I wouldn’t call Pop Team Epic a truly unique show, but it is definitely one of an incredibly rare breed: a referential sketch comedy anime. While a decent amount of anime do at least make one reference to another show (whether it’s direct or not), few anime are actually built up around the idea of making a bunch of references in a variety of situations.
The Pop Team Epic manga had some fans here in the West before the anime began airing, but its popularity exploded after the first episode. There’s just something about those simply drawn, cute-looking characters walking around and flashing you a hyper-realistic middle finger.
This show centers around a guy named Daichi Taira. His family is leaving for a vacation (which Daichi decided to not go on), and his mom reminds him to take care of Sosogu while they’re gone. … Wait, who’s Sosogu?
As it turns out, Sosogu is part of an “epic” pop idol group called Drop Stars, but was also a childhood friend of Daichi’s! It’s been years since Daichi has seen Sosogu, and unfortunately he doesn’t remember her at all. But she’s moved into the Taira house and has begun going to the same school together, so the new housemates and classmates will have a lot of time to reconnect. … Well, maybe not a lot of time, the idol business is a constantly active one. But that’s not all!
The real twist is… none of that is true!
The Plot and Characters
Pop Team Epic is a sketch comedy show, which differentiates itself from its peers through the sheer variety of subjects it will parody or reference in its sketches.
From strange romance anime tropes (akin to Citrus which also ran in the same season), to The Shining, to Undertale, to the band Earth Wind and Fire, and to highlighting French stereotypes of foreign tourists… this anime touches on so many things, it may be easier to say that no topic is safe from the fingers of the creators behind the show and manga. The extensiveness and depth of these references generally aren’t too deep, ranging from an aspect of the media in question being totally recreated in the show’s format, to Pop Team Epics’s main characters simply being silent witnesses to the parody being written around them.
Despite the various references and parodies that the show makes though, there’s a decent amount of original jokes and skits as well, such as the “Eisai Haramasukoi dance” and “Hellshake Yano” being some of the more elaborate ones. Unfortunately, these original skits tend to be less funny and more “what the hell am I watching”.
In fact, to be fairly honest, the biggest things that got me to laugh were the moments when the show genuinely managed to catch me off-guard, such as putting in a reference I didn’t even think to expect. A large majority of the show more left me simultaneously amused and bemused. This is a sketch comedy show, but Pop Team Epic seems more primarily concerned in attempting to do something weird or unexpected rather than actually develop and execute jokes. Unfortunately, a lot of its weirdness becomes expected and the new norm for this show – the main characters never take the straight answer out of a situation – and once you realize this, a lot of this show’s magic is ruined for you.
Each episode features a large primary skit surrounded by multiple smaller skits and recurring segments. The large primary skit is the longest skit of each episode, and is usually the most narratively complex and visually involved one as well; generally, it references or parodies something, such as the above examples of The Shining or romance tropes. The smaller skits last anywhere between a handful of seconds and two minutes, and will be the abovementioned original skits, various smaller/less elaborate references, or are just sheer randomness. The recurring segments include Bob Epic Team (featuring more skits but poorly drawn), Japon Mignon (short skits about France, made by a French person, all done in French), and Pop Team Cooking (which parodies cooking shows).
The only recurring characters throughout the entire series are Pipimi and Popuko, the blue and yellow haired cute-looking girls. Every single skit features them, and for a lot of the smaller ones they’re the only two characters. When additional characters are required though, brand new ones will be created specifically to fill whatever role is needed. Although Pipimi and Popuko’s personalities are left pretty vague to fit whatever the current skit needs, they’re generally seen as surprisingly brash, violent, and impure, with a decent knowledge of anime subculture layered on top.
However, all of this happens within the first half of the episode. After it all finishes, the same half is repeated, but swaps out the female voice actors for Popuko and Pipimi with male ones. Depending upon the episode, they write in some differences in the script (and sometimes visuals) to make the two stand apart, but in general, you’re just watching the same exact episode twice in a row. The joke was a funny thing to do for the premiere episode, as it was unexpected and strange… but for them to go and repeat it for the rest of the series ends up with killing the race horse in episode 2 and proceeding to beat it every single episode from there afterward. The joke gets old really quickly and the differences between the two sections are usually so minimal, it doesn’t even feel worth watching the second half.
All in all, it’s still an enjoyable experience. I think Pop Team Epic’s referential nature and the strange direction its comedy goes in makes it a fun time for a lot of people, but I highly wonder how many will really want to sit through multiple watchthroughs of this. Pop Team Epic’s humor relies upon being able to catch you off guard will only work on your 1st (and maybe 2nd) watchthrough; after that point, you know what’s coming – the “run the same episode twice with different voice actors” shtick is something that’ll probably get old too.
Visually, Pop Team Epic doesn’t exactly push the envelope in any sort of way. In fact, if you just look at a randomized selection of still shots from the show, you may even say it’s not all that impressive at all.
But the show is extremely clean (art-wise), the colors are all bright, and the animation is smooth like butter. Popuko and Pipimi both look scientifically engineered to look as cute as possible, and for the most part, they succeed. This is, of course, intentionally offset by their surprisingly realistic (and veiny) hands, as well as the more standard (albeit low-standard) appearance most other characters in their primary skits have. All in all, it’s a style and juxtaposition that fits this show – it won’t win any awards, but it’s good enough to do the job for this comedy show.
Of course, there are also segments that are intentionally poorly-made, the above-mentioned Bob Epic Team segments. It honestly surprises me, but they just look uglier and uglier with every episode.
The show goes for a majority of the time without a soundtrack. Most skits are short enough to not even warrant creating background music, and most other skits just don’t have any to let the joke take the entire audial attention. When songs are introduced though, they’re either in the style of the media they’re referencing, or they’re synth/electronic sounding if there isn’t anything being referenced at the time. You don’t really notice the lack of a soundtrack.
The opening theme “Pop Team Epic” is infectiously good. I love the opening theme and the opening animation is also really good. It’s a high-intensity electronic opening theme, and I’m a big sucker for electronic. Unfortunately, listening to it around 20 times (twice per episode, most episodes) starts to make it sound a bit old after a while. The ending theme is “Poppy Pappy Days”, and the show actually uses multiple versions of it throughout the show. Generally, the only difference is who’s singing it; all in all, the song is pretty decent and relaxing, as expected for an ending theme. The animation is also nice.
For the voice acting, new voice actors are brought in to voice Popuko and Pipimi every episode (on both the male and female side). It does surprise me that, despite that fact, Popuko and Pipimi sound pretty nearly the same each episode – one would think that since they switch it up each episode, perhaps they’d have the voice actors leave a more unique mark in their playing of the role. Beyond the meta knowledge of “hey, this voice actor also played this character that they parodied here”, I don’t particularly see the point of bothering to do it. I guess I won’t complain though, it’s kind of an ambitious idea.
I haven’t experienced the English voice acting for this show, so I don’t particularly know what to expect in that regard.
I think the Western licensing for this show is fascinating, though – most shows have exclusivity contracts: when you license a show, you alone have the rights to air it/stream it/release it, whatever (it’s not quite that simple, but you get the idea). Thus, when Funimation licenses a show, it appears on Funimation’s website and services (and Crunchyroll), and not on Sentai’s Hi-Dive service. However, Pop Team Epic is unique in that there was no exclusivity clause: both Funimation and Sentai were able to get the license to stream the show, and the reaction to this online amused me. Time will tell to see who gets the honors of making that Blu-Ray box version of the show, though.
Lastly, speaking of English voice acting, I should probably mention the YouTuber “The Anime Man”, who through some lucky connections, was able to voice a few roles in Pop Team Epic, episode 9. Although not the first time a YouTuber has entered into the world of anime dubbing, The Anime Man’s case is particularly rare in that his voice acting was for the Japanese version. It’s a weird and funny opportunity, but a really cool one nonetheless. Many people, I’m sure, are jealous.
Final Remarks / TL;DR
Pop Team Epic, the referential comedy anime, relies upon its references and non-sequitur for its comedy. This will work out well enough for the first watchthrough, but it comes at the cost of subsequent watchthroughs being less enjoyable: you already know what the joke’s going to be. The recurring joke to run each episode twice, with female and then male voice actors, ultimately ends up being to the show’s detriment as well.
However, that isn’t to say the show isn’t even trying. The media you’ll find in the show reaches across generations and cultures, and the decisions in and of themselves to have various voice actors for the two leads every single episode, along with the implementation of segments like Bob Epic Team and Japon Mignon, all make for a show that is almost certainly a one-of-a-kind experience.
It’s reliance upon trying to do random unexpected things for laughs have certainly made the show divisive already, but I would suggest that you haven’t seen it, at least give it a shot. It’ll either be an extremely fun ride or an utter waste of time, but either way, you can at least say you’ve watched it.
Recommendation: Give It a Shot
+++ the more out-there references and jokes, overall visual design, opening theme song
— relies too much on trying to be unexpected, running each episode twice, references generally aren’t deep