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Mawaru Penquindrum – Review

Okay, well, first I’d like to apologize for any Disgaea jokes that I make, because how can I not.  It has a condescending bitchy magical girl who controls a bunch of penguins in it, how can I not think about Disgaea?  And I’m sorry for such a long review.  Oh, I almost forgot, Merry Christmas everybody (at least it’s Christmas now in my time zone), hope you got all the stuff you wanted!

I don’t even know where to begin with this show; it’s one of the weirdest, most bizarre, confusing things I’ve seen in a long time, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t really good.  I had no idea what to make of this show when I first saw it; after all, the plot in the beginning of the series isn’t really the most normal part of the (already absurdly weird) show.

Describing the plot without making it sound absolutely ridiculous is nearly impossible.  The show is about a family of three siblings, brothers Kanba and Shoma, and their terminally ill younger sister Himari.  Although they live alone, in what is essentially Pee-Wee’s playhouse, they are a happy and loving family in a true sense of the word.  But, obviously, people can’t have such a happy life in anime, and Himari dies during a trip to the aquarium…. in the first episode.  While the boys mourn their sister in the hospital, a magical penguin hat (actually just a souvenir they bought for her) somehow gets onto her head and she comes back to life as Etna, which is seriously what I referred to her as because they don’t give her a name.  But Etna soon leaves their sister’s body and she is back to normal, and is alive again.  So they continue on with their lives, that is until a bunch of prinnies are shipped to their house, Himari turns back into Etna, takes them (Via a really crazy and cool ass transformation scene) to her magical thing-a-m-jig, and tells them that the need to get her something called the “Penquindrum” or their sister will die.  And that’s in the first two episodes of this crazy ass show.

But before I go anymore into the plot and how confusing it is, I’ll get the technical stuff out of the way.  In the terms of artwork and animation, I love and hate this show.  One of the things that I didn’t really originally care for was the shoujo style characters, mainly because my testosterone prevents me from looking upon any shoujo art style with approval.  And of course I’m being facetious, but still it’s a really odd art direction for a show that doesn’t really fit into the “shoujo” genre, and it definitely not with the backgrounds and overall animation of the show.  The show was produced by Brain’s Base, normally know for shows like Natsume Yūjin-chō and Durarararararararararara, and like those shows the animation is much better than most other anime, though a lot time and talent are wasted on the penguins.  Those Goddamn, mother fuckin’ penguins.  I absolutely abhor these stupid bastards.  They serve as only a minor plot device in the very beginning of the show, then after that, they’re pretty much pointless, at least story-wise.  But that sure as hell didn’t stop the director from deciding that these penguins needed to take up forty percent of the screen time per episode doing pointless shit.  Seriously, every episode you are guaranteed to see Kanba, Shoma and Himari’s penguins doing cute penguin things at least five times a show, always while other, more important stuff is happening.  I really wouldn’t mind it that much if it wasn’t so constant and continuous throughout the series, but its seriously every other minute that these penguins are eating whatever they find, looking up some girls skirt, stealing underwear, or helping with housework.

One other thing that kind of irked me were the other people in the series.  And by other people, I don’t mean characters; I mean your typical stand around and fill up space on a street or in a train people.  Simply put, because the studio spent so much damn money animating the penguins and all their stupidity, they didn’t have enough of the budget left over to animate or draw any of the background characters.  Every single person who isn’t a major character in the series is what can only be described as a crime scene chalk drawing come to life.  They don’t move their legs when they walk, they don’t have faces, they just float around an take up space.  Now, I’m sure it would have been hard to seriously animate as many street and train scenes as there were in this anime, but come on, you can at least draw the damn people.

Other than those two gripes that I have the overall artwork is done very well, and the combination of surrealism and normal animation works pretty well with the plot and style of storytelling this anime uses.  At times its pseudo cuteness did get kind of distracting, especially in the earlier episodes where it’s still a kind of quirky slice-of-life thing.  Most of the music is pretty standard; nothing really special or memorable, save both the OPs and EDs, which I really liked.

Okay, so plot, this is where everything gets crazy.  I can’t really begin to talk too much about anything other than the basic premise, because this is one of those shows where pretty much nothing you think you know will matter at the end.  No one is really who you think they are, everything is connected, these people are involved with those people, so on and so forth.  The one problem with the story is how hella confusing it is, and it may be just because it’s hard to remember every single thing that happened from week to week, but I think it’s safe to say the show itself is just complicated.  While the story does progress in a linear fashion, a lot of important things are told through flashback sequences, which are always begun through a short flashback animation.  This is where this already complicated show gets even more complicated.  Although most of the flashbacks are distinctly in the past, i.e. the characters are children or dead people are alive, sometimes the flashback takes place during the actual timeline of the show, though it often isn’t clear where.  Even some of the things that are way in the past don’t have a clear position in the linear timeline, and often where they happened isn’t really important, but still it can be pretty confusing.  Like the episode when Masako is dreaming about killing her grandfather and meets Kanba, didn’t she act like she didn’t know him, what was up with that?  And later on she eats the blowfish and gets poisoned, when the hell did that happen?  

There’s also one more thing that should be said about the plot, and that is SYMBOLISM.  This is where people’s opinion on the plot and the way it is told will begin to differ.  Now, I like symbolism and metaphors and things like that; after all, it’s far more interesting than just flat-out saying what something means.  But the symbolism and metaphors in this show did get kind of overbearing as the series progressed, and in the later episodes, the show gets really pretentious in the way it tells it’s story.  Everything’s fine in moderation, but damn Ikuhara,  show a little restraint.  About 3/4 of the way through the series, the show starts throwing symbolism, metaphors, and odd imagery around like it’ll be out of style the next day.  Honestly, episodes 17-24 can pretty much be called Symbolism: The Animation, it’s that annoying and ridiculous.  And through most of this phase of the show, as a viewer, you can do little more than sit around, twiddle your thumbs, and hope that at least some of all this crazy shit that’s going on will be explained at some point.  Unfortunately, not too much of it does.  People can speculate all day long about what everything means, what’s real and what isn’t, who these people actually are, what this piece of symbolism meant, but in reality, no one (other than Ikuhara’s crazy ass) will every really know what the hell’s going on, because so much of it is so vague and so open to interpretation.  

Yet, even with all of these faults, the story is still amazing.  While, the idea of two boys having to find a magic diary to save their dying sister may not necessarily sound like all that great of a story, it isn’t too long before the ridiculousness of it all turns into something really interesting.  It’s kind of hard to really explain the appeal to the story itself, because it’s really just finding out about the lives of these three siblings and how everything that’s happening to them is connected.  But the characters are so interesting that things like this are more than welcome, and you want to know about what’s happened to them and why they are the way they are.  Although the pretentious nature of the second half of the series may confuse and turn a lot of people off, the underlying plot isn’t really that hard to follow.  The characters continue to change in ways that you can’t predict, the plot quickly develops into something entirely different than what it originally was, and you really never have any idea what’ll happen next (but that may be because the show is so batshit insane).  

But what is a good story without good characters?  As I’ve stated before, the characters are great and develop a lot over the course of the series.  But, of course since this show is mainly about the characters, really saying too much about how they change would be a spoiler, which I try to stay away from in series reviews.  Just let it be said that Person A is not who you think Person A is, Person B is not who you think Person B is, and so on.  The one character that I had any problem with was Ringo, or more specifically, her arc in the series.  I know I just talked about not wanting to spoil anything, but this is literally in the second episode, so I don’t think it’s that bad.  Ringo is a stalker, a hardcore, live under her object of desire’s house stalker.  Now that isn’t really a problem in and of itself (well, it is, but you know what I mean), the problem lies in how Shoma reacts to this situation.  Ringo has the diary that Penguin Queen/Etna has told Shoma and Kanba is the penguindrum, so instead of calling the police or telling her stalkee about what’s going on and just taking the diary from the crazy bitch, he decides to to help her with her crazy stalker shenanigans in exchange for the diary.  Now, why in the hell would anyone, especially Shoma’s good-guy self, help some crazy bitch stalk someone?  Even if they need the diary for their sister, why not just take it?  Why let it escalate to the point it does?  Oh, and it reeeaaally escalates.  Other than that one thing all of the other characters behave normally, or at least as normal as they can, considering that a lot of these people are really crazy.

What more can I say about this show?  Since I’ve spent so much time talking about it, one could only assume that I love or hate this show.  And obviously I love it.  Of course, I can really understand the people who don’t, because it is really weird, it’s insanely vague, it’s very pretentious in the way it tells it’s story, and the ending may kind of be a let down to some people.  But these are the things that I love about it, I just can’t help myself, I love anything that’s just out of the ordinary.  I actually enjoyed the bittersweet ending, though it could have been much better considering how much they built it up.  I loved it’s surrealistic art style, it’s story, and it’s characters, so what other reason do I need to say I liked it?  Though, I will admit to constantly being frustrated by the lack of explanation of some of the more confusing and obscure parts of the show, that didn’t detract from it enough for me to be turned off to the rest of it.  I haven’t had this much fun waiting and wondering about each episode of a show in a long time, and this series is definitely one of my favorite anime this year.

  • Story – 9
  • Art – 8
  • Sound – 8
  • Characters – 9
  • Overall – 9
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