Mawaru Penguindrum is one of my favourite anime :-)
One of the other reviewers mentioned that you should watch it after you've already seen a considerable number of anime, and I agree. The first time I watched it, I have to admit that I thought it was confusing and silly in some points; and above all I found the "seizon senryaku" (the survival strategy) as well as the penguins extremely annoying and childish. Nonetheless, even the first time I thought it was a good anime. The second time round I was instead singing along with the survival strategy thing and observing the penguins' antics with an amused smile.
The animation is great. I love the colours and the drawings, it's stylish and just great. And Himari is gorgeous. The music also is great, the OP and ED songs are all very good and catchy, they stay in your head and refuse to go; and the background music fits the story perfectly well. I also think the voice acting is good, especially Himari. Ok, I guess I'm probably a Himari fan...
The story is...difficult to describe without giving away major plot points. There is maybe an excessive effort on part of the authors to constantly surprise the viewers with countless plot twists, always going against the mainstream. It also switches really fast from one mood and genre to another, from serious to slapstick comedy, to philosophical and political at times; from profound and thought-provoking to just nonsensical and crazy and plain weird. But rather than detracting from the continuity of the plot, that was one of the things I most appreciated. Never take anything for granted because the unexpected is always around the corner waiting to bounce on you and bewilder you: nothing and nobody are exactly what they seem. The first episode is really masterful in this, it just seamlessly goes from sheer tear-jerking tragedy to completely outlandish and eccentric in a matter of minutes. Anyway, just to give a brief summary of the story: Himari dies and is then resuscitated by a mysterious and exceedingly snobbish maybe alien entity which possesses her via a tacky hat and orders her brothers to fetch the penguin drum if they want to save Himari's life. And so it all begins. The two brothers, Kanba and Shoma, don't even know what the penguin drum is but they set out to find it and thus the story unfolds, with all the characters running around, sometimes in circles, trying to obtain the penguin drum while fate awaits as the final destination: but can fate be transferred from the track it seems to be on? can it be changed? The plot has some inconsistencies, and as I already mentioned maybe there are just too many plot turns and twists. But I still think it's pretty good. The central theme is fate. Is it something loathsome, expression in its inevitability of a cruel and unfair god: "If everything is already set in stone by fate, then why are we even born?". Or does instead the mere existence of fate, as something pre-established, give meaning to everything that happens and is: "Sad and painful things happen for a reason. Nothing in this world is pointless". And of course it's about love. All the characters are moved by love. Can love change fate? What are you willing to do to save the ones you love? How far are you willing to go? What are you willing to sacrifice? Does love justify any kind of action, even the most heinous?
The characters are also described very well. Maybe not all of them. But the major ones are all well portrayed. They have depth and a background story that is eventually revealed and helps you understand what initially seems puzzling. I just love Himari - but I already said that. And I also find that the relationship between the three siblings is sweet and touching. Ringo starts out as a creepy stalker character, but then she develops nicely. I don't really feel that the Masako-Mario duo was necessary or particularly endearing. And maybe the anime starts better than it ends. The initial part was maybe more inspired and well-executed than the end. But I do feel that these are minor quibbles. The good stuff outweighs the bad by a long shot.
It's a great anime and I really do recommend it.
When it stated, there were a lot of mixed feelings going on. As it progressed, I was more curious as to where it was going. But then came the climactic ending! This truley was an anime that kept you coming back for more. You laughed, you cried, and you found a strange love for the penguins throughout (which ended up being partially why I came back for more).
This is definitley a good watch and anyone interested should jump on this as I did.
When someone on the Internet describes a work of fiction as 'visionary', it's usually meant as a form of praise, referring to a willingness to defy convention in favor of something more thought-provoking and enticing. As defined by a dictionary, 'visionary' refers to embracing fanciful and often impractical ideas.
Mawaru Penguindrum falls under both definitions.
What Kunihiko Ikuhara of Utena-fame has created here is a show that takes philosophical musings on themes such as fate, love and death; and combines them with slapstick antics involving ghost penguins and ping-pong balls that erase people's memories.
If that sounds difficult to take seriously to you, don't bother watching this show. It's going to get a lot weirder.
The overall product is audacious, if nothing else; presenting the story 2 brothers, Kanba and Shoma, who promise to help a mysterious entity track down an object called the Penguindrum in a desperate attempt to ward off the death of their sister, Himari. Their quest has them run into a slew of messed up characters and situations, and before long the narrative turns into a complete mess.
There are several reasons for this.
A big problem is that the series has absolutely no regard for logic and consistency, even within its own narrative. At the start of the series, Himari is brought back to life after succumbing to an incurable disease. Her death and subsequent revival are treated as tragic and miraculous, respectively. Makes sense. What doesn't is that this is repeated several times over the course of the series, treated with the same impact every time. Viewers, however, might be puzzled or annoyed by this repetition seeing as it raises the question as to how severely this series treats the concept of death. This is exacerbated once another character reveals that he's been dead for over a decade, after which the story moves on, completely unaffected by the revelation.
Character development also tends to be very inconsistent. Motivations, personalities and even backstories can change from one scene to the next just to suit the needs of the plot. The aforementioned memory-erasing ping-pong balls are liberally used to retool previously established plot-points to the narrative's convenience.
Other, basic issues also plague the storytelling: many of the back stories feel interchangeable (crappy childhoods galore), some characters who get a lot of screen time end up being completely insignificant while others are introduced seeming important only to be forgotten about before anything could even be done with them. The latter goings-on of the story also feature hackneyed developments involving terrorism, delusions (it's all in your head!) and cliffhangers (someone was stabbed! but who?) that end up not mattering in the slightest.
Most damning of all, however, is the clumsy way the overall product comes together. The shifts in tone – from whacky to dark and vice versa – are as frequent as they are jarring, and it all too often feels that the subjects about which characters are philosophizing have very little to do with the story of two brothers who are attempting to ward off that which should be inevitable.
*WARNING! The following paragraph contains spoilers about the general tone of the ending! WARNING*
Speaking of which, the ending cops out on that in a major way. The series spends a lot of time emphasizing how ordinary people are powerless in the face of fate and that struggling against the inevitable will often result in greater tragedy. One would expect such a story to end on a tragic note as is befit for a something that fancies itself an exploration of fate, but the actual ending turns out rather bittersweet; mostly leaning towards the sweet considering the dark events preceding it.
All that said, the series must certainly be praised yet again for its unique style. This show isn't just different for the hell of it. Ikuhara combines audio and imagery in striking ways, constantly delivering scenes that will shock and surprise. Even if you end up disliking the series, there's a definite guarantee that you'll remember it. Which is more than can be said for a lot of other stuff.
In closing, I'd like to say that while many others would opine that the Mawaru Penguindrum's unique style, impeccable direction and interesting themes make for a wonderful anime, I think that there are too many issues with the overall product to really consider it great. Many of which, I feel, can't be chalked up to mere artistic idiosyncrasy.
Ir's either terrible or brilliant. I have seen it, and I sit on the terrible side.
I'll start with the positive.
No incest, the show teases incest but there's no incest. I nearly had a heart attack.
Visually, this anime is great. The openings are wonderful and softly hint to the underlying story that has not yet been discovered. The music is genuinly a delight and I had fun. The character designs are pretty good, nothing that'll make you spit your coffee at the screen. I'd recommend sub for this anime, the dub is a little awkward and painful. I also laughed sometimes at the humor, and I guess the ending is well rounded enough.
The story is... a tangled mess of earbud wires. At the end, I was so confused I actually had to look up what the hell happened. It's okay to leave some mystery and perhaps leave some things vague in order for the viewer to come to a conclusion. There's that, and then there's what peguindrum did Scenarios pop out of nowhere that determine the course of the plot but are never explained. Just explaining who got what of the penguindrum and HOW is mind numbing. Then there scenes where people are almost dying as children... not that it's explained how they got into this situation, why they got into this situation, who put them in this situation and oh by the way, they're starving to death in dog cages. Then it cuts back to the actual events. It's apparently not metaphorical or an interpretation of what happened, it is WHAT HAPPENED, and this isn't the only instance.
And there's a kind of a scene where a teenage girl attempts to rape her drugged (she did the drugging) teacher, but hey, look at all the bright colors.
Overall, watch it to be confused. This is like the ending of Ergo Proxy times 10 with so many colors. SO MANY COLORS.
Oh my god that show was a roller coaster, and not the fun kind. Jesus.
What I Liked: Brilliant job on the visuals. Symbolism and surrealism out the wazoo. The Takarazuka Revue parodies. Each of the main characters is fleshed out through mostly backstory. Miho Arakawa as Himari. All the opening and ending themes sounded wonderful. Amazing writing keeps the truth hidden until absolutely necessary and makes for some truly surprising reveals.
What I Didn't: Suspense of disbelief needed for one of the major plot points (and surprisingly it's not the whole Penguin Hat thing). The second half becomes heavy with new reveals and plot-twists. Got sick of the "Transformation Sequence" pretty quickly. Point off for a "Dream" ending disguised as a retcon. Mario almost seemed completely unnecessary.
Other Thoughts: Himari (or is that The Princess of the Crystal?) spends too much time running around in the buff for my liking...
Final Verdict: "Elaborate" doesn't even begin to cover this beautiful and confusing series about fate, love and loss. Full of symbolism, riddles, plot twists and complex characters, Mawaru Penguindrum does a brilliant job of meshing the humourous, the surreal and the downright metaphysical to create an interesting and lively story. On My Favourite Anime of All Time List.