Panda Z #1:
Let's Try to Find Our Future


30 minutes
No Spoken Dialogue (OMG LOL?)
English Subtitles
Released: 09/27/2005

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I am a fan of the robot genre, this could hardly be considered a secret. But what a lot of people don't know is that I am also a gigantic fan of pandas. Not too long ago, when I was but a child, I didn't know exactly what a panda was. When I imagined them they were cute and tiny, the most adorable little runts you've ever seen, barely over 15 pounds. These miniature bears would scamper up and down the stalks of bamboo that comprised their sustenance and spend their days lazing about in the sun and having a generally good and inoffensive time. They were the entire epitome of cute, the being for which the word was created. I was basically thinking of a panda/koala fusion.

It was some time later that I discovered that panda bears were in fact gigantic, as big as anything else that we'd commonly understand as bears, anyway, and that koala bears, despite their name, have very little to do with bears at all. The real pandas, the ones that are so quickly dying out, are the kind that trundle around at (my guess!) about six hundred pounds. They still hang out in bamboo, but they're a lot more vicious looking and a lot less cute. I know they're vegetarians (I guess?) but I am confident in the fact that a panda would have no problem swallowing my ass if I got too uppity. They are certainly not the animal my childlike nature was expecting them to be.

Panda Z was also a completely different experience from what I expected. When I heard the general concept -- robot panda in bigger robot panda fights evil robot animals to protect the land/country/universe -- I was immediately hooked. I set about downloading a few of the fansubbed episodes and then... never watched them, because fansubs really just aren't my sort of thing. But that didn't let my interest wane! I still wanted to see Panda Z more than ever, I just needed to wait until it was in a palatable DVD-based format. If it came packed with a cute little plastic panda figurine (and it did!) then so much the better.

So why was it different? Well... I'm still just not familiar with this concept of bite-sized TV episodes, where there's barely enough time for the joke to get introduced, much less resolved. The Panda Z mentality is like a torpedo aimed right at the vulnerable submarine of your humor center. It has one joke, that's its deadly joke "payload", and it's going to keep hammering at you with that one joke until you're amused or the episode's 5 minutes are over.

This held true for the six episodes of the show Joel and I watched last week. The jokes are simplistic, but mildly amusing. Panda Z kind of assumes that you know a thing or two about giant robots, but it's nothing that the average viewer wouldn't pick up just from being aware of what anime is. In one episode the Panda Z fires off both of its arms in the genre-favorite 'rocket punch' attack and finds itself in the predicament of having no way to replace said arms, considering they're both lying on the ground in front of him. Much hilarity ensues as the giant robot, now rendered helpless, can do naught but stare off into the sunset.

So obviously Panda Z knows what's goin' on. It has all the constituent elements of "the funny". There are goofy robot (maybe) animals and goofy giant robot animals and they fight. As I said in our beloved podcast, it's basically like those crappy Sonic the Hedgehog shows we got, except it doesn't feature Jaleel White -- better known as Steve Urkel -- and backgrounds comprised entirely of black. You know what I'm talking about, right? Right? Even if you don't, it doesn't matter. There's a spout of 'funny', by god... there's humor in them there hills!

But it's a very specific type of humor. You have to be a little forgiving in the absurdity of the situation, something I can do with no problem. You have to consider how much I enjoyed Super Milk Chan. I love that goofy kind of absurdist crud. It's funny because it's not funny. Like some sort of bizarre dadaist humor. I don't think Joel was as placated as I was, but he did emit a few soft chortles at key moments. Maybe Panda Z won't be his favorite show ever, but it was good enough for him to tolerate it for 30 minutes. Sometimes, as far as Joel and anime are concerned, I think that's about the best you can ask for.

As for myself... I can't seem to decide either way. I've been slowly warming up to Japanese comedy, as my recent love of Milk-Chan and Cromartie Highschool will attest, and this is something very worrisome. I came into Panda Z expecting to love it and left it feeling a little lukewarm. I didn't hate it, didn't love it... sort of just... watched it. Not the greatest thing I've ever seen, but I've spent time with a lot worse.