To say that Pop Team Epic’s brand of humor is not for everybody would be an understatement.
If you spent enough time around enough anime fans online over the last few years, you are virtually guaranteed to have encountered fan translations of the webcomic Pop Team Epic, even if you didn’t know what the heck you were seeing. The four-panel gag series featuring a small girl (Popuko) and a tall girl with a long face (Pipimi, not Barnacle Jim) has inspired a variety of memes due to its meta-comedy, focus on Internet subculture, and propensity for rude gestures and language. Now, the manga self-deprecatingly referred to as “crappy”—though perhaps a more accurate term would be “modern,” and perhaps the most accurate term would be “extremely online”—has been turned into anime, and it is exactly what humanity deserves. When the opening credits kick off with a CRT television being suddenly smashed in with a nail bat, that’s how you know you’re in for a cool time. Well, that and the giant “COOL TIME” banner.
To say that Pop Team Epic’s brand of humor is not for everybody would be an understatement. Sure, several segments may seem to follow traditional “nerd humor” in the sense that they overtly reference recognizable bits of other popular anime, video games, films, and so on. But that Family Guy/Robot Chicken/“anime con dealer’s room T-shirt” stuff is too rudimentary, so quite a bit of Pop Team Epic is reminiscent of the antihumorous “it’s funny because it’s NOT funny!” approach to comedy popularized by American live-action sketch comedies such as Mr. Show or the final episodes of Wonder Showzen, in that the “joke” is “something this lame got put on television, and you like an idiot watched through it expecting a payoff when there wasn’t one.” You may find such bits so effective at being neither entertaining nor funny that … they’re neither entertaining nor funny. Normally antihumor or meta-humor or whatever you want to call it doesn’t work for me, but if brevity is the soul of wit then Pop Team Epic is the … yep, exactly! The SOULIEST. These things are over before you know it, and there’s enough disparate variety that you’re bound to laugh at (or at least, appreciate) something offered up.
Who is responsible for unleashing the most infamous creation of Bkub Okawa (or “Bukub” as HiDive spells it … or “Bukubu” as Crunchyroll spells it) upon the anime world? Unlike most anime, each individual segment is handled by separate studios, and while Crunchyroll’s simulcast omits this, the fact that the HiDive translated English language credits for each episode take several minutes to get through are an added joke unto themselves given how most Pop Team Epic segments only last for a few seconds. The most “normal” segments, in the sense that they tend to adapt preexisting strips or at least have artwork that resembles them, tend to be handled by Space Cat Company or Kamikaze Douga, the latter of which in addition to making the various CGI openings for Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure will also be handling the animation for the upcoming Batman: Ninja.
Then there are segments designed to resemble video games from past generations such as Super Robot Wars or Tokimeki Memorial, though most tend to hail from the 16-bit or earlier era. These are the work of Makoto Yamashita, who as of the time of the show’s production is still in art school! Give the kid credit for shouting out old Atari games in addition to the low-hanging fruit like Sonic the Hedgehog. “UchuPeople” aka the duo of Kazushige Toma and Onohana, specialize in stop-motion puppet animation. So, when you suddenly get a “Pop Team Dance” extended song parody of an old Earth, Wind, and Fire song using felt doll versions of Popuko and Pipimi, they’re the ones to blame! Japon Mignon (French for “Cute Japan”), the segments where the girls head to France (and thus are voiced by French actors), are brought to us courtesy of YouTuber and Kamikaze Douga’s resident French guy, Thibault Tresca … who appears in live action to explain what’s about to happen before each segment!
And then there’s Bobnemimimmi or “Bob Epic Team,” which may be the most divisive recurring segment of all. Produced and voiced by AC Department aka “acbu,” the key comedy of these segments isn’t so much in the relatively inane writing or dialogue, but the fact that the artwork and movement are utterly distorted and bizarre. The closest recognizable bit of Japanese pop culture I can compare them to would be the cutscenes for the Katamari Damacy series of video games from the previous decade, though if you too are Extremely Online then I can say “they did that Domino’s Pizza ad with the centaur and the dueling bands where one band is all chickens and the other band is all pigs.” If Pop Team Epic is anime’s Wonder Showzen, then Bob Epic Team is Clarence. The end result of all these studio efforts is something that feels unlike many anime, because so few of them ever made anything for TV anime before.
The repeated “Pop Team Epic” title cards at the start of each segment do more than announce the studio responsible, though. They also give jokes time to BREATHE. Pop Team Epic isn’t the same as the hyper anime comedies of yesteryear, like Excel Saga, Elf Princess Rane, Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, Hare+Guu, etc., which bombarded viewers with characters yelling and sensory overload. Despite being a duo, Popuko and Pipimi reject the traditional Japanese “manzai” joke setup in which there’s a straight-laced one and the funny one. It’s a mistake to say that Pop Team Epic is “on drugs!” or “so random!” This may ACT like it doesn’t care, but it does. Very much. You know, like anime fans on the Internet.
Pop Team Epic is available from HiDive, Sentai Filmworks, Funimation, and Crunchyroll.