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...
Man, when I dropped this anime and read several reviews in different sites, I felt like someone who could not comprehend why an Oscar-winning movie was worth the unanimous praise. Everybody was throwing around the "visionary" and "nothing like it" and "an excellent example of what anime can be" comments. I just thought it was random, weird and silly. The story was compelling for a bit, until after 5 episodes or so, when it started getting really weird. At that point, I stopped to think if I cared enough to continue it. Then I said, no. WHAT’S GOOD? The animation is good. The characters are okay. The story seems refreshingly good at first. It's about two brothers trying to save their terminally-ill sister from dying by any means necessary. That's interesting. That's emotional. The only thing that resuscitates her and prevents her from dying is a penguin-shaped sentient hat. Okay, that's weird, but I'll allow it. This is anime after all. The hat also comes with three invisible penguin minions that are often doing mischievous, funny things. Okay, that's weird too but most anime have cute, weird critters. I'll allow it. WHAT’S BAD? The hat's sentience takes over the girl's personality in every single episode, showing a typical magical-girl transformation involving a rocket that converts into two giant mecha pandas, and the hat's entity berating the brothers for not recovering the "penguindrum" as dictated. This happens every episode. Every...episode. Okay, that's slightly annoying but somewhat funny and quirky and yes, weird. I'll...allow it. But that's not all... *SPOILERS" Then a new villainous character comes in, that has her own invisible penguin and shoots penguin bullets with a slingshot that have the property of erasing people's memories if they get hit on their foreheads. What?! There's a surrealistic trip to a library that's sort of purgatory or heaven and it's completely confusing because it shows a new character and a new background story for the sick girl that really does not have much to do with the rest of the story. What?! There's an aggressive, stalking girl that is willing to even rape the object of her affection because she is trying to fulfill her late sister's fate, which means she's not really stalking for her own misguided love but for a philosophical, identity-thieving reason. She's doing it 'cause her journal says so. What?! RECOMMEND? Okay, so I was down with watching another anime that mixed serious stuff such as death, fate, sacrifice and obsession with inane moments of humor showcasing cute penguins often doing perverted or mischievous acts. But there's just too much weird stuff going on, and too many plot twists happening on every episode that instead of feeding my interest, it just annoyed me. There's no firm ground to settle your feet in and say, bring on the weird parts. It's weird all the time. Maybe if it was more of a comedy, it would have fared better. In this case, I liked "Abenobashi Shopping District" a lot more, because it was first and foremost a very random comedy, with sprinkles of seriousness and musings about fate and the ability to change it. This anime starts with the serious, pervades it with silly stuff, and tells you to focus on the ever-changing serious stuff. How? It's confusing! It's unfocused! It's just weird! Maybe if you liked stuff like "FLCL" this would be for you. Maybe you can bypass all the strange aspects of the story and be able to follow the twists-and-turns provided in every episode. But I couldn't. I couldn't take it seriously when it tried so hard to not be serious then immediately go to dark-story-mode. It's just amorphous in its story structure. You may very well have a different opinion. Most reviewers seem to think the opposite of me, but this "vision" wasn't for me.
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.
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