Panda-Z: The Robomination Vol. 1
Panda-Z is a show that very much deserves to be seen. However, it's a little hard to justify paying USD$14.95 MSRP for the show. While it doesn't have much to offer, it certainly serves as a good reminder of how diverse the anime industry is.
So what the heck is Panda-Z, anyway? It's a series of animated shorts featuring the heroic Pan-Taron, pilot of the titular Panda-Z mech. Built by his grandfather, Panda-Z is the ultimate fighting machine. Not only is it designed after the fiercest, most courageous animal on Earth -- the panda bear -- but it also sports killer blood-red wings and a frightening arsenal of deadly weapons. With Panda-Z, Pan-Taron is attempting to thwart the invasion of the cruel armies of the Warunimal Empire.
Alright, so maybe on Earth, a panda isn't exactly a force to be reckoned with (unless you get too close to its cage while wearing loose clothing), but this series isn't set on Earth. No, this is Robonimal World, where mechanical animals rule, alongside a look and feel straight from the Sanrio School of Cute.
Each episode is only five minutes long, and the content varies. The first one features an epic mecha showdown between Panda-Z and one of the Warunimals. The second episode mixes things up a bit by showing Pan-Taron attempting to eat a meal that consists of batteries. If I learned anything from Panda-Z, it's that BATTERIES ARE NOT FOR EATING. I'll keep that timeless message in mind from now on.
Panda-Z boasts an uber-cute visual style that is truly all of its own. The entire show is populated with bipedal animals that wander around naked most of the time. Sometimes, as in the case of Pan-Taron, they wear a scarf, which was left to him by his father. The animation is actually pretty good when in motion, but due to the way that the jokes in most of the episodes work, you're going to see many of the same frames repeated over and over -- even within a single five minute span. Each episode represents the content equivalent of a single daily comic strip. Unlike Azumanga Daioh, which weaves hundreds of quick jokes into some semblance of a continuing storyline, Panda-Z tosses an idea at the viewers and then runs away to prepare for the next one.
While I did find the episodes amusing, I have to admit that my sense of humor lives on a planet of its own, and thus the jokes in the series may not hit some viewers in the same way that they impacted me.
As the box notes, the series is presented only with the original Japanese audio. Ah, but fans of the English dub -- don't fret! None of the spoken dialogue is in Japanese, but it's not really in English either. Instead of using speech to represent dialogue, the creators of the show use silent-movie style text breaks in between scenes of animation. Something will happen, and then viewers will be treated to some dialogue or narration, or whatever is appropriate for the moment. Then there's more animation, and more text. And so it goes.
That isn't to imply that the series is completely silent. In fact, there are hilariously chosen sound effects (they can only remind me of the early days of Space Ghost: Coast to Coast), alongside a driving hard rock soundtrack. The music for the show is surprisingly good and undeniably catchy, although like the rest of the series, it features no lyrics.
Ultimately, watching Panda-Z is like watching a bunch of Hello Kitty characters acting in a silent film, with The Pillows playing music in the background. If this sounds like your cup of tea, then perhaps you should go for the special edition release, which comes with a cool little toy.
There is a bonus 3-D episode on the disc, which offers just as much story as most of the traditionally animated installments, although there are not any other extras to speak of. If there were more episodes on the disc, it would be much easier to recommend this series, but I can't see the average anime fan diving into Panda-Z and understanding why it's cool. As it stands, this is not a show for everyone. Diehard anime (or panda) fans will enjoy it, but it's a little too weird, a little too short, and maybe even a little too much flash without enough substance to attract the mainstream crowd. In any case, kudos to Bandai for bringing such a quirky show over here. Personally, I hope that it will do better than what I think it will. I can always appreciate bizarre animation; especially when it's so darn cute!