Ep. 94: Pop Team Epic, by Bkub Okawa

Out of the darkest corners of the internet crawls Popuko and Pipimi, the stars of the internet-based comedy manga sensation, turned nearly-inexplicable anime, POP TEAM EPIC. Will the jokes in this VERY 2014 brand of Japanese internet humour land with the Mangasplaining crew? Will Chip FINALLY like an anime? Or is this whole episode just a head-scratching hot mess? Only one way to find out: Press Play! 

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IN THIS EPISODE

00:00 Pop Team Epic Season One, by Bkub Okawa
34:00 Let’s talk about the Pop Team Epic anime
50:05 THE BREAK
51:00 We’re picking books!
01:00:00 SHOUT-OUTS

Pop Team Epic Season One,
By Bkub Okawa
Translated by: Yota Okutani
Production by Grace Lu and Nicole Dochych
Published by Vertical Inc./Kodansha. Available in print / digital

Audio editing by David Brothers. Show notes by Christopher Woodrow-Butcher and Deb Aoki

BEFORE WE GET STARTED

Hi, it’s Christopher, and I’m taking the lead this week. Hope you’re well! I had COVID last week and it threw my life into chaos a bit, and it delayed this episode for a few days, apologies. But at least we’re back at the beginning of the week for releases again. Look for our next episode after this one, The Boxer, to release next Tuesday. 

For this episode, we read the first volume of the Pop Team Epic manga, entitled “Season One” rather than Volume 1, and watched a smattering of clips from the first season of the anime that we will assuredly link below. It’s a comics + anime episode! And also it has swearing! Get ready.

ABOUT BKUB OKAWA

Pronounced “Bu-ku-bu” rather than B’cub like I did most of this episode, whoopsie, Bkub Okawa was born in 1986 somewhere in Japan. A very reclusive individual, the creator has worked exclusively in making 4-panel comic strips, or yon-koma, a.k.a. 4koma manga, both as original work and creating parody 4koma based on popular series created by other people. In recent years, the creator has become a VTuber, using a digital persona to make videos and interact with fans. He picked an adorable catboy as his Vtuber persona, and I honestly don’t know what more to say about that.

The Bkub Okawa Channel

Okawa’s breakthrough happened with his 4koma series Pop Team Epic, which debuted sometime around 2014. It’s probably best experienced for yourself (we’ll have copies of strips below for you to ‘get’ it), but Pop Team Epic is essentially about random internet humor, shitposting, and deep, deep self-loathing and self-recognition. It was understandably huge with the internet in both Japan and the west. The webcomics’ popularity led to it being published in print, followed by an anime adaptation. 

Only the first two ‘seasons’ of manga have been published in the U.S. by Kodansha’s Vertical editorial imprint, and two seasons of anime have been created (which you can still watch on Crunchyroll). 

Okawa, in addition to numerous other projects, is currently serializing the seventh season of Pop Team Epic manga in Japanese at Takeshobo’s Manga Life Win webcomics site.

Alright, let’s get into it!

Publisher Takeshobo’s Head Office, with the Vertical Logo.

2:30  It’s true, there’s a bit in this manga where it flat out tells you that you’re unlikely to get most of the jokes. Frankly, 10% seems high unless you’re deeply, deeply in the subculture that produced this material.

3:10: For my money, this Starscream comic, referencing the 1980s incarnation of the Transformers character, is when I knew that this strip seriously had my number. It came out of nowhere, and I didn’t think it was that big in meme/internet culture, but since Okawa was born after Transformers was on the air, I guess it was? Or at least, bless the nerds who go back and watch the old stuff I guess!

3:50 Now you’re probably thinking about Hellshake Yano.

06:00 The color pages are fine and weird. I liked this one with the Pelican.

07:43 Chip liked the strip where “A manga character just showed up” and yeah, that’s a decent gag as a bit of reaction comedy.

08:50 Oh right, what IS POP TEAM EPIC? Well, here’s how Kodansha describes the title:

The bizarre four-panel comic by Bkub Okawa, on which the hit anime is based, is filled with obscure pop culture references (including walk-ons by characters from other series) and tongue-in-cheek—and in-your-face—quips and snipes, as well as inappropriate physical violence. Pop Team Epic will keep you laughing, confused, and addicted! 

A gonzo, irreverent, four-panel manga featuring two 14-year-old girls who will bicker and curse their way into your heart. No filter. No shame. No logic. No problem! So you think that Popuko and Pipimi are just typical cute, sweet tweens? Think again f#%**ers! Ask the millions of fans in Japan and abroad … these girls are nasty, vulgar, and they don’t take crap from anyone!

Vertical Inc.

10:11 I liked this bit of calling out America. 

It reminds me of the Kirby’s Adventure box art changes between Japan and the U.S.A., where they try to make him into a total badass. It’s like… Kirby.

IGN.com

13:50: I think it’s safe to say that aspects of the humor will continue to be relevant for years to come.

15:45: We mention two different, slightly earlier (2010-era?) “Internet Cartoonists” here: Kate Beaton, creator of Hark, A Vagrant! and Nick Gurewitch, creator of Perry Bible Fellowship. 

I think both would (rightly) bristle at being labeled as “internet cartoonists,” but they did get their start and rise to fame through digital distribution at a time when that was very, very uncommon. They also both made some intensely funny strips that remain favourites. I went to Kate’s site and hit ‘Random’ and got this slate of gems

A selection of excellent strips from Kate Beaton’s Hark, A Vagrant

And here’s the Weeaboo strip from Perry Bible Fellowship that coined the term. And ever since, anime nerds across the world are now called “weebs” as well as “otaku,” as David points out later in the episode.

Nicholas Gurewich’s Perry Bible Fellowship

“A Part of Our Heritage”

Both of their websites are still online too, and so if this is your first encounter with these works, congratulations. Here’s hundreds and hundreds of new, funny, free comics for you to enjoy. We think you’ll like them if you dig on some of the humour in Pop Team Epic.

Perry Bible Fellowship: https://pbfcomics.com/

Hark, A Vagrant!: http://www.harkavagrant.com/ 

It’s worth noting that Kate, after years and years of making incredible free comics online, made several children’s books (including one that got turned into an AppleTV cartoon) and then created her memoir Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands (published by Drawn and Quarterly), which is racking up all sorts of awards (deservedly) and even won the big Canada Reads competition this year. It’s available wherever books are sold. Go get it.

If I had to pick a manga for Kate to read, that we’ve already read here on the podcast, I’d give her Vinland Saga, by Makoto Yukimura

Meanwhile, Nicholas released a new graphic novel in 2019 I think (Wikipedia says 2020, but I think I got it at TCAF), Notes on a Case of Melancholia, or: A Little Death, which was crowdfunded as an independent edition and then a Dark Horse edition later. It’s an interesting book that I was lucky enough to get from him that year. Nicholas is a good dude. Sorry I brain-farted during the episode. Picking him up at a roadside truck-stop in the dead of night in the middle of nowhere in order to transport him to SPX is a lovely memory. The truckstop we picked him up at had a live worm vending machine, for fisherman, and I had never seen one of those before. 

If I were to recommend a manga to Nick of the ones we’ve read, it’d probably be Goodnight, Pun Pun, by Inio Asano although he probably has already read it. 

I just spent like, an hour reading strips from these two creators when I went to their websites to grab images for this, time well spent. Lol.

16:50  I mentioned the first Peanuts strip by Charles Schultz, and it holds up.

Also this is the first Sunday strip, it’s pretty good too though much more traditional humour.

You can get the Seth-designed reprint editions of Peanuts from Fantagraphics or wherever there are books. I swear, I’ve seen more copies of this edition of Peanuts around the world than almost any other comic.

17:30  Deb mentioning Walt Kelly’s Pogo comic strip is an interesting one, as the art (especially) really does hold up in those old strips. I know when these were coming out, comics creator Jeff Smith cited Kelly’s Pogo as a huge inspiration on the art of his series Bone, and I think that helped bring it back to the popular consciousness in a big way. 

Fantagraphics even calls it “the second-most requested strip collection reprint in Fantagraphics’ history” on their ordering page, presumably, after Peanuts

[DEB:] If (gasp!) you haven’t read Bone by Jeff Smith, you’re in for a treat. Get started with the full-color editions now available from Scholastic Graphix. Bonus! This fantasy adventure series is great to share with kids too.

17:45 In between when we recorded this episode and when it aired, significant changes have happened in the world of Chris Onstad’s Achewood online comic strip. Creator Chris Onstad gave a big interview over at The Verge that answered a lot of questions. The “Complete Canon” comic strip collection of all of the material in chronological order isn’t gonna happen, the animated series isn’t gonna happen, but Onstad is making new Achewood material and putting it up on Patreon for backers, you can go kick him a few bucks and read the new stuff.

The original run of Achewood is still online though, at https://achewood.com/, and it’s worth your time. Actually, wild invention, going to that link now sends you to a random strip, rather than the newest or the first strip. Fascinating. Here’s a good place to start, the introduction of 3 cats who have a complicated friendship with each other, and the actually-alive stuffed animals that live in Onstad’s house. 

The strip David mentioned. From Achewood.

Achewood is a strip that is about trying to be a person who exists in the world, and all the funny, anti-funny, and random shit that crops up. It’s a good one, David, Chip and myself all like it, I don’t think Deb’s read it. That said, it’s been continuously written as an engaged narrative about these characters occasionally commenting on real-life things that’s been running for a little over 20 years, so some of the references don’t directly resonate with the same intensity as when they originally ran, like say, March 15th, 2002. 

Some of these strips are weirdly timeless and will seemingly remain so for eternity.

Meanwhile, I was one of the editors that was working on that canceled Complete Canon collection as some of y’all know. I don’t really wanna talk about it due to circumstances, but I will say Onstad’s a great dude and I wish him all the best. I hope to get to meet up with him again one day.

18:49  Huh, sorry! I actually can’t find that photo I took of the Pop Team Epic collections I referenced. You’ll have to trust me on that one.

20:20  David mentions the call-out to “Heaven or Hell, Let’s Rock!”, a strip from the book that is referencing one of the Guilty Gear fighting games.

20:58 The M*A*S*H joke is deeply weird, and I have no idea if it was in the original strips? 

21:21  Deb’s fav is Beef or Chicken, which also plays a big role in the anime (see below).

And “If I see an exclamation speech bubble I’ll die.”

21:45  Deb also mentions “Twitter Bitchin’ Man,” which is a great strip too.

22:28  David’s favourite is the extremely-subtle Super Mario World Cape Joke, which makes perfect sense if you know how the cape power-up works in SMW but makes no damn sense at all if you don’t.

With bonus Hellshake Yano

22:54 Chip’s fav is when Popuko wants to fight the lightning, which I think might’ve actually been done better in the anime?

I straight-up love the jello joke that faces this strip too, it’s such a pure visual gag.

23:11 Wheras I think “Say Rocket Punch!” is perfect for comics, timing-wise.

23:40  And the Relatable Comedy of this strip transcends all national barriers.

24:25  At the end of every chapter of the manga, there are ‘outtakes’ or short strips that reuse the art and give strips a different punchline than they had before. It’s a cool peek behind the scenes, and I dig the iteration personally. Plus, it gave us one of Chip’s fav scenes.

Funnily, I met someone at the bar who was using AI to create and run aggregator sites right after I read this strip, so it’s extra-relatable now.

25:31  David brings up the relaunch of Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy comic strip by Olivia Jaimes, which was pretty divisive at the time! The flashpoint for the lovers and haters of the strip? The day which gave the internet the line “Sluggo is Lit.” It did not unite the internet, lemme tell you, and people are still mad and petty about it to this day.

Nancy

26:10  I ugly-cackled out loud at the hospital when I read this one.

26:25  The Turtle strip, on the other hand, is just good comedy

26:45  Finally, this is also Relatable.

27:08 It’s funny, one of the things that I do when reading a book now (especially digitally) for the podcast, is take screen caps as I go of really good stuff, either good pages or illustrations or whatever. I think because Chip and David talk about doing it so much. So when it came time to do the show notes for this episode, I was able to just look at my iPad and be like “What was so funny I had to save it for later? and the answer was this, was these.

30:00   Yeah, the “shitposting” aesthetic, or like trolling or whatever, is a huge part of contemporary humor. “U Mad Bro?”, extreme pettiness, “Change my mind”, etc… it’s all part of the same sort of “I don’t care at all but also I care a lot” that’s a big part of internet discourse these days. This absolutely derives its comedy from this place, in my opinion, but it’s a lot less toxic. I mean, here’s their take on the “You Mad?” meme:

About translation differences?

33:14  So yeah, let’s talk about the anime for Pop Team Epic, finally. 

Normally I wouldn’t link clearly copyright-violating clip collections like this, but like, there are so many of them on Youtube that I can’t imagine anyone cares too much. 

So imagine it, the Japanese internet is super-hype, they’re told to tune in at a specific time to see the first episode of Pop Team Epic anime, and they get this:

Hoshirro Girldrop, a romcom anime about an idol group of girls living in a teen boy’s house. Then at the last second… It is not. Of course, the fake anime ALSO became popular, but that’s another story.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmaxhbGJBb4

Oh, keep watching that video to see the animated version of the “Beef or Chicken” strip Deb mentions.

34:08  So all of that said, did Chip like the anime? NO. NO HE DID NOT. He’s got pretty specific ideas about ‘comedy timing’ but I honestly think it’s pretty on-point. YMMV.

37:00  Booo to Netflix’s handling of this.

38:00  I mentioned the Wiki for Pop Team Epic, but I actually meant like, the Fandom Wiki thing? Anywhere, here are links to both. They are illuminating:

https://pop-team-epic.fandom.com/wiki/Pop_Team_Epic_Wiki

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pop_Team_Epic

40:00  I think the “Hellshake Yano” animated clip versus the comic strip is the clearest indication of how different the two are, and how they took a lot of effort to not just adapt the comic strips to anime, but the culture around the comic strips and the spirit that produced it. It’s wild.

42:05  Meanwhile, David mentions a licking the floor joke and gives a cursory explanation, but luckily for all of us, he provided a much larger, and more detailed explanation here for you. Take it away, David!


[DAVID:] Pop Team Epic x Final Fantasy XIV

The short version of this joke is that Final Fantasy XIV is a very good MMORPG with a very popular free trial, exceedingly good music, and a creative fanbase. When a new dungeon called The Twinning dropped, a fan took the incredible song from it and made TheTwinning.mp4…

…a video that I’ve paused to watch every time I’ve mentioned it. The blue character is a tank, green healer, and the reds are damage dealers, and the random stuff they suddenly start doing during the video are all in-game actions, right? This video was part of a trend that included this version, as well:

After all that, this performance at an FFXIV Fan Fest happened…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T6tEi-6BLsw

…immortalizing TheTwinning.mp4 forever.

In addition (sorry), there’s a thing called “tanking the floor” in FFXIV, which basically means that you died during a fight and now your duty is to make sure the floor isn’t a threat while everyone else actually plays the game. Apparently, “floor tanking” is “licking the floor” on Japanese FFXIV servers, so the implication is that Popuko (like many FFXIV players) has died many, many times to the boss character Titan’s move Landslide, so many times that she’s capable of telling which version of the fight it is—extreme or hard—simply by the feel of the floor.

So it’s a joke about a fight in a game, which is fine, but it’s also a joke about a live performance referencing a meme referencing the game. I assume every joke I don’t get in Pop Team Epic is exactly as complex as this for whatever its target is, honestly.


42:19  Here I was thinking that I would ruin the entire episode with a comparison to Seth MacFarlane’s Family Guy animated cartoon, but Chip, bless his heart, ran with it and even introduced a reference of his own: The Chicken Fight! 

I like that he brought it up in exactly the same way that, someone not knowing him, might say “There is a thing I really liked in Batman, where his parents are killed and that changes him forever. Do you know that part?” And he is the writer of The Batman. It’s perfect.

Anyway, here’s the first Chicken Fight from Family Guy.

And, to prove the point of Family Guy running jokes into the ground, here’s a playlist of all 11 times that they iterated on that exact joke.

As a reminder: They wouldn’t keep doing these jokes if people wouldn’t keep begging for more.

43:20 This leads to David mentioning another bit that goes on far-too-long for absurdist effect, and that is the Space Ghost Coast-To-Coast episode where Space Ghost shouts at an ant for a whole episode, completely ignoring Conan O’Brien.

44:10  Here we mention a bunch of different manga titles which are humourous in nature, and which you might enjoy if you can track them down.

48:30  Finally, here’s how season one‘s Takeshobo Publishing saga ends. The home of the publisher of Pop Team Epic, that Okawa includes to intimidate the publisher into publishing the book. It’s pretty good! And it’s also a good place to close out this episode! But come back after the break! We pick 3 new books for Chip, and there’s some fun shout-outs!


50:10: THE BREAK


51:00  We’re picking books!

DAVID recommends Takehiko Inoue’s Real Volume 13, a one-shot within the real series about wheelchair basketball and physical rehabilitation. It’s available in digital now, not print only. Actually it looks like it’s between printings in print right now. Weirdly, I couldn’t manage to get it to show up in my version of the VIZ app, so you might have to grab it from Amazon.

53:37  Sorry about being too close to the mic, that was embarrassing.

After that little interlude, DEB recommends What’s Michael? Fat Cat Edition Volume 1! By Makoto Kobayashi, published by Dark Horse Comics. It’s an omnibus collecting the first 2-3 volumes of the absurdist cat comedy manga What’s Michael?

I found it in Tokyo, by the way. Kinokuniya has a great selection of manga, I also grabbed Pluto Volume 1 too! Good stuff. 

CHRISTOPHER recommends the josei short-story collection Not All Girls Are Stupid, by Minami Q-ta, published by Starfruit Books.

We read a short-story by Q-ta, The Blood Red Boy in an earlier episode, and Christopher liked it so much he went and read the other two translated works by Q-Ta, PopLife Volume 1 & 2. Both of those are great too. So glad there’s a new book coming, and that we’re covering it!

Finally, Chip rolls out that order of his picks, and that means that the upcoming episode list looks like this:

Ep. 95  The Boxer vol. 1 by JH (Yen Press)
Ep. 96  SPECIAL! Interview with Abby Denson & Matt Loux
Ep. 97 The Untouchable Midori-kun vol 1 & 2 by Toyo Toyota (Kodansha)
Ep. 98  My Life as a Villainess: All Paths Lead to Doom! vol 1 by Satoru Yamaguchi and Nami Hidaka (Seven Seas)
Ep. 99  Pluto vol. 1 by Naoki Urasawa, Takashi Nagasaki, based on a story by Osamu Tezuka (VIZ Media)
Ep. 100  Real vol. 13 by Takehiko Inoue (VIZ Media)
Ep. 101  Not All Girls Are Stupid by Minami Q-ta (Starfruit Books)
Ep. 102  What’s Michael by Makoto Kobayashi (Dark Horse) + Garfield / Heathcliff

And as you heard, Chip wants us to read both volume 1 of Garfield and Heathcliff Volume 1 alongside What’s Michael, to complete the orange cat comic trinity. So that’s gonna be a weird episode. He’s tried to walk that back while chatting, but no dice.

Which brings us to…

1:02:00  SHOUT OUTS!

DEB shouts out the Shortbox release of Joe Sparrow’s Cuckoo.

DAVID shouts out Nichijou, and recommends checking out the Amazon link to read a pretty funny sequence from volume 1.

David then anti-shouts-out THE EQUALIZER 2, with Denzell Washington, and it is not good, do not watch it.

CHRISTOPHER shouts out Poptame, the indy book & art shop, and the Korean watercolor comic Today’s Desserts by Byun Young Geun, which has an English translation! It’s beautiful and peaceful and great, and that shop is great. Go support them.

Christopher also mentions the alt-manga and subculture shop Taco Che in Nakano Broadway. 

Chip has a story of a shout-out denied… And he really wants to see the movie TÁR:

And that’s this week in Mangasplaining! This episode is also available wherever you get your podcasts, so please subscribe and leave a review, so others can discover our show. 

Also, if you’d like to get the latest episode delivered straight to your inbox along with exclusive interviews, articles and new chapters of manga you can’t read anywhere else, subscribe to our Substack newsletter. See what you’re missing at Mangasplaining Extra!

Next week on Mangasplaining:
Get ready for our episode featuring first volume of The Boxer, by JH. It’s our very first manhwa title, a Korean webtoon you can read online via Webtoon or in print from Yen Press! Should be interesting!

The Boxer vol. 1 by JH

Thanks so much for listening! Please support your local comic and manga specialty shop when purchasing these books, and you can find one near you at comicshoplocator.com. You can also check your local library for print and digital lending options, they have TONS of manga! Finally, thanks to D.A.D.S. for their musical accompaniment for this episode.


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4 Responses

  1. Erica Friedman says:

    Thanks for the great episode. As a person who has read many dozens of 4-koma, I always recommend reading a few pages at a time, then put it down. These sorts of stories are published in 8 pages or so in the magazines, which seems about right to me.

  1. May 19, 2023

    […] The Mangasplainers tackle one of the most impenetrable gag manga ever licensed in English: Pop Team Epic, a series about “random internet humor, shitposting, and deep, deep self-loathing and self-recognition.” Creator Bkub Okawa even includes a helpful strip that “flat out tells you that you’re unlikely to get most of the jokes.” You’ve been warned! [Mangasplaining] […]

  2. January 22, 2024

    […] Ep. 94: Pop Team Epic, by Bkub Okawa […]

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