Who’s this director that so many people I’ve been hearing about in the past 6 months?
Kunikiko Ikuhara, huh? This is the guy that directed Revolutionary Girl Utena, most episodes of Sailor Moon and more recently, Yuri Kuma Arashi and I know for a fact that many anime critics (at least the ones I know) have praised his works for the amount of symbolism, weird choices of visual fare and Yuri elements added in. However, like any director similar to him, there is a time where his style doesn’t always work and can often backfired on him.
How will we know? Let’s see and find out with Penguindrum (or Mawaru Penguindrum if you want to use the full Japanese name for it).
Twins Kanba and Shoma know is that when their terminally ill sister Himari collapses at the aquarium, her death is somehow temporarily reversed by the penguin hat that she had asked for. It’s a provisional resurrection, however, and it comes at a price: to keep Himari alive they need to find the mysterious Penguin Drum. In order to do that, they must first find the links to a complex interlocking chain of riddles that has wrapped around their entire existence, and unravel the knots that tie them to mystifying diary and a baffling string of strangers and semi-acquaintances who all have their own secrets, agendas and “survival strategies.” And in order for Himari to live, someone else’s chosen destiny will have to change.
If I had to compare Ikuhara to any director in Hollywood, it would be Baz Luhrmann (Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge, The Great Gatsby) and the reason why? Both has a great amount of visual fare that really captures your eye on how stunning it can be but both of them got their weaknesses as well…..and it’s mainly story and characters.
You have the main plot of the brothers finding this Penguindrum to save their sister and to get info on that, they have to follow this person Ringo Oginome. Knowing about the past of Kanba, Shoma, and Himari and the character interaction has been the high points of the show and maybe even the emotional (well, the one that’s done right) aspect.
Any other subplots in here felt like it was filler that should’ve been cut from the final product and made into its own spinoff instead of shoving it here because it was disrupting the main plot with a sob story of Ringo and the death of her sister Momoka and how if she gets together with one of her sister’s friend Tabuki, she’ll become Momoka and it’ll be all according to fate and all that. To me, that subplot felt more irritating watching it than just describing it. The romance element of the show has bad writing written all over it from the stalking to the cheesy love explanation between Ringo and Tabuki…or even her and Shoma and of course, there is a hint of some incestuous undertones in there and while it’s not enough to be severely problematic but still problematic to a fault. Ikuhara may be a good director when it comes to romance as proven with Utena and YuriKuma but he is bad as a writer of romance when it comes to this show considering he did wrote the all the episodes with some help from writer Takayo Ikami.
The penguins themselves….they provide some humor and symbolism for the show and even though most of it was funny, it does come as distracting in more of the serious moments like the penguins are the best part of the show but placing them in the utmost serious situations feels out of place. Like I said, I get the whole symbolism of it but I thought it could’ve done without it.
All points goes to Brain’s Base for their animation as its different styles of color palette, animation effects, and how it helps with the storytelling when it comes to the flashback stories and the train rides. Character designs aren’t too special but it does have a cleaner look than what Utena brought us.
Musically, the show’s music has their moments within the score that almost resembles the score of Utena from the dramatic tones of piano to the especially with one of the insert songs whenever the show goes into “SURVIVAL TACTIC!” The first opening was “Nornir” by Etsuko Yakushimaru Metropolitan Orchestra was nicely done in its while the 2nd opening “Boy, Return to Me” by Etsuko Yakushimaru Metropolitan Orchestra was rather ok and a listenable track. I would comment on the ending songs but this show has about 10 ending songs and most of them really don’t hold out well maybe except for DEAR FUTURE by coaltar of the deepers.
And now for the moment most of you have been waiting for……is what I thought about the English dub and yes, I heard not so good things about it. Most of them were true, direction was pretty bad in the first half given that it is a Sentai dub and of course this is a Steven Foster directed dub (He no longer directs English dubs for Sentai Filmworks) but the second half wasn’t touched by him; it was Scott Gensch. Acting was sub-par from the voice actors with performances that wasn’t that memorable and kind of off but not too bad as the 2nd half did improved a bit.
FINAL VERDICT: Penguindrum has a good idea going for it and with the right amount of great visual and sound aesthetic but the way it’s interpreted, it felt like it got his head too far up its own behind. You have an indistinct story that should’ve been 12 or 13 episodes and you could easily trim off the fat (the fat being the Ringo/Momoka/Tabuki love story) and made a decent story with what they got. It may be a favorite to many anime fans, this is just another title I’m not going to remember in a month.
So, did the show performed its survival tactic well for this review?
6/10 – VANILLA
PENGUINDRUM is available on DVD & Blu-Ray Disc via Sentai Filmworks. It is available from streaming on Crunchyroll, Hulu & The Anime Network.
Well, that’s it from me. I’m MAK2.0 aka The Blue Hybrid, bringing all the penguins into….well, anywhere.
Wait, you can’t see them? Oh, that’s right. No, I don’t need help.
PENGUINDRUM – animation by BRAIN’S BASE / distributed by SENTAI FILMWORKS