Punchline – 02

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For the second time in two weeks, Punchline has surprised me.

I’m still not fully sure what we’ve got in Punchline, but I am sure that it seems to be missing the mark with most of the anime audience.  That’s not remotely surprising given how little it resembles the bulk of modern anime, but even for someone who’s been around a while and understands what language this series is speaking, it’s still a bit of a mystery.  Punchline can’t be labeled simply as a Gainax clone, despite all the obvious Gainax influences literal and stylistic – the story was created by an established writer with no prior Gainax ties whatsoever.

While the first episode saw the Gainax gene clearly dominate the proceedings, the second saw Uchikoushi Koutarou’s influence move to the fore.  There was still a lot of craziness here (again it’s Chirnaosuke who gets the biggest laugh – the whole cat using a mouse thing), but this was a screenplay-driven rather than director/animation director-driven ep – there was a lot of heavy lifting for the plot and character developments to follow that took place.  In the process Punchline answered a question about what sort of series it intends to try and be – now the question will be whether it has the chops to pull it off.

I fear the battle of public opinion may already be lost, and the audience has mostly tuned Punchline out, but I actually feel pretty optimistic after the second episode.  It manages to establish the cast of Korai (“Since Ancient Times”) House as fairly interesting and distinct individuals, and plant the seeds for what could be an almost coherent plot.  If one looks at say, FLCL, the underlying story there was about a pubescent boy trying to save the Earth – with the fate of the planet more or less resting on his rapidly-evolving libido.  One is hesitant to keep falling back on that comparison, but it’s seriously unavoidable here.

The residents of this looney bin of a mansion are as follows:

  • Iridatsu Yuuta – The protagonist.
  • Daihatsu Meika (Kugimiya Rie) – Seemingly the manager, possibly an inventor, sees herself as a den mother.  One of Rie’s more winning performances since Kyousougiga.
  • Chichibu Rabura (Tomastu Haruka) – Bogus exorcist and probably virgin whose mother and grandmother apparently were legit (or at least successful) exorcists.  Keeps a pet turtle.  Big drinker and close friend of Yuuta’s older sister (currently studying abroad in America.  Oh, boy…).
  • Narugino Mikatan (Amamiya Sora) – a girl from the sticks pretending to be from Tokyo as part of her front as idol “She’s Mei”.  But the idol character itself is a front for her role as Strange Juice, the superheroine.  Hates turtles.
  • Hikiotani Ito (Kotobuki Minako) – The most plot-critical so far.  She’s a hikikomori who refuses to go to school because of an “incident”, and was sent to Korai House to avoid embarrassing her politician father.  May be enrolled at the same school as Yuuta-kun – certainly his closest friend among the tenants of Korai.  Keeps a pet bear cub she calls “Muhi“.

I really, really hate to harp on it but – the protagonist has an older sibling who’s gone off to America, and that sibling’s friend seems to sexually tease him?  At least she called him “Yuu-tan” rather than “Takkun” – which would have fit with his name…

Again, it’s Ito’s story that seems most plot-critical for now – this incident at school, plus the fact that her name appears on a list of victims from a “Ringu” style teen-terror legend.  And Ito’s pain is given the most emotional traction in the episode – it’s clearly she with whom Yuuta, as a fellow kid and fellow hacker/gamer, most closely identifies.  And there are signs she might be genuinely mentally ill, plus the whole weird business with Muhi – though her attempts to pass him off as her 2nd-grader brother are pretty hilarious.

I don’t know what to make of all this yet, but I will say this much – for me at least, Punchline managed to make the jump from pure random ecchi comedy to something like a story pretty successfully.  This episode was not nearly as scattershot as the first, but despite the fact that I would have worried any attempts to get “serious” would break the spell, I don’t think it did.  As I said in my Kekkai Sensen premiere post it’s the ability to weave in a compelling story and characters that separate the good examples of this genre from the great ones, so while this is undoubtedly the riskier path for Punchline to take it’s also the most potentially rewarding.

I can say this much – I found myself looking forward to this episode much more than I would have expected, and was disappointed when it ended so soon.  There’s a good basic structure here – apartment houses full of oddball young people with zany quirks can be fertile ground both for comedy and drama.  VN storylines can be notoriously difficult to translate to anime, but when a really good VN scenario writer works specifically for anime or even light novels, the results can be impressive – take Tanaka Romeo as an example.  I have no idea whether Uchikoushi is capable of that, but the early indications are promising, and I find myself extremely curious to find out.

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  1. c

    Great post, Enzo. I'm of a similar sense, and the focus on the characters really did it for me. By the end of this episode I found myself incredibly fond of them.

    To touch on something that interested me in how differently it was done this week, the panchira.

    While the first episode was all about the flash, the shock, and the wow, this week… all but one were incidental. Something about it was less male fanservice and more a normalization of women's bodies. That yes, to some they might be sexy yet that doesn't mean always sexual. I don't know if I'm reaching here, but despite the often panchira or boob jiggle or… whatever, it didn't feel at all at the expense of the women? Just normal women moving normally, animated fluidly, no big deal. I'm not sure it's intentional yet at the same time it could be? If this is Yuuta's hormonal adolescent story why not also the women's agency in it? And perhaps the sex-obsessed cat is like. The tempter in that. Is the Punchline in how we handle the panchira?

    Man, that's a lot of question marks. Not sure if I made sense there. It's just. The lady characters are treated with such love here despite everything. Almost feels like the Noitamina block is back for the josei crew.

  2. Heh – I'm definitely not prepared to go as far as your last sentence! But I do think there's something deeper going on here, just as there was in the better Gainax series. That may be wishful thinking, but what I hear of Uchikoushi's track record gives me some hope.

  3. c

    It's a stretch, that's for sure! 😛

    To run a little further on this mad line of thought, perhaps this 'male fanservice' show on the Noitamina block is a way to indirectly address the trend of both the anime industry and how it handles women in general. Like gently speaking to male otaku + teens, "It's okay to have sexual urges. That's normal. Never hate yourself for it. But don't forget who you're impacting when you think of women this way, or the cool irl ladies you could be spending time with," and to women (even fujoushi?), "We're trying. We're here for you. You can be yourself and feel comfortable about that."

    Dang, that was crazy. And sappy. Better kick myself in the butt and re-put on my game face. 😛

  4. R

    I don't think I could make THAT grand of a statement for Punchline, but I'll give it the fact that it's a hell of a lot less demeaning that some other ecchi/harem series.

    That being said, that's a really, REALLY, low bar in most cases.

  5. The fact that Uchikoushi has come right out and said "wait till episode 6 before you decide what it's about" makes me believe something like that is at least remotely possible. Though I agree, I don't think anything nearly that sweeping is going on here. I just think it's an old-school zany fanservice show that links puberty and saving the world, albeit one with a good bit of satire in it.

  6. c

    You guuuuys! Why are you taking my silly (and sappy) theories seriously?! XD

    As interesting it was to take my personal impressions on the fanservice off into the realm of the wild and fantastical, Uchikoushi isn't known for 'sweeping' statements in his stories anyway. But I do hope he gives us a good show.

  7. S

    The thing with the panty shots is, in fact, they feel more and more random. Like, something completely unrelated happens, then turns out it's a super-elaborate setup for a scene where a panty shot happens (like the turtle one). Considering their plot-critical relevance, I wonder whether they ARE meant to feel almost a bit forced – "punched in" the story, so to say. Could it be actually a plot cue? Dunno.

    By the way, loved the scene where Yuuta got a panty shot and his usual superpowered hair but since the context was sober didn't flinch nor move or scream at all. In fact, it's all pretty weird – he is not some kind of pervert, nor it is explained why only panty shots should elicit such a reaction from him. He's not actively seeking to peek on girls either. The supposed "excitation" that maxes out at the first panchira (and blows the planet up at the second) is something that looks not only outside of his control, but also something he does not really enjoy either. It looks foreign to him. A bit like puberty, I guess…

    And yeah, the comparisons with FLCL are way too obvious. Though the combination big drinker + sexually teasing the protagonist + weird pet also screams Evangelion – not that the two aren't connected thematically and historically…

  8. Yeah, the Misato trope is pretty omnipresent generally, but certainly unmissable there.

    I would say some characterization for Yuuta is the biggest missing piece at this stage. That can be (but isn't always) a problem when VN writers write anime.

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