In 1986, the “Pingu” animated children’s program began in its home country of Switzerland. The cartoon quickly became a worldwide hit because of its unique, universal method of storytelling and simple humor that entertained all ages. There were two countries in particular where “Pingu” became a massive hit: the United Kingdom and Japan. The United Kingdom-based company HIT Entertainment purchased the rights to “Pingu” for a whopping £15.9 million after production on the Swiss version was stopped in 2000. They used their investment to produce more episodes of the series from the years of 2003 to 2006.
Both the Swiss and British versions of “Pingu” were
massive hits in Japan; if one searches “Pingu” on eBay, all sorts of exclusive merchandise, books, toys, and even Game Boy and DS games that were only released in Japan pop up. As the series has continued to thrive in Japan even without new episodes being made, it would make sense that a Japanese company would want to invest in producing new episodes for the franchise.
Enter Polygon Pictures. Instead of continuing the original series, they decided to completely change up the formula and reboot “Pingu” for a new generation with “Pingu in the City”. Not only is the series now computer-animated, but Pingu’s family has been moved from their classic setting of the South Pole into “the city”, where new adventures await for the always curious Pingu. But does such a drastic change work with “Pingu”?
Let me explain a bit about my history with “Pingu”. I remember watching the original show when I was younger and enjoying it, primarily because it was weird that channels aimed at running educational drivel would often put it on their schedule. Let’s face it: you can’t learn much from “Pingu”, but you’ll have a good time. The reason every country hopped on board with airing the show at one point is because of the unique storytelling method I mentioned earlier: the characters, instead of having real spoken dialogue or a narrator explaining the story, communicate through a made-up language known as “Penguinese”. In this sense, “Pingu” is educational, as it teaches children not only how to interpret a story through visuals, but how to read body language and vocal emotion to tell how others are feeling.
The first night I started taking antidepressants after getting out of the hospital and feeling shitty about life in general, I randomly stumbled across the original “Pingu” on YouTube again, and it honestly made me the happiest I’d been in a long time.
The feeling was only temporary, and something I’ve been chasing ever since. As such, I was understandably very excited by the news of this new “Pingu in the City” reboot. At the same time, I was a bit worried about the ways a different production team and changing the classic formula could go wrong. Another show from my childhood, “Max and Ruby”, was revived under a different production team who altered several aspects of the original. Max, who originally spoke in humorous one-word exclamations, now spoke full sentences, while Max and Ruby’s parents made random appearances seemingly in an effort to be “politically correct”. It just didn’t feel right.
Thankfully, the production team of “Pingu in the City” is clearly very familiar with the original source material, as this reboot has all the charm and humor of the original. Pingu is the same accident-prone yet lovable penguin child he’s always been; the new setting of the big city gives plenty of new opportunities for the story that it’s never had before. The “Penguinese” language, including the classic battle cry of “Noot noot!”, has been left fully intact. Unlike other shows (*cough* Berserk 2017 *cough*), the shift to a new animation style is barely noticeable and actually seems to work to the show’s advantage.
Some might argue that “Pingu in the City” has a unique aspect over the original that really works in its favor; the setting is almost a utopia, where Pingu, a young child, doesn’t appear to go to school, and instead learns about the world around him through working at jobs with adults who are more than happy to help him learn. Kids in modern society don’t have the time to explore the world around them and learn what they like to do due to the amount of time they have to spend in school, which is a real shame. “Pingu in the City”’s utopia brings me a sense of joy, and a hope for a future with a reformed education system.
For all these reasons (and probably more that I'll wish I added later), “Pingu in the City” is more than a meme to me. From the first second of every episode, the show is full of a unique energy that immediately puts a smile on my face, even when nothing else seems to be going my way. I highly recommend the show for viewers of all ages, and hope that with the international licensing deals in progress (Sony has the rights to the show in North America, while Mattel has the rights in China) that every viewer possible will get to enjoy it. Ed Sheeran and Harry Styles both have Pingu tattoos due to their viewings of the original show as children. I hope ten to fifteen years from now another celebrity who’s popular with the kids will have a Pingu tattoo thanks to their viewing of “Pingu in the City” as a child.
Pingu in the City's first weeks in MyAnimeList's database have been rather turbulent. We've got everything from obnoxious, unfunny kids giving it either extremely high or low scores and its occasional inclusion in the overall top 10 through spam-filled, rule-breaking 'reviews' to toxic discussions over its status as an "anime" given the lack of loud, spiky-haired boys and annoying copy/pasted teenaged girls with extremely large eyes among its characters.
Pingu in the City can be better described as a spin-off of sorts to the award-winning European animated series "Pingu". The Western version of this show features the titular Pingu's various stunts and misadventures in a South
Pole village inhabited by anthropomorphic penguins. With its stopmotion-based clay animation, it quickly became a worldwide hit for its sometimes bizarre slapstick humor and the now-iconic "Penguinese" fictional language, which was as expressive and easy to understand as could possibly be. There was never any need for dubbing or subbing: Pingu's appeal was mostly visual and completely universal, allowing it to take over the world and reach the largest audience possible destroying any existing language barrier. Originally airing in most of the countries in the world over the course of two decades, it's safe to say that most readers must have watched at least one or two original Pingu shorts at some point in their lives. Pingu proved to be incredibly popular in Japan, where its original version is still running - a couple of JP-exclusive games were even released over there, too. Being aware of that is important to understand why popular 3D animation studio Polygon Pictures would start producing this new take on a series over 10 years since its final episode and clears most of the shadow of mystery that's apparently hanging over all of the "anime is only my hand-drawn Cambodian cartoons" manchildren's eyes.
Unfortunately, as is usual for sequels that dare enough to change a classic formula, some of what may have made the original Pingu series so charming may have been lost or dimmed in its transition to CGI animation. The computer graphics look nice, of course. Directed with a "claymation emulation" technique, the effort and care of the 3D artists really shows, meaning that animation is way more up-to-date and that impractical or otherwise impossible to animate ideas can potentially be explored in the next episodes of the show (we had flying vegetables and a tennis match until now). Who knows what they can come up with, right? Still, the simple, goofy stop motion animation was probably what sold the original Pingu to much of the audience.
The new urban setting may also have taken out some of the bizarreness factor which made Pingu so unique - vast ice deserts and dreamlike clay scenarios now give place to a colorful, bustling city (Tokyo reference? looks pretty European though). But sound design might have taken the sharpest blow of all of the aspects, sadly. Penguinese comes back, as expected, but with different voice actors. It's still neat and funny to listen, but then some very small details bother me - the show's signature catchphrase ("noot noot!") sounds too different and characters now vocalize almost uninterruptedly, contrasting with the sparsely and cleverly used grunts and mumbling let out by the hilariously moody penguins from the original show. Maybe the excessively talkative penguins are there to represent how life in the big city is all about communication or something like that?
With simple plotlines and characters, the show has got just what it needs to hook its primary audience in, but expect some very light surrealism and situations deserving of a sincere laugh (no matter your age!) if the original series writing formula is to be followed.
In conclusion, while Pingu in the City may not turn out to be as grand as the classic series, it will still certainly make for a harmless, quick and fun weekly watch for the next 20-something weeks or so. If anything, Pingu in the City is already one of the most influential anime of recent times for exposing how noxious and puerile the modern Western anime community can be.
This is meant to be a fair preview of NHK’s 2017 children’s anime “Pingu in the City.”
In this preview, I aim to provide credible information regarding this anime to those who might look into this show no further than reading the reviews on this page.
As the newest season of a mainly episodic series with little to no overarching plot, Pingu in the City is by no means groundbreaking. With that being said, the 6 episodes of this season that have aired are far from bad. The stories are predictable and follow traditional themes of children’s storytelling, but there is a uniting theme
of “work” at the core of every episode. This can be broken up into sub-themes such as (but not limited to): helping, responsibility, and making the most of an unsavory situation. One positive aspect of the Pingu series that lends itself towards effective storytelling is its gibberish dialogue, which cuts out almost all exposition. At only seven minutes per episode, there is little to complain about here. For a children’s show, “Pingu in the City” is fantastic, but when compared with something intended for an older audience, the story of this show will obviously come-of as nubile and generic.
Despite the switch from the claymation of previous seasons to the computer-animation of this one, the art style of the Pingu series has always been good. The simplistic character designs of the previous seasons are still around, only now, their forms are a tad more consistent. The splendid texture work on the characters, objects, and buildings makes for a very convincing replication of original show’s soft clay aesthetic. While not exactly inventive, the shot composition is very nice, and the lighting looks quite realistic. Despite the constant technological advancements that are made regarding the visual fidelity of CG, the lighting and textures in this show cannot match the real shadows and actual clay of the claymated original. One benefit of the switch to CG is the spike in animation fluidity and consistency, making “action” scenes more convincing. If “Pingu in the City” was claymated like the original, while also using the artistic technique on display in these past six episodes, I’d give it a 10/10 in this category. Even though this is not the case, I feel that an 8/10 is a valid score for how well they were able to replicate the charming claymation of the original using a digital medium.
One of the Pingu series’ main appeals is its gibberish dialogue, and in “Pingu in the City” this is still the case. The voice actors flesh out the characters quite well, even though the words they’re speaking have no specific meaning. The OP and ED are short, cheery, and pleasing to the ear. The sound effects serve their intended purposes very well; I personally found the slapping sounds that accompany the movement of feet and flippers to be very cute. The background instrumentals are relaxing, and the overall soundtrack seems to be filled with a wide expanse of different songs that fit the tone of every scene in which they are used.
The characters presented so far are serviceable, but the only one with a discernable name is the main character, Pingu. After minimal research, I found out that there are only 12 other named characters in the series, including “Papa,” “Mama,” and his sister, Pinga. One might take this as a bad sign, but for the sake of this show’s interests, names aren’t really needed. Traditional family stereotypes tell us who Pingu’s mother is and who Pingu’s father is; there is no need to for exposition. So far, the only one of these characters with ample screen time has been Pingu. As a mostly episodic anime, there doesn’t seem to be any significant character growth or deterioration from episode to episode. At the end of episode 3 however, Pingu seems to have grown into a more responsible person, so there is the possibility that his character will change with time.
I’ve enjoyed this anime far more than I had originally expected, which is why I’ve written such a dead serious review; I want to give an honest opinion for those who are drowning in this sea of memes. Pingu in the City makes for a satisfying weekly reprieve from the more violent and depressing anime that I usually consume. With 26 episodes at only 7 minutes an episode, this anime is easily consumable and doesn’t demand the commitment that a normal anime might demand in order to get anything out of it. The hypersexual, overly violent, and needlessly cutesy aspects of modern anime which usually drive people away from this medium are not present here. I can say with certainty that this show is for everyone.
Overall Rating: 7/10
Despite the lengths to which I have gone for the sake of this show, I am not an avid fan Pengu. I’ve only seen a few episodes of the original seasons, and that was only for the sake of comparison in this review. I’m just a guy who saw a charming, fun show being overtaken by a meme, and felt the need to do right by said show.
In deeming this a preview, this review will most likely be removed upon this series’ completion, and I’m ok with that; I can write a full review when that day arrives.