Pani Poni Dash
Rebecca Miyamoto is a sarcastic, cynical, and emotional 11 year-old girl genius teaching a high school class in Japan, dealing with loads of oddball shenanigans while doing so.
I have no idea why I like Pani Poni Dash. It's confusing, haphazard, and relies on pop culture references even more than Excel Saga and Lucky Star do. And it's not like high school comedy anime hasn't been a cult thing recently or anything...
And yet, I like it more than Azumanga Daioh. Yes, you heard me correct.
Although it took me until episode 4 to really "find a groove" with Pani Poni Dash, once I did I was happy. I think part of what makes this series work is that its cast is eccentric and funny, the parodies are fast but not too obscure, and that the series seldom rests on a subject matter for very long (which means no 2 minute volleyball games like in that one episode of Azumanga Daioh). Just look at any episode where "Becky" (as her students call her) is teaching her class, and you're bound to see quotes from Fist of the North Star to Maria-sama ga Miteru and Yokohama Shopping Trip. If you've been watching anime for a couple of years now, you'll find plenty of references to laugh at (and thank goodness ADV did a Pop-Up Video-type thing for the DVDs like they did with Excel Saga).
The characters, although colorful and bountiful, aren't the most original ones in the bunch. Imagine if Mihama Chiyo was a teacher with the attitude of her own teacher from Azumanga Daioh and you're not too far (and you guessed it, her being 11 means there's lots of scenes of her in cute costumes, most of them by force). Still, she's more likable than I thought she'd be, and she will help out her students when they require her guidance. Her students are fun, but bland as well; you have the weird one (Ichijo, a mishmash of AzuDai's Osaka and Happy Lesson's Kisaragi, who has the best moments in the series), the hyperactive one (Himeko), the worrywart about her grades (Miyako), the smart one with glasses and big breasts (Rei, who's like a really cold version of Azumanga Daioh's Yomi), the average one (Kurumi), and the nice one (Sayaka, though no one calls her that). Funny enough, pretty much the only original in the series is the mascot, a very emotional rabbit named Mesousa, who gets worried/depressed quite easily, about ... well, everything. He is often followed/stalked by a cat who proclaims himself to be God, who is also amusing ("The soda is body temperature, nya").
The other teachers are more-or-less secondary characters. Saotome is the PE teacher who gets treated like crap by his students (despite being the only normal, nice teacher). Igarashi Miyuki, another homeroom teacher, is often seen drunk at school, and like with Saotome, often looked down upon. And finally, there's Jiji (old man), who often makes warnings to his class if they don't listen to him (in one episode, he tells them he'll look every time at night as they sleep. The class quieted down quite a bit after that). They teach some of the odder students in the school, such as a magical girl (literally), a girl who dresses up as a robot, a girl who brings her pets (like ostriches and snakes!) to school, a foreign exchange student who ends all his sentences in ".com", and more.
Oh yeah, there are also these aliens who watch over everything Rebecca does (and actually add onto the plot later on). These segments tend to drag, with most of the humor revolving around aliens doing very Japanese things such as playing go and eating ramen. But they do occasionally have their moments, and it is funny that one of the aliens' actors was also the face of Captain Kirk in the Japanese dub of Star Trek.
If it sounds like there's a lot going on, there is. With so many characters and smaller plots going around throughout the series, Pani Poni Dash wastes no expense at trying to be as different as possible from its contemporaries. And some of its spoofs are quite clever: half of one episode, for example, has the characters talking to each other like a 32-bit RPG game, complete with text boxes and repetitive mouth movements when they talk. Then another episode would highlight something such as a car chase or an alien invasion or Becky's class being stuck in her (very crazy) dream world, or even an obligatory summer pool episode (that takes place in the middle of a freak heat wave in winter). And all the while while make references and gags out of everything from Candy Candy to Super Mario Bros..
The animation isn't all that impressive, but the show is often colorful and creative with its budget. The characters are plenty cute, and rarely does the show rely on fan service or breasts jokes (and nary a panty shot to be found). One thing I enjoyed was how sometimes out of random the characters would go chibi, turn back from chibis, etc. (one later episode has a character being forced to go chibi by her classmates, which she eventually does). There are also scenes where it seems like the anime is set up like a live-action show, such as production crew members walking around in the background. Another neat touch is how the un-named student extras are often represented by either stock character designs cloned 20 times over, or animals, or dolls. Yet another cute touch is that every episode's end card is illustrated by a different artist or mangaka, including Kiyohiko Azuma himself!
The voices are mostly good, with strong actors/actresses in the line up, such as Yukino Satsuki, Orikasa Fumiko, Sakurai Takahiro, Horie Yui and Nanoka Ai, whose role as Ichijo has her steal nearly every scene she's in. There are some annoying voices (and too many of them in the high-pitch variety), but they never reach a level of truly obnoxious, which is more than I can say for a lot of other anime these days (Kugimiya Rie, anyone?). The music is good, and the extremely catchy OP/ED themes are as weird as the anime they're being presented in.
Pani Poni Dash isn't perfect. Except for Mesousa (arguably), there's no stand-out characters (like School Rumble's Harima Kenji, or Azumanga Daioh's Osaka). It takes a while to hit its stride, jokes tend to repeat themselves often, and it has scenes that drag out from time to time. Unlike Azumanga Daioh, which is pretty accessible for everyone, Pani Poni Dash is a lot more selective with its audience: you either love its funny, moe, parody-laden comedy, or you won't. However, if you're been waiting for the next Excel Saga, Pani Poni Dash is the closest thing you're gonna get.
Takes a while to get good, but once you get into it it's a lot of fun to watch. — Tim Jones
Recommended Audience: Although there's little fan service and no nudity, there is some rough language and suggestive themes that put this squarely in the teens and up category.
Version(s) Viewed: Prerelease fansub; R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (26/26)
Pani Poni Dash © 2005 Square Enix
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