What the Hell is Going On in Estab Life? – This Week in Anime

ESTAB LIFE: Great Escape defies explanation. A penguin Eastern bloc, a slime girl obsessed with underpants, and not an iota of sense in sight. Steve and Nick try to make sense of this entertainingly incoherent mess of a show.

This series is streaming on Crunchyroll

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.


Steve

Nick, I know we like to kick these off with things like “jokes,” and otherwise be “entertaining” during these columns, but I’m so mentally stunlocked by our featured show this week that I have no idea where to start. I mean, what am I to do when I have this picture of a communist penguin holding a handgun with his adorable little flippers? Where do I go from here?

Nick

I don’t know what your problem is Steve. I for one am very thankful we got to see Re:cycle of Penguindrum so early.



Gotta say though, a lot more guns in this version than I remember from the TV series.

That’s Ikuhara for you. Ever the perfectionist.

OK so yeah, this isn’t actually Penguindrum. Instead this little CG fever dream is from a different old-school anime creator. Namely, Shoji Gatoh, creator of Full Metal Panic! here to deliver…whatever the fuck ESTAB LIFE: Great Escape is.

So this is one of those always highly vaunted “mixed media projects,” a.k.a. “you knuckleheads better scarf down this anime slop and regurgitate all your money into the eventual gacha game.” Except a couple things set Estab Life apart from the soon-to-be-mobage chaff. First off, it’s the brainchild of Goro Taniguchi, who’s made some pretty darn good anime! I mean, he’s not directing this particular one, but Back Arrow was probably last year’s premiere hidden gem. And secondly, the anime seems to have been given the green light to do whatever the hell it wants, and apparently what it wants to be more than anything is an anthology of shitposts.
And what it definitely doesn’t want to be is a show that explains itself. In a way I admire how little it cares about telling you any concrete details about its larger setting. Like I can figure out there’s different walled-off sci-fi cities that are based on different areas of Japan, but I looked up the initial synopsis and 90% is news to me:

It honestly owns. Like, I’m so used to watching these interminable light novel adaptations that always go out of their way explaining exactly how many mana points it takes to cast magic missile. Estab Life just throws you in the deep end, and it’s full of furries and robots.


I’m left to assume the “genetically modified populations” bit in the synopsis refers to all the animal people (and just regular animals) we meet. Meaning somewhere in the future humanity figured out how to create flesh and blood Sonic OCs.

I have to imagine nowadays that’s the only reason anybody starts studying genetic engineering, so it’s a future that’s all but inevitable. As it should be.

Anyway, the actual story is that an intrepid group of anime girls called “Extractors” take on missions to help people escape their pre-determined lives in said sci-fi cities, and start new lives in other places that better suit them. So basically:

Ah yes, our heroines. Charming, cute anime girls here to help you escape your problems!

They’re very professional and good at what they do.





Equa is kind of like if a Love Live! girl escaped containment and became the leader of an underground spy syndicate. Also she might be immortal. It’s unclear. The most concrete thing we really know about her is that Martes is borderline-criminally in love with her.


To the point that, as early as week 4, the show breaks formula in order to give us a full episode devoted to the machinations of Martes’ inner self. Oh, also Martes is a slime.

They introduce us to that concept by letting Martes get sniped by a drone and having her head-slime spray out like blue viscera. Which is probably a more exciting method than a teacher explaining the science behind slime girls.

To be fair, I could do with a little more context about the science behind slime girls. Right now, all we’ve been able to glean is that it involves amino acids and a cordoned-off part of your personality that’s obsessed with eschewing underwear.


I think the perverts of the internet have long come up with horrifyingly detailed answers for that last one, so best not to dwell on it. Personally I’m more confused as to what a Gun Wizard is:

I think that’s just what the kids are calling tsunderes these days.


Weirdly enough being a gun wizard also ties into underwear. Because that’s how this show rolls.

And that’s the basic skeleton of Estab Life. Three eccentric girls and their dogman and robot sidekicks moonlight as rebels working against the societal oppressions that wear people down. But even all the jokes we’ve shown and made so far don’t do a great job of communicating just how strange this anime is—and is constantly.

For one, the way their clients contact them is by sending coded messages through TikTok dances.



Goes to show you, sometimes shitposts really are a cry for help.
That’s the first thing I was gonna bring up too! At no point do they actually stop and explain this, mind you, but every client is introduced with a double-digit view count YouTube video of them dancing like a jackass. I love it.



This is what REAL espionage looks like. [side eyes SPY x FAMILY]
It kind of reminds me of that YouTube hole game where if you search “IMG” followed by a string of four numbers you can find random, automatically uploaded videos with nearly no views. Except none of those have ever inspired me to dress up like a Vocaloid and help mob bosses in their quest to transition.





Estab Life eases you in episode one with a professor client who wants to die because he’s sick of teaching Nietzsche. Relatable. And then it quickly ramps the stakes up with the aforementioned yakuza boss/aspiring magical girl. Which is also relatable, but you can understand how it’s an escalation.

Episode one also eases you in by the escape method just being a really big zipline. It’s not until Mahou Shoujo Yakuza Magica there that things go full cartoon and they just fire him out of a cannon.

Most magical girls fly, when you think about it, so I think they’re just giving him another boost towards his dream. A big boost.




I think my favorite gag in that episode, though, is the weather forecast for turf wars.



The timing isn’t always there, but the show has a very droll sense of humor, and I’m weak to those.
Really though, that’s still training wheels. The real Estab Life doesn’t take off the weights until episode three.


This was the point at which I had to very seriously reckon with the possibility that Estab Life might be good.
A lesser anime would explain why there’s a communist bloc in Ikebukuro. A great anime just shows you a lot of penguins in hats.

“Good” is a strong word, but I do appreciate its willingness to just run with whatever goofy idea crosses its mind. This is a ludicrous setting that never explains for a second why Ikebukuro is now cold war Berlin, or why it’s inhabited solely by penguins. It presents it all with a totally straight face, like a true shitposter.


If the show took even a second to wink at the camera about any of this it’d be ruined, but Estab Life has the brass balls to never break face.

And of course, the punchline is a bunch of penguins spanking each other. This is true art under the umbrella of capitalism. It’s beautiful.


Penguins are indeed the opiate of the masses.



Anyway after that the show basically drops its client-of-the-week setup for an extended bit out of Spongebob Squarepants.


I’m sorry, Nick, I think you meant to say that this is a pointed political satire with a lot to say about society.


Look life is complicated enough with having to factor in the unprecedented rate of Gay Inflation.

The real innovation to the mind parliament conceit here comes when a grenade bisects Martes’ slime body into independent slime entities, which in turn fractures her brain into two separate diets: one governed by the lesbian party, and one governed by the dangerously lesbian party.




And as we all know, a lesbian divided cannot stand. She can, however, nuzzle her way like a slug into Equa’s lap.

Really it’s her fault she got bisected. Literally in the middle of a mission she just got super distracted with how gay she is.

There are talking pandas in this episode too, because why the fuck not.


And then the warring Marteses destroy the homeless panda sanctuary because that’s the raw power of a Lesbian divided.





Which brings us to the moral of this story: JK there isn’t one. Estab Life is beyond our puny human ethos. Now buckle up and drop trou, because we’re going to Odaiba, and there’s only one rule.

Yeah if it seems like we’re zooming through stuff, that’s only because this show is as slight as it is weird. There’s not really any character development or plot to speak of, and every episode dedicates itself to a singular joke so entirely that it’s hard to break it down any further.

It is capital C Committed to the capital B Bit. For better and for worse.

Which can be fun, when the episode takes a bonkers premise and runs with it. But if, say, it picks an unfunny joke for its episodic nucleus, you get 10 minutes of everyone telling Feles to take off her panties.


It’s neither good nor advisable, but no other show is going to spend 16 minutes building up to a throwaway sight gag like this, and there’s a deep, dark part of me that admires that.


It really does take conviction to build an entire TV show out of Sideshow Bob rake jokes. It’s not necessarily good, but you’re not gonna find moments like this in any other anime!


We should also mention that their god (who’s an AI, but you can only pick up on that via context clues or by reading the synopsis on Wikipedia) manifests as the Statue of Liberty in a bathrobe.

That at least makes sense since Odaiba has a statue of liberty mockup. I don’t think that one goes commando though.

And credit where it’s due, I was expecting an easy Planet of the Apes nod by the end of the episode, but Estab Life chose to pleasantly surprise me instead.




“Pleasantly” might not be the right word.
It’s really the only punchline you could expect from the setup. Mostly I’m just mad they didn’t give Lady Liberty some red white & blue briefs. That’s just not America dammit.

She does, however, provide divine intervention by way of underpants cuneiform. And I’m so glad that’s a sentence I was able to write thanks to this series.


And the moral of the story was that sometimes it’s ok to want to wear panties. The End.


With their overlords dropping wisdom like that, it’s hard to imagine why so many people are trying to Orange Justice their way into a new walk of life.

Really though, for as much as I like the kind of humor Estab Life is going for, I do think it’s a little too silly for its own good. This kind of humor works optimally when there’s just enough serious and earnest stuff at its core to contrast with all the goofy bullshit, and that’s just not here so far.

It also feels really strange doing a TWIA column on it, because it’s such an undiluted, unfettered progression of shitposts. Shitposts are supposed to be our thing! The unstoppable force is colliding with the immovable object, and both of them are making esoteric jokes about underpants.

Hell there’s even a running joke where their dog-man friend dies every episode and then just comes back unscathed. That’s Sonic the Hedgehog comic tier jokes. How do we compete with that?


We can’t, dammit! And as such, I have to say I definitely enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would. It’s not incredible—the banter needs to be snappier, and the 3DCG doesn’t do the cartoonishness of the writing any favors—but Estab Life is more amusing than it has any right to be. And occasionally, it touches the sublime. But that’s mostly when the total screen area meets a certain quota of clothed and coifed penguins.

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