Title: Mawaru Penguindrum
Alternate Title: 輪るピングドラム, Penguindrum
Encompasses: Parts 1/2 (Complete Series)
Published by: Siren Visual (Australia and New Zealand) / Sentai Filmworks (North America)
Based on: Unique to Anime
Genre: A Mixed Bag of Genres
Audio: Hybrid Dub
Classification: This title has been classified as M for Sexual References and Animated Nudity
Special Thanks: Siren Visual for providing me with a copy of this release to review!
Takakura Kanba and his twin brother Shoma live together with their younger sister Himari. Their parents are missing and Himari is critically ill. Kanba and Shoma will do anything to make her last days memorable. On a visit to the aquarium, they buy her a cut, yet silly penguin hat. The trip abruptly ends when Himari collapses and dies, but the mysterious spirit that resides in the penguin hat brings her back to life… temporarily, on the condition that they find the “penguindrum.”
To help them on their quest, each sibling is accompanied by a penguin that only they can see. Unfortunately, these cute penguins are anything but helpful, in their quest to find the Penguindrum, and change Himari’s fate.
While they have continued their trend of releasing their Australian-exclusive anime releases or otherwise titles aimed more at a niche demographic of anime fans, this year Siren Visual have been picking up quite a few mainstream and well renown titles that so far have fared well when put to the test on The Otaku’s Study (Tiger & Bunny for example holds a strong probability at this time for taking out my Australian Anime Release of the Year 2013). The next title I am putting under the microscope are the two installments of Mawaru Penguindrum which the company have launched in Australia on both DVD and Blu-ray over the last couple of months. While it certainly ticks many of the boxes in terms of standing out from the crowd…. is the experience cohesive and enjoyable? Read on to find out in my review of Mawaru Penguindrum Parts 1 /2.
Kanba and Shoma live with their younger sister Himari whom is terminally ill. Cursing her fate and unaware of when she will pass on the two of them attempt to make every day happy for her while keeping the family together. While both boys are busy they decide to take Himari to the aquarium where after losing sight of her for a few moments while buying her a hat as a souvenir, she succumbs to her illness and passes away. However hope is not lost as she is suddenly resurrected after being pronounced dead… and it seems like the innocent hat harbors a personality that has willingly extended Himari’s life temporarily. The catch is that she wants something for her trouble, while holding Himari’s life as collateral she sets them out on a quest to find the mysterious “Penguindrum” for which no additional information is given. This is a story about Kanba and Shoma seeking out this vaguely described item while being helped and hindered by a number of people – one of whom may hold the key to this item.
Even as I write this review I am left lamenting about how to best describe Mawaru Penguindrum. It is certainly a series that ticks many boxes in terms of originally and as impossible as it sounds they have crammed quite a number of genres into the mix from comedy and romance to drama and tragedy. While it does take quite a while for the storyline to get into the more serious storylines and the actual mystery and potential power of the “Penguindrum”, there is still character development aplenty with a moderately sized character cast of varied personalities and backstories that eventually result in the unravelling of different personalities within them. It makes for an interesting watch and develop the characters appropriately without delving into too many aspects that aren’t usable in the remainder of the plot.
While not all plot holes were resolved by the end of the series, the progression from start to finish was mostly well paced (Especially in the earlier episodes the pacing was less than optimal) and even the things that felt more like filler content in the earlier episodes often contributed to later episodes. That being said if you go into Mawaru Penguindrum expecting there to be a fun and comical storyline think again. While there was certainly much to chuckle at from the characters eccentricities to the actions of the main characters penguin companions, especially in the later episodes the plot does take quite a number of darker and more depressing terms – sometimes resolved in a heartwarming way and other times not.
While I am not going to be delving into the storyline anymore than what is presented in the first episode or two, it is certainly one of the more enjoyable ones I have watched over the last couple of months. It is however a storyline you do need to pay close attention to as there are many intertwining plotlines, flashbacks and some vague events that if you aren’t playing close attention to (and remembering) then you do risk being caught off-guard. But still it is a title that you should just pick up and enjoy without any preconceived notion… as whether you are in it initially for the elaborate “transformation” sequence (That seemed to gain much attention when it was initially aired) or just a good storyline it provides much and they pulled it off well in my books.
Oh! It also has adorable penguins doing comical things, which may be of interest to you as well.
If the storyline wasn’t enough to impress you, then the vivid and detailed may be able to sway you over. From the moment you start the first episode with a look at Himari’s charmingly detailed bedroom, it is clear that as much effort was put into the visuals as the plot. Almost everything in Mawaru Penguindrum is well designed to suit the intended mood, with each of the individual character designs standing out from one another and environment designs that are vibrant and (often) colourful.
While there is very little in the ways of action in this show, the characters were still nicely animated, with their expression, stance and movement complementing the dialogue in portraying the characters emotions. Environment animation such as the ones shown during the “Survival Tactic” scenes or otherwise the more supernatural moments of the show trumps the character animation coming across as very artistic and a highlight to watch. Characters who are not important to the storyline are often portrayed as characters you would expect to find on a public bathroom door.While most of the time they just stand there, there are a few moments in the series that they are used effectively.
Also, the penguin companions of the main characters are perhaps the best thing about the visual appeal of the show and do help ease the tension while garnering a few laughs.
Music / Voice Acting
Mawaru Penguindrum comes with a total of two opening sequences “Nornir” and “Shounen yo Ware ni Kaere” by Etsuko Yakushimaru Metro Orchestra. Both of these scenes were pleasing both in regards to their musical backing and the animation that accompanied them. In addition a total of nine ending sequences are split between the episodes with the most prominent one being “DEAR FUTURE” by Coaltar of the Deepers. Most of the other ones are performed by Triple H (A group formed for this series by voice actress’ Marie Miyake, Yui Watanabe and Miho Arakawa that has ties to the storyline). If all these lyrical tracks were not enough there are also a number of insert songs – the most notable being “Rock Over Japan” by Triple H and alongside several of the ending tracks are covers of songs by Japanese rock band ARB. The remainder of the musical backing throughout the episodes are pleasing and were matched well with the scenes that were taking place.
As always I chose to watch this series all the way through with its English Dub, and it overall came out as a mixed bag. While the main characters Himari, Shoma and Kanba (Voiced by Monica Rial, Blake Shepard and Illich Guardiola) came out quite well, the remainder of the voice talent was mixed. The Japanese dub is quite good and as with most Siren Visual releases will automatically default to this dub. There is also a second English subtitle track that comes with just song translations and the occasional comment (Assumingly from the localizer) that provides incite into a scene that might not be understood by all viewers.
Overall there are no bonus on-disc extras in Part 1 of Mawaru Penguindrum with all extra content being included on the second disc of Part 2. These extras include:
- Textless Opening Sequences (2)
- Textless Closing Sequences (8)
- Rock Over Japan Trailer (Untranslated)
- Montages – Both of which start off with instrumental music then go into the instrumental component of Rock Over Japan by Triple H. Each briefly detail half of the series.
- Slideshow – A look at some of the more artistic moments of the series.
While it seems like they haven’t included all of the extra goodies from the North American release by Sentai Filmworks, most of the important ones have been included.
Personal Opinion / Final Words
While trying to encompass so many genres within such a complicated plot may have resulted in failure, Kunihiko Ikuhara (Of Sailor Moon and Revolutionary Girl Utena acclaim) managed to produce a series that harmonized all the elements together with a focus on fate and family well alongside the accompanying music and visuals. While it may not be perfect and riddled with occasional pacing issues and areas where viewers can potentially get lost, it is something I could happily recommend watching. and hey, at the very least you can sit down and count just how many references to penguins are made throughout each of the episodes.
Mawaru Penguindrum is now available on DVD and Blu-ray in Australia thanks to the team at Siren Visual. North American publishing is handled by the team at Sentai Filmworks also on the two media forms.
Overall Score for Mawaru Penguindrum
Overall for Mawaru Penguindrum I give the following grades:
Storyline / Character Development: A-
Music/Voice Acting: A
Extra Content: B
Personal Preference: A
Therefore, I give it an overall score of A.
A complicated plotline that harmonizes all the elements of the series together.
Riddled with occasional pacing issues and there are areas in which a viewer can become lost.