Pop Team Epic took Twitter by storm a few years ago, transforming the beloved four-panel comics into an aggressive and audacious multimedia experience that used rapid-fire punchlines and multimedia segments over a mere eleven minutes to create a surreal experience. Then, for the truly patient, it repeated those jokes for another eleven minutes with a different voice cast and minor spot-the-gag alterations. It was a profoundly love-it-or-hate-it experience. That show’s writer-director duo is now back with a show called Gal & Dino, which uses the same creative toolbox but provides a way more chill experience.
Like Pop Team Epic, the show is divided into segments, with the first half of an episode containing a mix of 2D shorts based on the original manga and 3D Claymation-style YouTube videos. They contain the gentlest of puns and goofs, providing the same kind of dopamine rush as videos of animals being unlikely friends. Dino enjoys ramen. Dino learns about New Year’s traditions. Dino is terrorized by local cats. But uniquely, each 3D short or bumper prominently displays the name of the animator who made it, which is no small gesture in an industry that chronically underpays and overworks its artists. In fact, the whole show feels like an excuse for artists to geek out about how they can use this fairly simple premise to experiment with all kinds of different techniques. The end credits are made with stop-motion felt dolls? Sure! Why the heck not.
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This love of experimentation perhaps explains the weirdest part of Gal & Dino: the second half of every episode is purely live-action. These shorts come the closest to echoing the mirrored format of Pop Team Epic, with long straight-faced set-ups that wait until the very end to take an absurd turn. Or things will escalate quickly, because the guest star is, say, an underground comedian who’s suddenly doing his most well-known bit. It’s not always funny, but in ways that often feel down to an awareness of how very not the audience I am for whatever is going on. In fact, sometimes I’m not even sure the home audience in Japan is the intended audience. The Gal & Dino crew might well be doing this for themselves, and are clearly having such a great time that it becomes enjoyable even second- or third-hand.
The show is one of many that went on hiatus due to COVID-19, airing seven episodes rather than the usual twelve. There’s still no word of either cancellation or continuation, but I don’t doubt that the live-action elements that helped it stand out now add an extra daunting element when it comes to crew safety. But while I would welcome the other half of the show, it’s also a perfectly satisfying recommendation as it stands. With no overarching plot to worry about, this is a brief experiment in animation best enjoyed in bite-sized chunks. And it would probably be rad on weed, too.