I've been a little late in starting this season, so I had heard a little about Mawaru Penguindrum. Though I still wasn't prepared for the reality I watched.
I had heard it was directed and co-written by Kunihiko Ikuhara, who was responsible for Utena, especially the Anime. Utena is perhaps one of my most loved Animes. It was something of an Oddball Anime, with special “even more oddball” episodes within it. From what I have seen so far, the series certainly going to be a little strange.
It may be because I am looking for them, but I do recognise elements that remind me of Utena. But comparing the two is something I believe will prove meaningless in the end. Similar to Utena, there seems to be an underlining theme of Fate in the series, and so far both episodes have begun with a short scene with a character talking about how they feel about the idea of fate. When a character announces that they have come from “The Destination Of Your Fate.”, it reminded me of “Absolute Destiny Apocalypse” in Utena. I have the suspicion the series will be exploring “unusual relationships”, much like Utena did somewhat. Kunihiko Ikuhara still seems to like having his characters pull things out of the chests of other characters, though it doesn't look like a sword this time. Also one character shown in the opening credits certainly seems to be something of a dead ringer for Utena herself, such that I wonder if this is Utena after Utena. I doubt that, but we'll have to wait and see. However the series, from the first two episodes at least, feels like it will have a more whimsical nature, and a slower pace perhaps? Or maybe the series will not settle into a formula like Utena? I have a feeling the series will have its own “duels”, but we haven't seen anything yet. In terms of oddity, it looks somewhere between a normal episode of Utena and a Nanami episode. I apologise for those of you who have not seen Utena, but to those of you who have, this scale will most likely make immediate sense.
The story follows a family of two brothers, Kamba and Shoma, and a sister, Himari. Parents are seen in photos, but are mysteriously absent. A happy family, but one shadowed by worry, for the sister has a terminal disease, one we see her quickly fall to in the first episode. While the brothers try to come to terms with their grief, they are surprised when Himari sits bolt upright in her deathbed, now wearing a strange penguin hat like the one her brother was buying for her when she collapsed, shouting...
She then proclaims that she has come from “The Destination Of” their “Fate”, speaks in third person about extending her life, and sounds like she is about to tell the confused siblings the price for this miracle when the hat slips off and she returns to normal, strangely entirely cured.
Their family life is restored to normal. That is until three unusual penguins turn up at their home, which apparently only they can see. These adorable mascot characters are used amusingly by both the director, and the characters within the series. However nothing in life is free it seems, and the presence of the Penguin hat makes a demand of the brothers, in return for her extending Himari's life. Bring her the Penguin Drum.
So far we have little idea as to what this artefact is, or even if the character the Hat's presence sends them after actually Has the drum at all, since she added a whimsical “probably” to the end of her mission briefing. Nor do we even have a clue as to the method that the brothers will need to use to obtain it, provided the presence is correct. However I do believe I'll be sticking around to find out.
The character designs look stunning, such that I can't wait to meet them, and the animation style fits the series well, though doesn't seem to have any real unique flair. The series has a nice shoujo feel to the art. The Opening and Closings are stunning, as is what looks to be a recycled sequence to be used in probably most episodes, for when the Hat possesses Himari. The fact it was accompanied by a song tricked me into thinking the episode was over as I found myself thinking “Hmmm, that was short...”. The music for these three reused animations is like delicious icing on the cake, and unite flawlessly with the imagery.
The voice work also works well to really bring the colourful characters to life. For example Himari's voice actress seems to be pretty new but falls perfectly into her role as the brother's much cherished, and rather playful, younger sister, as well as her possessed by the hat. Also, it is downright adorable every time she shouts...
...whatever this actually means?
The series is full of strange and wonderful imagery and metaphors, which may or may not be of importance. Who knows, apart from Kunihiko Ikuhara possibly, and we're unlikely to get any straight answers from him, ever. There appears to be a strange obsession with train related imagery Several scenes have taken place on trains even. It is more strange when used as a scene transition though. And we have not even touched on how bizarre the three penguin mascot characters are, but at least they have something to do with penguins, unlike the giant mecha teddy bears that seem to only have purpose as the holding cell for the brothers, and the steps for Possessed Himari. The whole sequence when Himari transforms generally doesn't make a lot of sense yet. My previous statement on the strangeness of the series is probably a contender for the understatement of the year.
I'll have my eye on this series, that's for sure.
One more attempt at psychoanalysing Kunihiko. In Utena, the reused sequence involved her walking up spiral steps, until late in the series. As she walked up the steps, a couple small extra pieces would be added to her outfit. In during the reused sequence in Penguin Drum, Penguin Hat Himari walks down some steps. Every few steps, she strikes a pose, and a element of her originally very elaborate costume vanishes. There is something very odd going on in this man's head.