Sunday, July 31, 2016

:anime: Final Impression:: Pan de Peace!

Give the gift…The gift of bread

[Also July's Free/Low-Cost Anime Pick!]

Review: Pan de Peace!

Additional Links: Official Site, ANN Entry, MAL Entry
Video {Free [Streaming]}: Crunchyroll

There is no way to read the description for Pan de Peace! and not think of it as the final, lowest marker in the depths of the "cute girls in a high-school club"/"cute-girls-doing-cute-things" sub-genre, popularized by K-ON's "light-music" focused group, among others. In the cramped vastness of "show/club (often barely) revolving around n" and the ever-prevalent "me, too" mentality, a title about four girls in a bread-lovers club feels almost as if one has reached the absolute limit of workable potential within the concept, akin to one reaching the end of time or the Internet.

Surely, no one would ever bother animating such as title, lest they be so plainly desperate. No matter how short its runtime, there could be no real reason for its existence, correct?

Alas, here we are. Something like Pan de Peace! actually exists and was actually greenlit, and the first episode does nothing to dissuade that stunned, incredulous feeling coming into it. Right off the bat, we are faced with unyielding optimism and whimsy, as Minami, a highly-enthusiastic bread enthusiast, befriends bespectacled Yuu, a straitlaced girl in class whose bread keychains she catches sight of. They are soon joined by Fuyumi, a baker's daughter and resident mother hen of the group, and, in the following episode, the diminutive Noa, who is slightly-out-there and essentially serves as the unofficial club mascot.

It may all sound innocuous (and it is), but between "bread buddies", the keychains, Minami's beloved egg & strawberry jam sandwich (?!), the slightly "off"-looking character designs, the artistic(?) decision to leave out the eyes in some shots, and especially all of that perpetual joyousness and heartening happiness, the feeling incurred afterwords is one equal parts puzzlement, indescribable uncertainty, and questioning contentment

"None of this is true, right?" "I'm not actually watching something like this…" "This is a parody, right? Right?"

All at once, the premise reads as so trite and shallow: simply a thin and thinly-veiled excuse to get in on the moe/cute girl craze, in the most inane and sad way possible. One might be forgiven for thinking it were all a joke from the get-go…if PdP! weren't playing its breadphile theme sincerely and straight, as if it were any other hobby. It might even be tempting to ridicule it away even before the first 30-second mark…

That is, if Pan de Peace! was not one of the most completely good-natured, earnest, and infectiously enjoyable shows in existence…

Picking on Pan de Peace! feels a heinous act of unwarranted bullying towards the nicest person in the world. It is just a really kind and sweet little series, with nary a bad bone in its body. In tone and spirit, it would not be a stretch for one to designate the series as the ARIA of short anime. That may sound like a hefty statement and both are ultimately different, but it is the most apt descriptor for the 3-1/4-mins x 13-eps. anime. It is as if it only exists to make your day just a little brighter and more enjoyable, and to chisel a grin onto the front side of your face—whether you sought one or not. Said first episode alone brims with such upfront happiness and mirth, it verges on mindbending, and while subsequent episodes don't quite venture so high and have a drop of drama (by PdP! standards) towards the end, there is still plenty of sunshine to go around and virtually every episode ends with a happy ending (of course).

Outside of some boob-centric joking in the second episode and some very light shoujo-ai undertones (which, of course, come off more as friendship- than romance-related here), the series side-steps easy otaku lures like fanservice and yuri with nary an interest. PdP! is as clean-cut and clean-minded as they come, and it even resist the urge to fat-shame the (relatively) plump Fuyumi when she attempts to shed a few pounds in one episode. The act is something that has appeared in anime and, with greater frequently, in other entertainment and real-life media in recent years and is one of the more embarrassing and cringeworthy of this social media-heavy era. However, when Fuyumi capitulates due to her love of bread, the others tell her—in an ever-chipper tone—that they like her just the way she is. That's the spirit of Pan de Peace! in a nutshell (or encased in a cream-filled bun)

While it plays itself straight-down-the-middle with no winks, none of it feels so patently ridiculous that you can't help but question everyone's sanity, nor does it carry itself or the bread hobby so great a weight or gravitas that it takes you out of everything. As a very simple, warmhearted series, sometimes the best direction is to let the show or story speak for itself, and that helps what could have/should have been a disaster or clunker of an idea. In return, that allows said spirit—its best selling point—to shine through, one that is powerful enough to turn a silly concept into something that is actually, somehow, believable and fun. That is quite the accomplishment, all things considered, but when it is so chaste and benevolent about everything, it is perhaps not so unbelievable…

Given Pan de Peace, one might find themselves interested in delving more into mangaka emily's repertoire for more saccharin and pleasant goodness. The truth is, however, that it is the only title of theirs that is actually clean! Emily is, in reality, an eromangaka and PdP! is the exception, not the norm, in their portfolio, which is very humorous considering how unassuming its adaptation is (though emily's art of the characters do have a very slight salacious tinge to them…). The character designs, which quickly grew on me, stay very faithful to their cute originals and are well-cast and -performed, while the animation production, though not completely stellar in spots, is perfunctory and solid.

To don a cynical lens, a bread club anime may be a bridge-too-far for the imagination—even if the tilt is not beaten-to-death. For its runtime and nature, alone, it may be too simplistic and mundane for some, and far too happy-go-lucky and jolly for others. It is thoroughly no-frills in every sense of the word—one episode is simply about the girls vying for a ciabatta sandwich at a crowded lunch counter, another just hanging out at the bakery and making bread—nor does it do anything "revolutionary", per se (e.g. a new girl at school is introduced into their dynamic, the obligatory (and the most G-rated) pool episode).

Be that as it may, the greatest challenge of all with Pan de Peace! may be actually finding the will to hate anything in it! Yes, it may be tempting, if not automatic, to chide and write it all off with a read of a blurb—it is there—but it is sooooo difficult to when the characters and very soul of the show are so utterly genuine, enthusiastic, and winsome. It is infectious in its beaming charm and happiness and is more ridiculous with its level of doe-eyed innocence than with the girls' encompassing love of bread and bread pastries. ARIA may be the queen of the slice-of-lifers, but in terms of all-out pleasant- and cuddliness, PdP! may indeed give it a run for its money.

Pan de Peace!, by virtue of its own existence, may seem like the apocalyptic breaking-point of anime's continual love affair with school clubs and cute-girls-doing-cute-things. This humble little show, however, is nothing of the sort. It just wants to have its bread, eat it too, and have a wholesome and fun time doing it. And sometimes, that's all you need out of a show.

Yes…it is that kind of a happy show…

(Hungry for more bread-fueled goodness? Click here for the "After-Review"!!)

[P.S.: Post Date: July 31, Actual Post Date: August 26.]

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