Punch Line Complete Collection (Cert 15)
2 Disc Blu-ray/3 Discs DVD (Distributor: Animatsu Entertainment) Running time: 293 minutes approx.
We all have our weaknesses but they are for us alone to live with, so spare a thought for Yuta Iridatsu, a young lad whose personal problem is likely to have dire, nay cataclysmic consequences for the whole world. You see, if Yuta spies a girl’s panties twice in a row, he passes out from the loss of blood and an asteroid hits the earth.
All of this however is news to Yuta until December 21st the day he happened to be on a hijacked bus with his neighbour Rabura Chichibu, when the masked superhero Strange Fruit arrives to save the day. A miscommunication turns the tide to the hijacker’s favour until Yuta catches a glimpse of Rabura’s underwear and is consumed by a super powers, tackling the hijacker right off the bus and into the sea!
When Yuta is awakened by Strange Fruit he accidentally sees her underwear, freaks out and powers down just as a strange object falls from the sky and separates his soul from his body. Yuta then awakens in his apartment at Korai House, now in spirit form where a spirit cat named Chiranosuke informs Yuta that someone else has possessed his body and to get it back, he needs to find a book called Nandala Gandala.
Punch Line is that rare beast, an original anime – i.e. not derived from a manga, novel or game – yet one can spot its many influences and the familiar tropes and conventions it is lampooning. Developed by Studio MAPPA and from the pen of Kotaro Uchikoshi, this is one of the more deceptive shows to hit the scene in quite a while, subverting every genre yet combining them in an oddly coherent and intelligent manner.
The initial premise about the panty reaction is as daft as they come and sets us up for a ribald and unsubtle fan service comedy but this is really just a cleverly deceitful hook to get our attention. Quite quickly this becomes an incidental aspect of a much bigger and deeper story that covers so much diverse territory it is miraculous how it all comes to a satisfying conclusion inside just 12 episodes.
Equally remarkable is how it caters for practically every taste – fan service, comedy, drama, action, mecha, harem, superheroes, idols, fantasy, supernatural, quirky, slice-of-life, horror, science fiction, romance – and manages to be both tongue in cheek and earnestly serious towards them all at the same time.
With such a convoluted plot, discussing it depth mean to spoil it but there is also a need to expand up the earlier summary to get an idea of how substantial the content is. Because Yuta is a spirit he can travel through the apartment complex unnoticed by the other, all female, residents – landlord and inventor Meika Daihatsu, NEET Ito Hikiotani who owns a special bear cub, idol Mikatan Narugino, who is also Strange Juice, and Rabura Chichibu, an exorcists who doesn’t believe in ghosts.
Yuta’s search for the Nandala Gandala is a way to introduce the ladies and to reveal their quirks to the audience, all of which play an important part later on. Even in his spectral form Yuta can still suffer from the nosebleed issue if he sees panties, but he has the ability to start again from scratch. But, while he has a mission to accomplish, Yuta is forbidden to change the course of history without Chiranosuke’s permission first.
Here the script reveals its genius as the story becomes elliptical from episode seven where the events from before are viewed from a different perspective, but with an added twist as the seemingly mundane is now shown to make perfect sense. Not to mention that a surprise revelation about Yuta makes him one of the most unique protagonists in anime.
This evolves from a flashback tale of three young children named Pine, Guriko and Chiyoko, who are test subjects at a laboratory, while in the modern day timeline a terrorist organisation called Qmay Group are not only targeting the US and Japanese governments about the asteroid but also the resident of Korai House, resorting to dastardly measures to get what they want.
Admittedly it all sounds ridiculously barmy and lot to take in but once you are locked into its mindset it is easy to make sense of this apparent madness. But is it really madness? The presentation is overrun with lurid colours, characters designs are deliberately frothy and comical, and the humour bounces between ribald and surreal, but this belies the themes of identity, friendship and abuse of science which are quietly explored beneath the visual bombast.
However you choose to describe this series – whacky, silly, childish, noisy, funny, tragic, prurient, weird – one thing it is not is dull. There is a lot packed into every episode yet it is all congruent, and unlike other shows, it doesn’t rest on its laurels then hit us with a rush of last minute twists and deus ex machina resolves in the final episodes. Whether apparent or not, each episode moves the story forward, revealed through the time loop facet, again a vital plot point and not just a handy contrivance.
Much like the initial goofiness of the premise, don’t allow the cutesy imagery fool you into thinking this is a half-hearted presentation – the animation is smooth and fluid, with no signs of skimping or budget limitations. Backgrounds a lovingly detailed and the action/battle scenes are as frenetic and visually intense as anything else you have seen in anime.
Some shows take a while to make a connection and often the first episode is enough for people to decide of it is for them. Punch Line is the exception in that you have to keep watching to fully appreciate all it has to offer. Genius or madness, you decide, but there is unlikely to be another unique and rewarding viewing experience like this coming in 2016 and that is no joke!
Japanese Language 2.0 DTS-HD MA w/ English Subtitles
Disc 2 Only:
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Rating – ****
Man In Black