22 May 2024
Penguindrum read Robert Ewing's review

Anime Review – Penguindrum

Kunihiko Ikuhara might not be a name that springs to mind regarding recognisable names in anime. But he has worked on and created shows that will go down in the anime history books as all-time greats like Sailor Moon and Revolutionary Girl Utena. However, it is his second show that he created that has stuck with me ever since I saw it. Penguindrum also known in Japan as Mawaru Penguindrum was created in 2011 and ran for 24 episodes. The series follows brothers Kanba and Shouma Takakura who are living their normal life when suddenly their sister Himari passes away due to a serious illness. Suddenly a magical penguin hat that contains a magical spirit brings the sister back to life. The spirit says she can bring Himari back to life permanently if they achieve one simple task. Retrieve the penguindrum. While this plot sounds ridiculous and over-the-top the series grounds itself by telling a modern and mature story around love and whether the actions of parents should impact the children.

Many aspects of love are explored for example one subplot deals with whether should we love our biological family more than our chosen film simply because they are blood-related. This idea of chosen family vs biological family is such a modern gripping concept that seeing it explored in an anime created 12 years ago is truly refreshing and impactful. However, while I will praise this show for its powerful message and themes how it decided to present those themes is very problematic, to say the least. There is another plot line that follows Ringo a character who is believed to be in possession of the Penguindrum as she tries to win over a man that her sister was meant to be infatuated with and her parents adore. Her plot line while it explores interesting ideas also feels exploitative and like it is only there for the shock value than real substance.

The Ringo storyline takes up a lot of the first half of the show and while it leads to a conclusion that is truly gut-punching, I cannot say that it can be hard to sit through. It is why I’m glad the 2nd half is nothing short of a masterpiece of animation. While the show is consistently gorgeous from the survival strategy scenes which have the penguin hat spirit transport our characters to a magical place with a catchy song to boot. The 2nd half showcases Studios Brains Base talent on full display. There is a lot of incredible metaphorical imagery which some can be understood by all others do require some understanding of modern Japanese history to understand for example way the number 95 constantly appears but only adds to the overall substance of Penguindrum.

Many small details add to the overall presentation, the series has a lot of train imagery as it is linked to the core storyline. So when flashbacks happen it looks like a station information display, episodes are called stations and during ad breaks, we can see a map that shows an icon moving closer towards the next station. The direction is incredible and Ikuhabra did a truly masterful job. If it were not for my issues with how the series presents some of its core themes, I would have said that Penguindrum is a masterpiece instead it’s a great show that is held back by some strange choices. I do think this is a match-watch show for anyone who likes anime and wants to watch an original anime-only story on their screen.


Penguindrum is available on standard edition Blu-ray by Anime Limited

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