Title: Popee the Performer aka Popee the Clown
Company: Kids Station
Format: 39 episodes
Dates: 2001 – 2006
Synopsis: Popee is a clown in a bunny suit who spends his days at a circus with his friend, Kedamono, a shy wolf who hides his true face behind masks of many expressions. Unfortunately for Kedamono, Popee has a taste for violence. The titular clown’s favorite way to waste time is violent magic tricks, which often end with one — or both — of our heroes dead.
CG: Ugly as hell, but it fits the spirit of the show perfectly.
Violence: As hilarious as it is twisted and disturbing.
Cartoon logic: Popee trades in building strange scenarios and paying them off in bizarrely logical ways.
Shorts: Each episode is roughly four minutes long.
Papi: I don’t believe in the Devil, but seriously, Papi is the Devil.
Popee the Performer is a hell of a trip. It’s a the closest I’ve seen any Japanese animation get to the lunatic highs of Looney Tunes, or even Ren and Stimpy or Rocko’s Modern Life. In fact, despite being hideously ugly (or maybe even because of it), Popee the Performer would fit right in with those dark, surreal classics of Western TV animation.
Popee has a brainless foundation. Nearly every episode is built upon the premise that Popee, or the circus owner Papi, will engage in some activity that ends in wanton slaughter. The titular clown lives only to satiate his bloodlust. He has plenty of opportunity to do so; through the course of the series, Popee saws characters into pieces, throws knives at poor souls, chucks bombs at anyone who crosses his path and even buries a chainsaw in a certain character’s face. There is rarely more than a streak of blood in the average episode of Popee, but that doesn’t lessen the shock of the violence.
If cruel, random violence were all Popee had to offer, however, then the show would scarcely be worth remembering. What makes the clown’s misadventures worth watching is the dark, surreal humor that permeates every scenario. For instance, one episode, “Ghost,” starts with Papi doing the old “sword through the barrel” trick with Popee in the barrel. Kedamono gives it a try, too; however, he accidentally kills Popee. Later, Popee’s ghost haunts Kedamono via the television. This is where it gets weird. The solution Papi comes up with to this problem is to dig up Popee’s corpse and give it CPR, which of course brings Popee back to life. Popee is angered at not being able to haunt anyone and lunges at the two with a sword. So then Papi proceeds to snap his and Kedamono’s necks so that they die and mockingly haunt Popee.
Funny thing is that this isn’t even one of the weirder episodes. Above all, that is what’s most appealing about Popee: the series never rests on its laurels. It continually conjures weird scenarios that start off in one place and end somewhere totally different and surprising. Yet, even as the show has the audience muttering in disbelief, it’s possible to follow its twisted brand of logic. Everything in Popee makes sense when you realize the only rule is that everything will be fine when the next episode begins. Other than that, anything goes. Popee uses that freedom to keep the viewer on his or her toes. It’s especially enjoyable how the series toys with perspective and the viewer’s sense of orientation to pay off some of its gags.
Popee the Performer is not for the faint of heart. The violence it employs is consistently empty and cruel, and Popee and Papi cut horrific, frightening figures. That mean-spirited streak should not totally obscure the cleverness of the show’s dark humor, however. It’s rare that any comedy, much less an anime comedy, is this imaginative and willing to go to such terrible places for huge laughs. Many episodes of Popee had me shouting, “Wait, what?!” at the ending. Several had me recoil at a violent act or disgusting piece of imagery. But all made me laugh and immediately want to watch the next episode.
Such is the power of Popee.
The Rating: 8
Reviewed by: Shinmaru