First Look: Punchline

punchline_title

Alternative titles: Punch Line
Anime Original by MAPPA
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Premise

Something something panties.

Artemis’ verdict: Nope Nope Nope

I cannot for the life of me work out why MAPPA, a relatively new studio which nonetheless already has several great shows under its belt including Kids on the Slope, Terror in Resonance, and Rage of Bahamut, decided it would be a good idea to produce an anime about panties. A show which, incidentally, has absolutely no business airing on noitaminA – a programming block supposedly intended to help broaden the anime target audience beyond the young male demographic. Let me be clear: Punchline is not avant-garde. Hell, it’s not even sexy. And no, it’s not empowering, not to anyone. Don’t expect a visually experimental commentary on puberty and modern life à la FLCL, and don’t expect its female characters to have any kind of agency or its fanservice to at least be equal-opportunity as in Kill la Kill; this is literally a show about panties, from the perspective of a male teenage protagonist. At this point I’m not even morally outraged at the series itself – because let’s face it, everyone’s probably seen far worse – so much as I am insulted that of all the things that could have been made by these people, this is the thing we get instead. For shame.

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Jel’s verdict: Takkun! You Can’t Do That! That Power is MINE!!!

I probably don’t need to pile on Punchline as the rest of the crew is doing a fine job pointing out it’s flaws, but with all the comparisons to FLCL aka My Favorite Anime of All Time going around I figured I’d chime in. I can definitely see hints of the the old school Gainax bizarre, pervy sense of humor, particularly in the opening scene as Strange Juice trounces some bad guys with a massive drinking straw. But whereas those old series had fantastic writing and gave their heroines a modicum of respect and empowerment, Punchline fails pretty badly in both areas. Before you even get to the gratuitous panty shots, the episode clumsily falls into infodumping arbitrary rules that all too conveniently tap into our hero’s teenage libido, because THAT’S never been done before. If we go back to FLCL one of my favorite things is how it never tells you anything, instead it densely packs every second of every episode with clues for you to figure it out yourself, absorbing the message in the process. The fact that Punchline feels like a clunky, over-explained light novel adaptation when the creators had complete freedom to avoid all that is probably it’s biggest failing. Add on the cardboard cutout female cast and all the issues everyone else mentioned and this is a big disappointment.

Iro’s verdict: Seek A Way Out of Anime Hell

On paper, a collaboration between MAPPA and Zero Escape‘s Kotaro Uchikoshi (and airing on noitaminA!) sounds like sweet music, but Punch Line is the complete opposite of that. It is exactly as skeevy, uncomfortable, and off-putting as all of the previews made it look, with an extra helping of racism (seriously, why bother making the dark-skinned character white? IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE). The plot set-up about repeatedly going into the past and stopping a mysterious terrorist organization unmistakably marks this as Uchikoshi’s work, and there are a handful of clever jokes scattered throughout, but those are like the sprinkles on a shit sundae. I can only hope that this is some bizarre deal-with-the-devil for Uchikoshi to gain capital for Zero Escape 3, because otherwise it’s incredibly depressing to see that anime like Punch Line exist.

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Aqua’s verdict: I Donno

It’s surprising to see how differently you’ll look at something when you’re a fan of the people involved. If I didn’t know Kotaro Uchikoshi, the writer of the absolutely brilliant Zero Escape visual novels, was involved in Punch Line, I wouldn’t even have watched it. Now, I’m only ever more baffled by its existence than I was back when it was announced. The original anime project, written by a man known for his intense, hard sci-fi thrillers, animated by the wizards who made Terror in Resonance and Rage of Bahamut: Genesis, and airing in celebration of the tenth anniversary of a time slot designed to appeal to a audience broader than the usual 18-to-35-years-old male nerds, is a show about panties. There is no surprise. There is no brilliant twist. There is no clever commentary. It is a show about panties.

Nevertheless, it’s odd to see just how much of Uchikoshi’s pet tropes are present in Punch Line. It is essentially a video game, with quite literal leveling up mechanics and trial-and-error ‘gameplay’, even. Like the Zero Escape games, Punch Line makes use of the visual novel ‘multiple routes’ structure, and essentially sends its protagonist through a groundhog day loop, forcing him to use his ghostly powers to find a magical McGuffin that can bring him back to life. If he sees panties twice, it’s game over, and he has to start back at the beginning. It’s a set-up which could possibly lead to a lot of creative wackiness, and with its colourful animation, oddball superhero side plot and slapstick humour, Punch Line does manage to deliver some marginal entertainment. There is, however, a reason why Uchikoshi’s visual novels are so acclaimed: They succeed where virtually every other visual novel fails and manage to use the medium’s structure to their advantage. Punch Line tries the same, but in doing so forgets that it is an anime, not a video game. There is simply no reason for it to incorporate game mechanics that aren’t there, and as a result only ends up alienating.

Even then, I’d be willing to play along with Punch Line — if only for the fact that it seems to be trying so hard at being good. This goodwill is, in all frankness, completely unjustified. Punch Line is puerile, unfunny, poorly written trash that exists primarily to hide its voyeuristic intentions behind a layer of violent zaniness. The girls are only here to show off the newest pastel-coloured Victoria’s Secret collection — even the slouchy, unfashionable NEET girl wears the most elaborate lingerie — and given his ectoplasmic state, don’t even get to interact with the main character. Given Punch Line‘s video game-esque setup, they are reduced to objects — obstacles, even — who only inconvenience our poor, hapless hero with their irresistible feminine allure. That’s, honestly, all there is to it. It’s a show about panties. There is no punch line.

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2 thoughts on “First Look: Punchline

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