In last week's column, I mentioned that a couple of foul-mouthed angels might be showing up in this space soon. Those of you who are even marginally perceptive could have guessed that I was referring to two of the most violent, stylish, divisive women to appear in recent anime, Anarchy Panty and Anarchy Stocking.
Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt might seem like an odd choice for this space; it's an ecchi anime series in which several episodes are based around diarrhea, boogers, vomit, and several other bodily fluids that might best be left unmentioned at this time. The show disgusted a lot of critics by the end of its first episode; many chided it for its focus on "base" humor and its strange brand of audience-pandering. I've made no secret of my opinion on bathroom humor; in a comedy environment that seems so utterly steeped in the mentality that to crack a valid joke means to demean other human beings and that people who object to race humor, sexist humor, or rape jokes are simply "too sensitive" (or humorless feminists, take your pick), I am proud to laugh at jokes based around poop, pee, and flatulence. This anime series has provided me with several opportunities to enjoy that type of humor, and for that I'm thankful.
That's not the reason I'm talking about it here, though.
I got into a bit of a heated discussion with a friend on Facebook a couple of weeks ago that prompted me to want to write about this series. I'd mentioned that, despite having several problematic elements, I thought that the show had a fairly strong feminist message at its core. In return, I got that old chestnut about thinking too hard about media that "isn't worth it." Challenge accepted!
Panty and Stocking is the very representation of the type of show that disguises its better elements amongst those which are crowd-pleasing, pandering, and occasionally problematic. Despite the show's cutesy character designs, there's plenty of fanservice (though of a type which somehow avoids being too grotesque), a lot of violence, and tons of flashy animation. It gets some of its laughs from parodying other media (another type of humor that I personally condone and enjoy in most cases), but it gets more from the fact that both its main characters spout a nearly endless parade of profanity, despite the fact that they're supposedly heavenly beings. The show makes a couple of major missteps in that there are occasional references to priest-and-S&M-enthusiast Garterbelt's fondness for young boys (considering the fact that there are still victims of sexual abuse by priests who haven't received justice, this is in particularly poor taste), and one episode in particular could be construed as fat-shaming (or could it? More on that later). Overall, though, the series puts some ideas up on the table that are, dare I say it, rather progressive.
There are very few anime series that I'd peg as being intentionally feminist in nature. Mononoke is one of them, and I hope to talk about that one some more at a later time. However, while there are plenty of anime that I consider to do a decent job when it comes to telling women's stories and some which even manage to convey some very empowering messages, I would hesitate to ascribe that intent to those creating the stories themselves. In this show's case, I'm similarly apprehensive as to its authorial intent, but that doesn't change the fact that the subjects on which it touches - slut-shaming, body-policing, the retaking of demeaning names given to women and the rebellion against the social rules that have bound them for ages - are important to me as a critic, feminist, and woman. I find it humorous and fascinating that all these things can be found in a series that spends half the first episode dealing with the wrath of a diarrhea monster. Then again, the need to poop is one of the great equalizers.
I hope you'll remain open-minded as I talk about the many reasons why I enjoy this series in the coming weeks.
Disclaimer time! It should go without saying that the upcoming interpretation and critique of the series is my own. If anyone should feel so inclined to tell me that this isn't a show that should be critiqued through a feminist lens, be aware that this is not the space to say so. Ditto if you think that I'm "over-thinking" the show and its themes.