Last time, after I posted my previous "Women in Anime" entry, my husband said to me, "you know, you gave a lot of reasons why people might not like Panty as much as Stocking, but not many reasons why you do like her." Perceptive as always, that man. I decided to use my time this week to talk a little bit more in-depth about what it is about Anarchy Panty that has fascinated me, before getting back to more meaty discussion about the characters and the show itself.
I think I should make it clear upfront that, while I'm a big-time Panty fan, I'm painfully aware (and perhaps simultaneously impressed) that she's a very flawed person. It's neither her rampant sexuality nor her especially foul mouth that give me pause; those, to me, are charm points. What bothers me about her are the many examples of her thoughtlessness towards other characters, especially Stocking. I don't think that there's anything wrong with being ambitious or even selfish at times, because there are times where putting one's self first is warranted. To be forever self-sacrificing is to become a doormat. Yet Panty sometimes steps on the shoulders of others to her own benefit. There are several times where she's directly and deliberately rude to Stocking, whether that entails editing her out of their film debut or making fun of her for going on a diet. The two have a bit of a bickering, adversarial relationship, but there are times where I consider Panty to have gone beyond the simple back-and-forth arguing that defines many of their interactions.
That said, and despite the double-billing of the show's title, I'm of the opinion that Panty is the main character and star of this anime series, especially later in the second half. She undergoes some of the most substantial character development, participates more fully in the "climax" (heh heh), and also serves as an example of the show's more important feminist themes (more on that another week).
My appreciation of Panty isn't entirely a reaction to her attitude, though that's a big part of it. As I stated in an earlier post, one of the things I like about her as a character is that she is unapologetic about getting what she wants and being the person she wants to be. As mentioned above, this propensity for self-centeredness occasionally spells trouble for other characters, but on the whole I find it really refreshing that there's a character in anime who doesn't give a hooty-hoo about others' opinions of her, and makes getting what she wants out of life a priority.
This really goes against conventional wisdom about what's appealing in female anime characters, and based on that factor alone I get a little giddy inside. Say what you want about moé culture and characterization (I am not going to go into any detail about it here, nor am I willing to argue minutiae), but part of what disappoints me about that fandom movement is the homogenization of female characters in anime, at least when it comes to their use across various different shows. Whatever their specific stories may be, I think it's fairly clear that one of their ultimate purposes is to exist in a way that's appealing for male viewers. In Panty's case, though, I feel as though her confrontational sexuality (and, by extension, that of the rest of the show) is meant to work in contrast to this sort of pandering. Whether or not one finds her to be sexually-exciting in spite of that is incidental, in my opinion. As I've said before, I like that her goal is to have sex (and "pleasing-to-her" sex, at that), because it not only introduces sexuality to the series in a way most anime series don't dare, but also represents a type of woman-focused sexuality that is largely absent from anime, period.
There are certain, less-obvious aspects of Panty that endear her to me, though. I think as the series goes on there's an element of desperation to her existence. After a certain point, Stocking gives in to pressure and begins to perform her duties in earnest, while Panty clings to her partying lifestyle. Finally, Panty's sister is whisked away to Heaven while she's left to fend for herself. While I certainly don't condemn her sexy lifestyle, there's a point at which her actions seem like an attempt to fill the void that Stocking has left by leaving. Left without a constant source of whatever kind of sibling love it is that exists between them, Panty is left searching for it in other ways.
There's something very poignant to me about this, perhaps because this feeling of abandonment is, sadly, not all that foreign to me. I'm surrounded in my life by people who have at some point buckled down and decided to do things "the right way" and been rewarded with responsible jobs and other benefits; as someone whose job is more a means to continue to do what I'm doing rather than what I'd call a career that I love, the feeling that I've been left-behind or have done something wrong with my life is ever-present, even as I fill my time with activities that appeal to me. I find myself looking at people running through the green grass on the other side of the fence, and there are times where I feel like "not giving in" and becoming, to put it cynically, another cog in the mechanism, has been a poor decision. I see some of that conflict expressed as part of Panty's storyline and character evolution, and it really speaks to me on a fundamental level.
On the more superficial end, I'm impressed by Panty's many costume-changes throughout the series. As someone else mentioned recently, it's uncommon for anime show runners to dress their characters in more than one or two different outfits throughout an entire series; Panty has several costumes that crop up over several episodes, in addition to her iconic red dress. At the very least, it gives cosplayers plenty of options.
I like that she's not willing to put up with rules, and that she takes back the word "bitch" as a label.
I love her boldness, and I admire her strength. I love that she learns to fall in love.
They've been difficult for me to articulate, but these are some of the reasons why Panty has always appealed to me more on some level. In essence, she's just one of those standout characters that showed up during a time in my life where I really needed to see someone like her as part of my diet of entertainment. I'm sure just about everyone has a character that's spoken to them in a similar way.
Next time I'll continue forward once again and shift the focus to Stocking and the messages conveyed by some of her starring moments.