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Osamu Kobayashi directed the second half of this episode. Merely knowing this fact should be enough to tell you that something is afoot. We've become used Osamu Kobayashi showing up every year or so in a nice animated television program from Japan, and proceeding to create an episode that clashes with the rest of the show. His latest does not disappoint in that regard.
Before reading this, if you have any intention of watching this series, or if you want to truly appreciate what Osamu Kobayashi has done with this episode, I'd advise that you watch the series in sequence up to this episode before reading this post or anything else about this episode on the web. Otherwise it'll ruin the impact of something special.
So watch it first. Or if you don't care, go right ahead. I don't use jumps often, but this time I will. My impressions after the jump.
Osamu Kobayashi just punked every viewer of Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, that's what.
He gleefully dismantled the saccharine, stylized, cute, sexy, facile cartoon edifice of this show and replaced it with a bunch of sad, ugly, miserable Japanese men and women working in a drab, rust-stained slab of an office in the middle of Tokyo.
Welcome to the real world, people.
I love the way this show reels you in for five episodes with animation that epitomizes everything escapist and entertaining and fun about animation, and then punches you in the face with reality right when you've gotten comfortable.
I laughed quite a bit watching this episode. There's the whole suddenness of it all that's funny, of course. But once you look past that, it's actually very nicely done besides that. It's a fairly well done satire of office politics in Japan, grounded in real human behavior in a real human situation. The biggest irony is that, for all the work they put into packing every garish and hyperactive second of the previous episodes with all sorts of visual and linguistic gags, the understated irony of this episode comes across as funnier.
What makes this whole thing delightful is that it will probably get people up in arms. It would actually be disappointing if it didn't. It's pretty clear this episode is 100% troll.
The drawings are how they are on purpose - not because Osamu Kobayashi can't draw or whatever it is he's usually criticized for. The whole thing is clearly an elaborate joke, and I'm positive Hiroyuki Imaishi is totally onboard with it.
What's the joke here? The joke is quite simply: This is Hamaji's Resurrection.
Back when it came out in 1995, Shinya Ohira's episode of The Hakkenden shocked and dismayed the viewers of that OVA series by suddenly abandoning the sleek, conventional drawings that came before in favor of ultra-realistic, ugly characters with distinctly Japanese features. The drawings here are closely modeled after the drawings in Hamaji.
Hence it's both a visual homage and a play on the sudden stylistic contrast that so shocked viewers. The joke is immediately apparent to anyone who's seen that episode. Except that Shinya Ohira was simply doing what he wanted to do - create more raw and powerful human drama, to do which he had to re-design the characters into realistic and believable human beings so that the drama would feel real - whereas this episode sets out to mimic that impact in a playful and ironic way. Actually not too surprising coming from this studio, and from a show with such a sassy sense of humor.
This episode may well be able to replicate the impact of Hamaji to an extent, since many, if not most, people who watch this show will never have heard of Ohira or any of this stuff. So they may react quite naturally in dismay to what they're seeing. I hope so. But it should be pretty obvious that it's a joke to most people, because the stylistic contrast is so extreme - taking the whole impact of Hamaji and ratchets it up to the logical extreme.
"What if we suddenly had an episode that was ultra-realistic in the middle of this super-cartoony show, like Hamaji's Resurrection?" You can just picture Kobayashi and Imaishi tittering away at the idea as they hatched their secret plot in the back rooms of the studio.
They could have gone even farther by completely divorcing the whole thing from the show. But they even were nice enough to integrate it all with the running concept of the show - that there is a ghost that Panty & Stocking have to come along and defeat. And they did it in a surprisingly poetic and meaningful way.
The old guy turns out to be a ghost, transformed by years of pent-up anger at the persecution and goading of his crass co-workers. When he's plied against his will with a tower of beers as humiliation by his boss, the geyser of projectile-vomited beer that he unleashes is a metaphor for his breaking point - all the anger and punishment he's bottled up behind the meek facade, finally coming out. He's the kind of guy who's always been used as a doormat by everyone he meets, gliding through life like a ghost invisible to everyone, until one day everyone learns what his name was when they see him on the news for going on a shooting spree.
So beyond the obvious visual parody aspect of this episode, it's actually got some teeth - it's a realistic satire on contemporary Japanese social mores that wouldn't have been out of place on Paranoia Agent.
But the sweet thing about this episode is that it's got a happy ending. Nobody notices it was him who was the ghost, ironically, and he got those signatures to make his little girl happy. He goes back to work to pretty much the same afterwards, though his coworkers maybe don't quite look down on him as much as before now that he's shown he can flip if pushed too far.
The episode has a lot of hilarious Kobayashi touches throughout - the little UFO at the beginning, the poster for an old period drama called Showa Zannyo-den, the hilarious little girl who acts naughty at the dinner table because of the bad influence of a cartoon called Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt, the ultra-realistic taxidermied sea turtle, etc. It's great because it actually doesn't look like Kobayashi - but it's clearly something only he could have done. In a way that's even better, because it shows off what he's really good at. In particular, the extended shots during of the dinner scene and the bar scene were really great. I love shots like this where he keeps the camera still and just observes all the little antics these characters go through.
Kobayashi, man, I love you. This was great. I'm so glad he's still getting to do his thing like this.
On the staff side of things, it should be mentioned that Osamu Kobayashi directed and stoyboarded and Takashi Mukoda was the animation director. Both were animators. Thus it's talented animator Takashi Mukoda whom we have to thank for the recreation of the look of Hamaji. Ayako Hata is present as an animator - she's well known for being good at doing scenes of nuanced everyday life acting, so her skills would have been put to good use here.
Masashi Karino, Emi Uehara, Chiaki Nakashima
Ayako Hata, Naoyuki Asano
Takashi Mukoda, Osamu Kobayashi
Groundwork: Osamu Kobayashi, Takashi Mukoda