Without any doubt, the adaptation of the Internet’s beloved vulgar 4-koma manga, Pop Team Epic, was an anime that was on nearly everyone’s radar. Regardless of whether you were watching it or not, so long as you witness the section of the community that watches airing shows in any capacity, you’ve likely seen something about it. While I went in cautiously optimistic with very few expectations, even disliking the first episode, what struck me as interesting was how completely split the audience I’ve seen is on whether or not the show is “good”. For the first time since Mayoiga, I haven’t seen this many people split on whether or not a show was funny, and whether or not being intentionally “bad” is an excuse for possibly being actually bad. This week, let’s talk about the reception of Pop Team Epic.
Polarizing anime is nothing new. There are extremely few shows that several parts of the anime community at large can come at a general consensus for, and sometimes even when they all agree on something they turn around and have a sudden disagreement in a matter of weeks. It’s normal for popular shows to stir the polarizing pot so when one of the anime communities favourite memes (for lack of a better word) was going on television it should have been expected to be extremely polar, in all honesty.
This isn’t interesting, though. A popular show getting half-hated and half-loved is pretty normal. But, when the two sides of the argument are that Pop Team Epic is Nichijou-esque absurdist humour and that Pop Team Epic is an awful melting pot of references and “lol XD so random”, that’s when it catches my attention. To me, Pop Team Epic is what Nichijou would have been if it was more vulgar and didn’t put as much thought into the jokes. Still absurd, and definitely still an interesting (intentional) car crash to watch, but also intentionally low effort. I don’t think Pop Team Epic is going for a gear at random humour as much as I’m certain shows like Nichijou and Teekyuu aren’t either.
Through watching the first episode, a majority of the jokes and humour wasn’t for me. I can’t say it was a unique episode used to create a certain overall tone since the show has only been airing for three weeks at the time of writing, but comparing the first episode to the second and third, they seem very different. Personally, I’m not a fan of fast paced humour, like the kind found in the previously mentioned Teekyuu and a good portion of one of my favourites from 2016, Uchuu Patrol Luluco. Overall, it’s fair to say that anime shorts aren’t for me, and to me the first episode of Pop Team Epic was that kind of overly fast humour but packed into a 12 minute episode. However, as the show continued and the individual jokes got more time to develop and the show’s kind of humour started being consistent with these longer absurd jokes, that’s when I began to like it.
Depending on where I look, there are a handful of versions of that experience. Either doing exactly as me, really loving the first episode then hating the next two, loving it from the start and still loving it, or hating it from episode one and making me wonder why they’re still subjecting themselves to something they dislike. Having never read the manga aside from the screenshots that occasionally circulate through social media, I had nothing to base this on, so all of the observations I’ve made (and even can make just three episodes into a show airing) are based on the anime as it’s own merits as something apart from it’s source.
So, the complaint I’m going to turn into a question that I’ve seen everyone who dislikes the show bring up — is a show that’s intentionally being bad still bad or does this somehow make it good? I visited this question before in a bit more specific of a format when the anime Mayoiga came to an end and, while I thought (and still think) it was absolutely awful, it had a good number of people saying that the show was intentionally being bad as a way to make itself funny. When it came to that context, I disagreed quite vehemently. I stood, and still stand, by my opinion that Mayoiga was just bad. But, it wouldn’t be fair to disregard being intentionally bad as a form of making something actually good altogether.
Since I can’t think of any shows that go out of their way to do this off the top of my head, and since the example I can use is much better, I want to use the infamous puzzle game HuniePop as an example. While, yes, this is without any margin of doubt an adult game and, yes, it’s trashy as all hell, it knows that and wears it proudly. The game makes fun of you for failing levels of match-three, it plays to racist stereotypes to such an overplayed level it’s clear the game is being facetious, and any time the question of “Are we being too offensive?” can be asked, the game doubles down and takes the jokes to a whole second level. While this kind of offensive humour isn’t for everyone, and NSFW games in general are very much so not for everyone, I’d be lying if I said HuniePop was a bad game. Ignoring anything that isn’t writing, the humour is clearly thought out to some level and I’d argue that the way the game plays to it’s weaknesses by putting them out in broad daylight for everyone to see is a smart move.
Before I get derailed too much, at what point does Pop Team Epic stop being Nichijou-esque and begin to be just an overly expensive shitpost? Is being self-aware a proper excuse for moments in your production that apparently drop quality? At what point does referential meta humour stop being clever? To some people, the answers to those questions are all against Pop Team Epic. It started to be an expensive shitpost the minute it started airing, being self-aware isn’t an excuse, and referential meta humour was never clever — being bad on purpose is still being bad. Sure, there’s probably a decent reason to have that stance and because of the kind of show Pop Team Epic is, it doesn’t surprise me that groups of people hold that opinion.
Nonetheless, I’m pretty sure that, as of three episodes in, Pop Team Epic is not only far from being an overly expensive bad joke because it’s not being bad and veiling itself in the excuse of intention for no reason. The referential meta humour is good because it isn’t something like The Big Bang Theory that just drops names and expects laughter. Instead, it takes the thing it’s referencing and, knowing all well that it’s audience is aware of what it’s making fun of, plays a joke cleverly off of a reference. Even the spin off joke sections, Bob Team Epic and the French skits, are based in the kind of humour the show expects it’s audience to have rather than being random for the sake of being random — I’d even say those off-sections are similar to sections like Helvetica Standard in Nichijou albeit more crude.
The ultimate point at the end of the question of “Is a show that’s intentionally being bad still bad?” is “Does it have a point?” and then based on the context there can be a specific answer. If something is being bad for the sake of being bad, of course it doesn’t get a pass. Pop Team Epic isn’t just being bad for the sake of being bad, though. It isn’t very high brow humour, and it doesn’t have the smart-yet-simple joke structure of Nichijou so it can very easily not be for everyone, but it does have a purpose. Whether or not that purpose is for you, and whether or not that purpose exists in every show, is a completely different conversation.
Hello everyone! Thank you so much for reading this week’s editorial. I wasn’t sure on what to write about until it was almost too late, so I’m glad I got an idea I could expand on and be happy with in time. If you have any thoughts on the matter you’d like to share, feel free to leave them in the comments; I read each one even if I don’t reply. Also, if you’d like to see what I’m up to when I’m not writing for this blog, feel free to follow me on Twitter! I haven’t missed a single Friday in January, so let’s hope I can keep this up for February. See you all next week!