Does Pop Team Epic have mainstream potential?

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A popular topic that comes up in anime discussion is whether a show can garner mainstream success outside of the nation of Japan. In truth, a lot of Japanese media can be hard to digest in foreign markets, so it’s hard to pin down what will become the next Dragonball or Akira.

You would think that after 20+ of anime making strides in foreign markets, that characteristics that make it a “hit” abroad could be easily identifiable. But no one can predict when things like Tokyo Ghoul and Attack on Titan will become the next big thing with weeb tweens in the US.

That won’t stop me from predicting what will crack the surface and become the hottest thing among mainstream anime fans. Let me tell you why Pop Team Epic can, if given the correct access, be a mainstream media success for anime in America.

Pop Team Epic is a strange beast, to say the least. It’s an anime based off a 4-koma web manga, and it only gets weirder from there. It’s less of a show and more of a nonstop onslaught of absurdity and insanely high concept pop culture references. It’s more suited to viewing on a weekly basis because–I assure you–binging more than 2 episodes at a time may melt your face off  Arc of the Covenant style.

On paper, it’s about a pair of high school girls who are involved in wacky situations, but that’s frankly a smokescreen to make you think that there is any real context behind anything in this show. Referential humor in Pop Team Epic has a habit of being weirdly subtle but also incredibly obtuse. Several times I’ve walked away from an episode unsure of the meaning of a joke or a reference. Then I feel like an idiot when AniTwitter explains it to me, leaving me to slap my forehead in complete exasperation.

Don’t get it twisted though. For all its madness, Pop Team Epic is an incredible comedy that knows what it wants to do and makes no qualms about taking you for a wild ride. This is a show that gave us the miracle that is a full parody music video of Earth Wind and Fire’s Let’s Groove using yarn puppets of the main characters.

Now you’re probably asking, “But Noel, how could a show like Pop Team Epic really hit it off with casual anime audiences in the United States?” The answer to that question lies in two simple words: Adult Swim.

If your reading this, chances are you’re somewhat familiar with Adult Swim, Cartoon Network’s late-night programming block aimed at older audiences. You probably also know that many of the mainstream hits in the North American anime market have been featured on the block either in the past or currently. So the idea that an anime given that kind of exposure being a mainstream success isn’t super far-fetched.

Next is the question of whether Pop Team Epic would click with American audiences, to which I say yes. A big part of Pop Team Epic’s appeal is absurdist humor, which is a rarity in anime. There are several absurd manga out there, but for some reason, humor in anime seems tame in comparison.

Aside from Pop Team Epic, the only other zany comedies currently airing are Gintama and Mr. Osumatsu, two shows that are consistently among Crunchyroll’s most popular. Couple that with the fact that Adult Swim shows like Aqua Teen Hunger Force; Tim and Eric; and the cultural juggernaut, Rick and Morty have shown that the American audience for high concept comedy with little context, and I think you have a recipe for something truly wonderful.

The common unfunny joke I see whenever people not used to more ridiculous comedy is “What kind of drugs were these guys on?” It’s really insulting when you think about it. The statement implies that there’s no way creative minds can write something unique without narcotics.

People have the misconception that for an anime to become a success in the states it needs to be safe, easy to digest, or not “Too Japanese.” Pop Team Epic is all those things and more, which allowed it to become the internet darling of the Winter 2018 anime season. There’s a reason it simulcasts on three different streaming services. That appeal combined with mainstream media exposure can only lead to success in my eyes.

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Noel Rodney Jr.
Noel Rodney Jr.
Comedian from the New York/Long Island area who has allowed anime, video games, and wrestling to consume his life.

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