Panties are Meant to be Fill(er)ed
Last week I was going on about how the first few episodes of your typical Saturday Morning Cartoon are all about setting the playing field so that future episodes can bust out with the super ultra goodness. Looks like that’s the case with Panty and Stocking. Not so much the bee/high school episode, which was awesome only for the sex ed bit where kids were taught that pre-marital high school sex will kill you (regardless of position), but for the movie episode.
What’s funny is that said episode, “Sex and the Daten City,” had absolutely nothing to do with the main “plot” of the series.
Funny thing about most Saturday Morning Cartoons: Most of the really awesome episodes are the ones that actually break the formula set up in the initial episodes. My favorite episode of The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy has neither of the titular characters in it. Rather, it’s a parody of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas that deals with Grim and old man Dracula trying to get to a diner for the early bird special only to get lost in the desert. It has nothing to do with the whole “kids have The Grim Reaper as a best friend/slave” angle of the series, but it plays off of all of the knowledge we’ve accumulated throughout all of the episodes that do dwell on that “main plot.”
That episode, Fear and Loathing in Endsville, is essentially a “filler episode.” It goes off on a tangent that has nothing to do with the central purpose of the series. It’s these episodes that follow what anime fans define as “filler” that many Saturday Morning Cartoons build up to– they’re the desired destination rather than the unavoidable roadbumps.
That’s what we get in the second half of this week’s Panty and Stocking. “Sex and the Daten City” has absolutely nothing to do with their quest as “angels” to kill ghosts and get coins for whatever vaguely defined whatchamacallit they gotta deal with. Rather, it plays off of their established personality types and thrusts them into a completely unrelated situation. The only “ghost” they have to deal with is Panty’s old sex tapes and Stocking’s jealousy. It isn’t a brilliant episode or anything, but it’s the funniest one thus far because of the very fact that it’s a deliberate detour from the formula established in the preceding episodes.
This is leading into my main point: I don’t get why so many fans hate “filler” episodes.
I get why they don’t like, say, the filler episodes of Naruto. I saw a few of those and they sucked. They didn’t suck because they deviated from the storyline or anything like that, they just sucked because they were lame stories that didn’t reach the same quality of the preceding Junin exam arc. Bad experiences such as that seem to have soured many anime fans to the idea of episodes that veer off of the central plot and go into different, unrelated territory.
That doesn’t make much sense to me, mainly because many of my favorite series reach their peaks during such a “filler” episode. My favorite episode of Cowboy Bebop isn’t Ballad of Fallen Angels or any of the two-parter episodes dealing with Spike. My favorite episode is Cowboy Funk. That’s the one where Andy, the cowboy wannabe bounty hunter, clashes with Spike in an epic duel of wits and personality. It has absolutely nothing to do with any of the characters’ story arcs, but in avoiding the story it allows the episode to delve into Spike’s character. It doesn’t develop his story, but in having hin face off with someone that’s virtually a doppelgänger of himself we get to see his personality deconstructed and evaluated. It’s a pretty damn awesome episode and one of my all time favorite anime episodes for that.
It’s the same thing with the likes of Occult Academy. Most of the episodes veered off into different directions, and in doing that it allowed the series to explore all sorts of occult themes and play off of the characters in ways that they wouldn’t be able to if they just concentrated on the “Nostradamus Key” story. It may not be on the same level of Bebop’s “filler” episodes, but I still really liked those episodes.
Basically, these series are using the plot not as an end in and of itself but as a means to another end. The plot establishes the characters while the “filler” episodes deliver on what the series really wants to do. That’s the formula of many Saturday Morning Cartoons, and many of my favorite anime series play off of a similar style. And while I don’t see Panty and Stocking becoming a personal favorite, it’s also following this format. It’s all the more cool for that.