First Impressions: Mawaru Penguin Drum

OP: OP: 「ノルニル」 (Noruniru) by やくしまるえつこメトロオーケストラ (Yakushimaru Etsuko Metro Orchestra)

In some ways I was more curious about this series than any other of the Summer. The PVs were bizarre, puzzling and utterly unhelpful in illuminating what was to come. The promo descriptions were cryptic and vague, to say the least. And of course, it’s directed by the mysterious and notoriously difficult Ikuhara Kunihiko, of Sailor Moon and Revolutionary Girl Utena. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like Mawaru Penguin Drum, but I was pretty sure it was going to be interesting.

And boy, is it ever. Ikuhara is undeniably an artist of great style, and this series is brimming with it. With it’s eye-popping primary colors, big-eyed character designs by BL legend Lily Hoshino, quick-cut editing and jazzy soundtrack, it’s impossible to ignore from the first frame to the last.

As to what’s actually happening, it seems only fitting that it’s almost as confusing now as it was before the start of the episode. What’s clear is that we have twin brothers – the elder Kanba (Subaru Kimura) and the younger Shoma (Ryohei Kimura, ironically no relation). They have a younger sister Himari (Miho Arakawa) who has an unspecified fatal illness. The brothers dote on her, but on her specially declared “Himari Day” she collapses and dies during a trip to the aquarium.

That’s when things go from weird to really weird. Somehow possessed by a penguin hat Shoma bought her at the souvenir shop, Himari is brought back to life under the possession of an older female being who declares that she comes from the “Destination of your fate” and in return for extending Himari’s life, the siblings must initiate the “survival strategy” and “obtain the penguin drum”. It’s not immediately clear what any of that means, but she does seem to have the ability to possess Himari at will, and she bestows upon the siblings the gift of three penguins only they can see, whose initial purpose seems to be to act as a sort of valet to each sibling. But there’s certainly something more sinister behind their presence, and her motivations.

There’s all sorts of WTF happening here and I’m not even going to try an explain most of it. Why did the two boys near the beginning have an extended conversation about an apple (“ringo”) being crucial to understanding fate? Where are the Takakura’s parents – presumably dead, but how? Why does Shoma go to school and not Kanba – is he working to support the family? There’s also a strong hint of incest as Kanba curses fate and kisses the sleeping Himari on the lips at the close of the episode – not that the brothers’ affection towards Himari had seemed totally wholesome, anyway.

The story rotates between Shoma and Kanba’s POV, and they’re markedly different characters. I don’t know if I can say one is the “lead” yet, but Shoma makes a stronger impression emotionally – he’s the kinder, more emotional and awkward of the two. Kanba is brash, blunt and strong-willed. What they both share is a love for their sister that appears to reach the level of obsession, genuine though it may be.

Really, Ikuhara is the lead. His odd stamp runs through the project start to finish. Nothing is conventional – not the color scheme, the storyboarding, the BGM, and certainly not the plot. Frankly, it’s a bit of a mess but that isn’t a problem right now because the sense of uncontrolled insanity is a big part of the attraction. I could see this show having something of the appeal of Oh! Edo Rocket – a bright, loud and sometimes outright bizarre melding of styles and genres that builds up to a memorable whole. Alternatively, it could just end up being a complete disaster – that’s the risk of genius. Right now it’s a risk I’m delighted to take, and I can’t wait to find out what happens next.

ED: “「DEAR FUTURE」 by Coaltar of the Deepers

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6 comments

  1. M

    I think someone pointed out that the apple was a reference to Night on the Galactic Railroad.

  2. l

    If life have some sort of accident crash, this would be it. I couldn't make it into comedy, drama, or fanservice anime. I'm guessing everyone and i will probably watch this to see what it is. Well if anything, the undressing of himari is nice.

  3. A

    http://penguindrum.jp/remote_img/chara_img/chara_ringo.jpg

    This girl is Ringo, the Penguin Queen is still unnamed at this moment.

  4. l

    Somehow the insert song during the transformation stuck in me. Found out about it, it call Rock over Japan by arb in the past.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hcJds6yjsMY

    with subtitle too :). This anime by Nutbladder fansub have it song translated too.

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