The Reverse Thieves Secret Santa project is just like regular secret santa, except instead of getting receiving awful €5 gifts, your secret santa recommends an anime for you to watch based on your preferences shown on MyAnimeList. My secret santa didn’t study my list very well though. The first one they gave me was Mardock Scramble, which I had already seen. The second was Ergo Proxy, which I haven’t seen, but was on my Plan To Watch list so I feel like that’s cheating. The third, and the one I ended up watching, was Pani Poni Dash.
Pani Poni Dash can be best described as Azumanga Daoih as done by Shaft. A comedy about a bunch of cute teenage girls doing dumb stuff. This was one of the first anime made by Akiyuki Shinbo’s start up studio, only their second after Moonphase, and his style is as prevalent as ever. Quick cuts, otaku references, bizarre imagery, dynamic camera angles, shifting art styles and the usual unsettling fascination with the pre-pubescent female form. I’ve always rather liked his style (well, apart from the pedophilia, but whatever) because it makes scenes far more interesting to watch than bland talking heads. If anything, Shinbo has probably toned down his weirdness in recent years. Pani Poni Dash is probably the most visually eccentric of any of his works (bar possibly Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei). There’s never not something happening on screen. Most of it is sheer non-sequitur strangeness and I was struggling to find some sort of connecting thread between what Shinbo was trying to do with this. It did eventually click though.
You see, there is no plot or driving force to Pani Poni Dash. It is ostensibly about Rebecca Miyamoto, child genius, becoming a teacher and trying to gain the respect of her students. But rarely were the on-screen events of any real interest. What the real ‘story’ was about was the Shaftyness of the directing breaking the fourth wall, laughing at its existence as an anime. Frequently the camera would zoom out to reveal the characters were all on a set. Big fluffy microphones would occasionally drop down into view. Stage hands would walk across the camera. Visual metaphors would be drawn attention to by the characters. A giant hand descended from nowhere to turn the world around to indicate the passing of time, only for some aliens to notice this giant hand and desperately trying to convince his captain of what he had just seen. Those aliens were reoccurring characters and I liked them a lot. Their mission was supposed to be monitoring Rebecca, but what they acted as was viewers of this television production, commenting on their inability to follow the plot or choosing their favourite characters.
There are loads of other little tricks like this pulled to poke fun as its existence as an anime, and I’m not going to go through them all, but I would like to mention this final one. Sometimes when the girls were talking, they would pose in some sort of sexy position, their curves amplified, even though it had nothing to do with whatever nonsense they happened to be saying at the time. It was a perfect example of “what these characters are saying is of no importance, they’re only here to give you eyecandy”. With the boom of ‘cute girls doing cute things’ anime that occurred just after Pani Poni Dash, it was rather funny to see Shaft mocking the pointlessness of them before they even existed.
The problem with Pani Poni Dash is it really only has this one trick, and it doesn’t develop. It’s a problem I have with a lot of early Shaft anime, from SZS to Maria Holic. There’s no development of the jokes. They’re just one-trick ponies. It may be a brilliant trick, but it still gets old when you keep repeating it. The other problem I had with early Shaft stuff is the visual fuckery has nothing to do with the actual story. I get that the visuals being disconnected in Pani Poni Dash is kind of the point, but the story the visuals tell don’t develop either. This is the main reason why I love new-age Shaft with Arakawa and Madoka Magica. Their crazy visuals actually serve to enhance the story itself and develop along with the story.
There’s no development of anything in Pani Poni Dash. Going back to the Azumanga comparisons again, what made Azumanga click so well is because the characters and the jokes built up over time. Azumanga’s big thing is reoccurring jokes, but these jokes develop as the series goes on, playing on your perceptions of how the joke is supposed to go. I consider Azumanga’s final episode to be one of the best endings of all time, because you really feel like you’ve lived their high school lives with each of the characters and watched them develop. Pani Poni has none of that whatsoever. The characters are either shouty irritants or people whose actions have no bearing on sentient thought. They aren’t the focus of the anime, the fourth wall destruction through the visuals is, but that doesn’t develop over time either. It stagnates incredibly quickly.
Pani Poni is genuinely funny and entertaining, but it has absolutely no right being 26 episodes long. I don’t think it has any right being even 13 episodes long. By extending the length of the series far beyond its joke
s sell-by date, it cheapens and damages the things it actually did well. The more I watched, the more my enthusiasm for the series was sapped out of me. In fact, I dropped it after 14 episodes. Call me an unproffesional reviewer with no patience who can’t review of anything if they don’t consume every single part of it, but fuck you. I had gotten everything I wanted from Pani Poni Dash after 6 episodes. I saw no indication that it was going to improve. Watching anymore would have only damaged my opinion of it. I’m not going to continue doing something I don’t like simply because it’s not considered a ‘proper review’. I’m not getting paid for this. So, for what it’s worth, my review of the first 14 episodes. Funny stuff, but gets stale very quickly.