Alt title: Mawaru Penguindrum

TV (24 eps)
3.862 out of 5 from 7,098 votes
Rank #1,551

Kamba and Shouma Takakura have taken care of their sickly younger sister Himari since their parents disappeared years ago - that is, until the day she died. But as the boys grieve by her hospital bed, Himari sits up, adorned with a strange penguin hat. Suddenly, the three of them are transported to a vibrant world where the hat, using Himari's body as a puppet, charges these brothers with a task: find the Penguin Drum and their sister's life will be saved! Now aided by some odd penguins they received in the mail, the duo must find this mysterious item or risk losing the sister they care for so much. However, they aren't the only ones with their sights on the Penguin Drum, for new enemies await them around every turn, all connected in ways they would have never imagined...

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When I initially read the premise for this show, I couldn't imagine how a sentient, lifesaving penguin hat could possibly work as a coherent plot point so I watched it out of sheer curiosity. I have seen Revolutionary Girl Utena (same director) and I remebered it being pretty inexplicable and bizarre so I figured this would be along those lines.  I don't know how I can adequately explain this, but by the end of this show an initially ridiculous premise had become one of the most thought-provoking and emotionally complex anime I have seen. I watch a lot of anime and a lot of shows are entertaining but don't leave a lasting impression. This one definitely sticks with you, in the way that say, Stein's Gate or Death Note did for me also.  While the show was indeed inexplicable, bizarre, and silly, over the course of watching it, these bizarre things begin to become more and more relevant. Characters' odd or idiosyncratic behaviors which you initially write off as annoying become important in earth shattering ways. The connections between characters, and their motivations for their actions are revealed to sometimes devastating effect. Ultimately we are left to question what is the meaning of personal relationships, what are we willing to sacrifice for people we love, and can our love for another person actually hurt them or the world? There are also many references to specific events or societal issues affecting Japan, so knowledge of those (or just looking it up after the show) will really help certain things be more impactful.  This is DEFINITELY not a starter anime, and if you don't make it to the end you also won't really get the full effect and reasoning for all the bizzare stuff going on throughout. (And honestly, some of it STILL isn't explained at the end so you have to be willing to accept that.)  If, like me, you are just SUPER curious to see a lifesaving sentient penguin hat in action, and also are up for some 1Q84-like surrealism and philosophical questioning, FULL SPEED AHEAD! 


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.


This story starts slowly and may seem to ramble for the first 7 episodes or so, but bear with it, as these episodes are a setup for what's to come and everything has meaning in the story, even the background graphics that seem random, in fact, the way the story is told through the use of symbolism is what sets this anime apart from the rest and what makes it so great! This show demands your undivided attention to details as the foreground, dialog and background images converge together to tell the story, for example, as a girl describes how everything is going perfectly with her plans and everything is coming together, the camera jumps, while she is still talking, to a painting in the background, whose imagery reveals how she is really feeling inside. And like this, questions are posed through the dialog while the answers are given with background symbols that you'll need to interpret to get the "whole picture". This type of storytelling is quite unique and masterful, and it also the reason why so many people love this anime and others just don't get it. So if you want something simple to watch then you may want to stay away from this one, but if you are willing to take a more active role watching the story, then I'm sure you'll be delighted. The story may seem childish and light-hearted at first, that is in part to the comedy and several parodies it has, like the wacky over-the-top transformation intro of one of the main characters into some sort of magical girl, but as the story progresses you'll start to see there is a serious story to be told for each of its characters. All the symbolism makes the story feel surreal, and that is even acknowledged by some of the characters like a dream, and this is used as a tool to make more tolerable to watch the darker themes. This is definitely, despite its childhood presentation, not a story for children or at least not one that they can easily understand. The main focus of the story is the lives of children from dysfunctional families, where they have been abused by their crazy parents and the unfairness of a society that wants the children to pay for their parents' sins, despite them being victims themselves. Even so, there is a strong message of hope through the lives of those children if they manage to find the "Penguindrum". Furthermore, I should mention that some knowledge of Japanese culture & history is necessary to completely understand the symbolism, and also that some of the events mentioned in this anime are based on real life. For this, I recommend to read the following articles (they all contain spoilers so read them at the end of the show): Exploring Mawaru Penguindrum (2011) from a Historical, Cultural and Literary Perspective Analysis of the Themes & Concepts An interpretation of the symbolism, including the relationships of the characters Video explaining the Apple Curry (yes the curry is also a symbol with meaning) and it also explores the sources of inspiration that influence this anime. Observations in Mawaru Penguindrum – An Explanation of the Method to the Madness. I should also note that the song's lyrics are also tied thematically to the story. Decipher everything, and you'll realize this story is a hidden masterpiece! The Animation quality is standard for 2011, but as mentioned before, what makes the visuals stand is the symbolism, the references to other animes and famous paintings like Klimt, who is also featured in the intro for Elfen Lied, for example, and a mix of several styles to tell the stories within the story. In short, the creativity of the storytelling is what sets this animation apart from other shows as part of the story is told through visuals alone. The dub is awesome! And it does give you more time to focus on the visuals than when watching subs, so I do recommend it in the dub for this reason alone (unless you are fluent in Japanese of course). The music is good for the intros/outros and their lyrics are tied thematically to the story, detailing what's happening at times. Even the over-the-top transformation music, which I personally found obnoxious at the beginning (as I dislike pop music and despite the lyrics, this is not a Rock Band!), even that grew up on me to make it tolerable. Not all characters are likable, but they are all interesting in their own way, thanks to their backstories which are presented through a series of flashbacks that help explain the current situation and how they got there. Their relationships to each other also form part of the symbolism and the conflict with fate, and even minor characters get their moment to shine, in fact, it seems that every character that actually has a face is important in the story (as opposed to the symbolic persons that depict the standardization of society). Overall, this is a unique anime experience thanks to its storytelling, I would recommend it to anyone who doesn't mind to actively participate in analyzing the story and learning about its background. This is for those who see anime as an art-form and appreciated it as a unique medium with its own voice, separate from what a book or a movie can do. This story, after all, couldn't be told this well in any other medium. Don't miss this hidden gem!

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