Hitsu's Blog

Dec 24, 2021 9:24 AM
Anime Relations: Mawaru Penguindrum
While this blog isn't really used all that often, once in a while I actually participate in little events where using the blog turns out to be of advantage - which is in fact why this little entry here gets written. About two months ago, I stumbled across the Secret Santa event by the AGC (All Geeks Considered) podcast through a retweet of a friend, and despite never having heard of the podcast before, I had experience with Anime Secret Santa events - in fact, I used to organize a few of them in the past for a German forum I used to moderate. I've never actually participated in one before though, so I figured - you know what? Sounds fun, count me in!

In the end, I received three recommendations, and I had to pick at least one of them to watch and review in the end (but could do more than one, which I initially wanted to do, but lacked the opportunity to do so). My choices were between Hidamari Sketch, Mawaru Penguindrum and Hyouka, and as far as I could tell, whoever recommended me those titles was struggling a little bit because of the size of my list (they admitted as much in the text I received alongside those recommendations, even). For what it's worth, though? All three titles are anime that I had on my radar to some level or another before, so they did a pretty decent job picking out what to recommend to me, all things considered.

I knew pretty quickly that I wouldn't pick Hidamari Sketch as my title for this event - nothing against the anime itself, but I just couldn't imagine actually getting a proper review of sorts out of the anime - since it's in all likelihood the sort of anime that speaks for itself, considering that it's one of the earlier 'cute girls doing cute things' anime. Those can be fun, but frustratingly hard to actually write about. As for Hyouka, I genuinely wanted to fit that into my watch schedule as well, especially considering that some of my close friends consider it to be the best KyoAni title (for me that will always be Fumoffu, but I disgress), but it wasn't meant to be just yet - will definitely be watched later on, though.

With that out of the way, it's obvious at this point that the anime I ended up watching for the AGC Secret Santa was Mawaru Penguindrum - which was recommended to me on the basis that my anime list has an Utena design, and that those who like Utena usually like Penguindrum as well. Admittedly, I'm only using the Utena list design because it's yuri (and I like the colors), but I DID enjoy Utena when I watched it a couple of years ago, even though parts of it weren't quite as good as people made it out to be. (Still an overall very good experience, of course.)

So how did Penguindrum fare then, both standing on its own and by comparison to Utena? Well, for starters, Penguindrum will probably be the sort of anime that will keep evolving in my head long past the point where I finished it, because even now, I'm still trying to put the pieces together in my head even though it's been around three weeks since I actually finished watching it - I hoped time would give me a bit more clarity here, but Ikuhara never had any intentions from the start to make this easy for the viewer. As such, I'm not really feeling confident in calling this an actual review on Penguindrum - hence why the title of this blog post calls it impressions and thoughts instead, which, hey - is still fairly close, right?

Perhaps the hardest part of Penguindrum was to actually get through the beginning itself. It had brilliant hooks from the get-go, as the first episode was all I needed to get invested. You could immediately tell even before the incident of Himari's death that SOMETHING was going on in the Takakura family, it was just a question of what exactly it was. The three siblings bounced off each other well, with Kanba and Shouma standing out more than Himari to me, and even more so after Himari actually "died" and there was first friction between their opinions - and of course, that's before things got weird by the penguin hat possessing and reviving Himari, or the three of them receiving invisible mini penguins that do their bidding (and provide for some nice background comedy here and there).

But that alone would be boring, wouldn't it? Perhaps Ikuhara was wondering how much he could get away with on television, or perhaps he thought the last stretch of Utena didn't go far enough for his liking, and so... enter Ringo, simultaneously both the best and the worst character of the show at the same time. Oh Ringo, what a weird journey you were going through. My reactions regarding her ranging from "She's annoying, don't let her get too much spotlight going forward." to "Well, at least her mental fantasies look pretty neat in that Shoujo style, I don't mind that one as much." to "GIRL, WHAT THE EVER-LIVING HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?" to "Thank god, she's finally pulling herself together." to "Wait, when did she suddenly become the most sane member of the cast?" to finally "Well, she genuinely did deserve better in the end.". And as might be obvious, a character that can go through such a journey is an experience on their own alright.

Ringo made that first stretch of the series to be a bit of a chore at times - in particular, her total obsession with Tabuki and her one-sided catfights with Yuri over him was quickly getting old without actually having the proper context about just why she was doing any of this, especially as she was dangling her diary as a reward over Shouma's head the entire time as she kept roping him into things. The impression of something going on with the Takakuras continued, with little hints dropped here and there, but until episode 6 finally gave the first pieces of information regarding Ringo's actual motivations, it was a little bit hard to get through the material - thankfully, I watched the anime alongside a friend, so that helped me keep motivation through that first quarter.

Things were finally looking up... and then episode 8 happened. Not cool, Ringo. Not cool at all. For an episode or two, any remote sympathies I had for her already crashed again, because, well... why did Ikuhara think again that she needed to try to rape Tabuki (and drug him beforehand)? If only I knew that would start a little pattern down the line...

On the other front of the plotline, there was the whole Masako and her chasing after Kanba subplot, but at that point in time, I wasn't really invested into that just yet - again, because not much about Masako was actually known, and she herself only really repeated her one catchphrase over and over again at that time.

Thankfully, just when things were about to take another dip, Shouma did what Shouma does best - improving the plot. Stopping Ringo and talking some sense into her? Very good. Actually risking his life to keep Ringo safe from a car crash, therefore showing her just what she could have done to herself? Also very good. Sure, it took another incident for her to snap out of the Tabuki obsession for good (frog Tabuki was creepy, I'll give Ikuhara that), but I'd argue from that point onwards, Penguindrum only went up instead of down anymore.

The first Himari flashback episode and by extension Sanetoshi's first appearance provided some much needed focus to the plotline again by bringing things back to the trio that actually started everything instead of Ringo's obsessive love life, which was just what the anime needed or the midpoint climax of the story (Himari's second death) just would not have worked as well as it did.
... if you're wondering why I haven't really mentioned any of the Survival Strategy segments yet, it's more or less because they blended in all together - they're nice when they appear, but also so cryptic most of the time that there really wasn't much to take away from them on a first viewing other than "Oh hey, cool song!". But Utena already did that too.

A lot of what happened in the second half is stuff that I'm still working through in my head even now, admittedly, so I don't quite have as many organized thoughts about it as I had for the first half, but for what it's worth, it ended up being a lot more engaging. The backstories for Tabuki and Yuri, and how they tie into Momoka, the character looming over the plot all along. One of the most disturbing concepts I've seen in anime in a while, the child broiler. Getting more focus on Masako and actually explaining what the deal with her is. Kanba getting more and more involved with the Penguin group, while Ringo actually becomes sane again and somehow the most likeable character of the show now. The sudden revenge plot from Tabuki, the revelations about what the Takakura family actually did in the past, and of course Sanetoshi sinking his teeth into the people he hopes to make use of more and more. A lot of it can be summed up with "Family can be really messed up depending on which one you're born into.", but then you also get commentary alluding to the real life Aum cult and the Tokyo subway sarin attacks, which I only read about after I already finished the anime (I wish I knew about this earlier, this could have given me more context for the final stretch of the anime itself). There was a lot to process, and because of that, the anime probably lends itself to a rewatch extremely well, but that's something for a few years down the line, not earlier than that.

Suffice to say though, I genuinely did enjoy Mawaru Penguindrum on the story side despite the nitpicks I had about it, and on the character side as well - even if some characters leaned a bit too much into the crazy at times for my liking (there was no need to have three separate attempts at drugging + rape within the anime, but somehow Ikuhara thought that was necessary...).

In the visual department, I liked the way the anime looked - you shouldn't really expect too much commentary from me on this front, because I usually tune out slighter animation hiccups and only really notice when they're super blatant, which obviously wasn't the case for Penguindrum or the internet would never let you hear the end of it. A bit minimalistic at times by not even giving unnamed characters any semblance of a character design, instead showing them as little figure cutouts, but that seems to be more or less Ikuhara's style as well - the same thing was done for Utena too, after all. One thing I definitely have to point out though is that I loved the selection of end cards - not just that the anime had them at all (nowadays, this unfortunately isn't a guaranteed thing anymore), but also the choice of pictures for the cards themselves - I don't take screenshots of anime often, but I definitely did stop and take one for each respective end card because they just looked that good (hence why you can see me including a few of them in here to break up the text every now and then).

As a final thing to talk about, there's the music, openings and endings - which also won't get that deep of a mention, but I wanted to shortly talk about them anyways. Ultimately, the soundtrack was pretty much unremarkable for the most part, with the only track that actually stayed in memory being the vocal track for the Survival Strategy segments - but that one really is catchy, isn't it? The openings and endings on the hand were for the most part excellent - I already knew the first opening for years and liked it a lot, but I didn't know the endings before, and turns out... that first ending is the best piece of music that the anime actually has. The endings for the second half of the anime, done by the in-universe group Double-H... were good, for the most part, but not quite as memorable as the first ending, if I'm being completely honest. As for the second opening... fine, but didn't measure up to the first one in the slightest.

With all that being said, did I enjoy Mawaru Penguindrum overall? Yes, definitely. It's nowhere near being a perfect anime, but it's definitely a very entertaining one, especially as you get past certain points of the story, and as such I do think I'd be able to recommend it to certain other persons in the future (providing some caveats, considering that some of the scenes definitely aren't for everyone). Did it measure up to Utena, the anime that made the person who gifted me Penguindrum recommend it to me in the first place? Well.. no, but it didn't need to, I'd argue. I had a good time with the anime all the same, and in the end, that's what counts. I was on the fence about just what score I'd give to the anime, whether it'd be a 7/10 (still good in my book) or an 8/10... but in the end, the second half was good enough for me that I felt an 8/10 was more than justified here. Whoever gifted it to me - thank you, it finally gave me the push I needed to actually start it! As such, I'd consider my participation in the AGC Santa to be a success.

Posted by Hitsu | Dec 24, 2021 9:24 AM | Add a comment
It’s time to ditch the text file.
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