Anime Reporter dons its penguin cap and explores the world of Penguindrum (Season 2), written and directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara (of Sailor Moon and Revolutionary Girl Utena acclaim).
Terrorist plots. Blackmail with a sister’s life at risk. The emotional toll of childhood abuse. Adorable, invisible penguins.
It’s not difficult to find yourself somewhat confused by the content of Penguindrum which walks an almost imperceptibly thin line between the innocent, loving nature of childhood and the harsh, cruel and shallow world of adulthood. Then again, perhaps that is entirely the point.
Penguindrum follows three siblings, twins Kanba (voiced by Doraemon’s Subaru Kimura in Japanese and Highschool of the Dead’s Illich Guardiola in English) and Shoma (voiced by Heroman’s Ryohei Kimura in Japanese and Elfen Lied’s Blake Shepard in English) and their younger sister Himari (voiced by Hunter x Hunter’s Miho Arakawa in Japanese and Gantz’s Monica Rial in English). Following a particularly memorable day at the aquarium during which Himari dies, is resurrected and possessed by a magical penguin hat from the aquarium’s gift shop, the twins are ordered to find and obtain the Penguindrum if they wish to prolong their sister’s life. Despite the fact that the boys have no idea what the penguin is or even looks like (no it isn’t a drum shaped like a penguin), they set out to track down the elusive artefact and save their sister. Add to this the fact that each of the children finds themselves paired with a cartoonish penguin (named 1, 2 and 3 respectively) that only they can see and you have the makings of a great kid’s anime. A seemingly magical diary with the ability to alter people’s fates becomes the focus of the series, with a few outside forces competing with Kanba and Shoma to claim it as their own. The penguins provide a lot of comic relief and the show is light-hearted with a strong sense of humour and each one serves a caricature of their respective child. Upon reaching Season 2, the tone has changed significantly and the narrative, as well as its characters, becomes much darker and more menacing than before. There are definite moments of humour in the second season but the overall feeling is of something much more tragic and dramatic than before.
The visuals of the show are one of its many strengths, with heavy symbolism abounding throughout. Pedestrians and anyone non-essential to the narrative are portrayed as white, blank stick figures which in tandem with recurring references to children becoming invisible, provides a clear statement about societal pressure to conform. A motif of cartoon penguins replaces logo and trademarks for many products and business chains, while the world of adult corruption is flooded with striking black and red lights, creating a sense of alienation. Symbolism and imagery are key to a full appreciation of the story so this show is perhaps not one to watch while checking e-mails. In particular, there are some themes of an adult and taboo nature, though it may be worth soldiering through the plot before making any assumptions about these allusions, more often than not, they form an essential part of the character development for the series and nothing is as gratuitous as it may seem at first glance.
The characters are well formed and their development over the course of the series is clear and strong, without feeling forced. Kanba in particular is transformed by the weight of his responsibilities to his family the secrets he is forced to keep to protect them. Even the antagonists of the show are typically revealed to have humanitarian motivations as the source of their corruption and misdeeds. All in all, characterisation and layered symbolism make up the bulk of the series, with the penguin-related magic serving as more of a colourful backdrop to an impressively emotional and intelligent tale.
It is perhaps best to note that although this series is aimed at a young audience and has strong themes of love and innocence, there are undoubtedly moments of highly suggestive abuse, both physical and emotional which could well be considered too intense for younger viewers. Some scenes will undoubtedly raise some eyebrows and may not be to everyone’s liking. Appropriately, though two of the three DVDs comprising this season are rated 12, the first disc of the season, containing the aforementioned heavier subject matter, is rated 18.
Penguindrum is available on DVD and Bluray from Manga UK.
For more information, check out the
Official Twitter (Manga UK): https://twitter.com/MangaUK
Official Site (Japanese): http://penguindrum.jp/
and of course, stay tuned to animereport.com for all your anime cravings.
Animation and Imagery: 9.5
Controversial Subject Matter: 9
82%- “Dangerously good storytelling”
Penguindrum is a hectic journey into the great unknown of adulthood, leaving behind the safety of childhood joy. Not for rookies; if you can appreciate the humour of One Piece and the grit of Deadman Wonderland, this just might be something to call home.