Apr 6, 2013
chancellor (All reviews)
Mawaru Penguindrum is a beautiful piece of art. It can inspire either much love or hate, and new details are discovered with each viewing. Intelligent symbolism and heavy themes span all of Penguindrum's 24 episodes. Despite its surreal delivery, Penguindrum remains very real.

The story of Mawaru Penguindrum is completely absurd. Not absurd because of the surreal elements, but how it makes something so imaginative and implausible seem real. We start off with a dying sister, her revival, and eventual search for a mysterious object, called the "penguin drum". Yet, somewhere along the way, the story becomes a situation of life, death, and existence itself.

The plot takes a while to reach its climax. Half of the show is spent on character development, craziness, humor, and seemingly random events. The first half is exciting, and the absolute insanity never stops. However, this slow-developing plot is crucial; the characters grow on you. And if you have any siblings, it'll hit close to home. The second half, on the other hand, takes a dark turn, and the plot moves much quicker here. The development and random elements from the first half are pieced together, and nothing ends up being random or useless. Nevertheless, the show's thematic elements are certainly strange. There's comedy, terrorism/cult politics, moral ambiguity, philosophy, all tied together by the overarching theme of family and friendship. The story isn't just unique; it's relevant without being pretentious and forceful. As stated before, its absurd, but the themes, feelings, and other elements that Penguindrum invokes is very real.

Brain's Base put quite some effort here. As the makers of Natsume Yuujinchou, the art quality is outstanding. The story isn't the only thing that's surreal; the art is too. From the strange angles and fantasy-esque scenes, the art has a Shaft feel. How a studio is able to go from a calm slice-of-life, realistic style to flamboyant, Bakemonogatari-like flair is beyond me. The art truly complements the story.

Sound is just as great as the art. The music is simply stunning. The opening themes are performed very well, and their compositions are genius. The ending themes are mostly covers of ARB (old Japanese rock band) with a cool twist. Dear Future (first ending theme) is exceptional--extensive use of hemiola, polyrhythms, layering, and the most angry/painful sounding minor chords. In other words, the music was made for musicians while being very accessible. This isn't you regular J-Pop or J-Rock fair. The rest of the soundtrack is appropriate, but not exactly memorable. Sound effects are also well-done.

Again, character development is crucial to Penguindrum.

Kanba: You'll hate some of his decisions, but you'll always have sympathy for the Takakura siblings. He's a cool guy, and he will do anything to save his family, no matter the consequences. He does some immoral things.
Shouma: He's innocent but brave. He will only do what is right, but just like Kanba, he tries to protect his family whenever he can.
Himari: She's the little sister of the Takakuras'. She's rather intelligent and insightful, and unlike the majority of sisters in anime (or in media in general), she's not filled with moe/kawaii or tsundere-ness. The Takakuras are very likable, and each have their own quirky personalities.
Ringo: She'll creep you out for most of the show, but you'll eventually love her too. Confused but wholehearted.
Penguins: THEY ARE THE CUTEST THINGS IN THE UNIVERSE. They provide most of the comedic relief in the show, and each penguin takes its personality quirks from their respective owners.
The remaining cast are interesting, and they all add quite a bit to the story.

I loved Mawaru Penguindrum. It has its own peculiar charm through its humor and its tragedy. I thoroughly enjoyed Penguindrum's use of literary themes (foreshadowing, allusions, etc.) and overall artistic approach to everything. In addition, it made me feel a wide-range of emotions, from joy and confusion to sadness and anger, and by the end of it, I was left crying with tears of sadness and joy.

But that's not to say that you'll love it too. As with any work of art, it will inspire love or hate. In any case, if you happen to enjoy this show, it will open your eyes quite a bit--if you're not used to opening them. Otherwise, you'll be very amused. So, give Mawaru Penguindrum a shot. It will take the whole show to truly appreciate it, although I question your humanity if it doesn't make you interested.