Pop Team Epic Brings Its Madness To Adult Swim Where It Belongs

The latest addition to Adult Swim’s Toonami block is a breathe of fresh air and some of the craziest content they’ve aired in years.

The first thing that I said when I saw Pop Team Epic was, “This would be perfect for Adult Swim.”

There are plenty of gag anime out there, but Pop Team Epic is one of the few that actually trolls the audience in the same conversational way that Adult Swim’s programming does. This is a show that mobs of fans demonstrated support for the series by standing outside the production building and flipping it off. Many unusual programs have aired on Adult Swim, but Pop Team Epic is a rare example of a series that comes from an outside source, but perfectly fits the block’s mandate. 

When it was announced that the series would be replacing Dragon Ball Kai on the network’s Toonami block, many fans got excited, not just because a non-action anime was joining the line-up, but because a show with Pop Team Epic’s energy could rejuvenate the block. The series may technically be apart of Toonami, but it operates with the frenetic sensibility of an Adult Swim show.

There’s really not much of a story as far as Pop Team Epic is concerned. The show’s two central characters, Popuku and Pipimi, are caricatures that take the audience through various parodies and micro-sketches. It began as a four-panel web-comic by Bkub Okawa, but television is such a better medium for this madness. Not only is plenty of American pop culture on the show’s radar, but it also truly feels like nothing is off limits. 

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Where else are you going to see My Little Pony, Naruto, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Skyrim all attacked in the same 20 minutes? Gags get pushed to the extreme and there are even often segments that check in with the animators of the material and push it to a strange meta level where creations riff with creator. 

Pop Team Epic wears its gonzo post-modern attitude on its sleeve. The show’s theme song begins with a television that’s playing “conventional” anime before it gets destroyed by a mace-like bat. This show is determined to re-invent the medium and it’ll straight up smash the status quo to pieces if necessary. The show’s visual style catapults from drawn animation, to CGI, to stop-motion, to live-action with fearless resolve. These are the ways that the show advertised itself in Japan. Could they care any less? Episodes would also air in Japan during the relatively dead zone of 1AM, which made the series stand out even more.

Just in case this agenda isn’t clear, Pop Team Epic does one of the most ambitious things that a series could do. This is a 22-minute program, but it ostensibly ends at the 11-minute mark. It’s at that point “Bob Team Epic” starts, which essentially repeats the whole episode over again with minor changes. This might seem gratuitous, but what’s impressive here is that it’s never clear what these changes will be. 

These adjustments can vary from small alterations in the animation, swapping the voice actors (right down to gender), or even changing a major plot point to a story. It’s always a weird surprise, but it’s crazy that it’s a version of this show that takes itself even less seriously. The voice actors in the “Bob Team Epic” version go for broke and there are even jokes made from which voice actors are being used together.

Pop Team Epic pushes this drugged out variety show quality that feels distinctly different than anything else that’s out there (except perhaps for Robot Chicken, but this easily gives that a run for its money). The “Hellshake Yano” sketch is also honestly the best thing that my eyes have seen all year and it’s a strong example of what this show can pull off.The series looks great and is funny as hell, but Pop Team Epic also thrives because of a rabid fan community that rivals that of shows that have been around for decades. It’s time to get on board before the anime becomes even more of a cultural phenomenon. 

An ad for BatmanNinja inexplicably featured Popuku and Pipimi in Joker and Batman garb (and special crossover toys were made) and Pokémonof all shows even paid reference to it in a recent episode. When Batman and Pokémon tip their hats to you, you know you’re good. Though Pop Team Epic will surely return the favor next season with a big middle finger.

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Pop Team Epic airs Saturdays at midnight (ET) on Adult Swim’s Toonami block.