Pop Team Epic might be the most bizarre anime to make it out of Japan. Its zany nature shouldn’t come as a surprise considering it was adapted from a Yonkoma, or 4 panel comic, typically used for offbeat comedy.
“So there’s this shitty manga…” was the initial pitch for the series reveals producer Kotaro Sudo in an interview with animate Times translated by SakugaBlog.
The non-sequitur anime follows Pipimi and Popuko, two precocious school girls with mischievous cat smiles permanently affixed to their faces and distinctive man hands that engorge when they give the middle finger (often).
Popuko is a quick-tempered ruffian wielding a baseball bat spiked with nails like something out of The Walking Dead. Pipimi, other the other hand, is stoic and serves as the straight man in this comedy duo but she too has a violent side. Popuko idolizes Pipimi, who is subsequently cast in the role of senpai, or senior.
They appear as themselves and other characters in various skits and parodies in what is essentially a variety show filled pop culture references. The jokes aren’t confined to Japanese culture. They go after latte art, The Shining, Mickey Mouse and Hanna-Barbera cartoon villains Dastardly and Muttley many of which are censored either by being pixelated or bleeped. However, the censoring is largely superficial and likely done for comedic effect. The animation style varies wildly depending on the genre of the moment, which ranges from idyllic shōjo romances to gritty yakuza films.
Sudo tried to sell the studio on the merchandising potential of the odd little girls in this entirely character driven series. When that didn’t work, he played a once-in-a-lifetime wildcard given to him by executive producer Akio Mishima.
“I figured if it didn’t work out, I could always use it again,” Sudo laughed.
Prepare for trouble, and make it double
Series creator Bukubu Ookawa wanted to include an auxiliary audio track featuring the protagonists with male voices but that wasn’t possible for a webcast; moreover the 15 minute format made it too short for television. Both problems were solved by immediately airing an encore of the episode with different voice actors. Seeing school girls violently act out is disturbing enough but hearing them with deep voices adds a new level to it. The encore occasional has different dialogue as the actors were encouraged to ad-lib.
Pop Team Epic pokes fun of its improvisational nature by having Pipimi and Popuko appear in the animatic storyboard of another anime still in production. Popuko threatens the characters to do impressions or else! The skit cuts to the voice actors taking their frustrations out on the producer. He instantly regrets his decision to make the actor ad-lib when they decide to play keep away with his glasses. Sudo later said the actors originally wanted to throw away his glasses.
The series is full of self-deprecating humor. It takes several digs at its Manga publisher, Takeshobo, which makes an appearance in the form of a pompous shogun literally on a high horse. The company publishes under the name Bamboo Comics, which led to a not-so subtle caricature of its employees as anthropomorphic bamboo gangsters. Not even the studio is above being lampooned. King Records is portrayed as an evil committee seeking to control the girls from beyond the fourth wall. They intended for the anime to feature cliché anime school girls.
“Those girls are fugly chunk butts and far from cute. I don’t care what anyone says,” one of the evil masterminds complains in the season finale.
Their appearance may break the mold but this isn’t merely another cry against the patriarchy. It’s a clever commentary on the use of production committees, a common practice in Japan. These committees can consist of upwards of a dozen investors to mitigate financial risk but also limit creative freedom with bosses to answer to. Pop Team Epic bucks this trend by being funded solely by King Records. Accordingly, the evil committee is eventually absorbed into an evil Voltron like robot but it fares no better at controlling the incorrigible girls.
New Series: Bob Epic Team
One of the recurring skits is a parody of the anime titled “Bob Epic Team.” The title is the series name backwards and with “pop” flipped vertically. Accordingly, its bizarro characters are crudely drawn and animated. The girls even get fan mail criticizing them for their lack of keyframes needed for smooth transition. They also have ubiquitous cat smiles, however they suffer from an overbite that reveals not-so cute cat gums that evoke Beavis and Butt-Head.
The teenage miscreants have regular voice actors unlike their counterparts. Pipimi and Popuko are voiced by Ian Sinclair (Space Dandy) and Christopher Sabat (Dragon Ball), respectively. Neither actor is know for their feminine voice but that doesn’t stop them from doing their worst impression. Your ears will bleed with delight.
The humor knows no bounds . . . literally. Popuko walks into outer space to find her glasses. And Pipimi breaks the fourth wall during a game of hide and seek, in which her body liquefies and forms a news ticker at the bottom of the television screen.
All the of creators were given free rein for their particular segment but none more so than AC-bu, which created Bob Epic Team without any oversight explains Sudo.
“Normally, you start with scripts and storyboards, and start with roughs before proceeding further, but for AC-bu, the footage that airs for broadcast is the first thing we get from them,” he revealed. “That’s their first draft.”
Sudo describes their work as “Strong Zero in video form.” A reference to a popular cocktail mix known for being cheap and strong.
As if you weren’t already feeling like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, Bob Epic Team occasionally reenacts segments from their counterparts but needless to say with more panache.
Pop Team Epic Rickrolling
The Pop Team Epic manga started as a fictional manga going by the name Hoshiiro Girldrop. The generic plot centered around a romance between an ordinary high school student named Daichi and Sosogu, the lead in an idol group called the Drop Stars. Several pages into the story Sosogu rips off her face like a Scooby-Doo villain to reveal it’s really Popuko.
The Pop Team Epic anime continues the gag by creating a Hoshiiro Girldrop anime opening intro, which is also ripped apart by Popuko. Each episode ends with a preview of the next Hoshiiro Girldrop episode, which never comes. The series even ends with a confirmation that there will be a season 2 of the nonexistent anime! That seems unlikely as Sudo said there will be no second season or movie for Pop Team Epic. Although he also claimed the budget was $45 trillion in the same interview so . . .
The Hoshiiro Girldrop anime is chock full of tropes like a childhood promise, amnesia and of course absentee parents. It’s so well done that it’s left fans wanting the real thing. And Ookawa is giving them it . . . sorta. He’s teamed up with other manga artists to create a Hoshiiro Girldrop Anthology.
The manga anthology features the characters in self contained slice of life stories. Ironically, the random format makes it feel more like Pop Team Epic. Perhaps will eventually get a fake previews of a sequitur story for Pop Team Epic, mirroring the creation of the series. Thus triggering a singularity that overruns the world with Popuko clones that destroy the world (that was the plot of an actual episode).
Pop Team Epic airs on Adult Swim’s Toonami block: Saturday Midnight.
Stream the entire series now on Amazon Prime (free trial).