So if you’ve browsed the internet over the past few months or so, you may have come across two bizarre looking schoolgirl cartoon characters with massive eyes and cat faces flipping people the bird. It’s unconfirmed whether or not the blue haired girl Pipimi and her shorter blonde friend Popuko are massive Stone Cold Steve Austin fans, but we do know they’re the two stars of Pop Team Epic, a web-manga from creator Bkub Okawa that was published on Takeshobo’s Manga Life Win site.
There’s more meaning in their trademark middle finger gestures than you’d think. It’s more or less a visual indicator of how little respect Pop Team Epic and Okawa have for the usual tropes and clichés found in the anime movement in general. The massive fake-out he pulled by teasing the development of what turned out to be the fake shoujo series Hoshiiro Girldrop proved this and then some.
The comic recently saw a spike in popularity when an anime premiered earlier this year, and since then it’s quickly caught on with an American audience- no doubt due to how it’s, somehow, simultaneously batshit insane and self-aware. Not to mention it’s got a remarkably catchy theme song, complemented by fun visuals in the intro.
Similar to many western cartoon characters, Popuko and Pipimi don’t operate behind a fourth wall, as they’re more than happy to engage with the audience and bounce between all sorts of genres in their parodies. The show features nods to games like Kirby and Final Fantasy, as well as different manga and anime properties.
But now and then you’ll also see an American or western based spoof, like the duo performing an Earth, Wind & Fire inspired dance number or Popuko trying to impersonate Mickey Mouse while avoiding copyright infringement. My favorite was a nod to Wacky Races when Popuko races the skeleton in the Winter Olympics, and then proceeds to give the term “performance enhancement” new meaning.
Pipimi is generally the calmer and more reserved of the two girls, but that isn’t saying a whole lot given how she bought a new red sports car because it’d mask the blood. Her friend Popuko is much more aggressive and violent, more than happy to make fun of fantasy warriors when the duo wanders into an action anime’s storyboards, and also violently attack other schoolgirls who sing over her.
The nature of their relationship varies between each sketch, depending on what would best serve the joke. One of my favorite spins was a mini-documentary where Pipimi plays a manager who discovers the blonde pigtailed girl in a nightclub. She makes her a pop idol, which somehow leads to Popuko clones taking over the world.
Both the comic and the PTE anime’s overly satirical spirit put me in the mind of shows like Animaniacs and Family Guy. Heck, the first episode features piss takes of acclaimed properties like Your Name, Pokemon and My Neighbor Totoro, and even what came off like a stylistic nod to Guardians of the Galaxy when a dual gun-wielding Pipimi rescues her friend from a top secret laboratory.
There’s a steady effort from the show to keep the viewer on their toes in terms of the humor, including how it consistently changes the voices of the schoolgirls (shifting between either a two male or two female pairing) for each episode.
The show’s jokes come at a rapid pace, and while they’re usually pretty varied and creative, some of them are stronger than others. Some are hilarious and will genuinely catch you off guard, but there’s also a lot of experimentation going on, with different segments being outsourced to different animation studios.
One example would be the “Bob Epic Team” sequences, which showcases an animation style change that’s very well drawn but visually twisted. Another segment features Pipimi daydreaming about rock star Hellshake Yano, whose story is told by live actors holding up sketchpads. This show has a creative energy that’s akin to Tim and Eric- they share what’s almost a “knuckleball” approach to comedy in how it relies on unpredictability. Pipimi and Popuko might as well be the schoolgirl equivalents of Phil and Joe Nierko.
Overall, I think Pop Team Epic is a fun series that’s rooted in good-natured trolling. The girls’ swearing comes off more mischievous than forced, and the satire is usually on point. The one thing I admire about this cartoon is its unwillingness to become stagnant. Comedy is rooted in discomfort at its base level, and it knows how to walk what’s often a fine line between the right amount of discomfort and genuine, well-timed surprise. This isn’t a manga for everyone by any means, but I’d say check it out if you have the time- just for how original it feels.
Have you checked out Pop Team Epic yet? Send us a line about it on @officialFAN!