Paniponi Dash!. It's a highschool comedy, featuring a sizeable menagerie of girls and a genius teacher. It's also based, I believe, on a 4-koma manga series. Put those two together, and there's a reasonable list of other shows that I could compare this to - and I can think of several of them that are more enjoyable than this. It's not all bad, though...
What They Say
The girls of Momotsuki Academy's Class 1-C are starting their tenth-grade year with a brand-new teacher. The good news? The teacher is an MIT grad. The bad news? She's only 11 years old! So, while Becky Miyamoto may be an intellectual titan, this child prodigy is painfully ill-equipped to deal with a group of temperamental teens - especially THIS group.
There's the bitchy heather, the ADD spazz, the angry nerd, the identical twins, the invisible girl, the freaky class president, the drama geek, the Nancy Drew(tm), the gamer, and the princess! Whew! As if that weren't enough mayhemic potential, add a pathetic, perpetually abused stuffed bunny and idiotic aliens watching her every move. It's no wonder Becky's prone to crying fits, tirades, and flipping the class the bird.
The set provides audio in both Japanese 2.0 and English 5.1 versions - I listened to the Japanese track for this review. It's a fairly standard audio mix, with good use made of the available channels for placing both dialogue and effects in a way that leaves them clear and easy to pick out. The show doesn't make huge use of background music, but what there is is decent enough.
The show is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, and has a distinctive visual style that's heavy on pastel colours. These come across well, with nothing noticeable in the way of visual defects on my setup. There's the occasional switch to a darker look for particular scenes, and again these are handled well by the encode. Thumbs up all round.
The set comes in two clear thinpack cases, each hold two discs, contained with a cardboard slipcase that's not much thicker than a standard DVD case. The slipcase cover features Becky and some of her class, while the rear has the usual promotional blurb and screenshots. The technical information panel is on the bottom edge. The thinpacks, meanwhile, each have a collage of the original Japanese DVD covers on the front, episode listings on the rear, and more artwork of Becky and her students on the reverse.
As simple as you're ever likely to see, both discs feature static menus, with the main screen featuring the disc's episode listing scribbled on a blackboard, and a single submenu for language settings. Quick and easy is the order of the day.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
Right. Genius teacher with a class of girls, all older than them? That's Negima!. Based on a 4-koma? I could drop Azumanga Daioh! in there, and probably Doki Doki School Hours as well. All of those shows, including Paniponi Dash!, have a certain frenetic feel to them and a tendency not to make much sense in places - that's not necessarily bad, but it has to be done right if you don't want to leave the audience wondering what the hell is going on, and after watching the first five episodes I was thinking that this was the series that's least successful at doing that.
The second problem, at least in the beginning, is a lack of likeable characters. Becky herself starts off annoying in the extreme, switching between obnoxious brat and picked-on-girl-in-tears at the drop of a hat. As for her class, there are so many of them - and the series takes so long to flesh out their personalities, in its frenzied need to always be moving on to something else, that it takes a while before you begin to warm to any of them. It does eventually happen, though, while Becky herself also mellows as the series progresses.
Add in an alien side-plot that really serves no purpose other than to provide an occasional change of scenery and that makes even less sense than the rest of the show (they're observing Becky, for reasons never revealed), and my first reaction to the series was to scratch my head and wonder "wtf!?". Not the best of first impressions, and f I'd been being the series as single discs you can bet I would never have made it past volume one.
But it would be a waste to dump a series set so soon, and it fortunately got better from there. First, there are the little things happening in the background, a lot of which you'd probably miss if you didn't have a certain background. First up was a cameo appearance by what looked suspiciously like a certain 4chan-derived bear, who has a habit of sneaking up in the most unlikely places. Add in another scene where ancient 1980s Konami coin-op Hyper Olympic was running the background, and there was a certain level of geeky thumbs-up from me. I used to rock Hyper Olympic when I was about 12, on one occasion being kicked out of the arcade after spending 4 hours on the machine on one coin. Those were the days. Now, though, I'm 38, and such things don't get me the credit they used to. I'm also figuring that for every background reference that I caught, there were probably several I missed but that would be caught by someone else.
As for it not being funny.. well, once the first few episodes were out of the way, the series certainly did a better job of teasing a few giggles out of me, along with a few snorts of derision. Perhaps that was simply down to me having been in a better mood when I was watching the later episodes (although aren't comedies meant to cheer you up when you're down?), but I did get the feeling that more of an effort was being made, that the situations the gang were finding themselves were simply funnier than they had been in the beginning. A fairly blunt reliance on fanservice in some places didn't do any harm, either.
If there's an example of how to get this sort of over-the-top, slapstick comedy right, though, episode 16 is your shining example. It takes on a number of long-standing anime tropes and goes all out to have a little fun with the idea, heavily referencing the Mazinkaiser style of gung-ho, burning action giant robo shows that we really don't see enough of these days - and in the process making the ep a particular treat if you're nostalgic about the "good old days" of anime. If the whole series managed to keep up the standard of that one episode, we would have a classic on our hands.
It doesn't, though, and that's probably Paniponi Dash's biggest problem - it's inconsistent, often swinging from really rather good to very poor in the space of two episodes. You never know when you start an episode if you're going to finish it entertained or annoyed - and the 50/50 chance of it being the latter makes you just a little reluctant to take the chance at all. Better to watch something where you know what the end result will be, perhaps. As the series approaches the end, it slips back to being a chore to watch as it tries to do too much, with the episodes having to jump back and forth between different ideas so much that it's even more difficult than usual to keep track of what's going on. Paniponi Dash uses its frenetic pacing, always hovering at the edge of confusion, as part of "what it does", but towards the end the concept is pushed a little too far, resulting in something of a mess.
The end result is a series where it's a five-minute mental battle before each episode as to whether you really want to watch it or not, and I'm finding that, despite the show's occasional high points, all too often I couldn't be bothered. Paniponi Dash is okay as far as it goes, but there are better shows of its ilk out there.
Despite some mid-season highlights, then, Paniponi Dash ends as it began - a confusing mess. The show isn't without its appeal, but it simply tries to do to much with the time that it has and can't keep juggling it all well enough to avoid falling flat. It's okay as far as it goes, but ultimately is a missed opportunity.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37" widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.