Anime Reviews: Paniponi Dash

2005; Director: Akiyuki Shinbo; Studio: GANSIS/SHAFT
2005; Director: Akiyuki Shinbo; Studio: GANSIS/SHAFT

Momotsuki Academy is a very strange place to go to school. The teachers are weird, the classrooms look more like studio soundstages, and there’s a cat living inside the vending machines claiming to be God.

They’ve just hired a new homeroom teacher for class 1-C—little Rebecca Miyamoto, an eleven-year-old prodigy fresh out of MIT. Her first day at her new job gets off to a rocky start when she oversleeps and turns up late to her first period, and that’s before she meets her new students, a class of thirty or so of whom you only need to know six: Rei the schemer, Miyako the brainiac, Himeko the spaz, Kurumi the plain-Jane, Sayaka a.k.a. “Number Six” the good girl, and Ichijo the class rep who’s more than a little unusual. Add to this Mesousa, a rabbit with low self-esteem, an endangered lizard thing, and some aliens watching over them all from orbit, and you have either Madoka Magica director Akiyuki Shinbo’s 2005 series Paniponi Dash or a Disney Channel sitcom on crack cocaine, LSD and caffeine pills. Judging from the fact that it’s from Japan, it’s more likely the former of the two.

It is very easy to draw comparisons between this show and Azumanga Daioh—they both feature six Japanese high school girls, a bratty teacher and an omnipresent cat, and at least one of them has skipped a few grades, and much of the humor comes from gags entirely out of left field—but that is where the similarities end. As random as AzuDai gets, barring the occasional appearance of Chiyo-Dad, it is still fairly grounded in reality. Paniponi Dash, however, is just random. There isn’t much of an overall plot to it; every episode is fairly standalone and chuck full of non sequiturs and trans-Pacific pop culture references (one of the reasons I chose not to exchange my ADV singles for FUNimation’s box set—one version has pop-uptext blurbs that explain the more obscure Asian references, the other does not.) Not to mention they throw little things in the background in every scene--every NPC student might look like a potted plant or a stuffed animal, the scribblings on the chalkboard in classroom scenes change with every cut away, there are fourth-wall gags where some of the “stage crew” are accidentally in shot. So if anything, it’s more like a shoujo Excel Saga.

Also like Excel Saga, the show is no stranger to recurring jokes. There are catch phrases such as Himeko punctuating every other sentence with “maho” and Number Six saying “something something of the year” on numerous occasions, and other repeated gags are peppered throughout--Mesousa gets confused or depressed, Becky runs crying and hides behind a curtain whenever her feelings are hurt, Kurumi mopes in the rabbit hutch whenever somebody calls her plain, et cetera. Around the halfway point these gags gets a little tiring, but fortunately around episode nineteen it starts picking up steam again, and even develops some continuity towards the end.

Another way the show is different from AzuDai is its use of a much larger cast. While Azumanga Daioh has a very small group of main characters, Paniponi Dash occasionally cuts away from class 1-C to peek in on one of three other first year classes, each with students and teachers just as eccentric as the main seven, including an old geezer, a magical girl, a maid, a drama nerd, a klutz, a fanatical animal lover, a pair of identical twins, an investigative reporter, and an alcoholic teacher among others. The character diversity inherent here is good for the show, as each distinct personality bounces off another and keeps it interesting. And let’s not forget about the aliens…

You can pretty much pick and choose your favorite things about this show: favorite episode (the mecha parody in episode 25), favorite main character (Ichijo), favorite side character (the twins). Whether it’s the characters, the cuteness, the self-aware humor, or just the rampant weirdness, there is always at least one thing about Paniponi Dash which keeps it entertaining.

tl;dr:

PROS
CONS
Completely random, non sequitur humor and large, diverse cast keep things interesting
Some gags get repetitive; contains pop culture references that may be obscure to foreign audiences

Paniponi Dash: awesome or crap?

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