What I’ve been watching: Mawaru Penguindrum
One month ago I marathoned through Mawaru Penguindrum. And every once in a while, Ash-Gray Wednesday suddenly pops into my head and I have to take pause of whatever I was doing.
Mawaru Penguindrum is a story about a family of three. Two brothers, twins, and a little sister only a few years behind. The three live alone, best they can, but a sad atmosphere follows everything they do. The sister is terminally ill, spending her last days with them in the house they grew up in together with their parents, and then made their own after they were gone.
There is but one hope, given to them in one of the weirdest twists of fates. The boys are tasked with finding the Penguindrum, and only with that can they save their sister’s life.
From the very first episode, Penguindrum sucked me in. You see, I’ve become a sucker for family stories over the last few years, and the plight of all the characters in the story revolve around their families. On top of that, I’d be doing a disservice to not mention that the show becomes very surreal. There’s a penchant for scenes to be explained with the wildest metaphorical imagery, either being imagined or happening in reality. Sometimes, the characters themselves can’t even tell; they’re being taken for a ride just as much as we are. And that’s another facet of anime I’m continually drawn towards (I did do a post about Tatami Galaxy, did I not?)
I will say what I was told, that the director of Mawaru Penguindrum was also the director behind the Sailor Moon and Revolutionary Girl Utena anime. And that he has a certain style to both his scene direction and character building. Honestly, it was this passage from this blog post that came from another blog post that had translated the director’s commentary over the first few episodes, that won me over.
The problem with Penguindrum even amongst the staff is that nobody understood exactly what kind of show this was going to be. The only one who really knew what kind of show it would be, was Ikuhara himself. So no matter how much he tried to explain to the staff, they can’t completely understand. He could only tell people , “Well, there are penguins in it!” but of course you can’t make a show consisting simply of penguins just being cute. Everyone would be like, “Where exactly is this going?!”
The point where the staff finally clicked and understood the show themselves, was when the ROCK OVER JAPAN sequence was finally completed. It took a long, long time to finish it. Ikuhara was working on the storyboards during New Year’s Eve of last year. Agonized over how to resolve the sequence. Didn’t think he himself was capable of making it the way he wanted it. Started to give up. The sequence did not click for him until one month before the Animate premiere event.
This was the first series since The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi to really make a play for my favorite anime of all time, FLCL. And to tell you the truth, FLCL and Penguindrum are extremely similar, to the point where I could easily call Penguindrum a slightly more toned down and deeper version of that six episode series.
I hope and wonder if Penguindrum will get licensed. From the title not being the easiest to translate all its nuances into English, to the story turning a little dark at times, it doesn’t seem likely. But then again, the last series to knock my socks off just as hard was Madoka (maybe I’ll do a post about that), and that got picked up immediately.
For now, I’ll leave you all with just a picture. Even the opening/ending sequences hold secrets. I will warn you that it will get very silly, it will get terribly sad, and at times will be just so odd that the characters have no choice but to accept it. If you’re like me and enjoy watching a show to deduce, experience, and then sympathize, I fully recommend this to you.