“Pop Team Epic” mixes old-fashioned anime, modern pop culture

The anime adaptation of Bkub Okawa’s surreal four-panel comedy manga, “Pop Team Epic,” premiered on Jan. 6, to the delight of manga fans and to the confusion of newcomers expecting a typical comedy anime.

The first episode starts with a fake-out opening of a generic idol rom-com entitled “Hoshiiro Girldrop” before suddenly shifting back to the jarringly offbeat art of “Pop Team Epic,” displaying Okawa’s bait-and-switch and quirky sense of humor.

“Pop Team Epic” follows two schoolgirls – the short, hair-trigger tempered Popuko and the tall, stoic Pipimi – through a series of non sequitur skits with zero continuity. The series’ comedy relies less on puns or punchlines and more on the absurdity that escalates in each situation.

The animation is excellently done; “Pop Team Epic” is a mixed-media work that combines 2-D animation, 3-D models, video game-esque pixel animations, and even a stop-motion music video parodying Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Let’s Groove.”

In-show shoutouts range from Japanese pop culture phenomena like “Pokemon,” “Metal Gear Solid” and “Berserk,” to references that are downright random like the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon “Wacky Races” and Jon Turteltaub’s sports dramedy “Cool Runnings.”

Some highlights of “Pop Team Epic” include the French-dubbed segments of “Japon Mignon,” by French animator Thibault Tresca and the unnerving, intentionally crude animation of the “Bob Epic Team” segments.

“Pop Team Epic” feels less like an anime and more like a crazed fever dream interspersed with surreal humor, pop culture references and inside jokes. This is both a compliment and a critique: While some viewers may immediately take to the rapid-fire and bizarre humor, others may find “Pop Team Epic” confusing, unfunny or pointless.

Another critique was that some jokes were lost in translation or untranslated, like the “Beef or Chicken?” skit and the “New Year’s Fortune” gag, which contains untranslated kanji.

Overall, “Pop Team Epic” shines thanks to the talented animators and voice actors who faithfully recreate Bkub Okawa’s entertainingly absurd vision for the series.

The adaptation to television also expands “Pop Team Epic,” presenting detailed animation and fluid scene transitions which aren’t possible in a drawn four-panel format.

I recommend fans of “Pop Team Epic” to check out other surreal comedy series like “Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo,” “Nichijou” and “Cromartie High School” for their similar styles of offbeat humor and escalating absurdity.  While “Pop Team Epic” may not be to everyone’s tastes, the animation, voice acting and structure set it apart as a quirky and refreshing new series for 2018’s winter anime lineup.