Mawaru Penguin Drum
Where to start…
Every once in a while, some kind of media will come along and change something in you. Whether it’s just a view on something small or large, or something that makes you completely rethink your life, It’s bound to happen at least once, if not multiple times. The first time this happened to me was when I first played Final Fantasy VII at the age of 12, it completely challenged my childish view of story telling, and I arguably never fully understood it until I replayed it in my later years. The second time this happened was reading His Dark Materials, which helped me finally shuck my lingering religious beliefs and reaffirm what I believed was true and good in life. The third and final time was with Neon Genesis Evangelion, because it made me think deeper about the human psyche, but more than that, actually made me go out of my way to learn things I would otherwise not have naturally come across.
All these things happened from the age of 12 in the first instance, and 16 in the last 2. I guess I had lost some hope that it would happen again, as 10 years on, nothing other than a couple of albums has had any great influence on me (but I don’t find music life changing, all the changes it seems make are changes to taste).
Then Came Mawaru Penguin Drum.
Animation: I didn’t realise that this was made by Brains Base at first, and my original thought was that it was Shaft. If you’ve read any of my other reviews, you may already know then that I loved it. The character designs are great (especially with the Princess of the Crystal), managing to tread a fine line between simple and distinctive, without ever appearing either boring or ostentatious. The backdrops are good, and the settings, especially the Takakura house, are well drawn and eye catching. It really shows us what it can do when it takes a slightly more… avant garde (for lack of a better word) approach, like with the train and how is occasionally looks in the middle and latter parts of the series, the animation as Himari’s ‘transformation’ happens. It’s just great. If I had to level one criticism, it’s that sometimes the backdrops or settings aren’t used to good effect, if I was to compare it to Bake/Nisemonogatari, I’d say that Shaft make a better use of plain surroundings than what Brains Base manages in this series. But it’s a small criticism, for an otherwise gorgeous show.
Sound: The soundtrack is good enough to warrant it’s own review, really, it’s amazing. The openings are great, the endings are sublime and the background music manages to perfectly suit each mood it tries to convey. I recommend everyone go and search Etsuko Yakushimaru Metro Orchestra - Noruniru (Ametsub Remix) on youtube, and while you’re there, search for Dear Future, the 1st ED too, both songs are good enough in their own right that had they not been anything to do with the anime, I’d still probably have loved them.
The voice acting is great, each character comes alive through their VA’s the standouts are Princess of the Crystal and Sanetoshi, although Masako and Ringo are also right up there too. Once again though, they are complimented by a great script. Anyone who doesn’t want to hear the Princess scream ‘SEIZON SENRYAKU’ is not worth knowing.
Characters: Oh god, where to begin? The characters are by far and away the greatest thing about the show, the story can become confusing (as I will discuss later) but the characters pull the show through your confusion. Each one has an amazing back story, loads of development and personality by the bucket full. It’s also fresh to see no character really personify a specific trope (not that that is always a bad thing, for instance, it makes Bake/Nisemonogatari what it is!) and instead focus on true development and realism. The character I most looked forward to seeing was Princess of the Crystal, although in reality I guess Ringo Oginome actually had more development, and a closer look into her psyche than any other character, and she always comes up good for whatever it is she’s there for. Himari is possibly the most interesting character, as the story really centers around her and her illness, but there are no weak characters in the series at all. My one and only criticism is of Shouma’s best friend, he appears only in the early episodes, and he’s so forgettable that he’s not even in the character database on Anime Planet, and I don’t remember his name, granted he wasn’t there to progress the plot in anyway, but as the rest of the show actually does away with extraneous characters I found it strange that he was even there in the first place, he doesn’t even serve to extract any information for us about Shouma or the rest of the Takakura family. Apart from him though, the rest of the cast is great.
Plot: The plot centers around the Takakura family, Himari, Shouma and Kanba. Himari has an illness (which is never specified) which is basically a ticking time bomb until she dies. She dies in the first episode, and is brought back to life by a strange entity inside a penguin hat that she bought in the aquarium where she collapsed. The entity inside is the Princess of the Crystal who says she can save Himari if the two brothers obtain the penguindrum, and thus begins the story. We are introduced to Ringo who has a diary that seems to predict the future, which the boys then try to obtain as the penguindrum. It twists and turns so much from this opening premise and then in the last episode we finally find out exactly what everything is. The plot can be quite hard to follow as Ikuhara (the writer) likes to change tack quite often, jumping from one part of the storyline to another, in my opinion this is done so well that it actually makes the show better rather than just being a straight line progression from beginning to end. In fact, the jumping from one point to another can be a literal representation of the jumping of the lines idea that he shows with the constant imagery of the train lines. But maybe thats a bit of a leap to make…
Summary: In my New World Order, this will be required watching for anyone who chooses to have an interest in anime. I finished it nearly a month ago now, and I still miss it. I miss rushing home from work so I could watch an episode before going back out again, or waking up earlier to watch an episode before work. It’s headed straight to the top of my top 5 anime, and is in my top 5 TV shows too. I urge all of you to watch it, and challenge anyone to find a stronger set of characters, a more interesting plot and a better premise than saving your sister from certain death. Yes, other shows are better animated, but it’s such a small criticism in the grand scale of the awesomeness this show exudes that if you were to write it off because of that, I’d seriously recommend having your brain scanned for tumours. Like all the greatest form of media, this show needs to be experienced to be appreciated, my gushing will never amount to anything like the greatness of this show. Just watch it. The most deserving 10 out of 10 I will ever give.
Remember, SEIZON SENRYAKU!!!