opt for Region 1, make sure there are six discs, not four, and there are ADV logos on the packaging.