The sci-fi comedy/parody series Excel Saga is quite well-known in the anime and manga community, especially among fans who already watched more mature anime in the late 90s and early 2000s. Released in 1999, the show is based on the 1996-2011 seinen manga of the same name and directed by the inimitable Watanabe Shinichi (not to be confused with director Watanabe Shinichiro, of Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo fame).
However, far fewer people are aware of a two-episode OVA spin-off of Excel Saga the title Puni Puni poem (also written as Puni Puni Poemii), also directed by Watanabe. Just like Excel Saga parodies various anime and manga stereotypes and fanservice conventions, especially within the sci-fi genre, it also Puni Puni poem outrageously satirizes a number of magical girl tropes, with some of the jokes and sketches going so far that the anime was actually banned in New Zealand in 2004.
What Excel Saga is about
The 26-episode gag humor Excel Saga follows the exploits of ACROSS — a secret organization that exists to take over the world, beginning with the conquest of the Japanese city of Fukuoka. Two young female ACROS officers named Excel and Hyatt are charged with this mission, but it won’t be easy; a group of workers for the Department of City Security are determined to prevent them at all costs. Hijinks ensue as the wacky Excel and Hyatt manage to fail spectacularly at every mission, while the City Security operatives no longer find success in carrying out their own ridiculous missions. The result: almost constant death and destruction.
Along with parodying many common anime and manga codes and conventions, Excel Saga also highlights many of the real issues and topics of conversation that Japan was going through at the time, from office relations and gender inequality to politics and labor market issues. Created as a means to laugh at rather than be depressed by current events and worldviews, the series is often surreal in its comedy and often takes things to extremes. Consequently, episode 26, aptly titled “Going Too Far”, was only released on DVD, as it was purposefully made to be too violent and sexually explicit for public broadcast.
The plot of the Puni Puni poem and how it relates to the Excel Saga
Watanabe Poemy (Poemi) is a 10-year-old girl whose dream is to one day become a famous voice actor. But as unimpressive as her school grades are, her acting skills are even worse. Things take a sudden turn for the bizarre when a mysterious alien kills her adoptive parents and goes on a rampage around Tokyo. Fortunately, Poemy obtains a talking fish, which she promptly skins to turn it into a wand, and uses this to transform into the magical girl Puni Puni Poemy. Meanwhile, it turns out that Peomy’s best friend Futaba Aasu, along with her six sisters, are not ordinary members of society, but instead a secret team of super-powered heroines charged with defending Earth.
If Excel Saga considered excessive and borderline offensive, Puni Puni poem – a parody of the likes of Sailor Moon, Revolutionary girl Utena and Card Catcher Sakura, among other titles — is its even more deliberately explicit and excessively absurdist sister production. The premise was created from a small joke that was originally only part of episode 17 of the Excel Sagawhich Watanabe decided to take to its most extreme endpoint and create an entire OVA around it. Puni Puni poem was never designed to be televised; The direct-to-video format allowed the staff the creative freedom to portray more or less whatever they wanted without having to satisfy regular broadcast standards.
Why Puni Puni Poemy was banned in New Zealand
In December 2004 Puni Puni poem was outright banned in New Zealand by the Classification Office on the grounds that it promoted and supported the “exploitation of children and young people for sexual purposes”. Paradoxically, the anime was rated only MA15+ in neighboring Australia; in light of this, a New Zealand anime fan named Simon Brady appealed to the country’s Film and Literature Board to change the classification.
Brady argued that the characters and events of the Puni Puni poem was depicted “in the context of outrageous parody” and that as such it should be protected “as a vehicle for criticism and commentary.” Nevertheless, the board upheld its decision in 2005, despite the minority opinion that the production should be allowed in New Zealand under an R16 or R18 classification.
Fortunately, an update to this ban occurred almost two decades later. In June 2021, a member of the public submitted a request to review the Board’s 2005 decision, which reversed this ruling and reclassified Puni Puni poem as an R16 production — overall, a victory for those lobbying not only for this individual anime’s legality, but also for the protection of creative expression, overt satire, and free speech.
Puni Puni Poemy is licensed in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom by ADV Films, where it is rated MA, 14A, and 18, respectively. It is licensed in Australia and New Zealand by Madman Entertainment, where it is currently rated MA.